December 28, 2004


I have not had time to scroll through my usual suspects, my daily reads, but I suspect that the reaction to the tsunami which has claimed in excess of 40,000 lives in Asia has been sympathetic and appropriate. Indeed, I probably have nothing of any value to add. Merely, I want to register my horror and my sadness. As always, I am particularly moved by the deaths of the children, by the stories of parents who had their babies torn from their arms and drowned by the waves. Particularly, my hearts go out to those parents who survived such an experience. I try, fruitlessly, to wrap my mind around the enormity, the incomprehensible enormity of such an experience and I wonder whether and how these parents will live with the guilt, the feeling that they failed their children when their children needed them most. The parents are, of course, without blame. The waves are reported as being supernaturally strong and I don't mean to suggest that the parents are to be blamed for having lost that struggle. No, not at all. But I do think that these parents, however blameless, will still feel guilt and still believe themselves to be at fault. I assume I would and I generalize from that.

My heart goes out to all of those forever changed by this unimaginable tragedy.

Pax tibi.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:06 PM | Comments (7)

December 26, 2004

Another Yummy Norwegian Jul tradtion

Have you ever had the pleasure of tasting Pinnekjøtt? It is the traditional second night of Jul (Christmas) dish. It is lamb which has been salted and dried, rehydrated overnight (changing the water 2 or 3 times), steamed over birch sticks (the pinne part) and then put under the broiler. It is served with a sort of mashed turnip dish and, once again, you drink Aquavit and beer. Somehow, it becomes the essential of lamb, very gamey and very intensely flavored. I adore it. It is a bit heavy and sometimes a little greasy but I confess I ate way too much of it and am eagerly awaiting leftovers later in the week. Pinnekjøtt can also be prepared by smoking it instead of salting it but I prefer the salted one. The flavor is subtler, somehow. Well, back to the pool!

By the way, it is rather nice to compose Norwegian posts with a key board that has the following letters built in as options: Å; Ø; and, Æ.

Posted by Random Penseur at 01:12 PM | Comments (0)

Sad Fact of the Day

I learned this morning, while on the morning walk with my father in law, that 50% of all children in Guatemala under the age of five are malnourished. Stunning.

Not to sound too priggish or holier than thou, but it is certainly something to contemplate post Christmas celebration, a fact which throws into stark relief the benefits my family has enjoyed this week.

Posted by Random Penseur at 01:05 PM | Comments (1)

December 25, 2004

God Jul / Feliz Navidad, etc.

Good morning to you all and a merry Christmas! We have had our combination Norwegian/Guatemalan Jul/Navidad. Christmas Breakfast is in 15 minutes so I have just a little time to write. Jul is, in my wife's family, all about the food. Norwegians celebrate Christmas, or Jul, on Christmas Eve. That is when the gifts are exchanged and the traditional food is consumed or at least kicked off. We had the very traditional foods in a tropical setting.

We started at 12 with grøt. Grøt is a rice porridge to which sugar and butter and cinnamon is added to each bowl. An almond is hidden in one of the bowls and the lucky almond finder is rewarded with a pig made entirely from marzipan. The election this year was rigged and the Girl Child was the happy beneficiary of the electoral corruption. She promptly ate the pig's legs and hid the remainer under one of the couches in the living room. I found it later.

Dinner kicked off at 5 or so with the super heavy Ribbe. Ribbe is a cut of pork with ribs and very crunchy skin and fat bits. It is eaten also with Medistercaker (a kind of meatball) and Julepolser (a sausage). Side dishes included red cabbage and sour cabbage, stringbeans, taters, and maybe something else. Drink? Aquavit and beer. I will say merely that when I got up from the table, I seriously considered passing out as a sensible option. Too much aquavit, perhaps. Oh, and a meal fit for a Norwegian farmer eating in the dead of Winter which is instead being eaten by a lawyer in the heat of Guatemala. Not a natural translation, it seems to me.

One of my sisters in law dressed up as Julenissen (Santa Claus) and scared the living daylights out of the Boy Child. He regarded the front door with great suspicion from that point forward in the evening.

Hope your holiday was equally fun! Off to more aquavit and beer for breakfast, now!

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:00 AM | Comments (4)

December 19, 2004

I met the mountain and the mountain won

I am afeared of heights. I have been since I was a child. Nonetheless, as I described in the post below this one, I attempted to scale the volcano Pacaya with my sister in law this morning. It was great fun, even if it kind of kicked my ass on the way up. Well, maybe the altitude had something to do with it, too. I got about 90% of the way up when my fear of heights kicked in something fierce and I kind of froze half way up this trail. Also, did I mention that I could not see much more than 5 feet in front of me at this point? The clouds were that heavy and we were right in them. I knew that on one side of me was a fatal drop into a bowl of cooled lava and I had no real grasp of what was on the other side. Oh, and the trail? Black volcanic sand so you were slipping and sliding the whole way. I just decided, as my anxiety mounted with each step, to stop and I sat right down on a volcanic stone. I know it was volcanic because it left a little bit of itself in the palm of my hand. It didn't hurt, I only noticed it because I was bleeding. So I made my way back down to the bottom of this trail and waited for my sister in law to make her ascent and then rejoin me.

I had time to think, there, alone in the cold. And it was mighty cold and windy. I came to a conclusion that I will share with you here, after I contemplated my fear of heights and my desire to try anyway. Here it is. I have certain limitations but life is about trying to push those limitations from time to time and either expand them or learn to accept them and live gracefully within their confines. I accepted a limitation today. But only after trying and climbing a very steep mountain trail for about an hour and a half.

My title said that I met the mountain and the mountain won. Untrue, as I think about it. I did meet the mountain but I learned something and I think I call it a draw.

Amusingly enough, I had a very pleasant chat with a fellow who is going to be doing a joint venture between his company and another foreign company with US law to apply. I was able to steer him to a good lawyer in Miami. If it was NY, I have no doubt he would have retained me. That's right, I can go up a volcano in Guatemala, knowing not a soul other than my sister in law, and come down with a new client. In any event, my wife and I are having dinner with him and his wife tomorrow night in Antigua.

Posted by Random Penseur at 03:32 PM | Comments (8)

December 18, 2004

I don't know where I'm a gonna go when Pacaya blows

[With apologies to Mr. Buffet]

Tomorrow morning, we merry and intrepid two (my sister in law and me) will depart at 6:00 a.m. to scale the active volcano, Pacaya. We arrived in Guatemala yesterday after a tough flight with 2 underslept and overcolded children. I leave tomorrow, bringing with me water, camera, and my fear of heights to attempt the "thrilling but terrifying ascent" (guidebook) up the cone of the most active volcano in Guatemala. Should be fun. Of course, plenty of people have been robbed on this climb but it is supposed to be much safer now. We'll see. Pictures to follow upon the return.

How is Guatemala? Let me simply quote the Girl Child who said to me, as we strolled around her grandparents' garden, "My, it sure is a beautiful day here, Pappa." And now I must go. The Girl Child and the pool beckon.


Posted by Random Penseur at 04:37 PM | Comments (3)

December 16, 2004

WhattaMAla (pronunciation courtesty of Hank Azaria in Birdcage)

That's right. We are off to Guatemala tomorrow morning on the dawn flight. We have to be at John F. Kennedy Airport at 5:00 in the morning. I shudder at the thought, frankly. We will be gone for a little less than 2 weeks to visit my in-laws who are stationed there. To review, a trip to the in-laws is not vacation, even if you have to take vacation time from work to take the trip.

I expect to have sporadic access to a computer there and will write, therefore, only occasionally. So, just in case I can't do it later, let me wish you all now, a merry Christmas and a happy and a healthy New Year.

By the way, don't you just love the character Hank Azaria played in that movie?

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:58 AM | Comments (12)

Overheard on the Train Platform: Old Man Humor

While standing on the train platform this morning, awaiting the arrival of the 6:40, I was treated to the following exchange between two older men behind me.

Man 1: How old are you anyway?

Man 2: Just turned 59, actually.

Man 1: Really! Good for you. I just had a milestone birthday myself.

Man 2: Milestones?!? They pay to get rid of them?

It was all I could do not to laugh out loud at that one.

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:52 AM | Comments (0)

Interesting little fact about .38's

I was reading an article on the train this morning about the old timers in the NYC Police Department who still prefer to keep their .38's as opposed to using the newer semi-automatics. The article actually kind of fetishized the .38's and the beauty of them in sort of a disturbing way. But there was this little assertion I thought was fascinating:

The grips still echo the earliest revolvers, designed in the 19th century to feel like the handle of a plow in a man's hand.

Isn't that an interesting bit o' design history?

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:49 AM | Comments (1)

Zimbabwe: Watch your mouth on the bus

Remember sometime back I wrote about a law in Zimbabwe that criminalized insulting the President? When I say President, read "that thug named Mugabe", ok? According to the NY Times this morning, in an item buried deep in the paper and accorded only about three sentences, a man was arrested and will serve two weeks in jail for telling his brother on a bus not to "be thickheaded like Mugabe". The man was overheard by an informer and was arrested and convicted. He will spend Christmas in jail.

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:46 AM | Comments (0)

Munch Museum Robbery Update: Paintings ruined?

According to Aftenposten this morning, the paintings stolen in the Munch Musuem robbery, the Scream and the Madonna, were both badly damaged in the theft. Madonna is supposedly ruined.

But the police, stalwart fellows that they are, remain "optmistic".

The getaway car can now be linked to several suspects known by name.

That's it. That's all they got.

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:43 AM | Comments (1)

December 15, 2004

A New Bridge

The French have opened a fantastic bridge today, a 1.6 mile bridge 891 feet above the Tarn River valley running through France’s Massif Central mountains and providing another link to the Med.

It is a visually stunning piece done by Lord Foster, "the steel-and-concrete bridge with its streamlined diagonal suspension cables rests on seven pillars – the tallest measuring 1,122 feet, making it 53 feet taller than the Eiffel Tower."




Fabulous, no?

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

NYC Libraries

Andrew Cusack has a terrific post about the New York Society Library today, the oldest private library in NYC, and I commend it to your attention. But it got me to thinking about my favorite private library, the Mercantile Library:

The Mercantile Library of New York was founded in 1820 by merchants and their clerks before the advent of public libraries. By the mid-nineteenth century, it was thriving as one of the foremost cultural institutions in the United States, with an extraordinary collection of books in the humanities, and a popular lecture program that featured such renowned speakers as William Makepeace Thackeray, Frederick Douglass, and Mark Twain. The Library offered classes on many subjects and was considered a meeting place for social and educational pursuits.

The coolest thing about the Merc. is:

The Mystery and Detective Collection. The fiction is particularly strong in mystery, and is arguably the best circulating mystery and detective fiction collection in the United States.

This makes it my favorite place. I loved the collection of out of print mystery fiction.

They also have reading groups for Proust which sound like they could be fun, depending on the other participants, of course.

Finally, go check out their links page for links to the Mystery Writers of America (in residence at the Merc), the Trollope Society (also in residence), and U.S. Membership Libraries.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:36 AM | Comments (0)

Ask not for whom that wind is blowing

So. Damn. Cold. This. Morning. The wind really did feel like it had the power to lacerate my skin, to neatly dissect and lift it off of my face. Although sometimes it caressed me, gently, before it kind of curled around and smacked me in the ear. I hate it when it does that. In order to distract myself, I got to thinking. What is wind? What causes it? So I set out to find out.

Wind is defined several different ways:

wind, air current, current of air -- (air moving (sometimes with considerable force) from an area of high pressure to an area of low pressure


The horizontal movement of air in relation to the earth's surface. Wind direction tells where the wind is blowing from. For example, a "north wind" is coming from the north and is blowing towards the south. There are four components of wind that are measured: direction, speed, character (ie - whether it's a gust or a squall) and shifts.

or, finally,

Wind - horizontal motion of air near the surface of the Earth.

Well, so that's what wind is. Air moving. Ok, up to this point, I kind of knew that.

But what causes wind?

A simple answer:

Wind-A result due to the differences in air mass pressures (temperature). The wind blows as a result of nature trying to balance the differences. The larger the differences between air masses, the stronger the wind.

I understand it now. The wind blows my ass off at the train station because someone is likely warmer at that moment than I am.

I have to say, intuitively, I already understood that.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:00 AM | Comments (1)

And now for something really frivolous

If you grew up when I did, you know, high school and college in the 80's, then you remember Rice a Roni, the San Francisco treat!. Please note, I did not say fondly. You may not remember it fondly. But you may, I suppose. I'm rather neutral on it and kind of don't remember the taste but for an overarching impression of copious amounts of sodium. But the song, the jingle, that is engraved on my memory, slotted just underneath the old Mounds jingle: Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don't . . .. That one is a killer.

But I got to wondering, in a pure free association moment yesterday brought on by being awakened by cries from the monitor of "more water, please!" (points given for saying please at 12:30 a.m. and then again at 3:00 a.m.), why is it a San Francisco Treat? Why not a Newark Treat? Or a Santa Fe Treat? You see where I'm going, of course. Well, I just had to know, so I fired up Google this morning and have the answer, straight from the company website: the company was founded there.

In 1912, Maria persuaded Charlie to set up a pasta factory, Gragnano Products, Inc., in the Mission district in San Francisco. The successful business sold 25 and 50-pound boxes of pasta to Italian stores and restaurants in the area. Four of Charlie's sons, Paskey, Vince, Tom and Anthony, worked with him to build the pasta business.

In 1934, the oldest brother, Paskey, proposed a new name for the company based on a newspaper ad for "Golden Grain" smoking Tobacco. The family agreed that Golden Grain was a good name for macaroni and the name "Golden Grain Macaroni Company" was adopted.

A neighbor's Armenian style rice pilaf recipe inspired the original idea for RICE-A-RONI®, a mixture of rice and macaroni. Tom's wife Lois served the dish at a family dinner, and it became a favorite of the DeDomenico families. In 1958, Vince mixed a dry chicken soup mix, made at the plant, with rice and vermicelli to create the San Francisco treat which he named RICE-A-RONI. The unique preparation of the dish, and its wonderful flavor and convenience, made the dish one of America's favorite products. The RICE-A-RONI jingle, The San Francisco Treat® slogan, "Saute and Simmer" and scenic San Francisco became familiar to every household in America in the 60's as the product was introduced through television advertising.

The company offers no apologies for the creation of Noodle Roni, instead seemingly laying blame on an otherwise blameless restaurant in Rome.

A trip to Italy in 1964 inspired Vince to develop Noodle Roni Parmesano based on the classic "Noodles Alfredo" dish served to him at Alfredo's restaurant in Rome.

There should have been at least a recognition that they did their best to kill an important piece of Italian culinary history.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:45 AM | Comments (3)

December 14, 2004

I want an order to show cause and a pina colada!

The sun was still not up yet when I exited Grand Central Station this morning and it was feeling quite cold, despite overhearing a fellow commuter relate to his buddy that the Wall Street Journal reported today that this Winter was 5% warmer than the preceding 10 year average. Of course, I immediately wondered about the geographical area included in this average, but no matter. No, I sit here in my office, cold, preparing for what might be the final day of trial in this $30 million loan guarantee case (we go today from 9:30 to 1:00)and also preparing for a hearing (2:30-??) in the bankruptcy court to try to stop a very culpable party from weaseling out from under an $18 million judgment we have against them. In the bankruptcy, I am special counsel to the trustee and will be attending as co-counsel so while someone else is carrying the laboring oar there I still have a lot to do.

Gonna be a long cold day today.

Is it any wonder that the recently advertised job post for a position as an Assistant United States Attorney in the District of the Virgin Islands looks blindingly good right now? A motion and a daiquiri, anyone? A jury charge conference and a planter's punch?

Actually, all kidding aside, this information I quote from the above link is kind of interesting, despite the use of the phrase "very unique" which is just bad English (this just proves I need to get out more, I know, I know):

The District is very (sic) unique in many respects. First, the District Court of the Virgin Islands is not constituted under Article III of the Constitution but rather under Article IV, Section 3, Clause 2. Consequently, the district court judges serve eight-year terms rather than appointments for life. Second, the District has no permanent bankruptcy judges. Bankruptcy judges from the Third Judicial Circuit are temporarily assigned to hear bankruptcy matters in the District of the Virgin Islands.

This is the only Judicial District which is not mandated to utilize the grand jury. Until 1993, no grand jury was used in the District. The Bill of Rights does not necessarily apply to residents of the Virgin Islands. Virgin Islanders do not have the right to vote in United States elections. As a matter of policy, however, the USAO uses the grand jury except for routine cases.

The District contains separate customs zones. Unlike Puerto Rico, when persons leave this District they are required to go through U.S. Customs. Goods are duty free up to $1,200. Duties which are paid go to the Territory of the Virgin Islands. The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) office in this District is very active. This is the only District which prosecutes all illegal alien cases. Recently, it was noted that the District had the 8th largest number of Immigration cases of all of the nation's 94 districts.

The District Court of the Virgin Islands will not permit use of local pretrial detention facilities due to a standing court order concerning substandard conditions of confinement. As a result, all federal detainees must be transported to and from San Juan, Puerto Rico. Finally, income tax returns from the residents of the Virgin Islands are filed with the Territory of the Virgin Islands, which keeps all tax revenues except for Social Security taxes.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:02 AM | Comments (4)

December 13, 2004

"He had a good war"

Ever hear that phrase? "He had a good war"? The British use it to describe someone who was decorated or otherwise distinguished himself, usually during WW II. It also means someone who did something dashing and in the best traditions of not letting the war inconvenience your life, too much. You don't hear it much today. Today, people don't talk like that.

I was reminded of the phrase by the following extract from a British obituary.

Shortly afterwards Carey, painfully aware that "the parlous state of our Hurricanes was showing" and that communications with Calcutta had broken down, attempted to reach the city in a broken down Tiger Moth. But he got only as far as Akyab, where he hitched a ride as spare pilot in a Vickers Valencia transport and arrived in Calcutta, and went down with malaria.

By then he had started to attract press attention in Britain as the RAF's cockney pilot. His recovery was aided when he was awarded a second Bar to his DFC and was charged with forming a defence wing for the city.

As enemy raids increased Carey turned the Red Road, the main thoroughfare across the city, into a fighter runway. "One advantage," he recalled, "was that it was quite possible to sit in Firpo's, the city's fashionable restaurant, and take off within three to four minutes. I managed it on several occasions."

Can't you just see it? Stop in the fashionable boite to have a quick bite and a drink, hop in the plane and off within minutes back to the war. Makes you think he had a good war, doesn't it?

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:05 AM | Comments (1)

How did we get to this place, this Constitution?

As the presidential election has concluded and we wait for what will be a hideously expensive innauguration celebration, maybe it is not a bad time to consider what motivated our present system of government with its two tier system.

In a word, distrust. Distrust of central government, distrust of monarchy, distrust of the power of the crowds and the people, distrust of the office of the executive, distrust of bi-cameral legislatures (in part), and distrust of being ruled by anything other than direct democracy. That was the upshot of our Revolution, you know. We came out of it with a loathing for central government and for anyone else telling us what to do.

Don't believe me? Ask General Washington who tried to enlist troops in his national army only to be told things like, no thanks, we're citizens of New Jersey. Need more proof? Like at the Confederation Government formed after the Brits threw in the towel. It was a pure States Rights government with little to no room for a strong central voice. The CG could not borrow money or repay debts or raise or equip much in the way of a standing army. It didn't print currency or do anything much to regulate interstate commerce, such that some states even had their own custom services and tarrif systems set up. And the States liked it like that. One State, One Vote, was the rule at the CG level. No proportional voting, either, for States. Delaware counted as much as the much more populous New York.

Indeed, this problem with interstate commerce was one of the things that the framers of the Constitution intended the Constitution to address. See:

Section. 10. Clause 1: No State shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation; grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal; coin Money; emit Bills of Credit; make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts; pass any Bill of Attainder, ex post facto Law, or Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts, or grant any Title of Nobility.

Clause 2: No State shall, without the Consent of the Congress, lay any Imposts or Duties on Imports or Exports, except what may be absolutely necessary for executing it's inspection Laws: and the net Produce of all Duties and Imposts, laid by any State on Imports or Exports, shall be for the Use of the Treasury of the United States; and all such Laws shall be subject to the Revision and Controul of the Congress.

Some of these states were ruled by unicameral legislatures and didn't even have governors. Massachusetts was an exception. John Adams did their constitution and it provided for a bicameral legislature and even a popularly elected governor. Adams was a bit of a radical and ahead of his time. Maryland had a similar system but the governor there was chosen by the legislature.

When the States came together at the Constitutional Congress to replace the failing and failed CG, they were very distrustful. There's that word, again. They feared a strong central government and a strong executive and worried that they were planting the seeds for a future monarchy. James Madison who crafted the first plan with our balance of powers central government was not worried and his plan eventually carried the day, but it was highly influenced by those men who feared and distrusted the power to over-rule and rule-over the States. They added, in 1791, the 10th Amendment to clarify their intentions:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

This preserved the power of the States, or so they thought.

You know what I think? I think that the framers of the Constitution would have been horrified by the concept of unfunded mandates. I view these as the not very much talked about back door by which the Federal Government has, over the years, eroded States rights and destroyed the compact. But, hey, maybe that's just me.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:54 AM | Comments (1)

December 12, 2004

The Girl Child explains a gift

Yesterday, while I was at the office, the wife and children went to my parents' house for a little Hanukkah party with their cousin. I'm told it was all very sweet. When I got home, the Girl Child undertook to explain one of the presents to me. It was a fire truck made from fabric and it opened up. Inside was a fire chief doll, a dalmatian doll, and a stuffed fire hydrant. The Girl Child removed each object, showed it to me, and explained as follows:

Ok, Pappa, this is the Fire Chief. This is the Fire House Dog. And this [referring to the hydrant], is the thing that the Fire House Dog pees on.

No way to argue with that. Absolutely correct explanations.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:27 AM | Comments (4)

December 10, 2004

An update from yesterday

The judge signed my Order to Show Cause and required me to serve it today on the client. That's why things have been so quiet here today. In any event, the Order is returnable before the Court on the 23rd, at which point I hope she will let the Firm out of representing the client. In the meantime, the entire action is stayed. That means she froze everything pending the hearing on the 23rd. I always ask for a stay pending the hearing and determination of the motion, but the court attorneys who review these filings always take out the part about the determination of the motion. Either way, I'm just glad she signed it.

Posted by Random Penseur at 02:37 PM | Comments (2)

December 09, 2004

A not terribly joyous day

I had an 8:30 meeting with the client who owes the Firm a lot of money in legal fees. I explained that we could not represent him anymore. The meeting ended on an acrimonious note. I have spent the next several hours preparing an Order to Show Cause which I will present to the Commercial Division Support Office to ask the Court to stay the action to permit the client to get new counsel and to let our Firm out of any further representation.

I suppose I ought to be tougher than this, but some of the things he said I found particularly wounding. Greedy? No, unfair and untrue. I am not greedy. I do expect that bills for services rendered will be paid. I do put my clients' interests first because I am a fiduciary and I understand what that means. I don't, however, work for free and nor does the Firm. The way he called us greedy, however, left me and everyone else in the Firm thinking that the only word he left out was "Jew". It was just said in that kind of way. Maybe I'm overly sensitive here, but the impression struck me the instant he spoke it.

Breakups are messy and this one will be no exception, especially if the Firm chooses to sue the soon to be ex-client to recover the legal fees and expenses he owes.

I feel as if I've had better days, truth be told.


I have just returned from Court where my Order to Show Cause was accepted for filing by the Commercial Division Support Office. It has to be reviewed first by a court attorney to see whether it can be accepted, you see. As with all of these things, she told me that I'd have to come back and pick it up tomorrow morning, which I will do after my Federal Court conference across the street is over. But I tried to take it up to the judge today anyway. I pulled the court attorney to one side and explained that the reason I rushed down here, and why I don't want my name associated with the case for any more time than it absolutely has to be, is that at the conclusion of my meeting with the client today, he called me a "greedy", then he paused, "Neeeew Yoooork lawyer". When I told her that, her head shot up and she said, "gee, the only word missing from that sentence was Jew, wasn't it?" She promised to do what she could to help me get out. She also let out a bit of a whistle when she saw how much was owed.

I didn't think I was imagining it.

Posted by Random Penseur at 12:30 PM | Comments (16)

Holiday Cards: A trip down memory lane

I just returned from mailing off our holiday cards, all 93 of them. It took us a long two nights to write messages to everyone, stuff, seal, and stamp. It was a companionable time, though, and I kind of enjoyed just sitting at the kitchen table with my wife and listening to her gentle (sometimes, not so gentle) profanity as she tore an envelope here or put the wrong card in the wrong envelope there.

Otherwise, I was a bit alone with my thoughts as we scribbled away. It was fun to realize that on these sheets of labels, I had a sort of chronological roadmap to my life.

The oldest friend rang in at 35 years, which is a long time but especially when you consider we are each only 37. That is a friendship I take great pleasure in.

After that, people sort of popped up onto the list from the Summer I spent in China, some 20 years ago, and friends I made in France, some almost 15 years ago, and friends I made in England, over 10 years ago when I lived and worked there.

Business acquaintances made it on the list, but only because I liked them, not because I needed to send them a card. In other words, they became friends through business but are not on the list because I do business with them.

Friends from University and from Law School are there. Friends from New Orleans are there. Former neighbors from our old co-op in the City are on the list. I used to be the Vice President of that Board and still have lots of friends there.

Family, all over the world, are on the list, for sure. My wife got to write any of the Norwegian cards herself.

Friends I've made through volunteer work and through various other outside activities made their way onto the list.

All in all, a most satisfactory tour of my past and my present.

Until we consider the deletions. Judaism teaches that the sweet is always mixed with the sour. I suppose that makes sense, there is very little joy that is unalloyed in the world and you might not even be able to fully appreciate the nuances of the happiness without a sprinkling of the sad.

Some were deleted from our list because cards don't get sent to the deceased. They don't have a mantle for them anymore, anyway. The old in our family are dying and the new generation is beginning to fill in for them as the generational odometer ticks over.

Some fell off the list because of desuetude. The friendships withered as people lost the habit of staying in touch. Actually, one card went to just such a person in the hope that it might rekindle the friendship. If not, oh, well, we have enough friends who we don't get to see as it is.

It was a good trip, this little trip of ours down memory lane. The only real snag was running out of cards!

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:54 AM | Comments (7)

December 08, 2004

Why taking the 5:56 a.m. train can be good

I skipped merrily down to the train station this morning to take the 5:56 a.m. train to work. It gets me to my desk by right about 6:30. This was good today. Why? Because it is really nice to have a little bit of extra time when you find out that there has been a change of plans and you are going to be cross examining the former Chapter 11 bankruptcy trustee today with respect to his reports and the calculation of a credit in the bankruptcy in the context of a hearing on damages.

Gotta run!

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:46 AM | Comments (3)

December 07, 2004

Christmas Vacation Reading

I have just selected some books to bring with me for Christmas vacation. We will be spending about two weeks with my in-laws and I anticipate some time to catch up on my reading. Here are my choices (I'm not sure that I'll be bringing them all, mind you):

*The Man Who Would Be King: The First American in Afghanistan
by Ben Macintyre

*Basic Economics: A Citizens Guide to the Economy, Revised and Expanded
by Thomas Sowell

*Applied Economics: Thinking Beyond Stage One
by Thomas Sowell

*Gentleman Revolutionary : Gouverneur Morris, the Rake Who Wrote the Constitution
by Richard Brookhiser


*To Rule the Waves : How the British Navy Shaped the Modern World
by Arthur Herman

My father in law also has an excellent library. But I do like to have a couple of my own books, too.

Posted by Random Penseur at 12:50 PM | Comments (6)

Time Suck of the Day: News Edition

Ok, this is probably one of the single coolest things I have ever come across on the internet: The 10x10 interactive changing collage of images and news stories. Click on this link and prepare to lose loads of time as you explore it.

From their description of it:

Every hour, 10x10 collects the 100 words and pictures that matter most on a global scale, and presents them as a single image, taken to encapsulate that moment in time. Over the course of days, months, and years, 10x10 leaves a trail of these hourly statements which, stitched together side by side, form a continuous patchwork tapestry of human life.

10x10 is ever-changing, ever-growing, quietly observing the ways in which we live. It records our wars and crises, our triumphs and tragedies, our mistakes and milestones. When we make history, or at least the headlines, 10x10 takes note and remembers.

Each hour is presented as a picture postcard window, composed of 100 different frames, each of which holds the image of a single moment in time. Clicking on a single frame allows us to peer a bit deeper into the story that lies behind the image. In this way, we can dart in and out of the news, understanding both the individual stories and the ways in which they relate to each other.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:38 AM | Comments (1)

Real Estate a la Balzac

I came across the following description of a rural auction in France of a property sold after the debtor had defaulted on his mortgage and thought it marvelous:

The auction itself might be a scene taken from one of Balzac's novels: three candles sit upon the notaire's table. The first is lit as the black-gowned barristers place the opening bids. The property is declared sold when the three candles, each one burning for a minute, have been lit in succession without another bid being made.

Isn't that a great image?

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:17 AM | Comments (2)

The Girl Child last night

My wife tells me that last night she told the Girl Child that, owing to the GC's less than stellar behavior, they would read only one story at bedtime that night and that they were going up to go to bed right now. The GC replied:

That doesn't really work for me.

I wish I knew where she picked some of these things up.

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:12 AM | Comments (6)

December 06, 2004

A couple of Girl Child Stories

It has been awhile since I have posted a Girl Child story, so here are two of them.

First, we stayed up late on Wednesday night to watch Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer on television. She was very, very excited and was counting down the days until we got to see it. She doesn't get to watch much television, a good thing I think, so she was not too clear on the concept. She thought it was a movie so each time it stopped for a commercial, she'd look up at me, we were cuddling under a blanket on the couch, and she'd ask if it was over yet. I'd tell her no, that it was just on commercial break. Finally, after the 352nd commercial, she looked at me and said:

All these commercials? Its just not right.


Second, she busted me. I told her that I was going to a memorial service and that she could not come because no kids were allowed. This was in the morning. She accepted that reason and let me go peacefully on my way. Later that night, when I got home, I told her that I saw some of her cousins there (the grandchildren of the woman whose husband had died) and the Girl Child said:

Hey! I thought you said that no kids were allowed!!!

My wife and I were astounded that she remembered from this morning and then so clearly busted me on it. I had to explain the circumstances surrounding the reasons why my cousin wanted her grandchildren there. Upon which, the Girl Child told me that Sam was not dead, he was just in heaven. That may sum it up rather neatly for me. I'm not sure where she picked that up, but she was firm and unshakeable in her conviction.

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:31 AM | Comments (3)

Delaware Water Gap

On Sunday, I was very near the Delaware Water Gap, a place probably not so very well known to those outside that area and so I thought I might write about it a little bit. Besides, having merely driven through it myself a couple of times, I wanted an excuse to learn more about it myself. Here is a nice view of it:


First, the DWP is a national park:

This park preserves 40 miles of the middle Delaware River and almost 70,000 acres of land along the river's New Jersey and Pennsylvania shores. At the south end of the park, the river cuts eastward through the Appalachian Mountains at the scenic Delaware Water Gap. A one-day auto tour of the park can include waterfalls, rural scenery, and historic Millbrook Village. Visitors can also canoe, hike, camp, swim, picnic, bicycle, crosscountry ski, and horseback ride. Fishing and hunting are permitted in season with state licenses.

Secondly, there is significant evidence of pre-historic habitation in the park.

Archeologists began their surveys in 1959, and by the mid 1960s, recognized that this area offered a rich and well preserved record of prehistoric occupation, beginning with the Paleo-Indian, the earliest known culture in the New World. Current theory suggests that during the Wisconsin glaciation period, 23,000 to 12,000 B.C., a land bridge existed between Asia and Alaska, vanishing around 8,000 B.C. Hunter-gatherers migrated across this land bridge following herds of caribou and other large mammals. This culture is recognized archeologically by distinctive fluted projectile points which are most commonly found in eastern North America as isolated finds. Three archeological sites within the recreation area contain evidence of this culture.

Later, this part of the country was an important fortified frontier during the French and Indian wars and during the revolutionary war. In 1758, the New Jersey legislature created the Military Trail of 16 fortified forts to protect against raids. The trail is still visible and used today. There's even a trail guide.

Here is a much more extensive monograph on the history of the DWG region.

You can get a sense of the eco-system at this comprehensive link. Unfortunately, this material concerning the Delaware River makes no mention of the recent oil spill "where up to 473,500 gallons of crude oil flowed out of a six-foot gash in the bottom of a tanker bound for a New Jersey refinery recently".

The DWG is part of a network in New Jersey called the Skylands, a "five-county region contains two national parks at its edges, 60,000 acres of state parkland, and a diverse and beautiful geography filled with lakes, rivers and picturesque hills dotted with farms."

This actually looks like a really fun place to go explore more. I'm glad I took the time to check it out here.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:52 AM | Comments (2)

All is Silent from Miami

Since I involved you all in my job interview, I thought I'd let you know the news. There is no news. Well, besides Generalissimo Francisco Franco still being dead (the early SNLs were really the best, weren't they?). I have heard nothing from Miami. My wife thinks I should give them a ring to see what's going on. My view is more of a having heard nothing, I assume I did not get the job, view. Why bother confirming past that? I think I will just let it lie, for now.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:04 AM | Comments (8)

A Joke, in lieu of a real post

A doctor was addressing a large scientific conference in Tampa concerning the latest dietary breakthroughs:

"The material we put into our stomachs is enough to have killed most of us sitting here. Red meat is awful. Soft drinks contain exorbatent amounts of sugar and corrode your stomach lining. Chinese food is loaded with MSG.

High fat diets can be disastrous, and none of us realizes the long-term harm caused by the germs in our drinking water.

"But there is one thing that is the most dangerous of all, that we all have eaten, or will eat. Would anyone care to guess what food causes the most grief and suffering for years after eating it?"

After several seconds of quiet, a small 75-year-old Jewish man in the front row raised his hand and asked:

"Vedding Cake?"

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:46 AM | Comments (5)

Improbable Name of the Day

I was reading the obituaries in the Daily Telegraph this morning, specifically the obituary of HRH Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands (who, by the way, led a fascinating life), consort to Queen Juliana, when I came upon the name of the young woman with whom it was alleged he may have been unfaithful at some point. The obituary describes it much more discreetly as a "close friendship".

In any event, his close friend was "a young Frenchwoman, the improbably named Poussy Grinda".

I'm really not mature enough to take this seriously. Besides, don't you all hear the James Bond movie theme song now?

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:37 AM | Comments (0)

Ribbons, ribbons, everywhere

I was doing a bit of driving this weekend and I noticed, on the car in front of me, a yellow magnetic ribbon and a pink magnetic ribbon. The yellow ribbon was clearly in support of our troops. The pink ribbon, identical in appearance to the yellow ribbon, made me think that the driver of the car also wanted to make clear his or her support for our troops serving in the "don't ask, don't tell" program.

Later, of course, I realized it was a breast cancer ribbon. But it took awhile!

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:16 AM | Comments (1)

What do you say?

What do you say to a woman whose husband just died? I pondered that question as I drove about 100 miles on Sunday morning to attend the memorial service for my cousin's husband. I love my cousin, I never much liked her husband but I assume that was really my fault and not his. So I knew that I was going for her and not for him. What do you say? I never really know. Everything seems so inadequate. I settled, finally, on, "I'm sorry". That was all. Just that I was sorry. What else is there to say, really?

The service was interesting. It was conducted by a Minister from a hospice organization that helped him die at home. She was very nice but she said that she did not really know how to conduct the service since Sam told her that she could not mention God at all. She said that this was a first for her. But she spoke movingly of Sam and how she got to know him as he died. That sort of freaked me out, just a little, that Sam was discussing his own death and the memorial service he wanted, that he was, how do I put it, . . . He was more or less alone with the absolute realization that he was planning a party he would not be attending, that whatever else happened, he was alone, all alone at the end. This must come to us all, of course, in one way or another. But I was really struck by the manner in which he died, that he had time to contemplate as something other than a philosophical concept, his own demise. In any event, Sam's brother in law got up at the end and read from the Psalms ("The Lord is my Shepard, etc.) and recited the Mourner's Kaddish. The Minister closed the service by saying, "I was surprised to hear that Sam requested that. So, he tricked me. Good for him! I'm glad".

His last little joke. I'm glad, too.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:13 AM | Comments (1)

A Numbers Game

This weekend, the sitemeter odometer ticked over to the 10,000 mark. That's ten thousand visitors since I moved here from blogspot. Is this a world beater number? Nope. But it still seems highly significant to me. When I started this blog, I did so because I just felt like I had some things to say and I wanted a forum in which to do it. And now just over 10,000 people have stopped by to read. In the process, I have made some new friends and been included in a community of pretty wonderful bloggers. In fact, if you are not aware of Mu.Nu., graciously hosted by Pixy, go click on the sidebar labeled "Munuvians" to browse through the list of the denizens of MuNu.

I'm still not really sure what my blog is, though. I don't think it fits neatly into a simple category but that's not a bad thing. Feel free to chime in if you have mentally slotted my blog into a category. I'd be very curious to hear where you've put it since I have no idea myself.

Anyway, thanks for coming and reading. For those of you who have left comments (I heart comments), thanks doubly!

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:43 AM | Comments (5)

December 03, 2004

Africa/AIDS: How to help the children

Watching, from afar, as the AIDS plague has ravaged Africa, I have felt completely helpless, as I am sure many of you do. The plight of the adults who suffer from this syndrome has moved me less than the plight of the orphans who are left behind. The children, some of whom are forced to turn to prostitution in order to survive, are the most heart rending of all the victims. I have tried to imagine, and my mind shies away, from what it must feel like for a child to suddenly be left with no parent at all, entirely dependent on his or her native intelligence and skills to survive, to eat, to find shelter, sometimes at a very tender age when we, in the United States, probably would not let a child walk to school alone, much less live alone. I have discovered a charity that seems to be making a difference, though, and I want to call it to your attention: Hope and Homes. H&H helps children orphaned by HIV and AIDS. H&H helps by providing shelter, food, education, and training so that these children can grow and join society. H&H helps keep families together. They are doing the Lord's work, if you will.

H&H also helps place children left in institutions in Eastern Europe and those orphaned by conflict.

You can donate here, if you should wish to do so.

Posted by Random Penseur at 12:02 PM | Comments (1)

British Education Marches Proudly into the Past

What other title could you put on a post highlighting the fact that one University in Britain has axed the physics department and another the chemistry department? Watch, as the Brits march proudly into the past since they will not be equiping their students to march into the future.

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:38 AM | Comments (1)

A Vicious Assault

Sorry so quiet today, but I got to work late after staying home to be with the kids while my wife fled the house early for a long day of job interviews. Keeping fingers crossed!

When I finally got to work, it was only to discover an email from a very good client. My client, also my friend, had been the victim of a vicious assault by a store owner's employee. He had been struck in the head with some unknown object, hospitalized for two days with swelling in the brain, and suffered significant blood loss. He was almost killed. He wants me to help him sue the owner and anyone else we can think of for damages caused to him and consequently to his business (since he isn't there to run it).

I have been feverishly doing legal research on all of the finer points of tort law this morning -- vicarious liability, negligence (maybe for the hiring practices), etc.

I have never taken a personal injury case before and have sworn I never would. However, I feel a great sense of personal outrage and motivation here. Time to make somebody pay, I think. I can't help the healing, but I can help the recovery.

Did I mention that my friend let his medical insurance lapse and will have to cover all the medical bills himself?

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:35 AM | Comments (1)

December 02, 2004

The "About Me" page

I have finally put up an "About me" post on the sidebar. I am not thrilled with it, particularly, and so draw your attention to it to invite constructive criticism. If you have any ideas about what I should do about it, I'd like to hear them. Thanks!

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:20 AM | Comments (5)

Silly link of the day

Without further explanation, I give you the Farting Nun Organ.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:32 AM | Comments (0)

The End of Corporate Democracy?

Corporate democracy is an interesting concept. Briefly, it means that if you own an interest, a share, of a corporation, you are entitled to vote on matters which are required to be put for a vote before the shareholders. What matters? Well, elections of directors, corporate and shareholder resolutions, mergers and acquisitions, and certain kinds of asset sales. This right to vote is a fundamental aspect of corporate and share ownership. It may not apply to all classes of stock, of course.

The system is premised on the following concept: those with an economic interest should be permitted a voice in proportion to that economic interest. One share, one vote, in other words. This system has worked pretty well up to now and courts take very seriously issues of shareholder disenfranchisement, freeze out, and other maneuvers by which shareholders are pushed out of their rights to vote.

The system, however, has just been totally gamed. It may not be a bad thing, but it is certainly very interesting.

The NY Times reported this morning on a technique used by the "owner" of 10% of a corporation's outstanding and issued shares in regard to a merger vote. Why is owner in quotes? Simple. The owner of the shares simultaneously bought them while another party, a counterparty (I think), sold the shares short. Result? He owns the shares with absolutely no economic interest or risk. In other words, he has the voting rights but no exposure to the fluctuation of the share price in the market place. Shareholder rights activists are up in arms over this. I, too, was initially quite disturbed by it. But the article, at the absolute very end, quotes a law professor who points out that shareholders in a large public company have no fiduciary duty to each other. I forgot that as I got caught up in the drama of the article. This is important. Shareholders voting on a merger are under no compulsion to vote anything other than what is in their best interests, not the best interests of their fellow shareholders. To require otherwise would be unwieldy at best and at worst would require a level of care in a relationship of co-shareholders that is absolutely unwarranted.

This is an interesting issue, I think. Gaming the corporate democracy system by holding voting shares with no economic exposure. It raises the question of why you would want to do it at all if you don't stand to gain by any price movement in the shares you "own". The article in the Times did not address this question. But suppose the "owner" really did own shares in the other company in the merger. . . Maybe that's where the play is. Very clever, if so.

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

Zimbabwe -- Let the Children Eat, what, cake? Nothing?

Mugabe is in the process of running out of Zimbabwe all foreign aid organizations. We have discussed previously how it has become a criminal offense to accept foreign money in connection with any electoral monitoring and we have also commented on the exclusion of the foreign press and the enhanced criminal penalties authorized for those who "tell falsehoods" about government. So I should not be astonished to learn that a charity responsible for giving 90,000 the only hot meal that they eat in a day has been kicked out of the country. Medair, a Swiss organization devoted to food distribution, had this to say:

It is with real sadness that after 2 years Medair has this week left Zimbabwe. The final move which forced the decision was the refusal by the Zimbabwean government to issue work permits for our 2 remaining senior expatriate staff members.

This follows months in which we had seen our temporary registration to continue our school feeding programmes in Gokwe North and Mudzi districts expire and not be renewed despite our best efforts, and all remaining expatriate staff refused work permits. Unable to work and consequently to fund our continued presence, we were left with no choice but to finally withdraw from the country.

The timing of this decision is all the more significant because of the deteriorating economic and humanitarian situation within the country. On the 15th of November the Famine Early Warning System Network for Zimbabwe (FEWS) reasserted their prediction that 2.2 million rural households would require food aid before the end of the year. Indeed, earlier this month World Food Programme (WFP) reported falling school attendances in Mudzi district as parents took their children out of school to work in the fields or find food. This was highlighted as a direct result of the halting of the Medair school feeding programme in August after our registration renewal was refused by the government.

‘We’d really hoped to continue the school feeding programme in partnership with WFP, but instead we found ourselves prevented from distributing, and so the food has sat deteriorating in the warehouses since August. It’s been so frustrating not being free to work and now we leave knowing the increasing food insecurity that faces those primary school children and their families’, said Mark Screeton, Medair Desk Officer for Zimbabwe.

At this time of great need our thoughts remain with the beneficiaries we have tried to serve in Zimbabwe over the last 2 years, and with our great local staff who have worked tirelessly, and who now find themselves unemployed at a time of national economic crisis.

Mugabe is a terrifying dictator in the worst of the authoritarian tradition. Children will starve as a result of his personally wrecking his country's economy.

I wonder if it will end in some form of armed uprising.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:17 AM | Comments (6)

December 01, 2004

Future of Welsh Hip-hop

Go check out GLC (goldie lookin chain) to catch their new single, Your Mother's got a Penis, and ponder, if you dare, the future of Welch Hip-hop.

Come on, you know you want to.


If you are visiting, I have another post on Welsh Hip Hop here. Also, congratulations (link to my small tribute post) to the nation of Wales on the outstanding Six Nations Rugby Grand Slam!

Posted by Random Penseur at 02:53 PM | Comments (87)

The Practice of Law -- small rant

What do you think, assuming you are not a lawyer, about what the practice of law is? I think that there are many different images. Maybe you think it is like television, all Ally McBeal or LA Law -- lots of well dressed people running about like idiots and arguing with judges. Maybe you think it is the movie image of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird or Tom Cruise in a Few Good Men. Maybe you have the used car salesman image of the sleazy personal injury or insurance defense lawyer. Maybe it is the tweed coat wearing law school professor image or the ivory tower Supreme Court litigator who sits high above and contemplates serious issues. What else? Maybe the grizzled old criminal defense lawyer or the young earnest prosecutor. Maybe the crusading environmental lawyer or the terribly serious public interest guys with the long hair and earrings who still think that smoking weed is consistent with the oath they took upon admission to the Bar.

Reality? Pretty much nothing like the above descriptions. At least, not in my practice. No, in reality, even at the big firms, a lawyer is a small business operator. He sells services to individuals and to companies and then he tries to get paid for them. Some of the services are measured by the amount of time spent performing them and those are charged on an hourly basis. That hourly basis charge is a very expensive way for an individual to purchase legal services, especially the services I provide -- complex corporate litigation and dispute resolution. Litigating by the hour is a terrible way to go, for most. In fact, just out of curiosity, how much do you think my firm charges out my time at? I'll be interested to see what you come up with.

I spend some of my time dealing with the frustration of making sure my clients pay the firm for the services we provided. I do a good job for my clients and usually obtain pretty good results, but there is no guarantee about anything and I have had some bad decisions and bad results. But, those bad results don't mean that the client is relieved of his obligation to pay his bills. And if the client doesn't pay me, what can I do? I can't stop performing services because I am a fiduciary to my client. I can make a motion to the court to be relieved as counsel but that is not a guarantee that I will be relieved. I may be stuck with this client, as I am probably stuck right now, with a client who has a $40,000 plus bill and has not given me anything on it but empty promises and mumbles.

It is annoying to be lied to about your bills.

So, no, instead of thinking of a lawyer as an Armani suit wearing guy who spends his days yelling at judges, think instead of a small business owner who struggles to get paid. And also sometimes yells at judges, if they get lucky.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:54 AM | Comments (13)

Harvard Admits: We Suck

Harvard students, tricked by the Yalies, admit: We Suck.


Posted by Random Penseur at 10:44 AM | Comments (3)