12.13.2005

Podcasts of Note: AudioStoa and Marketplace Takeout

WAMU moved the Marketplace Morning report from 8:50 am to 7:50 am, so I've been missing it for about a week (I'm not in the car at 7:50 am). Since I was up early this morning to restart my training for the Shamrock Half Marathon in March (and hopefully get out of my funk), I heard the morning report when I got back. What I also heard was that Marketplace has a podcast called Marketplace Takeout. It's a weekly collection of the best stories from all of the Marketplace shows. Sweet!

AudioStoa is an excellent resource produced weekly by Julien Villeneuve. So far, he's been working his way through Epictetus's Discourses. AudioStoa 12: Of Contentment is an excellent screed against whining.

My favorite part:

Remembering, then, this disposition of things we ought to go to be instructed, not that we may change the constitution of things — for we have not the power to do it, nor is it better that we should have the power — but in order that, as the things around us are what they are and by nature exist, we may maintain our minds in harmony with them things which happen. For can we escape from men? and how is it possible? And if we associate with them, can we chance them? Who gives us the power? What then remains, or what method is discovered of holding commerce with them? Is there such a method by which they shall do what seems fit to them, and we not the less shall be in a mood which is conformable to nature? But you are unwilling to endure and are discontented: and if you are alone, you call it solitude; and of you are with men, you call them knaves and robbers; and you find fault with your own parents and children, and brothers and neighbours. But you ought when you are alone to call this condition by the name of tranquillity and freedom, and to think yourself like to the gods; and when you are with many, you ought not to call it crowd, nor trouble, nor uneasiness, but festival and assembly, and so accept all contentedly.

What, then, is the punishment of those who do not accept? It is to be what they are. Is any person dissatisfied with being alone, let him be alone. Is a man dissatisfied with his parents? let him be a bad son, and lament. Is he dissatisfied with his children? let him be a bad father. "Cast him into prison." What prison? Where he is already, for he is there against his will; and where a man is against his will, there he is in prison. So Socrates was not in prison, for he was there willingly.



Fantastic stuff.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...pod boy...

12.12.2005

Money, Money, Money

Jane Galt has an excellent post about what you should do with your money.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...lightweight...

12.01.2005

Pandora: Coolest Music App Ever

Johnny Law tipped me off to Pandora, and awesome web application that uses the Music Genome Project to create a dynamic web radio station based on the songs or artists you put in. On top of that, it's integrated with iTunes.

Words do not suffice to express its coolness. You just have to try it out.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...floored...

11.15.2005

The Law Review Article I Wish I Wrote

Hit & Run notes a law review article examining bureaucracy and government through the prism of Harry Potter.

This Essay examines what the Harry Potter series (and particularly the most recent book, The Half-Blood Prince) tells us about government and bureaucracy. There are two short answers. The first is that Rowling presents a government (The Ministry of Magic) that is 100% bureaucracy. There is no discernable executive or legislative branch, and no elections. There is a modified judicial function, but it appears to be completely dominated by the bureaucracy, and certainly does not serve as an independent check on governmental excess.

Second, government is controlled by and for the benefit of the self-interested bureaucrat. The most cold-blooded public choice theorist could not present a bleaker portrait of a government captured by special interests and motivated solely by a desire to increase bureaucratic power and influence. Consider this partial list of government activities: a) torturing children for lying; b) utilizing a prison designed and staffed specifically to suck all life and hope out of the inmates; c) placing citizens in that prison without a hearing; d) allows the death penalty without a trial; e) allowing the powerful, rich or famous to control policy and practice; f) selective prosecution (the powerful go unpunished and the unpopular face trumped-up charges); g) conducting criminal trials without independent defense counsel; h) using truth serum to force confessions; i) maintaining constant surveillance over all citizens; j) allowing no elections whatsoever and no democratic lawmaking process; k) controlling the press.



And all I've got is e-wills. Meh.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...short cutter...

The Anti-Complaint

Bruce Godfrey has an excellent idea for a good deed that costs very little and can make a great difference in the life of those you interact with on a daily basis.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...git 'r done...

11.10.2005

Board of Trustees Town Hall Meeting

As the Washington Post announced, there was a town hall meeting with members of the Board of Trustees tonight. Not the entire Board, but a subset attended, in advance of the full Board meeting tomorrow.

John, Alex, Jaisen, and I went after class tonight to speak out about the governance situation. Firstly, I'm glad that the Board (or at least some of the members) wants to open dialogue, even if it's late and even if it's under pressure. It takes courage to stand up in front of a 'hot' room and field questions.

I was moved by the passion of the speakers, especially the former tennis team member. He spoke about how, when the tennis team's $120,000 budget was cut last year, he was told by the administration that it was due to financial constraints [Ben Ladner admitted to improperly spending in excess of $120,000 himself. -Ed.], but the Board of Trustees was able, this year, to spend $3.75 million to sever ties with Dr. Ladner. He went on to point out that not a single trustee was at the town hall meeting held at the time of the athletics cuts.

When I spoke, I focused on the lack of communication up to this point, noting that every previous communication has come only after pressure from students, faculty, the press, or the Senate Finance Committee. With that lack of communication, the Board's commitment to self-assessing their governance structure is unlikely to be sufficient. It's a baby step, but we expect more.

After my question I was interviewed by Lisa Nurnberger from WAMU, so I might be on the radio tomorrow morning.

Thanks go out to everyone who attended and everyone who has not given up on bringing this matter to a full accounting. As long as we keep on fighting, we'll keep on making progress.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...briefly updating...

UPDATE: WAMU did a Metro Connection story on the Board of Trustees. I'm the one at the beginning saying that "this Board has lost the confidence of every important constituency at AU."

11.03.2005

Cracks in the Coalition

...and crags in the face. Reading the Economist article about Germany's coalition government meltdown, I'm left with one burning question:

Why is it that the German leaders are so unattractive and frankly, tired-looking?



Given that I'm operating on three hours of sleep after finishing my Comment first draft (email me if you want to read 40 pp of legal writing), maybe I shouldn't throw stones.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...tired...

10.31.2005

A Bad Reason to Go to Law School

This is probably the worst reason to go to law school I've ever seen.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...heh...

Associate Justice Alito?

In an unsurprising move, Bush nominated Third Circuit Judge Samuel Alito for the Supreme Court this morning.

There will be a fight, what with Alito having dissented in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 947 F.2d 682 (3d Cir. 1991) reversed and remanded by Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992), but after the dust settles, he'll probably be confirmed.

I'm giving 2-1 in favor of his confirmation, for those who are gamblers.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...crystal ball peering...

10.27.2005

AU Board of Trustees v. United States Senate

Anyone want to take some bets on who's going to win this one?

The Washington Post is reporting that our calls for Congress to step in have been answered.

The Senate Finance Committee has asked for every document related to ousted American University president Benjamin Ladner's severance package and compensation and for the board's plans for an audit of all 11 years of his tenure.

In a four-page letter, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) asked for details on all no-bid contracts over $100,000, copies of all correspondence with the Internal Revenue Service for the past five years, biographies of each trustee and documentation of how the board made certain decisions.



Looks like the Gang of 13 made a pretty big error in pushing the 'platinum parachute' for through over the objections of pretty much everyone at or affiliated with AU who wasn't them. Gee, rescinding that severance package seems a lot easier to do now that you're under Senate investigation, doesn't it Mr. Gottschalk?

In his letter, Grassley, the chairman of the committee, called "particularly troubling" a situation in which a nonprofit organization believes "that it is proper to provide approximately $3.75 million in payments to an individual who has failed to pay taxes on nearly $400,000 in income [for the past three years] after the board terminated his employment. Such actions raise significant questions about what other things a charity that has such a cavalier attitude toward the tax laws might be doing."



Thank you Senator Grassley for reiterating to the Board what we have been saying for weeks. Perhaps your voice will pierce through their 'hear no evil' selective deafness.

If you haven't already contacted the Board of Trustees or Congress, you can do it here and here.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...we're not gonna take it...

UPDATE: Thanks for the links, UD and Hiram Hover. Good to know somebody notices. Also, USA Today is piling on:

After an investigation of Ladner's lavish spending in the past three years, American's trustees voted earlier this month that Ladner would have to go. This week, they sweetened that goodbye with $2.75 million in "deferred compensation" and a $950,000 "settlement." That comes to about $340 per student on the District of Columbia campus. But who's counting? Apparently not the trustees.

In corporate America, excessive rewards for bad behavior are as common as they are embarrassing. At a non-profit university where students, parents and contributors are footing the bill, a golden parachute is irresponsible and insulting.



What they said.

10.26.2005

Campus to Board of Trustees: You Suck!

What sort of bizzaro world do the remaining members of the Board of Trustees live in that they think they can give Ben 'I Spend Your Tuition on Private Parties to Build a Community and You Should Thank Me For It' Ladner a fat severance deal and have the campus accept it? As noted today in the Post, we're more than a little bit angry.

Four of the former trustees have written an open letter slamming the Board decision.

We are dismayed not only by the amount of the platinum parachute, but also by the way it was determined. The students, the deans, the faculty, and donors should have been heard before a decision was made. The trustees only worsened the matter by holding their meetings in secret and demanding oaths of confidentiality. We now know why. They needed to hide behind a cloak of secrecy to avoid listening to dissent, to conceal as long as possible their goal to put Ben Ladner's demands first and the University's needs a distant second. If this is the Board's new approach to governance and transparency, we are certainly glad that we are no longer part of it.



How does Thomas 'Trust Me, I'm Doing a Good Job, Honest' Gottschalk respond? From the Post article:

Gottschalk said the letter "does a disservice" to the school, "states facts and legal certainties that were very much in question and violates assurances of confidentiality in ways that misrepresent the board's action and misleads the public."



Seriously, where do you get a tin ear like that from? Maybe if the Board didn't operate like a shadowy cabal, making decisions in secret, then expecting people to 'trust them,' we wouldn't need former members to tell us the truth. Asshole.

On the bright side, the WCL Faculty once again does us proud with the following (unanimous) resolution. Lawyers are extra sensitive about ethical impropriety. No, really.

RESOLUTION OF THE FACULTY OF THE WASHINGTON COLLEGE OF LAW (WCL)

The Faculty of the Washington College of Law condemns the decision of the Board of Trustees of American University to offer a multimillion dollar settlement to former President Benjamin Ladner, and expresses its lack of confidence in the Board. The Board’s decision represents a waste of university resources and betrays the educational mission of the institution. The reported settlement entered into by the Board is a violation of its legal duties, and should be revoked.

Only a thorough restructuring of the university’s system of governance, emphasizing transparency and representativeness, can put behind us the continuing crisis created by Mr. Ladner’s and the Board’s actions. Therefore, the Faculty urges that no search for a new President takes place before the systemic issues of governance are addressed and resolved.

Unanimously adopted by the WCL Faculty on October 25, 2005.



The worst part is that the Board won't comment on their decision. Thankfully, AU Deserves Better has posted a convenient list of contact info for the Board members here. Use it.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...fight the power...

10.25.2005

Ladner Resigns, Takes Severance

The AU Board of Trustees (what's left of it after the good ones have resigned, e.g. Leslie Bains, Paul Wolff, Michael Capellas, Leonard Jaskol, and George Collins) has accepted Ben Ladner's resignation in exchange for a $3.7 million package ($2.75 million in deferred compensation and $950,000 in severance).

The $2.75 million includes just over $1 million in insurance and about $1.75 million in two trusts, Gottschalk said. That's money already set aside by the university, he said. The $950,000 is the only part of the payment "that might be colloquially referred to as a parachute," Gottschalk said.

Ladner will have to reimburse the school $134,000 for three years in question, Gottschalk said; report an additional $398,000 in taxable income to the IRS; and pay AU the amount the school would have withheld on that income.

"He doesn't walk away with the lion's share of that $950,000" after paying taxes and reimbursing AU, Gottschalk said.



The upshot of this is that the Board gave him the money to reimburse the school with. That's a firm message, all right. Gottschalk's letter to the community is here.

I guess I'm happy that he's gone, but the fact that the Board would continue to act without shame in spite of the flurry of resignations is very disappointing.

Getting rid of Ladner: old and busted. Ousting the current Board of Trustees: the new hotness.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...has a long memory...


UPDATE: Four of the former trustees have published an open letter to the community. Here it is, in its entirety:

An Open Letter to the American University Community

We write to set the record straight. The golden, now platinum, parachute given Ben Ladner is not a mere $950,000 the Board of Trustees has disingenuously claimed. It is the entire $3.75 Million reported in the newspapers. Each and every dollar is a gift. The University owes Ben Ladner nothing.

First, the Board has placed itself and the University in the midst of an outrageous and expensive inconsistency. The Board is on record as having determined at its Board meeting October 20th that Ben Ladner was an employee at will, with no contractual rights against the University and that Ben Ladner should be discharged for cause. Notwithstanding these findings, the Board gave him $950,000 as severance. There can be no more contradictory positions. To be consistent and to fulfill its fiduciary obligation, the Board had only one option and that was to give Ladner zero, as the four of us have repeatedly urged.

Second, the Board only tells half the story regarding the insurance policy. Yes, Ben Ladner was entitled to the $1 Million in the split dollar policy. But he was also obligated under the policy to repay the University the premiums it had paid on his behalf. Because the investments in the policy were quite unsuccessful, the policy's value was almost exactly the same as the premiums owed. Thus, the University owed Ben Ladner $1 Million and he owed the University $1 Million in premiums paid. Accordingly, he was owed nothing. Giving him the policy without asking for the premiums back is exactly the same as writing him a check for $1 Million.

Third, the reference to $1.75 Million in two trusts is flat-out misleading. Here's the true story. Ben Ladner had $1.75 Million in deferred compensation which did not become his until 2010. Between now and 2010, he risked losing all of it, 100%, if he were to be fired for cause. Since the Board determined at its last meeting that he should be fired for cause, allowing him to resign is effectively a gift of the $1.75 Million. Had principle and not expediency carried the day, the University would have kept each and every cent of the $1.75 Million.

But that is not the whole story. Remember he misspent over $125,000 for purely personal enjoyment. He also misspent almost $400,000 which the audit committee in its generosity called imputed income, giving Ben the benefit of calling the invalid 1997 contract valid. Now that two law firms, University counsel and the Board itself have opined that the contract has no merit and was neither authorized nor ratified, we can add this amount to the list of misspent University money. Add to this the over $1 Million that the investigation cost. Thus, the true dollar cost is over $5 Million. And this is only part of the damage. Because of Ladner's behavior, an ethical cloud
hangs over the University. The School has become the target of jokes and criticism. And most importantly, several significant donors have withdrawn pledges and we assume more will follow. After all, who would want their donation to fund a reward for bad behavior?

We dismiss the Board's alleged fear of litigation as a mere excuse for the Board's largesse. It is totally without merit. First, principle should rule. There should be no deviation from the only guideline to be followed - wrongdoing must not be compensated. Second, we repeat that the Board has three legal opinions that the 1997 contract has no validity. The Board has adopted this position. The insurance policy is clear. Ben Ladner owes the University the premiums. There is no ambiguity in the deferred compensation arrangement. Ben takes nothing if he's fired for cause. Third, the cost of litigation to the University if pursued by Ladner would be only a small
fraction of the severance package just awarded to him. The University has in-house counsel and we are certain that the law school faculty would provide any additional assistance needed.

We are dismayed not only by the amount of the platinum parachute, but also by the way it was determined. The students, the deans, the faculty, and donors should have been heard before a decision was made. The trustees only worsened the matter by holding their meetings in secret and demanding oaths of confidentiality. We now know why. They needed to hide behind a cloak of secrecy to avoid listening to dissent, to conceal as long as possible their goal to put Ben Ladner's demands first and the University's needs a distant second. If this is the Board's new approach to governance and transparency, we are certainly glad that we are no longer part of it.

The Board has significantly worsened an already sad chapter in the University's history. It has lost sight of its true constituency - the students, the faculty and the alumni. The Board has given $3.75 Million to an undeserving individual. Had it earmarked this money for the deserving, Ladner's platinum parachute could have funded the salary of over three dozen faculty members for a year; provided for almost 200 full tuition scholarships for a year; and provided in perpetuity 10 full scholarships. This is where American University's resources should go and that is why we voted for no money for Ben Ladner and why ultimately we sadly resigned from the Board.

Sincerely,

Leslie E. Bains, former Chair of the Board of Trustees
George J. Collins, former Chair of the Board of Trustees
Leonard R. Jaskol, former Chair of the Audit Committee
Paul Martin Wolff, former Trustee

Do What Needs To Be Done

Today's quote from Thus Spoke Epictetus is a very powerful one:

“Once you allow outward things to dominate what is your own, you had better become a slave and have done with it. Don’t be drawn this way and that, wishing to be a slave one moment and free another, but be this or that simply and with all your mind, free or slave, philosopher or unenlightened, a fighting cock of spirit, or one of no spirit; either bear stroke after stroke patiently till you die, or give way at once. Let it not be your lot to suffer many blows and then give way in the end.”


-Epictetus, Discourses 2.2.12-14 [Matheson Trans.]

This reminder comes at a good time for me, when I've been contemplating giving up on law school from the pressure. It's tempting to leave the struggle and the deadlines and the pressure to return to a life where I have leisure time. As Epictetus points out, it's fine to join the struggle and equally fine to not struggle, but vacillating between the two is unacceptable.

Also, thanks to DT Strain for creating the emblem.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...getting back on track...

10.21.2005

My Little Crony

I've avoided the Miers nomination like the plague, mostly because I don't care. However, this cartoon makes a pretty succinct argument.

Also, the VC's Jim Lindgren has a good post about her lack of writing ability. Since writing is what Justices do, this is a hefty weight against her.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...still doesn't care...

10.18.2005

Biker Gang Book, Redux

Bill Queen spent two years infiltrating the Mongols motorcycle club for the ATF. As a
story in this morning's WaPo points out, bikers like publicity, even if it involves them going to jail.

While his former Mongol associates were still in prison, Queen retired from the ATF and published a book about his adventures called "Under and Alone: The True Story of the Undercover Agent Who Infiltrated America's Most Violent Outlaw Motorcycle Gang." It reached bestseller lists this summer.

The book describes the Mongols as the worst of the worst -- beer-breathed, meth-snorting, misogynist marauders who lived by a code of fierce loyalty to their brothers -- and to hell with the rest. Their motto: "Respect few, fear none." In the book, Queen's chief antagonist is none other than Red Dog.

Guess what? The Mongols dug the book, or at least parts of it. "I hear they were overjoyed," Queen says. "The more violent and hard and mean you call them, the happier they are."



In the end, biker gangs are not the menace they're made out to be by the fear mongers in the media, and certainly not worthy of the kind of effort that the ATF put into busting them. Despite that, people are still intrigued by the mystery of the outlaw, even if the outlaw is a dirty, meth-addled, misogynist loser.

For my money, Hunter S. Thompson's Hell's Angels remains the definitive classic of the genre.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...get your motor running...

10.17.2005

Post Puff Piece on Poor Prez

The Post has a new profile piece on Ladner and his contradictions, in which they try to show the human face of the man they helped oust.

Before the audit, before the no-confidence votes, before trustees removed him as president of American University, Benjamin Ladner taught ethics.


That's the heart of his now contradictory story: He's a philosopher, known for the eloquence of his speeches, with more than a little Southern preacher in him. His friends describe him as an honorable, charismatic leader. But his critics -- who have been growing in number since an investigation found that the Ladners spent university money on foie gras, limousines, French wine and family parties -- say he's unethical, manipulative and imperious.



My summary: He was a nice guy who taught ethics and whose friends like him, but he apparently skimmed a bunch of money. Gosh, where did he lose the plot?

Frankly, I don't care if he's a nice guy who is good to his autistic, retarded son. He partied with students' tuition money. That's not okay, even if he doesn't kick puppies.

It sucks that there are still trustees on the Board who want to give him a hefty severance, sucking so bad that two of them have resigned. My proposed severance package: Ladner leaves quickly and he doesn't get his package severed.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...available for a trusteeship...

Pussy Beer

No, not the watery and near-tasteless (though improved immensely by the addition of Gatorade) Michelob Ultra that John, Boozie, and I drank after our 13.1 miles of hell on Saturday. That's beer for pussies.

This is rather beer from pussies. Or rather from one pussy. Toi Sennhauser's pussy, to be exact.

By adding a trace amount of my vaginal yeast to regular brewer's yeast, my "Original Pussy Beer" pays homage to beer's ancient creators from "the cradle of civilization." Woman is literally reunited with the beer.


I wonder how it tastes with fish and chips...

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...fruit of the womb...

UPDATE: For those of you looking to make your own booty brew, the Stranger article reviewing the installation has this detail about the...umm...method of collection:

Oktoberfest viewers sat at a long wooden table with pretzels and coasters advertising her "Original Pussy Beer: the Mother of All Beers." Sennhauser wore a St. Pauli Girl outfit and a stereo played what sounded like Bavarian beer hall music. She offered me a cup and a pretzel while a photographer hovered to catch my reaction. Sennhauser said she brewed the beer with oak chips and stuck a few up her vagina before tossing them into the mix. I sat down at the table, toasted with a few other participants, and drank.

10.14.2005

Poker Stars Blogger Tournament

Poker Championship

I have registered to play in the
Online Poker Blogger Championship!

This event is powered by PokerStars.

Registration code: 4897179



You ought to sign up too.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...more the merrier...

UPDATE: Out at 463 out of a field of 1473. Not bad, but not a winner either.

10.13.2005

Ladnergate: Wolff Leaves Board

According to the Washington Post, trustee Paul Wolff has resigned, news that comes only a couple of days after Leslie Bains resigned.
An American University trustee who had been openly critical of ousted president Benjamin Ladner resigned from the board yesterday, saying he could not support the effort underway to negotiate a severance deal with Ladner.

Paul M. Wolff's departure followed that of the chairman, Leslie E. Bains, who left the board just days ago criticizing Ladner's "imperial lifestyle" and his supporters on the board.

I'm sorry to see Wolff go; he was a calm voice of reason during the whole affair. On the other hand, if the Board is determined to give Ladner a golden parachute, resignation may be the only honorable course.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...ceteris parabis...

UPDATE: BenLadner.com has a copy of Wolff's resignation letter, which is very good in its entirety, though this passage stands out:

The need to sever all relationships with Ben Ladner and to have him leave with no severance package is not only a question of money, but a question regarding the future of AU. As Acting Provost Ivy Broder so eloquently stated, "an ethical cloud" hangs over the school. There is an unfathomable depth of resentment on the campus toward Ben Ladner. As our faculty pointed out, Ben's behavior has subjected the University, the deans, the faculty and the students to embarrassment. We must remove the cloud. We must speak out clearly and unequivocally. We must tell the University and all of our constituencies that a new day is dawning and that behavior such as Ben's will not be countenanced. Any payment beyond that required by law will send a clear message that bad behavior has its rewards. People will continue to look cynically upon our University. To compensate ethical lapses only compounds our problems. As I leave the Board, I urge you to do what is right, not what is expedient. If we are to be a school that shows zero tolerance for misbehavior, we must also mete out zero reward for such lapses.

In Case You Need a Reason Not to Drink in DC

This should suffice.

Stupid DC laws.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...test case...

Morning Mencken

A little something to think about this morning:
You can't do anything about the length of your life, but you can do something about its width and depth. -H.L. Mencken, writer, editor, and critic (1880-1956)

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...digging and spreading...

10.10.2005

Don't Let the Door Hit You in the Ass

Ben Ladner, found to have been getting high on our supply, has been sacked by the AU Board of Trustees.

American University trustees announced this evening that suspended President Benjamin Ladner will not return to the university after a months-long investigation into his personal spending and travel expenses.

The announcement, which came at about 8:30 p.m., followed a day-long meeting on the matter. There were no details immediately available about the decision and no response from Ladner.


Now the trick will be for the University to get through the federal investigation and find a new president, hopefully one who doesn't require $800K/year and a personal chef, at least not on my dime.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...pleasantly surprised...

10.06.2005

Don't Check Your Common Sense at the Door

The whole point of law school is to teach a person how to 'think like a lawyer' and impart a basic understanding of the law. Thinking like a lawyer doesn't mean that you should forget how to think. As my lawyer once told me, "Law is a distillation of common sense. 99% of the time, the common sense answer is the right one." 1

Russ at Barely Legal illustrates this perfectly with this anecdote:
I had to file a petition to become a provisional federal attorney. I didn't want to read the 4 pages of instructions so I just called the clerk's office and introduced myself and asked them what I should do. The clerk was very nice and she gave me some convoluted instructions about the series of mailings we'd have to have back and forth. "Cindy," (that was the clerk's name), "I only live ten minutes away. Is it allright if I just come down there and you and I fill out everything all at once. That way it's easier for everyone and, as a plus, I'll get a chance to meet you." She said that would be a great idea and I went down there and took care of everything.


Social engineering is the most effective hacking skill there is.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...delaying the inevitable...

1 - Except for criminal procedure, especially Fourth Amendment law; that's all kinds of insane.

9.29.2005

The Surreal Life: Ben Ladner Edition

Johnny Law has an update on the situation, including pics from the on-campus protest we attended yesterday evening.

As if the personal chef and exquisite five thousand dollar lunches weren't enough for President Ladner, the Washington Post uncovered a confidental memo to the Board requsting an additional five million in compensation to maintain his current standard of living at his retirement.


Too bad we had to go to class before we got to start chanting on the bullhorn; I really wanted to lead a rousing chorus of "He-ey, ho-oh, Benjamin Ladner has got to go!" However, AU Libertarians member, Calvin Beaulier did a great job of rallying the troops; he is pictured in the front-page DC Examiner story



This quote sums up the feeling on campus:

"No matter what the outcome of the investigation, he's going to come back to a student body that doesn't trust him and a Board of Trustees that is one vote away from letting him go," [Emily Freifeld] said. "He has to go."


It doesn't matter whether he was living extravagently with our tuition money in violation of his contract or in conformance with it. We still don't want him back.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...Ladner out of AU...

9.27.2005

Ladner, a Message to You...

Leave.

The faculty, student government, and half the board of trustees agree. Like closing time at the bar (e.g the open bar you bought with $44,000 of our money), you don't have to go home, but you can't stay here.

I think that this picture from BenLadner.com says it all:






Yours truly,
Mr. X

...not amused...

9.26.2005

Porkbusters: Make Congress Trim Some Fat

Stephen VanDyke's heads up informed me about the Porkbusters campaign to reduce wasteful government spending to offset Katrina rebuilding efforts. I may not be the Libertarian Party, but as a Libertarian, I contacted my
Congressman, Albert Wynn, to request a specific spending cut.

Dear Congressman Wynn,
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the whole country was shocked by the devestation and poured out support to our fellow citizens in New Orleans. As a supplement to the private response, President Bush has proposed to do 'whatever it takes' to rebuild the affected area.

Given the high price tag of a Federal rebuilding effort (potentially more than $200 billion), combined with the already high national debt and budget deficit, it is imperative that disaster spending be offset by spending cuts elsewhere.

I am writing as a concerned constituent to ask you to propose cutting the $3,000,000 earmarked for the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation to help offset Katrina spending. If you are not willing to cut this spending (highlighted in Citizens Against Government Waste's 2005 Pig Book), I'm eager to hear what other specific spending cuts you are willing to make to offset Katrina spending.

I look forward to your response and will be publishing this letter and any subsequent response from your office on my blog.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

I will update this post if and when I receive a response. In the meantime, you can look up pork to contact your representatives about here. Blogging's not all fun, games, and boobies. Sometimes it's serious stuff.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...activist...

9.23.2005

Role Model?

Is AU President Ben Ladner a good role model? As noted in this Washington Post story, Mr. Ladner has bilked the school for $500,000 in spurious expenses, above and beyond his ridiculous $800,000 annual salary.

The spending in dispute includes travel expenses, more than $6,000 in club dues, nearly $54,000 in drivers' costs, more than $220,000 in chef services, more than $100,000 in services from the social secretary and nearly $44,000 in alcohol.


As a student who is spending in excess of $20,000 per year to attend this fine institution (part-time, no less), my initial reaction would to call for his ouster, along with the worthless trustees who allowed this to go unchecked.

On the other hand, anyone who spends $44,000 on alcohol can't be all bad, can he? I just wish he had bought me a drink.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...a little peeved...

UPDATE: Obligatory legal question: Can we sue the trustees for breach of fiduciary duty?

9.15.2005

The Onion: Satire site or Delphic oracle?

On February 18, 2004, The Onion published a story entitled, "Fuck Everything, We're Doing Five Blades," describing a fictional Gillette executive's response to the Schick Quattro, a razor that offered four blades to the Gillette Mach 3's paltry three.

You think it's crazy? It is crazy. But I don't give a shit. From now on, we're the ones who have the edge in the multi-blade game. Are they the best a man can get? Fuck, no. Gillette is the best a man can get.

What part of this don't you understand? If two blades is good, and three blades is better, obviously five blades would make us the best fucking razor that ever existed. Comprende? We didn't claw our way to the top of the razor game by clinging to the two-blade industry standard. We got here by taking chances. Well, five blades is the biggest chance of all.


Now an actual Gillette executive has announced that they're going beyond satire to launch the Gillette Fusion, a five-bladed razor. Not only five-blades, but a goddamn microchip (to "regulate the voltage and blade action") as well.

Gillette has escalated the razor wars yet again, unveiling a new line of razors on Wednesday with five blades and a lubricating strip on both the front and back.

The razor, known as the Fusion, has blades spaced 30 percent closer than Gillette's current MACH3Turbo system. It also has a single blade on the back of the cartridge for shaving sideburns or trimming under the nose.


Close readers of this blog will note that this is not the first time that the Onion's predictions have come true. Horoscope writers and palm readers should beware. Nostradamus publishers should quake. There's a new oracle of the future in town: America's Finest News Source.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...shocked and awed...

9.13.2005

Breaking the Silence

I finished my first cite-checking assignment Sunday night. Somehow I found about 25 hours above and beyond my normal work and school duties to find sources in three different libraries, copy and collate them, and edit 20 or so pages of scholarly article. All that, and I still don't feel like I did a good enough job.

Thank you to everyone who has been patient with me over the last week or so, especially the lovely girl who made me dinner on Sunday night.

It's six o'clock on a Tuesday and I still have a ton of work to do, so I'm going to get back to it.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...alive, barely...

9.01.2005

Stoicism in Action: New Orleans Edition

A commentary this morning on NPR by Chris Rose served as a reminder of how hard it can be to remain stoic in the face of disaster.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...dealing with smaller problems...

8.16.2005

Harlan McCraney: Presidential Speechalist

The power to craft words into moving speeches is an awesome power, especially when you're crafting speeches for the President of the United State. Harlan McCraney is that master crafter.

As an aside, Andy Dick is quite funny in The Aristocrats, which you should see.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...me talk pretty one day...

8.15.2005

I have joined the Pod people

The FedEx guy delivered my brand spanking new iPod mini today, shipped straight from the Apple factory in Shanghai where it had "Die of exhaustion rather than boredom" laser-engraved on the back. My arm-band holder for said iPod arrived at the same time, which bodes well for KMFDM-fueled half-marathon training runs in the near future.

Also, you should all go to see The Aristocrats at your earliest convenience. It's hilarious.

Finally, I accomplished one of my two goals for the two-week break between semesters; I finished reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. It's a fine book and leaves one thirsting for more.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...off to bed...

8.10.2005

Don't Mess With Texas

H.L. Mencken* once said, "A judge is a law student who marks his own examination papers."

Nemo linked me to a Texas District Court order, 943 F. Supp. 782, regarding a change of venue. The Defendant (Colonial Penn Insurance Company) moved to have the case moved from the Galveston division to the Houston division, citing Galveston's lack of a commercial airport. The court was, shall we say, unpersuaded.

The Court certainly does not wish to encumber any litigant with such an onerous burden. The Court, being somewhat familiar with the Northeast, notes that perceptions about travel are different in that part of the country than they are in Texas. A litigant in that part of the country could cross several states in a few hours and might be shocked at having to travel fifty miles to try a case, but in this vast state of Texas, such a travel distance would not be viewed with any surprise or consternation. Defendant should be assured that it is not embarking on a three-week-long trip via covered wagons when it travels to Galveston. Rather, Defendant will be pleased to discover that the highway is paved and lighted all the way to Galveston, and thanks to the efforts of this Court's predecessor, Judge Roy Bean, the trip should be free of rustlers, hooligans, or vicious varmints of unsavory kind. Moreover, the speed limit was recently increased to seventy miles per hour on most of the road leading to Galveston, so Defendant should be able to hurtle to justice at lightning speed.


The rest of the order continues in that vein and is quite entertaining. If I were grading it, I'd give it an 'A' for the humor value alone.

In other news, my exams for the Summer semester have been completed and I still have one week of freedom before the Fall semester begins.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...enjoying a brief respite...

*- A genius.

8.09.2005

That's a big ad

A damn big beer ad.

Speaking of beer, I'm planning on running the annual DC Area Hash Beer Mile this Friday. (Note: we do a full sixer, not this four beer crap.) Any suggestions for brands or strategies for drinking without vomiting? I'm guessing that chugging a sixer at the beginning or the end would be quite hard. I'm thinking two beers, two laps, two beers, two laps, two beers, but suggestions are solicited.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...mmm, beer...

UPDATE: In a similar vein as Supersize Me, Law & Alcoholism has brought this sobering documentary to my attention. This cautionary tale is a must watch for any drinker.

FURTHER UPDATE: An 'all-natural' ad for Tröegs beer. Funny.

7.28.2005

Knapp on the state of empire

Tom Knapp has written something that you ought to read:
Since going back to an all-volunteer force after Vietnam, the military has depended on incentives to get young men and women to enlist. One of those incentives -- unstated but definitely at play -- is that while the kid is building a college fund and learning a skill, there's a limit to the amount of tear-assing around the world on bullshit missions that's acceptable. Yes, every kid who signs on the dotted line knows, or should know, that there's a possibility of war in his or her future. But there's also been a basic trust that America's leaders would only take the country to war under certain conditions (the Soviets rolling their tanks into western Europe circa 1985; "peacekeeping" duty in Bosnia circa 1995). Catastrophic wars, yes. Short-term deployments for realpolitik, fine. Optional forever wars versus endless insurgencies in sandpits which represent no threat to the United States -- not. The GI Bill can buy a high level of dedication, but raw credulity sports a higher price tag.


Knapp's got street cred as a soldier in the first Gulf War and he's not just some anti-war nut (a nut, sure, but a complex and subtle one).

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...keep it real...

7.21.2005

An Invitation

I received this in my email last night:

Mr. X,
Congratulations, it is with great pleasure that I invite you to join the American University Law Review. I sincerely hope that you will choose to become a member of our staff. Law Review offers many challenging and rewarding experiences, and I look forward to your joining us. Given your outstanding academic performance [emphasis mine], I am confident that you will make a valuable addition to our staff.

...

Should you accept our offer we will notify you of the time as we approach orientation. We have also scheduled a happy hour to welcome you to the Law Review, and will provide details soon. If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me by email or phone using the information below. Again congratulations, and I look forward to working with you.

Sincerely,
Editor-in-Chief


For those not familiar with law review, this definition gives a pretty good overview of what it is and how one gets on. I took a little bit of a gamble by not entering the write-on competition in hopes of grading-on. Some bets pay off.

The actual work of being on the law review consists mostly of long hours in the library 'spading' (checking the source material for each and every author footnote) and making sure that the citation format is exactly right. To give you a sense of how much fun this can be, this article on anthrax hoaxes from the most recent issue of the law review is 74 pages long and has 534 footnotes. Now imagine looking up each and every one of them to make sure the author got them right. Thrilling, non?

I have to pay extra tuition for all of this boring drudgery (it's not just a job, it's a class), but law review is one of those tickets you have to punch to have a good shot at a job with a prestigious firm or a clerkship with a judge, so I'm going to accept the invitation.

In other news, my half-marathon training is kicking my ass and leaving me tired all the time, my friend Ross is coming up to visit this weekend (we're gonna go see the 2 Skinnee Js at the 9:30 Club on Saturday), and final exams for the Summer semester are less than two weeks away. More succinctly, I'm a little busy and that's why my blogging has been light.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...a wee bit proud today...

7.11.2005

The Best Defense


During my Wills, Trusts, & Estates class tonight, we covered the sad case of Azcunce v. Estate of Azcunce, 586 So. 2d 1216 (Fla. App. 3rd Dist. 1991). The father executed a will naming his three children at the time: Lisette, Natalie, and Gabriel. He then had a fourth child about a year later, Patricia. Two years later, he executed a codicil that did not name Patricia. When he died suddenly of a heart attack at the tender age of 38, the probate court held that the codicil republished the previous will and thus the pretermission statute didn’t apply to Patricia (it was deemed an intentional omission). Intentionally omitted children generally have no rights in the United States (excepting Louisiana).

Note: Following this case, Patricia’s mother brought a malpractice suit [Espinosa v. Sparber, Shevin, Shapo, Rosen & Heilbronner, 612 So. 2d 1378 (Fla. 1993).] on her behalf. The court held that there was no privity between the attorney and Patricia, since she (a) wasn't the client and (b) wasn’t a clearly intended beneficiary in the will (!!), and thus had no standing. Love that circular logic:
"The lawyer screwed up the will and left me out."
"Yeah, but you can't sue him for it because you're not mentioned in the will."

The question was posed to the class, "Why would the Florida Supreme Court deny this little girl any opportunity to recover for the damage caused by the incompetent lawyers who drafted a codicil without including her in it?" According to our professor, the conventional wisdom is that Florida is notoriously protective of its lawyers, as evinced by the tortured reasoning in Espinosa. She then told us an illustrative anecdote.

She was involved in administering a multi-jurisdiction divorce judgment, with regard to the property located in D.C. The Florida attorney representing the man judged against was sleazy and slimy and, in the words of the professor, "made you want to spray yourself with Lysol after being in the room with him." When he appeared in court, he had a large cell-phone dangling from his hip and a shirt unbuttoned halfway down his chest.

Later on, she was talking to her Florida counsel for this divorce case, and he told her that the sleazy lawyer was in the Miami Herald.

She asked, "What'd he do, commit a double homicide?"

Florida counsel replied, "No, worse." That got her attention. He continued, "After being appointed guardian ad litem for a mentally retarded woman, he stole her money and took sexual liberties with her."

She expressed her disgust.

He said, "Wait, it gets better. I haven't told you his defense."

She said, "Defense?"

He said, "He said he had hemorrhoids."

"So?"

"He said that the medication he was taking affected his ability to reason."

The worst part of the story was the punishment he received from the Florida Board of Professional Responsibility; a 90-day suspension from the practice of law.

She then told the class that there was a earthy young associate in her office who would suggest, whenever he heard about indefensible behavior, that the accused should use the "bloody asshole defense."

Hey, it worked in Florida.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...enjoying class...

7.01.2005

A Million Ways to Be Cruel

OK Go has a brilliant dance number set to their song, A Million Ways to be Cruel. Hat tip: Johnny Law.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...off for the weekend...

UPDATE: NPR's All Things Considered did an interview with the lead singer of the band and his choreographer sister.

6.29.2005

Preemah Fakiay or: Be Careful, Young Pedantic Lawyer

Michael Gilleland points out a quite funny example of what happens when pedants try to impose historical usage on people who have been using a language quite nicely, thank you:

The same may be said of all the professions in which the 'dead' languages are not merely the toys of pedagogues but the constant tools of practical men. I suffer from lumbago; I grow geraniums; I go to the cinema. And when my doctor diagnoses loombahgo, my gardiner cultivates gerahniooms, or my cook enjoys herself at the kyneemah I shall begin to think that the pedagogues are making headway.

As for the political world, the numerous Latin words in current political usage are sufficiently mystifying to the man-in-the-tavern without our attempting to make him pronounce them as some good don believes they may have been pronounced by Cicero or Horace. Even the mocking business man is not ashamed to draw his dividends at so much per centum; but not all the pedants of Arabia will induce him to draw them pair kentoom.


Take heed, fellow law students. Take heed, fellow pedants.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...a cautionary tale...

Banana Man and Vegas

Small mid-week distraction. The sweet, surreal, tropical stylings of Banana Man.

I'm back from Las Vegas (actually I got back on Sunday) with more money than I left with. Didn't play any poker, despite staying at the Rio, where the 2005 World Series of Poker was being held. I did see "Jesus" in the hallway, though, and got to meet Penn Jillette.

Mr. X and Penn Jillette

He called me (and everyone else who was getting autographs) "Boss."

Good times.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...curt...

6.21.2005

We Have Met The Enemy And He Is Us


When working on making progress it is important to guard against ourselves. When life throws you a curve or someone chews you out, the first inclination of a human being is to look outward for the cause. Epictetus (Handbook 48) counsels that this is the path of the uneducated person; a philosopher will do the opposite.
[1] The condition and character of the uneducated person is this: they never look for benefit or harm to come from themselves, but from external things. The condition and character of the philosopher is this: they look for every benefit and harm to come from themselves. [2] The signs that someone is making progress are these: they blame no one, they praise no one, they find fault with no one, they accuse no one, they never say anything of themselves as though they amount to something or know anything. When they are impeded or hindered, they blame themselves. If someone praises them, they laugh inwardly at the person who praises them, and if anyone censures them, they make no defence. They go about as if they were sick, cautious not to disturb what is healing before they are fully recovered. [3] They have rid themselves of all desires, and have transferred their aversion to only those things contrary to nature that are in our power. They have no strong preferences in regard to anything. If they appear foolish or ignorant, they do not care. In a word, they keep guard over themselves as though they are their own enemy lying in wait.


Recently, I had an incident with a friend of mine from school. I had invited him to a hash event, where many vulgar songs are sung. One of the songs offended him sufficiently that he left early and hasn't spoken with me since. My initial reaction was to apologize for offending him, but as time went on, I found more and more reasons to blame him. This is a mistake on my part.

It's like this: If he was oversensitive, so be it. I have no control over that, I only have control over my own actions. It does me no good to speculate as to his motivations or resent him for his actions. The only beneficial act I can take is to examine my own actions.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...introspective...

6.16.2005

My Soul Brother

I've added this upstanding law student to my blogroll. I think he has captured the essential key to success in the legal acadamy: drunkenness.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...a kindred spirit...

6.13.2005

Expeditors International: Coolest. Company. Ever.

Expeditors International, a non-asset-based freight forwarding concern, is also the coolest company ever. They have a dedication to their customers, employees, and shareholders. They also have a dedication to honesty and straightforwardness that would make Mencken proud.

Now call me a geek, but I really enjoy reading their SEC 8-K filings. SEC filings are normally quite dull, and while I read them to stay informed as an investor, I don't usually like it. The exception to be found in Expeditors was brought to my attention by this Motley Fool article, detailing the public humiliation of a particularly pushy analyst.
We have been trying to set up a visit to come see senior management at Expeditors in Seattle for over two months now and no one from Expeditors will return our many phone calls or emails. Are you too busy to respond to the sell side? Are you afraid the sell side's tarnish may somehow rub off on Expeditors? Or are we having this problem for the first time in the over five years we have covered Expeditors as a result of our current sell rating?

We were surprised to get a question like this and we spent some amount of time trying to decide whether or not you really wanted an answer. It was possible, after all, that this was really just another effort to get the appointment you have been seeking. But, then as you say it has been 5 years and so could we be safe in assuming that you know that a question like this one would be impossible to ignore?

So we were left wondering whether you knew us or not. We frankly still aren't sure and fear that we may be making a mistake, but we are going to answer anyway.

Let's start with the fact that for a couple of months we have been ignoring your calls and emails. This is true. Your calls and emails requesting a visit have been ignored. The message is one that any seventeen-year-old boy would understand; you are not going to get your date. We were hoping not to have to give reasons, but we certainly wanted you to get the message: no date.

We could stop here, and most seventeen-year-old girls likely would, but your question sets forth numerous incorrect assumptions as to why we aren't giving you the time and attention you seek. Each is incorrect and for the sake of other sell-side analysts and interested readers, we want to deal with each one in turn.


Read the entire response here (question #3). It's a riot.

In their latest 8-K filing, they get asked the perennial question about whether they are threatened by asset-based companies (freight forwarders who own their own ships/planes/etc.) The answer is great:
18. Are you seeing more intense competition from other supply chain solutions companies which own assets, particularly aircraft? Do they have a competitive advantage that Expeditors does not?

As to more intense competition, the answer is no. The sort of competition we are currently seeing has always been there. It’s just another flavor of the dancing circus bear. The outfits may change, the routine gets upgraded and the music may be different, but at the end of the day, a dancing asset bear is still a bear in a tutu. Brown bear or grizzly, it is really just the same act. Popular in Europe, but still the same act. They may try to present an image of refinement costumed in a supply chain outfit with a flashy IT wig, but you are still just watching a bear dance. Some say it is just not natural.

With respect to competitive advantages, sure, being a bear no doubt has some competitive advantages, although we question whether improvisation or flexibility could be listed among them.


Anyway, I own stock in EXPD through my investment club and will probably be buying more personally. They have excellent management and long-term growth figures, along with a great attitude.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...geek of all trades...

Debt forgiveness and positive change

Tom Knapp posts some very good criticisms of the current foreign aid regime, in light of recent announcements of $40 billion in debt forgiveness for African nations. The fundamental point about foreign aid going to oligarchs in the borrowing countries is an important one:

First of all, the idea that the money was lent to "countries" is pure fiction. It was lent to politicians -- politicians who, for the most part, were exceptionally evil even by the standards of, well, politicians. Why should a dirt farmer in sub-Saharan Africa consider himself on the hook just because some dimwit in Washington DC (or Brussels, or London) gets off on subsidizing Lifestyles of the Rich and Brutal? And why does said dimwit deserve that money back anyway? Remember, he stole it from us before he sent it to some Idi Amin clone to blow on fast cars, cheap women, expensive booze and well-armed palace guards. Hell, these "loans" have been, to at least some degree, instrumental in keeping those dirtbags in power. And we want their victims to fork over? Idi sure as hell isn't going to.


Having worked in relief and development for a time (1999 in Albania and Kosovo), I agree with his sentiments. There was a highway from the main airport outside Tirana to the city. However, the highway, built with international development money, only spanned about half the distance. Why? Because half the budget was siphoned off by graft and corruption.

If you want to do something positive along with rightly criticizing traditional foreign aid models, you can do what I did this weekend while paying bills: give a donation to FINCA to support micro-lending to individual entrepreneurs in developing countries rather than giving to their corrupt leaders. "Small Loans, Big Changes," baby.

For those interested in the subject, Lord Peter Bauer did some pioneering work on the effects of foreign aid, specifically on the inefficacy of traditional aid. See the May 2, 2002 Economist article on him (not free, unfortunately). Lord Bauer was the winner of the 2002 Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...make a difference...

UPDATE: Scott brought to my attention Heifer International, an organization that doess similar sustainable aid, though with livestock instead of dollars. Check out their 'gift catalog' or their interactive map of projects. Change the world, people.

6.10.2005

The Sage of Baltimore

It's been a while since I've posted anything philosophical, so here are some words of wisdom from
H. L. Mencken, the Mencken Creed:
I believe that religion, generally speaking, has been a curse to mankind - that its modest and greatly overestimated services on the ethical side have been more than overcome by the damage it has done to clear and honest thinking.
I believe that no discovery of fact, however trivial, can be wholly useless to the race, and that no trumpeting of falsehood, however virtuous in intent, can be anything but vicious.
I believe that all government is evil, in that all government must necessarily make war upon liberty...
I believe that the evidence for immortality is no better than the evidence of witches, and deserves no more respect.
I believe in the complete freedom of thought and speech...
I believe in the capacity of man to conquer his world, and to find out what it is made of, and how it is run.
I believe in the reality of progress.
I - But the whole thing, after all, may be put very simply. I believe that it is better to tell the truth than to lie. I believe that it is better to be free than to be a slave. And I believe that it is better to know than be ignorant.


That is a system of belief I can get behind. And also, his feelings on alcohol, to wit:
"I'm ombibulous. I drink every known alcoholic drink and enjoy them all." -H. L. Mencken


If you want a reason to party in September, the Saturday closest to September 12 is Mencken Day (it's the 10th this year). If you're feeling philanthropic, give some cash to the Friends of the H. L. Mencken House to support their efforts to reopen 1524 Hollins Street to the public.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...ombibulous...

Magic Commerce

Like most libertarians, I was disappointed that Professor Barnett's arguments did not prevail in Gonzales v. Raich. Not surprising (in fact, it's surprising that it was only a 6-3 decision), but still disappointing. Justice Stevens managed to find interstate commerce in the intrastate, private growing of cannabis for personal, state-approved, medical use.

I've been having trouble following the tortured reasoning of the Court, but saw a link on the VC to an enlightening explanation of the 'Wonderful World of Commerce.'

"Insolent pot!" says Giblets. "Be more vendible!"
"Giblets why are you yellin at that pot plant?" says me.
"Giblets is trying to turn it into commerce," says Giblets. "But buying and selling it is too much work. He wants it to be commerce NOOOOOWWW!"
"Silly Giblets, everything is commerce!" says me. "Let's step into this maaaagical schoolbus and we will learn all about Our World Of Commerce!"


Absolutely hilarious. If you're a law geek or an amateur economist, it's better. And don't forget the extra-credit nature koan:

If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is around, and Antonin Scalia doesn't like it, can we ban it?


Yours truly,
Mr. X

...the power of imagination...

6.08.2005

6.07.2005

Gardening With X

So, I'm poking around in my garden a couple of weekends ago, raking and weeding and whatnot. Walking around the side of the house, I see the blackberry cane that I had planted a week or two prior. It's showing no visible signs of growth, just sitting there like a thorny stick.

This would be a good time to mention that your faithful correspondent has an impressive gardening record. Every year I plant a bunch of seeds and plants and a full 20-30% of them live. If that's not a green thumb, I don't know what is.

In the interests of tidiness and not wanting visitors to know that I'm a natural born plant killer, I decided to remove the obviously dead blackberry cane and bury it in the compost pile with the rest of my victims (don't even ask about the rosemary bush).

I went to the garage to get a pair of work gloves to protect my soft, supple, almost feminine hands from the evil thorns. Armored with heavy gloves, I grabbed the cane by the base and yanked it right out of the ground.

And you know what? The tricksy bastard was growing under the soil line. Healthy green leaves shooting right out from the cane. Sneaky.

So I did what any master gardener would do. I shoved the cane back into the hole I yanked it from, patted the soil around it, and walked back to the garage to put my gloves away.

Whistling. Innocently. As though nothing ever happened.

And now a certain someone is going to get me more plants to kill take good care of. If they're smart, they won't try to get sneaky with me.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...garden gnome...

Almost Enough to Convince Me to Teach

Michael Gilleland posts an awesome Mencken quote (but really, aren't they all) about teaching.

A man who knows a subject thoroughly, a man so soaked in it that he eats it, sleeps it and dreams it -- this man can almost always teach it with success, no matter how little he knows of technical pedagogy. That is because there is enthusiasm in him, and because enthusiasm is as contagious as fear or the barber's itch...


I'm not one to snag an entire post, so click on the link to read the full post. It reminds me of a quote by Henry Chester that is on my bathroom mirror:

Enthusiasm is the greatest asset in the world. It beats money and power and influence. It is no more or less than faith in action.


If you don't have enthusiasm for what you do, why are you doing it?

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...random...

6.03.2005

Who doesn't like jetskiing?

Generally, the Drew Carey remake of Whose Line Is It Anyway? pales in comparison to the original Channel 4 version of same. However, this movie, in which Richard Simmons is a 'prop,' is so funny that you may actually soil yourself.

You have been warned.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...my sides still hurt...

5.26.2005

Confronted by mortality

From The Dance of Death by Hans HolbeinI was confronted by my own mortality this morning. I didn't wreck my car or motorcycle, nor was I otherwise physically injured. I woke up, got out of bed, went to the bathroom, and looked in the mirror.

And there it was. Death was staring me in the face. He didn't come as a tall spectre enrobed in black and carrying a scythe. Instead he chose to appear to me in a form less menacing, but no less final.

In the midst of my otherwise dirty brown locks was a lone grey hair. I'm used to the occasional red, blonde, or black hair, but this is my first grey one. At a mere 25 years of age, the grey hair has appeared.

Now this isn't the same as, say, being diagnosed with cancer or AIDS or being in a plane crash. That's death standing over you screaming. This was more like a wave and a glance that says, "We'll be seeing each other, maybe not real soon, but soon enough."

So I yanked the offending hair and took my shower. As I washed myself, I started thinking about what I had done with my life, what I am doing with my life, and what I want to accomplish before I shuffle off of this mortal coil. The answers are, for those interested, "A good bit, not enough, and a hell of a lot more," respectively.

Being in law school and holding down a job has me pretty much on auto-pilot, which is not a good place for me to be over the next three years of my life. People get cut down in their prime all the time, and I don't want to be caught off guard, with so much left to do.

When I checked my email this morning, I had a note from my father, who just last month had a malignant melanoma removed.

Did I tell you about your Aunt? She is going to Cleveland to get a valve job. She needs a repair job on a valve in her heart. She has been told that Cleveland is the best place to get this done. Since I will be in Oklahoma for the holiday weekend I will fly from Tulsa to Cleveland to be with her. Should be an interesting time. The surgery is scheduled for Tuesday.

You remember Joe? One of our mutual friends, you may have met him. Named Patrick. passed away Monday. he was 58. heart attack.

Makes you think


The Stoics believe that everything we have is borrowed from the logos, including our lives. We should focus on living virtuously and doing our duty to our fellow man and society. When the time comes to return this body to the logos, we should do so cheerfully, with the knowledge that we lived as we ought.

Death is not in our power, neither our own, nor that of those we love. All that is in our power is how we live.

Tempus fugit, memento mori.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...morbid...

5.24.2005

Games

A few links for those who need something to waste their time with.

This site has pretty much every video game ever, in a web-accessible version. Hat tip to Jeremy for finding it.

Ward Farnsworth's Predator at the Chessboard is a great resource for beginners looking to learn about chess tactics. Hat tip to Professor Volokh who recommended it.

And then there's always the old standby, Popcap, which has some of the best digital crack rock around.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...enabler...

5.23.2005

Observations from the weekend

It is with sincere apologies to those of you who can't get enough long and serious posts about international affairs that I present some observations from my weekend.


  • When running around Arlington in a toga, blitzed on wine, trading underwear with a strange woman will seem like a good idea. While panties can be quite comfortable and supportive, this is not as good an idea as it seems at the time.


  • Spending a Saturday afternoon at a family barbeque to welcome one's stepdad home from three months away is always a good idea.


  • Giving motorcycle rides to kids is a great feeling. Especially when one of them comes up to you afterward and says, "That was so cool! I'm going to tell everyone at school on Monday," and you can tell that you've pretty much made his week.


  • Lazy Sunday afternoons spent with pretty girls and peppered with scintillating conversation are great. As is the intense ab workout one gets from long stretches of laughing uncontrollably together.


  • Twisty roads like the Georgetown Pike are fun on a motorcycle, but more fun when they are not dark and unfamiliar. Fear of sudden death from careening over an embankment focuses the mind quite well.


  • Trying to find a building on the University of Maryland campus based on Mapquest directions is a fool's errand, especially late at night. However, running such an errand the night before my roommate's important TOEFL test should ensure that he does find the building the next morning, when it really matters.



That pretty much wraps up the weekend. Don't worry, I'll return to long-winded and heavily cited rantings about the state of the world sometime soon. Just not today.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...delicious...

UPDATE: Photographic evidence here and here. Guess who's not going to be President...

5.20.2005

But at least we didn't flush the Koran

According to a confidential Army report, interrogators brutally abused prisoners until they died at a prison camp in Afghanistan. The Guardian reports:

The New York Times carries a graphic account of Dilawar's torture and death. His legs were beaten so badly that he could not bend them to kneel, and he was chained for days by his wrists to the roof of his cell. When he asked for a drink of water during his final interrogation, one US interrogator punched a hole in a water bottle, handed it to Dilawar and tormented him as the water poured away before he could drink, according to an interpreter present at the time.

After the interrogation, guards chained Dilawar again to the roof of his cell, where he was found dead by a doctor several hours later, the paper reported.


This kind of behavior by U.S. troops makes me sick. If publishing accounts of atrocities is losing us the propaganda war, good. We're Americans dammit, not jihadis. There's no point in winning a war if you have to lose your soul to do it.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...sickened...

5.19.2005

America Is Awesome!

Myke's been ranting on again about how the Fourth Estate is really a Fifth Column treasonously aiding the 'enemy' in the War on Terror.

This latest round from the enemy 5th column we call our "free press" has got me thinking.


Also, in the entry previous, he remarks:

There's a difference between dissent and enemy propaganda. If you're going to work for the bad guys, pick up a rifle and wear your colors honestly.


Everybody's talking about the Newsweek story about flushing the Koran and the later retraction. Not everyone has gone to quite the hyperbolic excess that Myke does, but enough people have that David Brooks wrote a

column about it:

I look around the Web these days and find that Newsweek's retracted atrocity story has sent everybody into cloud-cuckoo-land. Every faction up and down the political spectrum has used the magazine's blunder as a chance to open fire on its favorite targets, turning this into a fevered hunting season for the straw men.


Dennis Prager has apparently been toking from the same glass pipe that Myke has:

Newsweek is directly responsible for the deaths of innocents and for damaging America. As a typical member of the American news media, Newsweek's primary loyalties are to profits and to its political-social agenda. We are very fortunate that in America, at least, we now have talk radio and the Internet – the mainstream news media are no longer Americans' only sources of news. Europe and the rest of the world still rely almost exclusively on news media for their understanding of the world, which is a major reason for their anti-Americanism.


Yep, good old talk radio, that bastion of reasoned and balanced news coverage. Seriously, WTF?

All of this spewing over a news story misses the point. As Brooks observes:

The rioters are the real enemy, not Newsweek and not the American soldiers serving as prison guards. Just to restore some proper perspective, let me quote a snippet from a sermon delivered by Sheik Ibrahim Mudeiris, which ran last weekend on the Palestinian Authority's official TV station:

"The day will come when we will rule America. The day will come when we will rule Britain and the entire world - except for the Jews. The Jews will not enjoy a life of tranquillity under our rule because they are treacherous by nature, as they have been throughout history. The day will come when everything will be relieved of the Jews - even the stones and trees which were harmed by them. Listen to the Prophet Muhammad, who tells you about the evil end that awaits Jews. The stones and trees will want the Muslims to finish off every Jew."

These are the extremists, the real enemy. Let's keep our eye on the ball.


If this shit keeps up, I just might join a jihad. Either that, or eventually just throw up my hands and declare, "America is Awesome!"

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...hashing in one hour...

UPDATE: Almost forgot, Tim West points out that some journalists are still dedicated to getting it right, even when that's unpopular.

5.18.2005

Many Words

"He that uses many words for explaining any subject, doth, like the cuttlefish, hide himself for the most part in his own ink." -John Ray, naturalist (1627-1705)


Yours truly,
Mr. X

...succinct today...

5.12.2005

Mojo's Bootleg Shack

A friend of mine turned me on to Mojo's Bootleg Shack. Free Mojo Nixon bootlegs! How freaking awesome?

Remember what the Dead Milkmen say in "Punk Rock Girl":
We went to a shopping mall
And laughed at all the shoppers
And security guards trailed us to a record shop
We asked for Mojo Nixon
They said he don't work here
We said if you don't got Mojo Nixon then your store could use some fixin


The Casbah show from 2003 rawks. the official question for the Saturday blowout is now, "Are you drinking with me, Jesus?"

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...Elvis is everywhere...

5.05.2005

Beware the Jihad!

Another entry in the mindless entertainment that punctuates my panic dept. San Francisco Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll has received a communique from a new terrorist group. In the interest of all of our safety, he has reprinted it. An excerpt:

Greetings to the Imprisoned Citizens of the United States. We are Unitarian Jihad. There is only God, unless there is more than one God. The vote of our God subcommittee is 10-8 in favor of one God, with two abstentions. Brother Flaming Sword of Moderation noted the possibility of there being no God at all, and his objection was noted with love by the secretary.

Greetings to the Imprisoned Citizens of the United States! Too long has your attention been waylaid by the bright baubles of extremist thought. Too long have fundamentalist yahoos of all religions (except Buddhism -- 14-5 vote, no abstentions, fundamentalism subcommittee) made your head hurt. Too long have you been buffeted by angry people who think that God talks to them. You have a right to your moderation! You have the power to be calm! We will use the IED of truth to explode the SUV of dogmatic expression!


Sure, it may be just idle talk, but they're threatening some pretty scary stuff. Among their threats:

Beware! Unless you people shut up and begin acting like grown-ups with brains enough to understand the difference between political belief and personal faith, the Unitarian Jihad will begin a series of terrorist-like actions. We will take over television studios, kidnap so-called commentators and broadcast calm, well-reasoned discussions of the issues of the day. We will not try for "balance" by hiring fruitcakes; we will try for balance by hiring non-ideologues who have carefully thought through the issues.


I think they mean it. Maybe Myke can do some research on this group and their mission. I'm too busy with studying right now.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...early warning guy...

5.03.2005

Don't Stop Me Now

We interrupt this week of freaking the hell out about exams to bring you a twisted little Flash movie. Don't Stop Me Now is a surreal little adventure culminating in an awesome Vandals cover of an equally awesome Queen song.

Enjoy.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...back to writing...

4.21.2005

Important Legislation in Idaho

The Idaho legislature has proposed House Concurrent Resolution 29, to honor the creators of Napoleon Dynamite. All of the reasons for the resolution are great, but this one seemed to come close to violating the collegial spirit of the legislature by impugning the character of other legislators.

WHEREAS, any members of the House of Representatives or the Senate of the Legislature of the State of Idaho who choose to vote "Nay" on this concurrent resolution are "FREAKIN' IDIOTS!" and run the risk of having the "Worst Day of Their Lives!"


Now I must be off to work further on my skills, 'cause chicks dig guys with skills.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...vote for Pedro...

4.13.2005

Westlaw Gets Punk'd...or does it?

De Novo reports that LexisNexis has a quiz on its site that's a glorified slam on its archrival, Westlaw. All you aspiring legal writers, the following attempt at a persuasive question is generously referred to as 'ham-handed' (Hint: The answer's not A.):

Which legal research system’s headnotes are not comprised soley of the court's own language and have been criticized by the judiciary for their focus and language?
A. LexisNexis
B. Westlaw


Oddly enough, the quiz didn't include this question:

Which research system allowed the personal information of 310,000 people to be stolen?
A. LexisNexis
B. Westlaw


Check out the answer here. Looks like somebody might want to cultivate a little more humility over in LexisNexis land.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...bad timing...