Saturday, March 29, 2008

A Lawyer's Lawyer

I unwrapped my Austin American- Statesman this morning as I walked into the house for breakfast, and a headline caught my eye. The front page reported that the Texas Supreme Court had ruled that dog owners have the responsibility under Texas law to stop, to at least try to stop, their dogs, from attacking a member of the public once the attack begins. I recognized the case as one being handled, on appeal, by my friend J. Bruce Bennett. A case I had had talked to him about many times over the course of a year. Indeed, there was a quote in the article, from the afore mentioned Bennett, immediately above the fold to wit: “We’re ecstatic with the result. It’s your dog, you have the responsibility to try to stop the attack, that’s what the court recognized here.”


That’s what a Court (fortunately, the last court) recognized here. They recognized it only because Bennett had the legal knowledge and the moral certainty that was needed to keep the case alive when others would have dropped it. He, and the public, have now been rewarded for his fortitude, as he and his client  won through to total victory. The facts are simple, but apparently not so simple that they could  not escape the notice of a state district judge sitting in Gillespie County and a panel of three judges of the 4th Texas Court of Appeals, all of whom had held that it is perfectly permissible,  under Texas law, to stand aside and watch your pets tear a fellow human being to shreds. Ms Bushnell was delivering some health products to the mobile home of the Motts. When Ms Mott opened the door to receive the goods, which she had ordered, three dogs pushed through the door, pulled Bushnell down the porch steps and proceeded to collectively bite her more than fifty times, a mauling which required over 30 stitches to close the wounds. As the dogs attacked Ms Bushnell, Ms Mott looked on from above, rendering no aid and adding insult to injury by advising Ms. Bushnell to get up because she had not been bitten.



Upon first hearing this story, over a year ago, I asked Bennett if the dogs had ever bitten anyone before. In Texas, as in most places, every dog is entitled to one bite. I, like the four judges I castigated in the immediately preceding paragraph had all asked the same thing. The problem was, that was the wrong question to ask. It should not matter if your dog has been the pet guide dog to the Home for the Blind and, has always been as gentle as Lassie, once you see it attack someone, you have an obligation to try to help out. As Bennett put it in the paper this morning “It’s your dog.”



To me, of course, the interesting part of the case is not the rule of law promulgated. Possibly (and I say just possibly ) some court, years  in the future, might have recognized the logic of the position that Bennett and Bushnell espoused, and the law would have been straightened out. But it would not have helped Ms. Bushnell. It  took a lawyer who would take on an appeal of a case against a trailer owner with a lousy  $50,000 insurance policy to help Ms Bushnell. It took a lawyer who would not say die after the first appeal, but continued to battle against the odds in the hope that a higher court would find interest in a dog bite case, and feel strongly enough about it to pay attention. It took a lawyer acting in the  finest and highest traditions of the bar, which are  that at the end of the day, that it is justice and not a fee which should motivate a lawyer. It took my friend Bennett.



The title of this piece is “A Lawyer’s Lawyer”. That is a term that you don’t hear very much  anymore. Part of it implies that the lawyer so described, comes in to help out in a case which has been lost or is threatened, an appellate lawyer. But part of the term refers to the type of person who will freely give of his /her time and wisdom to help a fellow member of the bar in a tough case. Now many lawyers will “give of their time” it is that “freely” part which  separates the Lawyer’s Lawyer from just another hired gun. Usually, a Lawyer’s Lawyer will be the type of person whose generosity in spirit is not limited to the law, but overflows into all aspects of life. A person like Bennett who spends his free time coaching moot court teams, serving at the very highest positions in his church, and working tirelessly to try to find ways to provide real education and moral upbringing to those in our community who can least afford it. For nearly  thirty years now, I have been watching J. Bruce Bennett do all these things and more. He is the most decent and giving member of the bar in which I practice, and is possibly unique in our world of conflicting egos in that he does not have one enemy. In fact, I don’t know of any lawyer who is even neutral on the subject of Bruce Bennett. Everyone likes him. Everyone likes him a lot. The Bushnell case is the perfect example of why he is admired. There are thousands of lawyers in my town who read that  headline in the mornings paper, and felt secretly ashamed that they had not taken the kind of time needed from their practices in order to help someone like Ms. Bushnell, and simultaneously straighten out the common law of Texas. It is why we are here. It is what we are supposed to be doing. I am glad that at least one of us understands that. That is why he’s a “Lawyer’s Lawyer”, because sometimes the rest of us need a little reminder from a wiser member of the profession as to what our job is supposed to be.



Thursday, March 27, 2008


The name Sancho Panza was mentioned on N.P.R. this morning. Sancho was the first literary sidekick, if you don’t count the Peter the Apostle, and can probably lay claim to being the greatest of all sidekicks. He is certainly responsible for the greatest statement ever made by a sidekick, one which perfectly sums up their role on so many occasions, “Whether the rock hits the crockery or the crockery hits the rock, it’s going to be bad news for the crockery.” Of course Sancho said it in Spanish, and not just Spanish, but Spanish crafted by Cervantes, which is about as high tone Spanish as has ever existed, so it probably sounded better when he said it.


I got to thinking about sidekicks, and it hit me that the time of my childhood in the late 1950s was the “Golden Age of Sidekicks”. As an aside here, I seem to have discovered, since I began writing this occasional blog, that my childhood was the “Golden Age” of any number of things. I actually informed my daughter last weekend that my childhood had been the “Golden Age” of antibiotics because penicillin was cheap, widely available and still cured everything. Now of course, there’s not an infection worth its salt that has not managed to develop a resistance to penicillin. But in my day, damn, anything from a dose of the clap to a three alarm ear infection could be cured by one shot of the stuff. So when I say that my childhood was the Golden Age of sidekicks it is probably good to consider the source of the statement.


But the reason I truly think it was the golden age is because of the plethora of westerns which were on television in those days. It seemed that every strong, silent cowboy needed a fat, funny sidekick. Roy Rogers had Gabby Hays and later Pat Brady (Brady himself had a sidekick, his jeep “Nellie Bell” which had its own humorous role on the show). Then there was Gene Autry and his sidekick Pat Butram, better known to younger folks as Mr. Haney of Green Acres. The Cisco Kid had Pancho. Pancho was a real sidekick. He could help when there was trouble, especially shooting, but most of the time he was an English language garbling clown who played every scene for laughs. The actor who portrayed Pancho, Leo Carrillo had made a career of the “jolly Mexican” in film and put away enough money to buy an enormous ranch in southern California,  which many people know today by its more common name, San Diego. Pancho could not exist as a character anymore, neither could Rochester, Jack Benny’s valet sidekick who happened to be an African American who had a funny way of pronouncing things. At least Rochester always found away to get the best of Benny in any given episode.


That brings us to Tonto, the Lone Ranger’s “faithful Indian companion”’ who along with the daring masked rider of the plains lead the fight for law and order in the early days of the old west. Tonto, like Pancho and Rochester, was a discriminated against American minority, who also talked funny, when he talked at all, which was seldom. He had an especially hard time using pronouns for some reason and always referred to himself in the third person. But the character Tonto was not written to get laughs, he was one of the more dignified sidekicks ever created, and one of the most successful in regard to his working relationship with the top banana. The Ranger had tremendous respect for Tonto, who had rescued him from a bad situation and helped him turn into the Lone Ranger. In fact, had actually  named him in a dramatic moment, “All others gone, you, Lone Ranger now.”


We will skip lightly over Andy Devine and Smiley Burnett, although Devine deserves a blog of his own, his cry of “Wait for me Wild Bill” perfectly captured the humor of the 1950s cowboy sidekick. Undoubtedly, purists who stumble over these musing will object to the lack of discussion about Chester, of Marshall Dillon fame or even Bullwinkle, who was such a successful sidekick they renamed the television show, once known as Rocky and Bullwinkle, to Bullwinkle and Friends. Now that is something to think about. That’s like the Ed McMahon getting top billing over Johnny Carson.


The age of the sidekick ebbed in the 1960s. The reason was the birth of the ensemble company. Andy Griffith is an interesting show with which to see the transition . When it started, it was a star/sidekick standard show which happened to feature a man who is now in the sidekick hall of fame, Don Knotts. But as the show developed, and as television developed, writers began to see that they were not restricted to the sidekick pattern, which they had been  pretty well limited to in radio shows. On television, where you could see everyone, it was easier and a lot less confusing than on radio to have multiple characters whose personalities could develop over time. The Griffith show had Knotts, Gomer Pyle, Aunt Bea, Floyd the Barber, Howard, Goober, etc, etc, etc. Most shows after that were ensembles, so much so that in a show like Cheers, there is no clearly identified star, everyone on the show is a sidekick to the bar where the show takes place.



I suppose that it is not quite accurate to say that the sidekick is dead. I’m sort of a sidekick to my senior partner in my law practice. He is very well renowned for the type of law we practice the most of.”Oh yeah, you are with Allensworth” is a statement I have heard more than once. But our practice is actually the classic ensemble, so the sidekick is not so important anymore. It does not pay as well as it used to either. No one is ever going to confuse me with Leo Carrillo. “Oh Pancho !”, “Oh Ceeesco”.




Thursday, March 20, 2008

My father liked to quote Jack Parr, who once said that he was “so sentimental that he cried when he took the bottles back to the A&P.” That would still bring a smile to most people’s face, if most people 1. Knew who Jack Parr was, 2. Knew what an A&P was, 3. Knew what taking bottles back to the aforementioned A&P meant.


Parr was the Tonight show host in the years before Johnny Carson, a quiet, cerebral type of humorist, much beloved by Americans, circa 1959-1962. The A&P was the largest chain of grocery stores in the world at the time Parr made his statement, now dwindled down to a precious few in the east, notable now only as the Ozymandias of the grocery store world. The majority of the population has never seen or heard of one.”Taking bottles back” referred to the fact that, in those days, you paid a two cent deposit on every bottle of soda you purchased and took off premises. In those days there were no cans. You got your deposits back when you returned the bottles to the store the next week. As you checked out, the check out guy would say, bring your bottles ? You would point toward the bottle return area and tell him how many you brought back and that amount would be deducted from your grocery bill. Usually between twelve and twenty four cents. The large “family size bottle” deposits were more, but I can’t recall the number, maybe a nickel.



I thought about the Parr statement as the dog and  I rounded my block this morning and noticed that a beautiful old Spanish style house had been knocked into kindling the day before. I did not even know this had been planned. It made me very emotional, I’m sure that the dog had similar feelings. How anyone could think of tearing such a beautiful home down is beyond me. I realize that, like Parr, I am overly sentimental about such things. Most people probably understand that the owner feels that he/she will benefit economically by the tear down, and, if they out wait the current housing slump, they probably will. I know from personal experience that you are a lot less sentimental about things when profit is involved. Parr would not have wept if he’d gotten to double his deposit money when he took his bottles back. So I am not casting stones at the owner, or the decision, I just crying for the loss of a thing of beauty.



I am overly sentimental today anyway. Today is the last day that I am the father of a true child. Tomorrow my daughter turns 18 and I will become the father of an adult. There is a difference in the two. It hurts me that she can go out and get a tattoo without my permission, as well as make over a million other less obnoxious choices that I can no longer do anything about. It bothers me that “childhood” is over. It was wonderful having a minor around the house. Now we are just three old adults living together. Although the pecking order will not change, she will still be in charge. Millions and millions of people have said before me, that it is amazing how fast they grow up. As trite as it is, I can’t help but echo those sentiments. How did this happen ? How did 18 years pass so quickly ? How can a daughter of mine legally buy cigars ? , join the army ?, contract with anyone in the country except for Hertz and Avis ? How did I not get around to doing all the things I was going to do for and with my child ?


I guess a lot of it happened when I was at work, or watching a ball game on television. The hours creep up on you, but still, 18 years ? really ? Yes really, tomorrow is coming, no matter how sad it makes me. I am glad that the sadness is overshadowed by pride and love, and the knowledge that no matter how old she gets, she will always be my daughter, and in some special ways, my little girl. Happy Birthday Stacey, welcome to adulthood. It might not be all it’s cracked up to be, but it’s still a pretty nice ride.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

News gone wild

After the new Governor of New York, David A. Paterson was sworn in on (appropriately) St. Patrick’s day, he and his wife held a joint news conference to announce that, when they were having marriage difficulties, they had both had extra martial affairs. The governor was even kind enough to point out that he had had his affair at a Days Inn in New York, four subway stops from his home. I must say that this is quite a fall from the last Governor who had the panache to have his trysts at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington. Then again, Spitzer had to pay his partner and apparently Paterson’s affair tended more toward the mere tawdry than the illegal.


Speaking of Spitzer, his now  famous companion Ashley Alexandra Dupree was offered a million dollars yesterday by the Girls Gone Wild production company, only to see the offer withdrawn when a check of the Girls Gone Wild archives showed that they already had video of Ms Dupree “going wild” when she was 18. Her parents must be so proud. This bent toward  the sexual by our media may go on for awhile, especially if it becomes important for each office holder and candidate to tell the press about his/her sexual affairs and when and where they took place.


Paterson, the first African American and the first legally blind person to be Governor of New York, was probably right to get the information out right away. My personal paper of record, The New York Daily News had probably already sniffed out the story and would have pounced with it on the first slow news day they had. It was also a good idea to get his wife to own up to her indiscretions so that we were spared another one of those press conferences with the wronged wife staring blankly into space while the office holder talks about how he feels that he has not met his own pristine expectations of himself. This has become an increasingly popular scene on television. So much so that it may soon lose its newsworthiness and we can begin once again covering really important things, like what a candidate’s pastor once said in a sermon, “or why the sea is boiling hot, and whether pigs have wings.”

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Friday Night Special

No sooner than the Governor of New York is out of the headlines than the former Governor of New Jersey is back in them. I told someone the other day that Governor Spitzer’s scandal was making everyone forget Governor McGreevey’s scandal last year revolving around the New Jersey Governors gay lifestyle. As if to say  “we can’t let that happen” (especially because he is in the middle of writing a book on his scandal) McGreevey confirmed a report yesterday, made by a “former aid and driver” that he and Mrs. McGreevey (currently divorcing her husband) regularly engaged in three way trysts (newspaper term)with the driver,  which the driver  called “hard core consensual sex orgies” and which the three of them referred to as “Saturday Night Specials” back during their  hard core consensual days. Mrs. McGreevey, who understandably needs to be a victim of all of this to get the most out of the divorce, denies all. Governor McGreevey said that he had deleted the references to the Saturday Night specials from his forthcoming book, but if he expects to get good sales, I’d advise that he not only put the “references” back in, but make a full chapter out of them. And if Ms. McGreevey wants to maximize the pot of money in the estate that she is aiming at, she should encourage him to do so. The damage is already done. They have already humiliated their daughter, they may as well get some cash out of it.


How many more books did Bill and Hillary Clinton sell because of the Lewinsky scandal ? That’s the only part that most people read from those snoozers. Bill’s book especially  read like it had been dictated in about a week and sent to press with almost no editing. If these politicos want to make any real money, they need a good sex scandal as a way to sell the book. I assume that in the future, now that the Presidency is just one big advertisement for future speeches to be made at $200,000 a pop , everyone will have at least one sex scandal, maybe two. You have to give the people what they want.


All of this may work in favor of one Senator John McCain. Maybe people will be so revolted at all of this that they will want to vote for someone they know is a straight arrow. It all depends on how things play out when McCain finally has to admit that he’s married to a Venutian. We have never had an extra-terrestrial in the White House before (that we know of). Then again, it was only a couple of weeks ago that the New York Times said that McCain seemed to be having an inappropriate relationship with a lobbyist. The Times was shut down pretty fast on that one, I don’t expect it to return as an issue, but who knows. The lobbyist may well have been part of an interplanetary three way with the Senator and the Venutian. That would make an interesting book, assuming that sex on Venus is significantly different than it is here on terra firma. If a book hits the streets before the election detailing all of this, it might cost McCain some votes. Then again, we all could now be so inoculated against all of this that it would not matter. Nothing, I mean nothing could surprise me anymore.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Brackettville Racket

I am not sure just how long this Bracketville racket has been around. It probably started when the NCAA expanded to 64 teams for their basketball championship tournament. Unlike the Bowl Championship tournaments, where you have to be one of the big dogs to enjoy it, millions of people who went to colleges, no matter how small, all over the country, get wound up about the brackets. Some, like my partner Matt Ryan, take their picks very seriously because they know a lot about basketball. Matt will actually do some studying up on all of this and make informed and intelligent picks. But he will not win. No one with much sense ever wins these things. I have won twice, in 1989 and last year. Last year was exciting until my friend who  was holding the money had it stolen. I honestly expect to finish at the very bottom this year. That is how it goes. It is like a coin flip. There are just too many variables for skill to enter into the picture. On the flip side, since skill does not enter the picture, I sometimes have a chance.


Business place gambling is alleged to cost the economy 80 gagillion dollars a year, or some such number, I forget how much, but it is absurdly high. What’s worse is that people act like that is a bad thing. Frankly, if the office staff was not goofing off filling out brackets, they’d be goofing off doing something else, maybe blogging. I think these down time studies that “Industrial Engineers” (don’t get me started on them) do, presuppose that the American Economy works like one of those Chinese sweat shops you see on Sixty Minutes, where people work 16 hours a day, sleep at their desks, and then wake up and do it all over again. That’s not how America works. Office pools and gambling are an understood part of the U.S. lifestyle. They are figured into productivity, just like lunch is. It is true that if no one ever ate, our country would have a more efficient work force, but what fun would that be ?



My initial  foray into gambling took place in 1963-64 when my Uncle Earl game me a mini-roulette wheel. I cleaned up with that at lunchtime in the fifth grade. Until it was taken away from me. That same year I entered into big time sports gambling when I took bets on the Cassius Clay/Sonny Liston championship fight. I took several dollars in bets (mostly at a quarter a piece), with every one of the bettors betting on Liston. It hit me at some point that if Liston won, I would not have any money to pay back the bets and I had a couple of sleepless nights over that prospect. But Sonny did not answer the bell for the 7th round, and I got to keep all of my ill gotten gains. That, however, was the last time I acted as a bookie. It was several years later, when I learned about “odds” and “lay off men”, that I finally understood how a bookie could stay in business (and alive).My betting has been confined pretty much to office pools since then, and when I have strayed from that pattern the results have been awful.



But I can guarantee you a couple of things this year, if you want to make some money. Texas will win the Southern Regional, and North Carolina will win the championship. Outside of those two certainties, you are on your own.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Audacity of Dopes

The right Rev. Jeremiah Wright was thrown off of a committee associated with the Obama campaign last night for making statements in sermons that are contrary to Obama’s chances of being elected President. I know less about Jeremiah Wright than I do the ancient prophet Jeremiah, or even Jeremiah the bull frog of Three Dog Night fame. All I have heard about him came from viewing snippets of his sermons last night on one of the cable shout shows. I doubt that the videos were taken out of context, since the statements in them , if not true, were at least valid opinions of a man who has dedicated a good portion  his life to justice for the poor.


It is always unpopular to say negative things about one’s country. Especially so when the country is facing crisis, and the specter of the bloody shirt is being waved in the public square (mostly by those who never bled, or even sweat in the defense of their country).So when Rev. Jeremiah says that America brought 9/11 on itself, he is not going to play very well in Peoria. But anyone who has studied history over the last sixty years, knows full and well what Rev. Jeremiah is referring to when he says that we have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and that might just have been the cause of radicals in  the middle east wanting to show America how the other half  lives. You don’t have to be anti-Zionist to question whether Truman’s decision to recognize the state of Israel might not  have waited until we saw whether the legitimate Palestinian interests were taken care of. Frankly, I have read enough to now believe that that particular problem could not have been solved at that time, but I don’t attack someone as un-American because he/she believes that it could have been, and that it might have lead to a more just world. Are we so blind that we will not see that American support of Israel has, at times, been not only  counter-productive but immoral. That does not mean we love our country, or our allies in Israel less, it just means that we ought to question whether we can do better, and try to do better and try to understand why people may have some hard feeling toward us.


But my favorite issues concerns those who are furious at Rev. Jeremiah for saying that because of skin color, Obama’s road to the White House is tougher than Hilary’s. What audacity. Everyone knows that black children from impoverished and broken  family homes have just as much chance to be President as those born to rich white suburban parents (who later married a future President of the United States). Why he ought to be defrocked for even suggesting that Obama was  at some kind of a disadvantage. Just look at our  list of Presidents. Look at the number of poor black people who have succeeded in obtaining that office. Was it inflammatory to say that “Hilary ain’t ever been called a nigger ?” I suspect that it is true that she has not been. I also believe that Obama has never been called a cunt (there, I might as well type out BOTH of the unutterable words of the English language in the same paragraph). Blacks and women have some despicable  detractors on the American political scene. As a white male, I have no experience to say who has the tougher time, but that does not mean that we should ignore the issue.



One of the problems with America is that we attack those who want to debate the big issues, the fundamental issues. Ron Paul said it best in a “debate” I saw early in the campaign when he said of his fellow candidates, why are we debating what to do and how much blood and treasure to waste in Iraq when we ought to be debating whether American should have a foreign policy based on colonialism. Maybe you don’t agree with Paul on that,  but I think that you solve a lot more problems by going to the root cause than by simply  debating whether or nottyou should pick up after yourself after you have made a huge mess of someone else’s country. It is absurd to close our eyes to the realities that we see every day, day in and day out, just because we are happy to be Americans, or worse, because we want to be President of those Americans.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Horton Hears a Who

The movie version of the Dr Seuss classic, Horton Hears a Who opened this week. I thought a lot of Horton when I was a boy, and kept close tabs on all of the Dr Seuss books. Horton was a very softhearted elephant who in one adventure was talked into sitting on the egg of a certain “Mayzie” bird (so named because it rhymed with lazy) who flew off on a tropical vacation ,only to come back when the egg hatched.. The book is best known for its stirring motto “ I meant what I said, and I said what I meant, an elephant’s faithful, one hundred percent.” In the Who story, the lesson is that “People are people, no matter how small.” That story involves Horton picking up a flower or some type of speck and finding out that an entire planet of “Whos” lived on the speck. I assume that these are the same “Whos” who are featured in the Seuss story “ How the Grinch Stole Christmas”.


As I said, I read all of these books, and a good many  more, when I was in the First Grade at Richmond Elementary School. In the First Grade, we were only allowed to check out books in the school library from a certain section. Those fit for the youngest readers. My school library was an amazing place. We got to go once a week to check out a book (if we remembered to check in the one from the previous week). I can’t recall our librarian’s name, despite the fact that she stamped my check out sheet on the back cover of  my library book, once a week ,for five years. But I do recall how she looked. She looked like what all librarians  looked like in those days. Remember Mr. Bookman, the library cop on Seinfeld ?  “ In my day the librarian was a single unattractive woman, she didn’t talk about her social life, you didn’t want to know about her social life, she didn’t have a social life.” Or something like that. Librarians have changed a lot since then, I’m married to one now, although she may claim not to have much of a social life either.


In second grade, Mrs. Bolton told you when you were ready to advance from the small children’s books to the older children’s books. I was always stuck in the second reading group (I blamed it on my lack of penmanship) and so it was some time into the year that I got a crack at the real books. I recall vividly the first day I was allowed to browse what seemed like endless shelves of books (I probably own three or four times the number of books that were contained in that library, but it seemed enormous to me at the time). The problem was, as I soon found out, that I had to get Mrs. Bolton’s approval of any book I wanted to check out. I spent the entire library period that day taking one book after another to Mrs. Bolton and having them rejected as too sophisticated for me. At the end of the period, she took me over to the stacks and pulled out a book called, I think, The Spirit of St Louis, although it may have been called Lucky Lindy. At any rate, she explained to me that it was about a man that flew an airplane across the Atlantic Ocean. It was a damn good book. This was in the fall of 1960. Lindy had made his flight in 1927, so only 33 years had passed since that great event. Of course to me it seemed like ancient history. Interestingly, about forty years have now passed since we landed on the moon. But that does not seem so long ago.


That little library changed my life. I had always enjoyed books, but had never had access to so many different books with so many different ideas. I went on to read just about everything in that place. I focused for awhile on Dr. Doolittle, moved on to Greek Mythology and finally to biography and history, where I still am today. I was wondering this morning if the school library still means as much to today’s youth. It is hard for Horton’s book to compete with an animated version, or with the inevitable video game. There is a lack of patience among children today that has been brought on by the neurosis of modern society, which most people mistake for excitement (Evelyn Waugh). This lack of patience makes it harder, or at least less interesting to sit down and lose yourself in a book about an elephant who talks to creatures on a tiny planet. I fear that the libraries of the future will be just so many computer stations, with the books a dusty afterthought. I hope not. The experience I had of discovering reading would  be missed. One hundred percent.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Classic Cross-examination

With the nation focused on the salacious facts of the New York Governor’s resignation., precious little attention is being paid to the trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor for various “crimes against humanity” being conducted by the International Court of Criminal Justice in the Hague. That may change after today’s testimony by Taylor’s former Chief of Operations, one Joseph “Zigzag” Marzah. Zigzag testified that he and the army were under orders to eat the enemy, as well as members of a U.N. peacekeeping force, during the Civil War Sierra Leone back in 2002. While I have never personally participated in a cross-examination involving cannibalism before, I like to think that I could have done a pretty good job in attacking the credibility of anyone named “Zigzag”, but that may just be my trial lawyer ego talking.


For instance, Zigzag testified that he had done nothing on his own accord but only followed orders given by Taylor. Any trial lawyer will tell you that that is an easy answer to destroy. Cross-examination question a-1 is this. “Well Mr. Zigzag, are you saying that if President Taylor had ordered you to jump off of the Empire State Building you would have done it ?” mothers and elementary school teachers have been using this line of questioning for years with devastating success.


Similarly, Zigzag also testified that anyone not following a direct order would be killed. You can throw doubt in a juries mind through the simple question, “Well you never saw anyone killed did you ?” The answer is always, “No, we always obeyed orders because we assumed that he would kill us.” So the follow up is (sarcastically) “Oh, you assumed did you ? but you never saw anyone killed.”


Many of the prosecutions questions should have been objected to kept out as irrelevant. Among them were these gems.


“Which did you eat more of , the Krahn (tribe in opposition to Taylor) or U.N Peacekeepers ?” What possible relevance can that have ?


“How do you prepare a human being for the pot ?” Again, we have established that people were eaten, the testimony that followed this question about splitting, cleaning, decapitating (and throwing away the head) and then salt and peppering is only going to incite the finders of fact at this trail. Although it does add to the sum of human knowledge to those of us not familiar with cooking our fellow man.


But without a doubt, the most outrageous question asked by the prosecutor was this, “Which tasted better ?” (Krahn or peacekeepers). That is just plain jury argument and the prosecutor should have been called down for it. Hell, the whole indictment should have been dismissed. I don’t know why we are having a trial like this in the first place. It sounds like there is plentiful evidence of ordered massacres. That should be enough to hang President Taylor. The punishment for eating U.N. peacekeepers and Krahn tribesmen can’t be any stricter than for killing a bunch of them.


Still, it is interesting to compare the crimes of Governor Spitzer and President Taylor. Spitzer procures special services from a consenting adult for a good deal of money and that’s all we hear about in this country for a few days. Taylor orders more than 60 of his fellow human beings butchered and eaten on the battlefield, and we are lucky that it makes a blurb in “News of the World”. Everyone in America knows about “Client number 9”, “George Fox” & the “petite” Kristen of the Emperors Club dating service. No one cares about the senseless slaughter of hundreds and thousands of Africans by a mad dictator. Maybe if there had been more sex in the Taylor story it would have been better covered. All we had in that story was the usual brutal rapes, what fun is that to read about ? What chance is there that Entertainment Tonight will cover it ? I’m sure that Playboy will do a special “Girls of the Emperor’s Club”, whatever came out of Sierra Leone that was in any way entertaining ? Maybe if President Taylor had had a “MySpace” site like Kristin is alleged to have had which detailed his likes and dislikes (murder/torture, human flesh) this story would have had legs. Of course then they would have been eaten.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Time and Space Continuum

I left for Arizona at 7:05 the other morning and with my two and a half hour flight, got there at 8:30. That was 9:30 body (and office) time. Then everyone except Arizona and Indiana “sprang forward” and so while my time stayed the same, my home time  lost an hour. This put me two hours behind my office and, worse, meant that I would lose two hours on my flight home last night which began at 7:25 and ended at 11:30 p.m. This got me home after midnight, but only 10:00 p.m. body time, so I could not sleep, but still had to get up at the new (for me) daylight savings time.  I just found myself dozing at my desk, in a minor episode of Jet Lag. The other reason I was dozing is that I may be too relaxed. I don’t spend a lot of time out of doors, but over the last five days have averaged about 6-7 hours a day in direct, and very bright sunshine. My winter seasonal affective disorder has been lifted and I probably have  enough of whichever that sun vitamin is ( B ?  D ?) to last until the fall. At which point daylight savings time will end, the winter solstice will sneak up on me, and winter depression will return (unless I wise up and move south of the equator).Students of history know that no major (world) war ever started in the southern hemisphere. The advent of air conditioning made such an event slightly more possible, but only slightly. The sun saps your ability to get worked up enough about anything to fight. Day after day of sunlight takes away your depression, although it can lull you into a “lotus eater” lifestyle in which you are hard pressed to accomplish anything of value, such as stirring yourself to go buy a margarita, or remembering to make a dinner reservation.


If world leaders really wanted peace, they’d do two things. First, they’d stop worrying about global warming, and perhaps even hasten it  along. Second, they would institute day light savings time about once a month, throwing people into that fuzzy headed experience that leads a perfectly fine lawyer to nod off at his desk. If more world leaders slept at their desks, the world would be a lot safer place. You know how much thought I gave to politics while I was in Arizona, sitting in the sun ? None. If the Governor of New York had not spent $80,000 on prostitutes, I would have never thought about any politicians at all. But even when you have trouble keeping your eyes open, that catches your prurient interest, if not your political interest. I guess I am going to have to stop using the name “George Fox” when I make my future dates at the Emperors Club. I used it for reservations out in Arizona (when I remembered to make them) and it always got a laugh.


I know from personal experience that this vacation afterglow will  not last for very long. Mores the pity. I used to think that all of this talk about taking time off to recharge your battery was a bunch of hooey. But I was wrong. Everybody needs to unwind. Actually, everyone needs to stay as unwound for as long as they can. I will start rewinding again here in a minute. Just let me close my eyes a bit longer. By the way, what time is it ?

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Serving of Crow

As is most often the case, the conventional wisdom won out over my wisdom last night. Hillary took the election by just about what the Zogsby poll said she would. All the talk about polling not taking into account the youth vote for Obama (because they don’t have land lines to call) turned out to be so much hooey. I was also guilty of getting caught up in the hype for Obama here in Travis county, where we did vote for him about two to one.


I suspect that in the long run, none of this will matter. I believe that Obama will go to the convention with the lead and only strong arm tactics by the Clintons will take that lead away. A wild card, of course, is the rumors of  Michigan and Florida holding primaries in June which would actually count. A lot can happen between now and June and Hillary could win both of those races. So, as of now, there is no sure fire nominee. One thing  is sure fire though. If Obama has the nomination taken from him by arm twisting (not stolen, just by hard ball politics) there is a very good chance that Senator McCain could win. That is the only way he can win, running against Hillary with a split Democratic party, but it is at least a way. Before last night, I did not think that he had even that going for him.


As an aside here, I grow more and more sure that McCain’s wife is a Venutian. I have seen enough movies to know that eyes like that only come attached to aliens, and by aliens, I don’t mean Canadians or Mexicans, I mean someone who is a true extra- terrestrial. If it turns out that Ms McCain really is from Venus, that could have a significant effect on the election. For all I know, she is using those piercing eyes to make us vote against our will. It worked in the Republican primaries, maybe it can work in the general election.


At any rate, I would hate to see the Democrats throw this election away, especially on a Clinton, even one I like. Hubert Humphrey would have beaten Richard Nixon if the youth of 1968 (those ironically now supporting Hillary) had not sat on their hands and allowed Richard Nixon to be elected. But when you are young, that first defeat means a lot, it is very bitter. I know I felt it, I never could stomach Humphrey after he beat Gene McCarthy. One of the most famous political poems of all time is Vachel Lindsey’s “Bryan”. The climax of the poem is election night.



Election night at midnight:

Boy Bryan’s defeat.

Defeat of western silver.

Defeat of the wheat.

Victory of the letterfiles

And plutocrats in miles

With dollarsigns upon their coats,

Diamond watchchains on their vests

And spats upon their feet.

Victory of custodians,

Plymouth Rock,

And all that inbred landlord stock.

Victory of the neat.

Defeat of the aspen groves of the Colorado Valleys,

The blue bells of the Rockies,

And the bluebonnets of old Texas,

By the Pittsburgh alleys.

Defeat of the alfalfa and the Mariposa lily.

Defeat of the young by the old and the silly.

Defeat of tornados by the poison vats supreme.

Defeat of my boyhood, defeat of my dream.



Obama is running his campaign on the theme of hope.I think that it would be a national tragedy if the energy that he has let loose among the young in this campaign is crushed by the politics of yesterday.”Defeat of the young, by the old and the silly.” But while I may be setting myself up for another helping of crow, I still believe that this story is going to have a happy ending for those kids, and for all of us.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Down to the Wire

The polls close here in two hours. I assume that if Senator Obama takes Texas, there will be no stopping him from being the Democratic nominee. If he loses Texas and Ohio, the game will still go on, but it will take a lot for Hillary to overcome his lead at this point.


I find myself feeling somewhat guilty for voting against Hillary. I have always liked her and do believe that she is the best qualified to be President. But, as I said before, I think that a Hillary nomination will bring back all of the old nasty fights from the last twenty years. It is about time for some new nasty fights.


The Obama phenomena has been interesting. I was sitting in  my office working last Sunday afternoon when I heard the beating of drums and chanting. I looked out my window and about 50 Obama supporters were marching down Congress Avenue ,with no spectators in sight. I think that they just felt like marching. It reminded me of the old Protestant marchers in Northern Ireland who used to put on their Orange and get out their drums once a year (the marching season) just to celebrate a 300 year old victory. Here, at least, the marchers did not head over to the Catholic quarter and burn houses down.


I suspect that when all is said and done, Senator Obama will be the next President of the United Sates. Many will see it as a transformational, if not transfigurational election. I know that many people under 25, especially ,will see It that way. There are such things as transformation elections in America. The elections of 1800,1860,1932 and 1980 certainly qualify. Whether this is to be another will not be known for a number of years. The real problem with transformational elections is that at least 40% of the population does not like what the country gets transformed into. That will be true in this case to, if we should transform. But at the very least transformations are interesting. They give hope to dreamers, poets and bloggers, in that order.


So who will win in Texas  ? Zogsby says that as of last night, Clinton had a 3% lead. We know that in the last primaries, those who made up their mind in the last twenty four hours (procrastinators and morons) usually broke toward Clinton. But, there has been an amazing pre-election vote (which favors Obama), and the turnout in Houston this morning was said to be amazing. I am going to go against conventional wisdom and say Obama by 2%. Tune in tomorrow for possible crow eating.