Monthly Archives: December 2008

Celebrity Crime Roundup: Whoopi on Vick, Craig

As the end of the year approaches, I’ve been cleaning up my backlog of unpublished posts. I often start to write about something and then discover that I have nowhere to go with it. I’ve deleted most of those posts as there’s no way to salvage them.

Sometimes, however, I just have trouble finding enough time to write, and the story behind the post goes stale before I get anything out on the blog. I delete some of those, but some of them I save for later if I think I’ll be able to use them in response to another story. (E.g. my speculative post about gay evolution.)

Then there’s stuff like this. I started to write this post in September 2007 and the story went stale. I like it as far as it goes, but I have no idea what to do with it. Here it is, exactly as I found it:

I’m with Whoopi, at least as she’s quoted here.

“He’s from the South, from the Deep South … This is part of his cultural upbringing,” Goldberg said of the Atlanta Falcons quarterback, whose recent fall from grace has been one of the most stunning in the history of U.S. sports.

“For a lot of people, dogs are sport,” Goldberg said on the show. “Instead of just saying (Vick) is a beast and he’s a monster, this is a kid who comes from a culture where this is not questioned.”

I’m not in favor of dog fights, but it’s silly to pretend that this is some bizarre flaw in Vick’s character. Dogfights are held all over the world and have been for a long time–long enough that many current dog breeds appear to be the result of breeding for better fighting.

Goldberg’s comments were denounced by Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, who disputed that dogfighting was a cultural fixture of the South or any other region.

“To suggest that there is some ethnic group or racial group or regional group that finds this acceptable is just not accurate,” he told Reuters, adding that public opinion polls show opposition to dogfighting “is a universal value in America.”

Obviously not. Otherwise we wouldn’t be uncovering interstate dogfighting conspiracies.

Lots of illegal things are also cultural fixtures: Prostitution, back-room card games, smoking pot, under-age drinking, sports betting, 4th of July fireworks, off-the-books household employees, speeding, cash purchases at flea markets, buying out of state to avoid sales taxes…stop me when I get to something you do.

Also, gay sex, at least if you try to do it in a public restroom. Which brings me to

That’s as far as I got. Obviously, I had something to say about the Craig business, but what? What connection did I see between illegal dog fights and gay sex in public bathrooms?

in Writing

Sarah Brady Scares the Teachers

Sarah Brady just sent me this.  Other than deleting the recipient’s name — I don’t want to let out the pseudonym I give Sarah so she can dun me (unsuccessfully, I’ll add) for contributions — I haven’t added or deleted anything, except a little bit of emphasis.  (Okay, okay; I also added the picture.) 

Let me give you a little bit of background, first.  Early in the month, the Department of Interior announced new rules around carrying of firearms in National Parks. 

Not a big deal, although poor Lloyd Garver got his LA knickers in a twist over at the HuffPo, almost as much as the time he visited Minnesota and didn’t get shot.

Basically, the Interior Department aligned the rules for the national parks with those of the state in which they’re located.  In Minnesota, for example, where I live, people with valid carry permits can carry their handguns in state parks; now, when they’re up at Voyageuers National Park, the same rule will apply.  Similarly for Utah, Montana, both Dakotas — and the vast majority of states; handgun carry permits are easily available in more than forty of the fifty states.

No effect, of course, in Wisconsin and Illinois — the two states that, just like the District of Columbia, only allow cops and criminals to carry handguns — and no practical effect in states like New York and New Jersey, not just because of the paucity of National Parks — heck, the Statue of Liberty is run by the Park Service, and while Morristown is no Yellowstone, it’s kinda cool — but because, in states like that, carry permits are as rare as honest Chicago  politicians are in Chicago.

Now, over to Sarah; I’ll be back in a bit.


Dear [Redacted],

The Bush Administration has given the gun lobby a special last-minute gift — a very expensive one, … one that puts public safety at risk.

The Brady Center is taking action to stop it.  We need your help.

The Brady Center has filed a suit asking a federal court to strike down the Administration’s last-minute rule change to allow concealed, loaded guns in national parks and wildlife refuges. 

Please give a tax-deductible gift now to help us stop this unnecessary and dangerous ruling.  It will allow guns in rural and urban national park areas around the country …

     … from Wyoming’s Yellowstone and California’s Yosemite to Philadelphia’s Independence National Historical Park, home of the Liberty Bell.

The Brady Center filed the suit on behalf of our Brady Campaign members, including school teachers in the New York  and Washington, D.C. areas who are canceling or curtailing school trips to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty and the National Mall in Washington, D.C. now that the Bush Administration will allow guns in these national parks.

Click here to give today to support our efforts to keep our parks and wildlife refuges safe, to stop the gun lobby and the Bush Administration from enacting this last-minute ruling.


Sarah Brady, Chair

Forward this email to everyone you know.

Yup.  Sarah’s scaring teachers into avoiding the National Mall and the Statue of Liberty out of her panic that when some of us are visiting, say, Rushmore we might have lawfully-carried handgun on us, just like we’d have down the road at Custer State Park.

Sheesh, Sarah.  And I’ve been complaining about some folks on my side worrying about the sky falling.

Obama Freedom Scorecard

I’m trying to put together a freedom scorecard for the Obama administration—stuff to watch out for over the next 4 to 8 years. Here’s what I’ve got so far.

Discrete things Obama can do to make us more free:

  • Stop the federal government from raiding medical marijuana users and suppliers
  • End warrentless wiretapping
  • Allow needle exchange
  • Fire U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan

Discrete things Obama can do to make us less free:

  • Reinstitute any version of the Fairness Doctrine
  • Ban assault weapons
  • Prohibit gay marriage

I’m also looking for things I can use to track some general trends. For example, the population-adjusted size of the prison population is a negative indicator. I’d like to find indicators or discrete events I can use to track some other subdivisions of our national freedom:

  • Government transparency
  • Free trade
  • Immigration
  • Right to keep and bear arms
  • Property rights v.s. civil forfeiture
  • Property rights v.s. eminent domain
  • Access to elected office

Any ideas?

What Can You Expect to Learn In School?

The latest micro-storm to hit the legal blogosphere started simply enough with Gideon’s nearly harmless post on “10 things I didn’t learn in law school.” I thought the worst item was #5:

That law review leads to document review. If you want to do real work, take a clinic or something.

That’s a case where the priorities of law school actually hurt your chances in the real world. Everything else was the routine sort of on-the-job stuff that’s really hard to teach in school. Nothing controversial there, or so I thought.

Professor David Papke at the Marquette University Law School would doubtless disagree with me:

With the exception of item #10, I thought the list was cynical to a fault. Too many lawyers have a sad bitterness and mean anti-intellectualism about them. Maybe living in debt and working in the context of hierarchy and bureaucracy produces those attitudes. I wish somehow that lawyers could remember law school as a demanding but enriching academic experience.

Well, they’ll remember it that way if you run your law school right, but I digress.

(To digress some more, trench lawyers like Gideon or Scott or Mark may seem anti-intellectual compared to a tenured university professor, but considering that their jobs routinely involve getting into verbal knife fights, they’re a pretty thoughtful bunch of guys. I think of them like the Doc Holiday character from the movie Tombstone: Educated and articulate, but if the need arises, they can put an opponent in the ground.)

Papke gets things going with this comment:

We don’t want law school to be lawyer-training school. When we cave in to demands of that sort from the ABA and assorted study commissions, we actually invite alienation among law students and lawyers. Legal education should appreciate the depth of the legal discourse and explore its rich complexities. It should operate on a graduate-school level and graduate people truly learned in the law.

Scott Greenfield takes issue in a post is subtitled “Training Lawyers is Beneath Us”:

Imagine, the dirtiness of a law school teaching law students how to practice law.  Disgusting.  Revolting.  How beneath the dignity of such a distinguished scholar.

I think I understand what Scott means, but I can’t help wondering if he’s expecting too much from law school. Is it even possible for academia to teach the things that Gideon is talking about? Or would a better subtitle for Scott’s post be “Training Lawyers is Beyond Us”?

I don’t know anything about lawyering, so I’m going out on a limb here, but based on my own experience as a Computer Science graduate and software developer, I don’t think universities can teach a lot of practical job skills.

When I got my CS degrees, I learned a lot of foundational computer science like data structures, analysis of algorithms, discrete structures, and language theory. I also learned some more practical subjects such as computer graphics, database design, networking protocols, and a smattering of computer languages.

What I didn’t learn, however, were the practical skills of a working programmer. Things like:

  • Working with a team of engineers, software developers, and contract lawyers to write a 300-page proposal for a $5,000,000 project.
  • Gathering software requirements from end users who aren’t sure what the software should do—or disagree about the requirements they are sure of—but absolutely know it has to be finished by the third quarter.
  • Breaking down a large software project into parts that can be built by team members and then integrated into a working system.
  • The Iron Triangle of project management: Schedule, budget, scope. Pick any two.
  • Creating a directory tree to hold all the parts of a software system and writing scripts to build the whole system on demand.
  • Using tools to track and manage bug reports, change requests, and the code itself.
  • Deciding when to freeze requirements, tools, and changes to make a release deadline.
  • Staging code changes into a working production environment.
  • Remembering to keep copies of every development tool you use, so the that you can find them all again when the software suddenly need maintenance five years later.
  • Integrating the latest hot technology into a 250,000-line code base that began life a quarter century ago.
  • Providing support, over the phone, to a $1000/day technician at a customer site nine timezones away.

There are a couple of these items that have been added to Computer Science curriculums since I was at school, but most of this stuff cannot realistically be taught in a classroom. You learn a lot of this stuff simply by doing it—find a professor who’s running a software project, join a team doing open source development, get a job.

I imagine the same thing is true for law school. There’s lots of stuff it can never teach you, and it’s unrealistic to expect it to do so.

Finally, when Papke writes about the pressure to “cave in to demands of that sort from the ABA and assorted study commissions” it sounds a lot like a problem faced by many Computer Science departments: The companies that hire graduating students want universities to teach them the latest hot technology, whatever it is.

In other words, they want the schools to function as their training department. But there are better ways to meet that kind of short-term need than with a university curriculum.

It is here that I think Scott and Gideon should be careful what they wish for, because if law schools become more responsive to the needs of practicing lawyers, they won’t be responding to the needs of criminal lawyers and other solo practitioners. They’ll be responding to the needs of Biglaw, and they’ll be grinding out students who are experts at document review, business law, and probably, these days, bankruptcy.

Notice Anything Different?

I’ve made a few small changes in the layout of the blog. I got tired of the rounded corners on everything, so I got rid of them. I also changed the structural relationship between the right sidebar and everything else on the page, and I changed the way the pieces of the header fit together. Also, the content no longer floats in the middle of the browser window. It’s now stuck to the left margin.

It I’m not entirely pleased with the way the right sidebar relates to everything else on the page. It seems a little too visually heavy or unbalanced or something. I don’t really have the design vocabulary to describe the problem, let alone the skill to find a solution. I just know I don’t quite like it.

In any case, I think this layout will make it slightly easier for me to customize the page design in the future.

A Taste of Future Shock

My wife and I got my mother a Tivo DVR this Christmas. It was a calculated risk.

My mother is in her 80’s and doesn’t like learning to use new stuff. On the other hand, she has a VCR which she manages to use, but she gets confused about the whole tune-the-TV v.s. tune-the-VCR issue, and sometimes she uses the wrong remote or gets some part of the system (TV, VCR, remote) into a state where she doesn’t understand what’s happening.

Our thinking was that the Tivo system is simpler. A single remote controls everything, and it doesn’t allow you to get into any difficult situations. It avoids the confusion inherent in tuning both the TV and the VCR. The basic functions are pretty simple.

At least that was the theory, but we stopped in on my parents yesterday, and now I’m not so sure. My mother is having trouble with the concept. She comes from a time before mice and menus, before everything was a computer. She comes from a time when your tools didn’t have a mind of their own.

We knew all that, of course, but we thought she could probably puzzle it out anyway. (After all, my mother used be a bookkeeper, which meant she could run one of these. How hard could a Tivo be?) My gut reaction is that she’s just resisting the change, but she’ll like it once she gets used to it.

Meanwhile, a few weeks ago we bought an alarm system and remote starter for the RAV4. While driving to see my parents, I noticed the alarm’s key-fob remote control beeping a few times in my pants pocket. My leg was pressed against a part of the car and it was pressing the buttons. That’s happened before with every alarm I had, so I didn’t think much about it.

When I got out of the car, however, the remote control didn’t work anymore. The signal LED flickered, and I could hear the remote beeping, but the car didn’t respond at all. I had to leave the alarm off and lock the doors the old-fashioned way.

My working theory was that I had accidentally pressed the buttons too much, and the alarm control module had decided to ignore my remote. I don’t know if car alarms actually have such a feature, but I know that computer network applications do things like that all the time: When they receive too many spurious requests from another node, they decide for reasons of efficiency or security to lock it out and ignore it. The effect usually wears off after a while to allow for the possibility that the misbehaving node has been fixed.

When we left my parents place several hours later, my wife’s remote worked fine, but the car was still ignoring mine, which shot down my theory.

I thought about it some more on the way home. Alarm remotes have to be registered with the control module in the car before they’ll work. Could the control module somehow have forgotten about my remote? That seemed possible, but unlikely. Computer failures are rarely so specific and clean. Whatever was going on, the alarm system was doing what it was supposed to do. But what did it think it was doing?

It came to me as I was crossing the parking lot at home. I’d bought one of the more featureful systems, and I remembered something I’d read in the instruction manual: The system could be programmed to allow one remote control to work with two cars.

I dug up the manual and found the section that explained the multi-car control capability. It explained how to tell which car the remote was set for, and sure enough, it was sending signals for car number 2. I punched in the sequence that switched it back to car number 1, and everything was working again.

I think I just got a taste of how my mother feels in this new high-tech world. I wonder if someday I’ll be too old to adapt to the technology—if someday I’ll be remembering the good old days while eyeing the new household matter transmutator with unease…

The President Who Stole Christmas?

George Bush is such a tool:

WASHINGTON – The pardons President George W. Bush granted this week couldn’t have been better Christmas gifts if Santa himself had delivered them.

But a Brooklyn, N.Y., man, Isaac Robert Toussie, received the legal equivalent of a lump of coal.

Toussie, convicted of making to the Housing and Urban Development Department and of mail fraud, was among 19 people pardoned Tuesday.

But after learning in news reports that Toussie’s father had donated tens of thousands of dollars to the a few months ago, as well as other information, the White House issued an extraordinary statement Wednesday saying the president was reversing his decision on Toussie’s case.

I have no idea what Toussie did, or if he deserves a pardon, but what kind of sadistic jerk grants a guy a pardon and then takes it away?

The Bush administration is apparently taking away the pardon because they discovered Toussie’s father donated money to the party, and they’re worried that it “might create an appearance of impropriety.” So it has nothing to do with his crimes or the sincerity of his remorse. It’s all about trying not to make the Bush administration look bad.

Is this even legal? The president has a constitutional power to pardon people, but once someone is pardoned, surely only the courts can convict him? Toussie’s been out of prison for a while now, but if he had been in prison would he have been let out and then required to go back inside?

What’s the limit here? Can the president pardon a bunch of people and then threaten to un-pardon them if they don’t do what he says? Can he free someone from jail and then throw them back inside if some member of their family does something that displeases him?

This doesn’t seem like something the president should be able to do.

Spreading the Love

Houston Criminal Defense Lawyer Murray Newman used to be an Assistant District Attorney at the Harris County Criminal Justice Center until today. He backed the wrong horse in the last election and was the victim of a political firing by incoming District Attorney Pat Lykos. Newman had been told today would be his last day, but yesterday he posted a satirical version of The Twelve Days of Christmas that made fun of some people at the office, and today they called him in and—even though it was his last day—fired him again.

In a fit of apparently genuine remorse, Newman has taken down the offending post. Houston Criminal Defense Lawyer Mark Bennett has reposted it, however, just to cause trouble. I’m linking to it to improve its score in the search engines:

Satire about Harris County D.A. Pat Lykos

Hope this helps.