Sunday, October 31, 2004

In which I question the parentage of John Edwards's children

According to Slate, Curtis's crush may be the only genetically related offspring of Elizabeth Edwards. While there have been some rumors that the birth of twins at age 36 to First Lady Laura Bush might have been the result of fertility drugs, Mrs. Edwards has been open about using "hormone shots" for her last two pregnancies. Doctors are skeptical that even this could explain births at age 48 and 50.

The theory is that Elizabeth Edwards used donor eggs for her last two pregnancies. This means that she not only underwent hormone treatments herself, she also probably paid an anonymous woman a few thousand dollars compensation to undergo similar treatments, be pierced with a giant needle, and have a bumper crop of eggs removed to be fertilized (presumably by John Edwards's gametes) in a petri dish and then implanted in Mrs. Edwards. This is a lot to go through: tens of thousands of dollars so they can end up with two more kids who are genetically related to John Edwards. The fellow's got some great hair, but it isn't that phenomenal.

Really, I wonder why anyone would go through so much just to have children that were genetically related to the father. The Edwards family lost their son in 1996 and the first alleged donor egg baby was born in 1998, but they didn't stop until 2000, when whatever convoluted medical procedures they used produced another son. Fishy, that.

In closing, a statement and a question:
-Why not just adopt? Their last two kids probably aren't related to Elizabeth Edwards at all. Was it so important for John Edwards to have another genetically related son that he was willing to shell out huge amounts of money and require his wife to undergo two extremely late (and thus more risky) pregnancies? While Elizabeth Edwards might have agreed that this was a good idea, the timeline makes me think that one party had a particular motivation.

-Will Elizabeth Edwards become a spokewoman for the infertile? Some in the Slate piece wish she would, but I hope that she keeps her mouth shut. First of all, I don't care what First Ladies have to say. (I don't care what Teresa Heinz-Kerry babbles about. She's not the person on the ballot. I liked Howard Dean's wife. She knew her place: her office. But I digress.) If Edwards became a spokeswoman for infertile people, it would probably lead to demands for insurance coverage for these highly expensive discretionary procedures. Nothing is more of a choice than whether you become a parent. Mass delusion by Generation X and the Boomers about fertility decreases over time is not a public health problem that needs to be subsidized.

UPDATE: evidently Slate readers think that the article discussed above was disgraceful and shouldn't have been published. To say that it is in poor taste to discuss a concrete, high profile example of a woman who has successfully used complex and expensive reproductive technologies to have children at an age when many Americans are grandparents, especially in the context of a public debate about whether those technologies should be subject to mandatory insurance coverage, hampers public debate. How are we to fully explore the nature of fertility, infertility, and the desire to parent without recourse to the stories of real people and real emotions? Our reluctance to address this, to question the need for such procedures, may lead us to an inefficient and undesirable outcome. The choice if, when, and how to become a parent is deeply personal, but when other people start claiming I should pay for them to have their cake and eat it too I get nosy about why they need my money.

The sociology of star-crossed romance

Interesting post here at 2 Blowhards on the effect of urban demographics and marriage practices in Renaissance Italy on the plotlines of Romeo & Juliet.

The usual references are made to the violence-inducing tendencies of wide sex ratio imbalances and their implications for peace in our time. This came up in my family law class during our discussion of sex selective abortions. The economist in me assumed that a reduction in the supply of women would give females more power, not less - more choice of suitors, a collapse of the dowry system, etc. Unfortunately, cultural norms are harder to break that that. Without protection for women's rights and a strong rule of law, women simply become attractive targets for thieves.

Will Baude can get a cat!

Since so many people I know are allergic to cats, they should be pleased to hear that hypoallergenic cats are on the way. For the low price of $3,500, you can be the owner of an adorable British Shorthair with allergen-free saliva and dander. More breeds will follow. Dana, should Tom use this as an excuse to get rid of Maddie, she can always come and live with me!

Seriously, though: the price is extremely high, which is understandable given R&D costs. Is the cat's genome patented? Will all cats be sold spayed and neutered, a la Monsanto's terminator seeds, so that an alternative source of kittens will not emerge? And what happens if an Allerca cat is cross-bred with a normal cat? All this and more will become clear should I drop out of law school and start a lucrative cat and ortolan breeding business (strictly segregating these two aspects of the enterprise, of course).

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Metchis-Volokh Wedding

The legal wedding of Hanah Metchis and Sasha Volokh has occurred! Congratulations to the happy couple.

Friday, October 29, 2004

I am a: Giant Nerd

I Am A: Neutral Good Elf Druid Ranger

Neutral Good characters believe in the power of good above all else. They will work to make the world a better place, and will do whatever is necessary to bring that about, whether it goes for or against whatever is considered 'normal'.

Elves are the eldest of all races, although they are generally a bit smaller than humans. They are generally well-cultured, artistic, easy-going, and because of their long lives, unconcerned with day-to-day activities that other races frequently concern themselves with. Elves are, effectively, immortal, although they can be killed. After a thousand years or so, they simply pass on to the next plane of existance.

Primary Class:
Druids are a special variety of Cleric who serves the Earth, and can call upon the power in the earth to accomplish their goals. They tend to be somewhat fanatical about defending natural settings.

Secondary Class:
Rangers are the defenders of nature and the elements. They are in tune with the Earth, and work to keep it safe and healthy.

Mielikki is the Neutral Good goddess of the forest and autumn. She is also known as the Lady of the Forest, and is the Patron of Rangers. Her followers are devoted to nature, and believe in the positive and outreaching elements of it. They use light armor, and a variety of weapons suitable for hunting, which they are quite skilled at. Mielikki's symbol is a unicorn head.

Find out What D&D Character Are You?, courtesy ofNeppyMan (e-mail)

Arnie for Senate

Thanks to everyone who is answering the poll below about my shirt. Carry on, folks.

Latest topic of debate (other than the location of my cookbooks): what does the future hold for everyone's favorite Governator? I contend that he should attempt to unseat Senator Boxer and then wait for the half-senile Feinstein to retire, making him the senior Senator from California.

Some claim that he should wait out the interval between the end of his second term as governor and the possible constitutional amendment in some Cabinet position (H&HS? Homeland Security?) before becoming President Arnold. If Reagan could do it, why not this guy? He's got style, charisma, Kennedy connections, a flashy wife . . . it would be a truly Hollywood style presidency. And it would be a sock in the eye to all those West Wing fans with "Josiah Bartlet is my President" bumper stickers. I am not holding my breath, though. Any thoughts from the aspiring pundits in my comments section?

Thursday, October 28, 2004

I'm baa-ack

I never thought I'd say this, but I am really relieved to be back in Boston. Manhattan is so draining. (Draining to the wallet, too: the Guggenheim charged us $15 to look at incomprehensible Aztec art. It would have been vaguely comprehensible had we sprung for the audio tour, but they don't warn you of this before purchasing a ticket. Thus we spent an hour or so wondering as to the significance of a turtle with a human head. Bah.) We did have a splendid afternoon in Brooklyn and made two trips to Grimaldi's Pizza, so there were some relaxing aspects of the trip.

Currently I am in the midst of a debate. What color is this shirt?
A. Brown
B. Olive Green

Choose wisely.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Hot workers type better

I shudder to think what this research implies about the research done at a certain institute in the summer of 1999. It was so cold I needed my winter jacket the entire time - in the Southern California desert. Fortunately, we had the whole summer to correct our shiver-induced typing errors.

Getting the hell out of here

Blogging will be sporadic to nonexistent for the next few days, as I will be in NYC.* However, there may be photos and random dispatches if I can get access, so don't stop checking in!

*Assuming I don't have to stay here and sort out Issue 3 of last year's volume (still not printed, BTW, and the PDFs that don't have font errors have page numbering errors. augh).

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Baseball dopes should not vote.

This is absolutely disturbing. Who would actually vote for Kerry because they saw him at a baseball game? How would attendance at a baseball game indicate that Kerry will do a better job as Commander in Chief? Anyone who is currently undecided and is swayed by the presence or absence of Kerry at a damn game should stay away from the polls because they are too dumb to participate in deliberative democracy.

UPDATE: Kieran Healy also finds problems with Post's post. He is far more analytical, however.

Modern art I don't hate

In the wake of my rant about Jeff Koons, I thought I would highlight some modern artists that I do appreciate.

Like Curtis, I enjoy Calder's mobiles. Lucien Freud is a modern painter whose work I enjoy.

While I'm not excited about any of this year's Turner Prize nominees (although this is somewhat pleasing to the eye). I do love the pottery of Grayson Perry, last year's winner.

Alas for the pokey reopening schedule of the MOMA. I had anticipated seeing the collection (I never went out to Queens last summer) and the new building. However, flyout week has been scheduled inconveniently and I'll have to make do with the Guggenheim.

UPDATE: This young woman has strong opinions about some modern artists as well.

What the . . ?

Have these Japanese girls just seen Fight Club too many times or what?

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Show you care: buy lingerie.

Professor Ann Althouse directed me to this page of celebrity designed corsets. They are being auctioned off to benefit RAINN, a charity closely associated with Tori Amos. Amos has been tireless in her efforts to call attention to the problem of sexual assault. If any of the items strikes your fancy, use some of that mad summer associate pay you have coming (2Ls) or have accumulated (3Ls) and support the cause.

I think most of them are rather unsexy, but perhaps I underestimate the prevalence of bee fetishists.

Journal hypo

If you were a printer and had been sent a job two weeks ago, how long would you wait before telling us that the job is on hold because the fonts weren't embedded properly?

Two weeks is not an acceptable answer.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Jeff Koons, Thieving Hack

Today in Copyright we discussed parody. In each of the three cases we discussed, the defendant made a claim of fair use. I generally agreed with the courts in each case, but was flabbergasted when some of my classmates leaped to the defense of Jeff Koons, a modern sculptor who used a copyrighted photograph of two people holding some puppies as the basis for his work "String of Puppies." The case is here, but for those of you at home, here's the Jeff Koons method to obtain artistic success and profit:

1. Decide consumer culture is banal and a negative influence on society.
2. Find an example of consumer culture (a postcard sold in a shop depicting a couple holding their eight German Shepherd puppies) and buy it.
3. Tear the copyright symbol off the card and mail it to your crack squad of Italian artisans. Instruct them to render the image from the photo in three dimensional format.
4. Monitor the progress of the artisans in creating four polychromed wood sculptures. Repeatedly correct them as to your artistic vision and instruct them to render the positions of the figures, level of detail, and expressions on the subjects' faces "just like photo!"
5. Import Italian sculptures to New York and display one in a gallery, claiming that it parodies the banality of our culture.
6. When sued by the copyright holder for infringing on his art by making an exact reproduction of his expression in another medium and selling copies of it for over $100,000 each, disregard a court order to turn over the remaining copy of the sculpture and ship it to Germany on the sly.

Despite the many questionable elements here, some of my classmates thought this was a permissible parody, despite the fact that Koons was parodying not the specific work (the photo), but society in general, that he could have done so with equal effectiveness without using a preexisting copyrighted image as a basis, that the only transformative element of the parody was to render it in another medium and place it in a museum, and that Koons acted in bad faith at almost every step of the process (a factor which often militates against a finding of "fair" use).

One woman claimed that her perspective had been deeply altered by the confrontation Koons forced with his work. Another student didn't think it should matter that the photo itself could not be recognized as the object of the parody (although the necessity of borrowing recognizable material for a parody is one of the reasons the courts typically give wide latitude in such cases). The mind boggles.

Then again, on the other side of the spectrum, after class one fellow confided that he didn't think 2 Live Crew's parody of Pretty Woman should be considered fair use because 2 Live Crew did not have the well articulated parodic purpose argued in its briefs in mind when they created the song. I thought it was obvious that 2 Live Crew's song could be considered a brutal juxtaposition of the idealistic and romantic Orbison song with the reality of street life and street interactions, but perhaps all these are matters of taste.

Monday, October 18, 2004

"You are partisan, what do you call it, hacks."

For the few of you who have not already seen it, here's a link to the video of The Daily Show's Jon Stewart absolutely trouncing Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson on Crossfire. Here's the transcript. One of the reasons I don't watch television news is because too much of the programming consists of shows where people try to shout their talking points at each other. Jon Stewart is my new hero.

Incidentally, last night I had someone unknowingly quote one of my own blog posts back to me. Hee.

UPDATE: Avigael was not impressed by Stewart. While he may very well be pedantic and unfunny on The Daily Show (I wouldn't know, lacking cable), I still think his hijack of Crossfire was awesome. The reason?

I hate talking heads with the fury of a thousand alien suns. I think they are a negative influence on the public discourse and that they do, if they call themselves journalists, generally fail to meet their professional responsibilities. Also, they make my head hurt with the yelling. Anyone who calls out these guys and demands that they stop trying to outshout one another and actually make good on their promise of substantive debate is okay in my book.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Give me books.

Gabe at A Handful of Sand highlights an aspect of reading that many of us encounter: the frequent realization that one is utterly ignorant of the history or background of an entire field of human knowledge or history. The historical novels I love do this most often; Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy left me craving to know more about both twentieth century India and its long history. Watership Down led me to read more about rabbits. The lush narrative at the beginning of Middlesex revealed my ignorance of modern Turkish history (Smyrna burned?). This can lead to two outcomes:

-Lazy acceptance of whatever potentially dubious factoids and accounts of the historical experience or state of technology the book provides. Alternatively, failure to believe in some of the author's more unusual devices (Van Eck phreaking is real? I had no idea).
-Ransacking of library to find something to slake your thirst for something more substantive.

I tend toward the former, but only because I have limited time to sort through the field to separate the trash history and junk scholarship from the good stuff. I am in the market for a few good single volume histories at this time. An example of what I am looking for is The Fatal Shore, a book I picked up when I realized that no class I had ever taken mentioned the settling of Australia and its neighbors by the British.

Can anyone recommend a good history of India (20th c. or pre-colonial), 20th c. South America, the medieval Arab empire, or post-colonial Africa? Giant tomes are okay, but ideally I want something they could assign in a college survey course but which is not too dry.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Short movie reviews

Now that I have a Netflix subscription, I have been watching more DVDs than is strictly healthy. My impressions on some recent rentals:

Bubba Ho-Tep: a clever idea (Elvis traded places with an impersonator and then lost his chance to switch back) ultimately flops due to soggy plotting and a loss of sprightliness. So a soul-sucking mummy was accidentally dumped in the creek near a nursing home and it has been preying on the patients? Okay. But why does the mummy wear a cowboy outfit? Too many voiceovers. If you do see it, the subtitled hieroglyphics are the funniest part of the whole thing.

The Devil's Backbone: it does a good job of creating suspense. I was genuinely surprised to find out who killed Santi and suitably creeped out by the ghost's bloated visage and trickling fog of protoplasmic blood. The shots of the countryside also evoked the isolation of the setting well. It wasn't great, but it's an accessible and spooky foreign film.

Chinatown: I normally try to avoid supporting Roman Polanski, but this film predates his career as a rapist and seducer of young girls, and thus I made an exception. A youngish Jack Nicholson carries himself well as a P.I. who stumbles into a mystery involving water rights, incest, adultery, and murder. I felt strangely detached, though, until the end, when John Huston envelopes a screaming girl like a spider and drags her away while a distracted crowd gawks at the final victim. I still shudder thinking about it. A fine film.

Next up: Adaptation and Bottle Rocket.

The perils of blogging non-anonymously

My judge found my blog. I guess all those hits from weren't just from my friends who are clerking right now. Someone at my summer firm has been reading, too. Hi, everyone!

Vote or die? I'd rather die.

My former roommate Kathy, currently devoting her energies to the ousting of our current President, presents this inquiry:
Here at our campaign, we're trying to decide why there would be Undecided voters left in this country right now. I said that certain groups that are completely left out of the major parties, such as Libertarians, Classical Conservatives, Log Cabin Republicans, might still be Undecided. So, as a Libertarian, who are you voting for: Bush, Kerry, the Libertarian candidate, none, or decline to state?
I call myself a "small-l libertarian," although I did vote for the Libertarian candidate, Harry Browne, in the 2000 election. I did briefly volunteer for the Bush 2000 campaign in New Hampshire, but that was more out of lack of other interesting options (I was on a school program in which we had to volunteer for someone in the NH primary, and I had no strong allegiance to any of the candidates at that time). In this election, though, I will not be voting at all. My reasons:

I am currently registered to vote in Massachusetts. I could have maintained my registration in Texas, but didn't bother. Those are perhaps the two safest states in this election. My vote would make no difference. I don't think the popular vote is a more valid mechanism than the electoral college and thus feel no impulse to affect the popular vote tally.

My normal reaction to this situation would be to vote Libertarian. It would help them get ballot access and (teehee) federal funds, and I am not a huge fan of the two party system. However, the LP candidate, Badnarik, is a loon. I can't cast a vote for a whack-job. I have nothing in common with the Greens. There is nothing for me to vote for.

I hope that is a sufficient explanation, Kathy. I wish you luck, though, because if your guy wins we get gridlock, and gridlock is good.


I continue to be underwhelmed by Jim Lindgren's posts on the Volokh Conspiracy, and it appears that I am not alone. However, some may be under the impression that Lindgren is filling the J--- L--- slot temporarily. You are deceived! Unlike the dubious Dauber or the crummy Cramer, Lindgren is a permanent coblogger, not a guest blogger.

May I suggest ?

Thursday, October 14, 2004


I think this would be the only possible way for me to check my email more frequently than I do already. (Via GeekPress) It would also solve the pesky problem of finding the remote.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Modest proposal II

Now that Crescat has comments, maybe they should hop on another bandwagon: CafePress. I proposed this weekend that they get some customized underwear, but Will thinks I am the only one who would buy it.

Another frivolous post that does not address "the Iraqi human meat grinder"

Brock Sides reminds me of the Book of Ratings, a spinoff from the now-defunct Brunching Shuttlecocks website.

Via Stay of Execution: Outer Life has a series of posts on books he should have liked but didn't. I, too, suffered through the first hundred or so pages of the Gormenghast books and made an abortive attempt to read Gravity's Rainbow. Geoffrey claims I should start again with The Crying of Lot 49, but I'm not sure if it's worth the bother. Other books I should have liked but didn't: Catch-22, Infinite Jest, The Satanic Verses, Something Wicked This Way Comes, and The Thomas Covenant series.

Yesterday I was quite taken with this profile of Philip Pullman, author of the His Dark Materials series for children. The article includes a reference to the Tom Stoppard-scripted film adaptation that's in the works; I was concerned that it had been scrapped after an extended stay in development hell. It also reveals that Pullman is writing a fourth book in the series. My feelings are mixed; the ending of The Amber Spyglass is so deliciously bittersweet that following Lyra into adulthood could only be anticlimatic. I shall, however, trust in Pullman to do well by her.

I was speculating with a friend on what rating the MPAA would give to the movies based on this series. The films couldn't appeal to a sufficiently large target audience to make back the budget unless they were rated PG, I'd say, but the themes in the films are very mature and there are definitely scenes that would frighten small children. I'd like to think that Stoppard's script won't water things down too much, but Hollywood is not concerned about maintaining the series's fidelity to its principles. We shall see.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Get it while you can

This is the last day of Geoffrey's guest blog stint, so if you want him to pontificate on something specific, interrogate him on the grad student experience, or whatever else you can think up, make a suggestion. Last I heard, he was at odds for a post topic.

Crescat has been desecrated.

So. Unmotivated. A letter came in the mail from a district judge. Even though it doesn't matter any more, it still feels like someone running up and kicking me in the shins to be summarily rejected.

The road to hell

I fully intended to go into the office today, do my Wills and Trusts reading, potter around with Journal stuff, do tomorrow's Copyright reading, and go out for a taco. It all fell apart, though, when I realized that I forgot the power cord for my laptop. That meant I had to walk home after class and get it, which meant I might as well cook lunch. I had finally procured some Mexican chorizo the other day and had been craving it. However, I forgot tortillas.

Still, it should have been easy: go home, run down to crappy local grocery for tortillas, make delicious chorizo and egg tacos for lunch, read Wills and Trusts, and then head back to campus for class and to get my Copyright book to read tonight.

But then the evil of Boston reared its head; there are almost no Mexican people here, so I had to go to three different stores to find tortillas. It rained. The reading for Wills and Trusts was 160 pages long, plus supplements. I may go to class. Maybe.

Funny because it's true

My philosophical acceptance of contextual mediocrity in law school is given a light hearted twist with this shirt from (Via email and Energy Spatula).

A modest proposal

Can we just draft Brian Leiter? He is so tiresome.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Birthday, party

Today is Geoffrey's birthday. Unfortunately it was marked by a big lot of nothing. However, his cousin is coming to visit so we will have a houseguest for the next few days. Hurrah for sofa beds.

Tonight was the reception for my summer firm. I went and got mistaken for an associate several times by lawyers from the other office. Is this good (I look professional) or bad (I look old)?

You're all just begging to face the moose...

As today is my birthday, I just went and pre-ordered myself a little present: Invader Zim DVD volume 3.

Invader Zim was an all-too-short-lived cartoon on Nickelodeon. It was created by comic book writer/artist Jhonen Vasquez. I originally learned of the show after it had already been cancelled, and for a couple of years had to subsist on poor-quality KaZaa downloads, which nevertheless convinced me that this was one of the greatest children's shows ever created. It was strange and funny, and subversive in a way that children's programming tends to shy away from (even Sesame Street has gone milquetoast, but that's another rant). In fact, to be perfectly honest, it was a bit dark, considering the intended demographic. The characters are fantastic - Gir is quite possibly the single best cartoon character of the last decade or so, and the interaction between Dib and Zim drives the series through even the most ridiculous of plots. When I bought the first two DVDs, I learned what I had been missing. Invader Zim is, visually, amazing. Furthermore, the care that went into created the music and sound effects for the series pays off in a big way.

Unfortunately, Nickelodeon canned the series, despite the huge and active fan base. Apparently, they were unwilling to spend time and money on a 'cult' show that wouldn't do as well with the young'uns as Spongebob. This, I think, was a huge mistake. Think of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Ren and Stimpy. These were children's cartoons that had a big college following. Hell, even Spongebob does pretty well among the college set. I think that if Nickelodeon had played it a little smarter, perhaps showing it later at night, gotten the word out, they could have had a solid fan base. Alas, it was not to be.

I'm not even going to try to describe the show in depth. It has to be seen to be appreciated. I'm not going to advocate downloading it from the internet, but if you do, start with episode 1: The Nightmare Begins. After that, they can be watched in pretty much any order. If you are a fan, I recommend investing in the DVD's, as they are pretty cheap, unless you are a megafan, in which case there is a super special boxed set coming out later.

New bookstore

Some have recently bemoaned the decreasing number of bookstores in Harvard Square. While it's not as convenient to the Yard, a new bookstore just opened in Porter Square. They don't have all their stock yet, but dogs are allowed and the space is bright and airy (unlike the dismal Habitrail of the Coop's second floor). I would also like to call attention to Pandemonium Books on the second floor of The Garage. They have a fine selection of SF and fantasy (both new and used) and a knowledgable staff.

Random roundup III

Thanks to Geoffrey for holding down the fort this weekend. Some links I found this morning:

Joanne Jacobs fondly remembers the Childhood of Famous Americans children's book series. My friend Chris was also a fan of these books, but I was a ValueTales reader. Without them, my lifelong obsession with Marie Curie would never have been. (I visited her house in Warsaw.) Sudeep Agarwala recently made a remark that could be seen as disparaging of Mrs. Curie. I hope it was not meant so!

A discussion on the phenomenon of drinking Coke for breakfast.

Phoebe doubts the gender of my classmate Waddling Thunder. Men can cook. Will Baude, for example, makes a mean chicken paprikash.

This is pretty funny.

My eyes, part deux

There's a guy in the front row of my class who has one of the most unpleasant publicly visible desktop background images I've ever seen. Is there a polite way to comment on such a thing?

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Tales from Bakersfield

I mentioned in my Jack Chick post that I had a story I might post. Due to popular demand (ok, one person, but I am sure she counts as part of the populus), I will relate it here.

It was the summer of 1999; I had just finished my first year of undergrad and had returned to Bakersfield with the aim of earning some money while I lived rent-free with my parents. Alas, summer jobs were hard to come by, and I applied to numerous temp agencies. One of these, I learned to my chagrin, specialized not in clerical but in 'light industrial,' to which I am not well-suited (there is another story about that). But as things were looking grim on the job front, I went ahead and signed up.

In order to be eligible for any of the assignments that this firm would send me on, I had to spend a Saturday taking a workers' safety class. The class consisted mainly of watching educational safety films - think "Hi, I'm Troy McClure, you may remember me from such films as What's That Smell? - Death and HAZMAT - Your Road to Safety." After that the two instructors would tell us stories about the kind of things that could happen to you if you disregarded the safety instructions, most of which seemed to involve having extremities blown off. All sorts of extremities.

This being a long class, there were breaks, during which most of us just sort of sat there. One member of the class started talking with one of the teachers about the teacher's tattoos, which somehow got the teacher on to the subject of how he was saved. It went something like this:

The teacher (let's call him Frank) used to be a hard-living kind of guy. Motorcycle gangs, drugs, the whole bit. Then one day, he woke up after using drugs and found himself paralyzed, half-dead. He saw a demon come and start pulling his soul out of his body, through the top of the head. When the soul was about 2/3 of the way out of his body, he cried out to Jesus, and instantly four angels appeared, carrying swords which had little lightning bolts going up and down their blades. They chased off the demon, and Frank never looked back. One day, while Frank was over at a Christian friend's house watching a movie, he saw a demon in the movie - the exact same demon who had tried to pull his soul out of his body. Frank, greatly afraid, rebuked the demon in the name of Jesus. The movie? Kull the Conqueror.

Now, I normally try to keep an open mind as to the religious experiences of others, since I understand that from the atheist's point of view we all look pretty equally silly. But this was just too much. Kull the Conqueror. Kull the Conqueror. I was convinced the man was a nutcase. What I didn't realize was that I was probably the only one in the room who thought so.

Back to the story: Frank, sorely frightened by the apparition of his personal demon nemesis in a Hollywood movie, asks God "Why was that demon in that movie?" God answers "It is Satan's way of using Hollywood to prepare people for the reign of demons." And this was where things got wierd. For it was here that Frank segued into his theories on the End Times, and his conspiracy theories about the One World Government.

It would happen something like this: Soon, the millenium would happen (this was 1999, remember), and computers around the world would all fail, plunging us into chaos. He persisted in referring to this event as "KY2000." After that, people would not be able to get food, so there would be violence between those who had hoarded supplies and those who had not. This would be the only excuse the One World Government needed to send in 'peacekeeping' forces who would, in effect, conquer the US. Already, there were NATO armies in our national parks, including Russians in Yosemite. I didn't really have the heart to tell him that Russia isn't technically a NATO member state. Lest you think this was a lone loony, I would like to point out that by this time, at least 3/4 of the class (of about 30 or so) was nodding solemnly in agreement, and indeed many of them were offering their own theories or details, which Frank expertly wove in to the overarching narrative. Things I learned:

  • The new quarter and the Euro were both being introduced as part of the One World Government. The attraction of these monetary units to the OWG was that they could be tracked by satellite, so that the shadowy Anti-Christ could at any time know exactly how much money you had in your pocket.
  • Concentration camps were being built into which all 'patriotic Americans' would be put after the OWG takeover. One complex would be in California, the other in Oklahoma. Where would you go? Check out the fifth digit of your Social Security number. If it is even, you go to OK. If odd, CA.
  • 'They' were working on a microchip to be implanted in the hand to act as a sort of credit/debit card, which would be the Mark of the Beast. They had a prototype that was implanted in the left hand, but as that hand has an artery that comes directly from the heart, the blood pressure tended to wreck it, so they were going to go with the right hand.
  • FEMA is evil.

Eventually, someone said we should get on with the safety videos, as he had a softball game that evening. During another break, I overheard some snippets of conversation such as: "yeah, it's like the people who say the black helicopters don't exist." On the way back into the classroom, I saw Frank and another guy (let's call him Warren) talking thusly:
Frank: Yeah, people have seen those camps. The barbed wire isn't pointing out, it's pointing in. Those fences are to keep people from getting out.
Warren: A couple of us are going to move out and head up to Red Rock. We figure we'll stand a better chance up in the mountains.
Frank: Don't tell anyone where you're going! 'Cause then, they'll say you're a militia, and they'll send the feds after you.

I apologize if this post seems a little long, but I wanted to give you the full flavor of events. All of the above actually happened, and where I have erred, I have erred on the side of understatement. Keep in mind that this was a more or less random sampling of working class Bakersfield in 1999, and a majority of them seemed to, if not subscribe to the above ideas, at least consider them to be well within the realm of the possible. Now that Clinton is out of office and everyone knows about bin Laden, I don't know what a similar session would have sounded like this summer. Maybe I don't want to know.

Good News

I've come across two news items that make me happy:

1. Librarians tell the feds to bugger off: It's a small step, but I go all warm inside any time someone takes a stand against the paranoid post 9/11 political culture that writes off civil liberties as expendable.

2. APES! - Scientists in the Democratic Republic of Congo may have discovered a new type of ape. They describe it as kind of half gorilla/half chimpanzee and all ferocious lion-killer. Giant killer apes are cool, and by cool, I mean totally sweet.

My natural instinct is to start thinking how cool it would be if the Deming library were to hire one of these new apes, but that's because I read way too damn much Terry Pratchett.

Friday, October 08, 2004

If I turn in a sicko, will I get a reward?

A lot of my friends have trouble understanding one of my personal hobbies, which is reading and appreciating the amazing fundamentalist Christian propaganda of Jack Chick. If you've never seen any of Jack Chick's comic book tracts, then you are in for a real treat (or a brush with horror... whatever).

Jack Chick started drawing and writing these comic book Gospel tracts decades ago. Everyone has probably seen some sort of religious tract at some point in their lives, but these are the high quality models, featuring compelling comic book style drawings and melodramatic storylines. Originally, he was just using them to try to bring people to Jesus, but as time has gone on, he has refined his world view, his analysis of history, and his take on Biblical prophecy. A good example of the latter is 'The Last Generation,' which makes the Left Behind series look downright wimpy (and which is the only one of these tracts which I demand each of you take the time to read). A more sedate version of the end times can be found in 'The Beast.' For his take on the worst tragedy of the 20th century, read 'Holocaust.'

If you have read the above tracts, or really almost any of his little masterpieces, then you will recognize the special place the Catholic Church has in the Jack Chick cosmos. This may explain in part my enthusiasm for the man and his work, since I am a lifelong Catholic. Over the years, Jack Chick has, through his tracts and his other publications, demonstrated that the Vatican, acting for Satan, has created: Islam, Mormonism, Rock and Roll, Communism, Nazism, and a host of 'satanic' bible translations (this means anything - and I mean anything - except for the original King James version). To read his historical theories is mind-boggling if you actually know anything about the periods he discusses. At least he cites his authorities - other books published by Jack Chick publications and the Bible.

But lest those of you readers who do not belong to the Mackeral Snapper contingency feel left out, take heart. He has a tract condemning just about every religion out there (nothing on Zoroastrianism at present). He also warns his readers about the dangers of Freemasonry, evolution, Dungeons and Dragons, Harry Potter, and gays, gays, gays!

I could go on forever analyzing Jack Chick - indeed, I am sure there is a religious studies/Amciv/sociology dissertation just begging to be written about the man - but I will let you form your own conclusions. Besides, I've gone on long enough. If any of you, however, are interested in hearing more, I am always willing to chat about Chick.

Before I end this, though, I want to say one thing. Many of you reading this blog are college educated East coast intellectual types, and probably think this guy is just a lone artist on the lunatic fringe. Having grown up in Bakersfield, I have to tell you that you would be wrong. That's one of the reasons I like to keep an eye not just on Jack Chick, but on all his internet and radio ilk. While he may not be mainstream, his tracts have a great cultural resonance with a segment of the population that is much larger than most people would like to think. I have a pretty good story to this effect, which I may post later.


Is it just me, or is The Volokh Conspiracy becoming more politics-centered, to the detriment of its former wacky focus on law? Maybe it's just this new Lindgren guy. Why must all my favorite websites be inexorably swamped by election fever?

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Graecum est, non legeri potest

Thus was the complaint of scholars in the west for centuries, after knowledge of Greek had faded from Latin Christendom and before its re-introduction.

But no longer will it be my complaint, for I am learning Attic Greek, and today I have learned a fantastic word that I want to share with all of you. The word is 'ekekeleukemen.' Go on. Say it out loud. Ekekeleukamen. It means "we had commanded." After only a couple of weeks of class, I can now say "We commanded Homer to sacrifice his five brothers to the gods, for the men in the marketplace had sent messengers from the island into battle." Unfortunately, due to limited vocabulary, that's about all I can say. But it sounds great.

This post has been brought to you by the letters phi and theta.

My eyes!

Some weeks ago, after the Journal open house, I had a heated discussion about Britney Spears with some fellow staff members. I tried to explain to them that Britney is trashy and hideous with a neck like a linebacker. They didn't believe me (those heavily airbrushed weddings photos in People carefully concealed her giant neck).

Unbelievers, behold: The Federlines.

Beauty is truth, truth beauty

From this news story on a controversial piece of art:

". . . the role of today's artists is not to produce things of beauty to satisfy but to ask questions on burning issues."

Why is this the role of today's artists? What makes artists uniquely qualified to do this? Are they not perhaps more qualified to produce things of beauty? This sort of false dichotomy is what drove me out of art classes.

National Poetry Day in the UK

It's National Poetry Day in the UK, and while the USA may have its own day, I am all about appropriating holidays from England for my own nefarious purposes. Thus, I have chosen to join this little celebration by posting one of my favorite poems below. Read it out loud for full effect.

The Greater Cats
- Victoria Sackville-West

The greater cats with golden eyes
Stare out between the bars.
Deserts are there and different skies,
And night with different stars.
They prowl the aromatic hill,
And mate as fiercely as they kill,
And hold the freedom of their will
To roam, to live, to drink their fill;
But this beyond their wit know I:
Man loves a little, and for long shall die.

Their kind across the desert range
Where tulips spring from stones,
Not knowing they will suffer change
Or vultures pick their bones.
Their strength's eternal in their sight,
They rule the terror of the night,
They overtake the deer in flight,
And in their arrogance they smite;
But I am sage, if they are strong:
Man's love is transient as his death is long.

Yet oh what powers to deceive!
My wit is turned to faith,
And at this moment I believe
In love, and scout at death.
I came from nowhere, and shall be
Strong, steadfast, swift, eternally:
I am a lion, a stone, a tree,
And as the Polar star in me
Is fixed my constant heart on thee.
Ah, may I stay forever blind
With lions, tigers, leopards, and their kind.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Istanbul, not Constantinople

Ooh, ooh, I went there!


X Prize

Just because someone has claimed the $10 million Ansari X prize does not mean that space flight enthusiasts should pack up their rockets and go home, according to CNN. I applaud the decision to continue the competition since, as every Heinlein fan knows, it will ultimately be private and commercial space flight that brings us to the stars. As someone who grew up reading classic science fiction, I have always felt cheated by the slow pace of our efforts to scatter humanity through the cosmos. I mean, NASA has yet to build even one Mars-based terraforming colony. And this is the 21st century!

By the way, if anyone who reads this is planning on competing in the annual space flight competition, I would like to remind you that one of the competitions is maximum number of passengers taken into space. I hereby officially volunteer myself if you need to fill a seat. Please? NASA will never let me be an astronaut.

That's it for my first post. I now have to go grade some papers about the 1453 fall of Constantinople. I haven't read them yet, but I did give them a quick glance to make sure nobody just turned in this.

More photoblogging

More photos, this time in teeny-tiny thumbnail sizes in consideration for slower connections.

The intrepid blogger, hard at work:
My bookshelf:

Why I love the hound

Buying tickets on the Greyhound can be infuriating due to their price structure (can't they just let me off the Boston-NYC bus half way through?), but they make up for it by having tons of adorable greyhound pictures on their website. Lemons out of lemonade, I guess.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Welcome to the jungle, we got fun and games

My housemate and fellow CMC alum, Geoffrey, will be guest-blogging here for the next week. He's a history grad student and thus more interesting than your run of the mill HLSer. I disclaim responsibility for all content or lack thereof in his posts.

On the amphibian theme . . .

One of my prized possessions, a talking Kermit the Frog with functional violin (yes, that is a CATO pin in his dickie).

Turtle Pants

There appears to be some doubt as to the niftiness of my turtle pants. Behold!


Alternatives to the peacock pants: miniskirts with other miscellaneous embroidery. Pants with dogs, bees, roosters, geese, and martinis.

My world is collapsing

The New York Times linked to Godawful Fan Fiction. Stop the planet, I want to get off. Next thing you know Maureen Dowd will be dropping references to furries.

Rainbows and army men

Yale is distributing rainbow pins to signify opposition to the Solomon Amendment. HLS Lambda scattered pink spray painted army men all over our classrooms last week for the same reason. I dig the army guys but they are hard to display with pride. It's too bad that Harvard is so dependent on the government teat that they can have their arm twisted like this. I respect their right to define their own mission and to exclude those from campus who don't fit into that scheme.

But isn't this whole exclusion business counterproductive? Shouldn't liberal law students want to swamp the JAG Corps, along with the rest of the armed services? How else can we effect real change in the military culture of homophobia if the only people who sign up are those who already subscribe to that culture? Change it from within, I say. Every liberal college student who joins the military is a gay-friendly officer. Isn't that what we want?

Update: I must add that there are many fine members of the armed services who oppose Don't Ask, Don't Tell. However, they are not the majority. Will Baude is correct that permitting recruiting might also serve a broader educational mission by allowing students on both sides of the issue to have easy access to the mechanism for effecting their policy goals. We all know the law school is rooting for one side, but they could at least take the long view and in the meantime reap the benefit of appearing neutral. In the final analysis, though, I don't think the law schools are the crux of the issue; the battle for the soul of the military won't take place in universities but in barracks.

This does, however, introduce the question of how neutral a university ought to be. There is a place for grand institutions that serve as intellectual no man's land, but to take this to the extreme means a college could not define a mission in any meaningful way.

Photos by request

Because I have lots better to do but little motivation (red eye flights will suck that right out of you), I will go along with Larry and Dylan and post photos of (just about) anything you desire. Leave a request in the comments and I'll post a picture within 24 hours.

Pressing questions

Should I buy corduroy pants with peacocks on them?

Monday, October 04, 2004

Lost in Translation

Via Metafilter, twenty-six translations of a poem by Sappho.

FIngers and toes crossed

It is quite likely that today my clerkship limbo will end. Of course, whether I shall be elevated to paradise or cast down into the "universal rejection" circle of the inferno is anyone's guess.

UPDATE: as I was posting this, my phone was buzzing silently in the next room. Guess who has a federal appellate clerkship! What this will mean for the future of this blog I can't say. Sasha VOlokh blogged until he began his clerkship, and the Curmudgeonly CLerk blogged pseudonymously through his. You can count on at least ten more months of Bamberblogging.

Thanks to the folks at AuthorSkeptics for the links to my posts on plagiarism and to Mr. Poon for linking to the one on maggot cheese. I wonder if Waddling Thunder would be willing to go to bat for the Sardinian cheese makers in their fight against oppressive EU regulations that prevent them from selling this delicacy. Sounds like a great pro bono project . . .

Via Prestige Whore, I find an article by George Hicks which argues that HLS students may be getting spoiled. That is probably true, but it doesn't stop me from grousing about the fact that FAS provides web space for its graduate students and the law school does not. Give me a few megs, Dean Kagan!

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Say cheese

Camembert should not smell like wet dog, and if it does you should not eat it. Trust me.

However, an overripe Camembert pales in comparison with the maggot cheese of Sardinia.


Last weekend I rolled around in lush grass with a book and fine company. The sun shone down warm and butter-yellow. But I can already feel the clammy chill of winter's approach, and any future lollygagging will require a sweater. I'l be in California for a couple of days, so one last taste of warmth is in the cards. But oh, to be further south. Just a little.

Why do we write the way we do?

Interesting post here on the father of modern American prose style.

Friday, October 01, 2004

The horror

When the stories of sexual abuse on Pitcairn Island began to circulate, I hoped that it was a flurry of false accusations: the result of a overzealous British policewoman pressuring young people to produce stories of abuse. The alternative was almost too horrible to consider. But it now appears that the original stories were true - there is a culture of rape on Pitcairn. And that may be part of the islanders' defense. Even some of the island women are claiming that this "tradition" should excuse the men's conduct.

I wonder if the girls of five and seven felt "like big ladies."