Friday, December 29, 2006

Why You Should Have Gone to B-School, Not Law School ...

Yes, I went to law school. No, I am not a lawyer today. I am a business man. Found the following article on Enjoy.

How Business Trounced The Trial Lawyers
By focusing on litigation reform at the state level, business has won key battles. Suddenly, it's a tough time to be a plantiffs' attorney

In 1901 a well at Spindletop Hill sent petroleum shooting 200 feet in the air and made Beaumont, Tex., one of the first oil boomtowns. Decades later some locals tapped into a different kind of gusher: personal-injury litigation. Starting with highway and refinery accidents, and then moving to asbestos and tobacco, lawyers at the firm of Provost & Umphrey hauled in the kinds of fees that would make Wall Street lawyers drool.

But as is the case with oil in Texas, the easy money in injury lawsuits is gone. Thomas Walter Umphrey says the firm he co-founded in 1969 is downsizing. It's also prospecting in other fields of law to try to keep the business flowing. A couple of hundred miles to the north, in Daingerfield, plaintiffs' firm Nix Patterson & Roach is also pushing in new directions. "If today we were relying on personal-injury cases in Texas, we would be bankrupt," says partner Nelson J. Roach.

What has happened in Texas is not unique. In state after state, the tide has turned in one of the most protracted, hard-fought political struggles of the past two decades—the battle over so-called tort reform. Few other business issues have generated more controversy, polemics, and campaign spending than the effort to scale back the types of lawsuits people can file and how much they can recover. In a speech on Nov. 20, for example, Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. charged that "the broken tort system is an Achilles' heel for our economy" and exhorted his audience to tackle "one challenge that will take a concerted effort over the long term to correct—the need for reform of our legal system."

But what Paulson and others have overlooked is that in large areas of the country, that "reform" has taken place, and business has emerged triumphant. The American Lawyer, an influential trade publication, recently declared an end to the era of mass-injury class actions, but the changes are far broader than that. Courthouse doors have slammed shut on a wide variety of claims. Michigan, for example, has virtually wiped out all lawsuits against drugmakers in the state. Six states have passed laws seriously restricting the kinds of asbestos suits that can be filed, and 23 now have statutes saying you can't sue the likes of McDonald's (MCD ) for making you fat. Damage limits in many states have rendered medical malpractice litigation nearly comatose.

Both federal and state courts are reinforcing the trend. In December a U.S. appeals court in New York nixed a class action accusing investment firms of manipulating the price of initial public offerings. That was a big loss for securities fraud plaintiffs' lawyers, especially in a year when the total number of shareholder suits filed was about half the level of prior years, according to statistics compiled by Stanford Law School. In 2005 the Illinois Supreme Court struck down a $10.1 billion judgment against Philip Morris (MO ), saying a state law protects the company from suits alleging that its marketing of "light" cigarettes was deceptive.

It all adds up to an extraordinary turnabout for the plaintiffs' bar, which has reveled in public-savior images of its top guns hauling Ford (F ) and Firestone into court for disintegrating tires; standing side by side with state attorneys general to extract $300 billion from cigarette makers; and trotting up courthouse steps with smoking-gun Enron documents. These days the law firm that once was the nation's most prolific filer of shareholder lawsuits is under indictment, thousands of asbestos and silicosis claims are being probed for fraud, and Vioxx litigation, once thought to be a gravy train express, is chugging in reverse. (Of 12 cases tried to verdict involving the painkiller, Merck & Co. (MRK ) has won 8.)

Even many victories are evanescent. According to a report issued by Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles, an Alabama personal-injury firm, the Alabama Supreme Court reversed 27 of 31 plaintiffs' verdicts during its 2004-05 session. Thomas J. Methvin of the firm asserts: "It's a tough time to be a plaintiffs' lawyer, and it's a tough time for consumers."

Of course, when plaintiffs' attorneys see a falloff in business, lawyers opposing them do, too, and in Texas both sides are feeling the pain. Surprisingly, even businesses may occasionally feel the sting of lawsuit reform. Plaintiffs' lawyers, closed out of their traditional pursuits, are working harder to drum up claims companies can bring against one another. Additionally, the conservative legal climate may be making it harder for companies that believe they have legitimate claims to get what they feel they're entitled to when they file a lawsuit.

In late November about 300 attorneys descended on the W (HOT ) Dallas-Victory hotel for the annual conference of the Texas Trial Lawyers Assn. But rather than plotting the next industry-threatening mega-litigation, their goals were decidedly more modest. Attendees could sign up for a full-day "car wrecks seminar." One presentation explored whether an automobile manufacturer's failure to include electronic stability control on a crashed vehicle could be the basis for a negligence claim. Another offered tips on creating "trial exhibits on a budget."

Coming up with creative new lines of litigation—and doing it on the cheap—is imperative for plaintiffs' lawyers in Texas these days. No other state's trial bar has suffered a greater reversal of fortune. Until well into the 1990s, Lone Star State plaintiffs' lawyers walked tall. They pioneered asbestos litigation in the U.S., racked up eye-popping verdicts in cases involving everything from business fraud to diet drugs, and perfected the art of "forum shopping." Companies dreaded getting sued in places like Eagle Pass, in the Rio Grande Valley, which has bucked the trend in Texas and remains a "hellhole" for business defendants, according to the American Tort Reform Assn.

Money poured in. Five firms, Umphrey's among them, shared $3.3 billion for representing Texas in its suit against the tobacco companies. Even putting aside the cigarette windfall, top plaintiffs' lawyers boasted eight-digit incomes. That was several times higher than blue-chip corporate attorneys in New York, Washington, and Houston, whose annual take topped out in the low seven digits. For Umphrey's 70th birthday bash this summer, organizers had to move three planes and a helicopter out of his firm's private hangar so 400-odd guests could rock out to live performances by Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry. Houston attorney John M. O'Quinn, who has cashed in on tobacco, breast implants, and diet drugs, has amassed a classic car collection worth $100 million.

Initially in the liability-reform wars, the plaintiffs' bar and their opponents pursued very different strategies. While trial lawyers poured considerable resources into electing plaintiff-friendly state judges and legislators, business groups aimed to win federal liability limitations in Washington, but repeatedly saw their efforts founder. One player who realized that a different approach was needed: Karl Rove. Not only did the current White House deputy chief of staff help elect George W. Bush as governor of Texas in the 1990s, but he also was instrumental in judicial-election campaigns that, by 1998, had converted the makeup of the Texas Supreme Court from 100% Democratic to 100% Republican. He played a similar role in flipping Alabama's high court. Particularly during the Bush presidency, tort reform has become a major talking point for Republican candidates at both the state and federal levels.

For years, says Stephen B. Hantler, an assistant general counsel at DaimlerChrysler Corp. (DCX ) and chairman of the American Justice Partnership, a recently formed litigation reform organization, "the business community stood on the sidelines and watched," reluctant to get involved in state politics. But by the mid-'90s, national groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Tort Reform Assn. realized, as Hantler puts it, "that the greatest return on investment is at the state level."

The trial lawyers and the business community entered a campaign-spending arms race, but even for the well-heeled trial bar, it was no contest. In 2004, for example, business groups spent $21.5 million on state supreme court elections, eclipsing the amount spent by plaintiffs' attorneys and their allies ($13.3 million) for the first time, according to Justice at Stake Campaign, a Washington group that monitors judicial independence.

Much of the money, from both sides, was channeled through state-level organizations that played a critical role in reshaping the legal landscape. The most powerful force for change in Texas has been the home-grown Texans for Lawsuit Reform. Since 1996, tlr's political action committee has spent more than $13 million promoting liability limits, according to Texans for Public Justice, a not-for-profit organization that tracks campaign spending and opposes litigation curbs. Big donors to tlr's pac in 2006 included Bob Perry, a Houston homebuilder and funder of the Swift Boat group that attacked John Kerry ($601,000); financier and oilman T. Boone Pickens ($500,000); and real estate magnates Harlan and Trammell Crow ($220,000 together).

Sipping wine in his Houston home one afternoon in November, Hugh Rice Kelly, former general counsel of Reliant Energy Inc. (RRI ) and a leader of tlr, ticks off the changes his group has helped usher in. "We have covered most of the things we wanted to have corrected," he says, looking more than satisfied.

The changes came not all at once but in waves, starting in 1995 and crescendoing in 2003 with a far-ranging set of liability limitations. Collectively, they have eliminated just about all of the litigation concerns in Texas that keep company executives awake at night. Punitive damages now have ceilings that, for example, will reduce an August, 2005, award of $253 million against Merck & Co. (MRK ) in a Vioxx case to $26 million—if the verdict survives an appeal. Plenty of other states have cracked down in this area, as well. Georgia, for instance, limits punitive damages to $250,000, unless "the defendant acted with a specific intent to harm," and New Hampshire bars them altogether. As for class actions in Texas, a series of judicial rulings has set the bar so high for a judge to approve them that it's effectively impossible to meet, practitioners say.

The far-ranging changes passed by Texas lawmakers in 2003 included one that bars injury suits against a seller more than 15 years after a product is sold. One result: After a doctor was decapitated by a Houston hospital elevator in August, 2003, no suit could be filed against the manufacturer, since the elevator was too old. Dallas attorney Todd Tracy notes that many other products, including automobiles, farm and construction equipment, and factory machinery are used for extended periods and now enjoy the same protection. The rule is "one of the worst things about tort reform," says Tracy, who has his own firm, Tracy Car Boy ("'cause that's what I do. I'm a boy, and I sue car manufacturers").

Doctors also gained substantial shielding under the 2003 statute, with a $250,000 maximum on "noneconomic damages"—essentially pain and suffering. Both defense and plaintiff firms say this has been a death knell for many medical malpractice suits. The reason is that a huge number of potential claimants, such as kids and the elderly, suffer no lost income in the view of courts. That means the top recovery is $250,000, and it can easily cost $100,000 or more in expert fees to prepare a case for trial—making litigation a money-losing proposition for attorneys, who now turn these cases away in droves. "They've just taken away so many of the rights of victims here," says Carolyn St. Clair, a nurse and medical malpractice attorney in Houston.

Consumer advocates worry that Texas lawmakers will move next to limit pain-and-suffering awards in product liability cases, too. On a national level, Hantler of the American Justice Partnership says he's not nearly done. He worries that lawsuits are migrating to states like West Virginia and New Mexico, after crackdowns elsewhere. And while he acknowledges that the results of the November elections will have business playing defense for the next couple of years, he's already girding for battle in judicial elections in Wisconsin and Ohio in 2008.

The decade-long spending assault by tlr, the U.S. Chamber, and others has done more than just win judicial elections and change laws. Lawyers in Texas say that after years of exposure to tv commercials, billboards, and campaign speeches, public opinion in the state has been profoundly affected. "They have demonized trial lawyers as money-hungry thugs," complains Houston litigator David Berg. "They have brainwashed jurors."

The result, say Berg and others, is that they are often hesitant to bring cases before a jury. And when they do, the obstacles become quickly apparent. St. Clair says that during jury selection for a negligence trial she handled, dozens of prospective jurors had to be dismissed because they stated that they would not be able to award punitive damages or damages of more than $1 million. "Everybody was raising their hands" to say they couldn't, St. Clair says.

While big jury verdicts are increasingly rare in Texas, they still occur. Thus the giant Vioxx award in 2005 and a $36 million verdict in a highway crash case handed down in November. But such awards are vulnerable on appeal. According to Texas Watch, an Austin consumer advocacy group, of the 69 consumer cases accepted for appeal by the Texas Supreme Court during its 2005-06 term, it decided against the consumer in 57, or 83%, a trend Texas Watch says has been consistent for the past six years. "When you have a large verdict that you receive from a jury, you can't settle the case anymore because the defendants will walk in and say: We know we're going to win in the Supreme Court," says Frederick M. Baron, a Dallas attorney who has handled cases involving exposure to asbestos and industrial toxins.

In fact, lawyers on both sides have had to adjust. When the first round of liability limits passed in Texas, Carol Butner, then a partner handling mainly medical malpractice and product liability defense cases at Fulbright & Jaworski in Houston, recalls some younger lawyers at her firm cheering. "Well guys, if nobody's going to be filing lawsuits, what do you think you're going to be doing?" replied Butner, who now does intellectual property litigation at McKool Smith.

Roy Camberg, a solo practitioner in Clear Lake, Tex., who built a practice representing plaintiffs in nursing-home abuse cases (also now subject to strict damage limits), says he is simply making less money. In November, he said, he settled a case for $75,000 that three years ago would have settled for $375,000. In Beaumont, Provost & Umphrey still bills itself as a personal injury firm. But Umphrey says 25% of his firm's work now involves representing companies in patent suits and other commercial disputes. Lawsuit reform, he says, "changed our direction."

Gwinn & Roby, a Dallas medical malpractice and product-liability defense firm, closed its Fort Worth office in March. Houston's Beirne Maynard & Parsons, which has also worked in those areas, is retooling some of its 90 attorneys. But it has had modest attrition, and partner Martin D. Beirne says: "We're probably going to see some more." Another pressure that firms like his face, Beirne says, is the influx of plaintiffs' attorneys into business practice, which may push hourly rates down as more lawyers compete for the same work.

Sitting in a conference room high over Houston's Galleria neighborhood, James L. Reed Jr. and two other attorneys from Looper, Reed & McGraw contemplate the new legal landscape. Looper Reed's 60 attorneys represent small and midsize businesses, so one would presume that their clients have only benefited from the new environment. But Reed notes that there has been a "ripple effect" from the changes that is affecting commercial cases, too. His colleagues J. Cary Gray and Jack Rains, both self-described conservative Republicans, agree.

"It's a hell of a lot harder for one of our clients when a contract gets breached to collect all of their damages," complains Gray, noting that conservative judges take a very narrow view of what kind of damages they will even allow a jury to consider. In general, Gray says, he thinks many Texas judges are "afraid of big verdicts coming out of their courtrooms," even in a dispute between businesses. Citing a group of rice producers he and Gray represent and the limits they may face on their claims, Reed notes: "They're starting to get educated about how much tort reform is too much tort reform."

That's certainly an idea that would get a sympathetic reception among those who attended the Texas Trial Lawyers Assn. conference. But Amarillo attorney Joe L. Lovell says that thanks to the Democrats' strong showing in the November elections, "this was the first kind of upbeat meeting that we've had in a long time." Does he think conservatives will now see some of the liability limits reversed? "It brought a lot of people hope," Lovell says, "that perhaps at a minimum, they'll stop trying to do any more."

Monday, December 25, 2006

How To Fake It At Christmas

Why My Holiday Wasn't

Because I am still new to time management and not trying to please everyone (at the tender age of 25 ...) is hard for me. That's the short reason.

The more involved answer is because I spent the holidays with my family, attending dinner parties and cocktails, which is a tremendous amount of work. One must make polite conversation, dress in a monkey suit (shirt & tie, at least) eat catered food (which was pretty good, I will admit) and spend the night as a guest in a family member's home, being cheerful the whole while. Given the choice, I would much rather have preferred to sit this holiday out on the couch alternating between a football game and random Wikipedia pages.

Which is interesting because, technically, I did have that choice but I chose the social route instead. Why did I do this? I ask myself this question as I sit at a computer a good hour and a half from home, awaiting a 2nd cocktail and dinner party to attend, knowing full well that I will get home late & tired from my so-called 'holiday'.

I chose to spend time doing all these things because they are important to the people I care about. Life is short, and many of my loved ones are elderly. Bluntly, they will not be here forever and I am aware of this. Thus, in my head I pull out the balance that weighs irritation to me against satisfaction to them. I am playing the long ball here, figuring that the short term discomfort to me is a generous reap of joy for them, and I will have many years without them in which to indulge my Wiki data fetish.

Life is a finite thing. People are a finite commodity (ah, the economist in me ...). I treasure my family (what's left of it) and the experiences we are lucky enough to share with one another. I spent the afternoon with my grandmother at a movie in Tiburon. Could I have been in Palo Alto sucking back a Bud and watching a game? Sure. But there will be other games. There will be other beers, but there may not be another lazy Christmas afternoon to spend with my grandmother at a local movie house. There may not be an opportunity for us to laugh together about what my uncle did the night before after his 3rd Cape Cod; and that party will most definitely not recur. So, all in all, even though my holiday has been far from relaxing or recuperative, it has been very special to me. I chose the harder route, and the spoils, while not immediately apparent, I feel will pay off down the road. Maybe that's me being wistful.

Happy Holidays to you and yours ...

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Idea: The Mr. T Virtual Playset

I found this fun site today while browsing el internet. What fun. For the Mr.T fan in all of us.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Real World Concerns ...

For the past few years I have been keeping my eyes on the draft, and the potential for reinstating it. I am 25 now, and probably past my prime for draft eligibility due to that. Add to the mix that I am color blind, an only child, and have pins in my ankle I think I'd make a pretty poor choice given the alternative bags of meat available for the war grinder. Wow, I sound like some sort of lefty blogger, don't I? Please don't misconstrue me as anti military or hard left; I support the men & women who serve this country, it's a hard job and I respect the hell out of them for signing up. I do question the war itself, as I feel that it was sold to Americans through deception and lies. More astute minds have elaborated on that point in blogs and articles ad nauseum.

Anyway, I found this article on Raw Story today and it made me nervous. As I mentioned above, I have been watching little developments like this for the past few years, and any time I mentioned the real possibility of a draft people practically laughed at me. Laugh all you want, I've got people close to me that are young and would be affected by this event. I am taking it seriously.

That being said, I actually support the idea of a draft on the grounds that it would spread the load. I seriously doubt that Gee Dub would be so willing to dive into armed combat in Iraq if the possibility that Barb and Jenn would be killed by an IED existed. Far from a leisurely jaunt in South America, that would be.

And, apparently, I'm in good company with this idea. If Jason Bourne says so, you better agree or he'll snap your tibia like a matchstick. Also, this guy agrees.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


How do you replace the NBA's #1 scorer? With The Answer: A.I.

I've been an Iverson fan for the last couple of seasons, and he has never disappointed me. His team has, certainly, but not AI. Sure, he is outspoken, and tatted up, and rowdy, but the boy can play. He plays very, very well. He makes the game fun to watch, which to me is worth more than anything else, honestly.

A lot of people are questioning how Melo and AI are gonna work together as a team. I think that this is a fair point of speculation; however I would venture to posit that a rising tide lifts all ships. AI will raise the level of the team he plays on, regardless. His energy will be there, his style will be apparent. This, I figure, will up the tempo of the rest of the Nuggets, Melo included. The trick will be for the Nuggets coach to balance out these two stars. No small feat.

A better analysis and understanding of the trade follows below:

A.I. + Melo: Double dynamos a worthy risk for Denver

The Answer and Melo together?

It's a doubles team that's obviously going to generate lots of questions.

Lots of skepticism, copious amounts of curiosity and a fresh batch of bad word plays (guilty) on Allen Iverson's nickname.

With that, here's my first question to greet the pairing of Carmelo Anthony and Iverson in the (gulp) Rocky Mountains:

When's the next flight to Denver?

I love the gamble. I love it for the Nuggets and like it even more for the rest of us NBA neutrals. It's an irresistible concept, especially if you don't have a stake in this. Unlike the Nuggets, we can't lose.

Not that I'm expecting the Nuggets to lose. I'm fairly sure this won't be a consensus opinion, but I'm buying into the Denver vision here.

I'm sold on the Nuggets' belief that the Melo-Iverson-George Karl triumvirate has sufficient promise to justify the risky, tax-triggering expense … as well as the sacrifice of some valuable assets like Joe Smith's expiring contract and those two first-round picks in the June draft.

You've got George's go-go-go offense (courtesy of Doug Moe) to create the extra shot attempts to keep both happy. You've got a few complementary players to put around the two stars (Marcus Camby, Eduardo Najera and Reggie Evans) who are reminiscent of Iverson's best team in Philly.

You've also got the back-pocket knowledge that there will always be some sort of market to move Iverson if this unravels, minus all the local-icon pressures that caused Philly to delay this move by a year (or three).

Most of all? You've got two guys who've never had this much personal motivation to make the next thing in their lives work out, with Melo submerged in suspension purgatory and Iverson emerging from a humbling two-week exile.

You can question the fit as a tandem – you're obliged to question it, really – but don't forget to applaud the Nuggets, too. This is big. This is bold. They knew it was going to take something ambitious and special – something expensive – to crack the Western Conference elite. And they're going for it, with no guarantees.

Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke will now pay more than $3 million in luxury tax at the end of this season, behind only New York ($44-plus million) and Dallas ($10-ish million). Denver's payroll will then rise to more than $75 million next season. But if you've got a boss willing to sanction those expenditures, you make the trade and let the coach figure it out.


Andre Miller's contract runs as long as Iverson's. He's due only $19.4 million over the next two seasons after this one, compared to Iverson's $39.8 million, but your owner just gave you permission to exchange Dre for A.I. If you're the aggressive new deal-makers in Denver – Nuggets co-vice presidents Rex Chapman and Mark Warkentien – how do you say no?

Right. You don't.

Especially when you know, at the very least, that Iverson will pay some of those bills by helping to fill up a building which lately has had an increasing number of empty seats.

He'll also instantly cure one of the Nuggets' biggest problems over the past season-plus, those long spurts of passionless play.

Passion won't be an issue for the Nuggets anymore. Not with the abandon Iverson still brings every night, even at 31 and more than a half-decade removed from playing on an actual elite team. If you subscribe to the theory recently posited on this Web site by Bill Simmons – and I do – you can safely expect that Iverson "will practically KILL HIMSELF trying to haunt the Sixers."

Does he stunt Anthony's progress in the process? It's the obvious and fair question. You can knock Iverson's supporting casts over the years and lampoon the slew of questionable decisions that got the Sixers to this point, but Iverson has to take some responsibility, too.

The record shows that he has never made a big-name sidekick better. It's likewise fair to wonder what impact Iverson's well-chronicled aversion to prac-tiss will have on the Nuggets, Melo and J.R. Smith specifically.

There are other question marks, too.

Will Melo's proven record in the clutch continue to make him Denver's first end-of-game option … and can Iverson accept that?

Are other Nuggets going to end up watching Iverson or get discouraged when he pounds the ball, as we've already seen in Denver when Earl Boykins does it?

Do Iverson's first 13 or 14 games in Denver, while Anthony is serving out his suspension, make Karl's chemistry challenge even tougher?

Who's to say, actually, that it won't be the combustible coach who ignites something?

And …

Of perhaps the greatest concern: Can Denver's frontcourt – with Kenyon Martin out until next season at the earliest, Nene slowed by his own knee (and weight) issues and Camby's injury history – compete with the power trio of Dallas, San Antonio and Phoenix no matter what Melo and Iverson do?

Yet I'd still do the deal, allowing for all those worries.

I've heard various Iverson teammates over the years insist that, as much as they enjoyed and respected him personally, outsiders can't understand how difficult it is to play with a guard who wants the ball for 15 to 16 seconds every possession.

But in Denver, remember, possessions aren't even supposed to last that long. Karl forces the Nuggets to practice with a 16-second shot clock and wants them running as much as the Suns do. Iverson has never been on a team that pushed the tempo like this one does and you suspect, as a natural greyhound, that he's going to like it.

It's also not like the Nuggets are breaking up a magical Anthony-Miller combo. Miller puts up nice assist numbers and always has, but team insiders would tell you that Melo didn't always get the ball where and when he wanted it before this trade.

(The long-held view at Stein Line HQ: I can live with Miller's suspect perimeter shooting, because not everyone can be Steve Kerr, but I've always expected better court vision and decision-making from a QB with his reputation.)

So …

Rocky as this ride might prove to be, how could the Nuggets have refused a ticket?

No answer required. It's a rhetorical question. Just like you don't have to ask or guess who's my new go-to team on NBA League Pass.

Special Bonus: I am video blogging some highlights of AI's killer ankle breaking crossovers I found on YouTube.

American Torture

I really try not to get too political with this blog, but I came across this article, and I thought it was very good. As I read it I thought to myself, "My G*d, I live in the Germany of the 1930s, don't I?" I mean, we're out and out torturing people as we wage an illegal war against a (formerly) sovereign nation.

Granted, we have yet to begin persecuting religious groups within our own borders (i.e., there are no Jews being bussed to Iowa for forced labor, that I know of ...), but the immigration issue is certainly hot button in parts of the country (the Southwest, for instance) and I could see that being a potential area for mass deportation, and hence, chaos/drama. What interesting times we live in, no?

Torture Is Now Part of the American Soul

By George Monbiot, The Guardian. Posted December 18, 2006.

After thousands of years of practice, you might have imagined that every possible means of inflicting pain had already been devised. But you should never underestimate the human capacity for invention. United States interrogators, we now discover, have found a new way of destroying a human being.

In early December, defense lawyers acting for Jose Padilla, a US citizen detained as an "enemy combatant," released a video showing a mission fraught with deadly risk -- taking him to the prison dentist. A group of masked guards in riot gear shackled his legs and hands, blindfolded him with black-out goggles and shut off his hearing with headphones, then marched him down the prison corridor.

Is Padilla really that dangerous? Far from it: his warders describe him as so docile and inactive that he could be mistaken for "a piece of furniture." The purpose of these measures appeared to be to sustain the regime under which he had lived for over three years: total sensory deprivation. He had been kept in a blacked-out cell, unable to see or hear anything beyond it. Most importantly, he had no human contact, except for being bounced off the walls from time to time by his interrogators. As a result, he appears to have lost his mind. I don't mean this metaphorically. I mean that his mind is no longer there.

The forensic psychiatrist who examined him says that he "does not appreciate the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him, is unable to render assistance to counsel, and has impairments in reasoning as the result of a mental illness, i.e., post-traumatic stress disorder, complicated by the neuropsychiatric effects of prolonged isolation." Jose Padilla appears to have been lobotomised: not medically, but socially.

If this was an attempt to extract information, it was ineffective: the authorities held him without charge for three and half years. Then, threatened by a supreme court ruling, they suddenly dropped their claims that he was trying to detonate a dirty bomb. They have now charged him with some vague and lesser offences to do with support for terrorism.

He is unlikely to be the only person subjected to this regime. Another "enemy combatant," Ali al-Marri, claims to have been subject to the same total isolation and sensory deprivation, in the same naval prison in South Carolina. God knows what is being done to people who have disappeared into the CIA's foreign oubliettes.

That the US tortures, routinely and systematically, while prosecuting its "war on terror" can no longer be seriously disputed. The Detainee Abuse and Accountability Project (DAA), a coalition of academics and human rights groups, has documented the abuse or killing of 460 inmates of US military prisons in Afghanistan, Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay. This, it says, is necessarily a conservative figure: many cases will remain unrecorded. The prisoners were beaten, raped, forced to abuse themselves, forced to maintain "stress positions," and subjected to prolonged sleep deprivation and mock executions.

The New York Times reports that prisoners held by the US military at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan were made to stand for up to 13 days with their hands chained to the ceiling, naked, hooded and unable to sleep. The Washington Post alleges that prisoners at the same airbase were "commonly blindfolded and thrown into walls, bound in painful positions, subjected to loud noises and deprived of sleep" while kept, like Jose Padilla and the arrivals at Guantanamo Bay, "in black hoods or spray-painted goggles."

Alfred McCoy, professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, argues that the photographs released from the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq reflect standard CIA torture techniques: "stress positions, sensory deprivation, and sexual humiliation." The famous picture of the hooded man standing on a box, with wires attached to his fingers, shows two of these techniques being used at once. Unable to see, he has no idea how much time has passed or what might be coming next. He stands in a classic stress position -- maintained for several hours, it causes excruciating pain. He appears to have been told that if he drops his arms he will be electrocuted. What went wrong at Abu Ghraib is that someone took photos. Everything else was done by the book.

Neither the military nor the civilian authorities have broken much sweat in investigating these crimes. A few very small fish have been imprisoned; a few others have been fined or reduced in rank; in most cases the authorities have either failed to investigate or failed to prosecute. The DAA points out that no officer has yet been held to account for torture practised by his subordinates. US torturers appear to enjoy impunity, until they are stupid enough to take pictures of each other.

But Padilla's treatment also reflects another glorious American tradition: solitary confinement. Some 25,000 US prisoners are currently held in isolation -- a punishment only rarely used in other democracies. In some places, like the federal prison in Florence, Colorado, they are kept in sound-proofed cells and might scarcely see another human being for years on end. They may touch or be touched by no one. Some people have been kept in solitary confinement in the United States for more than 20 years.

At Pelican Bay in California, where 1,200 people are held in the isolation wing, inmates are confined to tiny cells for 22-and-a half hours a day, then released into an "exercise yard" for "recreation." The yard consists of a concrete well about 12 feet in length with walls 20 feet high and a metal grill across the sky. The recreation consists of pacing back and forth, alone.

The results are much as you would expect. As National Public Radio reveals, 10% of the isolation prisoners at Pelican Bay are now in the psychiatric wing, and there's a waiting list. Prisoners in solitary confinement, according to Dr Henry Weinstein, a psychiatrist who studies them, suffer from "memory loss to severe anxiety to hallucinations to delusions ... under the severest cases of sensory deprivation, people go crazy." People who went in bad and dangerous come out mad as well. The only two studies conducted so far -- in Texas and Washington state -- both show that the recidivism rates for prisoners held in solitary confinement are worse than for those who were allowed to mix with other prisoners. If we were to judge the United States by its penal policies, we would perceive a strange beast: a Christian society that believes in neither forgiveness nor redemption.

From this delightful experiment, US interrogators appear to have extracted a useful lesson: if you want to erase a man's mind, deprive him of contact with the rest of the world. This has nothing to do with obtaining information: torture of all kinds -- physical or mental -- produces the result that people will say anything to make it end. It is about power, and the thrilling discovery that in the right conditions one man's power over another is unlimited. It is an indulgence which turns its perpetrators into everything they claim to be confronting.

President Bush maintains that he is fighting a war against threats to the "values of civilized nations": terror, cruelty, barbarism and extremism. He asked his nation's interrogators to discover where these evils are hidden. They should congratulate themselves. They appear to have succeeded.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Ghost Ride the Whip Blog: Ghost riding goes right

Was cruising the 'net, came up with this little gem. I truly do love all things hyphy ...

Ghost Ride the Whip Blog: Ghost riding goes right

Friday, December 15, 2006

Baby Got Book

Oh goodness ... an ironic take on the classic "Baby's Got Back" by a nice, wholesome Christian group. Awww ....

Much props to TAN for this one.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Beard crazy

For years, beards were shorthand for sandal-wearing hippies of a certain age. But no more! It's time to throw away your razor, writes hairy-chinned Charlie Porter

Wednesday December 13, 2006
The Guardian

Men's fashion has long been in search of its own Kate Moss, a public figure who is always on-trend. It seems to have found one in Daniel Craig, who walked out of the ocean in Casino Royale, the new Bond film, and instantly made tight swimming trunks fashionable again.

Now, just released, are the first shots of Craig in the movie adaptation of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, due for release in December next year, and on his face is an unashamed, manly, identifiably 21st-century beard.

Craig's facial furniture is at the forefront of a new trend: beards are suddenly everywhere. There are so many beards around, in fact, that facial hair could well become the defining male fashion of the noughties. "I'd say 40% of the men who shop here seem to have some sort of beard," says Kirk Beattie, co-owner of B-Store, the Savile Row boutique that recently won Best British Shop at the 2006 British Fashion Awards. Beattie sports a beard, as do other members of staff.

Their store champions the more cerebral designers, such as Bernhard Willhelm and Siv Stoldal, and Beattie says he finds that facial hair gives men the confidence to make fashion choices that they might not otherwise. "It gives it a nice mixture," he says. "Rather than being clean-shaven and boyish when they're wearing something that could be classed as feminine, you get a different twist."

What makes the new beards so contemporary is that they are somehow neat without being too tidy. On Craig's face, stray hairs creep from his lower cheeks, and his is definitely a beard rather than stubble, because you cannot see the skin underneath.

So why is the beard back? Why the mass liberation from the blade?

One reason is the increasingly casual nature of the workplace: dress-down offices allow young men to wear facial hair to work without fear of censure. "I don't shave, I just trim my face," says David Walker-Smith, head of men's buying at Selfridges. "It's totally acceptable to do that."

Forty years ago a beard was a potent expression of the free-living, free-loving radicalism of 60s counterculture. For a while it was the sign of the slacker. Now it's no stranger to the Power-Point presentation. Until web 2.0 companies crash, old-fashioned businesses will have to get used to the hirsute.

Shaving itself, meanwhile, is having some serious problems. The market for electric shavers has collapsed - some in the industry say that they'll soon be as obsolete as video recorders. Meanwhile the razor has taken over, driven by aggressive product innovation. The introduction of the Gillette five-blade razor this year means that hairs can even be cut away beneath the skin's surface, leaving the face free from regrowth for longer.

Developments such as these seem to have forced the issue for men who have previously been fond of a bit of Tom Ford-like stubble. Being clean shaven has come to feel too conformist - the rebellious reaction is to court hairiness.

Or maybe it's just a result of laziness. Men no longer have to shave, so they don't. A dermatologist recently told me that for the average man, shaving takes up six months of his life: who wouldn't want to take a break?

I've teetered on the edge of a beard for a few years, but only let the growth fully overrun this past summer. I am lucky to have the sort of job - as a style journalist - where grooming is presented as a challenge: as beards became more popular, it seemed a sham to write about them without growing one myself. So it came, and since it has stayed.

As well as being free from the hard work of shaving, I've become fond of the balance the beard gives my haircut. Beards are also better for your skin: for those who suffer from in-growing hairs or razor bumps - a particular problem for black men - they are a godsend.

Although beards are overtly an expression of masculinity, they're not really that macho. Since the same hormone triggers both beard growth and the path to baldness - a cruel natural joke - and many men complain of patchy facial hair that prevents them from growing a full beard, there seems to be an unspoken pact not to judge machismo on hairiness. If anything, these days, a beard is a sign of softness.

For some, the beard is given undeserved connotations of fanaticism. In our new identikit vision of a terrorist, the unchecked beard is a dangerous symbol. A bearded Italian friend knows to shave his face before heading through customs, and Asians sporting beards are eyed suspiciously on London's transport system.

But beards in themselves can only be good. A beard grown for choice can be treated with flippancy; a beard worn because of belief should be respected. Both must be allowed to grow in peace.

· Charlie Porter is associate editor of GQ.


Llanfairpwllgwyngyll or Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, commonly known as Llanfair PG, is a village on the island of Anglesey in Wales, situated on the Menai Strait next to Menai Bridge and across the strait from Bangor. The long form of the name is the longest officially recognised place name in the United Kingdom and one of the longest in the world, being 58 letters in length. The name means: "St Mary's church in the hollow of the white hazel near to the rapid whirlpool and the church of St Tysilio of the red cave".

This village was originally known as Llanfair Pwllgwyngyll (is sometimes still refered to as Llanfairpwllgwyngyll) and was given its long name in the 19th century in an attempt to develop the village as a commercial and tourist centre (see Significance of the name below). Today the village is still signposted as Llanfairpwllgwyngyll, marked on Ordnance Survey maps as Llanfair Pwllgwyngyll and is known to locals as Llanfairpwll or simply Llanfair.

The name is also seen shortened to Llanfair PG, which is sufficient to distinguish it from the many other Welsh villages with Llanfair in their names. Other variant forms use the full name but with tysilio mutated to dysilio, and/or with a hyphen between drobwll and llan. In Welsh, the initial Ll may be mutated to a single L in some contexts.

Visitors stop at the railway station to be photographed next to the station sign, visit the nearby Visitors' Centre, or have 'passports' stamped at a local shop. Another tourist attraction is the nearby Marquess of Anglesey's Column, which at a height of 27 metres offers views over Anglesey and the Menai Strait. Designed by Thomas Harrison, the monument celebrates the heroism of Henry Paget, 1st Marquess of Anglesey at the Battle of Waterloo.


A settlement has existed on the site of the village since the Neolithic era, with subsistence agriculture and fishing the most common occupations for much of the village's early history. The island of Anglesey was at that point only reachable by boat across the Menai Strait. The area was briefly invaded and captured by the Romans under Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, temporarily abandoned in order to consolidate forces against Boudicca, then held until the end of Roman Britain.

With the withdrawal of the Roman forces, the area fell under the control of the Kingdom of Gwynedd, an early Medieval kingdom. Under this feudal system, the residents worked small farms for the king. The rural nature of the settlement meant that the village had a population of only around 80.

However, with the introduction of estates in the 16th century, much of the land was absorbed into the Earldom of Uxbridge, currently under the Marquess of Anglesey, and the population forced to work as tenants on enclosures. The population of the village boomed, with a population of 385 in the 1801 census.

In 1826 the village was connected to the rest of Wales by the construction of the Menai Suspension Bridge by Thomas Telford, and connected with London in 1850 with the building of the Britannia Bridge and the busy North Wales Coast railway line, which connected London to the ferry port of Holyhead. The village decentralised, splitting into Upper Village (Pentre Uchaf), which was made up mainly of the older houses and farms, and the new Lower Village (Pentre Isaf), built around the railway station and consisting mostly of shops and workshops. The village became a hub of commerce, as the railways and road network brought traders and customers from across north Wales.

The first ever meeting of the Women's Institute took place in Llanfairpwll in 1915 and the movement (which began in Canada) then spread through the rest of the British Isles.

Significance of the name

The village's long name cannot be considered an authentic Welsh-language toponym. It was artificially contrived in the 1860s to bestow upon the station the honour of having the longest name of any railway station in the United Kingdom: an early example of a publicity stunt. The village's own web site credits the name to a cobbler from the local village of Menai Bridge. According to Sir John Morris-Jones the name was created by a local tailor, whose name he does not give. A translation into English would yield "St Mary's church in the hollow of the white hazel near to the rapid whirlpool and the church of St Tysilio of the red cave".

The village was originally known as Llanfair Pwllgwyngyll "St Mary's church in the hollow of the white hazel", and there was a nearby hamlet called Llantysilio Gogogoch "the church of St Tysilio of the red cave". The names were linked by an in-between feature, the chwyrn drobwll, or rapid whirlpool. Although when written and read in English, the name has 58 letters, in Welsh it has only 51 because ll and ch are each regarded as a single letter.

The name was used in the movie Barbarella as the password for the headquarters of Dildano, the comical revolutionary.

The village is split into two, smaller, villages, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch-uchaf (Upper Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch) the original part of the village and Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch-isaf (Lower Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch) the newer area nearer the railway station.


The full name of the village is pronounced IPA: [ˌɬan.vair.puɬ.ˌɡwɪ̈n.ɡɪ̈ɬ.ɡo.ˌɡer.ə.ˌχwərn.ˌdro.buɬ.ˌɬan.tɪ̈.ˌˌɡo.ɡo.ˈɡoːχ], or with [ɪ] for [ɪ̈], [pʊɬ, bʊɬ] for [puɬ, buɬ]. The approximate pronunciation in English orthography is given at the station as: Llan-vire-pooll-guin-gill-go-ger-u-queern-drob-ooll-llandus-ilio-gogo-goch. The ch is a voiceless uvular fricative [χ] or voiceless velar fricative as in "Bach" ([bax]: see ach-laut) in most varieties of German. The ll is a voiceless lateral fricative [ɬ], a sound that does not occur in English and is sometimes approximated (rather poorly) as [θl] (thl as in athlete) or even [xl] by English speakers.

Rival names

There have been several attempts to steal the village's record. The Carmarthenshire village of Llanfynydd unofficially adopted the name Llanhyfryddawelllehynafolybarcudprindanfygythiadtrienusyrhafnauole in 2004 in protest at plans to erect a wind farm nearby (the name means "a quiet beautiful village; a historic place with rare kite under threat from wretched blades" in English). A station on the Fairbourne Railway was named Gorsafawddacha'idraigodanheddogleddollônpenrhynareurdraethceredigion (translated as "the Mawddach station and its dragon teeth at the Northern Penrhyn Road on the golden beach of Cardigan Bay") for promotional purposes. No such attempts have gained widespread recognition amongst official bodies or transport authorities.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Punk Rock, I Hate You So ...

At work we are lucky enough to have a relaxed atmosphere and a cool management team that allows us to listen to music of our choosing on a little boom box setup in the corner. Its very nice, and I like having music to keep my spirits high as the day wears on (especially given the gray weather in SF this time of year).

My only complaint about this arrangement is that sometimes people in my office choose to play punk rock at work (ah, the microcosmic democracy at work). Oi oi oi. Its nothing personal to the people I work with (you're all super awesome), its nothing against punk rock (I have been a punk rock fan for some time) its just that I find it very difficult to concentrate when I am having power chords and high pitched harmonization pumped into my ear.

On that note, let me amend the prior sentence about "its nothing against punk rock," because, actually, I do have a problem with pussy punk rock that seems to be de rigeur these days. Anything the f*cks on Laguna Beach would listen to, really (I know this is a gross generalization). To each their own, I guess. I just don't consider much of the noise that is classified as punk rock these days to be in the same vein as, I don't know -- The Misfits or The Ramones. Those were punk bands. Blink 182 and Fall Out Boy, eh, not so much. It is what it is.

Also, you have to consider the source here: a little snot nosed kid running around the Reservation in south-central NM listening to Deicide and Slayer at a very young and impressionable age. So, from the get-go I was a little more inclined to the hard-core edge of the spectrum. Go figure.

Why Being an Economist/Analyst is a Better Deal Than Being a Corporate Lawyer:

U.S. losing legal work to overseas firms
Some firms also oursourcing wide range of work
By LULADEY B. TADESSE, The News Journal
Posted Tuesday, December 12, 2006

If the jobs at General Motors or DaimlerChrysler's plant in Delaware suddenly moved to China, people wouldn't be shocked. Manufacturing jobs have been moving offshore for years.

But what if major corporations decided it was cheaper working with lawyers in India?

The practice already has begun. And the Wilmington-based DuPont Co. is recognized as a pioneer in the growing trend.

The legal offshoring industry is estimated to be about $60 million to $80 million today -- tiny in comparison with the estimated $225 billion U.S. legal industry -- but it has the potential to grow up to $4.7 billion by 2011-12 in India alone, according to a report by Crisil Research and Information Services.

The cost of working with lawyers in India averages $50 to $70 an hour, compared with an American lawyer with the equivalent experience who would get paid $200 or more. An Indian lawyer working as a temp would cost $20 or less, where as one in this country would cost up to $70 an hour.

As more work shifts to legal companies abroad, the number of jobs lost in the United States is expected to jump from about 23,000 this year to about 79,000 in 2015, according to a 2004 report by Forrester Research.

So far, there seems to be enough work to go around for Delaware's legal services industry, which employs about 5,200 lawyers, paralegals and other service providers.

Josh Bivens, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, doubts lawyers will be affected significantly by offshoring.

"In my lifetime, corporate sector lawyers will be very well-paid," Bivens said. "In part, it is because they have very select skills. And, in part, because of a lot of regulations that make it difficult for outsiders to compete in that field."

For many years, lawyers were shielded from the offshoring phenomenon, mainly because their work was steeped in arcane U.S. law. It also often dealt with sensitive information companies feared could fall into the wrong hands. But that reluctance is fading.

DuPont, the second-largest private employer in the state, has a crew of about 100 lawyers, mostly in India, who are available around the clock to review documents in such complex matters as asbestos lawsuits. The company expects to save 30 percent to 60 percent on the traditional costs, amounting to more than $6 million a year from its $200 million annual legal bill.

"We need to constantly search for the highest quality of service at the lowest possible cost," said Tom Sager, assistant general counsel at DuPont. "It's becoming a way of life, and it is driven by the digital age and the globalization phenomenon. Companies like DuPont can't be satisfied with using the providers down the street."

Other corporations like Oracle, Cisco and General Electric also are trimming their legal costs as well.

New federal rules require companies to produce nearly all electronic data as evidence, including deleted e-mails. As a result, the amount of document review required by lawyers is expected to grow exponentially in the next few years. Foreign legal services companies see this as a tremendous opportunity to grow their business in America.

'Leap of faith'

Only about a dozen foreign vendors specialize in legal services in the United States. And U.S. companies are still trying to figure out how to take advantage of foreign lawyers and measure performance.

At first, only the simplest legal work was sent overseas. Today, that's changing.

DuPont took a "leap of faith" last year when it hired OfficeTiger, an Indian company with a U.S. base, to handle some of its most important projects, including one with millions of pages of documents and more than $100 million of claims related to asbestos litigation.

DuPont has given them several additional projects.

"They can handle anything of a complex nature: toxic tort, insurance coverage cases, complex commercial, intellectual property," Sager said.

Most of DuPont's legal work is sent to India and the Philippines, where lawyers there speak English and are familiar with the U.S. legal system. OfficeTiger lawyers based in the U.S. review some of the work performed in India and the Philippines.

"We are looking for an offshore partner that can provide us high level of professional judgment, not just crummy work that no lawyer wants to do,'" said Justin Miller, senior vice president and managing director in global legal services at OfficeTiger.

'Legal thinkers'

The push from companies such as DuPont to reduce legal costs is forcing local law firms to send some of their own work to vendors overseas. Other lawyers are taking the initiative to cut costs.

"There are lawyers that are highly trained as legal thinkers -- not in our law necessarily but as lawyers -- for 20 percent of the cost in India, say, and there are a lot of them, so it is a resource," said Sharon Klein, managing partner at Pepper Hamilton in California. "It's very difficult to argue to one of our firms' customers or clients that we shouldn't do it, because the talent is there."

Pepper Hamilton, which also operates branches in Wilmington and Philadelphia, sends a wide range of work to foreign firms, including preparation of trial exhibits, legal research and document management.

"It is just a reflection of the global nature of business and law practice," said Richard Horwitz, partner at Potter Anderson & Corroon in Wilmington, one of DuPont's two law firms in Delaware.

Horwitz said working with lawyers in India has not significantly changed the way his firm operates. But he emphasizes that not all the work done by the firm can be outsourced.

"If I had a box of documents to review, they would not necessary be sent to OfficeTiger," he said. "It doesn't present any significant obstacles to have them do that work, but obviously there are certain contexts in which you may not want a lawyer who is not familiar with, or licensed with, a particular state law."

U.S. lawyers protected

Although the movement of legal work overseas may result in thousands of job losses in coming years, laws protect lawyers against foreign competitors.

Unless the lawyers in India are licensed to practice in specific states, they will never be able to take over the jobs of American lawyers.

"Unfortunately, there will be displacement, but the reality is, it's a limited amount of work that is going offshore because of confidentiality and risk of competitive intelligence," said William A. Tanenbaum, partner and international chair of the Technology, Intellectual Property & Outsourcing Group at Kaye Scholer in New York.

And experts say most companies will rely on their American lawyers for the specialized skills and high-level legal writing and appearance in court.

DuPont said it doesn't see the offshoring of legal work as a way to replace its American lawyers. By freeing up some of its lawyers from tedious document review, the company hopes it can pursue other legal cases, which over the years it may have had to settle or ignore because they simply didn't have time or would have been too expensive.

"More and more of our economy is exposed to foreign competition. The upshot is not necessarily job losses -- but I think it will mean much slower wage growth for a wide range of industries," said Bivens, of the Economic Policy Institute.
Contact Luladey B. Tadesse at 324-2789 or

Monday, December 11, 2006


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmnckssqlbb11116 (pronounced /ˈalˌbin/) was a name intended for a Swedish child who was born in 1991.

The boy's parents had planned never to legally name him at all, as a protest to the naming law of Sweden, which reads:[citation needed]

First names shall not be approved if they can cause offense or can be supposed to cause discomfort for the one using it, or names which for some obvious reason are not suitable as a first name.

Because the parents (Elizabeth Hallin and an unidentified father) failed to register a name by the boy's fifth birthday, a district court in Halmstad, southern Sweden fined the parents 5,000 kronor (about US$ 682). Responding to the fine, the parents submitted the 43-character name in May 1996, claiming that it was "a pregnant, expressionistic development that we see as an artistic creation." The parents suggested the name be understood in the spirit of 'pataphysics. The court rejected the name and upheld the fine.

The parents then tried to change the spelling of the name to A (also pronounced /ˈalˌbin/) instead. Once again, the court did not approve of the parents' ideas for naming.

Friday, December 08, 2006

America, Pre WWII

I am a lover of American History, America in general, and also photography. I saw this story of America before Pearl Harbor, taken in color photographs and decided I'd post to it. Check it out here.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Hyphy Juice ...

So I'm on the BART this morning, headed to work and at about Colma the train begins to fill up. This dude take the empty seat beside me, all thugged out. By thugged out I mean: Black Pea Coat, long sleeve camo shirt underneath, 'stunnas' (aviator glasses) on with baggy jeans and Air Force Ones. Your typical Bay Area thug attire. The first thing that struck me was that this guy was on the train at 7:30 in the morning ... a little odd. That and the fact that he was wearing sunglasses at 7:30 on the BART ...

Anyway, after my initial puzzlement at being seated next to a thug during my morning commute (hey, to be fair, maybe he had some job to go to, what do I know?) I settled in and waited. What immediately struck my nostrils, though, was this pungent sweet/sour aroma that was vaguely reminiscent of piss. Now, mind you, this WAS the BART, so urine scent is not uncommon, but I had not smelled it up to this point, so it stuck out in my nose. I looked around me to see if some homeless/crazy/whatever person had hopped on the train and was in my immediate area. Nope. Then I did the careful, undetected, scan of the people around me to gauge the likelihood for their being the source of this foul aroma. Did I see any Hassidic Jews? No. Old Asian folks? No. Little kids? No. There were biz folks all around me, women, and my thuggish friend the sore thumb sticking out.

Being fairly certain I had pinned down the source of my discomfort I figured I would labor on, as getting up and moving was not worth it given that my stop was 2 away. We were in a crowded train and all. But as I sat there the smell became seriously unbearable. I began to feel my mouth running dry as my sinuses became polluted with this man's funk.

No sooner was I about to stand up and move across the train than he turned to me, flashed an iced out grill and pulled a bottle of Bacardi 151 out of his jacket. "Ahhhh," I thought to myself. "Thuggin' it up last night ... takin' the morning train home." He proceeded to read the back label to me, noting the flammability of the spirit. In his words "I use this as straight lighter fluid, doo." Then he tried to sell the bottle to me for $20, which I politely declined.

Ah, the BART and the Yay Area ...

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Ghostride The Volvo

As any reader knows, and certianly anybody who has spent a night on the town with me, I am a big fan of all things hyphy. I also like the A's a lot and am vehemently opposed to them moving to "a parking lot with a mayor" i.e., Fremont. So, with all that having been said, my coworker Tyler showed me this awesome video of his two friends and their response to the A's moving ...

Assaholics Anonymous

Because I can be an uberAsshole at times (especially at work) I was recommended to this group ...

Griz vs. UMass

The Griz take on UMass this Friday, starting at 7:30. I will be at a party in Oakland with a beautiful woman on my arm, so it is unlikely I will be watching this contest. However, since it is a big game I am gonna go ahead and ramp up the ol' school spirit meter by posting some Griz stuff this week, starting with this awesome YouTube vid captured at the GrizCat came.

I think this video is awesome because it does a great job of capturing the atmosphere in Wash-Griz Stadium on a Saturday afternoon when the Griz are playing.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Flatulence, not turbulence forces plane landing in Nashville

Flatulence brought 99 passengers on an American Airlines flight to an unscheduled visit to Nashville early Monday morning.

American Flight 1053, from Washington Reagan National Airport and bound for Dallas/Fort Worth, made an emergency landing here after passengers reported smelling struck matches, said Lynne Lowrance, a spokeswoman for the Nashville International Airport Authority.

The plane landed safely. The FBI, Transportation Safety Administration and airport authority responded to the emergency, Lowrance said.

The passengers and five crew members were brought off the plane, together with all the luggage, to go through security checks again. Bomb-sniffing dogs found spent matches.

The FBI questioned a passenger who admitted she struck the matches in an attempt to conceal body odor, Lowrance said. The woman lives near Dallas and has a medical condition.

The flight took off again, but the woman was not allowed back on the plane.

"American has banned her for a long time," Lowrance said.

She was not charged but could have been. While it is legal to bring as many as four books of paper safety matches onto an aircraft, it is illegal to strike a match in an airplane, Lowrance said.

By Samuel Shu, The Tennessean
Last updated: 12/5/2006 3:07:10 PM

Always Be Closing

A Magyar sent me a fun email this morning with the text from this speech embedded therein. When I read it I smiled and then found the movie clip online. It gets me amped to go out and make sales. Its like putting on my asshole shoes, cuz after this clip is viewed a few times I get fucking pitbull.

UPDATE:: After I posted this original clip I was browsing around YouTube some more and came across this very SNL spoof of the same scene. Good thing about Alec Baldwin, he's pretty versatile and not above spoofing himself. Good man.

UPDATE UPDATE:: I really want to drink fermented dew out of an acorn cup after seeing this clip.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Word Of The Day

A colleague and I spelled a word in unison today. So that word has been nominated Word Of The Day. Todays Word Of The Day Is:


Main Entry: as·cer·tain
Pronunciation: "a-s&r-'tAn
Function: transitive verb
Etymology: Middle English acertainen, from Middle French acertainer, from a- (from Latin ad-) + certain
Date: 15th century
1 archaic : to make certain, exact, or precise
2 : to find out or learn with certainty
synonym see DISCOVER
- as·cer·tain·able /-'tA-n&-b&l/ adjective
- as·cer·tain·ment /-'tAn-m&nt/ noun

Boiler Room? Hardly ...

The boiler in my building has gone out, rendering the entire building a friggin' ice box. Boilers and boiler rooms remind me of two movies: Heathers (because he places the bomb in the boiler room of the high school) and the film Boiler Room (for what I hope is an obvious reason).

So yeah, my entire day is going to be spent wrapped in a parka. Humorously, the building's air venting system is still operational, meaning that *cool* air is still being blown about the building, effectively making it warmer outside rather than in.

1:20 PM UPDATE:: One of my coworkers apparently carries a space heater around in his car and has been so kind to donate it to our office for the remainder of the day.

Things I Have Learned From Deadwood

My roomie and I are quite fond of movies. More precisely, we are fond of spending our evenings parked on respective couches watching DVDs (and sports, to be fair). Recently we expanded our evening line ups beyond your typical movie fare to that of the television show ilk.

What we found when we explored this avenue was pretty interesting. Just about every show has its own season on DVD. The great thing about these programs is that you get to watch them without any commercial interruptions. unfortunately, this has an adverse effect on some shows.

Alf, for example, I remember from my childhood as being a terrific show. It was full of yuks, had a great plot and there was Gordon Shumway! Now, as I have watched the show, its not so good. For one, the plot is pretty threadbare. I think my liberal arts degree may have a part in this portion of my critique, and I hate myself for being so hoity toity over the plot holes in Alf. (Conversely, as a side note, i absolutely LOVE watching Walker, Texas Ranger) But Alf is kind of lame, really, and Alf without commercial interruption just magnifies this fact to uncomfortable proportions.

On the other end of the spectrum there are the HBO shows, which were designed without commercials in mind, and are thus more cogent when viewed as a whole. Also, jsut about every show that HBO has ever shown is on DVD, so the library is quite extensive. So, of course, given my fondness for Westerns I had to vote that we rent the first season of DEADWOOD. We were not disappointed, as this proved to be a very entertaining programme.

For those of you unfamiliar with DEADWOOD, the plot revolves around life in the booming town (at this point little more than a camp) and its various characters as they come and go. Being that I'm only 2 episodes in I am pretty certain that there will be many more characters yet to appear. Thus far I know the following:

  • Wild Bill Hickock: Schnazzy dresser, will shoot the hell out of you pretty fast.

  • Seth Bullock: He'll shoot the hell out of you, too. Probably jsut as fast as Wild Bill.

  • Al Swearengen: This guy will stab the hell out of you, call you a cocksucker and then beat up one of his whores

  • Sol Star: Good business man. If you mess with him, Seth will likely shoot you.

  • Calamity Jane: Rough bitch. Al pushed her around, which is likely to come back to haunt the both of them.

  • At this point it is safe to say that I am thoroughly hooked on the show. I was actually upset last night that we didn't have another two episodes to watch. *sigh* We watched some flaky Western with Dwight Yoakum and Billy Bob Thornton instead. I couldn't tell you what it was about, really, as I lost interest pretty fast and just read stuff about DEADWOOD on the internet after that.

    Sunday, November 26, 2006

    Zamboni Joy Riders Fired


    Two Boise Parks Department Zamboni drivers who made a joy ride lunch run to a Burger King are out of work and may even face criminal prosecution.

    Boise Parks officials fired them immediately upon hearing of the stunt. The two employees decided it would be fun to drive the rigs half a mile from the City owned and operated ICE WORLD indoor skating rink at the outlet mall to the hamburger joint.

    They could be charged with operating unlicensed motor vehicles on a public street, but there is little chance for a speeding conviction.

    Team Dave may not jump on things as fast as the GUARDIAN and some citizens think they should, but last week when a citizen complained to the mayor’s hotline about what he saw at the drive thru window at Burger King, they got right on it.

    Parks Department director Jim Hall called the stunt, “One of the five stupidest things I have seen in 35 years of work in public parks.” He didn’t elaborate on the other four, but our curiosity is certainly aroused.

    Hall said the Zamboni ice grooming machines are finely tuned vehicles worth $75,000 each.

    “We have inspected both vehicles and there was no apparent damage,” said Hall. Repair costs to a damaged blade could run $10,000 according to Hall.
    The Ice World skating arena hasn’t been a great source of pride for the city since millionaire J.R. Simplot donated it several years ago. A former employee was charged with selling city owned skates and hockey sticks on EBay after a Canadian cop alerted them.

    Total Beardo

    Sarcastic Guy

    City Says Its Urban Jungle Has Little Room for Palms

    Full story is linked to story text below

    Published: November 26, 2006

    LOS ANGELES, Nov. 25 — The palm tree, like so much here, rose to fame largely because of vanity and image control, then met its downfall when the money ran out.

    The Los Angeles City Council, fed up with the cost of caring for the trees, with their errant fronds that plunge perilously each winter, and with the fact that they provide little shade, have declared them the enemy of the urban forest and wish that most would disappear.

    U.S. Involved in Iraq Longer Than WWII

    Click on the paragraphs below to read teh full story.

    WASHINGTON, Nov. 26, 2006
    By TOM RAUM Associated Press Writer

    (AP) The war in Iraq has now lasted longer than the U.S. involvement in the war that President Bush's father fought in, World War II. As of Sunday, the conflict in Iraq has raged for three years and just over eight months.

    Only the Vietnam War (eight years, five months), the Revolutionary War (six years, nine months), and the Civil War (four years), have engaged America longer.

    Friday, November 24, 2006


    Thanksgiving was yesterday, I hope you all had a wonderful time with your families and loved ones, or alone, whatever your preference may be. I actually used to hate the Holidays, still do to some extent (i.e.: guilt trips) but lately I've been getting "better" at them.

    I spent my Thanksgiving in Redwood Shores, a nice little town next to Redwood City (town motto: Voted Climate Best By Government Test) that also happens to be home to Oracle and some other high tech outfits. That's my uncle, Myles, and I on the left. It was a good time. The atmosphere was very intimate, and this allowed us all to converse freely.

    Of course, being in Northern California, and because we are in an election year, politics came up. The subject of Rumsfeld's being charged by a foreign court and the threat of impeachment came up in conversation. Now, every good conversationalist knows that there are two absolute taboos for polite dinner conversation: Religion & Politics. Needless to say, I ignored this rule (and usually I'm so very good at being diplomatic ...) and made a little argument against American citizens being tried in foreign courts. If anything, I conceded, he should be tried here before anywhere else. My dinner companions were generally on board with the idea, though I think some of them saw me as some sort of "Red Stater" isolationist (which, honestly, I kind of am, sans The Red State stuff -- I'm a total Independent (go figure)).

    On that note, I'll take a moment to remark on the very odd political climate that is Northern California. Such a liberal place, while still retaining such "hoity-toityness", it seems a real contradiction. My uncle, by the way, is predicting very good things for the country in the next 2 - 4 years, because of the Democratic controlled houses. He is sad that I have grown up under the Republicans. "You've never seen how good it can really be!" He says. Sadly, I am kind of indifferent. I vote, I do what I can in that arena, but then I take my hands off. Because, really, what's the point of getting all steamed up over it? What can I do about things? I realize (and you can call me jaded) that the political machine in American is much, much too large for me to have any direct personal affect on. Or, if that is not the case, well then, I am just kind of lazy. So it goes.

    Wednesday, November 22, 2006

    Hungarian is a Difficult Language

    I'm the type of guy who doesn't mind working a little to impress a woman I'm interested in. Especially a woman from a different culture, or with some diverse cultural experiences. In fact, I don't even consider it trying to impress the woman for that purpose's sake so much as just learning about her and where she's from; I am a data junkie, after all. Its all in the details, you know?

    So as of late I have been spending time with a lovely Hungarian lass. Being the chap (read: dork) I am, I try to learn about Hungary, the Hungarian people and culture, maybe even pick up a few words here and there in the language. Now mind you, the first things are easy enough, its just a matter of wikipedia'ing Hungary and spending the time to learn and retain some things. The last thing, the language, well, that's another story. I should tell you as a preface, without too much of an inflated ego, that I was able to master Latin through high school and college, so I can navigate the Romance languages and German without too much turbulence (Portuguese ... eh, not so much). I even know some Japanese and Korean. Hungarian, however, has turned out to be next to impossible. Its like reading Greek (hat tip, Bill).

    Without being too dismissive, there are entirely too many "z"s, "c"s, and "j"s in this language. It gets worse: they combine this devilish trio of consonants to form special consonants from time to time. Some lovely examples:

    Good night! = Jó éjszakát!
    Thank you very much! = Köszönöm szépen!
    Would you like to see my stamp collection? = Megnézed a bélyeggyûjteményem?

    Yeah, so with that having been said, I do not think that I am going to master the Hungarian language any time soon. At best, I see myself learning some key phrases, butchering them terribly/pronouncing them like a child with a mouth full of candy and generally evoking a light hearted grin from anyone who actually DOES speak Hungarian (read: the girl and her mother). However, there is the "endearment" factor to consider in all of this, and I am banking on that big time.

    For anyone interested in the language, this site is a terrific resource.

    The End of the United Kingdom?

    I originally nabbed this from; I linked the full article to the clipped intro here.

    London, England - One of the world's most successful multinational states, and a key ally of the United States, could in a few months time start to unravel: I mean, of course, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

    The process will be set in motion if the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) ends up the largest party in the Scottish parliament after elections next May. This is a distinct possibility. The break up of the UK will not be inevitable even if the SNP do dominate the parliament, but it will certainly make the political classes of Britain -- and perhaps of the U.S. and the main EU states too -- think hard about the point and value of the union to them. (Ironically, the elections will come just a matter of days after the 300th anniversary of the creation of modern Britain when the Scottish and English parliaments were merged in 1707.)

    Tuesday, November 21, 2006

    Drunk Until Proven Innocent

    Below is a great article from the Harvard Crimson about MADD and its moon bat policies. If you like the into, click on the paragraph to go directly there.

    Drunk Until Proven Innocent

    Published On Tuesday, November 21, 2006 3:55 AM

    Admittedly, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is a tough group to oppose. It represents the forces of good (mothers) against the bad (drunk drivers). But the group has strayed from its roots. Once upon a time, MADD simply used public awareness to combat drunk driving; now it advocates ineffective authoritarian policies to eliminate all drunk driving.

    Consequences of Beard Growth

    So, as many of you readers who might actually know me personally are aware, I have been growing beard for the past couple of weeks. (Side note: That is NOT me in the pic at the bottom of the last post. Some readers were confused. That's my homey, Tony posing with Thew. Thew had a beard for awhile, but couldn't hang. What a puss ...) It is coming in nicely, I must say. Not fully there yet, but a work in progress. Eventually I'll probably shave it down to something ridiculous like a Fu Manchu moustache (ala Chopper Read, see right) which I will wear for awhile until the novelty factor wears thin, at which point I will either pare it down further into just a moustache (making me appear as if I really should work in the Mission District) or shave it off altogether.

    Aside from the implicit fun of growing new facial hair and sculpting it to ridiculous configurations, there is the family irk factor involved in my scruffy merriment. I am not, by nature, a guy who embraces the holidays. In fact, for the first 16 or so years of my life I spent the holidays alone and well, became accustomed to that. Of course, life changes and now I have all these familial and friendly obligations to fulfill in association with these otherwise arbitrary days. I struggled against this tide for awhile, but last year tried a new tack: I totally got into the holiday spirit. My life was kind of topsy-turvy at the time, so a new approach was warranted. Lo and behold! It made the holidays not so bad. In fact, I rather enjoyed them. The following Spring sucked, but that's another story for another post ...

    But yeah -- back to beards. So I now have these familial and friendly obligations (i.e. parties and get-togethers) to attend which means we're more or less in public and/or with relatives that we haven't seen (and won't see again) for a long time. That being said, certain members of my family happen to be a little more "old fashioned" than others. By old fashioned I mean that they think men should not step out of the house in anything less than a shirt and tie, and wearing a beard is only acceptable once you hit 40+ or you are a college Professor (whichever comes first). So my beard is an instant nag magnet to these individuals. A younger, lesser (and cleaner shaven) me might be put off by this, but today's Wes just rolls with it. In fact, I am integrating it as part of my overall theme of embracing the holidays. (Santa theme?) I realize the very juvenile aspect of deriving pleasure from peeving your family, but please recognize that I am growing the beard for my own pleasure and any enjoyment I derive from irritating members of my immediate family with it is secondary to me asserting my individual right over my body. Yeah. Grr! Beards! Stay tuned for interesting stories and perhaps some photos ...

    Sunday, November 19, 2006

    F-U Old Pro (But Not Really)

    OK, as you might see from the previous post, I was very pumped up for the Griz-Cat game on Saturday. I knew where the UM Alumni Association sponsored meet up for my area was (San Leandro) but I thought that there would certainly be a closer, more accessible option available to me (OK, I'm lazy and don't own a car, so going to the East Bay is super inconvenient). With that mindset, I know there is a great sports bar in downtown PA, The Old Pro, where I catch all the Stanford and Cal games. It's a nice place: great food, big TVs, all that good stuff. BUT, being wary and taking into account the -AHEM- limited appeal to people not from/outside Montana I wasn't sure if they would even have the game on. Mind you, I've been to this place where they've had the most obscure conferences playing on a big screen (The North Central Conference? GO SIOUX!), but I called ahead and confirmed with the woman on the phone that they would have what is essentially the biggest game of the year for a Montana fan on. The woman answered with a curt "We'll have ALL the games on."

    What a crock that turned out to be.

    I rolled up to the OP at about 12, which was a good 10-15 minutes into the game. What was I met with? A sea of Red and Silver! Could it be that this was a HUGE Griz gathering? No. Not at all. Turns out there's this other college team that plays a pretty good game of football, maybe you've heard of them? Ohio State? Yeah, so some OSU alum rented out the whole friggin' bar for the OSU/Michigan game. So instead of seeing my beloved Grizzlies pound the Bobcats from ol' Missoula I instead watched the Buckeyes lay waste to the Wolverines.

    I decided to make the best of the situation and went ahead and rooted for the Buckeyes since their colors are pretty similar to the Montana colors (scarlet and silver for USU versus maroon and silver for Montana). At the end of the day my adopted team had won (yay) and my real team did, too (YAY), so that was good twice over. I was a little disappointed in not being able to watch the Griz play, but so it goes. Luckliy, I have some awesome friends who joined in my celebrations, and we welcomed the night in the right mood.