Begging The Question

Friday, July 16, 2004

Larry's adventure reminds me of a story. To summarize, first she thought she didn't make her school's law review, and then it turned out that they had merely forgotten to include her name in the email. Kind of makes you wonder how good the editing is at that journal....

Anyway, a similar thing happened to me once. When I was a second-year, I interviewed for a summer internship at a U.S. Attorney's Office. It was part of a job fair at another law school, and the AUSA interviewer and I hit it off so well we held things up for the other kids for a good while. He was a major crimes trial attorney, and even though I wanted to be in their appellate division, I was working on a paper that tied into a case he had, so we went on and on about that.

(Long aside: Later on, I watched part of one of this guy's trials. The defendant was accused of setting fire to a home over a crack deal gone bad. A woman died inside the home, and oddly, she had a cord from a television wrapped around her neck. It didn't kill her, but the AUSA said it was evidence that the defendant had been in the place, arguing and fighting, or something. The defense theory was that the fire was accidental, or the woman set it herself cooking drugs or something. They suggested that the woman, in the throes of the fire, threshed about so wildly that she pulled the television across the apartment, ripped out the cord, and wrapped it around her own neck. During closing arguments, the defense attorney spoke with a very soft voice, I think to impart the emotion she felt. But the acoustics were very bad, and after about ten minutes the judge asked her to speak up. Then the judge asked if the jurors had trouble hearing, and several raised their hands. One old fellow said, "I haven't heard a word she's said." Yep, half the jury was sitting there for ten minutes not hearing anything, and didn't make a peep. Verdict: guilty.)

All in all, it was a great interview, and I left with every assurance that I would get the job (it was a big office, so they hired a lot of interns, and that helped, too). Waited, waited, waited. Months passed. Finally, around spring break, when I was starting to get a little anxious about summer job plans, I got an email from the AUSA. He said that their offers were going out that week, and he wanted to hear about my prospects. (Does that give you an idea of how well we hit if off, that he would check back with me like that?) I wrote back that I hadn't heard, so he gave me the number of the personnel office. I called, and was put on hold for a long time. Finally, she came back and said, "I'm sorry, we won't be extending you an offer at this time."

So, I wrote a very curt, "WTF? Thanks for getting my hopes up, jerko" email, and then thought better of it. I erased that before I sent it, and simply sent a "Thanks for your help, I would have enjoyed working there, etc." email. I immediately get an email back from the AUSA: "Don't do anything. I'm working on it." Did I mention that all this happened after 4:30 on a Friday, and these were all government employees?

Anyway, I was at the law school when all this happened, and sure enough, when I got home there was a rejection letter in my mailbox. A few days later, though, I got a call from the personnel officer, who kindly asked me to "disregard" the rejection letter and told me that an offer would be forthcoming. Given the delay, however, I had about 24 hours to complete my FBI background investigation forms, so that was a lot of fun. But I was thinking, "Disregard, my ass!" I never did find out whether it was merely a clerical error, or if the guy had to go to bat for me (again).

I saved that rejection letter, and the first thing I did when I started was tape it to my office door. On it I wrote, "I'm not even supposed to be here!" It got plenty of laughs, and actually stayed up most of the summer. And, a connection I made at that job is about 99.99% responsible for the clerkship I'll be starting soon. So I'm really glad I didn't send the "jerko" email. I hope Larry didn't burn any bridges either.

I Know You're Sick of Hearing This....
...but I will guest-blogging over at Soupie's BBQ & Daycare for a few days while he takes care of some family matters. As far as I know, Fitz will be joining me. The Daycare is one of our favorite blogs, Soup is a good friend, he has helped us out before, and we're glad to return the favor. Actually, since today is "Respect Canada Day", we'll be returning the favour.

Anyway, keep an eye out for us; you never know which blog we'll show up on next.

UPDATE: It turns out that Dylan of the Slithery D will be joining us. So you'll get something extra for your blog-reading dollar than just BTQ in a different color.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Are you ready for some football?
It was only a matter of time. They finally did it. They finally made a movie about those sons of bitches at Odessa Permian - with Billy Bob Thornton starring as head football coach Gary Gaines.

Background? Says the reviewing editor at Amazon, "Secular religions are fascinating in the devotion and zealousness they breed, and in Texas, high school football has its own rabid hold over the faithful." Indeed. In the case of Permian, "rabid" is putting it mildly. The Permian football teams long dominated the Texas 5A football scene. The "Mojo" routinely pounded their district rivals, including my alma mater, and established a dynasty immortalized by H.G. Bissinger in his book Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream, in which he chronicled Permian's somewhat troubled 1988 football season. The book is an excellent read even if, like me, you harbor a deep-seated hatred of Permian football.*

Not to put too fine a point on it, but of course you can become a football dynasty if the coaches and administrators completely disregard the rules by which all your competitors abide. If you field ineligible players and you have two-a-days all summer long, then it's bound to happen. But broken rules aside, Permian had some talented players and they fielded some awesome teams. Losing to them was not a pleasant experience. The agony of defeat was not ameliorated by the technical win awarded to Abilene High during my senior year due to Permian's use of an ineligible player. A 1 - 0 "win" in the record book does not erase the memory of the 56 - 0 shellacking we took in 1993 (nor the various shellackings in the previous seasons: 48 - 0 in 1989, 34 - 10 in 1990, 56 - 7 in 1991, and 58 - 0 in 1992). Let me tell you, I was so very glad to have chosen cheerleading over football, especially on Friday nights when the Abilene High Eagles faced off against the Permian Panthers.

Anyway, Permian football is not what it once was (yay!), but the Mojo can relive the glory days when the movie comes out in October. Until then, you can catch only a glimpse of that former glory in the trailer.

*To give you some idea of the level of hate, imagine your hatred for the perennially overrated Notre Dame (or Bama or Miami) football program, multiply it by 100 and then imagine your team getting beat 56 - 0 by Notre Dame every season.

Milbarge at Large: Post-Blakely Edition
What I am doing at work: Blakely, Blakely, Blakely. It's been nothing but Blakely for me lately. I've got a few other cases (my caseload is shrinking along with the number of days I'm remaining here), but nothing too exciting or difficult. But with my Blakely stuff, it's funny. It's sort of a "hurry up and wait" thing. We're trying to identify all the cases raising the issue, but we're not really able to move many of them out just yet. It's neat seeing all this play out from the perspective of the staff counsel's office. While the big decisions about Blakely's effect on the Guidelines are being made well above my pay grade, we see a whole lot more cases in a whole lot more postures than the judges do, at least initially. So, we're trying to spot good vehicles for settling the myriad tangential questions that are going to arise. And I think we're well-suited for that. For one thing, we're a large body of bright lawyers working collectively. Also, many of the attorneys were around when Apprendi dropped, so they've been through this once, whereas almost none of the in-chambers clerks were (and I won't comment on whether any of the judges missed it or what they might recall). So there's an institutional memory here as well. Anyway, we're trying to keep abreast of all the develoments, and in this effort Prof. Berman's Sentencing Law & Policy blog has been a wonderful, invaluable resource. For a big nerd like me (who even once applied for a summer job at the Sentencing Commission), it's a lot of fun.

What I am doing at home: Starting to really panic about moving. Starting to go through my books and decide which to keep and which to sell in an effort to make my move doable. I haven't counted my books, but I'd say the ballpark range is 300-400. I've committed myself to taking no more than fifty when I move. It's completely arbitrary, but if I don't set some kind of limit -- or a really high limit like "books I haven't read yet" -- it'll end up mushrooming. My thinking is that I can send some to my Dad's place, and get them if I really need them. And it's not like I'm going to a desert island ("Survivor" competition notwithstanding); I can (and will) get more books when I get there. Everything else is under control, even if it doesn't look like it. But the books are going to be a real headache.

What I am reading: Not enough books. Lately I've been reading several back issues of The Atlantic, probably my favorite magazine, and Legal Affairs, which I enjoy a great deal. Also, since I was out of town for the better part of three weeks, I was way behind in my blog reading. I like to read them in order, so in the last week or so I've finally caught up by reading thirty days' worth of about two dozen blogs.

What I am watching: Saw Anchorman, and liked it. Not as funny as Old School, but good. Also, Shattered Glass, about the plagarist at The New Republic. I have a quibble or two, but I liked it as well. Also, poker...too much poker. I'm not even that big a fan, and way too risk-averse to play for very much money. But as television, I find it engrossing. (See also my review of Positively Fifth Street.)

What I am listening to: I think I've said this before, but for anyone reading this who is studying for the bar exam, check out The Derailers' "Bar Exam." I can't find a lyrics link right off, but it's not a hard song to find. Trust me, it will be your mantra. Also, some Tenacious D. Also, "They set out to become a band...and in the end, they became The Band."

What I am thinking about: I'm sort of shopping for a new car. I have an idea of what I want, but I haven't gotten around to actually doing anything about it yet. I'm also going to get a new phone as soon as I move. I haven't had a new one in two years, so my cell phone is about one step above rotary dial technology. It doesn't flip or shine or take pictures or send email or anything. So, any recommendations will be appreciated. Note that I might not use it for internet access, so that's not essential, and it doesn't have to be the smallest toy they make, since I don't carry one all the time.

What I am not thinking about: How often I ought to be going to the gym. I got out the habit during all my traveling, and it's been hard to be consistent about it since. Also, on a more serious note, I haven't been giving enough thought to what's happening in Iraq. When all this started, I made a real effort to stay informed, but now I'm in information-overload stage.

Peeve of the week: I'm usually not prone to road rage. But when I get slowed down to 5m.p.h. on the freeway because rubberneckers have to gawk like yokels at a guy changing a tire, my anger burns with the white-hot intensity of a thousand hell-fires. The worst thing is, since you're already coasting by at a speed slower than you could push the car, you can't help but look yourself, thereby perpetuating the "onlooker delay" (I really hate that traffic-report euphemism, which makes it sound like these people aren't the bastards they really are). Grrr. I get angry just writing about it. Not having to deal with crap like that has been the best part about being able to walk to work. Oh, and also, they're putting on a new roof at our office. So, after a few weeks of loud noise and banging, now we're getting a week of yummy asphalt smell.

No Shout-Out this week, because I keep straight all the stuff on all the blogs I've read recently.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Western wildfires, sensible solutions
While everyone else watched the MLB All-Star Game, I spent the better part of last night watching PBS. Because (1) I enjoy outdoor recreation, particularly hunting, fishing and backcountry travel, (2) my in-laws live in a wildfire hot spot, and (3) I am soon moving to a wildfire prone area myself, I felt compelled to watch Nova's Fire Wars, a documentary on fighting wildfires in the American West. It is a fascinating look at the history of forestry and wildfire management, including profiles of several firefighters and forest rangers. It includes an extended discussion of the hazards and costs of wildfires (and efforts to fight them) as well as a discussion of how best to manage forests so as to prevent the enormous fires of the kind seen in 1910, 1988, and 2000. Of particular interest was the consensus among the interviewed experts that being overprotective of forests has actually changed the nature of forests, altered the makeup of the ecosystems, and increased the danger posed by wildfires. In short, the desire to protect our forests from development and fires has actually made the forests more vulnerable to catastrophic fire events. As has often been said, the path to hell is paved with good intentions.

This morning, I noticed that Tom Smith of The Right Coast also had wildfires on the brain. Yesterday, he had this post defending the Bush Administration's Health Forests Initiative and proposed new rules for managing roadless areas in national forests. After watching Fire Wars and doing a little bit of research on my own (including reading the actual proposal and comparing it to the Clinton-era rules) I think Prof. Smith is correct that the Administration's plan is sensible and grounded in sound science.

If you have any interest in the great outdoors or firefighting, or both, check out the Nova show sometime this week (check your local listings). For a concise explanation and defense of the Bush Administration's proposed rules, read Prof. Smith's post and this article from the Bend (OR) Bugle (link via Prof. Smith). Need more information? Then follow these links:

The Healthy Forests Initiative:
BLM's Healthy Forests Initiative site
USDA's Healthy Forests Initiative site
Healthy Forests Initiative resources

The science of wildfires and forest management:
Influence of Forest Structure on Wildfire Behavior and the Severity of its Effects (.pdf format)
Fire Fight (Smithsonian Magazine August 2003) (.pdf format)
Effect of Thinning and Prescribed Burning on Crown Fire Severity in Ponderosa Pine Forests
USDA's Hayman Fire Case Study

Finally, visit the NRDC for the environmentalists' response to the Healthy Forests Initiative. The NRDC's official response is here and a broader response can be found here (including the usual "this is the biggest single giveaway to the timber industry in the history of the national forests" crap). Also, check out this link which leads to a summary of the NRDC's conclusions regarding the science of wildfires and forest management.

UPDATE: The AP (via CNN) reports on this summer's wildfires here and here.

UPDATE II: FOX News reports here that John Kerry has unveiled his $100 million healthy forests plan in Reno, NV. Predictably, his plan is light on the details and heavy on the "no more timber industry handouts" language. No real explanation of where the $100 million would come from and no explanation of how is plan is better than the President's proposal.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Next Stop: Tomorrowland
I have moved on in the De Novo Survivor: Blogosphere competition; apparently my poem was just unsuckworthy enough to make it.

Our latest challenge is going to require your help. We have to write a post about Congress. The post with the least comments at 10:00 Wednesday earns the author a one-way ticket back to Craptown.

So, I'm going to type up some drivel about something or other, and I need all my loyal BTQ readers to go comment on it.

Soupie, I know you're reading. I think you got a bad draw with the poem assignment out of the gate. But I need your help to install me as the People's Champ.

Actaully, I just thought of what I'm going to write about, and I think it will be comment-producing in its own right. So, even if you don't have anything to add or just want to tell me how cool I am, Cameron-to-Ferris style, look for my post and comment on it. Oh, and don't comment on the others.


(Lastly, I'm not neglecting you regular readers here. I have a couple of posts in the hopper: a bio post and two BTQ Reviews. I just need to dash this off before the deadline for the De Novo overlords. Hang with me, people!)

UPDATE: The post is now available here. I wanted to get something up quickly, to allow as much time for commenting as possible, so it might not be as polished as I'd like. But I think it's not bad. It's about the controversy over calls from gay rights activists to out congressional staffers who work for members of Congress supporting the Federal Marriage Amendment. Go there to comment on it. I'll repost it here after the elimination deadline tomorrow morning.

FURTHER UPDATE: For reasons unknown the powers that be have extended the comment/elimination deadline by 24 hours, until Thursday at 10:00 a.m. I appreciate all the comments from you folks so far. If you feel like doing it again, I'd appreciate that too.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Robert at the Bat
(Note: This is my latest entry in the ongoing De Novo Survivor: Blogosphere competition. It's also available here. Our challenge was to write a poem about the Supreme Court. It's an elimination challenge; only four of the six contestants will go on. As always, I appreciate your support. Finally, I will note that I borrowed the meter and rhyme scheme from "Casey at the Bat," but I'm sure it's been used in a million poems besides that one.)

The outlook wasn't brilliant for Earl Warren's legacy,
Thurgood, Bill, and Harry hung on, but all quite drearily.
And then when Burger called it quits, and Lewis did the same,
'Twas clear the Gipper saw the Court as something he'd reclaim.

The Gip had made Bill Rehnquist Chief, and put Nino on the Court,
Doubtless Nino pined to be paired with his old cohort.
Bork's nomination went before the Committ' Judiciary,
And with those liberal Senators the clever judge did parry.

The liberals wailed and gnashed their teeth when they heard the Rehnquist choice,
But Bork's the name that made them cry in one despairing voice.
They thought, "If only we can keep old Robert off the bench,
We could sleep a little easy and our sphincters would unclench."

The liberals made much fun of one Judge Robert Heron Bork,
They said his beard would go quite well with horns and a pitchfork.
His role as Nixon's hatchet man was carefully inspected,
And every word he'd ever written thoroughly dissected.

His champions touted how few times the judge had been reversed;
The liberals said he misconstrued the Amendment numbered First.
And his jurisprudence on the Ninth they hoped he would rethink,
For Robert would not guess at text beneath that blot of ink.

In the end the liberals had their way and Bork lost his Senate vote,
And since that time the judgeship wars have gotten quite cut-throat.
In later years Judge Bork became a preachy, angry grouch,
But there is much joy for Milbarge: To Gomorrah I will slouch!

If It's Not One Thing, It's Another
I've discussed concerns I have about next month's Olympics several times in this space. See here and here for examples. But just when I start to forget about it, and vainly hope that silence is good news, something else happens to further cement my conclusion that the whole venture is going to be a disaster. The latest? Greece's largest power outage in a decade.

Forget about the simple comfort issue of having to deal with summer temperatures in the 100s with no air conditioning. That's a given. But consider the hassles and dangers caused by the loss of traffic lights or the new rail system. From a sporting perspective, athletes could miss competitions because they couldn't get to the venue from the Olympic Village. Spectators might miss events for which they bought expensive tickets.

The worst-case scenario is a nightmare. If a power outage coincides with a terrorist attack (or even rumors of an attack?), police and rescue workers might be stranded or unable to get to the scene. Take a look at the picture of the traffic jam in the linked article and imagine an ambulance trying to get through it.

I hate to be so pessimistic and cynical about this. But there's a point where all the evidence leads to one conclusion: The Olympics are going to be a debacle.

Thanks for the Memories
I want to thank Matt and Scott of Life, Law, Libido for allowing Milbarge and me to join them last week. I am not sure I deserved (or earned) the invite, but I hope I made at least some small contribution to their cause. I would be happy to do it again should the need arise. [internal monologue]Did they even really want me? I wonder if they were just too kind to invite only Milbarge?[/im] Thanks again, guys, and best of luck on the bar exam.

I was going to post this at L,L,L but I would hate to distract the readers from the more substantive posts from Prof. Yin, Energy Spatula, and all the rest.

What Have You Blogged For Me Lately?
[Note from Milbarge: What follows is my last guest post at L^3. It's simulposted here. Although it's really geared more to the readers over there, I wanted to post it here too, for a couple of reasons. First, as you'll see in the post, I feel a need to post stuff here as much as I can. Second, to the extent that readers here aren't also readers there (you should be!), those folks might find it interesting. Third, there is an important request at the end of the post that I want our readers to heed, so I felt it needed to be printed here as well. More on that below.]

As far as I know, this will be the final post from either Fitz-Hume or me during our guest-blogging stint here at Life, Law, Libido. We both want to say again how much we enjoyed it, and how happy we were to help out Scott and Matt.

I also want to say thanks to those guys for not cutting me off until I could dash off this post, even though I'm sure it will be anti-climactic. It's just that I had a couple of thoughts about the nature of blogging, and even if I can't tie them together, I wanted to ramble for a few minutes about them.

Concerning the first topic, it's going to be hard not to sound bitter, but I'm really not. I promise. Like I said above, Fitz and I enjoyed doing this and were glad to be here. But the cold truth is that it hasn't produced many visitors for us on our regular blog, Begging the Question. Now, it may well be true that those "missing" visitors were just Scott and Matt not coming over to visit. Also, it may be the case that the readerships of L^3 and BTQ overlap to a high degree anyway. Moreover (and I really hope this is the case), maybe the true test of carryover won't occur until this week, when we're no longer here.

I don't want to imply that only if one-time non-readers follow us back to BTQ has this thing been worth it. Regardless of the numbers, it's been fun to do and we like helping our friends this way. But, as Eugene ("We're in it for the eyeballs.") Volokh points out, the numbers are one of the few tangible ways to see if this whole blogging thing is worth doing.

So what brings eyeballs to a blog? This is the second topic I wanted to ramble about. I think it's clear that one very good way is lots of posts, frequent updates. It's one thing to get new "customers," but to keep your repeat business, you've got to give them a reason to check back again and again. Why else would these guys need guest-bloggers this month? How many readers would they lose if they just said, "See ya in a month"? My guess is, lots. There are so many blogs, not to mention other demands on our time, that it's really a contest not to be replaced by some other suitor for one's eyeballs.

And what does that lead to? Pressure. Pressure to post something, anything. Apparently, there's even a phenomenon of "blogger burnout," according to a Wired news item. A certain Insta-blogger commented in that article that if he doesn't post for a few hours, he gets emails inquiring if he's okay. We're not quite so popular yet. And our posts, while less frequent, are usually longer and more in-depth. But we do feel some pangs of guilt if we don't put at least something up every (week)day.

Should we? I don't know. When I decided to start a blog, I said it was an extension of emails I had been sending to a group of friends from law school. Blogging was an easy way to get my thoughts to them and save them the trouble of having to check email all day. Instead of hitting "reply all," they could just leave a comment. It's morphed into the current form and doesn't exactly resemble that, not least because those guys rarely comment on the site. Plus, my desire for anonymity means I have to email them about a lot of things that would identify me if I posted them on the blog.

But this group email mentality remains to some degree. Our readership (we get about 100 visits a day, on average) is still small enough that it feels somewhat intimate. And although I thought at first that our blog would only be read by friends we had known before starting it, I have come to consider several of our regular readers friends. Some of them I even email off-blog from time to time. And while I haven't met any of them yet, if I find myself in the same city as them, I plan to at least try. It's that connection with our readers that makes me feel guilty if I don't post anything. It's the same feeling I get if I haven't talked to a friend from law school or college in a while. I don't want to be a bad friend or a poor correspondent. So I post something, even if it's just to say hello to our readers.

Does this mean blog-friendships ("blogships"?) are some new kind of relationship, some new way to interact that is closer than I'd have with, say, the waitress at the diner who knew my order and would chat with me, but not as close as someone I went to school with or work with? Maybe. In fact, I would say that I am "friendlier" with many bloggers than I am with a lot of people in my office. And there's probably 2/3 of my law school class I haven't talked to since graduation two years ago. (For some of them, that makes me very happy; for others, less so.)

What's the point of all this? I'm not promising that I have one. I guess there's just two things you need to take away from all this. First, we consider our readers to be our friends, and want more. So please come visit our site, and we'll try to post plenty of stuff for you. Well, we will post as much as we can without burning out or losing our jobs. Second, speaking only for myself and not Fitz (who's taken), I want blog groupies like these L^3 dudes have. (Scroll down the left column to see them.) I need the personal validation of knowing that attractive women are reading our blog. So please send me your pictures. I'd also like some assurance it's actually a picture of you, but I'll take your word for it (I don't need a Proof of Life-style picture of you holding up a sign with BTQ on it or something). If you don't want it posted on the blog, that's fine. Send it anyway. Maybe I'll end up being in the first blog wedding. Right now, I'll be happy with a blog date.

OK, I've clearly got blogs in my belfry, so I'll quit. But I'm serious about encouraging you to visit Begging the Question, and I'm serious about needing some eye candy from our readers. Thanks again to Scott and Matt, and good luck on the bar exam from both of us!

[Postscript from Milbarge: My request for "eye candy" goes double over here, because I know folks reading this are our true loyal readership. I'll also tell you that one reader has sent us a picture already, and I promptly fell in love with her. I can't guarantee that won't happen with you; you'll just have to take that risk. Thanks, ladies!]

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    Milbarge Recommends

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    The views presented here are personal and in no way reflect the view of my employer. In addition, while legal issues are discussed here from time to time, what you read at BTQ is not legal advice. I am a lawyer, but I am not your lawyer. If you need legal advice, then go see another lawyer.

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