Begging The Question

Friday, February 11, 2005

"King of the Hill" Quote of the Day
Hank, agahst at seeing Connie being forced to mow the lawn: "Kahn, what are you doing? Mowing the lawn is a privilege, not a punishment."
Kahn: "I'm putting fear of God into Kahn Jr. She learn what it like to be you!"
Hank: "You know, it's that kind of permissive parenting that forfeited your country to the Communists."

Five for Milbarge: Turnabout is fair play
Here is another Friday Five. Yours truly provided the questions. Milbarge, after a little Gitmo-inspired persuasion, provided the answers. Enjoy.

1. What was your worst job?

I feel fortunate that I haven't had many bad jobs...or many jobs at all, for that matter. Not working at a lot of jobs makes that bar application a lot simpler. I think I've only had twelve jobs. Six of those were summer gigs between school years; three were school-year work-study jobs; one was for the year between college and law school; and two since I've graduated. So my worst isn't that bad, but when I was younger, I spent about six weeks one summer working at a McDonald's. I worked the breakfast shift, so I got here around 5:00 and left around lunchtime. I was in the back, frying up sausage and bacon and slinging them onto biscuits as needed. The good thing about it was that McDonald's wasn't the best breakfast place in our town, so it was usually pretty slow until noon. But it was a pretty miserable few weeks. The building was old and cramped (it mysteriously burned down a couple of years later and there's now a gleaming new one there), it was hot and greasy, I had to stand for hours on end, I had to go to bed when it was still daylight so I could get up on time, and I had to punch the clock every time I turned around. I know that there are millions of people who do that every day for years, and I never take that for granted, because I hated it so much that I decided I never wanted to do it again. Before I worked there, I used to eat at McDonald's fairly often -- it was near our high school and an after school/late night hangout. But in the ten years or so since, I've probably eaten McDonald's fewer than two dozen times, and that from a man who has been known to eat some fast food burgers. I just don't like it anymore. Still, at least it sounds better than Fitz's experience at Taco Bueno.

2. Tell us about a place to which you've never been but that you hope to visit some day.

This is tough because "place" is very open-ended. I think I'll stick with city. I like to travel but haven't done nearly as much as I'd like. I think I would have to say Boston, which I feel like I would enjoy visiting or even living in. I'm a history buff, so there's that, I like cold weather, there are lots of college girls around, it's a big sports town (even though I'm not a huge fan of any of the Boston teams, I hate all the New York teams, so that would help), and it seems like there's lots to do. The one drawback would be the traffic. I'm like Randal in Clerks who said he hates people but loves gatherings. I like cities but hate traffic in them. Still, I think this can be minimized if I were to live there, by living near where I worked and using the T. Runner-up, for the same reasons, is Chicago, except substitute "the El" for "the T." And, if I'm just there for a visit, the traffic is less of a big deal.

3. Your top-five list of television shows/series. Go.

This is incredibly tough, because it's not limited by genre or anything. I decided to only go with shows I watch(ed) religiously, or very much enjoy catching in re-runs. I mean, I think you could state that a show like, say, "The Honeymooners" or "I Love Lucy" was one of the "best" because they were so definitively sitcom-ish; they established the genre. But I never watched them much. So I made this a personal list. My own top five are "The Simpsons," "The Andy Griffith Show" (black-and-white episodes only), "Magnum, P.I.," "Hill Street Blues," and "Seinfeld." I didn't want to do a five-way tie for fifth, and I don't want to be derided endlessly about it, so I won't tell you which show(s) almost bumped "Seinfeld" off my list. I like that show a lot, but there are others I like just as much. UPDATE: I thought about this a lot, and I've decided to change my answer. I came very close to putting "Freaks and Geeks" on this list, and after having stewed over it for half a day, I'm going to bump "Seinfeld" for it. It was really 50/50 yesterday. What swung it was my realization that I would buy the "Freaks and Geeks" dvd before the "Seinfeld" dvds, and remembering that when ABC Family ran re-runs of the show at midnights on Saturdays, I would skip (or record) both "Saturday Night Live" and ESPN's late "College GameDay" broadcast so I could watch "Freeks and Geeks." If it beats those two head-to-head, it's a winner for me. (Sorry to hijack your post for this update, Fitz.)

4. Describe one of your guilty pleasures (not sweet tea).

I don't think I have a lot of "guilty pleasures." I have a lot of pleasures, but not many I feel guilty about. For example, I don't apologize to anyone for my love of sweet tea. Without wracking my brain too long, one thing does comes to mind (perhaps because I was just thinking about television) that I enjoy but really think I shouldn't is the show "Wild Boyz." If you're not familiar, it's basically "Jackass" meets "Wild Kingdom." Steve-O and Chris go to exotic locales, hang with the locals, check out the local customs, flora, and fauna, and have a blast. It's total goofiness: "Oh, here's a scorpion -- let's see if he'll sting my butt!" I didn't watch the series "Jackass" very much, but sometimes late at night, "Wild Boyz" is showing on MTV2 and I check it out. It makes me smile.

5. I want to read a band story. Amuse me.

This is the first one that came to mind. I played drums in junior high and high school. For a variety of reasons, by the time I was in high school there were no drummers in the class ahead of me, and about half a dozen in mine. What this meant was that we had two years of being the top dogs, because it was like we were seniors our junior year as well. The weird thing was that the same thing was true of the class two years ahead of us, too, but there were only two of them, so that meant some of us were playing cooler instruments (like the snare drums instead of just walking around crashing cymbals) as freshmen. That kind of power goes to your head in a system where seniority and hierarchy are important. We didn't really have "chairs" or "challenges" in the drum section like you might see when the #2 clarinetist wants to sit in the first chair. There was definitely a preference when it came to what you played, though. During marching season (the fall), the best drummers played the quads (the four drums on a harness contraption), then came the snares, then the bass drums, and finally, lowest of all, the cymbals. We were all pretty lazy and laid-back, and the band director ("Ern," who was normally not cool at all) let us do our own thing. It was always clear who the best drummer was, and he (we were all guys) was kind of the captain, but that really only entitled him to choose which cadence we played when, but we ended up playing them all, so that wasn't a big deal. But there wasn't any real difference between being snare #1 or #6; they all played the same part and we didn't have solos. We had a lot of fun because we basically didn't give a crap about anything. We were the cool guy rebels, and all the band chicks and flag girls (in our high school, the girls who were too slutty to be cheerleaders!) loved us. We totally ruled. And because we were drummers and more or less goof-offs, we never got treated like "band geeks" by the rest of the school. Our school wasn't really cliquish anyway, and our sports teams sucked, so we didn't have much of a jock culture.

Anyway, the point of all that intro stuff is to make it clear that by the time we were seniors, the six of us in the drum section were used to having our way and being the coolest thing going. And we took it out on the only kid in the class a year behind us, a moron named Brandon. It's not like any of us were Buddy Rich, or even Lars Ulrich, but Brandon was incapable of playing on the beat, let alone marching in step at the same time. He was our Private Gomer Pyle (and he bore a resemblance, too, which helped). So, we treated him pretty badly. We justified it at the time because he had a snotty attitude about being so bad, but maybe that was a chicken-and-egg thing. One thing I remember us doing was playing "steal the bacon" during lulls at band camp. We'd be out on the field, and Ern would be endlessly working with some other section, and we would pass the time by getting in a circle, and then tossing a water bottle or something on the ground in the middle. The object was for one of us to dash into the center, grab the bottle (the "bacon") and make it outside the circle. Although simple in theory, the sprint was complicated by the other members of the circle, who immediately closed in on the bacon thief and gang-tackled him. (I think this is a variation on a game some people call "smear the queer," although our was more spatially was like Red Rover meets Fight Club.) Naturally, we made Brandon try to steal the bacon most of the time, and used the game as an excuse to whale on him.

OK, so marching band season was a blast, but concert season (the spring) sucked. The songs were a lot less fun to play than the stadium-anthems from the fall. The worst thing was that the drum parts were usually pretty easy, and we could pick them up quickly. The band parts, though, we much tougher, and practices could literally go an hour without a drummer ever raising a stick because Ern had to work with all the other instruments. So, whereas the object in marching band season was to get out in front and play loud all the time, the object in concert season was to play as little as possible. We only used one bass, two snares, and the tympani during concerts, plus all the various instruments like cymbals, the woodblock, the triangle, etc. that we mocked as the "tinker toys." Since there were so many of us, we had to divide the songs among us and sit the others out. One of our concert pieces was usually a march or other up-tempo brief piece, and I always tried to get that one (I played tymps) because the band picked it up the quickest and I knew we would practice it the least. I hated getting stuck with some half-hour long dirge containing only a few tymp booms and having to stand around like a yokel while these high school geeks tried to master Shostakovich or somebody.

The reason we wanted to play so little during concert season is because of all the fun we could have while we weren't playing. The drummers who weren't playing on a particular piece would hang out somewhere out of sight of Ern. If we were in the auditorium, we would be behind the curtain, and if we were in the band room, we might slip into the storage room or just wander the halls. (We lived like kings, I tell you!) Note also that my senior year our high school went to a block schedule, so band class was 100 minutes long every other day. You can wander around a lot in an hour and a half. A lot of times, we played gin rummy or shot the bull or copied each other's homework or whatever. Anyway, finally, now that I've set it up, the story.

Once, we were playing some awful song. Naturally, we put Brandon on the scut detail and assigned him the tinker toys for this one, so he had to stand there like a goon all day and wait for one big cymbal crash right in the middle of the song. Brandon chafed and refused to play the cymbals. We were in the bandroom and those of us not playing were sitting against the back wall, with the drummers on snare and bass hiding us from Ern's view. Brandon sat there sullenly, pouting at having to play the cymbals. We began imploring him, then ordering him, and finally threatening him. We were using those loud stage whispers at first, but because it was kind of hard to hear over the band, we gradually started talking louder and louder. Eventually we were talking in normal pitch but trying not to draw too much attention to our artful inaction. Well, the big point in the song where the cymbals should have crashed came, and there was of course no crash. We barely noticed because we were giving Brandon such a hard time. The guy sitting next to Brandon was a kid in our class named Jason, who probably would have been the worst of the lot if not saved by Brandon. I can see this happening like it's in slow motion: Jason turns his head so he's inches away from Brandon. The band director, realizing something's not quite right in the drum section, waves the band to a stop. The room falls deadly silent as every head follows Ern's glare at our corner of the room. Jason, oblivious to Ern's action cutting off the band, opens his mouth just as they stop playing. And he speaks in a voice that we would have strained to hear above the music a second ago but now bounced off the acoustic tiles like a diva's aria. Jason, seething, says, "Brandon, play the goddam cymbals 'fore I kick your goddam ass!" The band gasps. We lose it, laughing uncontrollably. Ern gets in a snit: "Who said that? I'm going to come back there and wash somebody's mouth out with soap!" (Direct quote.) Jason, recovering nicely, looks around and mutters, "Yeah, who said that?" Ern demands to know who missed the cymbal crash, and we all point to Brandon, who has to get up and play tinker toys all spring.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

"King of the Hill" Quote of the Day
Dale: "I believe a child benefits from the psychological approach. When I need to correct Joseph, I tell him he's adopted."
Bill: "My dad used to punish me by telling me I was a girl. He used to make me wear dresses. Pretty, pretty dresses."

All-Request February: Iran
Lionel Hutz and Col. Rhombus both asked, essentially, "Hey BTQ, WTF are we supposed to do about Iran?"

Gents, I haven't any idea. I doubt there is an easy answer. My gut reaction is that the only chance we have of avoiding a(nother) land war in Asia is for Iraq to succeed as a relatively free and pluralistic society. And to do so quickly. If that happens, then the mullahs will have a very difficult time retaining power and we can hope that more moderate folks eventually take over the reins in Persia. Don't ask me for the over/under on Iraq succeeding. I hope it does, but it's still too early to tell.

Not a very good answer, I know, but aside from "turn the Iranian desert into a plain of radioactive glass" I don't have anything else. The best I can I can do is point you in the direction of others who have more to say on this topic:

Tom Friedman's piece in the NYT. It's a message to Democrats about Iraq tangentially related to the subject of Iran. (link via BTQ's very first link to instapundit)

Blog Iran - a blog with lots of Iran-related news.

The Iran Regime Change blog (via The Adventures of Chester).

You can check The Command Post, too. They provided good information during the invasion of Iraq, but I've not kept up with their page since then.

Indepundit has this post about opposition to the mullahs within Iran.

Finally, I googled "Iran has nukes. Now what?" and did not get anything helpful. Just a bunch of conspiracy theorists and the nut-jobs at Free Republic.

Frankly, I find the scenario advanced in this Belmont Club post a more frightening prospect than a nuclear Iran. The mullahs are crazy, true, but they can probably be persuaded by the notion of self-preservation. Some smart, but no-name America-haters can't be held accountable in the same way.

I'm sorry I can't be more helpful. Oh, one last thing that I think is worth mentioning is that US is not and cannot be the only nation concerned about a nuclear Iran. India, China, Russia (to a lesser extent perhaps), and Israel have vested interests in containing the proliferation of nukes in the Islamic world. The EU does as well. Granted, the US might be the most obvious target of an nuclear attack, but we're certainly not the only target.

Help me, Mr. Fun Ball, you're my only hope.
Holy crap. So many Star Wars dorks. I've been laughing for 20 minutes. Tears are streaming down my face. Even now, typing this, I'm laughing. Thank you Mr. Fun Ball.

Alternative title: First annual Abstinence Olympics a rousing success!

You're spies like us!
This morning, at a high-level meeting in the White House, CIA analysts told the President they have "slam dunk" proof that North Korea has completed production on some nuclear weapons.

In related news, has this story on the home page.

That's Doctor Throat to You
I saw this first in The Corner and then on How Appealing: John Dean says that Bob Woodward's inside source for his Watergate reporting, code-named Deep Throat, is very ill. If you're newly sentient and haven't heard, they chose the name Deep Throat because the source spoke on "deep background" (not for attribution, even as an anonymous source), and it was a play on the name of a then-popular porno movie. Bob Wooward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post, along with editor Ben Bradlee, have vowed to reveal the source's name once he or she dies. Apparently, that day is near.

The Cornerites (and a friend whose email sparked this post) suggested that one candidate to be Deep Throat is Chief Justice William Rehnquist (funny coincidence, given his current throat problems). Rehnquist, of course, served as an Assistant Attorney General in the Nixon administration before his Supreme Court appointment in 1971.

I don't Rehnquist is Deep Throat for several reasons. First, he was already on the Court by the time of the Watergate break-in. He probably still had friends in the administration, but who knows how tight the bonds were between the gang at Main Justice and at the EOB. It seems more logical that Deep Throat would be a West Winger, given that the source would have to have access to the scuttlebutt about the cover-up and slush funds and all. Frankly, I just don't see a sitting Supreme Court Justice meeting Bob Woodward in a parking garage to dish dirt on folks in the White House. But I guess anything's possible. Note also that Woodward wrote The Brethren not long after all this, and I think Rehnquist was one of the Justices who agreed to off-the-record interviews. So maybe that's the connection -- maybe that book came about because Rehnquist was Deep Throat! In sum, I think Rehnquist is an implausible Deep Throat. If he is, though, I would expect him to want to get the last word in, or at least the definitive word. Knowing that he will be "outed" when he dies, surely he has already written his account as a competing history. I'd be amazed if Rehnquist let it go unanswered, even from beyond the grave.

But really, I think a more plausible Deep Throat is Dr. Henry Kissinger, Nixon's National Security Advisor and Secretary of State (the Condi Rice of his day!). I have several reasons for this supposition. First, Kissinger was known to be friendly with the press and didn't mind being a source when it suited his purposes. Second, he would have known about what was going on, if not beforehand then at least early on, simply by his proximity and because he was one of the few people Nixon confided in as his circle drew tighter. For both of these points, recall the scene in All the President's Men (or maybe The Final Days, I forget) when Nixon, a Quaker, asks Kissinger, a Jew, to kneel and pray with him -- who else but Kissinger could have been the source for this tale, and kneeling in prayer often accompanies confession. Third, Kissinger was able to keep his hands clean from the Watergate mess because he was more involved with foreign policy and the scandal was seen as a domestic matter, so he wouldn't have been risking implicating himself or his underlings if he talked to Woodward. Fourth, he comes off just fine in those books, and Woodward has been accused of trashing those who don't grant him access and talking up the roles of those who do. Fifth, from a less cynical standpoint, Kissinger could have felt that the Cold War, the situation in the Middle East, Chile, Cyprus, China -- not to mention Vietnam -- required a President's full attention and a President who could signal to the world that the U.S. was ready and able for action. That would have been preferable to a nation embroiled in an impeachment. So Kissinger might have talked to Woodward as a way of hustling the scandal to a conclusion, knowing that he wouldn't be brought down with Nixon and would instead surely stay on in a Ford administration. Sixth, Kissinger was head of the NSA, so the cloak-and-dagger encounters with Woodward seem almost natural (one reason that some suspect that former CIA Director George Bush was Deep Throat). Deep Throat told Woodward that his phones were bugged and his life was in danger, and the NSA would have been in a position to know that. Finally, has anybody seen Henry Kissinger lately? How's his health?

For a lot of the same reasons above, I think Kissinger's deputy and later Nixon's Chief of Staff Gen. Alexander Haig is a possibility. At times, he had even greater access to Nixon than Kissinger did. But Haig has denied he was Deep Throat, and I think it seems contradictory to his role as damage control officer. If he was trying to spin Woodward, it surely didn't work out for Nixon. Ultimately, though, I think "Deep Throat" was probably a composite of several sources, and Woodward and Bernstein and Bradlee will credit the best/main source and let the others off the hook. So, once Deep Throat dies and is named, expect a flurry of stories by the Watergate cultists scouring the records for whether the named source could have met with Woodward and still made it back to a Georgetown dinner party or something. The cult goes on forever...

I'll be curious about who gets outed, but not obsessed. I care much less than this post would indicate. I just wanted to offer a few reasons why I doubt Rehnquist was Deep Throat, and suggest a few why Kissinger would be a more reasonable guess. I won't name the anonymous background sources I used in composing this.

UPDATE: Thanks to Howard Bashman for the link to this post, and the pointer to this story about an "Editor & Publisher" poll about the identity of Deep Throat, which Rehnquist won (Kissinger finished tied for third). I realize now that I misstated when Rehnquist joined the Supreme Court -- he was nominated in 1971, but was not sworn in until January of 1972. Still, that was well before the break-in at the Watergate. One reason given for the Rehnquist choice was that Deep Throat was nice to Attorney General John Mitchell ("Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!"), Rehnquist's former boss. Like I said, I'm not a Watergate-obsessive, so I didn't recall much about Mitchell in All the President's Men aside from his famous line warning Katherine Graham that she would get her tit caught in a wringer if the Post ran a certain story. Anyway, I guess that's another item in the Rehnquist column, but I still find it doubtful that a sitting Justice would have worked with Woodward to bring down a President. It just seems beneath him, like something out of a Grisham plot.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

"King of the Hill" Quote of the Day
A couple of nice ones about Dale and his wife Nancy:

Dale: "Boy, her can looks so sexy when she's walking away, it's almost a shame she's gonna turn around and come back."

Dale, sniffing Nancy: "Boy, you smell good."
Nancy: "Thank you." (sniffs Dale) "I like your tie."
Dale: "Found it on the ground."

All-Request February: It's what everybody in this car needs is some good ol' worthwhile visceral experience.
Energy Spatula and Kristine asked for first kiss and significant kiss stories. How about a good kiss? Will that do? Good.

I was a freshman in college. On Friday nights a group of guys from my ROTC unit would head down the highway for about 40 miles to a country and western bar. This place was like something out of Pure Country complete with a house band, Texas-sized dance floor, and $3 pitchers. It was out in the middle of nowhere but it was always packed. There were plenty of young ladies to dance with and the beer flowed like wine. Even my Milbarge-like roommate, once we got him into some boots and Wranglers, did well with the ladies at this joint.

Well, one Friday, a couple of pitchers of ice-cold Miller Lite into the evening, we saw come through the door several girls from my dorm. They had heard about this place and decided to see what the big deal was. None of them had ever been to a bar or club and none of them had ever two-stepped. One of these girls, Jenny, who I knew only because she had (I thought) a raging crush on one of my friends came over and chatted me up for a few minutes. She took a drink out of my beer then asked if I would show her how to two-step. I willingly obliged and took her for a spin around the floor while the band played some Okie-fied rendition of George Strait. I bought her a beer after that dance and we chatted a little more before she asked to go back on the floor. We danced together for the next couple of hours.

By last call Jenny and I were basically in our own little world. I don't remember talking to or dancing with anyone else that night. As the bartender flipped on the lights, and the place started to empty, Jenny asked if I could give her a ride back to campus. Of course I would. She smiled and hurried off to tell her friends. I headed over to tell my roommate and the other guys who rode with me that they would need to make other arrangements for the return trip. That proved unnecessary. The situation must have been obvious to them, because although they didn't say anything, I got a bunch of head nods, knowing looks, and smiles.

Once in the parking lot, the guys who rode down with me just yelled a "good night!" and piled into someone else's car. (As an aside, this is a perfect situation to illustrate the difference between men and women. Jenny had to talk the whole thing over with her friends for 10 minutes, with lots of "oh my god's" and giggles. My guy friends simply saw the situation and instinctively knew what to do without any exchange of words.) Jenny scampered over, eyes beaming and hopped into my souped-up '86 Camaro (that I owned a red hot-rod Camaro is without a doubt the most embarrassing thing I've ever written on this blog). We talked for the first few miles of the drive. Then she laid her head on my shoulder and rested her hand on mine and we just cruised up the highway in silence. After several miles, she looked up at me and said, "You know, I like you." She then proceeded to kiss me on the neck. She kissed her way up my face and to my mouth, and, having slipped out of her seatbelt, maneuvered over the gear shift and into my lap. I wasn't about to ask her to stop (and she showed no intention of stopping on her own), but I couldn't see the road. I couldn't see the speedometer, either, but I'm pretty sure we were doing over a hundred at that point. I was tempted to keep driving down the highway just like in the movies, but I had the good sense not to try that. I was able to pull over to the shoulder without too much difficulty and then devote myself to the task at hand.

We kissed on the side of the road for a long time. Long enough that the windows of the car fogged over. Long enough that the sky started to lighten with the coming dawn. Long enough that farmers in pickup trucks passed by on their way to the cafe. Not until around 6 am on Saturday morning did we finally get back onto the highway. We stopped a short while later for breakfast at a roadside diner before cruising back to campus.

And that was my first really good kiss.

Pensieri Casuali
1. The name of this post was inspired by Fitz telling me that someone visiting BTQ translated it into Italian, and "pensieri casuali" was how my "random thoughts" posts came out. I like it. It makes it sound nice and lyrical when it's really just an excuse to post something. I've been very busy at work (really!) and engaged in some Mardi Gras stuff. (No bacchanalia, but a pretty girl did grab my ass...long story.) And, I just haven't found much worth blogging about lately. Fitz and I have been discussing the purpose of human existence and the nature of the soul, but I haven't been able to come up with anything coherent enough to post. I can't post about most of the stuff in our most recent all-request post, because I don't really have anything to say about those topics. Sorry, I just have nothing to say at all about them. My two worst interviews, for example, led to me getting job offers, so I don't think those can count. Anyway, I wish I had more to post about, and more time in which to do it. But I also don't want to force it -- I'd rather have a good post every other day than two bad posts every day. As always, stay tuned and I'll do what I can.

2. The next Star Wars movie is coming out in less than 100 days. This little story from Wired News asks what the Star Wars freaks are going to do once it's all over.

3. Be advised that there now exists a product called Chocolate Lucky Charms. I don't eat a lot of cereal because I don't like milk very much, but I couldn't live without trying these. They are exactly as AWESOME as you think. Enjoy.

4. This isn't about a real person, but I saw a cute girl working at a fast-food place recently, and I thought I'd write a poem about that. So, okay, maybe it's about a real person, but the feelings expressed therein aren't mine. I feel like I have to add that disclaimer lest you people take me too literally. Anyway:

"Ode to an Asst. Mgr."

Alison, they gave you the keys to the store,
But along with your title came oh so much more.
I'm just a customer who gets it "to go,"
But the time has come, dear, and I think you should know:
You take down my order without any errors
And being without you is giving me terrors.
I read your nametag and pronounce it "assed merger,"
The buns that I dream of aren't on the burgers.
I don't know your schedule, so I play love roulette,
But the fire in my heart burns like your flame-broiled briquettes.
You reach for the fries and I see your tattoo,
If we could just be a combo I'd always be true.
Your radiant hair never lands in my food,
I'd tell you my feelings, but you might think me rude.
So for now I'll just order the dinner for one,
But when your shift's over, will you be mine, Alison?

5. Finally, GO DUKE!! Go to Hell Carolina! (Don't waste your time, because all anti-Duke or pro-UNC comments will be deleted. Fair warning.)

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

"King of the Hill" Quote of the Day
Hank, handing Luanne a list of the house rules: "The way I see it, you are in direct violation of four of our rules."
Luanne: "You had it notarized?"
Hank: "No water usage after ten p.m. Nine o'clock curfew on school nights. Entering the master bedroom without verbal permission. And you're barefoot in the kitchen! Ladybird eats off that floor!"
Luanne: "God only has ten rules, Uncle Hank, and His house is much bigger."

All-Request February: I have no chance, do I?
Kristine requested a worst interview story. That's easy. It happened during the fall of second year. The interview was with a BIGLAW firm in Denver. The interviewer was an alum of my law school. He practiced natural resources law, the very practice area I was interested in. Denver? Alum? My areas of interest? So far so good, right? Well, the interview started off badly because it was immediately obvious that the guy had no time for me. He was preparing to fly to Jackson Hole for a meeting with some clients and he was frantically gathering his materials for the trip. About 5 minutes into the interview, he glanced down at my resume and asked if the GPA and class rank were accurate. I said yes, to which he responded, "Oh. Well, let me be frank with you. We are one of the top firms in the country. Lots of people want to work for us. We really only like to hire people who have federal appellate clerk experience. With your grades you don't have a shot at an appellate clerkship. You know, middle of the road law students from middle of the road law schools really have no business applying with top of the line law firms." He then had his secretary make copies of the pages of the Denver bar journal listing the insurance defense firms in town and suggested that I contact firms that would be more interested in someone with my credentials. He then asked if I had any questions, because if not, he had a plane to catch. I excused myself and quickly left the building. I walked back to my car, where I had fed the meter enough coins to be there for 2 hours. There was an hour and forty minutes remaining on the meter. It was the twenty most humiliating hours of my adult life, made all the more so because of the unexpected nature of the whole encounter. Needless to say, I did not get the job.

Monday, February 07, 2005

"King of the Hill" Quote of the Day
Peggy: "Look, if you want a dog inside the house, it says right here that there are several hypoallergenic breeds of dog, such as poodles or hairless."
Hank: "A poodle? Why not just go all the way and get me a cat and a sex-change operation?"

The Other Weapon in Rice v. Paladin: Does the Second Amendment Require Civil Immunity for Gun Manufacturers?
Prompted by a discussion in some comments over at the Clearly Erroneous blog, I have been thinking about the Hit Man case, Rice v. Paladin Enterprises, Inc., 128 F.3d 233 (4th Cir. 1997). A brief summary: Paladin was a publishing company that produced various anti-social texts like a book on how to pick locks and another on how to make silencers. It also published a book called Hit Man, which was an instruction manual allegedly written by a professional killer. The author goes into great detail on how to plan, commit, and conceal a contract murder. The Fourth Circuit's opinion opens with a long (although edited) excerpt, if you want a taste. Anyway, a guy in Maryland used the book as a guide for committing a brutal murder of a handicapped kid, his mother, and his nurse, in an insurance scheme by the kid's father. Representatives of the decedants sued Paladin for wrongful death, alleging that Paladin aided and abetted the murders by publishing Hit Man. For the purposes of summary judgment (my guess is that they wanted to short-cut the proceedings), Paladin conceded the aiding and abetting; in other words, Paladin admitted it not only knew the killer would use the book to commit the murder, but conceded that it intended this result as well. Nevertheless, it argued, the First Amendment protected it from civil liability. In a well-written opinion by Judge Michael Luttig, the Fourth Circuit disagreed. Specifically, while "absract advocacy of lawlessness" is protected from criminal prosecution by the First Amendment (Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444 (1969)), aiding and abetting a crime via speech isn't, under the theory that the speech at issue is a "speech-act." (Telling people how to evade taxes is a paradigmatic example.) And, the court holds, speech that may subject the speaker to criminal prosecution may also subject the speaker to civil liability, even if it assumes that mere abstract advocacy of lawlessness would not. (For those of you interested in the general subject of blaming crimes on publishers and the like, note that tomorrow night's "Law & Order: SVU" is about a rape-murder that prosecutors blame on the killers imitating a video game.)

That assumption, not tested of course because of Paladin's concession, is based on the values behind the First Amendment. We think free speech is important enough that we'll let you advocate breaking the law without worrying about getting sued (as long as your speech isn't designed to incite imminent lawless action and is likely to produce that result). So that got me wondering: What other constitutional values are that strong? What about the Second Amendment? Let me spin a hypothetical, and please do me a favor and don't argue the hypo, just accept it, no matter how unlikely in the "real world." Thanks.

What if a gun manufacturer conceded that it designed and marketed a gun with the knowledge that it would be used illegally? Let's say it designs and touts the gun as impervious to fingerprints, or that it holds a silencer really well, or is super-easy to convert to full-automatic, or that the serial number is easily filed off, or something -- maybe someone who knows more about guns could help me with something realistic here. (Even if some of these aren't illegal in themselves, let's assume these features make the gun more attractive for those who want to use it illegally and not be identified -- just like reading Hit Man isn't illegal in itself.) The details aren't terribly important -- for purposes of this hypo we could assume the manufacturer advertises its gun as "The Robber's Helper." What's important is that the manufacturer knows that its gun will be used illegally, and concedes as much in court when sued for wrongful death.

Leaving aside whether I agree with it as a policy matter, I think a legislature could permissibly grant immunity from civil liability to gun manufacturers in these circumstances. But does the Second Amendment require it? To borrow a term used primarily in First Amendment jurisprudence, do we need this much "breathing room" under the Second Amendment? I'm not a Second Amendment expert (or First, for that matter), but I think you could make a reasonable argument along these lines. In perusing the Paladin case a bit, I saw an amicus brief (1997 WL 33549419) urging the Supreme Court to grant cert and reverse the Fourth Circuit's decision (it didn't). It was submitted by the Horror Writers Association, and the authors conceded that their work would lead to copycat crimes -- they knew that some people would read a Stephen King novel and try to imitate it. Similarly, in my hypo, the gun manufacturer knows that some purchasers will use its product illegally (and I suspect that's not limited just to my hypothetical anti-social manufacturer). Still, is the interest in legal gun ownership -- and the risk that civil liability would chill the production of guns -- sufficient to override the knowledge that some people will use guns illegally? Again, from a policy standpoint, I think a decision-maker could answer that question affirmatively or negatively -- it would depend on the value one places on legal gun ownership and one's calculation of the risk of chilling it.

From a constitutional standpoint, however, I think one could argue that this question has been answered affirmatively, in a way that would bind courts and policy-makers and bar civil liability. The reason the Second Amendment is in the Constitution is that its authors felt that gun ownership was a pretty important principle -- as a purely textual matter, on par with the principles in the First Amendment. Now, I'll leave aside whether the Second Amendment should be read to protect a collective, or connected-to-the-militia, or individual, right to own guns. And let's not get into that here. Regardless of the answer, it's clear to me that the concept of (somebody or some body) legally bearing arms was important. And it's also clear that civil liability, based on nothing more than mere knowledge that someone could use the gun illegally, could prove ruinous to gun manufacturers. It would be cost-prohibitive to produce guns under a regime with the blanket rule that the manufacturer had to design a gun that could not be used illegally -- if such a thing is even possible. (Even a device that preveted the gun from being fired except by the owner would not prevent the owner from using the gun to commit a crime, and even in a pure collective rights regime, barring all private ownership of guns, a police officer using his legally-issued firearm could use that gun illegally.)

To be sure, maybe the right to own a gun isn't as important as the right to read a book, and even in the First Amendment context, we can ban some speech even though the possibility of chilling protected speech exists. But, just as one can argue that we shouldn't impose civil liability on a speaker even though the speaker knows a listener will use that speech for illegal ends, I think one can reasonably argue that the Second Amendment prohibits the imposition of civil liability on gun manufacturers even when they admit that they know their guns will, in some cases, be used illegally.

Allow me to briefly mention two tangential issues that I wasn't sure where to place in the above discussion. First, I purposely left aside the intent issue. Paladin conceded that it intended Hit Man to be used, imminently, as an instruction manual for committing murder. And the district judge in the case found that, despite this intention, the First Amendment protected it from civil liability. While the Fourth Circuit held that the trial judge erred, it didn't call him crazy. I don't foresee a gun manufacturer ever admitting that it intended its products to be used illegally. If it did, I would imagine the case would follow Paladin in the face of a Second Amendment defense. I don't think it would be a frivolous argument, any more so than Paladin's was, but I think it would fail for the same reasons. Still, the case is more interesting -- and closer -- if only knowledge is at issue. And we see that kind of thing cropping up all the time -- consider the defendants who know, but perhaps do not intend, that their technology (VCR's, Napster, Grokster) will be used by some to violate the copyright laws. So, I left aside the intent issue. Second, I talked above about the right to own guns and the right to read a book. Well, the First Amendment also protects the right to write a book. And the cases that talk about the chilling effect and breathing room depend as much on the writer's rights and the reader's. So if we compare gun ownership to reading a book, does that mean that making a gun is as constitutionally protected as making a book? I don't know of any cases exploring this, but my assumption is that the right to bear arms includes the right to mass-produce them. I didn't want to go down that road either, but I think it's important to note that First Amendment cases are often seen as a two-way street, with both the speaker and the listener having protected freedoms. That's an additional freedom that may not be equally as present in Second Amendment cases, and may undermine my analogy. But again, I think that's tangential to my main point. I welcome your thoughts in the comments or by email.

SOMEWHAT RELATED UPDATE: Via How Appealing, I see that the DC Circuit has held (19-page pdf) that plaintiffs who sued to overturn the District's gun ban lacked standing to challenge the (very restrictive) law. (For more by me on the DC gun ban, see this old post.) One reason the decision is related to this post is that there is some discussion of pre-enforcement declaratory judgment actions, and whether the test for standing is different under the First and Second Amendments. Interesting stuff.

Taking the U out of RBUS*
So, Soupie felt the need to comment on the recent lack of posts here. That's cool. He's right to call us out for it. It's annoying and a waste of time to check BTQ a couple times a day and only see a King of the Hill quote. People expect some content. In the blog world, like academia, it's "publish or perish." From our traffic numbers it appeats that we're quickly slipping into "perish" territory. Alas, there's little I can do about that. I certainly cannot defend the lack of posts, but I can explain what is contributing to it on my end.

First, you'll notice the time stamp on this post. That's Eastern time. I'm in the Pacific time zone. And I'm at work. And I've been here for over an hour.

Second (really a corollary to the first point), I clocked 82 hours last week. And I've worked 18 this week already (our pay periods begin on Saturdays and end on Fridays).

Third, except for the kind requests made in response to our call for an all-request February, I've got jack to write about. There is nothing I can say about the topics of the day that hasn't been said better by my betters. Plus, there is just not a lot out there that interests me right now. At least not much that interests me enough to write about it.

Fourth, I've got a lot of work-related material that I just can't blog about. Funny stories, sad stories, sad sack co-workers, crazy clients, etc. But workplace rules and discretion dictate that I keep those to myself, at least for now.

So there's my explanation for the radio silence. I'm as frustrated by the sad state of affairs here as anyone else. Trust me. But for the next 120 days, there's very little I'll be able to do about it. I promise that I'll post a response to at least one request per day (send those requests via email, or leave them in the comments to our Groundhog Day post) Monday-Friday every week this month. The weekends, when I'm not working, are family time and that'll be doubly true if this 80-hour week stuff continues. So bear with me, and remember the old Chinese proverb, "Be careful what you wish for."

* per Soupie, RBUS stand for "Random Bout of Unexplained Silence"

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