Monday, April 27, 2009

Vox Populi: The Lady At The Liquor Store

" For the life of me, I can't balance my checkbook to save my life," said the lady ahead of me in line. " I am constantly overdrawn. Thank God for overdraft protection."

" Isn't that expensive?" asked the kid behind the counter. "My bank charges me a fortune when I bounce a check."

" Yes," she said. " But that's the only way I can be sure that my checks will clear. I can't balance a checkbook to save my life."

She paid for her purchase-with a check-and left.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

My Sunday Feeling

I was blissfully unaware of the existence of the "Nation for Marriage" website and the brain dead video it put out concerning the national peril of gay marriage until Frank Rich's column of last week in the New York Times. "The Gathering Storm" is damn near unwatchable in its faux solemnity and limited production values. The parodies of it that sprung up practically overnight on the Internet are far more entertaining as performance art.

Query: What did these idiots think would happen? Gay folks have access to technology too. And they tend to be better at it and funnier than a bunch of tight-assed lying straight people.

But I don't really want to delve back into my position on this other than to say that the gay friends that I have are about as exotic and militant as I am. Which is to say about as exotic as Tupperware. I say that if you oppose gay marriage, don't marry a gay person. And somehow the notion that gay relationships threaten straight relationships is preposterous.

It's not like I am likely to say, " Gee, living life as a second class citizen with no legal protections about the joint property acquired during a union with another man seems like the way to go. Where do I sign and is there any test involved?" However, I do concede that certain tedious discussions about the appropriateness of certain sexual activity is instantly off the table. They got that going for them.

No. What I am interested in is a new argument that is making the rounds, one which pops up in "Gathering Storm." It goes something like this: My religion opposes homosexuality. Therefore, any accommodation of such relationships by society interferes with the free exercise of my religion which is guaranteed by the 1st Amendment.

No kidding.

My first response is that's a pretty narcissistic view of your religion. I am not overly fond of televangelists and other white collar-no pun intended-criminals. However, the fact that they have a right to ply their dubious trade is not questioned by me. Nor they affect my religious practices in the slightest.

Secondly, to have such a worldview is not that far removed from the way those old rednecks used to think. The only thing they had to be proud of was the fact that they were white. Which is why the Civil Rights movement was so threatening to them. The immutable characteristics imposed upon you by the entirely happy accident of your birth are no basis upon which to run an orderly society.

But this theory is out there. It is an equal opportunity basis for expressing intolerance. Certain pharmacists are using it to justify not filling prescriptions for birth control medicine. And some old boy over to Gassville used a variation of it the other day as a defense to a bank robbery
prosecution. No lie.

According to the Democrat-Gazette, our hero entered a little bank over there, implied he had a weapon and demanded money. While he was busy binding the hands of the tellers a local police officer snuck in and got the drop on him.

His defense? He felt entitled to rob the bank because the IRS violated his constitutional rights by taking too much money from him in taxes.

Naturally, he represented himself. And just as naturally, he took the stand to explain himself. Cross examination did not go well.

"So," said the prosecutor." " You believe you have the right to rob a bank and tie people up because the IRS violated your constitutional rights?"

" Yes," was the answer on cross.

The jury was out all of 5 minutes before returning a verdict of guilty.

The existence of people you don't like doesn't violate your rights. You are not that special.

And it sure as hell is no defense to a prosecution for armed robbery.

If you want to see the video go here. It's dumb.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

My Sunday Feeling

"OK. Where's a screwdriver? I'm going to fix this damn thing once and for all."

She stood before me with half the doorknob to the bathroom door in her hand.

" I thought you fixed it," she said.

" Well, I just screwed it back together," I said. " I guess I forgot."

" You need to fix this," she said as she headed back to the bathroom. " I can't help it if I am stronger than I look."

We all bring different gifts to the party. I am not completely useless around the house, the preceding lecture notwithstanding. But I concede that my skill level is somewhere between "not completely useless" and "can hang pictures by myself." Which is unfortunate as I live in an old house. And there is something always going wrong with an old house.

Here's a true story. The Previous Administration wanted a dremel tool for Christmas one year.

"Ok," I said. " What's a dremel tool?"

" You're kidding," she said. "You don't know what a dremel tool is?"

" Ummmmm, noooooo."

" You poor sweet man," she said as she patted my forearm as she regarded me with pity. " You poor sweet man." She then walked away shaking her head, undoubtedly wondering how she had wound up with the only straight guy in the county who didn't know what a dremel tool was.

So, thus knowing when I am whipped, I recently retained my neighbor Jimmy to do a series of small repairs here at the Hillcrest Sports Bar. Jimmy runs a handyman service. People are taking better care of their property and/or merely staying there longer. And so Jimmy is a very busy man.

I mainly needed my front gate fixed and the door to the laundry room replaced. But while he was here he was going to do a series of other small jobs.

" I think you need to replace that latch," I helpfully observed as he was poking around on the gate. " The wind has caused it to bend over time. Maybe a latch made with stronger metal. "

He put the earpiece of his glasses in his ear and ran his tape measure from the house to the latch. He looked at me with a " do I tell you how to practice law?" expression on his face.

" Actually, you are looking at this backwards," he said. " Whoever built this fence didn't put the post in deep enough over yonder. My guess is he hit the slab about 2 foot shy of where he needed to be to stabilize this gate. By the time he got here he was probably too far ahead and just decided not to tell you that this gate would be trouble eventually. The post by the house has been moving over time. That's what is causing the stress on the latch."


" How are you going to fix it?"

Jimmy is hunkered down and scratching his chin.

"That I do not know just yet."

The door in the laundry room folds like a screen. It recently got all hung up. I was afraid to try to force it.

" I hate these doors," Jimmy said as he shined his light up the top hinge. " This is the 'flat roof' of doors. They always have problems and they can't be fixed for good. You can't fix it. I can't fix it. But it's cheaper to just get it to halfway work than to put a new one in. Because eventually you will have trouble with it too. You will have trouble with this kind of door until the Lord comes."

I did not know that. But his explanations concerning the door and the gate made me feel less idiotic than I did before hand. Why beat myself up? The gate was screwed up by the moron that built it. The only permanent solution to the door in the laundry room requires Gabriel to blow his trumpet first.

Such things are out of my control.

Jimmy must have figured something out with the gate. It works fine now although he comes by from time to time and eyes it with professional skepticism. So far so good with the laundry room door. It is either working or I have not been called to Glory yet. At least I have my doubts on that latter score as I don't believe that I would have gotten a text from Don about how GM "fucked the Saturn brand up" if the Rapture had taken me this morning.

I know this. While we bring different gifts to the party, one woman's "poor sweet man" is a man whose head another woman is about to put a knot upon.

So I better fix the doorknob.

After all, she can't help it if she's stronger than she looks.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Vox Populi: Wild Blue Yonder

Polycarp: Did you hear about the pilot who got grounded after a video got out on the Internet of him fooling around with a porn star while flying a helicopter over San Diego?
tmfw: Yes I did! I looked it up. The woman in question is an allegedly Swedish actress named Puma Swede.
Polycarp: This would be her stage name, yes?
tmfw: We may safely say that Puma Swede was not the name conferred unto her upon her baptism, no.
Polycarp: I am unfamiliar with her work.
tmfw: As am I. However, I do not believe that you will find her in any movies by the late Ingmar Bergman.
Polycarp: Probably not.
tmfw: What did the FAA ring the pilot up for anyway? I would opt for a strictly legal defense as I doubt that they can point to a regulation that specifically prohibits having sex with a porn star named Puma Swede while flying a helicopter.
Polycarp: No.
tmfw: They probably fell back on what the FDIC relies on when it goes after a bank when the fastball ain't working. It alleges "unsafe and unsound practices."
Polycarp: Close. The FAA argued that he was "careless and reckless."
tmfw: Ah.
Polycarp: They said the pilot's attention was diverted from flying.
tmfw: I can see that.
Polycarp: He was unable to reach the controls while she was.....
tmfw: Yes
Polycarp: That she could have injured him thereby rendering him incapable of flying.
tmfw: A stretch, though I concede that so called "unexpected turbulence" could have been exceedingly worrisome under the circumstances.
Polycarp: Here's my favorite.
tmfw: Yeah.
Polycarp: They also charged him with "idle chatter" while flying.
tmfw: There probably wasn't much that was "idle" about it.
Polycarp: We are talking in the strict aeronautical sense of the phrase.
tmfw: Ah.
Polycarp: He plans on appealling. His defense was that since the video shows his hands on the controls, he was in control of the aircraft.
tmfw: That was his defense?
Polycarp: Yes.
tmfw: That's not gonna work. They got him dead to rights on "idle chatter."
Polycarp: There you go. I gotta run. I suddenly have an interest in getting my pilot's license renewed.
tmfw: Bye.
Polycarp: Bye.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

My Easter Feeling

I attended a Memorial Service for the father of a good friend of mine the other day. I seem to be doing a lot of that lately. The service was held at a stately old Episcopal church downtown. The same one Douglas MacArthur attended when he was a boy. You could look it up, as the famous theologian Casey Stengel used to say.

The service was hardly a somber occasion. Dr. Thomas lived to be 95. He worked up until a year or so ago. He lived independently, albeit with a helper, until 2 or 3 months ago when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. His son moved him into a nursing home where he died in his sleep a week or so ago.

We should all be so lucky. Most of us won't be.

I like the Episcopalians. The older I get, the more I am comforted by liturgy and symbols, by a mode of religious discourse that has remained relatively unchanged over time. The older I get, the less I am tolerant of preachifying. And don't even get me started on so-called "contemporary services" with the power point presentations and lousy music.

I concede that I haven't given it a fair chance. I don't care. I concede that I may be starting to act like a cranky old man.

I don't care about that either. Last time I looked it was a free country.

Nothing will put you off religion like theology. I have been grappling, on occasions when I feel like a good grapple, with the issue of theodicy, which is the branch of theology that concerns itself with reconciling the notion of a benevolent and loving God with the reality of human suffering. These days, as far as I am concerned, when it comes to suffering, bet the over.

And so it is that my church attendance has been irregular lately. I have trouble more and more manufacturing sense from what I perceive to be nonsense nowadays. Why should religion be any different? After all, there must be some reason God gave us brains and it can't be to give neurosurgeons something to do.

One of my best friends in law school has reached the same impasse. Or so I thought. He has begun attending Mass again. I asked him why.

" I don't know," he said. " I just felt like I needed to start going. Hard to explain." I understand how he feels. I enjoyed being amongst the Episcopalians yesterday. And I intend to attend services on Easter Sunday with my sister-in-law and nephews. I don't much know why either.

I know I like the Spring. The weather has been pretty crazy lately but things are blooming and the grass has returned. Baseball, both Major and Miracle League, have returned. My dogwoods really took a beating during the ice storm in 2000 and yet they still bloom a little. I hate to pull them out as long as they are going to stubbornly insist upon resurrecting themselves as best they can every year. I seem to be becoming friends with someone. I like it. It has been awhile. Things are going pretty well this Spring.

Easter, with its transcendent themes of triumph over despair, is far more compelling to me than Christmas, that most-and I apologize in advance- infantile of seasons. Victory remains in love at Easter and helps to put things in perspective.

We must all contend with despair from time to time. And yet we stubbornly insist on resurrecting ourselves as best we can.

I don't much know what I believe anymore. But it does not hurt to be reminded that victory remains in love.

At least it always does on Easter Sunday.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The Road Not Taken

As far as I was concerned, the fact that Bristol Palin got pregnant was a non-story. An otherwise nice kid made a poor decision and got pregnant. It happens. It doesn't happen very often to the daughter of somebody that's running for Vice-President. But it happens.

And I was even willing to view this as a non-story despite the fact that all candidates for office put their family out front and center to show how "normal" they are even though you would have to be about 1/3 nuts to run for office in this great land of ours.

But the recent hyperthyroid response on behalf of the Palin family to certain remarks made by notorious babydaddy Levi Johnston on the "Tyra Banks Show" bothered me.

Johnston gallantly told Banks and that segment of the electorate that actually watches this kind of dreck that he and Bristol were allowed to share a room by themselves at the Palin house (ostensibly while he was visiting her), that they had safe sex "most of the time" and that Governor Palin probably knew that they were carrying on, Moms being smart people and all.

The Palin family went ballistic. They issued a statement that said " We're disappointed that Levi and his family are engaging in flat out lies, gross exaggeration and even distortion of their relationship."

Oh yeah?

We know they had sex. Young folk do that sort of thing. We know that at least on one occasion they didn't use any birth control method other than crossing their fingers because Bristol because there is a new baby crawling around in the Governor's Mansion. And since we can assume that these two star-crossed lovers didn't sneak off for romantic weekends at the Juneau Ritz-Carlton much less the Red Roof Inn of Wasilla, Levi's statements at least have the ring of truth.

I don't know what he was "flat out lyin'" about. But I do know where his testimony was absolutely credible. It was unseemly to the extreme given the forum in which he chose to dish on his former "fiancee". (Yeah right.) But it was credible. More so than that stupid statement issued by the Governor's family.

They would have been better off with something like the following:

"We are disappointed that Levi would discuss such intimate matters involving the mother of his son on a television show. As we prefer to view this as a family matter, we will not dignify his statements by any further comment."

But I guess when you are a conservative icon you can't take the high road when it is alleged that your teenage daughter was sexually active with her boyfriend. Even though it is self-evident that this was the case.

Like that's a crime. Like that makes either of them bad kids. Or you a bad Mother.

I guess it just makes Sarah Palin a bad Icon.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

My Sunday Feeling

I know I've been writing a lot about sports lately. But there's a lot going on out there nowadays. You have the return of baseball for another season. The college basketball season is winding down. And coaches are getting fired left and right as is typically the case after every season. This creates many openings and people leave positions they have to take these jobs. This causes the usual sturm und drang amongst jilted fans and the media about whither the "sanctity of contracts." So let us review, yet again, the basic law of contracts in light of a couple of recent events. And let's put a lid on the sanctimony.
The latest big news out of the NFL is that Denver Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler just got traded to the Chicago Bears. Cutler is a Pro Bowl caliber QB who played for a mediocre team. After last season, the Broncos brass hit the panic button and fired long time coach Mike Shanahan and replaced him with Josh McDaniels, the former offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots. Shanahan was under contract with the Broncos when he was canned. McDaniels was under contract with the Patriots when he took the Denver job.
Cutler has a rifle arm and a thin skin. Word is that he was pissed when Shanahan got fired. But what really set him off was when the new regime started shopping Cutler around right off the bat. Then they basically lied and told Cutler that they had done no such thing. Cutler saw red and demanded to be traded. Which led McDaniels to say, presumably with a straight face, " Jay Cutler is under contract."
But you don't need a pissed off quarterback at the controls. And if you had made as big a mess of things as the new regime had made of this situation you need to get this story turned off. So they traded Cutler, contract and all, to the Bears where Cutler will get to run for his life until he demands to be traded to someplace else.
Are you getting the picture here?
What people don't understand is that implicit in every contract is the right to breach. The 13th Amendment is the law of the land. You don't have to work for anybody you don't want to. But if you signed an employment contract there are certain consequences for if you quit. Conversely there are certain consequences for your employer if you are terminated for reasons other than misconduct connected with your employment.
The legal effect of the breach is not that somebody gets burned at the stake or has to wear the Scarlet Letter in the town square. The legal effect is, typically, already agreed to by the parties in a liquidated damages clause which prescribes the damages for breaching the contract at the day of signing when hearts are still young and gay.
In other words, it's just business. Which doesn't always sit well with sports fans, primarily college sports fans, who tend to project their own romantic notions of business ethics and morality onto the movers and shakers who profit from their, well, fanaticism.
And to these people I say, " Get real."
Take our very own Wally Hall. If you must. One of his sports columns last week was entitled "Anderson man of word, committed to Tigers." He was referring to Missouri's Mike Anderson who turned down the men's basketball job at Georgia to remain with the Tigers. While Wally candidly admitted that the Mizzou job is a better gig than Georgia, Wally had to go further and schmaltz it up a bit.
" He gave his word."
Not exactly. According to Wally, Missouri's AD asked Anderson what it would take to keep him there. This was " probably right after they won the Big 12 Conference Championship." Wally has no more idea of when this occured than you do. And for all we know he gets his information the same way you and I do: Either from the media or he just makes it up.
In any event, Anderson gave Missouri his wish list and they agreed to it. And after he removed the gun from their head "he gave his word."
Wally says Mile Anderson is an honorable man. And from what I know of him, and all I know is what Wally knows, this is the absolute truth. It is also but minimally relevant to the discussion.
Because if a job pops up in the future that Anderson wants, he will direct his agent to throw his hat in the ring for him. Or, if he has a couple of bad seasons, Missouri will can him. Contract or no contract.
Bidness is bidness. And, conventional morality aside, implicit in every contract is the right to breach.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The Dirty Arms Race Just Got Dirtier

I remember watching 60 Minutes 15 years or so ago. The story was about mob lawyers. They asked one guy about the largest fee he had ever been offered. He said that somebody offered him a million bucks.

" Did you take it?" he was asked.

" Hell no," he responded. " You take that kind of fee you better win the case. Otherwise they will kill you. I got a family to consider."

John Calipari just signed the most obscene contract in the history of an obscene business. Kentucky will pay him @ 32 million over 8 years. Memphis had said that they would match any offer that Kentucky put on the table to keep him coaching the Tigers. Obviously, at some point, the bidding got too rich for the Tigers boosters' blood and they had to fold 'em.

Hell, at that the bidding could have gotten too rich for a member of OPEC.

About all I have to say to the Kentucky faithful is, ask George Steinbrenner how easy it is to buy a title. And those are the pros. Calipari specializes in guys that are "one and done" mercinaries who play for a year or two and then jump to the NBA. Is he going to still recruit those kind of guys to Kentucky? And speaking of "those guys" is he still going to try to keep the Memphis pipeline going to Lexington? Lots of luck.

And granted, the SEC was pretty horrible this year. But still, there's stiffer competition night in and night out there than in the Atlantic 10 and Conference USA.

Kentucky pulled the trigger on Billy Gillespie in 2 years. How long do you think it will take for the muttering to start over in the fishbowl that is Kentucky basketball if he Calipari doesn't start winning big out of the chute? Not very long, I predict. Not very long.

There's a reason the mob lawyer refused that big fee. Life is a lot more fun if you aren't constantly having to watch your back.