Sunday, January 30, 2011

My Sunday Feeling

One of the local meteorologists calls it a "false Spring." As I type this, I am sitting in the swing on my porch. Which is pretty much my favorite spot on this planet. I am wearing shorts and a golf shirt. Speaking of which, the first tee time of the new year is a couple of hours away. It will be interesting to see how my newly diagnosed creaky back holds up.

The high today is supposed to be around 70. It is hard to believe that a couple of weeks ago the highs were in the twenties. The streets here in the People's Republic of Hillcrest are full of activity. Folks are running and walking with their dogs. Young people are pushing carriages. I think I hear more birds than usual although for all I know there are just as many out singing today as there were when there was snow on the ground. Even better, Girls are Riding Bikes in Shorts.

Things are looking up.

I always look forward to the Spring. I find that the older I get, the less I tolerate the cold. I find the shorter days and Central Standard Time to be unbearable at first. I get over it pretty quickly but I can understand why some folks don't. I felt that winter induced depression come creeping back in a week or so ago when I stood on the first green at War Memorial taking pictures of the winter scene to the North of me. It seemed to me that I had never seen a sky so gray or felt a wind so cold.

Which, of course, is silly. But Winter can make a person think like that.

It's not as if this Winter has been any harder than the ones in the past. Sure, it's either been too cold or too wet to play golf for well over a month. At least too cold for me. But you will some hardy fools out there in frigid conditions, their round undoubtedly warmed by ingesting much Tennessee manufactured anti-freeze.

I just don't think that I cope as well as I once did. Perhaps that is a sign of my advancing age. Goethe supposedly uttered "More light. More light" as his last words. I'm with Goethe. The longer I live the more I am appreciative of the light. Which is why I love the Spring. The light returns every Spring.

I know that Winter is going to slap us upside the head at least a couple more times before returning North where it fricking belongs. I've seen snow in April. I know we are experiencing a false Spring.

But a day such as today gives me hope that the flowers and the birds will return. That the golf course will be full of drunks yet again and not just with the ones trying to keep warm.

And, best of all, Girls will be riding Bikes in Shorts again on a regular basis.

More Light. More Light.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Injury Report

OK. So he's not a complete pussy. Today's MRI revealed that Jay Cutler sustained a Grade 2 sprain of his Medial Collateral Ligament sometime in the 2nd quarter of last night's NFL Championship game with the Bears' most hated rival, the Green Bay Packers.

Been there. Hurts like hell for about a week.

And I'm sure that he didn't need to be trying to play quarterback behind a leaky offensive line that was at least partially responsible for the league record 53 sacks Cutler took this season with his mobility compromised. I get that.

What I don't get is this: Every time I have sustained an injury to my lower extremities, I have been put on crutches. And I don't have near as much invested in me as the Chicago Bears have in Jay Cutler. Why didn't they have him on crutches? Why didn't they put a brace on him?

Could it be that, contrary to the story that the coaches and the medical staff made the decision to jerk him, that they really didn't much believe that he was hurt that bad?

It would be the easiest thing in the world to make an invidious comparison at this point in the narrative. So by all means let's do it. Cutler, for his wondrous talent, is somewhere in the high middle of the Jeff George-Ryan Leaf continuum. Ryan Leaf is still widely considered the biggest bust in the history of professional sports although JaMarcus Russell's sensational flameout with the Raiders makes him a close second. Jeff George, mercurial headcase that he was, could still get feelers from clubs if he were 10 years younger. Hell, he may still be for all we know.

I know that the camera wasn't on Cutler the whole night. But when it was, his impassive face gave the impression that he didn't much give a shit. We have all seen injured players cheer on their teammates from the bench. Cutler looked for all the world that he had checked out emotionally. Can you imagine an injured Drew Brees standing off to himself after being injured? Of course you can't.

Which again makes you wonder what happened in the locker room at halftime. Or it makes me wonder.

Professional athletes are like politicians in a certain respect. They all have a certain amount of political capital available to them and images count for a lot. In the world of sports, especially in the hyper-macho world of professional football, once it appears that you don't have heart, it's hard to overcome that.

The imagery that was transmitted from Fox yesterday rightly or wrongly painted the picture of everything about certain of our professional athletes that infuriates sports fans.

This is what I can't get out of my head. The Bears say the MRI revealed a knee injury. Why wasn't Jay Cutler on crutches if that's what they suspected Sunday afternoon?

They put me on crutches. And I am nobody.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

My Sunday Feeling

My father died when I was a senior in college. Accordingly, my law school education was financed by the Student Loan Guarantee Foundation and the United Methodist Church. When I left law school, I was in debt to the tune of about $35,000. That seemed like a lot of money to me at that time. I was able to defer it for awhile when I worked for the Legal Services Corporation. But those days ended when I got laid off by the Reagan administration and was forced to obtain a real job.

I lived in apartments for most of my young adulthood as I was determined to pay those loans off before buying a house. Besides, I didn't want my nascent credit rating to suffer by getting a judgment on me. That, and I figured I would be subject to a Higher Judgment if I stiffed the Methodists. Eventually, pay them off I did and then I bought the little house where I still live here in the People's Republic of Hillcrest.

People have different ideas about debt. When I was young, I carried a balance on my credit card because that was the only way that I could finance my then riotous lifestyle centered around women and bars which were, and are, both expensive endeavors. Suffice it say that I have calmed down considerably since those halcyon days back when I was young and had potential. I don't have any unsecured debt to speak of, I have equity in my house and I am heavily invested in a 401k and a pension. While I am by no means a wealthy man, I am comfortable and I am secure. I am extremely fortunate and I do not take my good fortune for granted which is why I donate a considerable amount of money to various charities. I have been very lucky and I believe it is my duty to try to help others who are down on theirs.

End of sermon.

Like a lot of young people, I went to law school because I didn't have anything else to do. I had thought about seminary but my ardor cooled after meeting the English rationalist David Hume while obtaining an utterly useless degree in Philosophy at Hendrix. Conversely, Vic Nixon, my retired pastor started to go to law school and wound up at Perkins. He has said on more than one occasion that he and I both wound up where we needed to be. I still don't know what Vic really means by that.

Times are different now. Law school was always kind of a scam. They let folks in fully expecting to get rid of 1/3 of the first year class after taking their tuition. But a person could take a gamble on getting a law degree back then, even if you had no idea what you were going to do. The economy, though improving, is still basically in the dumper. The New York Times recently published an article in which it questioned whether incurring a bunch of debt is worth the gamble given the fact that jobs in the legal profession are scarce. You can read it at the jump:

Strictly as a matter of economics, it can make sense to choose not to repay a debt. Indeed, a young man featured in the Times article, can't repay his loan because he doesn't have a full time job. It doesn't worry him. Until he finds employment, he can't pay. He doesn't worry because there is no use to worry. And we have all heard of folks who have just walked away from their homes because it simply did not make sense to make payments on a home that due to market conditions was worth far less than the mortgage encumbering it.

Are such people deadbeats? I don't think so. Sure, there is a moral implication at work here in that when you sign a contract you are giving your word that you will repay. But lots of companies make business decisions to default on contracts all the time. Now, if I had quit paying on my student loans when I had a perfectly good job to sustain me then I would have been a deadbeat. That's because my decision would have been based on my personal considerations and not because of economic necessity. Similarly, are folks that file bankruptcies deadbeats? A few. But 75% of them are the result of medical bills, divorce or poor business decisions. And that's the honest to God truth.

Which brings me at this point in this tedious lecture to a fairly recent phenomenon around here in these parts. Which is folks you wouldn't ordinarily consider capable of criminal acts, committing crimes solely to get them out of financial hot water with their creditors. Not to buy food or crack even. Just to get out from under debt.

There is an old saying amongst us bankruptcy lawyer types. There is always a solution to a money problem. Some are worse than others however. I get a person who steals because he is hungry. Or because that's just what he does. Some people are just crooks and know nothing else. I do not get committing a crime when you ought to save face. Or for a one shot score to come up with money for debt service. There are better solutions.

Consider the case of a lawyer named Jones. Jones was a real estate developer and title lawyer. He and his family had a big assed house out in Chenal Valley. The house was subject to two mortgages. A balloon payment of about $300,000 was coming due on one of them and Jones was having trouble coming up with the money. Now Jones was worth a lot of money on paper. But while he was asset rich, he was cash poor. And he couldn't borrow any more money on his big assed house because it wasn't worth what was owed against it.

Did Jones swallow his pride and try to reorganize his debts with a Chapter 11? No. He torched his house for the insurance, made up a cock and bull story about how intruders broke in and set the fire which nobody believed. Least of all the jury that found him guilty and for which he caught 10 years.

Or take the case of another lawyer named Lewis. While not much is known about the state of his finances, he is alleged to have sold bogus water and sewer bonds on improvement districts that did not exist to three or four banks, thereby skinning them for millions in the process. A banker friend of mine says she heard that he just printed them up himself. Which took some stones if you think about it. In any event, the whereabouts of Mr. Lewis is known only to his lawyer, although you can bet that there are numerous State and Federal law enforcement and regulatory agencies that would like to have a word with him. Don't look for him at his 7,000 square foot house in Chenal. It's abandoned.

Finally, we turn to the absolutely bizarre tale of a man named Fueget who robbed a bank in January of 2009. Fueget worked in insurance and in financial planning. The irony of the latter job description will soon become readily apparent. Anyway, you will note that I didn't leaven Feuget's offense with the word "allegedly." This is because he is claiming that he is not guilty by reason of diminished capacity (the so-called "insanity defense") due to being on the anti-depressant Zoloft and the A.D.D. drug Adderal at the time he committed the offense. According to his expert, these meds gave him delusions of being a John Dillenger type figure and compelled him to commit the offense.

The problems with this defense are obvious. In the first place, the defendant invoking the defense neccesarily concedes that he committed the act that he was charged with. Which puts the Prosecution about 2/3 of the way there. This is why, contrary to popular fiction, the "insanity defense" is rarely invoked. Really.

Mr. and Mrs. Feuget, who incidentally used to be neighbors with a friend of mine, are in a bankruptcy themselves. Which the prosecution hammered away at on cross in order to establish motive for the crime. However, according to the paper, Feuget testified that he could have stolen more money at his day job if he had been so inclined. Which is not the sort of thing that I would share with a jury. And the missus testified that, despite the bankruptcy, money was not a real problem as they were living off of her income as an R.N. Be that as it may, a review of the bankruptcy docket for their case reveals that the Chapter 13 they were in has been converted to a "no-asset" Chapter 7 case. Which certainly implies something different.

All I know about this case is what I read in the paper while the jury is weighing the actual evidence. And their opinion is the only one that matters in the case. The defense seems far fetched to me. But then again I know of a woman who evidently became a compulsive gambler while on medication for restless leg syndrome. So who knows? I just know a lot more people being treated with Zoloft than I do people that stick up banks.

But let's assume the jury doesn't buy it. Then you have 3 instances of people from basically the same upscale part of town committing criminal acts (I characterize Lewis's behavior thusly as I feel certain that he will be indicted for something ) for their personal gain during roughly the same period of time. Which I find remarkable for a little jerkwater town like Little Rock.

There is always a solution to a money problem. The young lawyer in the piece in the Times made the decision that it didn't make economic sense to try to pay back his law school loan when he didn't have a job. That ain't insurance fraud or bank fraud. It requires a special sense of entitlement to attempt to game the system just to come up with some money.

But then again some people are just deadbeats.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

My Sunday Feeling

Where to begin? Jared Loughner's deadly rampage last week in which he wounded a Member of Congress and 12 others, killed a Federal Judge and a little girl among others has sparked a debate across the country about a couple of subjects.

By all accounts, Loughner appears to be smooth running crazy. His mental condition, which seemed tenuous at best, deteriorated in the period of time before he showed up at that Tucson shopping mall where Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was making herself available for her constituents. Indeed, the New York Times reports that the night before the incident, Loughner took pictures of himself in a g-string variously pointing the Glock he had recently purchased at his buttocks and his crotch.

I'm no psychiatrist but it would seem to me that there's a lot going on there.

Obviously, this idiot had no business with a handgun, even given the fairly non-existent standards for carrying a concealed weapon in gun happy Arizona. But the better question to me is: Who, apart from law enforcement, has an absolute right to carry a 9mm with a 31 bullet magazine? Does one really need that much ordinance for personal protection? Loughner had 2 other clips on him. Thank God a couple of brave souls jumped on him before he could reload and wreak more carnage.

The Supreme Court recently held that the District of Columbia's blanket ban on handguns in the District violated the 2nd Amendment. OK. Fine. But many if not all of our constitutional rights are subject to reasonable regulation by the government. I may fervently believe that my religion allows me to have sex with teenage girls. But that's not a defense to a Mann Act charge. Ask Tony Alamo.

Why are guns sacrosanct and exempt from more stringent regulation? Again, is it absolutely necessary to possess exotic weaponry to be secure in your home and on your person? Do we really like the idea of the Jared Loughners of this world being able to outgun your average cop? Or your average Arizonian even? Handguns are good for one thing and one thing only: Killing people. Do you NRA types really believe that the occasional Virginia Tech type massacre or a Jared Loughner going off on innocent people exercising THEIR constitutional right to peaceably assemble is the price we pay for freedom?

I sure as hell don't. And I don't think that any of responsible gun owners that I know do either.

The second topic of conversation kick started by this tragedy is a discussion about the language used in our political discourse in recent years. Specifically, some folks blamed Sarah Palin's PAC whose website had cross hairs on certain congressional districts targeted for defeat by it. Congresswoman Giffords' District was under those cross hairs. Which she complained about.

Predictably, Palin issued a statement in which she said blaming her for this tragedy was "reprehensible" and a "blood libel." Leave it to a narcissist like Palin to equate criticism with an ancient and despicable lie about Jews. Gabby Giffords damn near gets her head blown off and Palin's the victim here? Please.

But I agree with her in that from what we seem to know about Jared Loughner, he was more motivated by the "silicone switch inside his head" than politics of any conventional sort. For instance, Loughner seemed to be enamored with the theory that the government imposes rules of grammar to enslave the populace. Which makes Glenn Beck's ravings seem positively Lockean by comparison.

Again, I am no psychiatrist, but it seems to me Gabby Giffords got herself shot because she is an attractive and powerful woman. Which made her an apt target for a punk like Loughner, who did not enjoy much of a track record with the ladies. And then there's that g-string and gun thing. No, this wasn't an attempt at political assassination. 2 of the victims just happened to be government officials. This could have just as easily happened to an attractive movie star making a public appearance. Hell, this could have happened to Sarah Palin.

But I do have a suggestion.

After 9/11, the sportswriters and sportscasters pretty much made the collective decision to quit using metaphors of war to describe sports. So you don't hear much about players being "heroes" or references to "bravery" or "courage" on the field of play. This is because such references are inappropriate when the United States has troops in harms way.

If the sportswriters can tone it down, why can't the politicians? References to "taking an opponent out" or resorting to a "2nd Amendment solution" to political issues are inappropriate and may serve to inflame the less stable amongst us. And even scarier, the less stable amongst the Tea Party.

Indeed, condoning such intemperate talk is unAmerican if not downright treasonous. There. I said it.

So shoot me.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Today's Wally: The BCS Title Game

In today's column, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's Wally Hall shares his thoughts on tonight's BCS Championship game between the Oregon Ducks and the Auburn Recidivists. First, let's set the scene.

Grantland Rice Wally is not: "A blistering, white sunrise is scaling the mountains and there's a desert chill in the air..."

Really? Compared to who?: "Auburn, truly an outstanding university..."

No. They really are. Unless you count UAB: " [i]s almost always the other school in the state of Alabama."

That and they somehow wound up with Cam Newton: "Which may account for some of the success the Tigers have had this season."

The Ducks are standing in the way of stepping out of the Crimson shadow? Huh?: "It is about stepping out of the Crimson shadow, but standing in the way is a good, very good Oregon football team."

Or Cecil Newton's if you want to make the metaphor actually somewhat apt : "Oregon will play like someone is trying to steal its money."

I prefer to think of them as milers with a kick at the end: " The Ducks are sprinters who can go the distance."

Change the word "to" to "about" and it will at least resemble English: " (Oregon)Coach Chip Kelly's mentality to playing on college football's stage is different than (Auburn's Coach) Chizik's"

Oregon State, truly an outstanding university..."[O]regon is the Alabama of that state."

I'm thinking France maybe: "Nike co-founder Phil Knight has made sure has made sure of that (Oregon being the Alabama of that state and all) with updated facilities and enough uniforms to to outfit a medium sized country."

The same one that was another color in the first sentence: "When the searing orange sun sets here today..."

Making stuff up: "[A]merica will be treated to a track meet in shoulder pads and a game that most likely will be decided on the final possession."

And just think. Tomorrow we'll be treated to another column full of such penetrating insights.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

My Sunday Feeling

"Patrick...was found dead on the morning of January 6, 2010, at the apartment of a young man in downtown Little Rock. He was the victim of a likely heroin overdose."

Thus began a lengthy obituary concerning the brief life of a 2o year old kid in yesterday's Democrat-Gazette. Patrick's life was a contradiction. He was a wrestling champion in high school. He was an Eagle Scout. He was an accomplished artist. He was a National Merit Scholar but did not graduate from high school. Still, he was offered a scholarship to UALR on the basis of his ACT scores. Alas, he dropped out. And the young man couldn't stay clean.

" It is hard to imagine how a person finds drugs despite all the time we invest to protect them from drugs and push them in the right direction."

Obituaries are hard to write. I know. I've written 4 or 5 in my day. They are hard to write even when you have a degree of emotional detachment about the subject. You have to accurately depict the life of the departed while at the same time give the reader some idea of what made that person who he or she was. That is why when I wrote my mother's obituary, I circulated the first among my brothers and a couple of trusted friends. It was my brothers' job to look for factual errors. It fell to Phil and Don to tell me if I had laid it on too thick.

Grief makes us do crazy things. You need a second set of eyes at such times. You need someone you trust to take you aside and tell you to maybe rethink decisions that you thought were made with a clear head. Because you do not have a clear head when you are grieving. You just don't. And some things are said at such times that cannot be taken back. Similarly speaking, once the obit runs, it can't be taken back.

I did not know the young man in yesterday's obituary. I don't think that I know the family although Little Rock being the one horse kind of place it essentially still is it is entirely possible that I've met some of them. I cannot imagine the pain and frustration attendant to watching a life so full of promise snuff itself out through the abuse of drugs. And from what I can see, good parents constantly second guess themselves. It comes with the territory. I would have to imagine that Patrick's family is doing plenty of that right now. And my heart goes out to them.

Grief can make you angry too. I have seen that as well. And I think I detected it in Patrick's obituary. I'm not saying that the author is not entitled. Or that the graphic depiction of his untimely passing might not prove to be a cautionary tale to those that may be tempted to fool around with drugs. Such an obituary can teach as well as inform. And perhaps that was the author's goal.

I'm not being critical. 20 year olds typically don't die unless absent a tragic circumstance. But perhaps I would have let it go by saying that he was a troubled kid whose life was tragically cut short. That's all the public needed to know.

I'm glad I passed Mom's obituary around before sending it. One of my brother's pointed out that I had omitted a deceased cousin. Guys whose opinion I trust assured me that the obituary was fine. They would have told me in no uncertain terms if I had gone overboard. You need a second set of eyes at a time like this.

Because grief makes you crazy. It is merely difficult to take back things you might say. But it is impossible to take things back when you write them down.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Height of Presumption

The new Republican majority in the House of Representatives has announced that one of its first orders of business will be to read the Constitution of the United States on the floor of that chamber. I don't have a problem with that. I think the Constitution is one of the grandest documents ever devised by the mind of man. I think it probably should get aired out every now and again. I personally am exceptionally fond of the Section of Article I that prohibits the States from laying Duties on the Import or Export of Tonnage.

But that's just me.

Now one might think that this is just a political stunt to keep the Tea Party loons revved up without really making a serious effort to, say, eliminate the Federal Reserve, but I'm willing to give the Rs the benefit of the doubt. So let us turn our attention to the political stunt.

When they actually get around to filing Bills, the Member introducing his or her Bill will explain under what provision of the Constitution the Bill is authorized under. This is actually pretty clever. It implies that the previous Majority introduced legislation without regard to the Constitution. It also imbues the new legislation with the patina of sanctity. At least for their target audience that has but a Christine O'Donnell level understanding of both the Constitution and the legislative process.

"Let's see those liberal Democrat bastards vote against Ron Paul's Bill to return to the gold standard. It's Constitutional ! "

As I like to say at times like these, here now is a teachable moment. Guess what? The first rule of statutory interpretation by a Court is this: A law passed by Congress is entitled to the presumption that it is Constitutional. This is without regard to which party introduces it, whether it is the product of bi-partisan cooperation or if it is rammed down the throat of the Minority by the Majority. And this is true is without regard to whether the law was sanctified by a citation to the Constitution when introduced. Or the United Methodist Book of Discipline for all that it matters.

Which is a big reason why laws passed by Congress are rarely overturned by the Federal Courts. State laws get overturned on Constitutional grounds with far more frequency than Federal laws. Another reason for this is that once a Bill is introduced in the House it is referred to the appropriate House Committee with its armada of lawyers for hearings and debate. Any initial questions about Constitutionality can get hashed out here. For a better discussion of this process you may click on the jump:

I gotta hand it to the rascals. This is pretty clever as theatre. But it has absolutely nothing to do with the Constitution.

And having said that, I think I will turn now to the section in the Constitution on Letters of Marque and Reprisal. I like that part too.