the most useful gift

I received a package of Tattoo Markers from a Secret Santa this year. The package informs me that they are "BODY ART FOR THE COOL AT HEART" (emphasis in original) and that they are "SPECIALLY FORMULATED FOR DRAWING ON THE SKIN" (ditto). There's black, of course, but the rest of the colors are neon.

I am going to start carrying them around so that I can write "IDIOT" on appropriate foreheads in the course of my average day. I view this as a public service.

Thank you, Gina!


christmas cookie liability and indemnification agreement

Okay, so the organization that created this agreement is a blatant front for the restaurant, tobacco, and alcohol industries. It's still awfully funny. Here it is without any improvements.

Santa Claus, AKA Kris Kringle, AKA Jolly Old St. Nick (hereinafter referred to as "Santa") acknowledges receipt of Christmas cookies from ______________________ (hereinafter referred to as "Baker").

Santa acknowledges and understands that no warranty, either expressed or implied, is made by Baker as to the nutritional content of cookies. This document is offered to duly warn Santa that dangerous conditions, risks, and hazards may result from over-consumption of cookies. Santa is hereby informed that cookies may contain any of the following: calories, carbohydrates, sodium (salt), fat, saturated fat, trans fat, polyunsaturated fat, monounsaturated fat, nuts, sugar, caffeine, and good cheer. Santa acknowledges that eating way too many cookies may incur risks including, but not limited to, satiation, indigestion, heart burn, dizziness, laziness, heart disease, holiday spirit, "food coma," and "that bloated feeling."

As consideration for accepting Baker's cookies, Santa indemnifies Baker from all liability for injury or other harm (including obesity) which may be caused, in whole or in part, by said "too many" cookies. Santa agrees that neither he, nor his heirs or personal representatives will sue Baker for any injury suffered, in whole or in part, as a consequence of binging on cookies. Santa assumes full responsibility and will indemnify Baker for any damages in the event that he transfers cookies to any third party (including, but not limited to, potential claimants Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen, Rudolph, Mrs. Claus, and various elves).

This indemnification includes an agreement not to haul Baker into court on the basis of:

Failure to provide nutrition information and a list of ingredients (the "Grandma's secret recipe" clause);
Failure to caution of the potential for overeating because cookies taste too good and are provided at no cost;
Failure to advise that walking, biking, and jogging will shed pounds, but riding around on a sleigh will not;
Failure to warn that Christmas lights, lawn ornaments (plastic reindeer, snowmen, etc.) and other holiday decorations may constitute manipulative marketing to lure Santa into over-consumption.
Failure to offer "healthier" cookie alternatives (e.g., tofu bars);
Failure to counsel that cookies may be habit-forming and/or irresistible; and
Failure to notify that eating way too many cookies may lead to even greater levels of obesity for St. Nick (the "Sanity Clause").


SANTA: ___________________________ DATE:__________________


i need a screw

No, no, no, it's not what you're thinking. My sex life is fine.

I wore out (!) the right side of my Kinesis Evolution chair-mount keyboard. It took a while for me to convince the stupid tech guy that it really was, well, broken. Only after I demonstrated that half the keys did not work did he conclude, "gee, there must be some physical damage, because I had you do a hard reboot and the keys still don't work." Hm.

The new half came yesterday and it has to be inserted into the plastic sort of flattened clamshell that mounts on the right chair arm. Which means I have to open up the clamshell with the pink-handled office Phillips screwdriver (what can I say, the kit was on sale).

I just dropped one of the screws and it vanished into the Land of Missing Dryer Socks.

I need a screw.

Update: not just a screw, a knife.

The wires that I needed to swap out were tied into the keyboard with little plastic ties that had to be sliced off. But the reassembled keyboard works just fine.


i'm going to Hell

There are a number of reasons I say this, but here's the most recent:

I was updating our Christmas card label template (okay, that's reason number two I am going to Hell) and realized I was missing an address for two of my friends (married to each other).

My friends have unusual names, live in Seattle, and own a house. So I thought to myself, oh, I'll just get their address off the deed to their house at the King County Recorder's Office. Easier than the phone book, I think their number's unlisted.

It only took a second.

It didn't even occur to me until afterward how intrusive that was. That this didn't even occur to me as I was looking up their address is the number one reason I am going to Hell.


at the juerga

This has nothing to do with technology, it's just really cool.

I went to a juerga Sunday night at the invitation of my flamenco teacher, who dragged me up in front of all the aficionadi to dance all four couplas of sevillanas with her. (Note to the cognoscenti: yes, I know that sevillanas is not flamenco puro). By an amazing coincidence, I happened to be wearing my dance shoes at the time.

Found out at class last night that the organizer of juerga, a performer herself, asked my teacher afterwards if I was a professional or one of her students.




I ran what I thought was routine maintenance for a routine glitch in Time Matters yesterday, and blew out all my timesheets--billed work, work in progress, you name it, along with a lot of lesser stuff.

I'm stunned.

Of course I have a backup. In fact, I am carrying it on my keychain right now in a Jump Drive Sport.

But I'm almost scared to try the restore function, which although I've tested in a lackluster fashion I've never really put to the test, if you know what I mean.

Ick ick ick.


year-in-review meme

Here is the first sentence of my first blog post for each month of 2005 (concept courtesy of waterowl).

January: Look, guys. The press is running amok about Judge Paul Bastine's decision to deny poor beautiful Shawnna (hereafter, "PBS") of Spokane County a dissolution until her pregnancy is over.
February: Well, heck. The judge I clerked for, upon quick research, proves to have died about six months ago.
March: After three tries, here is a clear (if not elegant) depiction of the ambiguous signage infra.
April: I figure that if someone is in my office, it's because their life is basically in the crapper.
May: Post-Its (r) changed my life! Well, no, not really.
June: computer programmer or serial killer? You decide.
July: I've never felt the need for vanity plates on a vehicle before, but I'm thinking of them now for the vehicle I'm about to purchase.
August: The Court of Appeals just affirmed the trial court's decision in the case of Poor Beautiful Shawna on ground that you can't enter a default decree which grants relief other than that sought in the petition.
September: I noticed this morning that I was carrying a copy of Lovingkindness and a copy of The Book of Five Rings cheek-by-jowl, as it were.
October: I noticed today that I share an elevator bank in my Very Tall Building with a law firm named (in part) "Grimm Payne."
November: I have noticed, since Blogger has been acquired by the ubiquitous google (no hotlink required), that Blogger's software has been growing more and more sophisticated.
December: According to the goth name generator, my real name translates into Morbid Princess.

And that's the way it is.

electronic paper

I will admit to a morbid fascination for electronic to-do lists, whether on my PDAs over the years (uniformly lousy: the screen is too small, and the scrolling disheartening) or my desktop units. I speculate that it would be both depressing and ultimately freeing to see everything I have to do in one place. I've never been successful in compiling anything that seems like a complete list.

The combined to-do list for my Wonder Paralegal and me on Time Matters certainly has its utility, but I don't necessarily want to create a whole bunch of personal Matters to provide a "container" for the to-dos. Random: have picture of self taken with live python. Post to blog.

With Internet access turning up everywhere but the fillings in my back teeth these days, I've been looking at Web-based services. I started a Ta-Da List but felt it was pretty lame, although simple. Occam's Razor cut a little too close to the bone on this app for me, although I hadn't thought of putting it into an RSS feed and subscribing to it until just now (when I read it on the developer's excellent site).

Enter Backpack. Holy cow. I've yet to actually use this, but I think I could actually use the vestigal web browser on the Treo for to-dos without the entries carrying back to TM when I synchronize it with the Mothership.

A related thought prompted above by my identifying the contrast between the PDA and the hulking mothership on my desk (kind of like Baby Bear and Papa Bear). Although a laptop would be a logical place for a master electronic to-do list, I've never been a laptop girl. Either I want to carry it in my purse, or it needs to be the most powerful machine available to civilians at the time (and then I watch its power seemingly decay pursuant to Moore's Law over the next seven years because that's how long I use most machines).

Feh. I am doing more and accomplishing less.


mi vida loca

The above photograph has nothing to do with the following. I just happen to like the boots I have on today. I stand firm in court when I wear them.


Since the Norse God (a/k/a my spouse) is out of town this week, I found myself at my eleven-year-old's school, with both him and the eight-year-old in tow, having a parent-teacher conference at six o'clock in the morning.

As I was waiting after the conference for the grocery store down the street to open so that I could get a cup of coffee, I picked up my trusty Treo to start emailing clients and OC before my hearing this morning...and realized that I was falling squarely into the 24/7 availability/work acceleration trap that I saw first with the fax machine (rare when I started practicing law), then with the cell phone, and now with email enabled on the cell phone.

I recoiled. I'm tired of multitasking. I want to do one thing at a time, preferably not including scheduling any more parent-teacher conferences that early.


another sign that the apocalypse is near

Thomas Kinkade Inspired Lighting.

I am not making this up.

In fact, it is even worse than I had feared. Not only are there the light bulbs, "designed to provide warmer-colored light than standard household light bulbs," and a "series of unique [sic]" accent lamps, Westinghouse has unleashed upon the world--Heaven help us!--a choice among twenty framed night lights containing "miniature reproductions of Thomas Kinkade’s inspirational paintings." But wait! There's more! "Each night light also contains a Westinghouse color-enhancing light bulb so the colors and hues in each work of art are intensified."

These sound so dreadful I may actually have to buy one.


i <3 chapter 13

I did a Big Trial in 2003 and ended up with a Really Big Receivable when the case dragged on and on. A couple of months ago I got a notice from the bankruptcy court that my Really Big Receivable was in a "best efforts" Chapter 13 plan in which it was proposed that I receive, yes, zero cents on the dollar (memo to client: try harder).

I was quite cross for several days.

Yesterday morning a check from the Chapter 13 Trustee, payable to me, for over seven grand mysteriously appeared in my office.

I heart Chapter 13.


the disappointment of my goth name

According to the goth name generator, my real name translates into Morbid Princess.

Lame-o. I think the dark goddess of replevin is much more goth a name, and I came up with it on my own. I'm sticking with that.

A side note: it has come to my attention that there is an actual human being now with the name of Violet Affleck, which my eye insists on reading as Violent Affect, a much better goth name than Morbid Princess.


further adventures of my persona

Newer readers of my blog (non-Listerine Mawrtyrs, perhaps?) may not know that earlier this year, I took my blog persona, the dark goddess of replevin, and created a corporation sole for her/it/me, just to show that I could. This led to a credit card offer to the dark goddess (credit card companies appear to be fairly wanton about extending credit to any corporation created in Washington state). Which, in the interest of science, I accepted.

Well, I am happy to report that the dark goddess just had her (my?) credit limit on the corporate card raised. By four thousand dollars.

Not bad for an imaginary playmate.


things i must remember not to do

(1) Must not play "just one" game of online Sudoku before leaving for office in the morning. There is no such thing in my world.

(2) Must not compose and send email via Treo while driving. At first, it was just when I was waiting for a green light on metered on-ramps, but now...


time manipulation

As my family's Executive Chef, I was delighted to replace both my circa 1987 microwave and my 1984 crockpot with new models this month. This has the advantage of ensuring that I will not receive either item as a Christmas present.

I have, however, been struck that these two appliances represent completely opposite methods of manipulating time. The microwave, obviously, dramatically shortens the required length of time to prepare a dish (particularly the 2005 "Firebolt" model compared to my 1987 clunker). The crockpot just as dramatically prolongs the time, especially when coupled with my timer that delays the time that the crockpot turns itself on. Between the two, I buy myself enormous flexibility that would otherwise be taken away by the driving need to have a home-cooked dinner on the table every night (something that I choose to do, of course; there are other ways of making sure everyone is fed).

I wonder what a life would look and feel like that didn't need to be quite so tightly planned. As long as my kids participate in sports, I am not likely to find out.

Continuing this thought process into the legal workplace: Do I have two ways of manipulating time on projects?

The "microwave" way, obviously, is when I hyperfocus on a project and write, say, in two hours a brief that would take a normal mortal four or five hours. We all know how to do that.

This was not my preferred method of work in college. When you major in a foreign language that you learn from scratch in four years, cramming just doesn't work very well. Over time, desperation has driven me to use the microwave method of drafting much more frequently than I really like. The process has been greatly facilitated by the personal electronic brief bank I have accumulated, plus my strong keyboarding skills (thank you, tenth grade typing class).

But is there a "crockpot" way to complete work projects? I think so, and it is the "eating the elephant" technique so beloved of efficiency experts of dealing with unpleasant projects by doing just a little at a time, over time. I have, in fact, completed the occasional nasty project (obviously, not time critical) by devoting no more than ten minutes a day (over many, many days) to its completion.

In managing my workload, therefore, I can say to myself, "Should I put this in the crockpot, rather than leaving it for the microwave?" That really is a good option to have.


buying your own data back

Oh, bleck. Lexis instituted something called the Consumer Access Program in June 2005. If you the hypothetical consumer want to see what lurks in the Borg about you, send them EIGHT DOLLARS and wait FORTY-FIVE DAYS and you will get a copy of the information in their Person Report Products about you. Here's their sample.

Lord knows I'm as capitalistic as the next person but there is something fundamentally wrong about selling someone their own next-door neighbor's telephone number.

Lexis helpfully notes that you can opt out of their provision of the non-public data, but you have to show pretty serious risk of harm. Ick, ick, ick.


diagnostic refrigerator magnets

I have a large black filing cabinet in my office (almost all the furniture in my office is either black or clear glass). Knowing a blank canvas when I see one, I bought a number of variations of the little word poetry magnets I could find so that idle clients, and my idle children, could make poetry on the filing cabinet from my bright red chairs while they wait for me to complete something. One can play with virtual word magnets online, but it doesn't look like it's possible to combine the different vocabulary sets.

As it happens, there are a lot of kits with varying vocabularies. The genius kit is particularly fun. Ah, the challenge of using "obdurate" in a poem.

Well. I found a new word magnet product today: diagnostic refrigerator magnets. I must have them. Although explaining some of this stuff to my eight-year-old may be a bit of a struggle when she comes in to use the magnets.


alas, poor comments

I have noticed, since Blogger has been acquired by the ubiquitous google (no hotlink required), that Blogger's software has been growing more and more sophisticated. So sophisticated, in fact, that it now has a built-in commenting option. I was also pleased to discover that I can upload photos with Picasa directly without the Hello kludge.

It is remarkable how the operating software has matured. Observant readers will have noted that this blog's URL denotes my prior use of Blogspot, which has faded away over time. Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth in Internet time, Blogspot provided the site separately and Blogger provided the software to operate the site. I paid, I think, five dollars for a year for a "Blogspot Plus" account to keep ads off my template. In an irony not lost on me, I am now contemplating installing Adsense on the site to recoup a small fraction of the billable time I lose posting here. In the old days, I paid to keep ads off. In modern times, I charge to permit ads on. Larry Lessig may be able to sense the deeper implications of this more than I, but even I can see that this represents a, cough, "paradigm shift" (pardon the expression).

The advent of Blogger commenting means that I no longer need, in theory, to rely on haloscan for comments. Hm. I sacrificed my first set of comments a while ago when I switched to haloscan from a service whose name I can no longer recall. At this juncture (taking ten minutes to blog before I scoot to work), I have deep-sixed my old comments, and the ability to add new comments through haloscan, but cannot seem to enable new Blogger comments. One of the drawbacks of having an "older" template. Or an older brain.

I certainly hope that I can eventually import the haloscan comments still living out there, somewhere. There is an acerbic exchange with an ex-boyfriend that was particularly amusing floating around the ether. I also hope that I will figure out how to convince Blogger that I really mean it when I say I want to allow comments on my posts. Meanwhile, I just feel dumb.

Update 2005-12-5:

By dint of reading the Blogger Help section for the code that my template actually needs, my commenting function is restored.

Next: trackbacks.


enter tha office

Am I the last person in the world to discover the wonders of Herbert Kornfeld, accounts receivable supervisor?

when good parties go bad

This man is, in his other life, a senior vice-president at a major corporation, which I will not name. He was tending bar for us and remained sober throughout the event. He is also, in his other life, bald as a billiard ball. Posted by Picasa


tuppence a bag?

Okay, this one was almost too weird even for me.

"A Torrance, Calif., lawyer found operating on a pigeon that he had sedated with vodka was arrested after animal control officers, acting on a tip from PETA, raided his house and discovered some 300 living and dead birds inside. Health officials declared Gerard Redmond Enright Jr.'s home unfit for humans. "I'm wearing a mask. That says it all," said the head of the local animal control department. Enright says he devoted his life to saving the birds and often walked with one of them to a local Starbucks."

According to the article, the pigeon he walked to Starbucks was named "Twister."


my daily dharma

Give us this day our Daily Dharma. I get an email snippet sent to me by the magazine Tricyle each morning (well, okay, sometimes they send it in the afternoon). It's just a tiny fragment of Buddhist wisdom, best handled, in my experience, in small doses. Some of the stuff leaves me cold, some of it is truly inspired.

Here is an except from one of the latter category, taken from Muso Kokushi's Dream Conversations:

"It is illogical to face the present only as an object of enjoyment or tolerance, neglecting to use it as the opportunity to create the future."


on the road again?

I think a lot about what it means to be a trial lawyer. It's been on my mind particularly as I finish up a solid month of waiting for a decision in my last trial. I'm a little defensive still, about a comment made to me that I tried cases because I couldn't settle them. Well, that statement is true as far as it goes but it's incomplete. I am quite capable of settling cases, having settled two while I have been waiting for that decision. Not all my cases, however, settle. This might mean that I am somehow unskilled as a negotiator. It might also mean that I am willing to accept cases that are impossible to settle. I know some folks who have about a 100% settlement rate on their cases, but they select their clients differently than I do. That doesn't make them superior negotiators, but it may make them superior client screeners.

Shifting gears here. Being in trial is something like touring with a band when it comes to self-care. Yep, I'm a "small-muscle athlete," with my lips and my typing muscles the primary muscles of use. Hah.


what were they thinking?

I noticed today that I share an elevator bank in my Very Tall Building with a law firm named (in part) "Grimm Payne." I am not making this up. Really, those two names in the firm ought to have been separated as far as possible.


another sign of the complexity of my life

I noticed this morning that I was carrying a copy of Lovingkindness and a copy of The Book of Five Rings cheek-by-jowl, as it were. Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.


becoming a connoisseur of vanity

Plates, that is.

Saw a great one last night: a black car with AZARIEL plates. Could be an angel. Could be a typeface.

Humility check: I had to look up the word "connoisseur" to find out how to spell it, and it still looks wrong to me. The way I used technology to check the spelling was by taking a Word document and typing my best guess at the word into the text. Word helpfully corrected it for me. I'm going to Hell.


i told you so!

The Court of Appeals just affirmed the trial court's decision in the case of Poor Beautiful Shawna on ground that you can't enter a default decree which grants relief other than that sought in the petition. Which I pointed out eight months ago.


vanity plates

I've never felt the need for vanity plates on a vehicle before, but I'm thinking of them now for the vehicle I'm about to purchase.

The state limits text to a total of seven letters, numbers, and spaces combined, which is a pretty stringent limitation in my book. It means, for example, that REPLEVIN is out as a plate name. I suppose I could use REPLEVN.

My Real Last Name is short enough to use on plates, but I frankly think that's a bit of a security risk.

So far I've come up with:

1. TDGOR. A salute to this blog. Seems a little strange, and if history repeats itself I will have this vehicle for almost two decades. It's hard for me to imagine that I will be blogging in this venue in 2025.

2. REPLEVY Weak. My practice doesn't really involve much replevying, and I like it that way. I'm not looking to expand the time I spend chasing mostly fruitlessly after personalty.

3. 801D1. This is a little obscure, which I really like--and it doesn't even look like a vanity plate. This may be the strongest candidate extant.

4. DKGDESS. I noticed that the plate name GODDESS is "not available." Whether this means that the state won't issue it, or it already has, I don't know. I am concerned that some people might find it offensive, my calling myself a Dark Goddess. Irony and nuance, indeed the rather elaborate parody that the "dark goddess of replevin" brand identity has become, all get lost at 65 mph. What is left might, I fear, be road rage.

Would the same presumable population that finds GODDESS offensive find DKGDESS equally offensive? I have to think about this. I don't want to be spreading disharmony around me on the highways (I blow bubbles with the kids' bubble solution out the window during traffic jams). Life is too short.


is the pursuit of happiness self-defeating?

John Ikerd suggests that the American pursuit of happiness, if "happiness" is equated with "pleasure," has led to unhappiness instead.

The concept of a happiness not dependent on conditions is an Eastern concept that predates the eighteenth-century Western notion of happiness espoused in the Declaration of Independence. The best way I can think of to explain it without lapsing into Buddhist jargon is that such happiness is a form that is discovered to be already here with us, and does not need to be pursued. Andrew Sullivan sneaks up on this notion but I think does not acknowledge the point that there is an alternative between the polarities he posits of pursuit and capitulation.

As such, the pursuit of happiness by discovering that it is already here is also both espoused by the Declaration of Independence and protected, to the extent that the pursuit of happiness is protected at all, by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights (though it is not enumerated in either of the last two documents).

Here's an interesting factual tidbit: There are only two political documents that make reference to the "pursuit of happiness": the American Declaration of Independence, and the 1947 constitution of the nation of Japan, which was of course provided for Japan by Allied Occupation forces.

Have the Japanese become happier since their right to pursue happiness has been guaranteed in Article 13 of their constitution?

so what happens when the courthouse crashes?

The electronic document access system at King County Superior Court is down.

It's not clear when the system will be back up.

Now, I have a motion to argue this morning, and tomorrow morning. Fortunately, when one argues on the Family Law Motions calendar, one submits, quaintly enough, paper copies of the documents filed. So in the short run I'm okay.

What I find alarming about this article is the comment that some of the data may have been corrupted. I believe that, since the advent of scanning in 2000, they have been discarding the original documents. Which means...I just hope they have a dandy backup over there at the Clerk's Office.


is it morally wrong to drink lattes in law school?

The attitude that made my life at Columbia a living hell is alive and well in Seattle. Erika Lim, Director of Career services at the local private law school, is apparently running around with little charts which purport to show that if you made your own coffee instead of drinking lattes for thirty years, you could save $55,341. This is apparently assuming that you were spending your student loan money on lattes, and that you were taking out new student loans for 30 years.

Okay, what's wrong with this picture?

One. It assumes that one is allocating loan money to lattes. Suppose the student takes on a part-time job at minimum wage while going to school full-time specifically to pay for "small luxuries" like coffee with milk in it? Would that be okay? Does the student have any discretion at all to choose the pleasures in his or her life other than the pleasure of writing those enormous checks to the law school several times per year? The minimum wage in Washington state is $7.35 per hour now. Even allowing for Social Security and income tax withholding, the student could work an hour as a barista, say, daily, to pay for that latte.

Two. It assumes that lattes have no value other than entertainment. I note that they contain a full serving of dairy, and therefore are providing nourishment to the student.

Three. It completely ignores the effect of inflation. The dollars earned to pay back the money borrowed to go through law school are very likely to be cheaper dollars. There is no inflation adjustment. I think this point was pushed on some of us a little too hard in the early 1980's, but it is valid nonetheless.

Four. It assumes that students will stretch out their loan repayments, and that the loans are necessary to the student, not a conscious investment choice. Now, back in the day, which admittedly was the era of the twenty percent prime rate with four percent NDSLs and seven percent GSLs, I knew folks who took out the maximum amount of loans, invested the money, and then had their parent$ pay their full freight costs of law school. Some of my classmates actually claimed to have made a profit on their student loans without even considering the value of the education received.

Five, and most importantly. I think this issue is a very clever red herring to distract students from the fact that at Seattle University, one year of tuition, fees, transportation and other living expenses totals $41,030 for a nine month academic year. The poor student still has to survive for another three months each year with an incomplete professional education that isn't worth much without the license that comes at the end.

If we assume that a latte costs three dollars even, the total cost of lattes for an academic year is $580.50, assuming one latte a day, five days a week, 4.3 weeks per month, for nine months. As a fraction of the tuition and other living costs cited above, this amounts to 1% of the expense. If young professionals are broke at graduation, and have difficulties paying off their loans, it's not pricey lattes, Ms. Lim.

Now, an interesting inquiry would be what percentage of the hapless Seattle U. student's tuition each year is spent on that student's share of Ms. Lim's salary. She could probably pay for the cost of the coffee by choosing to forego Ms. Lim.


perry manley

Perry Manley walked into the federal courthouse pictured above yesterday (the picture is actually taken inside the building from the bankruptcy court lobby on the sixth floor) and got the federales to shoot him. The local newspaper of the homeless, "Real Change," just featured him last week, although the article has a number of small errors regarding the law. (See also their followup article) He was a part of an entity styled the Washington Civil Rights Council. I am pretty sure I saw him signboarding on the street corners near the federal and state courthouses in years past.

In looking at Manley's fundamental complaint, however, that paying child support is unconstitutional, I've gotta say:

This isn't about child support, folks. This is about mental illness (if the text of these emails is authentic, I don't think there's any question). Although Manley tapped into a wellspring of anger regarding parents' frustration with the court system, what he did with that anger nursed over the years was in fact insane. How sad that no one could reach him before he committed suicide by cop. But I am naively optimistic in such matters. He may have been beyond help.

I used to think that the publicly mentally ill were better off living their madness in public because it enabled them to ventilate their "issues" without causing harm to themselves or others. Is Perry Manley the exception that proves the rule? Or did living his madness inflame him?


better-looking lawyers make more money

No, really, research proves that better-looking lawyers make more money. Beauty is an evolutionary adaptation.

I always knew having a sense of style was healthy, even back in the dark days of John T. Molloy's original Dress for Success era.


more tax dollars at work

In which the dark goddess finds that making a close reading of a casually-written text leads to some unsettling conclusions

I had occasion to be stranded two days ago in a broken car just off the I-90 bridge. While I was waiting for AAA, God bless them, to tow me to my mechanic again, I had a visit from the Road Fairy, also known as the WSDOT Incident Response Team. The IRT, whose motto is, in this order, "Clearing Roads. Helping Drivers," consists of "specially trained WSDOT maintenance workers who respond to blocking incidents" by, in my case, setting out orange safety cones to keep people from running into me.

This is where it gets a little surreal. After Richard--I'll call him that because I think this was his real name--put out the cones and shoved my car a little closer to the Jersey barrier, he handed me a pamphlet describing the services of the IRT and, so help me, a postpaid customer response survey.

The survey is actually addressed to the State Secretary of Transportation himself, one Douglas B. Macdonald. Since AAA has an hour from when I call them until they're bound to show up, I had plenty of time to contemplate the answers to this survey.

Here are the actual questions on the survey, and how I would have liked to have answered them.

1. How would you rate the contact? Mildly intriguing, but ultimately unsatisfying. I would have preferred to have met your worker on a sunny beach somewhere, with no cars in sight. I do approve of the apparent hiring policy in which resemblance to Brad Pitt is a BFOQ.

2. Did the service meet your needs? If not, what other service would have been helpful? Meet my needs? Oh, honey, don't get me started. First of all, I need a new car. Second, it has been way too long since my last massage. Finally, the IRT truck really should have a latte machine on it.

3. One of WSDOT's goals is motorist safety. Was your safety met? Why, Doug! Thank you for asking. That is so kind. By the way, I realize this was a yes or no question, but I feel I ought to point out that you are only getting around to enquiring about my safety on the third question. And you say it's only one of WSDOT's goals. Shouldn't it be the primary goal? Hm? Just something to think about.

4. What other comments will help us evaluate this service? If you really want the public to believe that "Safety Is Priority One," as the pamphlet your worker handed to me proclaims, here's a suggestion. That information and discussion should be at the very beginning of your text. When you include this information at the end of the pamphlet with a leadin that says, "In addition to congestion management, safety is another important aspect of the IRT," the careful reader might well conclude that safety is, in fact, something of an afterthought. Keep in mind that when someone sits in a car with nothing to do but read a trifold pamphlet for an hour, the text will receive a very close reading. Please see comments in response to question three supra.

5. Your name, address, and phone (optional): the dark goddess of replevin. Don't call us, Doug. We'll call you.

I'm afraid my real answers to the survery, which I have dutifully mailed in, were much less interesting.


math wars ii redux

By popular request, here is another passage from my child's infamous parody. I have changed names of real children used in the story but made no other changes whatsoever.

Andy pinned Obi-One to the wall and stepped back to admire his work. Obi-One was pinned against the wall in stocks. He looked stupid. Andy pulled out green and orange colored pencils and then some paper. He wrote “Mad-O-Meter” on it then scrubbed oil on it. There was a meter on it that had 4 sections: Annoyed, Fuming, REALLY Pissed and HEAD FOR THE HILLS!!!!!!!!

Eddy handed me some pants and a camera. I wound the camera and put on the pants. “Thanks.”

Obi-One looked perfectly calm. Andy bent down over Obi-One’s skirt and started to draw. When he stepped back I saw what he did. Obi-One’s white skirt had flowers all over it.

“Obi-One, I didn’t know you danced flamenco!”

“I don’t.”

“Well ballet then!” Eddy said in mock surprise. They both pulled out their cameras. CLICK! CLICK! CLICK! Then Eddy taped the “Mad-O-Meter” to Obi-One’s forehead. It burst into flames. CLICK!

“That was fun.” Eddy said. I nodded.

I think one big reason my child is in Trouble now is the use of the word "pissed." Sigh.

cell-phone providers on the edge

I have reported previously about my struggles with Cingular Wireless. They had previously added a fellow in Manhattan to our service.

Well, it gets worse. I had an irate call from them the other day on my cell phone demanding that I pay my bill. I pointed out that they hadn't sent me one, and they promised to do so at the address that I gave them for the third or fourth time.

So yesterday I get a call from Cingular saying they had a "mail return" on my cell phone bill and asking me to call them to update. So I called them again with my correct address (what do I have to do to send them money?) and this time asked, "Just out of curiosity, what address did Cingular have listed on my bill?"

The answer: One World Trade Center, New York, New York.

I usually don't ask questions like this, but I couldn't help asking the guy if he had any idea why Cingular had changed my billing address to a building that hadn't been in existence for over three years. Of course the poor guy didn't.

But it looks like my search for intelligent life at Cingular is not over.


i've created a monster

My child is now in trouble at school for having a sense of humor like mine.

I feel really bad about this.

It seems that during "free writing" period on Friday, he wrote a parody of "Star Wars II" called "Math Wars II" that the teacher disapprovingly emailed me, saying it was "far too violent" and contains "many inappropriate ideas."

So I read his parody, and, yeah, it does have a lot of hands being cut off with light sabres. It also has a chapter based on "Shrek 2" and further contains this passage:

Our new army, inspired by the “I Love Chickies Marathon Hug-fest” was getting their tail feathers kicked! As we prepared for battle, [Child] took off his “Hug a Pikachu” sweater and put on his “I Eat Clones For Breakfast” shirt. I could never figure out why it turned pink when it was hot. Jeez. The world is reduced to making violent attire turn pink in warm weather. What’s next? Reality T.V. shows?! FOR GOODNESS SAKES ALIVE!!!!!!!!!!! THEY ARE ALREADY TERRIFYING ENOUGH!!!!!!!!!!!

I am having a hard time deciding whether the elementary school teacher was thinking of this passage when she said that it had "inappropriate" ideas.

I had a little talk with my child about having to follow certain rules when he writes for school. He seems to have taken this message to heart. In the next draft of the document, the summary "Everyone dies" has been changed to "Everyone lives happily ever after."

Hm. I think he may have made the switchover from parody to irony. Perhaps I should set up a blog for him.


attorney work/life balance calculator

This one's pretty gruesome too.

You can calculate the number of hours you need to spend in the office to meet a billable hour quota.

blog post fingers murderer

This story is real, and it's creepy.

Here is the post.

Here is the rest of the story.

One Virginia blogger has been pondering whether the post would be admissible as evidence under Virginia law.

Well, what about Washington law?

It's not a statement under belief of impending death. That's what makes the post so creepy, like the Zapruder film: there is no consciousness of impending death in anyone but the onlooker. That sense of foreshadowing is probably responsible for most sales of true crime books in this country, which means, frankly, that foreshadowing has a lot to answer for.

I've been vacillating between considering the post an excited utterance and a present sense impression, with a slight bias towards the latter. The future victim's tone is somewhat exasperated at the intruder, but not really frightened. Certainly if he thought he was in danger he would be doing something other than blogging. At least in the blogosphere, the more excited you are, the less likely there is to be an utterance.

I also think that the authentication problem regarding the post would be most easily solved by a comparison of that last post to known examples of the victim's writing style from other sources.

This is definitely the most interesting application of fairly basic technology to solve a legal problem that I have come across this week.


interrogatories and readability

In which the Goddess applies Occam's Razor to a cumbersome document.

I find it hard to believe that I have just used those two concepts in the same post title.

However, desperate times call for desperate measures.

My local bar association, under pressure from the local bench by means of a proposed local rule, has been busily promulgating pattern interrogatories in various subject matter areas for the last year. The pattern interrogatories will probably become mandatory, and the lawyer's ability to propound custom interrogatories will, if the proposed rule is adopted, be severely limited.

As a preliminary comment, let me say that I view any attempts to limit the number of questions I can customize to be a Bad Thing Indeed. No matter how straightforward a case appears to be, there is always some weird quirk of the case that I need to ask questions about.

Unfortunately, because future limitations appear inevitable, I made sure that I reviewed the draft family law pattern form interrogatories during the comment period.


One problem is that the committee set for itself the task of making the proposed rogs not only comprehensive for the use of attorneys, but simple for the use of pro se parties. Frankly, I think meeting both these goals at once is impossible.

When I reviewed the draft I concluded that the drafts had fallen victim to something called "literacy bias," a name I just made up for a very real phenomenon, that of overeducated lawyers who read and write for a living assuming that the general public will be able to read and write as proficiently as they. That has not been my experience. It's not that the general public is stupid, mind you (at least, no stupider than the general population of lawyers), it's just that they tend not to read as well as lawyers. In the same vein, most doctors probably do math better than the general public. And I haven't even reached the issue of the number of pro se parties who read English only as their second language. Or third. Or fourth.

In fact, a lot of people smarter than I have done research and concluded that the average American reads at about an eighth grade level. In order to be effective for use by the average pro se, therefore, the pattern interrogatories I reviewed should aim for about that level. In order to test this, I ran a snippet of text through a Dale-Chall Reading Probe. Dale-Chall, although not without its controversies and detractors, has been the most widely used and consistently valid method for estimating the difficulty of reading materials, particularly of textbooks and other educational materials, since it was published in 1948. See, e.g., Edgar Dale and Jeanne S. Chall, Readability Revisited: The New Dale-Chall Readability Formula (Brookline Books 1995).

I cranked up the Reading Probe and tested this passage:

"This certification must be completed, signed, and dated before any questions need be answered. If the Requesting Party has not signed this document, the Answering Party should bring that failure promptly to the Requesting Party's attention.

TO THE ANSWERING PARTY: The questions that must be answered are contained in the following sets where checkmarks appear in the boxes: [ ] Part A (Questions A1 to A19 - Requests for Production of Documents [ ] Part b (Questions B1 to B7) - General questions [ ] Part C."

Readability level: 11th-12th grade level.

So I took a stab at rewriting this passage, and then reran the Reading Probe (feeling more and more like a Mad Scientist all the time):

"To The Asking Party: You must complete, sign, and date this form before the other party has to answer any questions.

To the Answering Party: If the Asking Party has not signed this form, you must let him or her know as soon as possible. You must answer all the questions in any section that has a box checked."

I truly think that this rewrite fairly summarizes the instructions. Dale-Chall score? Fourth grade or below.

computer programmer or serial killer?

You decide.


the city of seattle has its priorities straight

God forbid that public property be damaged, and oh, yeah, you might get hurt.


dumb stuff i love

Check this out: water blessing labels.

There is a fellow who concluded after a five-year study that water molecules can be influenced by positive thoughts. That seems like an awful reach to me, but I've not read the book, so I can't fairly comment on the validity of that theory (I'm one of those annoying people who tries to suspend judgment until I actually understand what someone is saying). However, some entrepreneurs took this already questionable idea and stretched it beyond recognition, asserting that you can "turn your drinking water into liquid prayers!" by means of clear plastic labels with inspiring words pasted on your water bottle.

I am not making this up. I mean, I am not making up the existence of Water Blessing Labels. Not only do they exist on the web, I saw some in a store yesterday.

And I actually thought they were quite naively charming.

Not being willing, however, to have ten dollars naively charmed out of my pocket, I loaded my labelmaker with the black lettering/clear tape cartridge and started making labels of my own. Now I have my desktop water bottle adorned with the brahma viharas at no extra cost. We'll see if "liquid mindfulness," in this carefully controlled experiment, benefits me next week.

My hypothesis, which should be painfully obvious, is that it won't make a damned bit of difference, at least directly. Pasting the brahma viharas on a water bottle is the exact antithesis of the method by which their effectiveness is cultivated. For a thought to change one's mind, it has to be fixed in one's mind in the first place, not fixed on one's water bottle. If having inspirational text on my water bottle prompts me to keep positive thoughts in mind, yes, it will have an effect, but the effect is produced by the effort of thought prompted by the words, not the words themselves. And if I do not cultivate positive mental states unless reminded by my water bottle, I probably need more profound changes in my life than an upgraded drinking vessel alone.

Now I wonder...if positive thoughts have an influence on water molecules, how about negative thoughts? And does the drinker of the water have to be aware of the positive or negative words associated with the water or other beverage? The possibilities range from putting, say, "confusion" on the bottom of the coffee mugs opposing counsel gets during a deposition, to, oh, "cursing" someone's water system by scrawling the word "disease" on their water main. Sounds really creepy, but I'm not sure that a mere word is any match for chlorine.



motion practice

Okay, I am going to file a Motion to Improve Facts as to My Client.

If that doesn't work I am planning a Motion to Exchange Clients with Opposing Counsel.

If that doesn't work I have no recourse but to file a Writ of Goddammit.

living in the wild, wild west

Our drugs are legal, thankyouverymuch

still no cause of action for negligent intercourse

Massachusetts, a highly enlightened state in some ways, continues to hold the line on freedom of sexuality.

This just in:

"A woman isn't legally responsible for injuries her boyfriend suffered while they were having consensual sex more than a decade ago, a state appeals court ruled Monday.

The man, identified only as John Doe in court papers, filed suit against the woman in 1997, claiming she was negligent when she suddenly changed positions, landed awkwardly on him and fractured his penis.

The man underwent emergency surgery in September 1994, "endured a painful and lengthy recovery" and has suffered from sexual dysfunction that hasn't responded to medication or counseling, the appeals court said."

Click here for the rest of the story.

Extensive research suggests that Washington state does not recognize this cause of action either, the legislature being more concerned with weightier matters, such as goat theft, infra.

my tax dollars at work

I had to perform one of the mundane tasks of car ownership this week, having my vehicle emissions (I almost wrote "omissions") inspected, which led me to the Internet in search of the local station with the shortest wait time near the Kent courthouse.

This led me to discover that the state of Washington, or at the very least the civilian subcontractor hired to do the inspections and write about the emission tests on the Internet, appears to find it necessary to tell people to bring your vehicle to have its emissions inspected.

Rats. I was hoping I could just mail it in.



the mechanics of authorship

In a moment of weakness about six months ago I agreed to speak at a seminar next month. My assigned topics are ones on which I am well-versed, discovery and trial in family law matters. The company presenting this even provided a basic outline to structure my talk, which I took and dramatically expanded at least a month ago. I organized a planning session among the speakers to discuss time division, etc.

So what's the problem? One little sticking point. This is an intermediate-level seminar, and the advertising for the program states that the manual accompanying the seminar will be "comprehensive."

Frankly, word processing software + me + a suggestion that I be "comprehensive" is not a formula for a happy week. Back in the day, when I worked for the Home of Hundred Drafts, I did not yet have enough life experience to understand that my obsessive perfectionism about my writing would goad me to write 93 pages of materials, 1.5 line spacing, Times New Roman font...in four days. The Document Properties section (sometimes one's own metadata can be handy) of my manuscript is showing 3337 editing minutes into the manuscript since this past Friday at 9 a.m. And that's only since the last time I renamed the document.

It occurs to me that my models of the mechanics of authorship are drawn from Russian literature. Dostoevsky dictated his work at the last minute at breakneck pace. Tolstoy drove his editors crazy by revising his work even in the galley proofs. I'm just emulating my idols.


tattoos are hearsay exceptions - but why?

In which Washington is discovered to be taking a walk on the wild side when it comes to evidence.

In Washington state, statements of fact concerning personal or family
history contained in tattoos are exceptions to the hearsay rule where the unavailability of the declarant is immaterial. Washington's ER 803(a)(13) is identical to the Federal Rule of Evidence, with that one exception.

The state Comment to this rule blandly observes: "Tattoos have been added to the items enumerated in the federal rule. The drafters felt that tattoos often reflect personal or family history and are apt to be as trustworthy as the other items listed in the rule."

That got me to thinking (I love the rules of evidence). The "declarant" in this case is presumably the person displaying the tattoo, not the tattoo artist. So the witness comes in and says, "Yes, John has a tattoo on his chest that says, 'My Heart Belongs To Daddy,' " that is not hearsay. But wouldn't the observation of the tattoo be a present sense impression of the witness testifying about tattoo? I really wonder about the necessity for this deviation from the FRE.


put down the goat and step away from the car

Thank God the Washington state legislature has taken action to make goat stealing a felony. It was only today that I learned that before now, this heinous act was only a misdemeanor. Well. I wouldn't have slept nights if I'd known, and I'm sure the nice folks over at cybergoat must be relieved.

I'd hate to think what this august legislative body might enact if it had more time on its hands.

Have I mentioned before that the state insect is the Green Darner Dragonfly?


more weird linkage

This blog turns up on a page called, so help me, Laura the Lawyer (Laura being one of the Names of the Goddess). It's a list of links to websites of lawyers with "Laura" in their names. No other common thread.

Here's a hint to y'all about picking a lawyer, just in case it's not clear: being named Laura is not a good qualification for being anybody's lawyer. Find a better way to pick a lawyer. Flip a coin. Geez.


from my inbox

Now, I ask you. Does this look like a plant?

The energetic folks in the management of the Very Tall Building in which I work are at it again.

Now that we are done visualizing earthquakes for them, they are installing sculpture in our lobby for us to observe.

"We are pleased to inform you that the first of our two new lobby sculptures is scheduled to be installed this weekend, and will be on display on the south side of the [Very Tall Building] lobby. The sculpture, entitled “Bloom Cycle,” was created by Portland-native Christine Bourdette, and evokes bud and flower shapes to provide an organic complement to the lobby’s formal geometry. The idea for the piece came from the artist’s thoughts about daily rhythms and cycles, whether in nature or in the world of business, and how they change and morph through time.

Christine is a recipient of the Bonnie Bronson Fellowship Award and the Regional Arts and Culture Council Visual Artists Fellowship Award. She has received acclaim for several of her public commissions including the Mark O. Hatfield Government Center MAX Station and Inverness Jail in Portland.

[Building Management] partnered with 4Culture, a public development authority chartered by King County to manage programs in arts, heritage, historic preservation and public art, to commission the sculpture."

Organic complement. Hmmmm. Would that be like a...plant? They are putting a sculptural representation of a plant in my lobby to soften the sharp edges of the lobby's formal geometry? And paid how much? And how much would an actual living plant in the lobby have cost? When it actually grew, it would not just "evoke" bud and flower shapes, it would actually manifest them. We could call it performance art.

And my rent here is how much per month?

Cloud Mountain

Castle Rock, Washington. 4-30-2005

washington docketing information online

This is actually an amazing advance. The offical website of the Washington state court system now makes basic Superior Court docket information available online for all counties. There are limitations, of course: basically no sealed file information and no pre-1980 cases. Nonetheless, this is a great leap forward in the information readily available over the Internet to those with an interest in cases in Washington state.

Unfortunately, I can't jettison Courtlink and its expensive searches quite yet, because there's only limited information about district and municipal court available at the moment. The prudent family law practitioner is well advised to run district and municipal court searches on every opposing party in every case. In fact, I can directly attribute a flat-out victory in one of my cases to the material I was able to gather from district court docket sheets throughout the county.

Moreover, the careful family law practitioner is well-advised to run the same searches on her clients. All of them.


and the prize for coolest blawg name goes to...

me. Again (see footnote 36). As another edition of Blawg Review succumbs to my literary charms.

That and--what is it now? Two dollars?--will get me a ride on the subway.

A minor quibble. I am sorry to see the editor succumb to the mass confusion between the terms "eager" and "anxious." I am "anxious" for my accountant's opinions on my taxes. I am "eager" to see if I am posted at Blawg Review. Not the same thing at all.

post-its (r) changed my life

Well, no, not really. I have more of a life than that. April 2005, however, marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the invention of what I will generically call the sticky note, and you can read all about its fascinating history here. I speak without irony, other than my ironic honoring of the registered trademark by declining to use it.

The sticky note is what I call an elegant invention. It is extremely simple; it seems obvious in retrospect; it is incredibly versatile. I use sticky notes the way I used to use index cards as a tool for systems thinking. Index cards had the most annoying habit of sliding around and destroying all evidence of my careful analysis with one overexcited gesture as I talk on the phone (something I am wont to do).

Not resting on their laurels, those clever folks at 3M have come up with a glue stick made of the same great stuff--sticky, but not too sticky--that resides on the back of the original notes. Consider, if you will, the implications of the fact that any piece of paper can now become a sticky note. Well. I hope I don't have to spell this out for anyone.

The sticky note is another piece of evidence to support my hypothesis that simpler technologies, when used to their fullest--nay, exploited ruthlessly--are more effective than the latest gadget sitting unopened in its box on the shelf. Of course, I could simply be experiencing confirmatory bias. Nevertheless, I daresay that few lawyers leave boxes of sticky notes unopened on their shelves.


from my inbox

An actual advertising mailpiece from a printing company that I do not think I will be using:

"1. Cut* where indicated.
*Caution: scissors may be sharp."

Query: if the scissors are not sharp, what the hell are they doing on my desk?


shred early and often

One of the lessons that I personally have taken from my observation of the Arthur Andersen/Enron debacle is that it is best to shred early and often. In other words, while I am not under criminal indictment, nor do I expect that I or any of my clients will be, I am reviewing old files and shredding everything I don't need on a regular basis.

After talking to my own accountant and ethics counsel, the category of "what I don't need" turns out to be quite large. So large, in fact, that I have begun oiling the machine daily as a part of its required maintenance for the amount of shredding I'm doing. (And feeling charmingly domestic as I do so. Doesn't every Betty Crocker Scholar oil her heavy-duty cross-cut shredder daily?) After reading about the technology which can be used to reconstruct even cross-cut shreddings, though, I'm developing a hankering for a disintegrator. I suppose if I wanted to be reeeeaaaaaally New Age I could consider this financial cleansing.

Some stuff, however, turns out to be too dumb to shred.

Case in point? My Y2K Readiness Disclosure research and testing documentation file. Recall that a federal statute, about which little now is heard, mandated this disclosure. I'd have to crank up the Wayback Machine to find the disclosure statement I so dutifully posted on my former website as a sole practitioner. I think it's safe to consign my test data to the recycle bin, not the shredder.



Getting the bunt signal (which he ignored).


the dark goddess of ... shopping?

I am well aware of tales of people getting credit card offers for their cats. In fact, I know of a cat who is a member of the American College of Forensic Examiners, although the cat's owner did go to some lengths to obtain her certification.

You can imagine my surprise, however, when my fictitious persona received a preapproved credit card offer in the mail from an obviously confused bank. Unfortunately, the corporate name I can include on the card is a maximum of 19 letters and spaces, so I won't be able to fit "dark goddess of replevin" on the credit card. Guess I'll just have to settle for "dark goddess."

And it looks like I ought to be looking into federal service mark registration, after all.


crime certainly doesn't pay

Oh my God, this is wonderful. I can't improve on it. Just read this.


i swear i do not make this up

Here is the actual contents of my email inbox when I came to work this morning.

"April is Washington State’s Disaster Preparedness Month and [Building Management] is proud to participate in the Statewide Earthquake Drill at [Tall Building]. This drill is an important reminder of what to do during the first few moments of an earthquake, and we encourage everyone to participate. Experts say your chances of reacting effectively during a real earthquake double every time you perform this drill.

The drill will take place at approximately 9:45am on Thursday, April 21. An announcement will be made over the public address system. When you hear the announcement, imagine that an earthquake is occurring, then:

DROP under a sturdy desk or table, ideally away from windows, bookcases, file cabinets, and other objects that can fall.

COVER your head and stay under cover, which you would do until the shaking has stopped. During this drill, stay under cover until the public address announcement has been completed (about 30 seconds).

HOLD onto the desk or table. If it were to move, you would want to move with it.

(If your normal work area does not have a desk or table to drop under, quickly crouch down next to a strong wall, away from windows and preferably in a corner. Cover your neck and head with your hands.)

(If in a wheelchair, lock your wheels, lean forward, and cover your neck and head with your hands or a hard covering, such as a book or stiff binder.)

What else you should do:

Note any difficulties you had in performing the drill. If it is not comfortable for you to get under your desk, find another safe place nearby.

Evaluate your work area and minimize as much as possible the objects that would fall during a real earthquake."


I'm sitting here wondering where this leaves me with a glass desk.

I'm also wondering if the drill works if I don't imagine an earthquake first.


all i did was sell the guy a book

I've been selling my used books at Amazon Marketplace practically since that option has been available. I buy a lot of my books there too. Even with regular trips to Goodwill, bookselling is the only way to stem the incoming tide and keep the house from being totally overrun with words (my husband described me as "an invading library" when I moved in). It's not hard. As the email sale notifications come in, I print off a label and drop the book envelopes off at my office, send a little courtesy email letting the buyer know the book is on its way, all very warm and fuzzy.

Until today.

In response to a little courtesy email I received the following salvo:

"Interesting that you send your products via 4th class carriers while Amazon charges me 1st class rates.....I think that there will oneday be a class action lawsuit about this unethical practice."

This is, take note, the first time that I have ever been called unethical for selling a guy a book. Or is he calling amazon.com unethical? Hard to say. Being, however, a helpful individual who takes customer service seriously, I sent the following response:

I was rather intrigued by your message, and so I did some research. I could not find anywhere any indication that amazon.com was charging you first-class rates. Rather, you were charged, from what I can determine from the website, a flat rate of $3.49. As to this see explanation of rates.

I also think the website is pretty clear that "standard" shipping is slow.

That flat rate is intended to cover not only my postage but packaging and labor. Of that $3.49, in the case of your transaction amazon.com credited me with $2.26 of which $1.84 covered postage and the remainder covered packaging materials (although I think I used a recycled envelope), gasoline, and time spent packing the books, sending confirming emails, researching and responding to an email of complaint.

The difference between $3.49, which is what you are charged for "shipping and handling" and $2.26, which is what I receive as compensation for "shipping and handling," is amazon.com's cut (they also charge a nominal commission which in case of this transaction was probably less than a buck).

There is nothing secretive about the spread between amazon's charge and my reimbursement, nor do I view the fact that I spent $1.84 on actual postage as unethical. The total cost to you of your used book was $6.49. If you had purchased it from amazon.com new it would have been $9.00 not including shipping or sales tax, and if you had purchased it in person in [state] you would have paid $12.00 suggested retail plus $.99 sales tax in the [city] area.

In short, if there ever is a class action lawsuit on this subject, I doubt you would make an appropriate class representative because it is hard for me to see how you have been harmed by amazon.com's pricing practices, which are fully disclosed. You'll get your book. I actually sent it out the very day you ordered it, which is 48 hours sooner than I am required to. And you got a great deal on it.

I hope this has adequately addressed your concerns. If not, I suppose the best solution would be for you to boycott Amazon Marketplace in protest. I would urge you not to do so because the deals really are very good."

Writing well is the best revenge.


descartes' error

After class

I find that the discussions I have with clients fall into broad categories whose themes I have come to perceive only gradually over time. Most recently I have been discussing the role of reason and emotion in decision-making: cautioning clients who appear compelled to make decisions that are purely emotional, and cautioning in equal measure clients who pride themselves on being purely rational.

Obviously, making financial, etc., decisions purely on emotion is dangerous in litigation. Many clients are surprised to hear me caution against the other extreme as well. But I have learned well the lesson of Phineas Gage, whose fascinating tale opens Anthony Damasio's book Descartes' Error (link in post title).

Gage was a nineteenth-century railroad man who survived a gruesome accident involving a tamping iron that went through his head, severing the part of his brain that governed his emotions. One would predict that the emotionless Gage would have had a rational life filled with sensible choices thereafter. The opposite was true. In fact, emotion is one component of "thinking." Building on Gage's experience, modern studies of the brain and brain damage have demonstrated that the "mind" depends on complex interaction between brain and body and that emotion and rationality cannot be separated, indeed can't exist separately.

To make matters even more complex than I generally do for clients, because our brains are assembled from three layers, reptilian, limbic, and neocortical, makes the integration of all the data we use for decisionmaking particularly complex. A single important decision (for that matter, even an unimportant one) can draw on all levels of the brain for input.

The Dalai Lama may have said it best when he said words to the effect of, honor your emotions, feel your emotions, cherish your emotions, but don't use them as a sole basis for making a decision.



Rainbow Bridge National Monument, Utah. Telephoto view of Rainbow Bridge, looking upstream. 1959. Digital File:hwr00034 ID. Hansen, W.R. 34ct

No, I haven't suddenly become a much better photographer. I have simply discovered the Earth Science Photographic Archive of the U.S. Geological Survey. I am reluctant to use copyrighted images without permission, the disclaimers and permissions granted are sometimes ugly, and Lord knows I can't fall back on too many skills as a photographer. So I am falling back on my skills as a researcher instead.

There are some remarkable photos at the Archive. Take a look!

resistance is futile

The Technolawyer collective mind, which has always been hard to describe, has spawned a blog. My first reaction: "Why didn't *I* think of suggesting that?"

My guess is that it may eventually subsume the Technolawyer newsletters, as lawyers unfamiliar with blogging, but at least aware enough to click on a link, venture from the primordial seas of the newsletters onto the wilder shores of the blog.


now this is collaborative law

Code (which has acquired modernized graphics) has been wikified.

And the wiki's been blogified. Is that even a word? I guess it is now.

I'm stupefied.


Bata de cola and mantoncita

The last time I wore a train it was white velvet, and I was getting married. This time it's red parachute nylon, and I'm dancing the caracoles.


don't blink!

I <3 Malcolm Gladwell (if you're not familiar with this fragment of geekiness, tip your head to the right).

I still haven't read The Tipping Point, but blink has been very helpful to me to explain to clients why it is useless for me--or my clients--to script client interactions with a parenting evaluator or otherwise try to influence the evaluator's thinking.

The source of my clients' unease, and consequent desire to control the evaluation process, is obvious. In a parenting case, everyone needs to think of the evaluator as God. Yet the evaluator is an aloof expert, urged on the client by an attorney--any attorney--whose expertise that client also finds impossible to evaluate.

I have read--but can't find a cite to the original research--that when we communicate face-to-face, the majority of communication is visual, through facial expressions, the next most important is information that is heard other than the content of speech, and least important of all is the actual content of our speech. As a professional wordsmith, I find these statistics disappointing, but I can live with them. Based on my personal observations, I also think they are correct. However, I can't convince clients of that. But with Gladwell's book I can point to research (even if anecdotally related) for that same proposition.

Of course, this only demonstrates that a good evaluator can cut to the heart of things, not necessarily that the evaluator in any particular case will cut to the heart of things. Faith in an evaluator can be misplaced. But that's another rant for a different day.


carnival of the blawgers

The maiden voyage of this Ship of Fools is hosted today by the inimitable Evan Schaeffer. The Review, or perhaps we should dub it the Revue, will move from blawg to blawg like a floating crap game. The action will arrive here on October 17.


unitarian jihad

This concept needs a name generator. Until I figure out how to create one, I'll have to content myself with Sister Hand Grenade of Love...although perhaps Dark Goddess of Replevin is already a Unitarian Jihad name, hm?

Update: I've done it. You can now receive your own Unitarian Jihad name, Holy Warrior! (there's that vocative case again...can't escape it)



Think I'll keep this one for a while.

Making the transition from a pure text blog to one that has more photos has been a rocky one. My beginning efforts as a digital photographer have been painfully, if not painstakingly, documented here. I discovered only a few days ago that the software I use to manage my digital images has--this is a real shocker--photo editing capacities. Gee whiz.

The barely adequate photograph above of my certificate of incorporation has been added and deleted several times as I try to figure out how to substitute it for the truly bad photograph of said certificate currently in my profile. Blogger was acting up yesterday when I tried to edit my profile, so now I've learned the trick of leaving this image up in a post at least until I am able to substitute it in. I am still rather shaky on how the concept of photo chat works. More philosophically, I am not sure I will ever trust software that addresses me in the vocative case, even if you can't tell in English.

landscape with bamboo

Ah, Seattle on a sunny spring morning

another illustration of the death of parody

I am not making this story up.

Beetle-Hunting Lawyer Held At Gunpoint By Police

A lawyer "apprehended at gunpoint while collecting beetles near his Scarsdale, N.Y., home has lost an initial appeal in his civil rights suit against the Village of Scarsdale and its police department.

Southern District of New York Judge Charles L. Brieant ruled that a jury had reasonably concluded that officers did not use excessive force when they pointed guns at the attorney, Harry Zirlin, and handcuffed him behind his back with his face to the ground.

The officers were responding to a woman who said she saw a man in the woods carrying a knife."

(Hotlink added.) Brieant wrote in Zirlin v. The Village of Scarsdale, 03 Civ. 9903:

"A reasonable jury could conclude, based upon the totality of the knowledge of the police at the time of their momentary and sudden encounter with the plaintiff, including information that an altercation involving threats of violence had occurred recently at the nearby Sanitation Department, led them to believe, reasonably, that they were entering a potentially hostile and dangerous situation. They were unaware of Mr. Zirlin's identity or intentions."

Zirlin, in fact, has at least two identities: associate at one of the city's leading law firms and recognized expert and collector of beetles. He has lectured and written widely on the subject, including co-authorship of the "National Audubon Society Field Guide to the Mid-Atlantic States.

I see at least four layers of irony in this article.

(1) The police cuffed a lawyer collecting beetles in Scarsdale.
(2) The lawyer brought a civil rights lawsuit in federal court in the SDNY, no less (people forget that the Southern District isn't just Manhattan).
(3) The New York Law Journal reported his loss.
(4) Law.com picked up the story nationally.

Now the blogosphere has got hold of this story, as googling his distinctive name will show. Sympathies appear to be running in favor of Mr. Zirlin.

I really feel bad for Mr. Zirlin, but this is the funniest story I've read all week.


today is my lucky day!

I know this because I have been presented with the following unique business opportunity:

"Dear friend,

How are you? I have a very sensitive and confidential brief from a top (oligarch) in russia to ask for your assistance in re-profiling funds in excess over US$423M, which I seek your partnership in ccommodating for me. You will be rewarded with 4% of the total sum for your partnership. Can you be my partner on this?

I am Mr Victor Smith Kuzin from Russia, The personal secretary to Mikhail Khodorkovsky the richest man in Russia and owner of the following companies: Chairman CEO: YUKOS OIL (Russian Most Largest Oil Company) Chairman CEO: Menatep SBP Bank (A well reputable financial institution with its branches all over the world)

The documents of the above funds in question was handed over to me to be used in payment of an American oil merchant for his last oil deal with my boss Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Already the funds have been deposited with Bank Menatep Russia where the final crediting is expected to be carried out.

While I was on the process, My Boss got arrested for his involvement on politics in financing the leading and opposing political parties (the Union of Right Forces, led by Boris Nemtsov, and Yabloko, a liberal/social democratic party led by Gregor Yavlinsky) which poses treat to President Vladimir
Putin second tenure as Russian president.

You can catch more of the story on this news. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/3213505.stm [note: this link is legit]

All I need from you is to stand as the beneficiary of the above quoted sum and I will arrange for the documentation which will enable Bank Menatep Russia transfer the sum to you. I have decided to use this sum to relocate to American continent and never to be connected to any of Mikhail Khodorkovsky conglomerates.

The transaction has to be concluded in soonest before Mikhail Khodorkovsky is out on bail. Thank you very much. Please futher corespondence to me,should be sent to my private and confidential Email id ( Victor_smith57@xxxxx.ro ) I await your reply soonest.

Mr Victor Smith Kuzin [Note: link added by me, safe to click on]

-- [Victor_smith57@xxxxxx.com] --

Disfruta estos Puentes de las mejores vacaciones, vuelos y hoteles!

I think that the Spanish tag line from an email allegedly sent from "russia" is a particularly nice touch.

UPDATE: Why, bless her heart! Mrs. Khodorkovsky is writing to me now too. And she sounds like such a nice lady:

"From Mrs.Inna Khodorkovsky.
Hi Dear,

I know this may not be the best place to talk about this now because i will not feel safe passing vital informations of my husband's account details across the internet knowing fully well the situation,but i would have loved you come over to Russia for us to talk about this transaction but our government has set up mornitoring team against my family's communications and visitors, I seek your help and partinership in using your name and informations to Re-profile Twenty-eight million united state dollars($28,000,000.00) of my husband's funds lodged now with a in London and consequently seek transfer to your country of residence because of the fear of being freezed too like other accounts in Russia and swiss banks.

I am Mrs. Inna Khodorkovsky,wife of the imprisoned Mikhail Boris Khodorkovsky and owner of YUKOS OIL (Russian's largest oil company) and Menatep SBP Bank. My husband got arrested for his involvement in politics and in financing the leading opposition political parties (the Union of Right Forces,led by Boris Nemtsov, and Yabloko, a liberal/social democratic party led by Gregor Yavlinsky) which poses treat to President Vladimir Putin as Russian president.

As a result of this,all my husband's asset and bank accounts both in Russia and the Swiss banks have been frozen including the liquidation of his bank. Presently, the Government has intensified their probe into my husbands financial resources and the revoking of all our business licences round the world.

In view of this,we acted very fast to withdraw this money from one of our bank accounts through the help of the bank manager and deposit it with diplomatic warehouse in London as a Diamond Peace. No record is known about this deposit by the government because there is no documentation showing that we withdrawed such funds.

[etc. etc. etc.]

My Kind Regards to your family,
Mrs.Inna Khodorkovsky
Akses Internet TELKOMNet-Instan beri Diskon s.d. 50 % khusus untuk wilayah Jawa Timur.
Informasi selengkapnya di www.telkomnetinstan.com atau hub 0800-1-INSTAN (467826)

Jawa Timur? They have electricity?