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.