October 2007

Footprints for Non-Christians

by Burt Likko on October 31, 2007

You know that sappy “Footprints” poem that Christians so adore, the one with the twist ending where it was Jesus all along?  Turns out some guy wrote an atheist version and a Zen Buddhist version.  Both are quite entertaining.

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Litigation Is Like Combat…

by Burt Likko on October 31, 2007

…In that it consists of long stretches of boredom, randomly interspersed with very brief bursts of absolute terror.  The momentary mistaken belief that one has missed a deadline is one of those bursts of terror.  Similarly, the realization that no, it was the other guy who blew it, is one of the nicest ways imaginable to resolve that kind of tension.

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Start Of The Fire

by Burt Likko on October 31, 2007

Turns out, the big Agua Dulce fire that threatened so many homes right here in my area was started by a kid playing with matches out in the desert. 38,000 acres reduced to ash, 21 homes lost, and some beloved local institutions (like the Lombardi pumpkin patch) damaged, because a bored suburban kid decided to, literally, play with fire.

The boy’s age has not been released, so it’s a little early to start passing very severe judgments, tempting as it might be to do that. Kids do stupid stuff sometimes, but that doesn’t mean that they’re malicious. Parents don’t always have the ability to monitor what their kids are up to. Parents are encouraged to tell their kids to “go out and play,” but there’s always a possibility that when they do that, something like this could happen.

I’ve never been one to say that parents should be held responsible for everything their kids do, because that doesn’t seem like a reasonable interpretation of a parent’s degree of control. And, to complicate matters, kids just don’t always think things through or know what the consequences of their actions might be.

There isn’t a good answer to the problem of what to do with kids whose adventures lead to serious consequences like this. This is why law enforcement officers and prosecutors and judges have to be given discretion to make judgment calls on a case-by-case basis.

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People sometimes ask me, can an attorney be disbarred for filing a frivolous lawsuit? No, it takes misconduct more egregious than that. A lot more egregious than that. Apparently, extorting three-way sex with a client and his girlfriend, comingling funds, having a history of substance abuse, using one client’s money to pay another and other client funds to buy a car for yourself, snorting cocaine on camera, violating the very bail release terms the attorney had negotiated for his criminal defense client by doing drugs with him, and worst of all, keeping poor client accounting records is only enough to warrant a three-year suspension, according to the Supreme Court of Wisconsin. So filing a frivolous lawsuit? No probalo!

Amusingly, a substantial issue in the case (see ¶¶ 57-59) was whether the lawyer’s three-way encounter involving himself, his client, and his client’s girlfriend constituted having sex between lawyer and client – they were “sharing” the girlfriend but did not “cross swords,” so to speak, themselves. This was the only one of the fifteen counts of misconduct upon which the Wisconsin Supremes found that the lawyer in question did not violate.

Hat tip to my man Eugene Volokh; if you have time, read the comments to Eugene’s post, some of which are quite funny.

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Making The Island

by Burt Likko on October 29, 2007

With a lot of work, the bulk of it done by The Wife, our house (particularly our kitchen) is starting to come together. We think we’ll have everything ready to go around Thanksgiving. Just in time for the holidays, so no one will come to our housewarming.

(Is it really a “housewarming” if you’ve already been living in the house for a month or more?)

So, since we don’t have enough to do to finish the remodel, we decided to take on a new project: building a floating kitchen island. One morning’s worth of cooking eggs and bacon convinced me that there is inadequate storage space, so we needed more cabinets somewhere. The Wife’s solution: buy pre-made cabinets, mount them on casters, and put a topper of some sort on there. We’re staining the island cabinets to match the ebony stain on the mounted kitchen cabinets, and while ideally I’d like to find the same kind of granite tile that’s in the kitchen now, we’re settling for a butcher-block top. She also sold me on the idea of properly-stained beadboard to line the cabinets with; when it’s all done it should be quite impressive.

I don’t know how much things like this cost retail. Our raw materials were just over $400.

Some time over the course of this week, I’ll assemble the various parts and we’ll get the thing in the kitchen. I also have to finish cleaning out the last of the cabinet doors because the goopy stain remover didn’t work as well as we’d hoped. The Wife’s job is to finish the pantry doors and get the completed cabinet doors re-mounted (because the cats keep crawling in the cabinets that don’t have doors, and eating the people food inside).

All the work is starting to wear at The Wife, whose mood today was not good. I’m sore, too, but I suspect it’s worse for her. Breathing all of those paint and stain fumes can’t be helping, either; we’ve both been fighting splitting headaches all day. All I can do is help her as best I can and hope she starts to feel better soon.

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So Much For Rocktober

by Burt Likko on October 29, 2007

In the end, it came down to John Papelbon pitching to Seth Smith. Not names for the ages, I don’t think, but the Red Sox’s pitching was just too much for the Rockies, who got themselves swept in the Series. So I’d better enjoy using the phrase “Rocktober” while I can, because some playoff-happy executives in Denver decided that they would trademark that phrase, so beloved of classic rock radio stations nationwide.

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The Real G.I. Joe

by Burt Likko on October 29, 2007

Apparently, for an upcoming movie to be directed by Stephen Sommers (of “The Mummy” fame), G.I. Joe is being transformed into a multinational rapid response force based in Brussels, Belgium. According to Variety, “G.I. Joe is now a Brussels-based outfit that stands for Global Integrated Joint Operating Entity, an international co-ed force of operatives who use hi-tech equipment to battle Cobra, an evil organization headed by a double-crossing Scottish arms dealer.”


G.I. Joe was based on a real guy. A U.S. Marine, to be exact, Platoon Sergeant Mitchell Paige, who literally singlehandedly held off more than 2,000 invading Japanese infantry from taking over a then-unknown island called Guadalcanal. That’s why G.I. Joe has to be a U.S. Marine, a “Real American Hero,” the way I got to know him as a child of the Cold War.

Take a moment to read the links, please. Particularly impressive was his solo, handheld use of a .30 caliber M1919 Browning, a weapon usually mounted on a tripod and controlled by a gunner and an ammunition feeder. His citation for receipt of the Congressional Medal of Honor reads:

For extraordinary heroism and conspicuous gallantry in action above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the Second Battalion, Seventh Marines, First Marine Division, in combat against enemy Japanese forces in the Solomon Islands Area on October 26, 1942. When t he enemy broke through the line directly in front of his position, Platoon Sergeant Paige, commanding a machine-gun section with fearless determination, continued to direct the fire of his gunners until all his men were either killed or wounded. Alone, against the deadly hail of Japanese shells, he manned his gun, and when it was destroyed, took over another, moving from gun to gun, never ceasing his withering fire against the advancing hordes until reinforcements finally arrived. Then, forming a new line, he dauntlessly and aggressively led a bayonet charge, driving the enemy back and preventing a break through in our lines. His great personal valor and unyielding devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

I’m no specialist in infantry tactics, but it seems to me the reason you orchestrate a bayonet charge in 1942 is because you ran out of ammunition. I don’t think that Col. Paige, who died four years ago, would have liked being recast as a multinational force based in the chocolate confectioner’s capital.

The movie, by the way, sounds suspiciously like a wondrous piece of B-moviedom from the mid-1980’s. Now, I’m all for a cheesy B-movie. But, Hollywood, must you destroy the icons of my youth to create them? Yes, yes I guess you must. It’s in your nature.

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by Burt Likko on October 29, 2007

As longtime readers of the blog know, I am consistently annoyed at attempts to teach creationism (the idea that the universe, or life, was created by a supernatural entity, such as God) in public school science classes. I don’t have a problem with people who believe that God had a hand in these, but explaining a natural phenomenon by reference to the supernatural is not science by definition.

Rather, it is a reference to religion — the only “creator” who is ever proffered with any degree of seriousness by advocates of “intelligent design” or other forms of creationism is God. The origins of the “intelligent design” movement are readily traceable to the end of the “creation science” movement after Epperson v. Arkansas. This is well-chronicled in the post-trial statement of decision in the case of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District.

First of all, let’s not confuse “science” and “religion.” Science is a method of analyzing the world and finding explanations for phenomena. Religion is a search for ultimate meaning in the world, either through internal meditation or study of some purported inspired or revealed knowledge. Science, by definition, excludes all reference to any kind of supernatural phenomena. Religion, almost always by definition, requires a reference to the supernatural, because it seeks answers to different kinds of questions, and in a different kind of way, than does science.

On to the subject at hand. It doesn’t seem to me that the fact of evolution is subject to question by anyone rational. Evolution occurs; you can watch it happen in a laboratory. The well-documented phenomenon of microbes developing resistance to antibiotics is substantial, tangible, easily-replicable, and sufficient proof that the microbes in question do evolve, and over a period of only a few generations. It’s just plain a fact that those microbes evolve; you can make them do it in a petri dish, every time.

Evolution is also not nearly as well-understood or as well-accepted a scientific theory as I would have thought. The theory of evolution is an attempt to explain the diversity of species by way of observation of the fact of evolution. The question that the theory of evolution seeks to answer is not “How was life created?” but rather “Why are there so many different species of life?”

A lot of evolution skeptics say that it takes as much, if not more, “faith” to “believe” in evolution than it does in a religion. Others (including my uncle, who I can attest is a very smart man) say that evolution is, itself a religion. I say in response to this that evolution does not meet the standard English definitions of a “religion” and requires no faith at all to believe in — any more than it requires an iota of “faith” to believe in gravity or electromagnetism. Finally, another common criticism of evolution is that, like creationism, it is not falsifiable. This is not true — an evolutionary biologist can come up with hundreds of examples of fossils that, if found, would substantially disprove standard evolutionary theory, like a 300,000,000 year old skeleton of a dog. This would not necessarily make the biologist start believing in divine intervention in the creation of humanity, but it would require a striking revision to what most scientists understand to be the history of the evolution of life forms.

The big objection to evolution is, ultimately, that it is inconsistent with the idea that God created Man, as described in the Bible. Whether or not the Genesis myth is taken literally or figuratively, evolution provides an explanation for the existence of homo sapiens that does not rely on anything but natural phenomena. Based on this, the most common criticism of evolution that I’ve heard is a contention that the fossil record, upon which a lot of historical suggestion of the evolution of homo sapiens is based, is some combination of incomplete, inaccurate, and/or ambiguous. Evolutionary biologists from the academy respond, “no, it’s not,” and those of us who lack training and expertise in archeology and biology are all at a loss to discuss, intelligently, who is right. To this end, it seems reasonable to rely on the conclusions that experts in a field offer — knowing, of course, that it’s always possible that evidence can be found that will require the experts to revise their position.

So with that by way of my initial thoughts, have at it. Can evolution and religion be reconciled? Should we even try? Should they be taught side-by-side as equivalents?

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A Moment of Silence

by Burt Likko on October 27, 2007

It’s astonishing to me that we’re still arguing about prayer in public schools. I would have thought that this was a resolved issue — schools can neither sponsor religious expression, nor prohibit voluntary religious expression on the part of students that does not interfere with instructional activity. But, some people just don’t get it. So, the Illinois Legislature changed a law schools to have a moment at the beginning of class for “silent prayer or reflection” to instead require that the teacher have such a moment of silence. And it has earned the state (and a local school district) a lawsuit for its officiousness.

This isn’t hard, people. A school can neither sponsor nor prohibit voluntary religious expression.

Examples of prohibiting religious expression include:

  • Not allowing students to form clubs organized around religion
  • Punishing students for prayer or Bible study during non-class time
  • Dress codes targeting clothing expressing religious statements

Examples of sponsoring religious expression include:
  • Invocations of God during school ceremonies
  • Teaching religious doctrine in science or health class
  • Telling students that it’s okay to use instructional time for prayer

A public school can’t do any of the above.

Yes, there are some closer calls than this. What if a student includes an invocation of God when giving a commencement speech? (I think she should be allowed to do so without penalty; she doesn’t speak for the school.) What if a school’s code of conduct requires students to not discriminate against one another on the basis of sexual orientation, and a student wears a T-shirt invoking particular Biblical passages condemning homosexuality? (The student is properly subject to discipline; the policy does not target religion.) What if the Bible study club wants to use a classroom during the lunch period to meet and have a religious activity? (No dice; public facilities cannot support private religious activity — but at the same time, the Bible study club can meet in an area generally open to the student body, like a lunchroom, and school employees should permit them to meet and punish other students who might try to disrupt the meeting.)

But the “moment of silence” is not a close call. It is a transparent film over a public school’s official encouragement of students to pray. Adding the option of “silent meditation” does not ameliorate the fact that the school is using instructional time to encourage religious activity. It’s readily apparent that Buddhists, Sikhs, Hindus, Taoists, Shintoists, and atheists are not asking for this to be included in class time, and a reasonable student would infer that the school is making an official accommodation to people who want to pray to Jehovah and that the opportunity for non-devotional “meditation” is not the reason that the moment of silence is taking place. For that reason, it’s an establishment of religion and a violation of the Constitution.

I realize this is not the greatest threat to liberty that we face in this country. But it’s important because while small, it represents another step down a path leading to a very bad destination.

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Medical Bleg

by Burt Likko on October 27, 2007

This afternoon, after some exceptionally dull depositions, I came back to the office, ate some take-out lunch, and sat down to do some other work.

At about 2:30, my back started to really ache. I wondered if it was bad posture catching up with me, or something bad that I’d eaten. But the pain was localized just on my left flank, a few inches above my waist. Within twenty minutes, the pain had become intense; it felt like I’d been stabbed and it hurt to stand up. I tried to go to the bathroom to relieve myself, but that was of no avail.

I made a few more phone calls but by quarter after three, I was starting to feel a little dizzy and sick to my stomach, and I couldn’t really focus on anything but the pain. I felt a powerful compulsion to lay down, flat on my back. I let my assistant know I wasn’t feeling my very best and drove myself home.

On the drive back to Soffit House, the pain began radiating out into my left thigh and up to my ribcage. I cried out loud several times on the drive home, shifting about uncomfortably because of the discomfort. I’m not usually weepy when I hurt (pain makes me angry, not sad), but I felt tears coming down my face as I drove.

When I got home, I fed the animals and let the dogs out, and then I went into the bedroom. There, I stripped down to my underwear and laid down flat on my back on the bed. That seemed to help a little bit; it took some pressure off my back. I began to wonder what was going on inside me to cause so much pain, and what I could do about it other than take a drive to the hospital to wait twelve hours for emergency room treatment.

Keep in mind, all this time, the pain is localized on my left side, in my gut, closer to my back than my belly. Since it was on my left, I knew I could rule out appendicitis (the appendix is on the right, and would have been somewhat lower than this) but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what was going on because I was in so much pain. Granted, when you’re in physical pain, it’s not always easy to think clearly about what’s going on, and I’d had a full plate of depositions and procedural wrangling already that day.

The best guess I had while I was laying there, trying to hold still because writhing around in pain just made it worse, was that I had not digested a part of my lunch properly, and the food had begun to impact my intestine. Nothing about that scenario sounded in the least bit pleasant to me. I knew the first treatment would be a two-pronged chemical attack — some sort of strong agent to be taken orally, and an enema to make things work better on the other end. Then I wondered if there might be some kind of extracorporeal treatment available, like an ultrasound gun, to help break down the problem area. If none of that worked, I know from the very nasty experiences of others that the ultimate solution is surgery to remove part of the intestine.

Thus thoroughly horrified with my medical condition, I heard The Wife came home. She was understandably disturbed to find me home so early and so unwilling to get up off the bed to greet her. She had to deal with the guy who installed our blinds (I’d completely forgotten about that), and then she give me a cup of tea to drink.

At about quarter to five, I suddenly felt an intense need to urinate, so I did that. When that was done, the result looked murky and reddish-purple. Oh, great, I thought. I have porphyria. George III went mad when he was not much older than I am now, and this just in time for Halloween! But that didn’t really make any sense; to my knowledge, there’s no history of anything like that on either side of my family tree.

I stayed on my back and the pain gradually receded for about an hour or so. The next time I had to do my business, all was normal. My back and leg were still a little bit sore, and my mood was not what you’d call “elevated,” but nothing really hurt and I felt comfortable walking and standing. The Wife made a spot diagnosis that I had passed a kidney stone. It seemed to make a lot of sense, and I wondered why I hadn’t thought of that myself. Granted, I’m not House, but the more likely reason was I was in pain and not really thinking as well as I could because of that.

We went out to get avgolemono and dolmodes for dinner and I even had a glass of wine. While I’ve felt a little bit subdued, I seem okay again as I write.

So here’s the medical bleg — is The Wife right; did I pass a kidney stone? My symptoms, including the relatively quick onset of symptoms and then quick recovery, seem consistent with this. Many details of my story are consistent with it — nausea, sudden sharp pain with radiating echoes in the region of the solar plexus, and what may well have been blood in my urine.

But I didn’t feel any stone pass out of my body, nor did I see one (granted, they are quite small). And why would kidney stone pain radiate into my leg? And while this was painful, painful enough for me to send myself home from work early, it was not the most physically painful thing I have ever experienced.

Loyal Readers with experience in this regard (and you know who you are) or with medical training are especially encouraged to comment.

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