First times

>> Friday, November 30, 2012

I'm trying to process this, figure out if I have anything clever to say about it or whether it's just one of those things you just kind of observe and move on.  On the one hand, it was sort of educational; on the other hand, it isn't like it's the kind of thing I have to go through daily or against my will.

I'm one of those guys who usually ends up playing a female character in a videogame.  Not always, but often.  I'd love to tell you it's wholly noble and wonderful and open-minded of me, but I'll go ahead and confess that one reason I do it is entirely objectifying and therefore, some would say, sexist: if I'm going to be looking over the shoulder of an avatar for hours on end, I kind of prefer looking at something I like looking at.  But that's not really important, it's just sort of a preface.

So, I'm playing Star Trek Online when I arguably should be writing.  "Arguably" because of the issues with my writing I wrote about a couple of weeks ago; I've been trying not writing when I don't really have the words in me, so I logged on to this MMORPG I'm lately obsessed with and played a bit.  And in this game I have a female toon, Stephanie Maturin, named after the sidekick in the Patrick O'Brian books.

And I have Stephanie out there on a fleet mission, blowing up some Borg with some other players, and at some point this person using the handle "Aestu" (and also, perhaps oddly, playing a female toon) begins talking about what an angry feminist girl gamer I must be, because, apparently, I use capitalization and punctuation in the chat box when messaging other team members.

I know, weird, right?

But the really weird part is he--if it's a he, gods know, "Aestu" might have been an actual girl gamer who was trolling ((s)he seemed at least vaguely familiar with Hanna Rosin; then again, I'm a guy and I'm vaguely familiar with Hanna Rosin)--the weird part, as I was saying, was that (s)he/it kept on rolling with it.  I tried to deflect it with a comment about working through his neuroses after the battle was over, but he kept on going, going, going.  Obsessively, compulsively.  Maybe I should feel bad about joking about the guy being a neurotic.

Then the mission was over, we all returned to wherever we'd been in the Trek universe before we'd been called together to shoot at things--and the guy keeps going.  I kind of experimentally wanted to see how long he'd go on, but eventually confessed I have balls--and he didn't believe me.  And kept lecturing me about feminism being a dying movement and he has some kind of duty to belittle it and feminists in order to drive it underground, and he had some kind of weird metaphor involving the final scene from X2 (which I admit I'd completely forgotten about--a tiny blow to my geek cred, I'm afraid), and so on and so forth.  It was just weird.

I don't know if he'll show up around here or not.  I asked him to visit the blog and look at the author photo.  Don't know if he'll comment or not if he straggles round.

If he does, he's expecting a "vitriolic blurb".  (I told him I might just write about the whole thing.)  I enjoy vitriol, as regulars know, but I'm afraid I'll have to disappoint: I found the whole experience a little surreal and pathetic.

But I was also painfully aware that I have a luxury in feeling that way: after all, this guy's bullying another man, which makes the whole thing sad and funny.  And I turn off the computer and I'm not going to go into work in the morning and have someone make a comment about my tits or ass or how I'm dressed; I'm never going to get wolf-whistled, ironically or otherwise; I'm never going to have to wonder if I was passed up for a raise or promotion is because of my gender.  I get to laugh the whole thing off, shake my head at the wonderment that this guy seems to be dead certain I'm a woman because of the way I type.

I have to wonder how I'd feel if I were my little sister, reading this text scrolling by in the little box on the edge of the screen, or how the ScatterKat would have viewed the whole affair if she'd been down here instead of having retired early to bed.  I have to think I'd probably be really angry and upset if I had a lousy day at work, came home to retreat into a fun little fantasy, and then had some wiseacre calling me, "just a feminist loser" in a direct message, or announcing to a team I was a part of, "the reason stupid girl gamer trash like Maturin worship feminist idols who are so idealized they are essentially fiction is because they fail at competing in life".  (I'm not inventing these lines: I CTRL-A'd and C'd the chatbox and copied it into a Notepad file before I logged off for the night.)

Yeah, I think I'd be pretty pissed.

And there are two things about this, one of which is that there are people who wonder why there aren't more females playing games, and of course this is one of the biggest reasons: that there are people who will attempt to drive them away merely because it amuses them in some obscure way.  You have to wonder what's wrong with these people, what's wrong with them that that's how they get satisfaction.

And the other is that it's somehow even sadder when this kind of thing is happening in Mr. Roddenberry's neighborhood.  I don't want to oversell the man or blindly extol the guy, who absolutely had his shortcomings on the gender issue.  He had a kind of lecherous reputation and there were the infamous astronauts-in-miniskirts-and-go-go-boots running errands on the good ship Enterprise.  He once described a character thus: "a strip-queen figure even a uniform cannot hide.... She undoubtedly dreams of serving Robert April with equal efficiency in personal departments."  And yet I don't think it's at all unfair to point out that said infamous miniskirts were part of a second-pilot effort to make the show sexier and cooler, and that Star Trek's original pilot,"The Cage", featured a female first officer who was clearly intended to fill the role Leonard Nimoy's Spock ended up playing when they revamped and mostly recast the show (Nimoy appeared in both pilots, but the original star of Trek, Jeffrey Hunter, was replaced by William Shatner; John Hoyt by DeForest Kelley, etc.).  In spite of sharing a lot of his generation's attitudes about gender and race, Roddenberry was, I think, always straining at the bounds, always trying to imagine a more-inclusive universe, always coming back to the idea that people were people (whether or not he always managed to see the individuals he worked with or wrote about quite so free and clear of whatever soft bigotries he sometimes couldn't wholly get past).

You might think everybody playing a Star Trek game would be a feminist, or feminist-ish.  Or something.  You certainly would think that anyone attracted to the optimism and ideologies that Roddenberry put front-and-center in Trek (even when they got in the way of storytelling, which was especially a problem in early seasons of The Next Generation) would be anti-bullying, would be kind and more forgiving.  The chat channel, of late, has actually been depressingly filled with a fair amount of bigoted chatter, much of which I expect will fade away as we get farther from the political season here in the States. And then there's somebody like this "Aestu" character, who gets his kicks relentlessly disparaging someone--in a game set in a 'verse where that kind of behavior is explicitly derided as archaic and uncivilized.

It's kinda a bummer.

Coincidentally, this came up randomly on the playlist when I was tweeting that someone had tried to amuse himself abusing me.  Seemed a little apt and I might as well toss it up as an epilogue.


Guess who's coming for lunch?

>> Wednesday, November 28, 2012

President Obama will host Mitt Romney at the White House for lunch tomorrow, press secretary Jay Carney announced this morning. There aren't a lot of details out there about what the two men will talk about....

- Josh Voorhees, "Obama Will Have Romney Over to the White House For Lunch Tomorrow "; Slate, November 28th, 2012.

Mitt.  Hello.  Hi.  You know, I'm glad you agreed to come over and break bread with me.  I know we had a tough campaign and said some harsh things about one another, but that was just politics.  I think we can agree the Etch-A-Sketch can be shaken more than once, can't we?

First thing I want to tell you, though.  You can be absolutely comfortable today, say anything you want.  All those hidden microphones Nixon had all over the place have mostly been removed.  We're pretty sure they were removed.  I had the electronics people over, a couple of nice fellows from the CIA and FBI over to look and make sure there weren't any cameras on the buffet table, make sure the phone lines weren't tapped.  So if you want to talk about the forty-seven percent of people who voted for me, just let yourself go, get it off your chest, say whatever you... no, wait, hold on, hold on--didn't someone just tell me you only had forty-seven percent of the popular vote?

Well.  That's sort of ironic.  Funny how things add up. Heh.

So, uh, okay.  Well.  This is the door to the Oval Office, and I'll just open that up so you can take a look inside there.  That's where you would have worked if more than forty-seven percent of the country had voted for you.  Oh.  Sorry about that.  So, yeah, that's where you would have worked.  That's my desk, and my chair, and my credenza over by the wall, there.  I thought you'd be really interested in seeing the credenza, actually, because you can see that it really has a lot of room for binders on it, only mine are full of national security briefings.  I try to read those before I go out and give a press briefing about something like the attack on our embassy in Benghazi, so I don't humiliate myself by jumping the gun too much even if I have to correct some things later when new information comes in.  Love to show you those, Mitt, but they're for Presidents only, ha-ha.  Tell you what, I'll let you peek at one of the less-confidential briefings if you show me your tax returns.  Ha-ha.

No, I'm only kidding, Mitt.  I can't show you those.  Besides, I can just call up the IRS and have them sent over--

Mitt!  Mitt!  Calm down!  Joking!  Kidding!  Hey, man.  It's okay.  Just... okay... just sit down right here... maybe put your head between your knees and breathe deep.  Can somebody get this man a glass of water?  Are you going to be okay?  We're all friends here, Mitt.  We're all friends.  It's okay.  Here.  No, here, take my hanky.  It's going to be alright.  Here, here's a glass of water.  Drink slowly.  Breathe.  You okay?  No, take as long as you need.  You sure?  Okay?  Okay.

So, okay, here's the dining room.  We'll be having lunch here.  When it's warm out, sometimes I just take a sandwich out into the Rose Garden and check my BlackBerry.  Don't tell Michelle, but sometimes I sneak a cigarette, too.  Ha.

So, this is John, he'll be serving us today.  He's been here awhile, worked in the kitchen under three previous administrations.  We're his fourth.  I could have fired him my first day, but I really hate doing that.  His grandmother came here illegally, but John's an American citizen.  We think.  We didn't ask him to show us any photo ID.  You could have been his fifth administration, unless you fired him.  Don't know what his wife would have done, she has some preexisting medical conditions that would keep them from getting coverage if he lost his job.  Fortunately we got Obamacare passed, a lot like your Romneycare... by the way, have you figured out whether you're for that or against that, yet?

What's wrong?  You're not still upset about that tax thing, are you?  Look, here: have some lemonade.  We prepared it especially for you.  Just the way you like it: lemon, wet, good.



>> Tuesday, November 27, 2012

So, apparently the Associated Press has decided their writers shouldn't be using the terms "homophobia", "Islamophobia" or "ethnic cleansing".  I learn this secondhand, as the Associated Press hasn't actually put me on their mailing list nor included me in any of their high-level stylistic decisions for some reason.  Surely this is unfair.  Am I not a trusted purveyor of reliable, trustworthy news?

Harumph, I says.  And harumph, I means.

So the rationale, we're told, is that "ethnic cleansing" is a euphemism and phobias are psychiatric conditions.  Ah.  Well, it's actually a little hard to disagree with the first of those, though it's also a little hard to agree with it: I find the phrase "ethnic cleansing" a little disturbing insofar as it conjures up images of euthanasia, though the "cleansing" bit has me picturing something along the lines of a Nazi death factory only whiter and more sterile, Sobibor meets THX-1138, which isn't a fair portrayal of what actually happens in most of our contemporary "ethnic cleanses", which involve quite a lot more gunpowder, knives, blood in the streets, rape gangs, etc. and not a lot of ruthless efficiency and dust-free climate-controlled areas.

But then what else would you like to call it?  Mass-murder, I suppose, or genocide.  But the problem with these terms is they've lost their effectiveness as much as ethnic cleansing now has, and ethnic cleansing was a euphemism that, I think, was actually created for its ugliness.  It wasn't supposed to comfort, so much as it was supposed to convey an attempt to remove a group of people from existence like you might try to get rid of spilled soup down a shirtfront; I think it was a euphemism chosen for its very capacity to horrify, which is the opposite of what a euphemism does by its definition, making "ethnic cleansing" a kind of anti-euphemism or dysphemism.  (Aside: I'm disappointed to discover I've failed to coin a word when I thought I was being very clever.  Oh well.)

But what I find more unfortunate is the AP's decision regarding homophobia and Islamophobia:

"Ethnic cleansing is a euphemism for pretty violent activities, a phobia is a psychiatric or medical term for a severe mental disorder. Those terms have been used quite a bit in the past, and we don't feel that's quite accurate," AP Deputy Standards Editor Dave Minthorn told POLITICO.

"When you break down 'ethnic cleansing,' it's a cover for terrible violent activities. It's a term we certainly don't want to propgate [sic]," Minthorn continued. "Homophobia especially -- it's just off the mark. It's ascribing a mental disability to someone, and suggests a knowledge that we don't have. It seems inaccurate. Instead, we would use something more neutral: anti-gay, or some such, if we had reason to believe that was the case."

I'm not sure how inaccurate or off the mark the phrase "homophobia" is, though.  Or that describing someone as a "homophobe" when they engage in speech of conduct from which one might reasonably infer they have a mental disability is "suggesting knowledge that we don't have".  I certainly see the epistemological issue, insofar as, no, you perhaps don't know with certainty what is in someone's heart. (I almost wrote, "someone else's", but how do you even know with certainty what's in your own?)

But we can make the same kinds of claims about things like the sun rising or whether my cat is hungry: I don't know with utter certainty that there won't be some cosmic disaster in the next twelve-or-so hours that causes the Earth to freeze on its axis or spin madly off course or the sun to violently explode and engulf the world eight minutes after; and while my cat might be making a piteous sound and urgently threading himself between my feet until the can of cat food is opened and deposited in his bowl, whereupon he vigorously scarfs down the pile of mushed meat, I have to say I can't read his tiny, walnut-sized brain and I'm only making inferences based upon his actions.

Should you express irrational and hateful sentiments against someone because of their romantic or sexual preferences, or direct hateful actions against someone expressly because of their religious status and not for something they did or said that merits some such response--well, I don't think I'm going all that far astray in concluding from this evidence that you're lacking rational faculties and might even be psychologically diseased.  That you need counseling or could possibly benefit from a pill if such a pharmaceutical exists.  That you might be expressing yourself in these ways out of ignorance, yes, but that if you persist despite attempts made to educate you, there is some logical inference that your cultivated and maintained ignorance is actually the product of behaviorally or chemically caused mental dysfunction.  That perhaps you are repressing something and would benefit from psychoanalysis.  Or that your neurotransmitters are not adequately neurotransmitting.  Why, depending on the severity of your symptoms, I might even reasonably conclude from the evidence that you're what can safely be called a sick fuck and if you won't respond to treatment and can't properly be distanced from society (institutionalization seems a bit much unless you're actively a danger to yourself or others), politely and compassionately ignored to the extent you aren't becoming a danger to yourself or others.

It seems to me that the Associated Press is cowing to that crowd of people who gets very insulted and angry when they are called "homophobes" or "Islamophobes" after they've wallowed in homophobic or Islamophobic words or deeds.  They perceive these labels as being stigmatizing or insulting, you see; which, to be fair, they really are meant to be stigmatizing and insulting, and this leads us to the sole possible merit of the AP's position, namely that calling homophobes homophobic is arguably an insult to agoraphobics and others who suffer from clinical anxiety disorders.  To which I can only say that agoraphobics generally seem to have a better record of admitting they have a problem and seeking treatment, and shouldn't get defensive about needing such, in any case, and if a homophobe feels stigmatized by being diagnosed with homophobia, perhaps he ought to reexamine his own behavior.

I feel obligated to add that I do think the argument Laura Beck makes at Jezebel is a little disingenuous even if it's technically correct.  It's true that we talk about light-adverse creatures as being "photophobic" as opposed to "phototropic", for instance.  But I think we all probably know that part of the sting of words like "homophobia" and "Islamophobia" is the accusation of cowardice contained within the "phobia" suffix.  I just don't have a problem with that, though.  If you have an irrational fear of gay people, you're irrationally afraid, what else is that supposed to mean?  And I don't see how being concerned, say for instance, that a gay teacher is going to somehow engayify your children through proximity is anything less than an irrational fear: fear of the teacher, fear of your own preconceptions about gays, fear of a lack of control over how your child will turn out, fear that your child's adult sexual preferences will somehow reflect back upon you, etc.  All of which I would file under cowardice, yes, and insecurity and possibly illness.


Dumb quote of the day: wait, what am I angry about again? edition

>> Monday, November 26, 2012

Contrary to what feminists like Hanna Rosin, author of The End of Men, say, the so-called rise of women has not threatened men. It has pissed them off. It has also undermined their ability to become self-sufficient in the hopes of someday supporting a family. Men want to love women, not compete with them. They want to provide for and protect their families--it’s in their DNA. But modern women won’t let them.

It’s all so unfortunate--for women, not men. Feminism serves men very well: they can have sex at hello and even live with their girlfriends with no responsibilities whatsoever.
- Suzanne Venker, "The war on men", November 26th, 2012.

Hey, yeah!  That's a really good point--that really does piss me off, now that I think about it!  How dare women rise up and... agree to casual sex... and to move in with me and I end up with no responsibilities whatsoever.

Speaking of which, the ScatterKat and I need to have a talk.  I believe we need to have a conversation about how she's not enough of a feminist, seeing as how I seem to have all these responsibilities and stuff, and what the hell is up with that?   I mean, okay, so the mortgage is in my name, but the way I'm seeing it now, thanks to Ms. Venker, my mortgage really needs to be kept between the ScatterKat and the bank--there's no reason it needs to be any of my business.  And as to everything else?  Well.

Also, she needs to understand that if another woman says "Hello" to me, well, it's helllll-ooooh.  I have been horribly confused and misinformed all these years, by the way.  Here I was, thinking that a woman who says, "Hello," to me was simply greeting me in about the most generic manner possible, when it's very possible what she meant was, "That's feminist for 'Let's have the sex now!  It's sexytime!  Sex!  Sex!  Sex!'"  And I have thus missed hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions of opportunities to gain firsthand knowledge of all kinds of venereal diseases and the painful treatments thereof, which would stand me in good stead as an aspiring horror or dark fantasy writer.  Not to mention all the sex I would have been having.  And could be having: like I say, the ScatterKat and I need to talk, first about all the sex I now expect to be getting and second about her overcoming and squeamishness she might have helping me with any antibiotics that have to be intravenously administered.

What does have me just a mite confused, though, is the one-eighty in those two paragraphs from Ms. Venker.  I am supposed to be pissed off.  Because I can't provide for my family if I'm competing with a woman.  Somehow.  Okay, that part confuses me all by itself.  Because it seems to me that my ability to provide for the ScatterKat and myself, or to share in our providing for ourselves, is independent of any female coworkers I have.  And I'm certainly not competing with the ScatterKat; actually, it would be nice if she made a lot more money than I did and I could quit this soul-crushing job and live an indolent life of leisure as a lethargic, possibly alcoholic writer (by the way, can I adopt a cigarette holder as an affectation without actually taking up smoking? because I have a hard time puffing on a cigarette without either coughing or just sucking the smoke into my mouth without inhaling, like some kind of dork).

But aside from that: it seems to me that all the bonus sexytime resulting from handshakes, passing people in the hall, going through a checkout line at the grocery store, etc., etc., plus the lack of domestic responsibility at home would be utterly liberating and something to be happy about.  Something, indeed, that would more than make up for whatever stress I'm supposedly having as a result of competing with women.

Of course, it occurs to me that I may be weird.  Ms. Venker says she's talked to "hundreds, if not thousands" of the United States' 228,882,864 adults over the course of the past thirteen years, and discovered "a subculture of men who’ve told [her], in no uncertain terms, that they’re never getting married" because "Women aren’t women anymore."  And that's a lot of people.  When you accumulate that massive a quantity of anecdotal anecdotes--a subculture of men who don't want to marry hidden amongst hundreds (maybe even thousands) of adults--you just have to be on to something, you know?  We're not talking about some reclusive tribe of tree-people in Borneo, unless we are, but (even then) this shy and retiring, gentle people would be in the United States, and not Borneo.  I think.  Actually, Ms. Venker neglected to say whether she met these angry, single, eligible-but-not-playing men in the United States or while on an international book tour to promote one or more of her works; I just kind of assumed, foolishly, and I withdraw the assumption and admit that it's possible, albeit it seems unlikely, somehow, that all of these men live in Borneo.  And in a tree.  Though I don't know why you'd visit a tree on a book tour.  Unless that's where the Barnes & Noble happens to be.  Do they have Barnes & Noble in Borneo and do they build them in trees there, and if they do, where do they put the Starbucks?

Oh dear.  I seem to have lost my train of thought.  Listen, forget all the bullshit about feminism and greetings sex and my weird lack of rage over women in the workplace.  More pressing issues are upon us.  I think, really, you would need a really large tree in order to fit in two storeys, one containing a variety of popular fiction, non-fiction, self-help works, calendars, etc.; and then another storey where you have a small but varied selection of CDs, DVDs, board and card games, and a coffee shop that might be an ersatz Starbucks but definitely smells nice.  I'm not even entirely sure you could get the Young Adult section into a tree, much less a Young Adult section and a table full of remaindered Glenn Beck titles.  So I really must know, now, if such a thing is possible.  What I'm thinking, maybe, is if some loyal reader in Borneo could take a picture of a tree with or without a Barnes & Noble, or maybe take a picture of a Barnes & Noble itself, or, maybe pictures of both taken to similar scale, I could line them up and try to figure this problem out.  Or, you know, I wonder if I could possibly set up a Kickstarter project to have myself sent to Borneo, to do research on Barnes & Nobles and also ask any lost tribes of tree-people, if such exist, why they hate women so much and do they ever regret the arboreal life, especially when they wake up in the middle of the night needing to pee.


Happy Thanksgiving!

>> Thursday, November 22, 2012

Really, that would be about all I'm dropping in to say.

I didn't post an entry yesterday.  No, not by accident.  I decided, "I have nothing particular to say here today, and I'm not just going to do a filler post."  A bit liberating, actually.  First day I've missed, not counting the era right after the car accident when I only had one hand.

But I couldn't leave today blank.  It's Thanksgiving, here in the States, where we celebrate being around to celebrate, basically, and do it by watching TV and eating, which makes it sound like a Thursday, but it's not.  It's a day we give thanks, though to an unbeliever like myself, that's just in kind of a general, "Hi, universe, thanks for not smiting me today" kind of sense.


The ScatterKat and I will be roasting a duck and chilling.  I hope those of you who are off today will enjoy it with your loved ones and/or with delicious comestibles.  And those of you who are in strange exotic countries like Canada?  Well, I hope you have an excellent Thursday.


Public Image, Ltd., Beyonce, Fleetwood Mac; "Flowers Of Romash" (mashup by Antennae)

>> Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The other day a friend--clearly not understanding the magnitude of his error--expressed what appeared to be a preference for Christine McVie over Stevie Nicks.  This is clearly wrong, of course.  Christine McVie is a perfectly cromulent songstress and I do appreciate her in small doses, her treacliness notwithstanding.  But Stevie--Stevie is divine.

I know, I know--how can someone be wrong about a matter of taste?  Well.  They are.

But so: he went on to say he found Stevie Nicks' voice grating (another mistake, obviously).  This led me to wonder, impishly, if there had ever been a situation in which one John Lydon had ever been caught singing a Fleetwood Mac song, which seemed improbable but worth checking out (Sid Vicious did do a rendition of "My Way", of course), and while I failed to find something I could post to my friend's wall with a snarky, "Try this", I did, nevertheless, rediscover again just how awesome the Internet is.  No, no Johnny Rotten channeling Christine McVie, but, yes, a mashup of Public Image, Ltd. (Lydon's lifelong post-Sex Pistols project, if you didn't know), Beyonce, and the Mac.  PiL's "Flowers Of Romance", Beyonce's "Crazy In Love" and Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain"--adding up to pure badassnessery.

We'll forgive my friend's obvious yet unfathomable mistake, then.  He did bring me here.


...aaaand we're back--

>> Monday, November 19, 2012

So I did about three weeks of reruns, and now I think we'll get away from that and back to the grind.  Whether that's a permanent restoration of the Giant Midgets schedule or not, I just don't know.

I'm going through something of a rough patch, writing-wise.  I'll write something I'm damned pleased with, collapse into a mire of displeasure with it, and abandon the thing--or, worse yet, restart it.  There's a lack of confidence, not in my potential but in my actual accomplishment, a gulf that yawns between what I think I might be capable of and what I actually am able to get done.  And this sucks, as you may well know if you've ever been there.  I'm not looking for anyone to butter me up, by the way, though some of you have said very nice things to me when I've moaned and groaned on Facebook or elsewhere about my personal creative crisis; I'm just explaining where I am or think I am, and how all my charts out of this Sargasso have managed to get me little more than a few days' seeming progress followed by the discovery of several tons of seaweed jammed in the rudder during a dead calm beneath the white, white sun.

I should also, before anyone feels too sorry for me, point out what I just did there: I took my feelings of creative inadequacy and expressed them, not for pity or sympathy (though solidarity, any of you fellow creative types, is always damn nice: fist bump, my sisters and brothers), but because that act of writing was something, or, more precisely, was itself.  I.e. that act of writing about writing was writing, which may be very boring to some of you (sorry!), but from my POV with my fingers on the keys was me trying to come up with a metaphor for feeling static and becalmed in my creative works and spinning it out into a classic nautical reference and what maybe could be a nice image, if I'm allowed to say that, or at least an image that isn't bad and could be polished if it isn't too cliché (and, okay, it's a little cliché, but I still like the bit about the rudder).

That was one of the things this blog was supposed to do, originally, and sometimes still does.  Get me writing.  Keep me writing.  Obligate me to write.

Except that obligation might be self-destructive sometimes, hence three weeks of reruns while I did some mental sorting and started--and abandoned--NaNoWriMo.  (Which wasn't a total failure, either, though I won't be finishing the crap I started, at least not in the form it's in right now.)

This was, blink, blink, blink with the audible tinking sound characters blinking their eyes in surprise make in old Warners' cartoons.  You know, the sound Wile E. Coyote's eyelids make when he abruptly notices he's out of cliff and there's nothing but many vast impossible miles between his toenails and a picturesque canyon floor.
Go to the link.  Read the comic.  It's not something I can just reproduce here or anything.  Go on, new tab, I'll still be here when you get back.
...oh Mandy

Well you came and you gave without taking

And I sent you away, oh Mandy
And you kissed me and stopped me from shaking
And I need you today, oh Mandy....
Oh, hi!  Are we back?  Okay, so... what?  Hhhh--alright, fine.
...oh Mandy

da-da, da-da-da, da-da-da-dum
dum-dum-da-da, oh Mandy
di-di-da, di-di-da, di-di-dum
And I need you today, oh--
Now are we settled?  Comfy?  Empty bladder or full cup or whatever that was all about?  Finally?  Thanks.  So, okay--

Sometimes Matt Inman is kind of full of it (his current Tesla fetish is less than endearing, honestly--am I allowed to say that?), but here, in the comic at the link, I think he's very wise.  The whole damn comic.  And one of the provocative things in there, for me, is his explanation for why The Oatmeal updates so sporadically:
I'm a firm believer that if you don't have anything to say, you shouldn't be talking.  And if you don't have anything to write about, don't write. [emphasis in original]

Which is simultaneously excellent advice and absolutely terrible.  Because what we hear a lot of, those of us trying to write, is that you need to write through those periods when you have nothing to write about.  That, to some degree, writing is like playing an instrument or doing anything else where practice equals proficiency.  That you could at least be doing one of the ten thousand thousand writing exercises--twenty first lines, five first paragraphs; a flash piece based on five random words; write about this random name in this random place with this random obstacle; etc., et al. (there's all kinds of software to help you come up with all these little myriad etudes, finger-flexes and breath-control practices).  Our heroes get up every morning, they tell us, and write so many words or hours before lunch; they take a break to have a meal and maybe walk the dog or go have a look at whatever inspirational sight-to-see they happen to have around at one end of their rustic ranch or up the road from their front gates (just don't get hit by a truck); then they go back to the typewriter and pound out a few thousand words before dinner and an early bedtime.  Or that's how they are late in their careers; early on, it's maybe go to a day job--maybe in a record store, or making sounds about William Faulkner towards the general locale of a bunch of really bored and apathetic teenagers, say--then they come home and, again, here's several thousand words before bedtime and a novel a year or something.

I don't know how they do it.  I mean, I know how they do it, or say they do it.  I just don't know how I'm supposed to do it.

But so.  Here's another void.  Not writing because you have nothing to say, and writing despite having nothing to say because that's supposedly how you refine your craft or something.
The really successful writers talk about what hard work it is and yet still manage to make it sound easy in spite of themselves.  Gods know, they still aren't half as bad as all the lower-tier writing advisers who publish helpful writing tips between all their genre novels in which plucky, bosomy heroines fight and fuck werewolves and mummies and pirate vampires (or vampire pirates; whatever).  Those folks cheerfully tell you writing is easy, anyone can do it, and then pop up a list of seventy-five things you can do if you want to be a writer, such as, for instance, write about things that interest you.  (Which is the kind of thing that never would have occurred to me.)

I flog myself with the essays of truly successful writers and religiously subscribe to the "helpful" mass-spammings from the hacks, and in between I occasionally visit the blogs of various writers in-between.  Sometimes I tell myself, "I could do that," meaning what these various writers produce, not the method they use to do so, and then, quite frequently, I don't, because--I don't want to make excuses or anything--I have a career that "pays my way and corrodes my soul".

("I'm a sickening wreck.")

Again, not looking for pity, or (worse yet) advice.  Just trying to explain how my eyes were going, doik, doik, doik at the very idea that it might be alright to not write something when I have nothing to write.

"Wait--I can do that?  That's allowed?  Really?  Noooo--yes?"
This is all such a long way to go to suggest that maybe I ought to update the blog less and stress less about not writing more outside the blog, and really focus on writing when there's a story to be told and not because I have some kind of silly idea about how one goes about writing.  Part of this sounds like a New Year's Resolution, not to be kept.


Radiohead, "Fake Plastic Trees"

>> Sunday, November 18, 2012

An old favorite.  New content tomorrow.  Hope you're having a real and excellent weekend.


The Joy Formidable, "Chola"

>> Saturday, November 17, 2012

New JF record coming.  I adore these folks.


Best of SOTSOGM: An open letter to Barrister Donald Smith, Esq.

>> Friday, November 16, 2012

This is the one that started it all, on June 5th, 2010.

The idea was supposed to be that all these people are playing this global cat-and-mouse death bingo, where players are placing outrageous bets and then drawing from a hat or wire cage or whatever to see who has the worst outcome.  So, like, drawing  "D-208" might mean your face gets chewed off by rats, but you win Bob's car from him because he drew "H-90" and had his entire lower body removed.  Or something.  I was warped by Roald Dahl's "Man From The South" at an early age, or maybe I saw the Alfred Hitchcock Presents version first and was warped by that.  Either way.  I'm sure that lighter was about to crap out when she interrupted them.

Attention Dear Friend,
From: Donald Smith (

Sent: Thu 6/03/10 11:31 PM

Attention Dear Friend,

How are you doing? Hope you have not forgotten me; I am Barr.Donald Smith, I and my colleagues have contacted you some time ago to Assist us secure the release of some money accrued from the Over invoicing of a Contract/Inheritance, Next Of Kin and Lottery Payment with ATM/CBN.

Though you were not able to assists us conclude the Transaction complete, I'm happy to inform you about my success in getting those Funds transferred under the assistance and cooperation of a new partner from UK.

I have been waiting for you since to contact me for your Confirmable Bank Draft of $6.2 Million United States Dollars, but I did not hear from you since that time.Then I went and deposited the Draft with APEX COURIER SERVICE,Now I traveled out of the country for a 3 Months Course/Investment project with my new partner And I will not come back till three months time.

What you have to do now is to contact the APEX COURIER SERVICE as soon As possible to know when they will deliver your package to you because Of the expiring date on the draft. For your information, I have paid for the Delivering Charge, Insurance premium and Clearance Certificate Fee of The Cheque showing that it is not a Drug Money or meant to sponsor Terrorist attack in your Country.

The only money you will send to APEX COURIER SERVICE to deliver Your Draft direct to your postal Address in your country is ($210 US) Dollars only being Security Keeping Fee only. Again, don't be deceived by anybody to pay any other money except $210.00US Dollars.We would have paid that but they said no because they Don't know when you will contact them and in case of demurrage. You have To contact the APEX COURIER SERVICE now for the delivery of your Draft With this information bellow;

Telephone +234 8074788268

Finally, make sure that you reconfirm your Postal address () and Direct Telephone number to them again to avoid any mistake on the Delivery and Ask them to give you the tracking number to enable you track your Package over there and know when it will get to your address. Let me Repeat again; try to contact them as soon as you receive this mail to Avoid any further delay and remember to pay them their Security Keeping Fee of $210.00 US Dollars for their immediate action. You should also Let me know through email as soon as you receive your Draft.

Yours Faithfully,
Barr.Donald Smith

NB:The details you are to send to apex with the security keeping fee is listed below.
(1) Full Name:
(2) Address:
(3) Phone:
(4) Company Name:
(5) Profession:
(6) Age:
(7) Marital Status:

Hello, Dear Friend.

No, I haven't forgotten you, Smith. Every time I look down at the wrinkled stump of my wrist I remember you and the other players in our old Contract/Inheritance, Next Of Kin and Lottery game. I'm surprised it's taken you so long to track me down. I'm not retired, though I've been inactive on a Rule VI hiatus until I recover from that H-9 Odili drew on me last year. The chelation went well and my hair's growing back, but there were secondary complications and I've been on chemo recently. Thanks for asking, by the way.

Out of the country, you say? I think I know better. There's no way you're leaving your little hidey-hole with Ryu after your ass after what you tried to pull when she drew the B-11 against your QQ-1. You know the rules as well as I do: welsh on a draw, double penalty--so unless you dictated this little missive to one of your flunkies, I don't see you doing any typing if Ryu found you. She's a hell of a competitor and she doesn't like cheats.

That's right, I'm calling you a cheat, Smith. We both know you adopted that kid you gave Sanchez as a "firstborn son" for that D-312. He didn't even look like you. Guess you didn't want to pony up the substitute penalty, which makes you a coward and a wimp on top of being a cheat. Sure, we all know how you like to brag about doing marathons, but running with a limp isn't as hard as it looks. (Remember when Kreiger tried to welsh on Faulkner halfway through a payment that time Faulkner drew the EE-3 on her? Yeah, you can run on bloody stumps if you want it badly enough.)

I haven't forgotten you owe me a C-23 and a FF-9, Smith. I'm calling a Rule IV on your ass and denying you a draw 'til you pay up. The $6.2 million may cover the FF-9, but I have a sharp scalpel and a rack of power tools handy for the C-23, and I'm not accepting a substitute this time. God knows what poor girl you'd marry in Vegas and bring to that meet-up as collateral, and anyway you've made it personal. You've fucked over every player still breathing and I think I can speak for the Membership in saying we're all sick of it. You're damn lucky we don't hold a Rule XII and cash your little punk ass out.

It's dodgy little fucks like you who give The Game a bad name.

R. Eric VanNewkirk
Standing On The Shoulders Of Giant Midgets


I know you were close to O'Connor. If you're wondering why he isn't returning your calls, Ryu drew an A-24 against his ZZ-12 when he was visiting Seoul in March and he's cashed out. Not sure if you heard.

I know: what are the odds?


Best of SOTSOGM: Five stages of The Phantom Menace

>> Thursday, November 15, 2012

I've gotten to where I have a hard time plumbing the depths of my disappointment in what Star Wars turned into.  I'm not trying to get into some kind of silly "George Lucas ruined my childhood" nonsense with that--lots and lots of other things ruined my childhood, but let's not get into that.  It's just that Star Wars was something I treasured and adored, and now it's just something I know about and sometimes think fondly of, but without the real emotional connection I had to it a long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.

I went all Kübler-Ross on the prequel trilogy back on August 6th, 2009. 

I: Denial

1999, outside the theater: "That... that was pretty good, right? Yeah! Yeah it was! That was great! Awesome! I'm buying the soundtrack on the way back to the house!"

II: Anger

2001, arguing with friends over dinner: "It's good! It has its moments! I mean, it wasn't made for us, anyway! We were little kids when the first one came out, and this one was made for our kids! Fuck you! It does what it sets out to do! It's not that bad, so just shut the hell up, already!"

III: Bargaining

2002, after seeing Attack Of The Clones: "I'll concede that Phantom Menace could have been better. Lucas was kind of rusty after a long time away from the camera. Even so, you have to admit Phantom Menace has its moments--the lightsaber battles are pretty cool, the podracing sequence is awesome. Someone did this "Phantom edit" version where they cut out Jar-Jar Binks and most of the kid's dialogue, and I heard it was pretty good. Anyway, Attack Of The Clones is a lot better, I think it's better than Jedi; you have to admit it's pretty good."

IV: Depression

2005, after seeing Revenge Of The Sith: That... that's what I waited for for so long...? I shoulda known after Phantom Menace... I... I shoulda known....

V: Acceptance

2009, after finally giving in and purchasing the prequel trilogy on DVD, while watching Phantom Menace again in its entirety for the first time in ten years: "This is just awful. This is just fucking terrible."


Best of SOTSOGM: An open letter to Mr Mark Borris

>> Wednesday, November 14, 2012

This was me trying to write a shaggy dog story.

The best spam letters to work with are the ones where there's some brilliant, minor spelling error that might be easily missed.  E.g. a spam letter that calls someone a "liar and imposer" instead of "liar and imposter".  So you start thinking about what on Earth that could mean--a liar and imposer, you say?  Really?  And how does he impose, eh?

This was also an excuse to do a little parodying of the "raised-by-beasts" archetype you run into in Kipling and Edgar Rice Burroughs.  Their characters always end up being noble savage types, uncorrupted by civilization, when you and I know perfectly well they'd just end up learning how to scratch themselves with their feet or would consider picking lice out of a date's hair to be Second Base.

This originally appeared August 31st, 2010.

Call Mr Mark Borris, If You Are Still Alive : +234-8024954272‏

Sent: Sun 8/29/10 10:20 PM

Phone: +234-8024954272

Hello Dear,

This is to inform you of your long overdue Payment outstanding with our Banking records. This is to inform you that your name came first from our Central Computer among the list of unpaid Inheritance claims individuals and have to update your information through this email contact for immediate confirmation. Your name appeared among the beneficiaries who will receive a part-payment of US$2,500,000 million (Two Million Five Hundred Thousand United State Dollars) and it has been approved already for payment months ago.

However, we received an email from one Mr. Morris Lint, who told us That you are dead and he is your next of kin and that you died in a car Accident four months back. To our findings we discover that this Morris Lint is a liar and imposer that is why we contact you before any release of funds can be paid to him. He has also submitted his Account information to the Accounting office department of our Bank for Immediate transfer of the fund to him as your inheritor.

Regarding our investigation from the Bank & the Nigerian Police Force (N.P.F) in conjunction with the Economic Financial Crime Commission (E.F.C.C) we are now verifying by contacting your email address as we have in our Bank records before we can Make the transfer into his account and for us to conclude with confirmation if you are dead or not.

Please, confirm response immediately through the e-mail as below with Proof, before our action release of the outstanding payment against your name listed out. Upon this, i request you send your full personal information as soon as possible to enable this department finalize The transfer of the fund release to your nominated foreign Bank Account.

This department needs the following information From you urgently to enable us verify with the Information we have in the Central computer of the Bank.

1. Full Names
2. Telephone
3. Contact Address.
4. Age..........
5. Occupation..........
6. Sex..........

CONFIDENTIALITY NOTICE: This E-Mail is intended only for the use of the individual or entity to which it is addressed and may contain information that is privileged, confidential and exempt from Disclosure under applicable law.

Once again, I apologize to you on behalf of International Monetary fund Agency towards this contact and proper confirmation required urgently from you if alive.

Make sure you reply back

Mr Mark Borris
International Monetary Fund Agency
Phone: +234-8024954272

My Darling,

I hope this greeting isn't too intimate. I feel I hardly know you, but since you addressed me as "Dear" I didn't really want to leave you feeling snubbed. So I shall call you "Darling" and you may continue to call me "Dear" or "Snookie-Wookums" or whatever is the fashion on Earth these days. I've heard from late arrivals that things are much more vulgar and immodest now, but I don't feel it's my place to criticize, so if this is how you folks do it, so be it.

I fear, Darling, that you are too hard on dear old Morris. First, as to the fact he is an imposer, I am afraid that this is only the result of being raised by gorillas in the Tanganyika Territory back when it was still owned by the Jerries. His father, you see, was the noted aeronaut Sir Thomas Lint, and you may recall that Sir Thomas always insisted on bringing his entire family along on his madcap adventures, including that final ill-fated attempt to cross the Dark Continent by dirigible; when the dirigible crashed, poor Morris' entire family was killed along with the servants, and the infant Morris himself surely would have been eaten by jackals had he not been found and immediately adopted by a gaggle of fierce-yet-noble gorillas who then raised Morris as one of their own until he turned eighteen. Anyway, Darling, while the gorillas did a surprisingly good job raising Morris and Morris did a lovely job of educating himself in most of the ways of Man once he found his father's traveling library amidst the airship's wreckage and Morris eventually attended Oxford and graduated top-honors, the one thing Morris never was able to understand was the idea of personal space. He offended many a hostess by jumping up on the table in the middle of a Bridge game and trying to remove (imaginary, I assure you) fleas from her coiffure, but it was never his intent in doing so to be an "imposer," it was merely good manners "back home" as it were.

As for Morris' honesty, I assure you it is impeccable and you surely have no cause for calling him a "liar." I think I know, however, how you came to this hasty and insulting conclusion. Morris has always had difficulty with the passage of time due to a head injury suffered in the air-crash that killed his family--he once showed up to a tennis game seven months late (needless to say, it had already been recorded as a forfeit). Further, I would imagine that he must be well over one hundred years old, Darling, and might be a touch senile. Hence, what surely must be an honest mistake in claiming that the automobile crash which tragically claimed my life was a mere four months ago, when it in fact happened in 1927. As for "next of kin" status: after The War, we frequently called each other "brother" and I did leave him the contents of my wine cellar along with a selection of books and the stuffed carcass of an ape I shot in Borneo that Morris always said reminded him of his uncle. At his age, at any rate, I can see it all blurring together a bit; also, I must state again, he did bump his head rather severely during his family's 2,833-foot plummet.

All of this brings us to the point of your missive, Darling, and a point of difficulty in your proposal. As noted in the previous paragraph, I am, in fact, quite dead and have been for eighty-three years. Now, as it happens, God has a bit of a poor opinion of people who shoot apes in Borneo (something I insist was not made clear in the Anglican Church I was raised in). Also, it seems God is not keen on a man who sleeps with his business partner's wife (when I objected to this, it was pointed out to me that there are, indeed, some Biblical passages which technically might be read as frowning on this) and dies drunkenly smashing his automobile into the side of a poorly-located orphanage while attempting to whisk said partner's wife home before his own wife returns from vacationing in the country and her husband returns from celebrating his mother's birthday at the London Zoo (I asked where any of this could be found in the Bible, and was not particularly satisfied with the passages that were pointed out to me, none of which seemed especially specific or on-point).

I did, however, contribute a fair amount to the Church Of England while I was alive, and in consideration of that generosity, God has agreed to let me muck around in Purgatory a bit rather than send me to Hell. (I was frankly surprised the place existed, but there you are.) It hasn't been made clear to me just how long I'll have to while away here, but I suppose anything is better than being set on fire and prodded by demons or whatever it is they do down there in that other place.

If being dead isn't actually an obstacle to receiving these funds, Darling, what I would ask you to do is donate the full sum to the Church in my name. I'm not certain it will give me any credit here, but I imagine it can't hurt any, and I'm awfully bored stuck where I am now. It's almost as grey as Limbo, which I hear is completely and absolutely totally grey. Or, perhaps, you could take the money and go about doing good deeds in my name--I'd ask you to shout out, as you're performing the act of kindness, that it is being done on my behalf and I would be there to do it myself if I wasn't dead. But with humility, please: I don't want it to seem self-aggrandizing. Perhaps you could shout, "Because he's very sorry!" in a generally God-ward direction or something like that.

If that's possible. If it isn't, I understand, and I would ask you to consider giving the money to Morris Lint after all, in the alternative. Because Morris really is like a brother to me, and he really does deserve any kindness that can be brought his way.

On that note, Darling, please also tell Morris when you contact him that Celeste didn't feel anything at all in the wreck. Unless he's still mad about the whole thing after all these decades, in which case she says you can tell him she suffered horribly. (I think that's very decent of her, all things considered, don't you?)

R. Eric VanNewkirk
Standing On The Shoulders Of Giant Midgets


Best of SOTSOGM: A brief history of the "short fat old man" defense

>> Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Part of the fun of doing this "Best of" schtick--and I really hope I'm not boring all of you to tears with it--is that I really never go through the archives all that often, and so there's literally thousands of posts I've forgotten I've written.  This one, for instance.  Which I stumbled across while looking for a juvenile law piece that pleased me.

Ben Stein's an idiot, of course.  It always blows my mind that the "Bueller, Bueller, Bueller" guy had a previous life as a Nixon speechwriter and now gets work as a pundit.  It seems to me like he was born to play soulless, repetitive pedants, not to be one in real life.  Ben Stein, the game show host: comedy gold.  Ben Stein, the observer of current legal and political affairs: well, actually, still comedy gold, in this instance mined on May 19th, 2011.

I also just have to say: writing fake history is a lot of fun.  Especially when you try to make it sound scholastic. 

The prosecutors say that Mr. Strauss-Kahn "forced" the complainant to have oral and other sex with him. How? Did he have a gun? Did he have a knife? He's a short fat old man. They were in a hotel with people passing by the room constantly, if it's anything like the many hotels I am in. How did he intimidate her in that situation? And if he was so intimidating, why did she immediately feel un-intimidated enough to alert the authorities as to her story?

Retired Comedy Central quiz-show host Ben Stein,
"Presumed Innocent, Anyone?" The American Spectator, May 17th, 2011

There are many fine, arcane points of the legal system as it has evolved in the United States from ancient roots in the English common law. Indeed, even fairly well-known elements of our laws, such as America's Miranda warnings and the insanity defense under American and British common law are widely misunderstood and might be described as "arcane." But one of the most fascinating, least-known and most-complicated points of American law is the short fat old man defense, which will be the focus of this blog post.

The short fat old man defense is what the legal system terms an affirmative defense. An affirmative defense, such as self defense or insanity, is one in which the burden of proof is shifted from the prosecution to the defendant. That is, in most instances the entire burden of proof is upon the state: for instance, if malice is an element of the crime, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant acted with it, and the defendant is under no obligation to prove that he didn't (although he may present rebuttal evidence against the state's evidence if he wishes). In an affirmative defense, on the other hand, it is up to the defendant to prove all elements of the defense beyond a reasonable doubt: for example, if the defendant is arguing self-defense, he must prove all of the elements of self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt and the prosecutor is under no obligation to disprove anything (though he most likely will offer any evidence he has that rebuts the self-defense claim).

While the general public seems to think that affirmative defenses crop up frequently and are abused, the reality isn't nearly as clean-cut. Note that under the American system of justice, a defendant has a constitutional right to not testify. This may be a crucial tactic for a defendant--even a completely innocent one--who has a bad record that might turn a jury against him (the prosecutor might not be able to introduce the defendant's record at all unless he testifies, at which point the prosecutor might be able to ask the defendant about his past for impeachment purposes) or who might otherwise make a poor witness on the stand (perhaps he's of a nervous disposition, or suffers some disability that could lead him into confusion that a jury might mistake for inconsistency). Furthermore, and under many jurisdictions' procedural rules, a defendant may derive some tactical advantage from not presenting testimony (e.g. in some states, a defendant who doesn't present any evidence may get to make the final closing statement to the jury, getting in the last word on the case). But an affirmative defense necessarily requires a defendant to present some kind of evidence, and that evidence may be of a nature that only the defendant himself can offer; e.g. while an insanity defense might be presented entirely through experts with no direct testimony from the defendant personally, in a self-defense case only the defendant can testify he felt threatened by the alleged victim's actions (who else could say how the defendant felt?). This can create all sorts of tactical or strategic headaches for an attorney, and there are frequently instances where a viable self-defense claim (for instance) might appear less attractive than simply falling back on a defense based on deficiencies in the state's presentation (i.e. reasonable doubt).

A defendant who wishes to exercise the short fat old man defense must offer proof beyond a reasonable doubt of each of the following elements:

  1. He is short
  2. He is fat
  3. He is old
  4. He is a man

Failure to prove even one of these elements invalidates the entire defense. It is not sufficient to merely be a fat old man, for instance--you must also prove you are short. The fourth element of the defense remains controversial under contemporary Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection and Due Process jurisprudence, but in all states with the sole exception of Washington, one must also prove beyond a reasonable doubt that one is a man; the fact that this is a nigh-impossible hurdle for around 50-51% of the population may explain why the defense has fallen off in popularity since the 1970s; furthermore, five states (Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina and Arkansas) have strictly construed "man" to be a male over the age of 18; meanwhile, Texas defines "man" as "a male of any age... who has completely consumed one serving of an alcoholic beverage, lassoed a steer or colt, and completed an act of fornication with an unrelated female of consenting age in a bordello... prior to entering matrimony" (c.f. Texas v. Jenkins (1938), in which a ten-year-old was found by the Supreme Court Of Texas to be a man for the purposes of the Texas capital sentencing statute despite stipulation by all parties that Mr. Jenkins had "[never] shaved his chin, which... remains softer than a lady's silk gloves...").

The first recorded instance of the short fat old man defense occurred in England in 1705, in a case called In the Matters of Huggins. The opinion is brief but illuminating--here we find it quoted in its entirety:

It is found forthwith: that he hath Such diminished Stature he doth not play at dice by Tossing but by putting his Back to work and with much Pushing and Efforts at last makes them to Move; that he hath such Breadth that he Must perforce Produce a most curious squeaking were He to perambulate Backwards; that he hath possessed such Advancement of Years that he must Meet his most Holy Saviour upon the Very Instant should this Court requireth of him upon his Honours that he must behave as if he Were another Whose age is Equal with his Own. A verdict is entered of Nonsuit and the Prisoner hereby discharged.

No less an authority than Blackstone would subsequently write:

It cannot credulously be thought that Higgins stands for the proposition that one's guilt or innocence may only be proportional to one's height, lest we conceive that no dwarf might be convicted of crime, however offensive he might be in the Creator's eyes. The matter of Higgins may only be comprehended in light of his diminutive lack of height in combination with the other factors perceived by the jurists in his case, to wit that Higgins was also more ancient and massive than other men in his jurisdiction.

While the definitive knowledge of his actions has been obscured by Time's uncertainty, we must also credit the notion that his alleged crime was unusually vile and must have been a capital offense, for it is only logical that Higgins' size & age made his hanging a terrible inconvenience or would have strained the backs of horses or the headsman. It might further be reasoned that his age was only an incidental matter of little bearing, mentioned solely because of the jurists' pity for this Higgins.

Blackstone's reasoning was partly accepted and partly rejected by American courts in later years. In Commonwealth vs. Stagger (1806), the Massachusetts Supreme Court agreed that hanging a short, fat man would be inconvenient, but added, "We cannot accept Sir William's argument that age is incidental to these matters, for we often find the elderly present complications to the judiciary, such as an inability to hear their last rites and a propensity for boring their minders with lengthy reminisces of how all situations were much improved in their all-but-forgotten youth." In 1852, in the much-cited case of Hormacher v. Gibbons, the New Hampshire courts gave Habeas relief to a prisoner who alleged that while he'd been tall, skinny and "in the prime of his manhood" at the time of his arrest, by the time of his sentencing he'd lost both legs to frostbite in his poorly-heated cell, gained a "substantial" (though unspecified) amount of weight from overeating because he had little else to do while awaiting the hearing of his case (and in any event could no longer pace his cell after the loss of his legs), and a great number of years had passed; Gibbons both confirms (in dicta) that all the American states at this time followed the Higgins rule and that the defendant's Article 15 right to due process and Article 18 right to proportional punishment under the state constitution had been violated by the trial court's refusal to allow Gibbons the benefit of the short fat old man defense. By 1907, most states had come to similar conclusions applying their own state constitutions, usually quoting the New Hampshire court's decision in Gibbons (sometimes in its entirety: the South Dakota decision State v. Murdoch (1942) indeed appears to be identical to the Gibbons opinion with the names, dates and fact pattern changed with a telling exception on the third page of the opinion, where the state is referred to as "South Hormacher").

Curiously, however, after 1932, defendants' appear to have relied less and less upon the defense, with only five cases (including the above-mentioned Murdoch) on record from 1932 to 1976. The most notable of those cases, a 1948 case out of New Jersey called State v. Odetti might illustrate the reason why. From an article in The Newark Star-Ledger (October 12th, 1948):

The dullness of the morning's proceedings was broken by the furor that erupted when Judge Hawkins inquired as to whether there would be any defense motions filed prior to jury selection. Mr. Robert Thompson, Mr. Odetti's counsel, stood and informed the court that while no pre-trial motions were planned, he wished to reserve the right to file further motions should new evidence justifying them appear during the State's presentation. The court agreed and asked if there would be anything else, and this was when Mr. Thompson dropped his bombshell.

"I wish to offer notice in open court," Mr. Thompson said, "of intent to produce proof that my client is a short, fat, old man."

Assistant to the District Attorney Arthur Grant appeared to expect the defense statement. Mr. Odetti, however, was apparently unprepared for his lawyer's announced strategy. He climbed onto the defense table using his chair for a stepladder and had to be brought down and restrained by three bailiffs and the clerk.

"I am not short and I resent being called fat!" the elderly defendant shrieked at the judge on the bench.

Judge Hawkins appeared unmoved. When order was restored to the court and a bailiff had restrained Mr. Odetti by sitting on him, the Judge quietly said: "This court takes judicial notice, sir, that you are short and fat. Your age will be a matter for the jury to decide upon. Restrain yourself or I will have the bailiff restrain you. Let the record reflect that notice of short, fat, old has been given by the defense in open court on this date."

Mr. Odetti could not be reached for further comment following the hearing, although reporters tried kneeling.

In 1976, attorney F. Lee Bailey attempted to argue during his closing in the Patty Hearst case that his client had been turned into "the psychic equivalent of a short, fat old man by the SLA's insidious brainwashing." The state's objection was sustained and Bailey's last-ditch attempt to sneak the defense in was abandoned. Some sources have claimed Bailey wanted to give notice of the defense during the O.J. Simpson criminal trial, suggesting that Simpson might be made shorter by the use of "some kind of prosthetic device or binding," but Barry Scheck's argument that the defense should focus on chain of custody issues and problems with the LAPD's collection procedures won out after a mock jury presentation suggested that jurors were likely to view Simpson as "I guess he's not that young, but he's a pretty big guy, isn't he?"

If Dominique Strauss-Kahn's attorneys follow Ben Stein's suggestion and run with a short fat old man defense, this may become one of the most exciting criminal trials in several decades. Strauss-Kahn is probably in the strong financial situation he'll need to procure experts on stature, weight and age. One expects, as well, that technological advancements will be brought to bear, with experts being called upon to explain concepts such as body-mass index (BMI) and possible state motions to have DNA testing performed to confirm that Strauss-Kahn is in fact an XY-chromosome male and not a sufferer of a genetic disorder such as Klinefelter's syndrome. The Strauss-Kahn affair might open a door into an exciting new realm of criminal procedure--or close an old one. We wait to see what happens with bated breath.


Best of SOTSOGM: Ruminations and ramblings on juvenile justice

>> Monday, November 12, 2012

As I said in the introduction to this one, I don't normally talk about work.  There's a lot of reasons for that, ranging from the ethical and political to the mere fact that I don't want to write a law blog.

Of course, this is hampering insofar as I know more law than I'd like to and much less than I'd like to about the kinds of things I'd like to write about, and this ends up causing all sorts of frustration.

But I was happy with this piece, which went live on October 22nd, 2009.  I think the presentation that went along with it the day after I wrote it went pretty well, too, if I do say so, myself.

I don't normally talk about work, and this isn't work, exactly. But it is the kind of thing I get leery of talking about for... well, I don't suppose in this case there's much reason to be leery, actually. Anyway, a couple of weeks ago I got a call from a local Superior Court judge who asked if I'd speak to a class he's teaching at an area community college; it's a criminal justice course, and they'd been talking about juvenile justice which is sort of a focus area for me, and he'd already invited up some other local players, would I mind giving the defense attorney's perspective, etc.? Honestly, I wouldn't have said "no" even if this was the kind of thing you could say "no" to.

I go in front of his students tomorrow. Not much idea what to say, despite the judge's reassurances; but I'm sort of pacing my office at lunch, thinking about things I could say and re-reading In re Gault, and it occurs to me maybe it would be helpful to babble at the internets a bit.

It's not like I had a blog post planned for today, anyway.

This isn't going to pretend to be organized. More of just a wandering rumination, the idea (from my end) being that I might write something here today that would be clever to say out loud tomorrow, and perhaps the idea from your end being that you can always scroll down the page to the music videos if you'd like.

I don't know how much thought you've given about why we have a juvenile court system. What we have is a sort of uneasy compromise. Some folks have suggested it's the worst of all possible worlds, and I would have to say there's some merit to that. Historically, if you don't know (the class I'm speaking to, by the way, should know this already), what happened was that around the turn of the 20th Century there was a sort of American Renaissance, parts of which took and much of which didn't. Aside from some dubious things like banning the sale of spirituous liquors, you got a forty-hour work week and meat safety inspections and licensing doctors, and a lot of other things; on the legal side of it, one of the things you got was that some folks up in Illinois decided to establish a kind of separate court system for kids.

I don't know if you've thought about what this meant, what this says about the legal system up to that point. Up to that point what you had was basically just William Blackstone, who said that people beneath a certain age had to be regarded as "infants" and therefore completely incapable of forming any kind of criminal intent (and were therefore incapable of being accused of or tried for crimes) or, well, not being infants as evinced by indicators of being able to form criminal intent at a precocious age, indicators such as lying about the act or trying to hide from punishment. Which meant, in application, that if you were a ten-year-old (let's say) and you did something naughty, there would be a kind of ad hoc process to determine whether you would be tried to the fullest ends of the law or not at all. "Well, he burned down the neighbor's house, but he seems a bit childish and foolish; I hope his parents ground him, there's nothing the law can do." Which, bleeding-heart liberal that I am, seems a bit off even to me. Conversely, you might have, "You may be ten, Mister Smith, but you'll die like a man for what you did!" Which I would hope would cause even the hardest-hearted guardian of law-and-order to lose sleep.

Incidentally, the youngest person ever tried and sentenced to death in these United States, at least as far as I can tell, was a ten-year-old, James Arcene, though it seems he got away for a bit and didn't get hanged until he was twenty-three. The youngest people ever executed, as far as I've been able to determine, were two twelve-year-olds, Hannah Ocuish in Connecticut in 1786 and James Guild in New Jersey in 1828. The youngest person executed in the United States in modern times is the little boy in the picture at the top of this piece: his name was George Stinney, Jr., and when he was fourteen he was tried and convicted by the state of South Carolina for the murders of two white girls, and put in the electric chair in 1944; according to at least one source, his feet couldn't reach the floor when they sat him down in it and strapped him in.

The idea they had in Illinois in 1899, which eventually caught on in most states (even, eventually, South Carolina), was that it didn't make much sense to either arbitrarily excuse children for some criminal acts while sending others to prison (or worse) for the same things, or even lesser things, just because a prosecutor, judge or jury decided at some point in the proceedings that one child was hapless and the other Rhoda Penmark's even eviler doppelgänger. So they set up a separate, less-formal courtroom where a judge might look at the child's circumstances, needs, and the behavior that landed the child in Dutch with the law, and craft appropriate disciplinary measures if needed or perhaps only give the child a lecture and a pat on the head before sending him or her off to behave. And in an ideal sort of world, that's not a terrible model, actually; if judges were all the way we want them to be, wise and perfect paternal or maternal figures full of abundant-but-matched measures of compassion and sternness, the traditional juvenile court would actually be perfect.

The problem, of course, is that not all judges are like that. Judges are human, our systems for choosing them are imperfect, and while there are judges who live up to something approaching the ideals of the previous paragraph (I've had the privilege of being in front of just a few of them in the course of my career thus far), there are also judges like the pair of embarrassments from Pennsylvania who pleaded guilty this past February to wire-fraud and tax evasion after it turned out they were taking kickbacks from privately-run detention centers. (If you somehow missed that scandal, I recommend reading the New York Times article linked-to in the previous sentence; it was a pretty awful scandal and whipping's too good for the judges in question.) Happily, there aren't that many criminal judges, either. But there are a lot of judges who fall somewhere in between the extremes of the Solomanic ideal and the squalid disgrace to judicial oaths.

In 1964, an fifteen-year-old Arizona kid named Gerald Gault apparently crank-called a neighbor and he or possibly his friend who was with him said some lewd things, which maybe would have seemed less of a big deal if young Gerald hadn't already been on juvenile probation for purse-stealing and had his name come up in a few other neighborhood incidents. As a result, Gerald's mom got a note from a police officer saying, basically, "come to court at such-and-such a time, bring your boy," and when she did they had a little sit-down with an Arizona Superior Court judge in chambers, at the end of which the judge ordered the kid to be locked up at the State Industrial School until he was twenty-one or someone decided to let him out, whichever came first. It's not even clear whether the Mrs. Gault knew why she was bringing her son up there. Hell, it's not completely clear the judge knew why he was locking the boy up, aside from the fact that he was on probation, and a cop said he'd been annoying the neighbors, and there was some kind of thing about a baseball glove a few years previous that the kid had never actually been charged with; at any rate, it seems like the judge, when he was subsequently questioned at a habeas corpus proceeding filed by Gerald Gault's parents, had some small trouble figuring out which statute he'd even sent the boy off for violating.

The Supreme Court Of The United States had some problems with the whole thing. That's where I come in.

That may seem a bit more melodramatic than it needs to be, but it actually is sort of true. Not that I was alive in 1967, when the Supreme Court decided In re Gault, but that the court decided, eight-one, that young Gerald's rights were violated; that if a juvenile proceeding wasn't exactly a criminal proceeding, it was still kind of like a criminal proceeding, and so a child charged with juvenile delinquency needed to be told of his rights, and what he was accused of, and have a fair hearing, and be able to confront witnesses against him (the lady who was allegedly on the receiving end of Gerald's calls never even came to court), and to have a lawyer (bing! that's where I come in, it being a big chunk of me job and all).

I mentioned earlier the prospect that we possibly have the worst of all systems. It's Gault's bright legacy or dark consequence, depending on how you judge decanted liquids. I also mentioned that Gault was an eight-one decision; well, it's one of those weird ones where the majority opinion reflects progressive ideas--children should get Due Process and all that--and the dissent, by centrist jurist Justice Potter Stewart, actually is founded on more progressive concerns. Justice Stewart wrote:

Juvenile proceedings are not criminal trials. They are not civil trials. They are simply not adversary proceedings. Whether treating with a delinquent child, a neglected child, a defective child, or a dependent child, a juvenile proceeding's whole purpose and mission is the very opposite of the mission and purpose of a prosecution in a criminal court. The object of the one is correction of a condition. The object of the other is conviction and punishment for a criminal act.

In the last 70 years many dedicated men and women have devoted their professional lives to the enlightened task of bringing us out of the dark world of Charles Dickens in meeting our responsibilities to the child in our society. The result has been the creation in this century of a system of juvenile and family courts in each of the 50 States. There can be no denying that in many areas the performance of these agencies has fallen disappointingly short of the hopes and dreams of the courageous pioneers who first conceived them. For a variety of reasons, the reality has sometimes not even approached the ideal, and much remains to be accomplished in the administration of public juvenile and family agencies--in personnel, in planning, in financing, perhaps in the formulation of wholly new approaches.

I possess neither the specialized experience nor the expert knowledge to predict with any certainty where may lie the brightest hope for progress in dealing with the serious problems of juvenile delinquency. But I am certain that the answer does not lie in the Court's opinion in this case, which serves to convert a juvenile proceeding into a criminal prosecution.

The inflexible restrictions that the Constitution so wisely made applicable to adversary criminal trials have no inevitable place in the proceedings of those public social agencies known as juvenile or family courts. And to impose the Court's long catalog of requirements upon juvenile proceedings in every area of the country is to invite a long step backwards into the nineteenth century. In that era there were no juvenile proceedings, and a child was tried in a conventional criminal court with all the trappings of a conventional criminal trial. So it was that a 12-year-old boy named James Guild was tried in New Jersey for killing Catharine Beakes. A jury found him guilty of murder, and he was sentenced to death by hanging. The sentence was executed. It was all very constitutional.

(cit. omit.)

The bitch of it is, Justice Stewart was right, at least up to a point. It's not good at all to put kids in the position Gerald Gault was in, having his freedom curtailed for an indefinite period, possibly several years, without anything like Due Process. On the other hand, giving children protections reserved for alleged criminals has inevitably lead to some degree of treating them like criminals. Justice Stewart's most grim prognostication--that we'd end up right back in the 19th Century with children being hanged with all their Constitutional rights scrupulously intact--hasn't come to pass, but here's where children end up with the worst of all worlds: children in juvenile court still have fewer rights than adults--a juvenile can easily be committed to a Youth Development Center for incarceration for an offense for which an an adult would be guaranteed probation, or for years where an adult would max out his time in months, because juvenile court isn't seen as primarily punitive and States are given a great deal of leeway as to how long it takes to "help" a child in juvenile detention. At the same time, the kind of profound help that might be offered at the expense of all rights is obstructed by... well, by people like me.

Let me see if I can explain that last bit: let's say that what a child needs, really, really needs, is to be pulled forcibly out of the home and placed in a therapeutic foster group home. If the child has no rights whatsoever, it's done as easily as it's said, regardless of what the kid wants. But if the kid has rights, well then, no: a therapeutic foster home deprives him of a liberty interest, even if his sphere of interests is circumscribed to what's reasonable; i.e. it might be facially unreasonable to argue that a thirteen-year-old ought to be allowed to rent an apartment for himself instead of living in a group home, but living with his mom might be at least superficially reasonable (okay, so she might be a crackhead or living in a cardboard box with her boyfriend who's a pedophile, but c'mon, she's his mom, kids oughta be with their moms). So if the kid is saying, no, he doesn't want to live in a group home, he wants to live with his mom, even if living with his mom isn't actually in his best interests, he has some sort of right to go to court and have his lawyer argue that it's in his legal best interests or that regardless of interests its his right to stay with his mom. And legally he might win, even if, as we've parenthetically suggested, living with his mom is an unmitigated disaster. But then the child isn't being given all the rights he might have as an adult; his rights are being doled out in a somewhat arbitrary measure. Where an adult charged with a crime might have a right to do his time and be done with it, a juvenile might well be subjected to years of supervision and guidance and placement and all the rest of it.

D'ya see what I'm getting at?

I started this during lunch, then--perhaps aptly enough--I went to court, including juvenile court, where I did my bit to try to stand up for truth and justice and that whole bit, then I came back and found myself trying to write a few more words. And I find that I sort of have some of my thoughts organized a little for tomorrow, and this has probably gotten unwieldy, and I'm not sure it makes that much sense, but there you are. Ruminations and rambles, and maybe something valuable glimpsed in the thicket that could be grabbed before it's lost to the eye and disappears into the brush. I don't know how much of this will be said tomorrow--perhaps none of it. I think what the judge probably wants is more personal and anecdotal, general impressions and perhaps a deeply-veiled war story if I have one that can be told. Hopefully it will go well; I've already informed the judge that the last two times I was invited to speak in a similar fashion or to similar crowds, I was not invited back in either case.

He thought that was funny. Hey, I tried to warn him....

We'll see how it goes.


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