19 March 2010

Power, Justice and Just Us

The Power of the PA

I’ve read a couple of news stories this week about shocking prejudice in action. It seems that there was an announcement made in a New Jersey Wal-Mart. Someone as yet unidentified came on the public address system and told all black people to leave the store. Pretty quickly, the store manager got on the public address system, told everyone that the announcement was a hoax and apologized.

That cannot, of course, be the end of the story. The store manager now needs to figure out if this was an employee who made the phony announcement and, if so, fire their ass for misconduct. And if it wasn’t an employee, the store manager needs to secure access to the PA. Lots of more immediately harmful things can be done with a PA. (Shouts of "Fire!" in a crowded store come to mind.)

End of story, right? No, not by a long shot. We have victims. We have people who have experienced tons of angst. They are too traumatized to realize that taking this “announcement” seriously is idiotic and that spending more than a few minutes being pissed off about it is a trip to drama queendom.

Where does this desire to be victimized come from? And why do people grasp at the most harebrained things to get all sniffly about? People, it wasn’t Bull Connor on the PA. Remember if you will the folks in Birmingham in the 50's and 60's - Police Chief Theophilus “Bull” Connor used high-pressure fire hoses, vagrancy arrests, holding people incommunicado in jail, attack dogs and even a small tank to express his brand of hate. And the funny thing is, it pissed off and motivated a lot of those real victims to do constructive and effective things to bring about a change rather than prompting them just to bitch and moan.

Well, the bitching and moaning is not enough for 2010 New Jersey, and now government must have a firm and heartfelt public demonstration of deeply caring distress and how public officials, too, are too dumb to realize that morons abound in our society. And so, true to form, some trendy government leader has turned the police loose in an investigation over this hate crime.

No kidding.

People, these were words. If it was done by an employee, their ass gets fired. Their ass would be fired no matter who they told to to leave the store. Mind you, using race is particularly stupid, but the difference between a good employee and a stupid employee is a whole lot greater than that between a stupid employee and a real stupid employee. Even if this was not malicious (improbable if the trickster was other than mega-dumb), there is no room in a public place for the lover of practical jokes who has no sense of proportion.

But are the words harmful? To whom? To sensitive people? Get over it, this is life. To children? Certainly, and that’s why they have parents, to teach them about the idiots in society and how to react to them. Having a grand case of the vapors and calling the police is an asinine lesson to teach young people. That tells them that they are without power, that they are weak, that they are helpless victims, and that only some authority “greater” than themselves can protect them. Poppycock.

Of course, I’m not certain that the manager handled this optimally. This was at the very least a great embarrassment that either an employee acted like a moron or that access to the public address system was unsecured. Management needed to meet everyone leaving the store and apologize for that failure, simply because that was the right thing to do. And then everyone needed to move on.

The fact that we are hearing about this nationally is a sad commentary on the state of the nation.

Sermon on The Common Good versus Individual Justice

Permit me to direct your attention to some superior scholarship and opinion expressed in the form of a sermon by Pastor Joshua Patty of Central Christian Church in Fairmont, West Virginia, on 14 March 2010. [Josh is a great scholar and passionate orator – I’m rather thinking that he will react with sharp criticism of the immediately preceding section, which I welcome. This is the marketplace of ideas, and his ideas are just as good as mine. Respect - Got it?] A recording of the sermon (something under 30 minutes) can be found at www.alongthispilgrimsjourney.blogspot.com, (link to the right, Central Christian Pastor’s Blog), in the widget on the right side of that site. I’ve encouraged Pastor Josh to reduce this one to print as part of his body of work. The subject of this sermon is “The Common Good or Individual Justice,” and is quite a fascinating and erudite discussion of that long controversial dichotomy.

Reading Bits

I am seldom without my Amazon Kindle, just as formerly I was seldom without two or three paper books. I am asked frequently what I am reading, and I read so many things simultaneously, that’s really rather hard to answer.

I am interested in the reading habits of my literate friends, including those in the Shelf Community. How many books do you read at once? How many books can you follow? Usually, I’m reading two or three fiction works (and generally a thriller, a Western, a sci-fi and/or something odd like a Garrison Keillor), some business/self-improvement books (some weighty, some slim), and several books on history, politics, economics and other technical subjects. For some months now, I’ve been rereading The Federalist Papers. With the “Tea Party” and now the “Coffee Party” “movements,” there is a staggering amount of misinformation, disinformation, and rampant ignorance about the history of government in general and the history of American government in particular. For some reason, people seem to equate being a whacker who carries a sign with being a committed patriot who will perform an act of civil disobedience that may get them hung. And I don’t mean hung as in “in trouble,” I mean hung as in the risk taken by the Sons of Liberty (mostly a bunch of pissed-off Freemasons) of the actual Boston Tea Party who, if arrested, could have been stretched by the neck until dead, dead, dead.
Let’s see, I’m also reading Gibbon for the first time and, yes, it is both as highbrow and as dry as it has been represented to be. I have no idea why TR found this such an absolutely fascinating creation. I am finishing Southern Storm by Noah Andre Trudeau, which is a history of the Sherman campaign through Georgia and South Carolina, as well as Through the Brazilian Wilderness, Theodore Roosevelt’s personal account of the 1913 to 1914 River of Doubt expedition. A note to Clank, Flick and my other transoceanic readers, the Sherman campaign came at the end of 1864 when a large Union Force under General William T. Sherman moved from Atlanta, Georgia, to the Atlantic, leaving a 60-mile wide swath of destruction. One hundred fifty years later, there are still some pretty hard feelings in the southern United States about these events.

How Old Can A Lawyer Be?

Over the last year and a half, we have fiddled with our letterhead a bit. I’ve always been interested in something a little bit nonstandard, but past partners have been mostly reticent about that. We have begun using the “Palladin” symbol, the silhouette of the knight or worse piece from a chess set, facing to the right, of course. I remember it being used in the old Richard Boone TV series, Palladin, from which comes the phrase “Have gun, will travel.” (Presumably because we read from left to right, almost all commercial logos face right. The only exception that comes to mind right now is the Greyhound Bus dog.)

Also on the letterhead, we put “Serving West Virginia since 1978.” That is the year I began practice. I was hooded on Saturday, 12 May 1978, graduated on Sunday, drove to Charleston on Monday, was admitted to the Supreme Court on Tuesday, and opened my office on Wednesday. So, I think I’m on pretty solid ground here with the 1978 date. Generally, it is the practice of law firms to put on their letterhead or otherwise advertise how long they’ve been in business. This makes some sense, as there certainly is an institutional identity. Sometimes, though, I do wonder. One law firm which began in 1864 probably has no lawyers who are 160 years old. It is, however, certainly one of the three or four most competent bunch of lawyers in West Virginia. The largest law firm advertises that it began in 1822, but I’m thinking that it has no 210-year-old lawyers.

It makes me wonder about lawyer advertising in general and “puffery.” I’ve had some unpleasant dealings lately with “The Jones Law Firm, Personal Injury Attorneys,” which is not the real name. This law firm consists of one lawyer and a couple of office people. Because he was previously associated with another lawyer, he maintains the fiction that it’s really a law “firm” in the sense that there are multiple lawyers. And of course, on the other hand, Fairmont has an example which goes just the opposite way. One of the oldest and leading lawyers in Fairmont is Pete Higinbotham, who has a very large personal-injury practice. He advertises heavily on television, and has swept up the majority of the modest value car wreck insurance claims in this area, those from say $10,000 to $100,000 in settlement value. [I’m estimating here - this is not the kind of info that law firms share.] Pete has at least six lawyers and his firm, as well as a number of legal assistants and at least a couple of the lawyers there are damn fine trial lawyers. And yet, in the advertising, generally it’s just Pete, often in dungarees and a flannel shirt, and often with his dog. I’m not sure what the point is, but it certainly works and is certainly the opposite of puffery.

The fact remains that the attorney-client relationship is a highly personal one and should be entered into with recommendations from friends and family, or at the very least with a long and candid talk between prospective lawyer and prospective client before the representation begins.

Coming in future installments:

Beyond Coffee and Tea Parties

Nuclear Weapons and Home Defense

- - Stay Tuned

Pippa passes.


1 comment:

Joshua Patty said...

Thanks for giving "thumbs up" to my sermon, Roger. Glad you liked it.

By the way, no arguments with your take on the Wal-Mart incident. People are too sensitive. They also forget that you can't stop other people from saying stupid, hurtful things.