19 April 2010

Stuff too Boring for Your Mother to Have Told You

Metaphors ad nauseum

In the Charleston Gazette today, there was a front page above-the-fold article about the “Pagan Case,” the prosecution of 55 members of the Pagan Motorcycle Club in U.S. District Court. (I represent one of the Defendants.) Laurie Levenson, a former trial lawyer is now at a top-ranked law school and appears as a legal talking head on TV a lot. Her case analysis can be found in the article in the Gazette (www.wvgazette.com), but she made a comment that strikes me, that defense counsel are playing street hockey and prosecutors are playing chess. Well, it’s a cute and pithy comment, and can be read several ways. Metaphors are great and even metaphorical lives can be useful. But at some point, you have to put away Walter Mitty and try your case like a professional. Of all this, probably more later.

Crossing the, er, Bar

The State of West Virginia is re-examining the use of wire median barriers on the Interstate highways. (In West Virginia, the vast majority of highway-speed four-lane mileage is designated as Interstate.) There have been incidents where they haven’t prevented crossover accidents, and others where the wires themselves have caused injuries. In one recent horrific accident, 11 people were killed when a semi broke through a wire barrier in Kentucky. (The wire barriers were not designed to stop a semi moving at highway speed.) Jersey barriers, the angled concrete barriers, cost 4 or 5 times as much per mile to install and are much more effective in preventing a crossover, even by a truck. But Jersey barriers are rigid, so the potentially life-saving deceleration zone isn’t there. The answer? Beats me. The best one I know is to put your phone in your pocket, eat off the road, put both hands on the wheel, wear a seat belt and pay attention to what the hell you are doing.

Beats Me if This is Handy:

For some reason, as I sat around on breaks in a Courthouse today, I jotted notes of handy stuff for people who have jobs with briefcases and so forth. I offer these more-or-less random notes:

Attire - This applies to men only. Ain’t enough whiskey in Tennessee to get me to comment on women’s business attire.

Footware - Look at the websites of police/fire department suppliers. I uses www.galls.com. Many departments require particularly supervisors to wear “dress” shoes and still answer calls, so the suppliers have oxfords that are comfortable for LOTS of on-your-feet time and made of deeply dyed leather that holds a shine. Ditto pants when you are doing the blazer thing - uniform wear is two steps above Dockers and four times as durable. Caveat - all of the uniform stuff is a little pricey, but nothing like Allen Edmonds, etc.

Belts - Security people who are too lazy or too stupid or too big a jerk to use a wand frequently require people to remove their belts. (I’m told that this is real common in airports, but I don’t fly much.) Wilderness Tactical Products (www.thewilderness.com) makes extremely high quality nylon belts with non-metalic harness ring type buckles and velcro. Leather with velcro is available from other suppliers.

(I can hear the squeals of snappy dresser lawyers I know in response to all of the above. To which I reply: Where Whatever The Hell You Want and Make Your Own Recommendations In YOUR Blog.)


I do not have an iPhone or a Blackberry and don’t plan to get an iPod. Well, 23-skiddoo, I’m an anachronism. But there are three electron related things that get my heart rate elevated:

e-readers - The e-reader has proved itself. The leader by far is the Amazon Kindle. Barnes & Noble just introduced the Nook. The introduction of the Nook was such a fiasco (for reasons unrelated to the device itself), it’s gotten off to a rocky start, but it appears to be comparable to the Kindle. The Sony Ebook Reader has been on the market the longest, but never generated a lot of interest. But it’s Sony, and it works fine.

The e-reader is superior for someone who reads more than 3 books at a time and who always has a book with them. (I’m a glutton - I read 10+ at a time.) My impression is my my reading speed is increased owing to the absence of the physical page-turning, but I don’t know of any studies on that. I also keep some reference works on mine - e.g., a dictionary, Court Rules, 5 Bible translations. Oh, I still buy a few bound books, even some that I’ve downloaded to the Kindle, because there’s just something about a real book . . .

The winner of the e-reader war will depend on price and availability of material, and the race is far from decided. I’d go for Kindle, but I don’t think you’d go wrong with the Nook. The Sony, I’m not so sure.

Handheld scanner - This is entirely new to me, and I just saw one for the first time last week and was instantly hooked. For $125, you can get a “wand” that’s about 11" long and 1" x 1" thick. You run it over written material, and it stores it as a .pdf file, and even can put it on a micro-SD chip. For lawyers who work in record rooms (where deeds and wills are recorded) or who do any sort of trial work, this darn thing is revolutionary.

Voice recognition/dictation software - I tried this 3 or 4 years ago, and it sucked. A lawyer-friend gushed about it to me a few months ago, so I bought an updated version, Dragon 10, for a good price on eBay. If you take a little time to train the software to your voice and invest in a decent microphone, VR is amazing. In writing long briefs, I’m doing a lot less dictation for transcription elsewhere, and more coordination between microphone and keyboard.

Ordinary stuff:

Pocket protector - sometimes known as a nerd pack. I use 4 different pens - blue, red, sharpie and hi-lighter. That’s what my habits require. I’ve ruined shirts from pens leaking. That sucks. On the other hand, plastic pocket protectors look, well, nerdish. My answer? Levenger (levenger.com) has a NICE leather pocket protector. Works for me.

Little notebook/memo book - This one I picked up from my Dad. My memory isn’t bad. But depending on memory when you don’t have to is stupid. WRITE STUFF DOWN. A major plot device in one of the old Tom Clancy novels is “If it’s not written down, it never happened.”

Knife - What separates humans from apes is that we use tools.

Paper book - Redundancy. I’m on my 6th Kindle, because they have this little problem with the display crapping out suddenly.

OK, return to your homes. There’s nothing to see here. Move along. Move along.

Pippa passes.


02 April 2010

Holy Week deliberations

Holy Week

It is the conundrum of modern life, and perhaps that complained of as that of “modern life” for centuries: In our day-to-day lives, we seldom take time to respect our spirits. Then, along comes something like Holy Week and we are terminally behind the curve in opening our minds and hearts to the lessons.


At Central Christian tonight, the Good Friday service consisted primarily of lay people giving “meditations” on the seven last thoughts which Jesus expressed on the Cross.

One of the elders, my friend Eddie, laid out a clear and logical path for paying attention to “last words.” Beginning His time on the Cross with a prayer for OTHERS (“Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”) was an arresting demonstration of who this Christ was.

Parson Jim Norton really stunned me with the power of his reflections. He’s been reading a work on particle physics. He tentatively related the uncertainty and “illogic” of the subatomic world with the need for faith in the human experience. I wonder, for the relation seems more than metaphorical, perhaps he’s nipping at the edges of some truth - THERE would be a true Unified Field Theory.

Pastor Josh reflected on what is, to me, the most obscure of those last words, “Woman, behold your son; behold your mother.” He related the theory of one Tabor, a biblical scholar, that Jesus was addressing James, either as brother-in-genetics or brother-as-in-brotherhood. Josh related this in a limited way to the “passing of the torch,” which for private reasons is exceedingly striking to me. He expanded it to the possibility that Christ was making a general observation on the behavior of the extended Church or extended society as family.

Perhaps the most striking was the reflection of an elder, Kathy, a life-long member of the church. She was so open and clear about her own path in transitioning from the Jesus-Loves-Me Christ to the living person who suffered torture and execution.

“I thirst” - John, one of the elders, gave a thoughtful meditation on how people in crisis want to know that those talking to them have had crises of their own and have lived the troubles themselves. Christ, obviously, is one who knows what we’re talking about when we go to Him in pain. I remembered with some ignominy my own “desperation” years ago when hiking up Turkey Creek Canyon near Elizabethtown, New Mexico, and running out of water on a hot summer day. To me, that was thirst. Little did I know. [Sidenote: In 1899, there was a gunfight in Turkey Creek Canyon where lawmen caught up with train robbers led by Sam Ketchum. The robbers were using the new smokeless powder and steel-jacketed bullets, and escaped after decimating the lawmen, because they could locate the lawmen’s firing positions from the gunsmoke.]

And LaJ closed the series with “Into thy hands I commend my spirit.” She departed significantly from her written text and genuinely engaged everyone present - and I was proud of her.

I offer the text of my own meditation on “It is finished”:

St. Augustine in The Harmony of the Gospels, Book 3, records:

“For these are John's words: "When Jesus, therefore, had received the vinegar, He said, It is finished; and He bowed His head, and gave up the ghost." In the interval elapsing between this cry, "It is finished," and what is referred to in the subsequent sentence, "and He bowed His head and gave up the ghost," the voice was uttered which John himself has passed over without record, but which the other three [Gospel writers] have noticed. For the precise succession appears to be this, namely, that He said first "It is finished," when what had been prophesied regarding Him was fulfilled in Him, and that thereafter . . . He commended His spirit, and resigned it. But, whatever the order may be in which . . . these words were spoken, [one] ought above all things to guard against entertaining the notion that any one of the evangelists is in antagonism with another, when one leaves unmentioned something which another has repeated, or particularizes something which another has passed by in silence.” Thus says St. Augustine.

I am absolutely behind the eight ball here. This is the third meditation I’ve done and it says right there on the label that if you study and pray, you will come to greater peace and understanding.

Not me. The older I get, the dumber I feel. And the more questions I have.

St. Augustine started life as a pagan intellectual, a hedonist, and a general devil-raising roué. That, I understand. But prophecy and agreement of the evangelists? That’s outta my league.

That mis-named “Good” Friday could have been finished a whole lot happier and a whole lot sooner. Christ had so many escape routes before he climbed that lousy Golgotha, that “Place of Skulls.” He didn’t use any of them. Learnéd pastors now say that this was because prophecy had to be fulfilled so that Jesus could make the Supreme Sacrifice and pay for all the sin that ever was and all the sin that ever would be. How’s that again?

I confess that I really, REALLY enjoy jabbing my spiritual mentors Josh & Norton with my frustration about this atonement theology thing. But there is a ragged edge in that enjoyment: Why was Christ so determined to die on the cross? Look, don’t blame me. I didn’t want it and I didn’t ask for it. If God wants to punish me for a life of no-fooling, hair-raising sin, me and Augustine before sainthood, I’ll take my medicine like a man. I won’t hide behind the anguish even of Jesus.

But in a chat a couple of weeks ago, Josh & Jim invited me to give it a rest and look at it from Jesus’ perspective. Christ’s best opportunity to put the brakes on the entire process was the interview with Pilate. He wasn’t going to get very far with the Sanhedrin, because they were extremely jealous and more than just a little bit nuts. Pontius Pilate, though, there was a reasonable guy. All he wanted was for everybody to accept Roman rule. Beyond that, he didn’t much care what else they did. And so he asked Jesus, “Are you a king?,” meaning “You aren’t challenging Caesar, are you?” All Christ needed to say was, “Hey, now, are you kidding? I’m a Rabbi, I’m a teacher, I’m trying to help these people out, but, yes sir, Rome is all right by me, and I’m no king.” And Jesus WAS a brilliant teacher, and he knew the layout, and he knew that telling Pilate the truth was a ticket straight to execution.

“You say I’m a king.” Wrong answer. “My kingdom is not of this world.” Wrong again.

And yet Jesus the Christ - OUR Christ - could not have answered any other way. Not because of prophecy. We’re talking honor and honesty. Those, we understand. Christ was saying what it took 2,000 years until Popeye the Sailor for us really to hear clearly: “I am what I am.” He could not lie or deceive, he could only deliver the real thing, proof positive, right then and there.

And so, that last day played out: He was betrayed by one, denied by another, and abandoned by everybody. (Maybe Simon Peter gets half credit?) While Christ had the power to be someone else, the day had to go from start to finish just as it did.

I’m relieved to hear those words, “It is finished,” because whoever he did it for, who can stand to know about those experiences on the cross, not this Golden Cross of Glory but this rough wooden cross-the-torture-device? That it was finished was a really good thing.

Ashes, ashes

As Holy Week comes to an end, I’m reminded of a story out of Iowa 40 days ago where a prosecutor went from a church where he participated in the “Imposition of Ashes” right to a courtroom and a hearing. The defense lawyer made a large enough row that the wire services picked it up. Had this occurred in Marion County, someone would have leaned over to the prosecutory, said “Hey, dummy, you forgot to wash off the ashes,” and we never would have heard another word. Yelling like you’ve been gut-shot just isn’t dignified as we do things here.


I cannot help but be amused at times at the reaction my own ongoing spiritual journey seems to provoke among those who’ve known me for a long time. Not that my path has taken such a drastic turn - it just meandered more into the open. Some wonder how a mind which so respects logic and science is so at home in faith, and in the house of Christ.

I’ll reflect on this on some other occasion. I do not pretend or purport to have all the answers. Hell, I don’t pretend to have ANY answers. And tonight, I’m sitting here in wry amusement over the foibles of my own life and the things we humans seem to think are important.

What IS important?

“Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”

The older I get, it becomes more obvious how little I know.