31 March 2011

Handicapping the Governor's Election

Handicapping the Governor’s Election

The welcome visitors to No. 3 from beyond the borders of Mother West Virginia may find this even more deathly go than the standard fare here. And yet, all politics is local and this year we have an exasperating off-year political extravaganza.

Recall that our beloved Sen. Byrd died in June 2010. In the special election for that seat, Gov. Manchin moved to Washington, Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin became acting governor, and the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals ordered that a special election take place for the governor’s position in 2011, even though the regular four year term will be on the 2010 ballot.

The primary winners of this katzenjammer so far:

* Political consultants

* Anybody who sells political advertising

* The West Virginia Republican Party, because as a minority party, any time they can get something in play, the worst can happen is that it doesn’t hurt them.

It’s perilous (and scurrilous?) to identify the “losers” so far, so I will refrain.

The unseen danger to the body politic is that the rush to create “excitement” about this or that candidate must become so shrill to get any attention at all that we are burning out the give-a-shit circuits of all but the hardiest citizens. This is a real danger. If people become so fed up with the political process that it takes Dancing Bears giving away ice cream cones to make an impression, elections will have zero to do with governance.

One of my very favorite avocations is handicapping political races. In doing so, I often annoy people because some of my predictions and observations do not favor their candidate. They see this as some sort of intentional negative juju. In fact, while the actions of individuals is hard to predict, trends and actions of masses of individuals (like voters) are subject prognostication even though there are a lot of variables. If you confuse what you want to happen with what the evidence suggests will happen, you aren't very useful in politics. (Nor anything else, for that matter.)

Each election, I post my “predictions” ballot in some semi-public place, and I have a fairly decent record of accuracy. It’s not time to post my final predictions ballot yet. But I’m ready to do some preliminary handicapping.

The primary election:

Republican Party:

There are eight candidates in the primary. Betty Ireland will run the table. The other candidates are Clark Barnes, Mitch Carmichael, Ralph William Clark, Cliff Ellis, Larry Faircloth, Bill Maloney and Mark Sorsaia. This is not to say that the others are particularly unqualified or weak. Mr. Faircloth is from the Eastern Panhandle, and the eventual November winner has to do well in the Panhandle. (The Eastern Panhandle has been largely ignored by Charleston for decades. Its population has grown so much, politicos cannot ignore it any more.) Mr. Maloney is a “fresh face” with a really strong financial base, but it’ll be too late to organize a win. The others largely have a regional following.

As an organization, Republicans have done poorly in West Virginia, although there is a history of some “bright stars” breaking out of the pack. Ms. Ireland and Rep. Shelley Moore Capito are the current Republican “stars” in West Virginia. The only problem I see for Ms. Ireland in the primary is manageable – the louder parts of the Republican base want to focus on torchlight parades against Obama and irrelevant crap like that. It’s probably a bother to keep those folks amused. But since Ireland is the only game in town, they’ll fall in line, at least for a while.

The Democratic Party:

Uh oh, we have the “cup runneth over” problem. There are six candidates. One of them, Arne Moltis, is a nonstarter. The others, in no particular order, have some measure of viability. The knives are coming out in the primary. Can you spell “fratricide”? The key to the general election in October (not November) is how much damage the party does to itself the primary process.

The candidates:

Jeff Kessler - Sen. Kessler led a successful minor putsch in the State Senate this year. He remains mostly a regional candidate (Northern Panhandle) and I’ll be surprised if he catches fire.

John Perdue - Mr. Purdue is currently the state treasurer. He is smart, highly qualified and very experienced. He has very little charisma and generally is not a good politician, which is emblematic of an unfortunate weakness in the entire political process. It will be hard for him to communicate his experience, because he’s not been a self-promoter in the past. It’s hard to communicate competence in 30 second ads. Also, Mr. Perdue speaks with a very thick accent which is somewhat off-putting.

Natalie Tennant - She is the current Secretary of State. It is a reality that gender is still very relevant and being the only woman Democrat candidate will help her. To the extent anybody was watching, she wounded herself in the dithering around over the Senate special election. However, I don’t think very many people were watching. Since she has won a high-profile statewide race (by burying a labor-backed candidate), she will run strongly.

Rick Thompson - I went to law school with Speaker Thompson. He’s a decent fellow. Importantly for me, my good friend House Judiciary Chair Tim Miley is strongly supporting Speaker Thompson. Mr. Thompson has a decent war chest (still not enough to go through October) and one of his biggest campaign assets is his wife, Beth Thompson. She’s one of the most effective campaigners I’ve ever seen. Mr. Thompson has the labor endorsement, which is risky for labor but that’s not his problem. However, if he pushes one of the favorite labor positions (collective bargaining for public employees), he will alienate himself right out of contention. It is early advertising, Speaker Thompson has been channeling Abe Lincoln by sitting on the steps of a log cabin strumming a guitar and singing. Well, I’m not his target audience so my opinion that this is appallingly hokey probably doesn’t count for much.

Earl Ray Tomblin - Gov.Tomblin is an old-time political boss from Logan County. That’s not a pejorative – I have friends in Logan County and I like the idea of politics without lots of pretty decals on it. Mr. Tomblin stepped in the day that Governor Manchin left town and took charge of the place. At the time, I admired his chutzpah, and it showed audacious unashamed personal leadership. I think he went overboard as the weeks went on, particularly by changing the names on the welcome signs at the borders, posting official photographs and so forth. Anecdotally, I’m hearing some “incumbent credits,” because of her comments like “Well, the guy there now is doing a pretty good job.” Mr. T has by far the strongest set of advisors and staff around him. The smartest candidate (whoever that is) will run a positive campaign and let the others attack Gov. Tomblin. But he won't go down easily and if he clears the primary, paybacks will be hell.

The real challenge for Democratic Party leaders will be to survive this primary intact to then face a very strong race with one or the Republican Party stars.

Radio Ads

Once again, we have reserved the radio ad spaces for some local stations on election night. I personally write those and I personally record those. How to capture a little bit of the frustration of this whole process is going to be a challenge in short ad, particularly since I insist on making it something positive. I’ll make a stab at posting the audio when it’s done.

It’ll be a long, hot summer.

Pippa passes.


24 March 2011

Oh, What Some Lawyers Do; And Other Tales

Not so long ago, I read a book titled An Honest Calling, about the law practice of Abraham Lincoln. And that's what the practice of law is, a calling, and an honest calling.

In an organized society, lawyers play a central role. They are John Adams who was paid only 18 guineas for more than two weeks of near-continuous work defending British soldiers accused of the Boston massacre, one of the most inflammatory and unpopular defenses ever raised. They are Andrew Hamilton who, in 1735, kept Peter Zenger out of a dungeon-like prison for seditious libel by sassing the King's hand-picked Judge and daring to ask a jury to find someone innocent because it was the right thing to do even if the Government wanted him gone. They are Abraham Lincoln who, in his practice, did such important cases as those which resolved the right-of-way disputes between the river freighters and the railroads with their bridges. Lawyers wrote the Constitution. Lawyers stand in the way of the government or the mob (frequently the same people) attacking the individual. Seldom is the law a pathway to great wealth, and anyone who goes into it expecting the contrary is likely to be disappointed.

I’m getting damn sick and tired of the blame, the slams, the disdain, the lies, and the intentional distortions, driven by those who have a reason to fear just treatment and often driven by hidden economic power.

But, oh, what some lawyers do…

Monday’s edition of the Times-West Virginian contained a full page ad placed by a law firm which has offices in several states, but not in West Virginia. The banner at the top of the page read “IMPORTANT NOTICE” and continued, “If you or your loved one was is a resident of one of these [nursing home] facilities, they have been cited for multiple deficiencies including:”

[Note: I mention only in passing that the opening neither makes logical sense nor is grammatical. Whether facilities are cited is not dependent on whether your loved one is a resident there. “They” presumably refers to the facilities rather than your loved one, but I could be wrong.]

The full-page ad then lists numerous “deficiencies” existing in two (related) nursing homes which are located right up the road from No. 3.

The nursing home industry is fairly heavily regulated. The great majority of nursing home fees are paid by Medicare and Medicaid. To qualify for Medicare/Medicaid reimbursement, facilities have to abide by a hefty set of rules and are subject to frequent inspection. Inspections are exceedingly thorough. If there is a dirty spoon in the kitchen, you get gigged for it. If the nursing notes do not clearly document all aspects of care, you get gigged for it. (Whoops, there I go committing the same grammatical error as the law firm. “You” don’t get gigged for it, the facility does.) Of course, there are different levels of violations. Fatal medication errors, blocked fire exits, scalding bathing water, dropping patients and so forth are failing grades. Inspection results are reported very generally on the Medicare website. You cannot tell from looking at them if there was a dirty spoon for the whole kitchen was one big petri dish.

Back to the ad – beneath each facility’s name is a list. Every entry begins with “FAILURE:” Among the “failures,” we find a host of things, including:

  • FAILURE To provide care in a way that keeps or builds each resident’s dignity and self-respect.

  • FAILURE To follow all laws and professional standards.

  • FAILURE To at least one a month have a licensed pharmacist check the drugs that each resident takes. [I’m not sure who splits infinitives, the government or the law firm.]

  • FAILURE To provide proof that all residents’ personal money which is deposited with the nursing home is secure.

  • FAILURE To have a program to keep infection from spreading.

  • FAILURE To tell the resident, doctor and a family member if: the resident is injured, there is a major change in the resident’s physical/mental health, there is a need to alter treatment.

  • FAILURE To hire only people who have no history of abusing, neglecting or mistreating residents; or report and investigate any acts or reports of abuse, neglect or mistreatment of residents.

  • FAILURE To make sure that the nursing home area is free of dangers that cause accidents.

  • And so forth.

The banner at the bottom of the ad warns:


And then, of course, the aggrieved reader is invited to call the law firm’s toll-free number for a free evaluation.

At the outset, let me say that I’m not in competition with these lawyers. I’ve never done a nursing home liability case (see below), never expect to and, for that matter, never want to.

Since lawyers don’t know a whole lot about advertising, sometimes it is merely tasteless or silly. (“Don’t take a knife to a gunfight.” “Ever try arguing with a woman?”) As a whole, the idea is thoroughly legitimate and proper. “These are the kinds of cases I do, I’ve done a lot of them, I’m good at it, and I’d like to talk to you about yours.” In other words, I want a share of the market of the cases out there where people need lawyers. Perhaps it is unfortunate that people need lawyers. But they do.

But some lawyer advertising goes farther – it creates cases. I cringe whenever I see ads that start out with "Did your loved one take Tri-Mumble-Chloride tablets and get warts? If so, YOU may be entitled to money!" Surely, some legitimate cases will be discovered, along with a whole lot of dogs. This was also the case early in the asbestos cases. Now, however, those are mostly restricted to patients with mesothelioma which is a cancer almost exclusively caused by asbestos exposure. How many bogus cases are created, though?

Nursing homes are good targets for this kind of advertising. Potential plaintiffs are very sick people. Nursing home residents are, with very few exceptions, guaranteed “a poor outcome.” The Bible refers to this as an allotment of one’s threescore and ten, but in nursing home context that is quite grim. “Dignity” is not happening in a nursing home and anyone who pretends otherwise may have other fantasies. Nursing homes have patients always with diminished physical capacities and usually diminished mental capacities and working with the patients is quite challenging. And then there’s the family dynamic. The family was introduced to Mr. Reality who told them that they cannot care for Grandma in a home setting. Most families are feeling really guilty about that. Then they realize it’s a load off their shoulders, and so they feel guilty about being relieved. Some families worry about the expense of the nursing home and the effect on inheritance. So there you have guilt because nothing is too good for Grandma, and so forth. And then when there is the inevitable “poor outcome,” how attractive it is to have a “they” who did in Grandma, which gets God and Life and the family off the hook.

When you have a fragile population, the opportunities for negligence which actually causes injury are many. Medication errors, scalds and falls happen in nursing homes and one that causes damages calls upon our system of justice to have the negligent party repair the damages insofar as they can be repaired with money. Usually this is done through insurance. In nursing home cases, insurance companies have the very ticklish issue of how to offer the argument that damages for a younger person may entitle that person to a larger verdict than damages for an injury to an older person who was already severely ill and facing a limited lifespan. Cold? You bet. That’s why most lawyers shy away from those arguments.

For that matter, in one of the nursing homes subject of this week’s ad (when it was operated by some other company and something like 25 years ago) there was an incident of negligence which caused the death of a patient. Somehow a patient got smoking materials and caught his or her (I forget which) bed on fire. We were cruising nearby, so beat the fire department to the scene, evacuated the burn patient and evacuated the wing where the fire had taken place. The victim’s family filed a lawsuit and while I lost track of that, I’m sure that there was a settlement or verdict. And justifiably so.

That was a no-brainer. But what about cases related to the conditions in this inflammatory ad? For these facilities’ failures, we’re in the dark. For instance:

  • FAILURE To follow all laws and professional standards. Which ones? The murder statutes? Littering?
  • FAILURE To at least one a month have a licensed pharmacist check the drugs that each resident takes. [I’m not sure who splits infinitives, the government or the law firm.] Did someone go 32 days without a check? Was someone forgotten? Was there a serious med error?
  • FAILURE To provide proof that all residents’ personal money which is deposited with the nursing home is secure. Damfino how that will break bones, but they should keep track.
  • FAILURE To have a program to keep infection from spreading. Does that mean they didn’t write everything down or that staph was rampant?
  • FAILURE To tell the resident, doctor and a family member if: the resident is injured, there is a major change in the resident’s physical/mental health, there is a need to alter treatment. What actually happened? What was the omission?
  • FAILURE To hire only people who have no history of abusing, neglecting or mistreating residents; or report and investigate any acts or reports of abuse, neglect or mistreatment of residents. Oopsie, this is a big one - Did they hire someone and muff the background check? Or fail to document an investigation? Sometimes there is real harm. Mental deterioration often includes fear and misperception of harm. Which?
  • FAILURE To make sure that the nursing home area is free of dangers that cause accidents. Did they fail to document something? Were there banana peels laying around?

We Just Don’t Know. Where there is smoke, there is smoke and it’s hard to see.

Who wins? Some patients are actually harmed and to the extent that they can be compensated or appreciate the compensation, they can win in a nursing home suit. Families of patients likewise can benefit as to actual losses. The monetary losses probably will not be large – most patients in nursing homes will not return to the status of “breadwinners” for a family. (On another day, we will discuss the justice of money for non-economic damages, particularly for those who did not sustain injury.) Counsel for the injured people certainly gain, usually on the order of 1/3 to 40% of the recovery. The particular law firm which placed the ad boasts it has achieved nearly $1/2 billion of verdicts and settlements. The defense lawyers benefit significantly, although very strict controls placed on them by insurance companies are driving some of the best of them to the plaintiff side. And, finally, the insurance companies themselves always can use a few scarecrows to justify premiums. Notably, in places where there has been “tort reform,” there is been little or no rollback of insurance premiums.

Who loses? Well, who pays? Who always pays? What creates value from which payment is made? Right, value is created by people doing work. We have decided on a system of risk distribution so that we all pay a little so that injured people will receive just compensation. At some point it crosses the line from just compensation to rampant wealth redistribution, and every step of the redistribution exacts its own little tax on the process. That is only feebly related to the concept of justice which has grown up “around the council fire” as our civilization has matured.

And we lose respect for the system of justice. We acquire some jaded disdain for orderly compensation to injured people, and so other genuinely injured people suffer from hostile and thick minded juries and mean-spirited judges who deny them even a modest just compensation.
This law firm is done nothing wrong in its advertising. This is the First Amendment at work.

I’m still glad I’m a lawyer. I’m still glad pickup the hammer and tongs and played on behalf of people who need me.

But, oh, what some lawyers do.


Continuing with the newspaper, today's “person on the street” column asked about the future of nuclear energy after the Japan reactor emergencies. West Virginia is, of course, a major coal producing area. The answers all called for using coal and all but one called for “clean coal technology.”

There is a problem with that. "Clean coal" does not exist in a commercially viable form for power generation. As matter is changed to energy or matter changed to different matter, there is a transfer of energy involved. To change coal into something which burns cleanly requires energy put into the conversion process which will not then be available for the end-use, power generation. That conversion is also expensive. So you take a lump of coal with a certain chemical energy within it, and spend money to reduce the available energy to make it burn more cleanly, meaning it will burn and release fewer particulates and lower amounts of harmful chemicals. But the amount of carbon liberated (which eventually will be taken up as carbon dioxide) remains the same.

This is just one brick in a very complicated wall. There are no simple answers to energy.

Pippa passes.


09 March 2011

Those Pesky Juries - The South-of-the-Border Solution; Singing “Stormy Weather”

Who Needs Juries?

We are reminded ad nauseum by “law and order” aficionados and some insurance/business defense advocates that the jury system is not delivering justice in America.

The Washington Post on Wednesday, March 7, talked about the handy Mexican solution and how well it works.

One Antonio Zuniga was tried and convicted of murder. In a very rare move in the Mexican justice system, that conviction was overturned and Sr. Zuniga was granted a second trial. Fortunately for the anti-crime forces, he was convicted again.

The evidence against Sr. Zuniga was as follows:

One purported eyewitness who identified Sr. Zuniga as the shooter, and who later recanted and said it was a hit by three gang members (not Zuniga) over a drug debt.

Sr. Zuniga’s lawyer presented some evidence in his behalf:

12 alibi witnesses who saw him at work someplace else while the victim was getting shot.

The fact that Zuniga had never met the victim and had no connection to the victim.

The fact that the gunshot residue tests performed on Zuniga’s hands was negative taken soon after the shooting were negative. (When you fire a pistol, there will be some residue of the propellant deposited on your hands and clothing.)

North of the border, we have this inconvenient doctrine of the Presumption of Innocence, the so-called “Golden Thread” which has characterized our justice system from its earliest roots in England. And we do one other important, yet inconvenient, thing: We call in juries of citizens to make the decision about guilt or innocence.

South of the border, the Mexican government does not impose upon citizens by asking them to serve on juries. Guilty/not guilty decisions are made by judges alone. Moreover, judges do so with paper and the arguments of lawyers. They see no need to meet and listen to all the witnesses. Nor do any of the participants need to “play fair.” The prosecutor in Zuniga’s case was quoted that her job was to prosecute, not to judge. So, we conclude, she doesn’t evaluate guilt or innocence.

What is made this second trial hit the Post is that the second trial was filmed and has been made into a movie, Presumed Guilty. A judge in Mexico has banned the screening of this film, ostensibly because one of the participants did not give consent to filming. But remember: Make something unavailable, and you make it desirable: pirated copies of the film are floating briskly all over the country.

Juries don’t always get it right. Honestly, I’ve had juries in cases rule so well in favor of my client I wondered if they were listening to the same case. And I’ve had a few juries rule so badly that it was absolutely sickening. In the same cases, the parties on the other side had opposite views to mine. But in those cases, the decisions were not made by government officials, they were made by citizens. To be sure, a bad judge can influence a jury to make a bad decision, but all in all you get more common sense justice from your fellow citizens.

It is in no way disrespectful to say that any system of justice has flaws. We hear from time to time about a prisoner who is released from an American prison after DNA evidence proves conclusively that he is factually innocent. To have any system of justice at all, we have to recognize that there will be errors. Recognizing that and being the guy who serves prison time knowing that he is innocent come from rather different perspectives. When someone is arrested, he or she is absolutely powerless against the government. He will be restrained with handcuffs. She will be put into a jail. They will eat when they are told to do so, sleep when they are told to do so and will live in cells and “ranges.” They will appear before judges who have a great deal of discretion. It is not at all unusual that a judge may impose a sentence of anything from probation up to 10 years in prison and, as a practical matter, no appellate court will touch that sentence. That is why we have juries. That is why we have the presumption of innocence. That is why the state or government has to prove the case and prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. These protections are not intended to get guilty people off. They are intended to keep innocent people out of prison. To do that, these rights have to be extended to everyone. If you think of examples where something outrageous is been done in a criminal case, you may very well be right. There are instances where criminal procedure can be significantly improved. But so long as we remain Americans, we have to be true to our Constitutional principles: the presumption of innocence, the burden of proof on the government, a high standard of proof, a public trial, the assistance of counsel, and most importantly of all a jury of citizens to oversee the process.

You want courts to strictly construe the Constitution? They have to provide those things, or it ain’t the Constitution.

And so, the next time you decide to vacation in sunny Mexico, know that you can be arrested by the Cheshire Cat, prosecuted by the Mad Hatter, and sent to prison by the Queen of Hearts.

Note: Copyright law is a little relaxed regarding titles. Presumed Guilty is also the title of at least 15 books and one other movie which have been published or released in the last 30 years. Using the same title does not necessarily constitute a copyright infringement.

Stormy Weather

A line of late winter/early spring thunderstorms passed through Mother West Virginia couple of weeks ago. We were sitting, as is our wont, solving the day’s problems and preparing to meet the day’s challenges when we heard on the tinny radio in the café the signal of the Emergency Broadcast System.

I had never heard the Emergency Broadcast System used for mere weather. I remember in the 1960s, there was a lot of attention paid to and an awareness of civil defense. In a time when the United States and the Soviet Union were each building bigger and better ICBMs, the sudden “we interrupt this program…” always brought at least a shadow of dread and a catch in the chest.

The decision to activate the Emergency Broadcast System or, for that matter, to declare a state of emergency is not an easy one to make.

I remember my Emergency Broadcast System codes. I wonder if they still work? I don’t think I’ll experiment. I also remember that in 1975 we accidentally set off the civil defense system in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, due to some atmospheric phenomenon that sent an FM radio signal a whole lot farther than it was intended to go. The folks in Mississippi were not amused.

Pippa passes.


06 March 2011



Another three weeks has gone by. This is a blog, not “Dear Diary,” and yet I find myself this evening writing about writing, at least a bit. I like to say something worthwhile or which will in the very least start a conversation, but I can only sneak in the back door tonight.

I remember when I first came to the bar I practiced in a small office building right beside the courthouse. Fairmont is a small town. I have no idea if it’s a typical small American town because I haven’t spent a whole lot of time in other small American towns. I may be the most poorly traveled lawyer you know. Then, as now, a good many people gathered around the courthouse apparently just loafing. (I spent two weeks one afternoon in the courthouse in Hazard, Kentucky, and it was so similar that it was positively spooky.) Our newspaper then, as now, did a lot of “human interest” stories and ran one on one of the more visible loafers. This was an old guy, kind of scrawny, with a long white beard. Whoever wrote the story was ready to paint him as both a derelict and a victim of industrial man’s inhumanity to man and all that sort of him thing. (I suspect that was a young reporter channeling Woodward and Bernstein, but I’m not certain about that.) As it turned out, the guy had an interesting story. He had always made his way in the world, and never made much money, but prided himself on having been a good friend to everyone. When he was asked about what he did these days, he replied that he was “an observer of the scene.” That turned out to be the headline writen for his picture on the front page, “Observer of the Scene. We need observers of the scene. Of course, they aren’t terribly productive. But, when you get right down to it, not a lot of people are all that useful in the material sense. There is an issue in Congress now about funding National Public Radio because it “should be self-sustaining.” In other words, it should be productive. Although how radio is actually going to be productive is beyond me. Dance, there is something that makes no sense to me. Why would we think of spending money on that? Well, who am I to say? It’s not productive in the material sense, but some people value it. And somebody has to be watching all of this, somebody has to be chronicling it. If the tree falls in the forest, we need somebody there to hear it.

Sometimes the best we can do is be an observer of the scene I suppose.

All Folly Down

Politics, I do so love politics. Owing to my beloved and respected “second father,” I have been doing graduate work in politics for going on 30 years. I’ve worked in several campaigns and written (or ghost written) lots of pamphlets and newspaper ads and radio ads and so forth. I love to run the “decision trees,” those multidimensional flowcharts where you find the various effects of various decisions and where, like chess, to be successful you need to be playing about six moves ahead.

This winter, I engaged in a pedal to the firewall political free-for-all and graduate study in practical politics. This occurred when I became one of nine people vying for appointment to the Circuit Court bench in Marion County. I have yet to write or talk much about this directly. Well, now my part of this is concluded even though the new judge has not yet been appointed. (I’m out of the running.) At the outset, let me say that the other eight people are all good lawyers and good friends. When you “fall short,” there is always that little tiny temptation in the back of your mind to bitch at the referee for making a bad call. Bullshit. Hello, Mr. Reality: Sometimes you get the bear, and sometimes that ol’ bear gets you. It’s as simple as that.

But I have paid attention, and I do know a whole hell of a lot more about judicial selection than I did, and I’ve thought a great deal more about the qualities of our judiciary. I’ll right on the details of that at length later. Depending on what the West Virginia Legislature does with the proposed Intermediate Court of Appeals this session, I may have an article for publication on that anon. But I want to comment this evening on the relationship of the public with judicial selection.

Zero. Zilch. Nada. Judges are among the most powerful people in government. The Supreme Court of the United States has changed the landscape of political campaigns by now permitting corporations to make direct political contributions. It only took five justices who never saw a ballot box to do that. On the local level, the power of a judge is much more immediate. When we think of what a judge does, usually it is a criminal sentencing that comes to mind. And so you or your friend or the person who hurt you or the person you never met before are dependent upon the wise decision or random whim of a human being. We are wholly dependent upon the good sense and good faith of that person. Internally, the judicial branch of government has the weakest checks and balances of the three branches. And yet people either ignore their judges are or are directed in their opinions those having money driven agendas.

No, I don’t have some grand scheme to bring the Millennium to the courthouses. Know that those people are there and that you probably don’t have a clue who they are or how they got there.


I’m getting used to the idea that computers are inherently modular. Stuff breaks on them all the time, and if your system works for one week continuously, it’s a trick, and the computer gods are lolling you into a false sense of peace. My trusty laptop crapped out and a good friend rebuilt it. And then, owing to Mr. Gravity (I fell on it), the LCD screen went tango uniform, so now it is the guts of the home office computer with a monitor attached. It now lays beneath the Gadsden flag, where the snake gazes hopefully but with eternal disappointment that he will see a bit of wisdom flow from the fingers of this wretched scribe sooner or later.

Let’s see, and then the keyboard at No. 3 crapped out, and partner JC gave me one of those “clackety” kinds of keyboards, the ones you can hear across the room and hear someone typing on when you’re talking to them on the phone. Actually I kind of like that – it’s a little feedback that I’m actually working. Wow, it doesn’t take a whole lot to amuse me, does it?

Fred’s Ring Redux

Brother Albert price died a couple weeks ago. Bro. Price was a member of Hermon Lodge No. 6 in Clarksburg.

There’s probably been a couple of years since I’ve written about Fred’s ring. When my good friend Fred Griffith died, his widow gave me his Masonic ring. The intrinsic worth of its metal is negligible – it's made from stainless steel. Brother Price is the one who made Fred’s ring. As I understand it, he made a lot of them for the brethren around here by taking stainless steel tubing used in the aircraft industry, shaping it and stamping it with distinctive tooling.

Sometimes our works do live on, at least for a bit.


This week includes Ash Wednesday. It is the start of another Lenten journey. That is important to me.