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What Would People Think?

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Dinner With the Stark Family

A true conversation taking place yesterday at dinner. Sitting at dinner are me, my parents, AJ (my brother), and Scooter (AJ's friend).

Mom: "Does your throat still hurt?"
AJ: "A little bit."
Scooter: "My throat hurts, too."
AJ: "Everybody's throat is hurting right now. [Friend 1] and [friend 2] said their throats are hurting too."
Ben: (brilliantly insightful) "Something must be going around."
Dad: "Uh oh! Must be mono!"
AJ: "Um, yeah. Scooter I guess this means we have to cancel our gay make-out session."
Scooter: "It's the 2000s, man! Can't 4 guys make out without being gay?"

And as an in-joke that only one of my readers will get, I leave you with the following exchange that never actually took place, but should have:

"Do you have any spatulas or something to pick up this pizza?"
"It's called a plate."
"It's called a tip."

Monday, May 29, 2006

X-Men 3: The Spoilerless Verdict

Super awesome action scenes but.....it's official: they screwed up the series.

I will say no more at this point. You may disagree with me. I may blog with details (read: spoilers) later.

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Incomparable Billy Wilder

"Nobody's perfect!"
"I love you, too."
"Shut up and deal."
"All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up."
"You forgot your brandy!"

Ah, the wonder that is a Billy Wilder closing line. The beauty part is, I can tell you the lines now, and you won't get how wonderfully clever and/or meaningful they are out of context.

Billy Wilder
is possibly the greatest writer-director in movie history. His direction is pedestrian (he's no Hitchcock, Welles, or PT Anderson), but it gets the job done. But his writing! He did every genre known to man in the '40s, '50s and '60s.

Romantic comedy (Sabrina)
Prison escapes (Stalag 17)
Movies about addiction (The Lost Weekend)
Film noir (Double Indemnity)
Subversive anti-Hollywood dramas (Sunset Blvd)
Anti-corporate comedy-dramas (The Apartment)
Screwball comedies (Some Like It Hot)
Agatha Christie mysteries (Witness for the Prosecution)

Most films from that era, even the good ones, feel a bit dated. This is rarely the case with Wilder. His films have all the realism.....well, no it's not realism. Movies generally aren't realistic. No, I'd say it's mostly his sense of irony (so well suited to the post-Seinfeld era). More than that....he's just that good of a writer. (Better than most modern films, really.) His characters always sparkle with wit, cynicism, personality and, just when you least expect it, real human feeling. They never feel like cardboard cut-outs. His scripts are filled with a million memorably, witty one-liners. Sometimes he adapted other people's work (i.e. with Witness for the Prosecution) but he always left his touch. You know within 5 minutes that you are watching a Billy Wilder film.

And the variety! Yes, I have just mentioned all the things that distinguish a Wilder film. But what's far more interesting is how different they are. Who would have thought Double Indemnity (with its murder, seduction, and hard-boiled dialogue) was made by the same guy that made the light, sweet Audrey Hepburn vehicle we call Sabrina?

Oh, for the sparkling wit of a Wilder! I'm doing a terrible job describing how magical Wilder's work is.

Sure, he may have written a clunker or two (Irma La Douce), but that's the only bad Wilder movie I'm aware of. If you want to settle down with a good movie, here's how to guarantee that you'll enjoy yourself: scan the back of the DVD box for the name Billy Wilder.

Small note: I got a new quote in the "About" section to the right. Apparently that's where this template puts things instead of underneath the title. I like the quote.

In a matter of days, my dear friends Kenny and Erin are getting married in good 'ol Lincoln, Nebraska (motto: "We're named after a guy from Illinois."). I shall be there and I wish them the best of luck in these crazy pre-wedding days.

Meantime, I'm off to a family vacation with Christy's family tomorrow. Disney World. Should be a blast. So I won't be blogging for a while.

Teenage Girl, P.I.

Warning: If you are living in the Atlanta area and trying to avoid getting served court papers, and your doorbell rings, and you see a cute 18-year old girl with red hair, a freckled face, and a winning smile............don't answer the door! She's not selling girl scout cookies for her little sister. She's Kristi Martinelli, the youngest licensed private investigator in Georgia history, and you just got served!

Normally I'm not much interested in these "human interest" stories. But, well....this particular human is kind of interesting. How many teenage girls say hanging out with friends makes for good "cover" during an investigation?

Technical question. Anybody know how to put text underneath the title to one's blog?

Saturday, May 20, 2006

This Is Crazy!

In Austin, TX last night, a man somehow escaped from a police car, jumped off a bridge into a lake/river/some sort of body of water, and was rescued by a boat full of tourists. After that he was re-arrested.

Normally, I wouldn't care about this unique twist on World's Scariest Police Chases. But this is a little different. One of the tourists on that boat was Christy! She even video-taped the incident and gave her tape to the local news!

Friday, May 19, 2006

I'm Being Paranoid, Right?

I just spent the last 3 hours (damn I love free time) writing a post arguing for President Bush's impeachment. Now I'm afraid to post it.

My fear stems from the following facts: (1) I'll be working for the federal government. (2) My blog is near the top when you Google my name. (3) I am calling for the removal of THE top federal government official. (4) Meredith recently lost a job opportunity when she criticized a potential employer. I don't know whether this is related to the recent disappearance of her blog.

Am I being cowardly or paranoid? Or am I being sensible? Should I post the blog entry?

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

False Confessions

From the NY Times: Inmate to Be Freed As DNA Tests Upend Murder Confession

One of the reasons we have wrongful convictions is the enduring myth that no innocent person would ever confess to a crime he didn't commit. This myth has a basis in common sense and human self-interest, but fails to account for the psychological techniques used in police interrogations - techniques intended to break down resistance and lead to confession. Sometimes, it breaks down the resistance even of people who were actually innocent.

This is something the public should know. For more on false confessions, see this write-up by the Innocence Project.

The N & M Post

1. The N.S.A. and Math

Everybody's favorite Jeff and David hatin' mathematician is back in the spotlight. (Those who weren't personally privy to that whole sordid saga would do well to read David's post first, since it does a good job providing background.)

Yes, Jonathan Farley is back! This time he's sticking to math. Prof. Farley writes a fascinating article saying that the N.S.A. phone call database is mathematically useless and suggests different ways math could be used for national security. It's a really interesting read.

2. N.P.R. and Me

I noted yesterday - with ever-expanding ego - that I was interviewed on the local NPR affiliate. Well, I got on NPR again. This time, I called a national talk radio show to directly ask the USA Today reporter who broke the NSA call-database story a question I posed in a recent post. I actually got through!

It's pretty late in the show (just before they shifted topics to Darfur and after Admiral Inman had left the show), but you can find it here.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Me on NPR

So after I graduated the other day, a fellow alumnus (!) came up and congratulated me on appearing on NPR. To which I graciously responded "What?"

See, this lady from the local NPR affiliate found the existence of an Animal Law Clinic - created with money from Bob Barker (yes THAT Bob Barker) - to be interesting enough to visit a class and interview us. She said she would follow up and never did, so I assumed she decided not to follow up.

Then I heard this story. Coolness. This also marks the first time I've been quoted in the local media where I wasn't saying something totally inane. (Instances of inanity may be found here and here.)

Saturday, May 13, 2006

You Have Been Spied Upon

As you doubtlessly know by know, USA Today recently reported that AT&T, Verizon, and BellSouth all gave over all of their records to the NSA for data mining. That means if you, like me, use those phone companies, the government knows who you called and how long you spoke to that person............for every phone call you've made since 2001.

Now obviously they are looking for terrorists, but I still don't like anybody having that kind of information without - at the least - some form of oversight.

But I actually wanted to ask a more vexing question: Since when did USA Today become a real newspaper?

Just kidding. Impressive as that paper's foray into actual journalism is, my question is: should they have revealed the names of the phone companies who did and did not cooperate with the NSA?

I'm torn. If I were a terrorist, I sure as hell would be switching to Qwest, the one company that refused to cooperate with the NSA activity....and thus the one company whose records are not under complete surveillance. On the other hand, as an American who loves his civil liberties, I might just do the same. If USA Today had simply said "3 of the 4 major telecommunications companies cooperated with the NSA"....you can bet there would have been an outcry among civil libertarians. MoveOn would have circulated petitions demanding to know which companies threw our privacy in the toilet. On the other hand, I find it perfectly plausible that USA Today could have reported on this gross violation of our civil liberties without giving the terrorists a handbook on how to avoid surveillance. This is not quite as ridiculous as the claims that the New York Times' exposure of the OTHER NSA program would tip off the terrorists to the possibility that they are being watched.

Your thoughts?

Oh yeah, also I'm graduating today and Christy graduated yesterday.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

One of the Happiest Nights of My Life

There are few days I can point to and say, "I was truly joyful on that day." Don't get me wrong, I've got plenty of happy memories. But the only day that sticks out is the day Christy said "yes."

And then there's tonight.

Tonight, at a graduation party for Duke law students, I was awarded the Justin Miller Award for Integrity. I had no idea this was coming.

The award winners are nominated by their fellow students and then chosen by the faculty. I had nominated 2 of my friends for the Leadership award - David Jetter (the single most organized person I have EVER met) and Ian Millhiser (who requires neither food nor oxygen because he eats and breathes politics) - and I knew my friend Chris Kocher had nominated me for the Integrity award. So I knew I had a chance. But I thought they would have told me if I had won. After all, there was no guarantee otherwise that I would even attend the event. I know people who didn't. Well, I guess they are risk-takers.

Chris was called up and he gave an eloquent and flattering speech. I only realized he was talking about me when he mentioned the person he was praising is a member of the Duke Law Democrats and the Christian Legal Society. That kinda narrows it down. (Erin, after all, is still a 2L.) When he mentioned air guitar, that clinched it.

Then he said my name and time sort of stood still. Then people started clapping. Then I started going up front to accept the award. Then came the standing ovation. I went up and hugged Chris and Dean Jill Miller and accepted the award (a crystal plaque with my name and a crystal gavel with my initials). No acceptance speech, thank God. I jumped (literally jumped) off the stage, went back to my seat, and applauded the other award winners. (Including, incidentally, Chris - winner of the Justin Miller Award for Citizenship.)

All night people were coming up to me and shaking my hand or hugging me and telling me how much I deserve the award. It's like my every fantasy of acceptance since I was the middle school punching-bag has come true! I have not been this high on Cloud 9 since....well, since Christy said she would marry me.

Caveats: My ego is easily swollen. I can't let this go to my head. It is my firm belief that any goodness in me comes from God, whose love is infinitely greater than mine. Furthermore, I can't expect universal praise for everything I do, nor should I seek it. My passions don't always invite admiration.

But.......................damn, it feels good to be liked.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

I Just Finished Law School



I predict about 2 people who read this blog, maybe only one, will recognize the reference I am making in the title and single word above. Or maybe nobody will. Winner gets a free CD. (Hint: Don't bother Googling it. It's not a reference to anything famous or semi-famous.)


In other news, Iranian President Mahmoud "Should Be Poking Himself In The Eye Right Now" Ahmadinejad has written a fascinating letter to President Bush. (The letter's available on a link from the Times article.)

Now I don't trust Ahmadinejad as far as I can throw him. The letter is probably intended to undermine any concerted international diplomatic effort against Iran. It never once discusses what Iran has done wrong, including the whole nuclear issue. And the punk expresses skepticism that the Holocaust ever happened. And yet.....

It's an oddly thoughtful letter. It asks whether American government policy is in keeping with President Bush's professed Christian values - including whether all this money spent on war stuff would be better spent helping our poor citizens. It's strangely polite toward Bush. It asks how both Ahmadinejad's presidency and Bush's will be judged by history.

If it were coming from anyone else (and if it didn't deny the Holocaust) I might even find myself endorsing it. As it is, I find it strangely fascinating......

[Update:] My good friend Jeff Woodhead has an excellent response.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

My Lexis Purchase

[Update:] Ha ha! I only realized an hour and a half after posting this that most people might think I meant a Lexus purchase. Not quite. Remember, I'm a poor, indebted law student who is going to work for the public sector. No Lexus in my future. Not that I'd really want one.

So, after 3 years of casual use of Lexis Nexis, I'm about to graduate. In order to bribe people to use Lexis over Westlaw for legal research, they give you.....Lexis Points. You can trade these in for cool stuff. I decided to look and see if I could afford an i-Pod with three years' worth of Lexis points (minus some points donated to Katrina victims) (I'm sure they needed an i-Pod).

It should come as no surprise to those who know me that I spent about 10 minutes looking at electronics before buying movies, books, and music. I bought....

1. A Thomas Jefferson biography

2. A Kelly Clarkson album

3. The Night of the Hunter: a classic 1950s surrealist/suspense/horror film ("Chiiiiiiiiildren.")

4. A James Madison biography

5. The new Pearl Jam album

Some might say I have eclectic tastes.

United 93: Boring.....and Captivating

I saw United 93 last night. I'm not sure what I expected. I had read the almost universally positive reviews, so I wasn't expecting a cheap, sentimental exploitation of the memories of the heroes aboard that plane. Thank God, they didn't "Hollywood-ize" that day. I guess I was expecting to be carried back emotionally to that awful day.

I still vividly remember my own reaction on 9/11. I was sitting on the floor in my dorm room, surrounded by my notes, preparing for my Latin American Politics class (taught by a socialist, natch). Mike walked in from his room (which has a TV) and could only say "Shit!." From the tone of his voice, I thought The Slant - the controversy-prone college satire paper we had helped create - was in trouble yet again. Instead, he answered my question by telling me that somebody had flown two jet airplanes into the World Trade Center. We both went back into his room and watched in shocked silence as the 2nd tower fell. I will never forget that moment for the rest of my life......the shock, the helplessness, the slowly dawning sense of sorrow and dread as the enormity of what had just happened sunk in.

I suppose that's what I expected to feel watching United 93. Instead, for most of the movie, I felt......bored. It's an odd reaction. I mean, I wasn't expecting the film to entertain me with its witty script. But for, like, 3/4 of the movie you mostly see air traffic controllers and military personnel trying to figure out what the hell is going on and what the hell they are going to do about it. After a certain amount of confusion, it got boring for me as the outsider. I imagine boredom was the last thing on the mind of the participants on that fateful day.

[I'm reminded of the movie Elephant - a film inspired by the Columbine school shootings. I spent most of that movie being bored, too. Of course, Elephant had 10-minute long tracking shots following some jock walking around his unreasonably huge high school.]

I don't think my boredom was actually a flaw with the movie. I don't see how they could have done it any other way. If they amped up the drama, it would have been exploitive, cheap, sentimental.

Then, there were the events on the plane. I wasn't bored anymore. I was in the moment. The sudden, shocking violence interrupting what seemed like a normal, everyday plane ride. The frenzied whispers as all these people who don't know each other try to figure out what's going on and hear from phone calls about the World Trade Center. The terrorists watching on as people talk on the phones, not quite sure whether they should be letting them do that. The determination and desperate attempts at rational planning when they realize the enormity of the situation. (Would I have done that? Or would I have frozen in fear?) The passengers making tearful farewells to their loved ones. And those last, chaotic minutes of struggle and............yes, dammit, HEROISM.

And blackness.

Everybody in the theater sat there, stunned. (Except for this one couple sitting next to me who kept TALKING during the last minutes. I was ready to beat them over the head with my cell phone.) Except for that couple, you could hear a pin drop. It took a minute or two for everything to sink in...for reality to return and for us to realize we were in a movie theater. For me to stop crying.

This movie - complete with the boredom - is precisely the correct tribute to the ordinary men and women aboard that plane who saved who-knows-how-many lives.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Random Foreign Policy Stuff

I've had free time. So, naturally, I've been blogging less.

A couple random foreign policy thoughts to point out.

1. The Russian government sucks - I don't like the messenger but I kind of agree with the message.

2. Iran & Intelligence - We lack knowledge of what's going on in Iran. That means that (a) they may be a lot closer to nukes than we think, and (b) if we attacked Iran based on current information, we wouldn't know what to attack.

That cheers you up, doesn't it? Here, maybe this will help.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Brief Funny Break

Two things that made me chuckle before

Check out this Brewster Rockit comic. In the years since the demise of Calvin & Hobbes and The Far Side, I've been despairing for the state of comics. I mean, come on....Fox Trot? Dilbert was the only hope, and it sometimes just got a tad too misanthropic for my tastes. But with Brewster Rockit and Pearls Before Swine, hope returns.

[Update] The Brewster Rockit comic is a bit easier to read here.

Check out this Garfield comic. Yes, Garfield is hit or miss. It's no Calvin & Hobbes. And don't get me started on that horrible-looking Garfield movie. Actually, I never started on it. Never gave it the time of day. And I won't. But I grew up with Garfield. When it works, I enjoy its straight-up silliness. And today's a good one.

Oh, I guess I'll just admit it. I've been a Garfield fan even before I was a kid watching Garfield and Friends in the late '80s. I like silly. Haven't you guessed that by now? Garfield had me at - "Garfield? I really think you should go on a diet." "Okay. And Jon? I really think you should jump naked into a swimming pool full of wolverine."

It is my fervent belief that one day, even though Charles Schultz is dead, Charlie Brown will kick that damn football. Does this make me (a) a lovable optimist? (b) a naive, self-deceiving dolt? (c) a guy who's procrastinating from starting work on yet another paper which he has no idea what to write about?

And, in one last inspired burst of comics-related procrastination (oops, gave away the answer, didn't I?) I give you the following exchange from the greatest work of art in American pop culture (until I change my mind):

"You can't just turn on creativity like a faucet. You have to be in the right mood."
"What mood is that?"
"Last-minute panic."

[Update:] Don't forget to check out my national security law paper! Find if the President can legally have you killed if he suspects you of being a terrorist!

Monday, May 01, 2006

Can Presidents Kill?

An excerpt from the introduction to my national security law paper:

Meet "“Bob."” Bob is a 35-year old divorced father of two. Born in Montana, Bob now works as a manager for a construction company in downtown Washington, D.C, where he moved to be closer to his kids after the divorce. Bob converted to Islam last year. His conversion is a source of tension within his Born-Again Christian family, but to President Bush it has far more sinister undertones. He has intelligence which leads him to believe Bob is a new recruit to Al Qaeda who is plotting to use his construction connections to plant explosives inside key office buildings. For the sake of this hypothetical, I will leave it unresolved whether this intelligence is correct, but the President believes it in his gut. Right now, however, Bob is not plotting. He is not planting a bomb or holding a gun to the head of a hostage. He is sitting down to lunch at McDonalds, eating a Big Mac and French fries. President Bush decides that it is America's best interest to have Bob killed instantly. So he orders an FBI agent to walk into McDonalds, pull out a gun, and shoot Bob between the eyes.

Can he do this?

I'm talking legally, of course. There's always the concern that the law doesn't matter to some executives. But nonetheless, I analyze whether the President has authority in the War on Terrorism to order the targeted killing of American citizens on American soil when they don't pose an immediate threat (in other words, when any policeman wouldn't be able to shoot them, anyway). In the process, I develop a constitutional theory for the place of Congress and the President in wartime (well, a partial theory) and lay out a framework for interpreting the AUMF.

Interested? Intrigued? Are you nerd enough to care about all these legal issues? If so, let me know and I'll send you my paper. I'll warn you: it's the longest paper I've ever written. It's 46 pages long (plus an Appendix with the text of the AUMF). Don't read it while operating heavy machinery. May not be best to try and read it all in one sitting.

Nonetheless, I found it fascinating and had a blast writing it. (Except for the Bluebooking.) So if you think you might be interested, let me know and I'll send it to you.