Thursday, September 28, 2006

Flash Fiction Friday #5

Another Friday, another short short story. This one was tough - my first pass was at nearly 800 words before I got the title item involved! Enjoy and, as always, read all the entries for this week.

NOTE: I've taken this story down for retooling and/or submission elsewhere.

Small Town Justice - The Rousing Finale

Just to complete the cycle, yesterday's New York Times had the third and final part of its series on New York's small town "justice courts." Part three deals with the unsuccessful attempts to reform the system in the past century.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Wills of the Rich and Famous

A lot of the cases one studies in first-year property law classes involve wills in which the dearly departed tries to control the ownership of land from beyond the grave. A famous example is Shakespeare, who's will included an outdated olde common law concept called "fee tail male," which passed on land to a descendents female heirs, but required it to be held until a male heir came along. It didn't work.

In today's New York Times there's another tale of a famous man's money and the battle over his will, that of Alfred Nobel, who died in Paris. How can you not read a story that starts out with:

To secret Nobel’s French assets to the Swedish consulate in Paris before claims might be made on them there, the will’s principal executor literally sat on Nobel’s millions as he rode a horse-drawn cab through Paris. 'I sat with a revolver at the ready in case of a direct attack or a prearranged collision with another vehicle, a trick not unusual among thieves in Paris at the time,' the executor, Ragnar Sohlman, wrote in 'The Legacy of Alfred Nobel,' which was published in English in 1983.
The story goes on from there, with lots of interesting details about the Nobel Prizes and how they have developed.

More "Justice" in a Small Town

Part 2 of the New York Times series on the state's small town and village courts is now online. As expected, things don't get any better. As the prosecutor in a rural county puts it:

'The reality is, you basically have to have no qualifications other than be a voter to put someone in jail, and that’s a very alarming situation,' Mr. Champagne said. 'To throw a layperson — some of whom don’t have a high school degree — in that position is just a recipe for disaster.'
And why do these folks become small-town judges in the first place? Well:

Like a lot of newcomers to small towns, [judge Gori] wanted to get involved. But he didn’t like the sight of blood, so that ruled out volunteer firefighting. He was attracted instead to the court in the weathered firehouse. 'Law has always been kind of an interesting thing to me,' he said.

That interest, however, does not include a fascination with the technicalities that occupy lawyers. 'If you look at the laws, it’s all common sense,' he said.

Ultimately, Gori, who makes less than $4000 a year for his services, hits the nail on the head:

Still, he is convinced that he and the other justices across New York are honest people trying to do right. 'Economicswise,' he added, 'you couldn’t get the job done any cheaper.'
And there we have it - how much justice can you afford?

Monday, September 25, 2006

"Justice" In Small Towns

One of the benefits of practicing in Federal court is that anytime I go to court I appear before real judges - lawyers who have years of training and experience being judges. Back in my family law days, I occasionally practiced in front of magistrates in state court who were completely the opposite - not lawyers, with no requirement of even a college education, and little grasp of the legal world.

I was reminded of West Virginia magistrates by this story in today's New York Times about that state's town or village "justice courts." For instance:

Some of the courtrooms are not even courtrooms: tiny offices or basement rooms without a judge’s bench or jury box. Sometimes the public is not admitted, witnesses are not sworn to tell the truth, and there is no word-for-word record of the proceedings.

Nearly three-quarters of the judges are not lawyers, and many — truck drivers, sewer workers or laborers — have scant grasp of the most basic legal principles. Some never got through high school, and at least one went no further than grade school.
The story, first in a three-part series, then goes on to document egregious acts of judicial malfeasance in these courts. Obviously, not all (or probably even most) of those judges are corrupt wielders of power. However, when the system allows a judge to conclude:'
I just follow my own common sense,' Mr. Buckley, in an interview, said of his 13 years on the bench. 'And the hell with the law.'
In a modern world that is increasingly regulated at the federal, state, and local level, that kind of cavalier attitude is simply not appropriate in a "public servant." And a system that fosters that sort of attitude is profoundly broken.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Life-Changing Tunes

Thanks to The Film Geek, I participated in eclectic guy's collection of "10 albums that changed my life" lists. As usual, I cheated a little bit. Head on over - some interesting reading.

Ah, the Luncay of Reality

If you made this stuff up, they'd think you were crazy. From today's Charleston Daily Mail:

One of the home health workers deceived by a middle-aged Charleston financial consultant who posed as a diaper-clad, bottle-sucking baby in order to grope her breasts said the man deserved jail time instead of home confinement.
The victim, meanwhile, said she holds no ill will toward Mucklow, who she said made her change his diapers and play 'Barney' children's videos for him.


On her first day of work, she showed up at Mucklow's large Wood Road house early in the morning. She passed a woman she did not know coming out of the house. Mucklow was inside sitting on the couch, wearing a cloth diaper, watching cartoons and sucking on a pacifier.

'He always wore a diaper and plastic pants that you pull over them that had all the lace on the back of them,' she said. 'He liked to wear nightgowns and they were pink and ruffly.'


In his infantile state, she said Mucklow would grab at her breasts in an attempt to nurse. She said she gently brushed his hands away and rubbed them until he stopped.

Sometimes when she'd arrive for work, Mucklow wouldn't be there. She'd call around looking for him and discover he was at work. Then he'd come home in his car, often wearing a suit, and change into his diaper after entering the house.

Attorneys for Mucklow blame his odd behavior on problems with medication he was taking for epilepsy.

Geez, between this and the Nitro city councilman who sent naked pictures of himself over the Internet, we're quite the little region of kink this week, aren't we? Who says nothing interesting happens here.

Forget It, He's Rolling

Over at Crooked Territory, Glenn Greenwald has been on a roll dissecting the weirdness of the right. Two prominent examples:

  • In this post, Glenn discusses how the end times prophecy of many fundie Christians fuels their views -and, potentially, US policy - on Israel and the Middle East.
  • In this post, Glenn takes apart Michelle Malkin's recent outrage at the trial and conviction of three Christian "terrorists" in Indonesia. Curiously, she's demanding exactly the same kind of due process protections for those three folks as she and her ilk seeks to deny to people held in US custody during the War on Terra. Guess due process is only important if folks pray to god the right way, huh?
Preach on, brutha'!

So Much for Liberation

The fall-back position for a lot of Dubya apologists for the fiasco in Iraq is that at least the Iraqis are better off under US occupation than Saddam's rule. "Remember the torture rooms?", they plead. Well, to quoth Zappa, the torture never stops. According to the United Nations's torture expert, there is more torture going on nowadays in Iraq than in Saddam's time:

Manfred Nowak said the situation in Iraq was "out of control", with abuses being committed by security forces, militia groups and anti-US insurgents.

* * *

"What most people tell you is that the situation as far as torture is concerned now in Iraq is totally out of hand," the Austrian law professor said.

"The situation is so bad many people say it is worse than it has been in the times of Saddam Hussein," he added.
Granted, this is a case of Iraqis torturing Iraqis, rather than the population being abused by US soldiers, but it doesn't speak very well of our ability to control the situation over there.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Flash Fiction Friday #4

Since I missed last week, I figured I'd get this week's entry in early. With title-stealing apologies to King Crimson . . .

NOTE: I've taken this story down for retooling and/or submission elsewhere.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Yoo Gotta Be Kidding Me

In yesterday's New York Times, Bush apologist John Yoo (formerly of Dubya's Attorney General's office and now of some fancy shmancy law school on the West Coast) attempted to defend Dubya's gross post-9/11 power grab. He fails miserably. There's too much wrong there to attack point by point, but the proposition garnering the most press in the blogosphere is this whopper:

A reinvigorated presidency enrages President Bush’s critics, who seem to believe that the Constitution created a system of judicial or congressional supremacy. Perhaps this is to be expected of the generation of legislators that views the presidency through the lens of Vietnam and Watergate. But the founders intended that wrongheaded or obsolete legislation and judicial decisions would be checked by presidential action, just as executive overreaching is to be checked by the courts and Congress.
C'mon, pull the other one. Presidents can ignore "wrongheaded" legislation? That's going to come as some shock to the other living presidents (and, I imagine, most rational folks). Of course, this comes from a man who writes:
The changes of the 1970’s occurred largely because we had no serious national security threats to United States soil, but plenty of paranoia in the wake of Richard Nixon’s use of national security agencies to spy on political opponents.
Ah, I see, it was the paranoia following Nixon's domestic spying operation that's responsible for the weak Presidency, not the domestic spying itself. Got it!

Glenn Greenwald does a good job of dissecting Yoo's arguments here, with help from the infamous leftwing bloggers who wrote The Federalist Papers.

From the Department of the Irony Challenged, revel in this Yoo quote from the Clinton days:
The second thing is that the Clinton Administration has displayed a fundmental disrespect for the rule of law. Not in the sense that they don't make legal arguments to defend their positions, but the legal arguments are so outrageous, they're so incredible, that they actually show, I think, a disrespect for the idea of law, by showing how utterly manipulable it is.
I wonder how Yoo has compartmentalized his memories of that statement during his current Dubya Uber Alles days. One would think his head would explode from cognitive dissonance if they met in his brain.

Friday, September 15, 2006

I Like The Onion, but . . .

I'm a regular devotee of The Onion and it's not-at-all made up cultural section, the A.V. Club. So I'm particularly distressed by today's Inventory selection, "10 Highly Pretentious Musical Instruments." First, I'm assuming they mean ". . . in Pop Music," since it would be hard to hammer too much on the flute and grand piano in the classical realm. Second, they take some pops at a progressive rock staple, the Chapman Stick:

Art rock—especially '80s-00s King Crimson—wouldn't be complete without the Chapman Stick, a combination guitar and bass that looks like a 2x4 and is played by tapping the strings with both hands. (Or with little drumsticks tied to your fingers, if you're Tony Levin.) Though its clean lines look best next to the stylishly bald and mustached Levin, it's forever connected to serious, ponytailed men like Trey Gunn, who look like they treat "picking" and "strumming" with a sniff of contempt. The Chapman Stick is also worn across the chest with the top resting on the player's shoulder, giving the impression that it's so precious, it needs to be cradled.
I guess I don't get "pretentious." The Stick, and its descendent the Warr Guitar, are innovative instruments that do something different than your traditional rock band staples. What's pretentious about that? Or should rock and pop stay in three chords and a cloud of dust territory? If doing something different is pretentious, then I guess I like pretentiousness. Of course, as I write this I'm watching Bela Fleck jam on stage playing jazz banjo along with guys playing steel drums, bassoon, and a sorta guitar looking drum machine - so what does that tell you?

And, for the record, the "little drumsticks tied to your fingers" aren't for the Stick. Funk fingers, as they're known, were developed by Levin so he could get the same percussive bass sound live during Peter Gabriel's "Big Time" as he did in the studio, when drummer Jerry Marotta actually pounded the strings with drumsticks.

But, still and all, they're right about one thing. Bagpipes suck ass.

*runs away after throwing that grenade in Scottish boy's direction*

Flash Fiction-less Friday

The collected entries for Flash Fiction Friday #3 are now available here. I couldn't really get inspired for this week's entry - I'd like to think it's because I write so well that I can't write poorly, but I know that's not true. Hopefully, I'll get something done next week, as we're going with an "Elephant Talk" type vibe. As always, read this week's entries and remember - they're supposed to suck!

I Don't Get It

I'll admit, I've never seen an episode of Dog the Bounty Hunter, which follows the adventures of Hawaii-based bounty hunter Duane "Dog" Chapman. I'm not a big fan of reality shows anyway, and I'm certainly not a fan of bounty hunters in general. So I was a little surprised to see the big deal made of Dog's arrest by US Marshals on an extradition request from Mexico. Apparently, Dog followed a bail-jumping serial rapist to Mexico and caught him. The rapist was returned to the United States and is serving a lengthy (100+ years) prison term.

One problem - bounty hunting, as it's practiced in the United States is illegal in Mexico. Thus, in 2003, Dog and some of his crew were charged in Mexico with kidnapping and released no bail. At the time, Dog didn't not seem very indignant about the charges:

Chapman, 50, held a news conference soon after the judge's decision, saying that although he was proud of what he did, he regretted doing it 'in the wrong way.'

'This is an international rapist taken down,' Chapman said.

Chapman said he regretted running afoul of Mexican law but expressed gratitude to Mexican officials for treating him with respect. He also said he appreciated support expressed by people on both sides of the border.

Apparently, Dog and his crew left Mexico without permission. Ironically, a fugitive warrant was issued for him and the Mexican authorities handed in an extradition request to the United States. Why it took three years for all this to shake out, I don't know.

Given all this, I'm someone shocked by the talk over at TalkLeft about Dog's arrest (Mike at Crime & Federalism expresses similar thoughts). I understand that Jeralyn is a friend of Dog's, but her anger over his arrest seems odd for a criminal defense attorney, particulaly one who is rightly quick to step up when the Fourth Amendment is violated in high profile cases. There appears to be little doubt that Dog violated Mexican law in apprehending the escaped rapist. It seems equally clear that Dog engaged in a utilitarian calculus and concluded that the wrong of illegally detaining the guy was outweighed by the need to ship the rapist back to the US to serve his sentence (he had been convicted in absentia, apparently).

If police in this country made a similar calculation - the ends of justice outweighed the cops need to illegally break down that door without a warrant - Jeralyn and other criminal defense attorneys (myself included) would be outraged. The fact that (a) this took place in Mexico and (b) Dog is apparently a decent guy,* isn't really relevant is it (except insofar as the fact that what he did was illegal under Mexican law)? Maybe the Mexican prosecutor's motives in pursuing Dog's case aren't pure. Should that matter? Should a cop who is pure of heart be forgiven for ignoring the Constitution? Why should we expect anything less south of the border? It's hypocritical to, on the one hand, bash the Mexican justice system as corrupt and inefficient, while, on the other, arguing that the state should look the other way in the name of "justice" when a law is broken.

* I have no reason to think otherwise, although the angelic praise being heaped upon Dog is enough to make me suspicious in my own right. When someone praises him for not using a gun, without addressing the possibility that his prior felony conviction legally prohibits him from doing so, you wonder about their objectivity.

Where Are the Tort Reformers?

The House Judiciary Committee has passed a bill dubiously titled the "Public Expression of Religion Act of 2005." What the bill actually does is take away a major motivation for poor people to pursue legal redress when their rights have been violated - 42 USC 1988(b). What 1988(b) does is allow successful plaintiffs in civil rights cases (so-called 1983 cases, after the Code section creating the cause of action) to recover attorney's fees from the defendants. The bill would preclude such fees being awarded in First Amendment religion cases.

In other words - the current system is loser pays. Isn't that the wet dream of the GOP tort reformers? Why would they want to get rid of such a provision? Why, of course, to stop the ACLU from winning also those First Amendment lawsuits. You know, the "frivolous" ones enforcing the separation of church and state that they always seem to win?

More here.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Way to Work a Fragile Psyche, Nancy!

How many lawyers can say that they have cross-examined a witness so intensely that the witness went home and committed suicide? Add another highlight to the stellar career of CNN news harpy Nancy Grace! Last Thursday, Grace executed one of her tradmark rant/interviews upon Melinda Duckett, who reported her son missing two weeks before. Grace knew, with her innate sense of right and more right, that Duckett killed her son and proceeded to grill the bereaved mother. Before the interview aired the next day, Duckett blew her brains out. The reaction of Grace's show was swift:

Janine Iamunno, a spokeswoman for Grace, said in an e-mail that Duckett's death was "an extremely sad development," but that the program would continue covering the case.
Yes, I'm sure it was extremely sad because they couldn't run the interview in the wake of the interviewee killing herself.

Hat tip to TalkLeft.

UPDATE: Although I like my "news harpy" label for Nancy, I also have to admire Norm over at Crime & Federalism for his moniker, "wall-eyed weaselette." Nice turn of phrase.

No Sex = No Violence?

According to this story from the BBC, wives and girlfriends of gangsters involved in one of Colombia's most violent cities have decided to withhold sex in an attempt to stop the violence.

Studies found that local gang members were drawn to criminality by the desire for status, power, and sexual attractiveness, not economic necessity, Colombian radio reported.

One of the girlfriends, Jennifer Bayer, told Britain's Guardian newspaper: 'We want them to know that violence is not sexy.'

I wonder how successful this will be. Given my experience with the criminal element, I wouldn't think that the first response by a violent gang-banger to his significant other holding out on him would be a sincere discussion of what caused her lack of sexual interest. Much more likely, he's just gonna' beat on her until she gives in, even given this precedent from ancient Greece.

Any Goal Is a Good Goal

Soccer analysts will frequently point out when a particularly unappealing goal is scored (like an own goal, for example) that, "hey, it still counts just the same." One wonders if there are any limits on that maxim, given a goal scored in a Brazilian club match last weekend. As you can see from the video, a Santacruzense attack ends with a fierce strike that goes just to right of the goal. The ball boy then rather nonchalantly nudges the ball back onto the pitch and into the goal. As the opposing goalkeeper fishes the ball out of the back of the net, the ref incredibly signals a goal for Santacruzense! It tied the game 1-1. Pretty sneaky use of the home-town kids, no?

For the Earl Grey Set

Since a large percentage of regular readers of this blog (so that's, what, 3 or 4 of you?) are tea drinkers. As a public service, I direct you towards yesterday's article in the New York Times about some sort of revolutionary change in the development of tea bags - they're pyramids now. No word on whether teabagging is making similar strides.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Just Shut Up, Saddam

Not that Saddam Hussein ever had a lot of positive associations in my brain, but ever since South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut, I've never been able to shake the image of him as Satan's abusive lover (How did he get there? "It's been six weeks since Saddam Hussein was killed by a pack of wild boars and the world is still glad to be rid of him."), doing song and dance numbers. Now he's come up with another comedy association, after telling witnesses in his Iraqi trial that "we will crush your heads." Great, now he'll bounce back and forth in my head from Satan's lover to Mr. Tyzik's successor. What'll he do for his next outburst? "I'm Rick James, bitch!"?

Monday, September 11, 2006

Gratuitous Dog Blogging

This past weekend, got to experience my first pet adoption. My girlfriend and I braved the wilds of western Pennsylvania (and very unhelpful PennDOT signage) to check out a dog she'd found online. The description she gave me was, to say the least, intriguing - a mixed breed, part Chihuahua, with one eye. The small picture on the web wasn't a great one, so I was interested to see what the little pup looked like.

In person, the pup was about the cutest thing I'd ever seen (aside from the numerous cats in the room, desperately trying to get me to take them home with me). She does indeed have only one eye - she arrived at the shelter with her right eye damaged and it could not be healed. Her ginormous brown left eye, however, is perfectly functional. The looking at her from the left side, she's all sweetness and light. From the right, with the patched up eye socket and little reverse fang protruding up over her bottom lip, she looks like she could hold her own in a bar fight! Not that she'd ever end up in one, sweet little quadruped that she is.

A couple hours after we located the Fayette Friends of Animals shelter, we got to take the one-eyed wonder 'huahua, Maia, home. Here are some pictures of the adorable addition to my girlfriend's menagerie.

The cats dont's quite know what to make of her yet. :)

The Play's the Thing

As we wind down the first weekend of the NFL season, over at PrawfsBlawg, they ask the question, "why do we watch Monday Night Football?" Their theory:

But it is beyond me why people watch a national game of the week that does not involve 'their team.' . . .

Often, though, people will watch Monday Night Football and comparable programs in other sports, because of the program's status as an event. Anybody who's anybody is watching. So how does a sporting event gain this status? My guess is the packaging of the show -- chiefly the announcers. . . .

Whatever you think of, I'm betting it has little to do with the game itself.
Maybe I'm not the right person to answer this question, as I'm not a MNF devotee for the simple reason that the game generally doesn't finish until after my bed time. But when I do watch, unless the Vikings are involved (as they are tonight), I watch because - shock - I actually like watching football!

I've had other people ask me how I can watch a game in which I have no rooting interest. For me, when it comes to my true favorite sports - soccer, road racing, football - I actually enjoy watching the game played at a high level. Most of the soccer games I watch hold no rooting interest for me (Exhibit A - the Reading/Manchester City game I'm watching right now), but I enjoy the game for it's own sake, not for some sort of personal vindication that "my team" won. OK, so a WVU game (against anybody) is more interesting 'cause I spent 7 years in Morgantown, but I enjoyed the end of the Syracuse/Iowa game this weekend just because it was exciting. When it comes to racing, I don't really have any favorites, but I like the racing itself. That's one reason I don't like NASCAR - the racing itself bores me and I haven't been taken in by the cult of driver personality to get invested in how one guy does on a weekly basis.

What's my point? Just that there are some people out there who will watch the game itself, oblivious to the production values surrounding it.

Oh, and, go Vikings!

End of an Era

Yesterday, after a victory in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza that was the 90th of his Formula 1 career, 7-time world champion Michael Schumacher announced his retirement, effective at the end of the season. I've got mixed feelings about Schu's career. On the one hand, he was one of the first "young guns" to get into F1 who I knew about before he broke through. I remember his impressive debut for Jordan at Spa. And, as a long-time Ferrari fan, I've enjoyed the role he's played in the resurgence of the Scuderia. On the other hand, I'll admit that Schu's past includes some shady on-track incidents and realize that the on-track product will probably improve and be more interesting once he's gone.

The BBC does a good job of covering Schu's career, the ups and downs, here. 96 world champ Damon Hill calls Schu "brave" for walking away at the top of his game (presumably to avoid Hill's fate of running with a backmarker in the end). They've also collected a sampling of opinion on his retirement, including this assessment from former team mate Martin Brundle:

'here Schumacher cannot draw the right line is on track. He cannot see when he crosses the line between tough but fair, and ruthless but foul.

That is exacerbated by his total belief that he cannot be wrong. He has a default mode in the car: if you're going to pass him, he will drive you off the road. He even did it to me as a team-mate.

Maybe there's a spot in Dubya's administration for a man with such, uh, "principles." :p

Thursday, September 07, 2006

You Know You're a Geek When . . .

. . . you're working on a brief at home that involves a witness named William Byrd, which then inspires you to dig out your Fred Fennell/Eastman Wind Ensemble recording of Gordon Jacob's William Byrd Suite. And I've even been groovin' along with it (played it in high school).


Thank goodness I'm pretty. ;p

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Failing Religions

If the success of a religion is measured in terms of numbers of adherents, than the Zoroastrians are in deep trouble. As an article in today's New Your Times points out, the numbers of Zoroastrians worldwide has dwindled to less than 200,000 worldwide. For a faith that predates Islam, Christianity, and Judaism and once covered vast swaths of land, that's pretty depressing. What's particularly interesting is how some believes think the positive aspects of the faith are to blame:

The very tenets of Zoroastrianism could be feeding its demise, many adherents said in interviews. Zoroastrians believe in free will, so in matters of religion they do not believe in compulsion. They do not proselytize. They can pray at home instead of going to a temple. While there are priests, there is no hierarchy to set policy. And their basic doctrine is a universal ethical precept: “good thoughts, good words, good deeds.”

'That’s what I take away from Zoroastrianism,' said Tenaz Dubash, a filmmaker in New York City who is making a documentary about the future of her faith, 'that I’m a cerebral, thinking human being, and I need to think for myself.'

In a way, that's sort of sad, as the religion should be rewarded for being so open-minded and non-political. On the other, I'm not sure what it says about its basic tenets (of which I admittedly know little) that the same open-mindedness apparently leads believers elsewhere for their spiritual nourishment.

What a Loaded Question

From Sentencing Law & Policy comes a post about a recent 2nd Circuit decision that deals with a Guideline enhancement where the victims of a crime are particularly vulnerable. In concluding that the enhancement did not apply, the court said (emphasis mine):

While we recognize that a fraud grounded in religious themes may pose an especially effective threat, membership in religious groups cannot, standing alone, make victims 'vulnerable' for purposes of the enhancement, even where a fraud involves reliance on religious themes or imagery....

We have no reason to believe that evangelical Christians as a class are 'unusually susceptible' to fraud.
The snark-meister in my would argue that status as an evangelical is enough reason to believe those people are unusually susceptible to fraud. But that would be wrong. :)

Futbol Been Bery Bery Good to WVU

During the fall at WVU, the athletic focus is, of course, on the football team. Given their #5 national ranking and opening spanking of in-state "rival" Marshall, that's understandable. But let's have some props for WVU's other "futbol" teams. For starters, the WVU women's soccer team is off to a 4-0-0 start and is currently ranked #9 in the country. The women have been a rising power in the Big East for years and have certainly come a long way since they were regularly shelled by the likes of Notre Dame when I was in law school. This year, the men's team is following the ladies' example, starting off 3-0-1 and being ranked #10 in the country.


Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Flash Fiction Fast Facts

The post immediately below this one is an example of flash fiction. Flash fiction is basically a short story that has somewhere between 200 and 1000 words (an honest to gods short story is typically between 2000 and 7500 words). Why is there flash fiction on my blog?

Well, I write for a living, but I'm hemmed in by two things: the facts and the law. Jaunts of fictional fancy are not encouraged in court, so I've been looking to branch out a bit. While working on other stuff, I came across a post on one of the writers' forums I haunt about Flash Fiction Friday. As the link in the post below shows, every Friday a picture is put up and folks submit a piece of flash fiction inpired by that image. The image this week can be found here.

I hope take part in this on a regular basis. Enjoy the tale of Sid and Maury, and be sure and read the other submissions, too.

Sid & Maury (fiction)

NOTE: I've taken this story down for retooling and/or submission elsewhere.

Do I Make You Hungry, Baby, Yeah?

Today's New York Times has an interesting article today on what it euphemistically calls "sexual cannibalism." In other words, when a female critter, after gettin' jiggy with it, in some way devours her male partner. Thankfully, this only extends to the non-human part of the animal kingdom. Lest you think it's all about a female praying mantis turning Hannibal Lecter on her mate while he's innocently basking in the afterglow, think again:

Male Australian redback spiders court females for up to eight hours by plucking the strands of their web. Once a male starts to mate, he promptly somersaults onto her fangs. He continues to mate as she feeds on him. In some cases, the male crawls a short distance away, courts the female again, and then mates a second time. He flips onto her fangs, and by the end of the second mating he is dead.
How horny would you have to be to throw yourself not once but twice onto the fangs (!) of your woman (assuming, of course, you don't get off on that kind of thing)? Apparently, Darwin is to blame:
Male redback spiders benefit from cannibalism, but not because they can become food for their mates. Instead, Dr. Maydianne Andrade of the University of Toronto has found that males that are cannibalized mate more than twice as long as noncannibalized males. They also father twice as many offspring with a female that mates with other males.
I fail to see the benefits of a large brood to the ex-spider once he's been lunched. It's not like they'll all send him a card on Father's Day.

Monday, September 04, 2006

RIP, Pip

Last week, the musical community lost a huge talent in Pip Pyle. Pip was a drummer/percussionist who was deeply involved in the Canterbury prog scene. His deft and subtle drum work graces two of my favorite albums of all time, Hatfield and the North's The Rotter's Club and National Health's Of Queues and Cures. In addition, Pip contributed strong composition in tracks like "Fitter Stoke Has a Bath" (from The Rotter's Club) and "Binoculars" (from Of Queues and Cures). He played his last gig, with a reformed Hatfield and the North, just two days before his death.

Still Not a Rivalry

As the dust settles after the first annual (?) Friends of Coal Bowl, and WVU's 42-10 demolition of Marshall, I think I may have figured out one reason why so many WVU fans were not "up" for the game. I think it comes down to the fact that the PR folks and Marshall supporters tried to instantly make this game a "rivalry," such that it would be on the same level with, say, WVU-Pitt. The problem is, you can't force such things.

The Backyard Brawl is a great rivalry because of the lack of distance between Morgantown and Pittsburgh, the fact that WVU and Pitt have played 98 times since 1895, and that there have been classic games in that stretch where the better team was upset by the weaker one, that were resolved in the last minute, etc. The WVU-Marshall series just doesn't have that kind of backstory yet. We've only played 6 times in 100 years, WVU won all of them, and only one of them was close (WVU won early games by scores of 92-6 and 81-0!).

By contrast, the WVU-Marshall basketball game is a bona fide rivalry. Since the game was moved to Charleston (from the back and forth of the two campuses), the games have usually been tight and there have been great upsets. The past two seasons, when Marshall struggled to make a winning record and WVU went deep into the NCAA tournament, Marshall pulled the upset and won the game. That's the sort of thing you need for a real rivalry.

That may all develop in time with the Friends of Coal Bowl, but until them it would be better if the hype machine dialed itself back and let the games speak for themselves.


Years ago I went on a Carribean cruise that included a stop in Grand Cayman. While there, my then-girlfriend and I went to an attraction known as Stingray City. Stingray City is an area in the waters off Grand Cayman where stingrays congregate. The water is shallow, and folks boat people out to the area so you can commune with the rays. Along the way, you're told how dangerous they really aren't, just try not to step on them. I was somewhat pumped at the idea of snorkeling with the stingrays.

Once we arrived on scene, things quickly deteriorated. First, there were several boats there and throngs of people. Second, the water was too shallow and too crowded for actual swimming/snorkeling, meaning you'd have to walk around (trying not to step on the stingrays). The plan was to step down ladder at the back of the boat then work your way to the front of the boat to get back on, if you so desired.

I didn't make it to the front of the boat. I got off the ladder, got hit by a small wave, and was instantly freaked beyond reason. "Fuck this," I thought, and climbed back up the rear ladder (my girlfriend, to her credit, made it to the front of the boat before coming to the "fuck this" conclusion). Tromping around with dozens of strangers in a patch of ocean where I couldn't see my feet while trying not to trod upon the stingrays was not my idea of a good time.

Why do I tell this tale (aside from the amusement of everyone I've ever told it to - at my expense, no less!)? Because I feel somewhat vindicated about my stingray fears now that Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, has been sent to the great game preserve in the sky (sea?) after being stung by a stingray.

Ironically, he was in the process of filming a documentary called Ocean's Deadliest, which was not (originally, at least) supposed to include the stingray.