May 2008 Archives

WT was kind enough to invite me to play Ultimate Frisbee this morning in Golden Gate Park. Serenaded by the DJ for the nearby base for the NAMI charity walk, we hurled our novelty flying disc hither and yon, and my team got positively beasted by the other team (at least until halftime when I left -- I have every reason to believe that they turned things around once they were rid of my deader-than-dead weight). I think WT set it up that way on purpose, but I'll never be sure.

In any case, I have compiled the below McSweeneiyeys-style list that encapsulates what I learned from my first Ultimate Frisbee experience:

Battle Tactics in Order of Decreasing Effectiveness in Ultimate Frisbee and Increasing Effectiveness in Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories

Waving your arms

Wearing cleats

Shooting backwards

Limiting frontal assaults to the outside lanes

Communicating with teammates in Klingon

Exploiting the principles of angular momentum

Communicating with teammates in Elvish

Unexpected arrival of last-minute reinforcements


Communicating with teammates in Chakobsa

"The enemy's gate is down."

Time travel

Reprogramming the simulator

* As an IP geek I'm always a stickler for trademark issues, and the official title of the game is, indeed, "Ultimate," because "Frisbee" is a trademark.

Spoilers ahoy.

The Season Four finale was strong overall and definitely seals up this season as a departure from the poorly-paced crappiness of seasons past (especially Season Three). Plenty of information revealed, lots of plot progression, and a healthy-sized dosage of mystery for its own sake. There have been many explanations floating around for why Season Four has been better constructed than before -- the two principal theories being that the writers now have a hard and fast end-date for the show, allowing them to develop a clearer vision for the remaining story, and the fact that the writers' strike this past year forced the writers to pack more information into fewer episodes. Whatever the explanation is, I likes it.

Having the first scene begin exactly where the final scene of Season Three ended was clever, and strongly suggested that we would find out who Jeremy Bentham is (which we do, predictably, in the very last shot of the episode). At first the fact that Kate stopped the car and got out to yell at Jack seemed a tad jarring, but it makes sense. Until that point Kate's attitude toward Jack's suggestion that they go back seemed to be "Oh, you're a crazy drugged-up fool." Now we know that Kate adamantly refuses to go back to the Island and is enraged by the very idea. The final scene, in which Ben teams up with Jack to try to get the Oceanic Six-Plus-One back to the Island indicates that getting everyone together and willing to return will be a project next season.

The flash-forwards were uneven. The Hurley scenes were great, further teasing out the Bentham mystery (via yet another season finale cameo by WAAAAAALT), and the fact that Shere Khan and company are still relentlessly tailing the Oceanic Six and trying to get their filthy paws on the Island. Kate flashbacks/forwards are almost universally dull, and last night's was no exception. We have no idea whether Claire was really just a dream or an actual communication from the Island. The Jack/Ben scene is unclear on this. We don't know whether the Island wants all six/seven of them back, or whether it wants all of them to stay away, and Ben needs to somehow finagle his way back to the Island by getting them back all at once. The fact that Christian took Claire without taking Aaron, coupled with the dream sequence, suggests that the Island, or some force on the Island, doesn't want Aaron there, but we have no idea why.

The Sun flashforward was 100% dumb for reasons I'll get into below.

As for the Island action, we again got to see a lot of Ben, and a lot of Michael Emerson's acting talents. The Ben/Locke odd couple routine was entertaining, particularly where Ben shakes the flowers at him. It was just a very natural moment. Ben's numerous attitude shifts in the episode were all well-done. His casual, matter-of-fact, "Okay, now what?" reaction to being rescued amid a hail of gunfire and the deal that the Others worked out with Kate and Sayid (whose fight with Keamy, by the way, was awesome); his irritability while setting up the Island move as Locke peppers him with questions (in retrospect there's actually a lot going on here -- He's resentful of Locke for taking his place as the Island Prophet, he's full of rage at the idea of going after Whidmore, he's sad about leaving the Island, etc.); his loss of control when he attacks Keamy... In what was one of the episode's best moments, we see his face turn from exertion to anguish as he rotates the mechanism that moves the Island, realizing that he's about to leave the Island forever (though not really, perhaps, based on the final scene).

There were some good smaller moments on the Island involving the ancillary characters, that set up some things that will no doubt be explored in the coming seasons. The scene with Miles and Rose was great, pitting Rose's unflagging and fanatical commitment to etiquette and propriety against Miles' relentless irreverence and indifference. What was great here is that Miles, jerk though he is, once again goes along with things rather than spark open conflict. Rather than challenge Rose, he just says, somewhat sarcastically, "M-may I eat these peanuts?", just as he never seriously challenged Sawyer's assertion of authority over him.

We find out that Charlotte has some prior connection to the Island but we get no further information whatsoever (other than Charlotte's tendency to react incredulously when people reveal to her that they know things about her she's trying to keep secret). We don't get much Dan action, and we still have no idea why the newscast made him cry or who was with him when he was watching it (I have a feeling it will somehow turn out to be Charlotte, but don't quote me on that).

So, on to what I didn't like. The freighter bomb made no sense at all. Why on earth would Keamy go through all the trouble of (1) smuggling a ton of C4 onto the boat, (2) secretly building a bomb out of it, (3) rigging a remote detonator, and (4) programming the remote detonator to go off by monitoring his own heart rate, and then not tell anyone about it? Or, rather, tell only Ben, somehow relying on the fact that Ben will be so concerned with the fates of a bunch of strangers on a boat who have come to the Island with the specific intention of stealing it from him that he'll immediately surrender? Either he's just crazy, which isn't very interesting, or he's just spiteful and doesn't want anyone else to survive if he doesn't. There's just no way he can realistically expect any useful leverage from the bomb. It's a completely illogical set-up for some pretty dumb plot points. To whit:

An uninteresting exploration of Ben's morals. Ben has always talked about how he doesn't kill innocent people, blah blah blah, but then reacts with Cheney-liked indifference when Locke tells him he just made the boat explode. Presumably, we're supposed to think that this is part of Whidmore having "changed the rules" by killing Ben's daughter, though this fails under Ben's own logic. He absolves himself of responsibility for the deaths of Libby and Analucia because Michael actually pulled the trigger, but never gets a straight answer from Keamy as to whether Whidmore told him to kill Alex before going off half-cocked in search of vengeance. So that was dumb.

The exploding freighter was also a unnecessarily dramatic and non-sensical way to kill off Jin and set up the completely bonkers Sun flashforward storyline. We're supposed to believe that Sun, witnessing her husband and the father of her child get exploded on a boat, swears blood vengeance on the two men she holds responsible for his death (her father and Whidmore), returns to Korea, and then executes her vengenace through... lopsided business deals!!! Seriously, what the hell. The Sun rudder has been broken ever since the beginning of Season Three when she killed (!!!) one of the Others and we never heard about it again. Expect some mad Sun crappiness going forward, folks.

Another nitpicky thing: Unless the Island is floating, which it shouldn't be based on the fact that people are able to get to it and from it using a special set of coordinates, there should have been a much more dramatic set of waterworks when it disappeared. A vanishing volcanic Island would create a hole in the ocean from the surface to the ocean floor. The water rushing in to fill the void would create much more of a disturbance than the modest bloop-bloop we saw in the episode. I'm just saying.

There's certainly more to talk about, but that's about what I have to say. And next season, three words: Weekend at Locke's.

Time for some film commentary from someone who never goes to the movies.

I don't intend to see The Strangers, because I don't like Liv Tyler or torture porn, but I will use its forthcoming release as an opportunity to explain my theory of why The Sixth Sense is really scary. First, the trailer for The Strangers:

To my mind, the scariest part of the trailer begins around the 50-second mark, when Liv Tyler is standing in the living room, and a tall, menacing, masked man slowly materializes in a doorway behind her, and then just stands there, unseen, declining to actually menace her for the time being.

What would be decidedly un-scary is if the guy ran into the room going "BLAAGHGAHGHAGH I'M A CRAZY PERSON AND I'M GOING TO KILL YOU WITH THIS AXE!!!" As it is, the idea of Liv eventually turning and seeing him there is what's truly terrifying, and what really hits the primal fear invoked by the movie's title and premise: Strangers. Or, more particularly, strangers invading your house. It's not what the strangers are going to do to you once they're in your house that's scary, but the very fact of them being in the house in the first place. Your house is supposed to be your ultimate safe place. Only you (and whoever else lives with you) have a key to your house. You're supposed to be able to lock everyone else in the world out, and keep your house as a private, exclusive, safe place for yourself. Once a stranger breaks this ultimate security, it doesn't matter what they do because they can do anything. You are 100% unsafe if an unwanted attacker breaks and enters. Plain and simple.

So, what does this have to do with The Sixth Sense? The Sixth Sense is only nominally a movie about ghosts. Well, to be sure, the story is about ghosts, but what's scary about the movie isn't the ghosts. What's scary is, you guessed it, strangers in the house.

Don't believe me? Just pop in the DVD. The very first scene of The Sixth Sense is quite scary and, lo and behold, doesn't involve a ghost. When Bruce Willis spots the broken glass and realizes there's someone in his bathroom, it's scary. As he slowly looks in the bathroom and finds his cracked out former patient standing there, it's also scary, even though at this point in the narrative we have no reason to believe that this guy could possibly be a ghost (and, indeed, he isn't).

Once the ghosts show up, the scariness continues, but not because there are ghosts in the movie. The ghosts are scary not because they're dead, but because they invade Cole's safe space. One of the scariest parts of the film is when Cole walks into his kitchen and finds a woman who he thinks is his mother standing at the counter doing the dishes (or cooking or something). When Cole asks her something and she whips around revealing herself to be a ghost, what's scary is the violation that Cole feels at that moment. He thought he was talking to his mother, doing motherly things, in their house. The fact that the woman was someone else entirely is terrifying in and of itself, regardless of whether she turns out to have slashed wrists.

But, you say, the woman-ghost was a mean ghost! Mean ghosts are always scary! Well, true enough, but what about the kid who accidentally killed himself with his dad's gun? This ghost is scary, and yet friendly. The only thing he says to Cole is, "Hey, come here, I want to show you where my dad keeps his gun," or something to that effect before walking away and revealing that the back of his head is missing. He wants to be Cole's buddy. Despite the sound cue when the hole in the head is revealed, the jarring thing about this encounter is the unexpected presence in the hallway of a strange teenage boy in 70s regalia.

The story picks up on this theme explicitly with the poisoned little girl ghost, who actually goes so far as to invade the little sanctuary that Cole has built for himself. Cole, realizing that his home is not itself a sanctuary (as it should be), has concocted a further line of defense in his bedroom using sheets and religious icons. In another of the film's scariest moments, the little girl (a young Mischa Barton, by the way) slowly pushes her barf-covered face into the sanctuary, sending Cole fleeing out of the room. The moment is drawn out to let the audience wonder whether Cole's last line of defense is going to hold up, or whether he is, after all, completely unsafe from the ghosts. The sanctuary fails, and that's scary.

Furthermore, M. Night knows he's blown his sanctuary-terror wad at this point, as immediately upon fleeing from the little girl, Cole goes back to his room, finds the ghost to be, in fact, a helpless and pathetic (and still dead) little girl, and begins the process of helping her resolve the problem that will allow her to stop not realizing she's dead. This kick-starts the next stage of the narrative, when the scariness is de-emphasized in favor of resolving the story and setting up the final twist.

In any case, I'm not saying that The Strangers is a re-telling or a rip-off of The Sixth Sense. They're two very different horror movies that reflect the horror zeitgeists of their respective eras. The Sixth Sense is a complex, psychological thriller; The Strangers, by all appearances, is, as I said, cheap torture porn. But both films rely on the same thing for their more effective terror -- Watching people get tortured/killed is disturbing, not scary; likewise with watching dead people walk around with unknowingly mangled bodies. What's scary in each movie is the idea of strangers in your house.

Book Shaming


I'm picking this up from E. McPan, who provides some sort of explanation as to why it's relevant beyond being a silly blog virus for a Tuesday morning. I'm posting this mainly to (1) kick my own ass about all the books I've been meaning to read, and (2) see if Kristen and Dr. M repost it.

And so...

Bold the ones you’ve read, underline the ones you read for school, and italicize the ones you started but didn’t finish.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Anna Karenina
One Hundred Years of Solitude (I always wished I had minored in Spanish just so I could read the untranslated version of this book.)
Crime and Punishment
Wuthering Heights
The Silmarillion
Don Quixote
The Odyssey (I enjoyed this more than any normal person should.)
The Brothers Karamazov
War and Peace
Madame Bovary
A Tale of Two Cities ("It was the best of times, it was the blurst of times?!")
Jane Eyre (The fact that I liked this book has created a great deal of marital strife.)
The Name of the Rose (Saw the movie starring Christian Slater's fifteen-year-old ass)
Moby Dick
Emma (Wrote an essay about it but never read it. Take that, AP English and Jane Austen!)
The Iliad (Enjoyed this less than the Odyssey. I guess I like traveling better than war.)
Vanity Fair
Love in the Time of Cholera
The Blind Assassin
Pride and Prejudice (The first paragraph made me want to claw my eyes out and swallow them, but I managed to slog through the first chapter before throwing up my hands in despair. I wouldn't even watch the Colin Firth miniseries.)
The Historian: A Novel
The Canterbury Tales (Did a puppet show based on the Squire's Tale that didn't go well.)
The Kite Runner
Great Expectations (This is the one about Pip and Mrs. Haversham, right? If so, I read it, and it taught me to hate Charles Dickens.)
Life of Pi
The Time Traveler's Wife (Bought this at the SF Library Booksale, will read it eventually.)
Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies
Atlas Shrugged (One turgid Ayn Rand "novel" was enough, see below.)
Foucault's Pendulum
Dracula (I enjoyed this but was bothered by the fact that Dracula had a moustache.)
The Grapes of Wrath (I remember really hating the ending in high school but I can kind of dig it now.)
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
Mrs. Dalloway
Sense and Sensibility
Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books
The Count of Monte Cristo
The Sound and The Fury (I really should read this.)
Memoirs of a Geisha
Brave New World
American Gods
The Poisonwood Bible
Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (My cousin is playing Glinda in the Chicago production of this.)
The Picture of Dorian Gray Without Any Clothes On
Dune (One of my faves. I'm currently reading Heretics, which I'm enjoying a lot more than that God Emperor piece of crap.)
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man Without Any Clothes On
The Satanic Verses
Mansfield Park
Gulliver's Travels
The Three Musketeers (This is a book about four dudes, which can throw you off if you don't know that going in.)
The Inferno (I did a movie in high school that combined the plot elements of The Inferno, Frankenstein, and Crime and Punishment -- Raskolnikov kills his landlady, then reanimates her with Frankenstein's help, then Dante takes both of them to Hell so they can ask Satan to help them destroy the monster, which he does by letting them borrow Cerberus, but not before the landlady monster kills Donya. Soundtrack by Marilyn Manson and Alice in Chains.)
The Corrections
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (See Time Traveler's Wife.)
The Fountainhead (Because a cute girl in my class told me that I was just like Howard Roark, because I was a surly, disdainful, redheaded teenager who liked to [SPOILER!!!]blow up buildings and then use courtroom proceedings to spout off objectivist manifestos[/SPOILER!!!].)
Tess of the D'Urbervilles (I should read this. I love Thomas Hardy.)
Oliver Twist (I shouldn't read this. I hate Charles Dickens.)
To the Lighthouse (To the Observatory!)
A Clockwork Orange
Robinson Crusoe (I did watch a lot of Gilligan's Island as a kid. And as an adult. I also saw the place in Kinsale from which the real Robinson Crusoe supposedly set off.)
The Scarlet Letter (Really enjoyed this, especially the naked bathtub scene.)
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
The Once and Future King (I just read the part that was later made into The Sword in the Stone for the purposes of a report on the Arthurian Legend; apparently I missed out on the lengthy diatribe about how horrible Irish people are.)
Anansi Boys
Atonement (Reading one page of this book is like reading ten pages of a normal book.)
The God of Small Things
A Short History of Nearly Everything
Oryx and Crake
Angela's Ashes (Ugh.)
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
In Cold Blood
Lady Chatterley's Lover
A Confederacy of Dunces (Rock-solid gold, this one.)
Les Misérables (See Emma. Ha!)
The Amber Spyglass
The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
Watership Down (I had a very well-used copy and had to stop reading it because the mustiness was setting of my allergies. I also didn't understand why the bunnies were so mean.)
Beowulf: A New Verse Translation (Not sure of the translation but they got the point across.)
The Aeneid
A Farewell to Arms
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Treasure Island (For a story about pirates it was surprisingly dull to my twelve-year-old mind.)
David Copperfield
Sons and Lovers
The Book Thief
The History of Tom Jones
The Road
Tender is the Night
The War of the Worlds

Now you go.

Hey, here's a pleasant thing to think about as I gaze into the future when my unborn child(ren) will (a) become surly, rebellious, functionally operationally egocentric teenger(s)!

A 16-year-old girl was arrested Tuesday and charged with aggravated domestic battery after Pasco deputies said she spiked her mom's food with an ingredient that she knew could cause a severe allergic reaction.

But wait! There's more!

The mom's reaction was so intense that she was unable to inject herself with the EpiPen, deputies said, and the teen had to do it for her. The woman did not require further treatment.

Fabulous. I've always assumed that I'd be able to self-inject if I ever had to, but the thought of relying on the person who just poisoned me to help administer the antidote is just a tad unsettling.

In the Summer Associate Time


UPDATED: Added an extra verse.

This is the time of year when doe-eyed law students show up at law firms all fancied up and ready to experience the genuine law firm experience, meaning free meals, baseball games, weekend trips to wine country, and luaus at partners' houses. In honor of Summer Associate season, I present this video, which sets forth my favorite song about summer, "In the Summertime" by Mungo Jerry.

Southern California AM radio fans may recognize it as the theme song for Melinda Lee's weekend show, or at least the theme song that Melinda used in the 2002-2003 time frame when I myself was a Southern California AM radio fan. "In the Summertime" is a great song; the video, sadly, not so much. The great thing about the video is how irritated everyone looks, particularly in the context of a slap-happy song about how happy they are about summer. The lead singer is mean-mugging almost consistently (or at least trying, and failing miserably, to smile for the camera), and the bass player looks positively pissed when he's called upon to participate in the "da dee da da da" segment. The only genuinely chipper-looking fellow is the pianist, which makes sense since his role in the song is the most memorable.

Anyway, in further honor of all of these things I've composed the following set of lyrics to the tune of "In the Summertime." If I had an abundance of wealth, time, and talent, I would make this into a viral video, but as it stands I'll have to leave that to someone with more wherewithall.

In the summertime,
When the summers are here,
You can cool yourself
With a soda or a beer.
It's recruiting time,
And it's time to turn the charm offensive on.
Have a drink, maybe five,
And hope you don't end up on Above the Law.

When the noontime comes,
Take 'em out for a meal.
You'll get reimbursed,
So you can order what you feel.
In the summertime,
You can treat yourself to salad and dessert.
It's not on your tab,
So an extra appetizer couldn't hurt.

When the sun goes down,
Then it's time to go out
To a baseball game
Or a backyard luau.
Take a weekend trip
To wine country or the mountains or the beach.
Rent some Callaways
And try not to leave your wedge out on the green.

When the partners say
You should give 'em some work,
Give 'em sweetheart tasks
So you don't look like a jerk.
For appearance sake,
You should try to mix some work into the play.
Let 'em take all week,
You won't charge the client for it anyway.

When they're back at school
And the offers are made
Yeah, they'll all accept,
'Cause they like gettin' paid.
In the summertime
They got used to having lots of spending cash.
Finish class, take the Bar,
Sign your life away to Skadden or Cravath.

Someday, years from now, when I have made my fortune as a big fancy lawyer, when my children have grown up to become astronauts and Supreme Court Justices, and when my life has devolved into unfettered leisure, I will be able to spend half a day reading a landmark 170+ page judicial decision and compose an insightful and intelligent blog post about it synthesizing the most significant aspects of the ruling before, or at least contemporaneously with, other legal commentaters doing the same thing. For now, alas, I have no such wealth of time, and so I must succumb to the fact that other people have beaten me to what I wanted to say about yesterday's big important ruling by the California Supreme Court.

So, I'll point you to two faster movers who are probably smarter than I am anyway. First, Kenji Yoshino, who my co-clerk often gushed about last year, summed up the majority decision thusly in Slate:

Writing for the California high court, Chief Justice Ronald M. George first found that the exclusion of gays from marriage violated their fundamental right to marry, thereby drawing strict scrutiny from the court. This meant that the state would have to produce a compelling reason to bar gays from what the court deemed "the most socially productive and individually fulfilling relationship that one can enjoy in the course of a lifetime." In a crucial move, Chief Justice George rejected the state's argument that tradition was such a reason. Allowing tradition to thus entrench itself, he said, would have allowed for laws barring interracial couples. And, as he noted, the California Supreme Court struck down a ban on interracial marriage in 1948, almost two decades before the U.S. Supreme Court did in Loving v. Virginia.

Although he could have decided the case on this basis alone, the Chief Justice kept going. He explicitly found that discrimination against gays, on the basis of their sexual orientation, was equivalent under the California state constitution to discrimination against racial minorities. To my knowledge, California's is the only state high court to have come to this conclusion (the federal Supreme Court has not weighed in). For gays, this pronouncement is critical because it is portable—that is, gays can now challenge any California state policy that discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation. As Marty Lederman points out elsewhere in Slate, this in its own right is a signal advance for gay people.

Picking up on that latter point (which is what I would have written about if I had a little more git-up in me), Marty Lederman has a more detailed discussion, also at Slate.

Essentially, the Court's narrow holding regarding the use of the word "marriage" is great and all, but the decision goes much farther than that. The Court's decision to treat descrimination on the basis of sexual orientation under a strict scrutiny standard is a much greater step in the advancement of equal rights for gays and lesbians, and it's a holding that can be applied to any California law discriminating on that basis, not just marriage laws.

This also may mean that in the (hopefully) unlikely event that an anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment squeaks through this November, that part of the Court's decision will remain untouched. In other words, the effect of the amendment combined with the Supreme Court decision will mean that government discrimination based on sexual orientation will be subject to strict scrutiny except in the narrow instance of marriage.

Of course, this isn't a given. The amendment could be structured to wipe out the entire decision, though that may be harder to sell to the voters, and depending on how ambitious it is may run into constitutional problems of the federal variety. To completely eliminate the strict scrutiny review adopted in the Court's decision, an amendment would have to not only explicitly invalidate the entire decision but also pro-actively prohibit the Court from re-adopting the standard in a future case. If the proponents of the amendment were super clever they would use the amendment to force the California Supreme Court to adopt the U.S. Supreme Court's weird standard from Romer v. Evans, a case in which the Court applied what commentators have called "rational basis review with teeh" to state discrimination against gays and lesbians. This would (1) eliminate same-sex marriage in California, (2) tie the hands of the California Supreme Court in dealing with all discrimination implicating sexual orientation, and (3) likely insulate the amendment itself from attacks under the U.S. Constitution, at least until the U.S. Supreme Court gets with it and adopts its own strict scrutiny standard for sexual orientation-based discrimination.

I don't presume to predict what will happen regarding the amendment, and nobody's asking me for my input. I'm just practicing for the twilight years.

Ignorance of the Meme is Unacceptable

I'm not sure how much traffic this blog is getting from legal blawg readers these days, but I'm hoping one of my gentle readers can help me out. Does anyone know what the deal is with the "Guys in my high school... It was no big deal" comment meme? It seems to be most prevalent on Above the Law (257 search results and counting).

This is why ATL should have its own Wiki page. Man.

My Aggressively Literary Wife


Last night I overheard Dr. M say something that made me extremely thankful to be married to her and quite hopeful for the intellectual future of our child(ren), because I know that there are precious few people in the world who would ever say this:

"I had a piece of Queen Regina cake, which sounds kind of redundant."

My heart is all a-flutter. And Queen Regina cake, by the way, redundant or not, is delicious.

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