Saturday, November 23, 2002

I'M MISS WORLD. SOMEBODY, KILL ME: Denial's not just a technique in New Jersey courtrooms:

"What has happened is a bit of a shame because the international press has highlighted a little incidence of some rioting way out of all proportion," Guy Murray-Bruce, the director of Miss World Nigeria, told BBC radio.

Seriously, what's two hundred deaths when there's beauty to be promoted?

One note: Miss World is a British-based organization, unaffiliated with the Trump-run Miss USA, Miss Teen USA or Miss Universe, or with the Miss America scholarship competition. Yeah, I know, it'd be more entertaining if the Donald were involved, but he had his own pageant issues this year.
RECIPROCITY RULES! Welcome to everyone coming here via Howard Bashman's most excellent How Appealing blog. As far as what this blog is, well, res ipsa loquitor, so far, I guess. If you like this place, spread the word.
AND, FOR ONCE, DEATH WAS AN OPTION: Updating from my previous note, Rabbi Fred Neulander was sentenced yesterday to a life term, with a minimum of 30 years to be served in prison. The rabbi's last sermon worked.

edited to add: The "sermon" is now online, which tries to answer the question: how does a man plead for mercy for an act he has not acknowledged committing? By, umm . . .

And I wanted to spend the days of the years of my life — long days of long years of my life — with her. We had a little dialogue that I'm sure each and every one of you has or that you might have with your close friend, with your beloved, with your husband, with your wife, with your partner. One of us would say to the other, "I want to grow old with you." And the other would lean over and whisper, "I want to grow old with you too, but let's do it slowly."

Yeah, but I guess the whole "hiring someone to have her killed so I can carry on with my mistress who I started seeing immediately after presiding of her husband's funeral" thing threw a little wrench into that plan. "Oops."

It's the quintessence of chutzpah to plead for mercy based upon the goodness of the person you had killed, and yet that's exactly what he did. Full coverage available here.

Friday, November 22, 2002

AN UNSURPRISING MOVE OF MARKETING GENIUS: Shhh! MopeyBoy's new book is now available through Amazon!

Much initial hype was borne of the fact that Dave Eggers' new novel was only going to be sold through his own website and 100 carefully-selected independent booksellers. No Amazon, no B&N, no Borders -- he was cutting them all out of the loop, publishing the book himself, selling only through the small and loyal.

It was allegedly going to be a "dangerous venture", a "daring" approach which might help revolutionize the publishing industry. According to Eggers, "As for Amazon, we decided this time to experiment with having this book available through our website only. We figured if people were ordering it online, they might as well order it from us."

Well, as always, Chuck D. was right. Don't believe the hype. Eggers has a coast to coast bestseller on his hands and a massive amount of free publicity for what boils down to a carefully crafted marketing device: "Buy my book because I'm making it harder to buy my book!" It's little different from Burger King's claiming to be alternative because "Sometimes, you've gotta break the rules" or Outback Steakhouse's anarchic "No Rules. Just Right." proclamation.

For all the good work Eggers is doing, let's not lose sight of reality: he's an author, and he's trying to get you to buy his book. No less, no more.
DID THEY ALSO CONSULT CHEVY CHASE? The LA Times reports today on allegations that bloated former action star Steven Seagal threatened a Times reporter for investigating his relationship with the mob. I don't know, don't care about the details. I just love this quote:

"This uncorroborated allegation by someone arrested is pure fiction and is nothing more than a transparent attempt to divert attention from himself and the real perpetrators," said attorney Martin R. Pollner, who represents Seagal. "This is part of an unrelenting campaign to disparage Mr. Seagal and reads like a bad screenplay."

Well, if anyone would know what a bad screenplay looked like . . .

[Roger Ebert, on Seagal's new movie: "Seagal's great contribution to the movie is to look very serious, even menacing, in closeups carefully framed to hide his double chin. I do not object to the fact that he's put on weight. Look who's talking. I object to the fact that he thinks he can conceal it from us with knee-length coats and tricky camera angles. I would rather see a movie about a pudgy karate fighter than a movie about a guy you never get a good look at."]
"THEN I GOT A SECOND CHANCE." Now that Will Ferrell has left for the big screen, Darrell Hammond stands as SNL's best male performer. (For the first time in SNL history, the women are more talented than the men, but that's another essay, for another day -- on the greatness of Dratch-Fey-Poehler-Rudolph.)

Anyway, great profile on Hammond in the Orlando Sentinel, on Hammond, his work, and his struggles with addiction. Thorough and well-done. And it contains this beaut of a quote from executive producer Lorne Michaels, which is quite telling: "'The show doesn't go on the air because it's ready. It goes on because it's 11:30."

P.S. If you haven't picked up the new Tom Shales book on this history of SNL, do so. It's a little too heavy on the interpersonal drama and too light on talking about the comedy itself, but it's worth reading if only for the story of the the night Damon Wayans got himself fired. Great stuff.
HUZZAH! Congratulations to the students and faculty of the Criminal and Juvenile Justice Project of the Edwin F. Mandel Legal Aid Clinic at The University of Chicago Law School for their successful challenge of Illinois' criminal sentencing statutes, which would have imposed a life term for a 15-year-old boy for doing the following:

According to defendant, on the night of the murders, Arthur Beckom and Kentrell Stoutmire observed people walking through their neighborhood that they believed belonged to a rival gang. Beckom and Stoutmire approached defendant, who was standing outside on a corner in the neighborhood, and asked him to stand as a lookout. Defendant saw that both Beckom and Stoutmire had guns in their possession, and although defendant never handled or touched the guns, he agreed to stand as a lookout. One minute later, Beckom and Stoutmire fired gunshots in the direction of Jones and Alexander, who both died as a result of their injuries. Once the shooting began, defendant ran to his girlfriend's house.

But under Illinois law, "the court shall sentence the defendant to a term of natural life imprisonment when the death penalty is not imposed if . . . irrespective of the defendant's age at the time of the commission of the offense, is found guilty of murdering more than one victim." 730 ILCS 5/5-8-1(a)(1)(c)(ii). [emphasis mine]

No gun, no affirmative bad acts, life term? The trial court and a unanimous Illinois Supreme Court agreed that for a child convicted under a theory of an accountability theory, this was too much to stomach:

Accordingly, we hold that the penalty mandated by the multiple-murder sentencing statute as applied to this defendant is particularly harsh and unconstitutionally disproportionate. We agree with defendant that a mandatory sentence of natural life in prison with no possibility of parole grossly distorts the factual realities of the case and does not accurately represent defendant's personal culpability such that it shocks the moral sense of the community. This moral sense is particularly true, as in the case before us, where a 15-year-old with one minute to contemplate his decision to participate in the incident and stood as a lookout during the shooting, but never handled a gun, is subject to life imprisonment with no possibility of parole-the same sentence applicable to the actual shooter.

Or, as the trial court judge put it:

I believe he was proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and I believe he should suffer harsh criminal consequences for acting as a look-out in this case, but to suggest that he ought to receive a sentence of life without the possibility of parole, I find to be very, very hard to swallow to the point where I can describe it as unconscionable. I am concerned that a person under the age of 18 under Illinois law can do everything that John Gacy did, can torture and abuse and murder over 30 people, and would be in the same boat as [defendant] right now looking at a sentence of a minimum and maximum of life without the possibility of parole.

I have a 15-year-old child who was passively acting as a look-out for other people, never picked up a gun, never had much more than-perhaps less than a minute-to contemplate what this entire incident is about, and he is in the same situation as a serial killer for sentencing purposes.

You can access the full opinion here. Again, congratulations to the Clinic (of which I am an alum, though not of this project) and all those who worked on this case for this victory. Under the leadership of Professors Randolph Stone and Herschella Conyers, the Criminal and Juvenile Justice Project has shown an extraordinary commitment to children accused of brutal crimes, often taking on some of the worst, most unpopular cases you can imagine, and do extraordinary legal work on behalf of their clients.

In my two-plus years of clinical work under Professor Gary Palm, I learned an extraordinary amount about the actual nuts-and-bolts practice of law and the right way to represent clients vigorously, much more than could ever be gained in the classroom. For more on the Clinic, keep reading here. (My project, the former Anti-Poverty Project, is noted on page three. (Initial link courtesy How Appealing.)

Thursday, November 21, 2002

"BAD ADVICE": I swear, this is my last Michael Jackson note of the week. Maybe month. You may have to wait until 5764 for the next one. But for that one time a month when Larry King asks an almost-tough question and the travelling freakshow that is David Gest and Liza Minnelli gives a revealing answer, let's go to the videotape:

MINNELLI: I think what David is trying to tell you is the person that we know...

KING: There are two Michaels.

MINNELLI: Is a rather regular guy, believe it or not.

KING: How do you think he let himself get -- he looked, you know, in court when he was appearing last week in a court case. And the face, you know, the nose needs so much work. You know, why -- do you know why he did all that?

GEST: Well, sometimes people tell you that if you do certain things, you'll look better, you'll feel better and you leave to it people who you trust and....

KING: Bad advice.

GEST: Bad advice.
TICKET SCALPERS WILL BE DISAPPOINTED: Like most of you, I imagine, I was glad to see that Rabbi Fred Neulander was convicted yesterday on all counts in the murder-for-hire of his wife eight years ago. The penalty phase begins today; the prosecutors are seeking the death penalty, and Neulander will testify. (He did not testify at the trial this time.)

I'm opposed to the death penalty, for moral reasons we don't need to get into here, but I surely agree that if we're going to put ourselves up on a pedestal and decide who deserves to die, then Rabbi Neulander is somewhere high on the list for his calculated plotting to do evil.

That said, don't get your hopes up that he'll ever be executed. Since New Jersey reinstated the death penalty 20 years ago, no prisoner has been executed. The last execution was in 1963.

Moreover, he'd have a long line of people ahead of him to the chamber, including, among others, Robert Marshall, the "Blind Faith" murderer (also, coincidentally, a murder-for-hire by a philandering middle-aged white man) and Jesse Timmendequas, the convicted sex offender who killed seven-year-old Megan Kanka (and inspiring "Megan's Laws" in fifty states).

Even if the death penalty is the sentence, it'll never be imposed. Fred Neulander will die in prison of natural causes, with no congregation, no pulpit, no lovers, no admirers, only himself, his conscience and a cold, hard bed.

Wednesday, November 20, 2002

PICTURE OF THE DAY: Courtesy Jeffrey Wells' Hollywood Elsewhere:

WHERE DO BULLIES END UP? Fascinating reportage in today's WSJ. (and free, too.)
UP NEXT: THE RETURN OF THE RETURN OF BRUNO? In an A.V. Club interview, former child actor Wil Wheaton keeps us up to date on the whereabouts of beloved late-80s rapper Chunky A:

O: The Internet Movie Database says that you dropped some science on "Dope, The Big Lie," from the Chunky A album. How did you hook up with Chunky A, and what has he been up to since then?

WW: As far as I know, Chunky A retired to Jamaica. Sadly, he went into a diabetic coma, and he actually lives on a cargo plane that never lands for more than 25 minutes to refuel. He's really a man without a country, which is unfortunate. Of course, Chunky A's good friend Arsenio Hall hooked me up with that whole situation. At the time, Paramount was doing The Arsenio Hall Show, and Star Trek was owned by Paramount, so they had me do promotional things with Arsenio Hall, and they put me on the Chunky A album. It's funny, because while I've never used drugs—it's not my thing—I've always been opposed to the war on drugs and the drug laws. They're terrible, and they don't work. I've always favored treatment and decriminalization over the way our country does things now. It's funny to me that I'm on this album where I'm like, "Drugs are bad, yo!" I don't remember what I said.

O: You don't have the lyrics to "Dope, The Big Lie" memorized?

WW: No, no, I don't. I wrote them on my hand with a Sharpie and they all kind of ran together. Everybody thinks I'm scatting, when I'm really just trying to read them off my hand.

O: What is Chunky A like?

WW: He's a very private person. He's really not what you'd expect. You go over and see him and expect him to be kind of larger than life, literally, and he's not. Remember the guy Hambone, who lived in his house, and he hadn't been outside in a long time because he couldn't move out of his bed because he was so large? He was sort of like the Slurm-mother monster from Futurama. Chunky A was headed in that direction. We all had an intervention where we tried to help him out. But unless you're willing to help yourself, those around you can only do so much. He was large of heart and large of waist, and he was always willing to finish whatever was on your plate.

Tuesday, November 19, 2002

SHOW ME, SHOW YOU: Enter the bizarre, exceptionally buff world of the Kikko-Man. (Flash req'd. Courtesy MemePool.)
WE TALKIN' 'BOUT PRACTICE? Allen and Tawanna Iverson speak out on life under the media glare.

It's odd, though -- they still don't really say what happened that night that got him in so much trouble, only denying the details: she wasn't naked, he didn't have a gun, etc. And since the charges were dropped, you could argue that it really is none of our business what actually happened. But, then, why have the interview at all?

Look: I love A.I. as a basketball player. As a person, I think he's grown up under some harsh circumstances, with people watching him and preying upon him from an early age. He's made some mistakes. He's grown. Is he entitled to the benefit of the doubt? Probably not. But on the court, as in that interview, he puts a lot of himself out there on the line. There's a fearlessness and an unguardedness to his game that seems parallel to his real life. There's no one more compelling out there.

From Iverson's much-remembered post-season press conference-slash-soliloquy last year, two quotes that didn't get nearly as much attention:

Reporter: "Supposed you shot 44 percent..."

Iverson: "I don't know about that. That is in God's hands. I do not know if that will help me or not. That's God. God does that, It ain't up to you to say if Allen Iverson does this then he'll do that. That's up to God. It ain't up to anyone in here. That is up to God. He handles that.

Reporter: "You have control over your body?"

Iverson: "God has more control over it than I do. You know that. God has more control over your body. I do not care about how much you eat, how many weights you lift or how good you eat, if God says you're gone, you're gone.

* * *

Iverson: "But believe me, it is just not about Allen Iverson. I am going to go to war for Philadelphia. Every time that ball goes up, I will go to war and fight. I am going to do some [expletive] that's wrong and I will do some things right. I can't do everything right all the time. Michael Jordan is the great player in the world. He did not do everything right all of the time but he tried and gave it his effort. That's all you can ask for."

Monday, November 18, 2002

OFF HIS ROCKER? Are African-American baseball players more likely to be hit by a pitch than whites? Not any more, but back in the 1950's and 1960's, apparently so. At least, that's what this study suggests.
BEATING BASHMAN TO THE PUNCH: The U.S. Supreme Court today announced its decision not to review a recent 9th Circuit opinion which held that a prison inmate did not have the constitutional right to provide a sperm specimen to his wife in order to artificially inseminate her.

At first blush, that seems right. Prisoners are properly deprived of all sorts of constitutional rights to the extent that prison discipline and any sense of "punishment" warrants. There's no right to conjugal visits -- it's a privilege. So, what's the problem?

Here's what Judge Alex Kozinksi said in one of his typically well-written dissents (that shouldn't scare any non-lawyers out there away from reading it):

The majority hinges its opinion on the proposition that “the right to procreate is fundamentally inconsistent with incarceration,” but does not explain how. Let’s consider the possibilities. Gerber asks for permission to:

1. Ejaculate
2. into a plastic cup, which is then to be
3. mailed or given to his lawyer
4. for delivery to a laboratory
5. that will try to use its contents to artificially inseminate Mrs. Gerber.

I gather that the first step of this process is not fundamentally inconsistent with incarceration and prison guards don’t patrol cell blocks at night looking for inmates committing Onan’s transgression. Similarly, the prison has no penological interest in what prisoners do with their seed once it’s spilt; a specimen cup would seem to be no worse a receptacle, from the prison’s point of view, than any other.

Nor is there anything remotely inconsistent with incarceration in mailing a package, or handing it to your lawyer. Sure, the prison is entitled to make sure it doesn’t contain prison escape plans, but Gerber is not claiming an exemption from routine security checks. That a package contains semen, rather than a book or an ashtray or some other such object, would seem to make no rational difference from the prison’s point of view....

You get the idea. And there's a certain sense to it seen that way. But there's something to Judge Kozinski's frame-by-frame analysis that idenitifies all the trees without seeing that they're arranged in the forest, much like the way that a literal frame-by-frame analysis made the beating of Rodney King look like reasonable force.

Sure, individually, the steps seemed fine, but taken as a whole, it's a case of a prisoner asking for the prison to arrange itself in such a way to make it convenient for him to engage an act incongruous with any notion of being "punished."

Look, if this guy's Andy Dufresne, that's one thing. But I guess there's nothing wrong with punishing a prisoner, depriving him of something here which (a) is not an essential right of his, and (b) not something that the state ordinarily helps others with.

That said, Nino would've had a field day with this, something that would've given himself -- and all of us -- a lot of pleasure. There will be other opportunities for the King of Judicial Petulance, with whom one can often disagree, but never be bored in the process.

Sunday, November 17, 2002

I'M STARTING ON MY KNEES: So, what is this site anyway? Who am I, and why am I here?

Basic stats first: 30 years old. Married. Like so many other bloggers, an attorney. (And why is that? Not me, I mean, but the rest of you.) Native Philadelphian, practicing law here now for 5+ years. Rabid sports fan, especially the Iggles and Sixers, though today's unfortunate news is sitting in the household as -- well, if not quite on the level of the Kennedy assasination, at least up there on the level of the shock when Buckwheat was shot. Everyone's calling everyone today in dismayed disbelief.

Several reasons for the name of this blog, and for the blog itself. It's the name of an early song by Superchunk, possibly the Gratist Band Evir, on their 1991 No Pocky For Kitty album, the one that made me fall in love with them. And much of what I'll be doing here is just throwing ideas out there, whatever seems interesting at the time. And there will be occasional discussion of sports out here -- you know, where people, um, throw things. (In other words, no sticks n'pucks.)

My politics are liberal, although not necessarily Democratic. One of the things law school reinforced for me is the importance of listening to the other side, and my ideology is more pragmatic than it used to be. Which makes it less of an "ideology", I guess. But it's mine.

If you're looking for one constant thread here, it may well be that politics is a form of entertainment, even when not intended as such, and that conversely sports and popular culture are a rich source for political discussion. Don't get me started on Forrest Gump -- or, for that matter, the notion of "gutsy, hard working" white point guards compared to "naturally athletic" black competitors. Arrgh. When it comes up again, I will rant.

So this site will be interstitial. Not just law, not just politics, not just movies and pop culture. But somewhere in between. Like me.
INTRODUCING THE HARDLINE: "Adam," my friends have often asked me over the past year or so. "When are you going to start a blog?"

Jen and I have been talking about it lately, and I've certainly contributed to enough to the blogs I admire to make me wonder what I'd do if I had one on my own. Would it help me avoid becoming the Stedman Graham of Generation X?

[And on that note, a quick Stedman/Jen story. So, Jen was interviewing Stedman a few years ago, back when he was promoting his book about the "nine steps" to success. "Was step one 'Get Married To Oprah'?" Jen asked. The interview ended soon after.]

Back to me, which is the point of this thing. So, I saw an article in today's New York Times which got me angry enough to start writing. Here's the quote, from an article about the anti-fur movement:

"Six or seven years ago there was sort of a reference to political correctness, not wearing fur," Mr. Kaplan [spokesman for the fur industry] said. "But it's not considered politically correct to dictate what other people should eat or wear, especially after 9/11. People don't want to be told, and they don't respect those tactics anymore."

Emphasis mine, and, um, excuse me? One can certainly ascribe any number of changes to the American character since that tragedy -- we are more patriotic; more appreciative of the efforts of our armed forces, police and fire departments; more conscious of the rest of the world, and more conscious of our need to be engaged with it. But more fur wearing, less vegan? Yikes. Talk about a rhetorical hijacking. This is on the level of those unfortunate Jerry Falwell remarks in the tragedy's immediate wake, and without the "benefit" of the heat of the moment to justify its audacity. Shame on the Fur Information Council.

I am not vegan, not vegetarian, not even, necessarily, anti-fur. I'm undecided. I do like what PETA's doing here: by donating used furs to the homeless, not only does it keep them warm during the winter but also might help transform the social meaning of fur-wearing from an elite, luxurious act to something less glamorous, less distinctive. Just another way to keep warm. We shall see.