Thursday, February 28, 2008

My Peripherally Famous Father-in-Law

I ran across this interesting article in the Washington Post. If you remember, Booker's Baba is one of those "American and Iraqi leaders" referenced. Nice.

Business ideas

I've got two ideas for a business that someone needs to start doing immediately. First, someone needs to start outsourcing lawyer work. New lawyers frequently gripe about the kind of work that they are forced to do. They end up getting locked in a closet with boxes of documents and are forced to read all of them and sift through all of that information looking for the useful bits. A huge part of a lawyer's job is finding and organizing useful information for more expensive lawyers.

A lot of this work can be done overseas. Imagine of someone started scanning in all of those documents, sending them to India, getting all of the information sifted and then getting a nice, clean, report back. Smart law firms may even keep it in house so they could keep their billable hours high, but they could charge substantially less for the hours of Indian labor while keeping their margins the same.

Some people might argue that this would make all of those new lawyers obsolete, but I doubt it. Instead, that skilled labor force would be switched to more value adding tasks (analyzing and applying all of that aggregated information) - most of which are far more intellectual stimulating. Costs come down, more sophisticated legal representation becomes available for smaller costs, the whole system runs better and lawyers aren't so pissed about their work conditions. It's a win all the way around.

Second, someone needs to put a driving range and some tennis courts in a gym with a day care. If I could take Booker for a couple of hours and go hit a bucket of balls or play some tennis while someone else watches him I would get to the gym way more often. You could still charge me extra for the buckets, or include it in the monthly fee, or some mix of the two. It seems like such a small thing to combine those two individually successful business models. Plus, if husbands can take the little kids to go practice golf or tennis or something, then everyone's happier.

Someone give me some money and let's make this happen.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

On a lighter note

I have officially been published. My article came out in the Arizona State Law Journal that arrived from the publishers today. The official citation is 39 AZ ST LAW J. 1263-1286. If you are family or a close friend they gave me 25 hardcopies or so that I will be distributing. I would post a digital copy here, but I think it's bad enough that I force you to read these posts, 25 pages of legal writing may be a bit much.

Not So Moot...

Spencer and I had our moot court competition this weekend. It did not go the way we wanted it to. It will be a couple of months before we are able to see the actual scores, so until then we can only speculate about what on earth happened. I thought we had done well, and we ended up losing to teams that had no earthly business winning. One of the contestants that ended up moving on when we did not actually argued that the invasion of Afghanistan was the culmination of 18 years of careful diplomacy most effectively characterized by Colin Powell's testimony before the UN. None of us had the heart to tell him that that testimony was for the invasion of Iraq, and that it is generally seen as the low point of General Powell's career. The rest of this post is predicated on the idea that we did better than the judges realized. You've been warned.

One of the positive comments I got while arguing is that I am able to lie with confidence when I don't know precisely what I'm talking about. For example, at some point someone asked me what exactly had happened in a case that I had cited. I hadn't actually read the case in several months and mostly remembered the parts that I was using to help my argument. I was able to spout off four or five general sentences about the facts and holdings of the case to satisfy the judge. I don't remember exactly what I said, but I would guess that there is about a 20% chance that I got it all right. Critically, when I said it I sounded like I was positive that is exactly what that case said and meant.

The issue I'm having with this is not the lying. That would be easy to fix - I could just not say those things when I realize they are not true. The real problem is that I actually believed that that was what that case said when I described it. It's part of what makes me good at arguing. When I was arguing my case in moot court, I actually believed that our side was right. Of course, if I was on the other side, I'm 95% sure that I would believe that that side was right.

So it turns out that I have a talent for oral argument because I have a gift for self-delusion. What am I supposed to do with that?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Passing the Buck

Jan and I had a discussion about global warming at park day last week. Jan is a skeptic about global warming and thinks there is a good possibility that any global trends of warmer temperatures could be normal cyclical effects. I am far less skeptical. The mechanism that is most likely causing global warming is well understood, though the warming trend has been far less severe than would be expected by the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere since the beginning of the industrial revolution. I'm more of a Bjorn Lomborg environmentalist - I agree that climate change exists and may be a problem, but I disagree with most of the proposals to combat it. I think I am not averse to a revenue neutral Pigouvian carbon tax or an equivalent (auctioned) cap and trade system.

I'll give you an example why climate change remedies are problematic. Most of the projections for global warming look at negative effects that will become really problematic in 100 -200 years. If you expect economic growth to continue at the present rate, people living 200 years from now will be immensely more wealthy than we are now and the costs of climate change will be fairly easily mitigated. If economic growth continues at the current long-term rate of 2.3%, the average American in 2400 will have an inflation-adjusted income of over $350 MILLION. Technology change will further make the world a different place.

Consider, for example, whether you would rather have your life now, or trade places with one of the Rockefellers in the early 20th century. The robber baron families were immensely wealthy one hundred years ago. They could afford anything in the world. And yet - my relatively poor family has two cars that operate at a level of performance absolutely unheard of 100 years ago. We enjoy year round access to exotic foods, refrigeration, air conditioning, microwaves, convenient air travel, access to knowledge and information at a moment's notice, ESPN and ESPN2, Friday Night Lights, Cherry Coke Zero, snowboarding, wakeboarding, video games, movies, - basically every single thing on my top ten list of things that make my life more enjoyable has been invented or made widely available in the last century (besides family and books - though I certainly enjoy more time with my family than the Rockefellers and I have easy access to a huge amount of novels at the Mesa Public Library). Then there are all the things that we have that the rich used to pay people to do, but that we do in a fraction of the time because of dishwashers, vacuum cleaners, washing machines, etc...

It's not even close - Most people in contemporary America live way better than the richest people in the world even a century ago.

So after we take a minute to be grateful for all of those things that we enjoy, we should consider how different the world may be before we spend an absurd amount on saving some coastline in 2200. That doesn't mean we should do nothing; we just need to be smarter about the issues involved and what costs are reasonable given the circumstances.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Money! It's a drag

As my family, my friends, my acquaintances and virtually anyone within the sound of my voice knows, I am looking for a job. I know it's not true, but sometimes I feel like the last person in my graduating law class still looking for work. I've done most of the things that are supposed to help you get jobs, but it just hasn't really worked out for me. I've been lucky in finding something to do for now to keep us from starving, but I've yet to find someone who wants to pay me for practicing law full-time.

As frustrating as it has been, the process of looking for work over a prolonged period of time may be a positive thing for me. The default desire of any well ranked law school student is a high-paying job at the megafirm of your choice. As a second year student applying for summer internships, that's all I looked for. With most big firms hiring their second year interns or at least hiring third years before Thanksgiving it's looking pretty sure that a prestigious large firm job is not in my immediate future. As the prospect of all that cash recedes, I find myself feeling better and better about it.

The problem with the big firm gig is that they expect you to work to make all that money. Sixty hour weeks are common and those expecting to make partner need to push 2000 billable hours a year plus. That's 5-6 days a week, 10-12 hours a day. There is a supposed payoff at around 8 or 9 years in, where you make partner. Usually, however, the payoff is monetary and the hours remain. Most associates that start their careers at a big firm move on after 3 years or so.

That kind of lifestyle might not be for me. If I have one defining character trait it just might be laziness. Lazy ain't happy working that much. If perfectly normal, hardworking people can't hack the big firm lifestyle, what would that mean for me? There's an outside chance that I would enjoy the work and love the money, but it's a really really outside chance.

So, since the high life has looked me over and said "thanks, but no thanks," what kind of future am I looking at? That is the abyss into which I am now staring. There are various small firms in town here and in Prescott that I've applied to and some of them look promising. I guess I'll have to wait and see what happens. If you know anyone who is looking for a relatively bright, kinda lazy lawyer with a background in intellectual property and an interest in tax and property - you can tell them you know someone who's not doing anything at the moment.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

The Best Offense...

There's a good story in the Wall Street Journal about the extent to which Mitt Romney's Presidential bid was impacted by an Anti-Mormon bias. The story was also commented on by the Freakonomics guys. One of the telling statistics that was shared " . . . cites an NBC News/Journal poll in which 50 percent of the respondents said they had “reservations” or would be “very uncomfortable” about a Mormon becoming president, while 81 percent would be “enthusiastic” or “comfortable” with an African-American president and 76 percent with a female president."

Last year, the law journal was set to elect its new editor in chief from a Mormon woman (M) and another woman (N). They were both very competent people. I had interacted a bit more with the N and I really liked her and respected her. The Mormon woman had always seemed a little awkward and, for lack of a better word, kind of a goober. Sometime before the election I overheard N talking to some people in the Christian lawyers club. I forget exactly how they got onto the subject (I think they were actually talking about M), but they started making fun of Mormons. Something about how we were prudish - no alcohol, no sex, etc... - nothing too scathing, but it was done in a mean-spirited way. It even seemed to me that N felt that it was a bit inappropriate and it was an awkward conversation. I voted for M.

I was also a little appalled when this article talking about a fire started at a Mesa LDS church building had comments about how there were too many mormon churches in mesa anyway or that maybe they should have covered the church in special underwear to keep it from burning down.

Earlier this week there was a conversation in the journal office about politics and John McCain's or Mike Huckabee's chances of getting elected. I was there, sort of half participating, along with fat guy, a liberal mormon, and a geeky guy. Someone made some comment about Mike Huckabee wanting to harm anything Mormon and fat guy said it was a sentiment he absolutely agreed with. Liberal mormon laughed along with geeky guy, and I clenched my teeth.

So here's the point of this posting: How am I supposed to feel about this? Should I have said something when fat guy made his comment, or when I overheard N and co. in the rotunda? Part of me is getting angrier and angrier at things like this as I get older. Another part of me thinks that that is a silly reaction. I understand that it's better to laugh things off than to dwell on them, and that, by getting offended, I am only really making myself unhappy. Maybe I should just laugh these things off like liberal Mormon did. If someone made a comment about wanting to harm anything black, jewish, or gay, that would not be OK. Is this different? Discuss. . .

In Memorium: Brody

I wanted to post two quick stories by which I will always remember Brody.

Brody came around when the grandkids were just starting to show up. When Kylee was 2 or so she was kind of a bossy kid. Brody was already big enough to be a lot bigger than a bossy two year old. So whenever Kylee was around Brody, Brody would crouch down the whole time so that Kylee could feel big and in charge. I'm not sure anything could have made Kylee feel like she was not in charge, but still, it was sweet.

Another one was when Spencer had invited the Drama Club over for an end of the year barbecue. Brody was still pretty young and we were worried about him running around and bothering everyone and keeping them from enjoying their steaks. So I was supposed to tether Brody, appropriately enough, to the tether ball pole. Brody hated to be tied to anything and threw a fit when I did it. He ran full speed until the chain caught and jerked him around. I let him off after that so that he wouldn't kill himself. Brody slunk off to the corner of the yard and sulked. I felt really bad for chaining him up, and I took about 8 ounces of steak over to him to try to make amends. He wouldn't touch it. He just turned his head away from me every time I tried to talk to him and he let that steak rot right there on the lawn. He wouldn't come to me for 3 days. He finally forgave me, but it took a while. I never chained him up again.

I know everyone loves their dog, but Brody was really special. He had so much personality and was so eager to make his family happy. If you have a good Brody story, please leave it in the comments.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Big Defibrilator

I am in shock. News came out last night that the Suns were thinking of trading Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks for Shaq. I laughed out loud when I saw it. While it sounds fine for Miami, that's possibly the dumbest trade I've ever heard of for the Suns. Shawn Marion looked like he was created by God to play Phoenix Suns basketball. He's an athletic 3 who could defend anyone and put up 20-10 without having a play called for him. He also ran like a gazelle for 40-45 minutes a night and could finish a break as well as anyone.

Then there's Shaq. He's a 7'1'' 35 year old ex-all-star who couldn't run out the door if the building were on fire. He clogs the lane, eliminating the pick and roll for Nash and Amare and makes spacing more difficult for Nash's dribble penetration. Plus, he STILL can't hit more than 65% of his free throws. I just can't imagine a worse fit for Phoenix.

Which means that the Suns are going to have to adjust and adjust big if they want to go deep in the playoffs this year. Shaq isn't a complete bust - he's a big body that can defend the Tim Duncans and Andrew Bynums of the world, and he's a career 60% field goal shooter. Nash should be able to get him a lot of looks where he wants them and do something with them. Plus, this lets Amare finally move to the 4 for significant minutes where he's always really wanted to be instead of pretending to be a real center. It may also help with his foul troubles.

So Mike D'Antoni has got a huge project in front of him. He's going to have to find a way to make his brand of basketball work with an aging behemoth on the court and without one of the huge keys to our prior style of run and gun basketball. There is a very small chance that this works out well for us. If Shaq can get motivated and get in shape for another run at a title, he might provide a spark in the rough 'em up playoffs. Nash should be able to find someone to finish a break with Shaq inbounding the ball and bringing up the rear. Grant Hill may be able to provide some of the defense and athleticism that will be missing with Shawn gone and Boris may get more minutes and find more of a groove for himself. Maybe this move improves some of the chemistry issues that have been plaguing the team this year.

That's a whole lot of maybes. And dammit I liked the way the Suns played. It was fun to watch and fun to be a part of a basketball renovation. Even if Shaq is absolutely Shaqtastic and turns out well here, it's not going to be the same Suns team. That saddens me.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Not so Supers

Well, not mine

I don't want to talk about the Super Bowl. Curse New York and their football playing Giants. Curse Steve Spagnuolo and his genius. And curse David Tyree and his sticky helmet. A pox on all your houses.

So on to Super Duper Tsunami Whoop-Dee-Dang-Doo Tuesday. As my family knows, I do not vote. Partially for reasons articulated here, but mostly just to annoy the politically minded people who know me. For the first time in a long time, I am in the minority. Voter turnout today in Arizona has been estimated (by NPR this morning) to probably be greater than 50%. For comparison, voter turnout in a contentious Presidential election in 2000 was only 40%. Even I have been far more conscious of the election results and events than I am happy to admit.

So, what gives? Why the marked increase in interest in a primary election? I have two guesses: First is the unusual notariety of the candidates. Hillary Clinton is as close to Britney Spears as you can get in politics. Barack Obama entered the race because he became a rockstar because of his stirring speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004. The Republican side isn't quite as glamorous, but sports a perfectly coiffed Mormon, a media beloved "maverick" and an ex-fat bible-thumping aw shucks populist who plays a mean base.

Plus, there is the polarizing nature of the candidates. Hillary is either the devil or a faithful public servant with the experience to be effective on day 1 and Obama is either a glorified lightweight or a political messiah. John McCain is either a democrat in disguise or a war hero centrist and Romney is either a right wing nut job, but only this week, or the last hope of the soul of the Republican Party. Mike Huckabee is just an idiot, but the kind of idiot that bible thumping, aw shucks types can really get behind. As if that weren't enough, there is enough bad blood between the candidates on all sides to keep the media happy and the public enthralled.
And that's all before Bill Clinton gets factored in.

I think the other reason for high public interest in the elections is a ubiquitous "the sky is falling" media combined with actual issues of great consequence. The war in Iraq has seen enough progress to become a legitimate issue for the voting public. The loud cries for American forces to get the hell out while the gettin's good have been replaced by more subtle arguments for and against maintaining troop levels for some time. In addition, while I am still skeptical of a full-blown recession, there is no doubt that the "sub-prime fiasco" has caused at least a substantial slow-down in economic growth which the media has turned into much more than a needed market correction. These things worry people, and worried people vote.

Personally, I don't know why I care more than I have in the past about the current state of American Politics. Some of it is that I enjoy feeling informed and wasting time when I should be doing homework. Beyond that, I definitely have more interest in Mitt Romney because he is a member of the Church. Though I consider myself pretty conservative, I think I align more with John McCain on issues like Iraq, immigration, and, to an extent, global warming (I also don't like earmarks and excessive spending, but I kind of hate McCain-Feingold). But for some reason, I find myself rooting for Romney in his primary contests. Like a Hillary Voter, I find that I galvanize more to Romney the more he is attacked. If absolutely forced to vote, I honestly couldn't tell you who I would choose of those two until I was actually casting the ballot. I'm not sure what that says about me.

At any rate, I expect to be one of the millions of people who will be watching the results closely as they trickle in tonight. Who will you be voting for (or if you are like me, rooting for) and why?

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Is this Racism?

I had an interesting experience yesterday while helping Russ move into his new apartment. Russell, Tiffany, two of Tiffany's cousins (an 18 year old and a 10 year old) and I were in a van on the way to Tiffany's parents house to pick up some furniture. The conversation turned to yet another cousin who had started dating "a black guy." He was actually some fraction black, I was never quite clear on his exact lineage. The question then was "...but does he act black?" To which the response was "No, he's nice." They then went on about the percentage black he was and whether he looked black and then the 18 year old cousin said "I know he looks black and everything, but does he act like, you know, a whigger or something." Now, as I understand it, whigger is a derogative term for a white guy who has over-embraced black culture. It's a combination of white and nigger. So by saying a black person acts like a white nigger, aren't you just asking if he acts like a nigger? And who really asks if a person is nice or if he's black?

And that wasn't all. Later, Russ asked about my presidential preference. This turned to a slight discussion of Barack Obama. Russell is convinced that in their heart of hearts the American public is not ready to elect a black guy. He said that even if he were elected he'd probably get assassinated or something. Now, I don't love Barack Obama, but I've always considered his race to be a strong positive for him. I think a majority of people would be excited for a black president as a symbol of national healing and a movement passed divisive identity politics. So I feel like Russell's view of the national mood on Obama is actually a bit of a reflection of Russell's view of how ready he is to elect a black president. Russell, of course, will swear up and down that he is not a racist.

So the question for me is, where did this subtle and not so subtle racism come from?
Russ and I grew up in the same house with the same rules and the same parents. The real difference between Russell and I and the rest of his family is his friends. Russell has had the same group of friends since he was a kid. Those friends tend to run in a demographic that has less education and less money than the family that Russell came from. Since racism is a result of ignorance more than anything else, it would make sense to me that that demographic would be more likely to have a race bias even than the hoity toity white world that we grew up in.

So here's what this little example tells me: Friends matter. The friends your children make and keep are vastly important on how those kids will turn out. You can teach your kids while they are young, but as they get older they will begin to see their parents as out of touch or square, and their friends will fill in as teaching kids what is normal. What is normal will then have a big impact on what they think is right or acceptable. As if parenting weren't stressful enough, now I have to worry about what everyone else is teaching the kids that mine are going to hang out with.