From The Editor
Bill Girdner
Story Date:   
Week 38

     One good thing happened in Week 38.
     Attorney General Eric Holder resigned.
     He was described as "a champion of civil rights if not civil liberties" -- naively I thought they were the same. He attacked racial inequality while eroding the rest of the Bill of Rights by approving mass surveillance of Americans and subpoenaing more journalists than any past administration.
     The rest of the news was mostly bleak.
     The environment continued to get worse, with carbon emissions hitting new records that included a 2.9% increase in the U.S. last year. President Obama urged the countries of the United Nations to combat global warming but the Republicans have stopped any effort to do something about it.
     Ebola continued to spread, with the World Health Organization saying last week that the contagion was far worse than previously thought. A look at a map of the affliction shows hot spots in Sierra Leone and huge zones where the disease has started to spread.
     And in the Middle East, the U.S. continued its turn back into the theatre we just left.
     Islamic State, described by UN monitors as committing "acts of inhumanity on an unimaginable scale," was making headway across an enormous front from the north of Syria to the towns around Baghdad. While Iraq Army units were left short of ammunition and support.
     All of it was bleak but not surprising.
     One story, however, turned my head around.
     Our man in Iraq, the new president Haider al-Abadi, told a group of journalists that he supports the bombing of IS forces in Syria, with a condition.
     I figured the condition was the same as that expressed by our president who says he does not want the bombing of IS positions to help the Syrian government which we oppose. Iraq's president would therefore be echoing the position of his benefactor and bomber in chief.
     I was part way through the story and realized I had better go back and start over.
     It turned out that, no, the Iraqi president took the opposite position. He wants to make sure the bombing does not hurt the Syrian government. Because he supports the murderous Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
     In the British Parliament, which unlike our Congress debated the decision, one parliamentarian heatedly compared bombing to an attack on a barbarian to aid a butcher.
     But our man in Iraq wants us to be careful on how we go about attacking the barbarian at his gate because he supports the butcher next door. He prevaricates. He dithers, as his army loses battles.
     And the butcher of Damascus, it turns out, has had a working relationship with the barbarian of the north, refraining from bombing his positions and paying him to keep oil pipelines intact while also refining some of the oil shipped from the wells he controls.
     Meanwhile, our president snubs our natural ally in the region, Iran, which opposes the barbarian of the north but also supports the butcher of Damascus, as does the fool of Baghdad.
     Into that hot mess along comes our government with drones and warplanes dropping bombs.
     As the admiral in the movie Hunt for Red October says, "This business will get out of control."

 
Coyote Speaks
Robert Kahn
Story Date:   
Plagiarism

     Why do we laugh?
     Or do we?
     Upon writing these words, my brain - such as it is - thought, "James Thurber must have said that."
     I searched and searched through aging yellowed books with broken spines no longer held together with glueless tape that crumbled in my hands. I searched the Internet to see whether Thurber had said that.
     Took me the better part of an hour. By which time I could no longer see the humor in it.
     It reminded me of the time I thought I had committed plagiarism.
     I had just been hired as an editor at a daily newspaper. As far too many editors do, I abused the privilege to become a columnist.
     Well, the publisher came by one day and said we needed a column - exactly one column - for an advertising insert.
     So I wrote a column about fishing.
     We had a long lead time on the ad insert - a couple of weeks to paste up the pathetic copy in between the ads.
     The only thing I remember about that column was that I claimed to have caught a jug-eared punt - a fictitious fish whose name I invented.
     A day or two before the ad insert ran, I was reading an old Thurber book at home, and I saw that he had written pretty much the same column I did - 60 years ago.
     Thank God for rubber sheets.
     I thought I would be fired.
     But I didn't do it! I thought. I didn't know!
     Thurber, by the way, never mentioned the jug-eared punt. He just wrote a column about fishing, which was similar, in many ways, to my column about fishing.
     Well, how many fishing stories are there?
     About two, I think. Out of 900,000,000.
     But as a newly hired newspaper editor - and columnist - I was sure the Forces of Evil (the publisher) would track me down and can my sorry butt for ripping off a 60-year-old column from a dead guy.
     I sweated through that week. Day after day as I showed up at work at 6 a.m. (afternoon papers still existed then) I felt the axe descending upon my neck.
     Should I confess? I thought.
     Should I go to the publisher and tell him all?
     But what was there to tell him?
     This was decades before the scandals involving plagiarism and wholesale lies by reporters and columnists for The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The New Republic, and so on.
     I was a young editor then. I still had a conscience.
     I thought I was guilty. Of something.
     Of thinking, and writing, the same thing another guy had thought 60 years ago. And of putting it in an ad insert.
     They never caught me. I got away with it. With ... well, think about it.
     The reason I bring this up is because it reminds me of Theodor Mommsen's "History of Rome" - the story of the ruin of the Roman Republic.
     It seems to me that the U.S. Senate today is plagiarizing from the Roman Senate during the collapse of the republic - its incompetence, corruption, venality and cowardice.
     Maybe our Senate doesn't know it, though I suspect they do.

 
From The Courts
Milt Policzer
Story Date:   
Beware of Spurned Judges

     Hell hath no fury like a judge spurned.
     Anyone thinking of voting out a sitting judge might want to keep that in mind.
     An entertaining case in point can be found in a Georgia Supreme Court ruling last week called Heiskell v. Roberts, in which we learn that after a state court judge lost an election, he proceeded to dismiss 60 traffic cases.
     Then a "trial court correctly concluded that Roberts was exercising a judicial function when he dismissed the traffic cases, because adjudication of such cases is a function normally performed by a judge."
     Most judging is done by judges.
     The judge got judicial immunity because he was judging. It doesn't have to be good judging to be immune judging.
     Take that, stupid voters.
     The judge then sued, believe it or not, for a higher salary, and county officials counterclaimed for, among other things, intentional infliction of emotional distress because of the traffic case dismissals.
     Who says people in government don't have feelings?
     Here's my favorite part of the ruling: "Appellants' argument that judicial immunity applies only to 'claims' brought against a judge and not to 'counterclaims' brought against a judge is baseless. A 'counterclaim' is simply the way that a defendant brings a 'claim' against the plaintiff in an existing lawsuit."
     Next time they should try a crossclaim. Maybe that will work.
     
     Artistic advice.
     Do you want to improve the quality of your law firm's videos?
     I can't imagine why you'd want to do that - it's a law firm, not a movie studio - but if you do, you can find seven tips in a piece posted last week by the National Law Review (which is not to be confused with the National Law Journal, despite the strangely similar title).
     The article, written by a guy who claims to have lectured thousands of lawyers about video marketing and is selling a book about it, can also be found on the author's website.
     The tips are odd. In fact, most of them don't seem to be tips at all - they're questions, e.g.: "What should you talk about?" and "Who are you?"
     Fair enough. If you can't remember who you are, you probably won't be able to sell yourself on camera.
     My favorite tip is number 4: "The video equipment doesn't matter."
     So you should just pretend you have a camera?
     Apparently, it's a psychological exercise.
     Fortunately, I'm here to offer better tips.
     1. Don't cast anyone's actor girl/boyfriend. They'll try to take over the shoot and insist on cast parties. Those aren't bad things, but you're likely to lose a substantial portion of your personnel who come to see acting as a better way of life.
     2. Don't include porn or cats in your video. Most of the Internet is already devoted to porn and cats. You're not going to stand out that way.
     Be creative. Turtles and baby llamas are good.
     3. Be dramatic. Footage of maniacal laughter and an office orgy after a successful court appearance shows that you care about your work.
     Use extras to portray clients enjoying the orgy. (This is not porn. It is merely an expression of appreciation for excellent representation.)
     4. Before and after. Demonstrate the impact of your work with a dramatic reenactment of a client's story.
     This should begin with a homeless, bedraggled client living in a walkway outside a courthouse and end with the client in silk pajamas relaxing in his/her brand-new Malibu mansion.
     A little literary license is fine.
     5. The video equipment does matter. Really. You need to record this stuff on some kind of film or digital thing.