It is curious to reflect that the arrest of Joseph K in the first chapter of The Trial is immensely more civilized than any arrest would be likely to be in the land of freedom at the threshold of the twenty-first century.

From Richard Posner, “Law and Literature Revisited,” in Overcoming Law, p. 484.

Cakes and the Obsolescence of Law

Aphorism: At a certain level of cakes, law becomes obsolete.

The irony, of course, is that this maxim is itself a law, regardless of the number of cakes present in a given system. But despite the internal tension, the truism holds. Law and cakes are not complementary, as was once thought. They fall along a well-defined continuum, for those who are given no cakes must be disciplined through law, and those who are well-stuffed with cake have no need for legal controls.

This is the very reason Marie Antoinette necessarily had her tête forcibly segregated from her corps. She understood well the power of cakes, but flatly ignored the continuum. She desired a world with both cakes and law, a contradiction that could have been avoided had she paid heed to Lincoln’s timeless admonition: a horse divided cannot stand. She is, of course, to be praised for not wishing to have her cake and eat it too, for the violation of two ancient edicts by one 18th century monarch would be too much for even a Universe as indulgent of Mother Absurdity as ours to bear. But wishing to have your cake and a system of legally-enforceable restrictions on behavior, too is almost as heinous a crime in the eyes of Logic.

adapted from Blueprints for a Sparkling Tomorrow

The James Brown Of

This past law-year, spurred by a glorious in-court defeat against CitiMortgage’s attorneys, I have been referring to myself (correctly) as The James Brown of Foreclosure Law. But I was curious about what others have labeled the James Brown of various things. A casual googling reveals:

  • “Theresa is the James Brown of mothers”
  • “The James Brown of Indie Rock.”
  • “…dazzlingly clear that the apostrophe is the James Brown of punctuation — dancin’, sweatin’, making cool short little words out of clumsier big ones”
  • “…the James Brown of literary agents”
  • “I like to think of myself as the James Brown of New Zealand poetry…”
  • “They might however, recognize P.J. Harlem, the James Brown of the puppet world who breaks into ‘I Feel Good’ at the end of nearly every show.”
  • “…our Planning and Zoning commission is the James Brown of our city…”
  • “the James Brown of bass fishing”
  • “…which is why we call him The James Brown of Public Relations.”
  • “He has been called the James Brown of probation officers because he used recidivism risk reduction programs”
  • “earned nicknames like the James Brown of Ethiopia or Abyssinia Elvis.”
  • “the James Brown of economic speakers”
  • “the James Brown of neurotransmitters. It makes you feel good and is a major target of antidepressants.”
  • “…often referred to as the James Brown of the wine industry”
  • “Please welcome back the James Brown of home entertaining [band plays James Brown tune], Martha Stewart. [Applause] How’ve you been? Happy New Year. Tell us about the pig; you have a cute little pig there.”

All of which reminds me of a great Simpsons line, following Lisa’s discovery that her lackluster third-grade transcript has forever foreclosed all Ivy League dreams:

Marge: Sweetie, you could still go to McGill, The Harvard of Canada.
Lisa: Anything that’s the Something of the Something isn’t really the Anything of Anything.

You, in fact, never cease from abusing and inveighing against poets, and I, whom you reproach with neglect of my professional duties, every day undertake to plead against you in defence of poetry. So I am all the more delighted at the presence of a judge who will either forbid me for the future to write verses, or who will compel me by his additional authority to do what I have long desired, to give up the petty subtleties of legal causes, at which I have toiled enough, and more than enough, and to cultivate a more sacred and more stately eloquence.

From Tacitus, Dialogus de oratoribus

The Media Denied Us a Chance to Reflect and Unite After the New Orleans Mass Shooting

Co-written with friend Eric Parrie, a Louisiana native and recent Yale Law School graduate who will soon begin teaching at Carver Prep Academy in New Orleans

Last month a young gunman’s bullets tore into a second line parade, New Orleans’ signature neighborhood celebration. 19 people, including two 10-year-old children, were hit in the barrage, shot down as they danced through the streets in honor of Mother’s Day.

The New York Times and the Washington Post buried the story. By 11:30 pm on the night of the shooting, it had disappeared entirely from the Times site. The next day, despite the release of horrifying photographs and the launch of a full manhunt in New Orleans, the most prominent story on the paper’s website was about interesting and colourful snakes. A few days later, the Times wrote a quasi-anthropological piece about the risks of attending a New Orleans parade.

The refusal to treat this New Orleans nightmare as news, much less a national tragedy, shows a cynical, unhealthy attitude toward people of color that denies Americans of all backgrounds an opportunity to mourn and reflect together. Major media outlets should own their responsibility to report suffering on this scale with urgency and attention. When they fail in that, we lose the crucial ability to recognize ourselves in one another’s sufferings. We become weaker as a national community.

Last year, nearly 200 people were killed in New Orleans, which puts its homicide rate at ten times the national average. On the website of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, visitors can watch the steady accretion of bodies on a murder-ticker. The crime map linked by the City can be more difficult to use, as it quickly breaks down with the overload error message “the map can’t plot any more crimes.” And as the parade shooting confirms, New Orleans’s violence cannot be written off as affecting only “criminal” populations; victims range from children at birthday parties to college students to parents and community volunteers.

Nevertheless, New Orleans tragedies have come to follow an established pattern. A lost life is measured by a newspaper blurb, a thumbtack on the map, and a name erased from the shifts at a local restaurant or the enrollment list at a neighborhood school. The annual “New Orleans Still A Violent Town” profile notwithstanding, these deaths go largely unremarked beyond the four corners of the Times-Picayune. “The general idea,” writes Times-Picayune columnist Jarvis DeBerry, “seems to be that we should be used to all this killing, that we can take it all in stride.” Having, for that very Mother’s Day, interviewed five New Orleans mothers whose children had been murdered in the city, DeBerry realizes that this perspective is just wrong. Mothers who lost children as long ago as 1978 feel the pain every day; there is none of the “getting used to it” that outsiders presume the victims now have.

The nation raged and mourned in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, and rightly so. Yet after the fusillade of bullets in New Orleans on Mother’s Day, national outlets did not give America the chance to dignify the victims with their outrage and compassion.

To be sure, there were no deaths at the Mother’s Day parade, and the injuries were not as severe. But does anybody doubt that if 19 people had been shot at the Boston Marathon, one wouldn’t need to open to Page 11 to find the details, that one wouldn’t wait days for any serious mention, and even then find the events portrayed as a sad, curious fact of local life?

The sad truth is that the media does not give as much attention to violence in black and brown communities as it does to others. This was clear last summer in the aftermath of the Oak Creek massacre, when the largest race-based mass shooting in recent US history fell out of national discourse in six days. Now it is barely mentioned or remembered.

The scope and tone of the coverage of New Orleans and Oak Creek implies that the Times and its peers cannot imagine a world in which crowds of people aren’t mowed down in communities of color. By contrast, the British press looked at the tragedy with a sense of emergency: the BBC displayed the Mother’s Day shooting as the top headline in its U.S. news section.

Bombs and shooting rampages endanger the ways that we join together as neighbors, whether we are black or white, celebrating at road races or at second lines. Everyone should have the opportunity to mourn for that, reflect upon it, and carry into the future the sadness and resolve that follow. When national outlets fail to give New Orleanians the empathy and exposure they provide New Yorkers and Bostonians, they deny us all that chance.

 as published at the Huffington Post

Hello, PRISM!

Hello, PRISM!

Though I only just met you, I feel like you’ve known me for years.

PRISM, darling, you should have told me you were here! It seems like I’ve said so many foolish things in emails and Facebook chats before. I hope you didn’t misinterpret anything; I wouldn’t want you to be hurt. (I also don’t want to be rendered, hah!)

But now that I know you’re around, I’ll be sure to do things a little differently. From now on, whenever I issue an emoticon in a chat, I’ll make sure to leave another. One for the recipient and one for PRISM. 🙂 🙂

I’m also going to stop saying things in correspondence like “I don’t much care for the president” and “Fuck PRISM.” He could probably take it, but you seem really sensitive about criticism.

I suppose I should catch you up on who I am, although come to think of it I guess there’s no need.

But we do have so much in common, you and I. Neither of us likes it when people say things about us in public. You have constant access to everything I do, and so do I. We’re both into Pink Floyd.

I’ll sleep easy knowing I’m always in some way being snuggled by you, and that as I laugh and weep at emails and chats, you’re right there doing the same through your covert national security backdoor into the tech companies’ servers.

Truly, PRISM, I’m glad I know about you. I would call you, but I’m on Verizon and worried about my privacy. Instead, I’ll just save this email in my drafts; I’m sure it’ll reach you.



From the new book Children’s Letters to PRISM

One autumn afternoon [Cicely’s father] asked her why she was digging up horse chestnuts she had buried in the garden. “I am God,” she explained, “and they are people, and I made them die, and now I am resurrecting them.” As he continued to watch her, her father asked, “But why did you make the people die if you meant to dig them up again? Why didn’t you just leave them alone?” She replied: “Well, that would have been all right for them. But it would have been no fun for me.”

anecdote about Rebecca West, as found here.

A C.N.T. flag blocked the way. The return of the Spanish influence with a vengeance after years of dormancy had coincided with the influx of a large number of violent, bilgey sailors from the motorship Venderveer, which they had forced to permanently take port in New Orleans after the bargemaster refused to accede to the extortionate per-carcass bonuses the sailors had suddenly demanded in exchange for not letting the whole hulls-worth of birdmeat rot.

As a result, Anarchists had now almost completely taken over the French Quarter. Flags and slogans draped most balconies. Fife-driven singalongs of the Internationale had replaced C.C.R. and Journey cover-rock as the preferred noise-ordinance violation of Bourbonian decadents (not that the Anarchists had too dutifully maintained the Sanctity of Ordinance since assuming control.) Horrified tourists were being assigned rotational shifts as fish-tossers in the market-stalls. Attempts to bribe one’s way out of a fish-tossing shift resulted in the assignment of additional fish-tossing shifts.

– from Sometimes Englishable: a Novella of New Orleans, under contract with Demilune Press.