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February 7, 2009

punctuation punditry: ‘ & ;

Filed under: Haiga or Haibun,Procrastination Punditry — David Giacalone @ 4:40 pm

..  .. avoid apostrophe catastrophes .. 

In 2001, New Zealander Matt Powell created an instructively entertaining cartoon titled “The Apostrophe Catastrophe,” as the first installment of his CRGttEL series (The Complete Retard’s Guide to the English Language). Matt said,”The apostrophe is probably the most misused punctuation mark there is.”  That sentiment was surely behind the launch in 2008 of the weblog Apostophe Catastrophes by “Worlds’ Worst. Punctuation;” maven “Becky.”

It’s too bad Matt Powell’s weblog is dormant these days. As you may have noticed, over the past week, the phrase “apostrophe catastrophe” has turned up again all over the print, broadcast and cyber media.  Two street signs in Birmingham, England, illustrate why the apostrophe “problem” was in the news; the version on top has been replaced by the one on the bottom:


See: “Birmingham City Council bans apostrophes from road signs” (Birmingham Post, by Paul Dale Jan. 29, 2009); “Apostrophe catastrophe for city’s street signs” (The Independent [UK], Jan. 30, 2009); “City drops apostrophes from signs” (BBC, Jan. 29, 2009); “Its a catastrophe for the apostrophe in Britain” (AP, Meera Selva, Jan. 30, 2009);  “Apostrophe catastrophe” (Language Log, Arnold Zwicky, Jan. 31, 2009)

As the Associated Press reported on Jan. 30, 2009:

“England’s second-largest city has decided to drop apostrophes from all its street signs, saying they’re confusing and old-fashioned.  But some purists are downright possessive about the punctuation mark.”

The local paper, The Birmingham Post, explains further that:

“[T]o make things simpler, Birmingham City Council has decided road signs and place names should not have apostrophes.

“After years spent arguing the finer points of whether Kings Heath should be King’s Heath, or even Kings’ Heath, and if it would be better to call Acock’s Green Acocks Green, local authority leaders have concluded the safest thing is not to bother at all.

“All remaining apostrophes will disappear as signs are replaced, and English language pedants hoping for a return to the days of Druid’s Heath and King’s Norton are being warned to expect to be disappointed.”

This is exactly the sort of problem that gets far too many people worked up, and admittedly soaks up far too much of the f/k/a Gang’s time and energy.  But, it also gets our “language legacy” juices flowing, as well as those mischievous genes that love to watch pompous people in a tizzy and ditzy public officials strut their stuff.

According to the Associated Press, Birmingham Councilor Martin Mullaney, argues “We keep debating apostrophes in meetings and we have other things to do.”  He has a point, except that the apostrophes weren’t offending anyone and no groups were calling for their removal.  It was their mindless deletion that caused the controversy.

Mullaney’s argument that the apostrophes were tripping up GPS systems and making it harder for emergency responders to find certain streets and landmarks seems bogus and has been disproved by many observers.

Here are a few notions we found interesting enough to pass on to you, our readers, concerning the Great Birmingham Apostrophe Castastrophe:

In his Stage column for the Birmingham Post, titled “Laughs for the wrong reason” (Feb. 4, 2009), John Slim writes, “So Birmingham is suddenly the city where the pantomime season extends into infinity.”  I’m not sure just what that means, but I can understand his assessment of the impact on his City’s image:

“[T]he only effect of this nonsensical edict is that Birmingham, already burdened with national mockery for its accent, will now stand alone as the half-witted city that wrecks the language in writing as well as verbally.”

In a similar mode, Sarah Evans insists in her column “Punctuation is all the rage” (Birmingham Post, Feb. 2, 2009), that “It’s not difficult to teach the use of the apostrophe” and writes that it’s “quite extraordinary that it takes the council’s debate on dropping the apostrophe from city place names to put Birmingham in the national news”  — while “The nation couldn’t care less about job losses, city regeneration, transport systems, education or health in its second largest city.”  Evan wishes civic leaders had been better prepared to “best exploit the media’s fickle and short attention span.”  Saying there were lost opportunities last week, Evans suggests:

“What about getting rid of capital letters – so old fashioned and a bit of a bother, no one uses them in text speak – and having ready a long list of technological innovations in the West Midlands when the media juggernaut hits again?”

The Birmingham Post has a Quick Vote online poll along with its original story, asking “Is Birmingham City Council right to ban apostrophes from road signs?” As of 1 PM EST in the USA, here are the results:

Is Birmingham City Council right to ban apostrophes from road signs?

– Yes, get rid


– No, keep them


Naturally, such polls are in no way scientific and surely tend to attract the disgruntled (while the gruntled are off meditating).  For what it’s worth, the f/k/a Gang would have kept them. [update (May 14, 2010): The final tally in the Birmingham Post Quick Vote poll shows 90.3% of the participants wanting to keep the apostrophes.]

The B-Post article notes that “Birmingham has been inventing its own rules of grammar since the 1950s, with apostrophes being routinely removed when cast iron street signs are given a new coat of paint.”  Which leads our Prof. Yabut to speculate the whole problem had its origin in some summer-hire teenager who painted over a street sign apostrophe by accident, ignorance or sloth.  Yabut also notes:

Without the apostrophe, it looks like there’s more than one St. Paul.  Is that a victory for clarity?  Russell Smith in the Toronto Globe and Mail was right to sound the alarm at the Globe and Mail: “Now, even the Birmingham Children’s Hospital is the Birmingham Childrens Hospital, dashing the ambitions of that city’s schoolteachers to ever hope to teach children how to write.”

Blame it on the Revolting Colonists? Along with a BBC piece, the B-Post article points out that:

“Martin Mullaney, who devised the new policy, believes Birmingham should follow the example of America, which dropped the possessive apostrophe in place names in 1890.”

In his Globe and Mail column, Russell Smith also notes:

“Long ago, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names decreed that it was against policy across the United States to include apostrophes in place names, and there hasn’t been an outcry about that.”

Indeed, at Language Log, where descriptive linguistics seems to hold sway over “prescriptivist grammar,” Arnold Zwicky pointed out on Jan. 31, that:

“Here in the U.S., we’ve been managing without apostrophes on most street signs (and maps) for some time, and often without periods and commas as well. Does utter chaos surround us?  Well, no; the system is that place names don’t get apostrophes, while other expressions of possessive form do get them, and contractions get them as well.”

It seems to me, though, that America has avoided apostrophic chaos and grammatical apostasy by removing the possessive element in place names, rather than erroneously deleting apostrophes.  Thus, we say “Washington Avenue”, rather than “Washington’s Avenue” or (spare us) “Washingtons Avenue.”   That makes practice here in the USA a very poor precedent for introducing the confusion of apostrophe-less signage in situations where a place name has traditionally been expressed in possessive form.

update (Feb. 9, 2009).. .. This afternoon, I went to the corner of State and Ferry Streets, in Schenectady, NY (about 5 blocks form my home), to see if my recollection was correct about this historic marker for The King’s Highway.  Seeing that little yellow apostrophe warmed my heart.

See: The New York State Museum’s discussion of “The King’s Highway,” which is strangely inconsistent in its use of the possessive apostotophe.

It’s quite possible to agree that “a living language must evolve,” without also subscribing to the notion “and you just have to sit back and accept the changes that occur, even if they clearly add confusion and defy useful grammar rules.”  Linguistics Professor Arnold Zwicky wrote last week at Language Lab:

“I have no particular stake in the choice between preserving the older system for the use of apostrophes (and so on) on signs and maps and adopting a sparer system of punctuation (omit needless marks!). I wouldn’t even insist that punctuation practice must be consistent; apostrophied and apostrophe-less names could simply be seen as optional variants.”

Although we’re more and more wary of appearing to be old fogies or just not sufficiently liberal/hip, the Gang can’t quite understand the willingness to allow “optional variants” that serve no particularly useful principle or public goal, but will surely make it more difficult for English-speakers-writers (especially of the post-Boomer variety) to learn a perfectly useful and rather uncomplicated rule for creating the possessive form.  We find ourselves leaning more toward the sentiments of Ms. Evans at the Birmingham Post:

“The national fuss is because some fear we are losing our sensitivity to language. We are a more visually based culture – a bit like cave-men – so the subtlety of words to convey and expand the possibilities of the human condition is being deemed a waste of time and the wisdom of millennia is being lost in a decade or two.”

Indeed, it’s precisely because we’ve become a “visually based culture,” that it seems counter-productive to go out of the way to produce, at public expense, ubiquitous signs that violate a rather simple rule of grammar.  Official signage offers a teachable moment.

Finally, in “Trust the British to make apostrophes a class issue,” Russell Smith at the Toronto Globe and Mail (Feb. 5, 2009), after noting “This is an ideological battle,” has a good description of extremists on both sides:

“Language reformers have often thought of themselves as anti-elitist. If only the highly educated can understand the irrational vagaries of grammar (and they are, no question, irrational), then those vagaries serve only the privileged, the argument goes. And the proponents of grammar do often embarrass themselves by conflating language, good taste and morality, as if changes in usage are evidence of an unpleasant proletarianization of society. It’s no accident that British writer Lynne Truss (Eats, Shoots & Leaves, Talk to the Hand) is equally obsessed with punctuation and with manners.”

Did I say, “finally”? Three more points about the apostrophe controversy:

  1. Song Review: Save yourself a couple minutes, and avoid the mp3 song “Apostrophe Apostasy,” mentioned in “Birmingham apostrophe row inspires US songwriter”,” which Chris at the Apostrophe Abuse weblog calls “really bad.”
  2. To Peeve or Not to Peeve: This whole controversy had a fun side-effect: It allowed me to discover the words “peevology” and “peevarazzi,” relating to pet peeves.  See Ben Zimmer, and Mr. Verb, along with the Boston Globe’s Jan Freeman.  Count me among those who thinks “peevologist” — one who engages in the study of peeving — should be a separate word from that which designates the people who do a lot of peeving and/or love to collect peeves.  Prof. Zimmer seems not to mind using one word for both groups, but I can’t image why we need to create that confusion, simply because some folks don’t know that the suffix “ology” means “the study of” (as with the use of “ecology”).
  3. No more “DVD’s”: Inspired by the OWL commentary on the proper use of apostrophes (see directly below), and the example of Becky at Apostrophe Catastrophes, the f/k/a Gang is promising to weed the erroneous use of apostrophes to create the plural form of acronyms.  We’ll be saying “DVDs”, “TVs” and “1960s.” As OWL says, “There is no need for apostrophes indicating a plural on capitalized letters, numbers, and symbols.”

Want More Punctuation Punditry?  Why not? Below the fold, you will find Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab treatment of the apostrophe; information from Jim Kacian on punctuation in the haiku genre; plus Roberta Beary’s haibun (a brief prose piece with a linked haiku) “The Proper Use of Semicolons,” which was selected for inclusion in white lies: RMA 2008.

. . . (frame from Matt Powell’s cartoon “Commas,” March 23, 2001)


December 22, 2008

nudging maternalism beats Nudge‘s paternalism

Filed under: Haiku or Senryu,Procrastination Punditry — David Giacalone @ 12:23 pm

.. … from making Christmas happen for her kids . . .

.. to sharing Holidays with Great-grandchildren . .

Mama G. has followed in her mother’s loving footsteps for over half a century, continuing and creating holiday traditions — scraping pennies and dishes; stuffing envelopes and turkeys; embracing changes and children.

Christmas again:
she shops and shops
and chops cardoons

.. by dagosan

The folks at the Sunstein and Thaler Nudge Weblog tried to cure me of my Scroogy holiday procrastination, after I turned in desperation last week to the decision-making principles and “choice architecture” presented in their book “Nudge” (Yale Univ. Press 2008).  Readers at their website suggested a new To Do List and strategically-positioned post-it reminders.  But it’s really only the image of Mama G. that finally got me off my balking backside to get Christmas 2008 into gear.  Her modeling of constant holiday preparation, between work and daily family duties, and her nurturing of the spirit of the season despite fatigue and the greedy neediness of her young offspring, have left me suitably motivated — by admiration and obligation.

Clearly, maternal nudging — that sweet mixture of nature and nurture, example and guilt — represents the Holiday Decision Tree I needed to stop stalling and start spreading holiday cheer.

too tired
to untangle
christmas lights

………… by Roberta Beary 

That’s all I wanted to say, as I dive into a final, long day of holiday preparation before heading tomorrow for Rochester, NY.  I’ll be en-joying Christmas with Mama G. and all the other women in my family who always work so hard to make Christmas and every other major holiday warm and loving (and filling) for generations of their children.  Of course, I’ll also bask in the company of many other relatives (young and old), including all the males who are so well-fed and pampered like the little kids we are at Christmastime.

I’m coming, Mama G., thanks for the gentle nudge into Holiday Spirit.

Christmas Eve calamari
Nana serves
Grandma’s recipes

…. by dagosan

holiday recipes…
I set a haiku
on the backburner

how did Santa know?
a roll of duct tape
in my stocking

…………………. by laryalee fraser

.. postscript: It’s easy to forget that our mothers and grandmothers were once little children with Christmas dreams and disappointments of their own.  A few years ago, my family discovered a family portrait photo of my maternal grandmother, Elisabetta Catino Papagni, with her siblings, circa 1902, when she was still a toddler.  That’s her image, at the start of this postscript.  For the first decades of my life, every Christmas was orchestrated and revolved around Grandma Papagni, and both her absence and love are especially felt this time of year.  Although she might want to do a thing or two a little differently, I know she would be proud of the way her daughters have carried on and passed on both her recipes and her tradition of holiday love and joy.  She always wanted her grandson Davie to “mangia” some more.  I hope I can earn her holiday blessings each year by honoring her wish to refill my plate often, and then to help wash those plates after every lovingly-made meal.

red envelopes
the sound
of children’s laughter

……….. by Yu ChangUpstate Dim Sum 2003/I

p.s. If you’re smuggly finished with all your Holiday Prep, and have spare time for celebrating the Winter Solstice, the f/k/a Gang suggests you treat yourself to viewing the new edition of Haiga Online (Vol. 9-2), where you will find fine examples of the haiga genre (images combined with linked haiku or similar poems), along with this one by dagosan.

Then, if you have additional time to kill, please ponder this seasonal mystery: Where do all the snow shovels go between winters? Why is there always such a big rush for shovels at hardware and home-supply stores after the first major storm each year?

December 11, 2008

lawyers per capita: NY numbers

Filed under: lawyer news or ethics,Procrastination Punditry,Schenectady Synecdoche — David Giacalone @ 12:28 pm

It has often been suggested there are too many lawyers here in New York State.  There is, in fact, 1 lawyer for every 390 people in NYS, as compared to 1 lawyer for every 2272 residents of North Dakota.  It’s hard to say whether it should make us feel any better to know, on the other hand, that Washington, D.C. has 13.5 times as many lawyers per capita as New York State — with one lawyer for every 36 residents of D.C.. (See the Avery Index of Lawyers per Capita by State.)

We learned this morning, via Simple Justice, that

The New York Lawyer has provided a chart to show the distribution of lawyers throughout the various counties of the State of New York.  The chart shows the ratio of lawyers to human beings.

Scott Greenfield says “It explains a lot” and — comparing it to Manhattan — extolls the virtues of living in Queens (where you’ll find an empty diner seat whenever you want one).

The f/k/a Gang has to head out to see our primary medical provider, so you can decide for yourself (and let us know) what these numbers mean:

Lawyers per capita in Capital Region Counties of NYS:


Albany County        4317               69/1
Columbia                 220               283/1
Montgomery              85               573/1
Saratoga                   594              363/1
Schenectady             456              331/1
Schoharie                  59               543/1
Warren                     252              262/1
Washington                71              884/1

Most lawyers per capita in New York State by County:

New York            77,952               21/1
Albany County       4317               69/1
Westchester          9,890               96/1
Nassau                13,259               99/1

Fewest lawyers per capita in NYS by County

Allegheny                   46            1,079/1
Lewis                          22            1,203/1
Orleans                       29            1,461/1

Counties with the most lawyers:

New York                    77,952
Nassau                        13,259
Westchester                    9890
Suffolk                            6684
Kings [Brooklyn]              6050
Queens                           5534
Erie  [Buffalo]                 4809
Albany County                4317
Monroe [Rochester]         3320
Bronx                              2461
Onondaga [Syracuse]       2374

Counties with the fewest lawyers:

Hamilton                     14
Schuyler                      21
Lewis                           22
Orleans                        29

p.s. Rural Japan has a shortage of lawyers, with many towns with 100,000 residents still totally lawyer-less.  Depending on who you count as being the equivalent of a lawyer, Japan has either one-third or one-twentieth the number of lawyers that we have in the USA.

December 6, 2008

Arianna, a “blog post” is not a “blog”

Filed under: Haiku or Senryu,Procrastination Punditry — David Giacalone @ 11:05 am

. . . another pet peeve . . .

It’s bad enough that the f/k/a Gang lost our fight to ban the word “blog” as a substitute for “weblog,” as well as the battle to keep that ugly little word from being used as a verb.  Having no quioxtic need to smack our heads against walls or windmills, we’ve stop campaigning against the use of the term “blog” in those contexts, and have merely settled for avoiding it in our own writing as much as possible.  But, we’ve noticed lately that the sad, tiny verbal mutation is being utilized more and more by people who are talking about a “post” or “posting” or “blurb” or “piece” or “article” or “column” that has been written and put up [“posted”] on a weblog.

A high-profile example of that linguistic malpractice and “verbal abuse” two nights ago, by the omnipresent and nearly omnipotent Queen of Bloggers Herself, has provoked today’s plea that the practice be ended now. To wit:

On December 4, 2008, Charlie Rose interviewed Arianna Huffington, in conjunction with her new book “The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging” (Simon & Schuster, by The editors of the Huffington Post, December 2, 2008, Paperback).  Although I always find Arianna Huffington‘s visits on Charlie’s show and at other television forums interesting, I have no idea who will find her slim volume on blogging worth the time or the asking price. (It is, in fact, doubled in size to its 240 pages by quite a few fattening appendices of slight value to the weblog neophyte.)  Nonetheless, she is looked to as an authority on “blogging” and thought of as a wordsmith.  So, I was annoyed to hear Ms. Huffington, more than once, using “blog” as a noun meaning the individual piece of writing that is posted in reverse chronological order, with its own permalink, and set of reader comments, on a weblog.

For example, when Charlie asked Arianna to explain what a link is, she replied “it means that I’ll write a blog — I wrote a blog about the book” and used a hyperlink . . . . .

That is simply not an acceptable use of the word “blog.”  For example, people using printing presses did not say they were producing a “press” instead of a book, article or pamphlet (and thankfully never said they were “pressing” when producing their product).  Likewise, a story or piece appearing in a newspaper is called an article, not a newspaper; and an entertainment or news episode appearing on a television is called a show, not a tv.   Turning “blog” into a synecdoche meaning any part of a weblog is a confusing and grating verbal practice.  And, we respectfully ask Arianna — especially as a leading advocate for bloggging — to stop doing it.

The Glossary in “The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging” correctly offers these definitions, which suggest the writers can distinquish a blog from a post:

blogger — someone who writes blog posts.

blogging – writing a blog post.

But, it gives this rather ambiguous definition of the word “blog,” which could indeed be talking about a blog post, and which could use some editing:

blog –  derived from the term “web-log”: regularly updated account of events on a website, commonly listed in reverse chronological order.

Enough said (and enough time spent putting off further writing on excessive legal fees).  I’ll leave you with a true anecdote about the pervasiveness of the word “blog”, which happened less than 12 hours after hearing Arianna on the Charlie Rose Show:

While explaining to a group of strangers that I’ve spent quite a bit of my time the past few years working on my weblogs, a young women asked “what’s that, does that have something to do with a website?”   When I replied that a weblog is a blog, she indicated she now understood, but said — and the others in attendance seemed to agree — that she had no idea the word blog was derived from “web-log.”

Naturally, I then threw in a short version of my sermon against the word “blog”, saying that I try to stay with “weblog” as much as possible.  I added, of course, that Peter Merholz [who first created the term “blog” by shifting the syllabic break in “web-log” to “we-blog”] said he was just being silly and liked the fact that “it’s roughly onomatopoeic of vomiting.”

If you are a regular reader wondering where the haiku is today, here are a few before I go, starting with Ed Markowski and then a trio from the newest issue of The Heron’s Nest:

cobwebs sway
where the mistletoe hung…
lent begins

….. by ed markowski

jasmine in bloom —
termites swarm
from their nest

stump speech —
this black and white butterfly
in none of the field guides

…. by Carolyn Hall – The Heron’s Nest (Vol. X, No. 4, December 2008)

a still, starry night —
train tracks
wet with dew

…. by Michael Dylan Welch – The Heron’s Nest (Vol. X, No. 4, December 2008)

breakfast alone
except for that cricket
behind the fridge

… by David Giacalone – The Heron’s Nest (Vol. X, No. 4, December 2008)

November 29, 2008

SnowmanCity, NY

Filed under: Procrastination Punditry,Schenectady Synecdoche — David Giacalone @ 8:02 pm

It was serendipity (not synecdoche) that brought me this afternoon to the counter of my favorite book and gift shop, The Open Door Bookstore, on the Jay Street pedestrian mall in downtown Schenectady.  I had just left our Central Public Library, two blocks away, and thought I’d stop in quickly at the Open Door for my only shopping of this post-Thanksgiving weekend.   While waiting for the woman ahead of me to wrangle a discount on a couple of children’s books, I was pleasantly surprised to see — prominently displayed on the main counter — a book written by freelance illustrator and cartoonist Bob Eckstein, which we had fondly discussed last February here at f/k/a (and which would make a great Holiday-Christmas gift for anybody with a sense of playfulness, love of history, or attraction to conversation-starting coffee-table books with lots of interesting pictures):

The History of the Snowman: From the Ice Age to the Flea Market” (2007)

Immediately thereafter, I was even more surprised by a flier in a display behind the book, showing a smiling Bob and announcing a related book signing event:

The Open Door Bookstore, Sunday, Dec. 7, 2008 1 pm

Book Presentation and Signing

Bob Eckstein signs, The History of the Snowman: From the Ice Age to the Flea Market. This fascinating holiday book includes a section on the Stockade. Mr Eckstein will give an illustrated  talk at the Schenectady County Public Library. From 1:45-3:15, there will be a book signing at the store.

Then, however, as I gazed at that slight smirk on Bob’s face, a little voice in my head whined: “Hey, I’ve plugged the book; I got the Schenectady Public Library to purchase a couple copies of it; and I’ve linked several times to Bob’s Today’s Snowman weblog.  So, why hasn’t he given me a heads-up (viz., a personal private invitation) for the library presentation and book signing?”

My next thought: “Well, I’ll show him.  I’ll write all about the events at my weblog, and show up next Sunday at both the Library and the store.”  Thus, was this posting inspired — at a time when I was really intending to write a much more serious piece about lawyers (proving that the holiday season has not dulled my procrastination skills).

Naturally, I shot over to Today’s Snowman to see what was happening in the world of flakey frozen aqueous sculpture. Now that we’re back to cold weather, Bob has started his monthly Snowman Contest up again (with “possible prizes” relating to his book and its marketing).  He continues to have Snowperson Personal Ads, while also answering Questions For the Snowman Expert.  And, of course, you’ll find regular posting about interesting snow-creature-related news and endless promotion of The Book (including links to a sneek peek and a chapter-by-chapter pictorial YouTube Preview).

Although Bob promised back in October to put his book tour schedule and itinerary up at his weblog, I couldn’t find it.  Maybe he doesn’t know he’s supposed to be in Schenectady on December 7th.

Could I have been unfair to Bob by fretting over the Snowman Snubbing of his biggest fan in Schenectady? (Even bigger, we’re sure, than the Older Family, who live in a nearby suburb and constructed The Great Rotterdam Snowman, which won the February 2008 Snowman Contest at Today’s Snowman; see our report and analysis.)

Since my Invitation might just be delayed in the mail, I’m going to throw in another marketing plug for Bob and the book:

..  .. History of the Snowman Mugs are now available from the website, and can be purchased at his book tour events for $10.

If you live near Schenectady, come and join my combination peaceful protest and fan club outing, next Sunday, December 7, 2008, at 11 PM, at 99 Clinton Street, in downtown Schenectady. [Our friends at the Rotterdam Internet Community are especially invited.] If you need another local tie-in, check our prior post, where we discuss at length the role purportedly played by snowmen in a pivotal piece of local history — the 1690 Schenectady Massacre. Until I read about it at Today’s Snowman, I had not known about those brave (if feckless) snowmen, who some say stood guard just a couple blocks from my home here in the historic Schenectady Stockade. [Learn more at Wikipedia.]

larger . . Eckstein displays a fine sketch from the book of the Stockade Snow Guards in a posting at his site, and retells the tale in Chapter 12 of The History of the Snowman, titled Early American Snowmen, 17th Century New World, Fresh Snow (at pp. 110 – 112, which can be read in full by scrolling down this preview of the book).  In The History of the Snowman, Bob asks: “Was the first snowman in America made in Schenectady, New York, on the eve of one of the bloodiest days in early American history?” He concludes: “We may never know whether this was the first American snowman, but the Schenectady Snowman is definitely the earliest reference to one

Well, I’ve procrastinated long enough to make it virtually impossible to finish my originally-intended posting this evening without a lot of sturm und drang.  What more could I ask of Bob Eckstein on a chilly, lonely Saturday night?  Thanks, Bob, and see you next Sunday!

p.s. I just this minute learned at Bob’s website that: “Bob is going to be on the radio talking about snowmen on 810AM Sunday at 9:15am (News Talk Radio WGY) in the upstate New York area (I kid you not).”  That’s The Joe Gallagher Show, which I usually wake up to on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

update (Nov. 30, 2008): We might have to adjust our motto that Whining Doesn’t Work, because Bob Eckstein put a post up late last night at his Freelancer’s Lament weblog, that could melt even a crusty old snowmudgeon’s heart:

“I hope to see many friends I’ve made online through the book, many who helped me on the book. I want to thank David Giacalone and Laura Lee Linder in particular for making me feel welcome to return to Schenectady in a few days. (Laura was helpful in the actual research of my book, The History of the Snowman and is very involved with The Schenectady County Historical Society and First Reformed Church of Schenectady. She is finishing a DVD on historical Schenectady. Further info on David just posted a generous write-up of my upcoming event and has a very cool website which is a unusual combination of haiku, law stuff and snowman interests. Right, you have to see it to believe it. I was just enjoying a piece about a sexy lawyers calendar!)”

In the Sidebar of Freelancer’s Lament, you will find the impressive (and growing) itinerary for Bob’s History of the Snowman tour, including radio interviews (such as one on Martha Stewart Radio, Dec. 5th at 7:15 AM).

update (Dec. 7, 2008): See “snowman historian blows into Schenectady.”

in the howling wind
under the full moon
the snowman, headless

…….. by George Swede from Almost Unseen

(photo by Mama G., 1953)

the smirking snowman
a hatless scarecrow

…………… by dagosan

naughty child–
instead of his chores
a snow Buddha

….. by Kobayashi Issa – translated by David G. Lanoue

November 12, 2008

portable tvs and the switch to digital broadcasts

Filed under: Haiku or Senryu,Procrastination Punditry — David Giacalone @ 10:20 pm

.. ..  Haier HLT71 7″ Portable Lcd Tv ($120 to $150) — this little digital tv is the Hottest Item around these days.  Indeed, it’s Out of Stock everywhere — from FadFusion, to says this product is its #1 seller this week in the category Electronics – Portable TVs, but states that it “usually ships in 3 to 4 weeks,” which means they really don’t have any right now either.  What’s going on?

The f/k/a Gang is known more for Consumer Advocacy than Consumer Buying Tips, but I just had to remark about the current portable DTV market.  It looks like electronics manufacturers and sellers failed to anticipate the huge demand for portable digital televisions that would be created by the switch to digital broadcasting, which will happen on February 17, 2009.  If your portable tv doesn’t have a digital tuner and isn’t hooked up to cable or satellite, it will soon be a great paperweight, unless you get a converter box and a bi-pole antenna. They’re probably on the Holiday Wish List of a lot of daddies and kids — especially since higher-priced items may be out of reach of a lot of Santas in our current economy.

As the folks at Trailer Life Magazine exclaimed:

“[M]ost battery-powered portable televisions typically have a built-in telescopic antenna, which means they won’t work anymore unless you hook it up to an external antenna and a digital-to-analog converter to the external antenna adapter, meaning they won’t be quite as portable anymore.”

— a typical 5″ B&W analog tv —

Indeed, I’ve been thinking it would be nice to have a 6- or 7″-inch dtv, to replace the 5″ B&W model I’ve got sitting on my kitchen counter, near where I prepare meals and wash dishes.

My cheapo portable cost about $20 (maybe $10 after a RiteAid rebate) and has one of those telescopic antennas.  I’ve been thinking (and telling folks) that this type of tv can’t be hooked up to an analog-to-digital converter box, because they need to be connected to an external antenna.  However, yesterday I noticed my little Coby 5-incher has a jack on the rear that says “Ext. Ant.”   Then, I dug up a manual from one of its predecessors, a very similar GPX model, and it said:

“An external antenna may be connected to the unit using the Antenna Pad. Attach 300-ohm twinlead wire from your antenna to the screw-terminals on the Antenna Pad. Plug the Antenna Pad into the External TV Antenna Jack on the rear of the unit.”

[A so-called Antenna Pad] 

Digging around in the basket where I store various “kept-just-in-case” connectors and cables that currently have no use, I found the Antenna Pad mentioned in the GPX manual.  Since I’m still procrastinating on a rather painful posting about value billing, that got me heading right over to WalMart this morning, where I picked up a Philips indoor antenna for $9.96.

I chose the Philips SDV2210/17 over the $8.96 antenna from RCA, because it came with something called a 75/300 ohm Transformer, which would let me connect the antenna’s coaxial cable to the Antenna Pad for insertion into the tv’s Ext. Ant. Jack. (Should you need one, the connector is available separately for about 4 bucks, e.g., here.)

Yep, things were getting pretty exciting.  Next, I finally took the analog-to-digital converter box I bought three months ago for maybe $10 (after applying my $40 Government Coupon) out of its packaging.  After hooking the antenna to the box and the box to the tv’s External Antenna Jack — and after several bouts of cursing and failed attempts at tuning in the channels — I did it: I’m getting a pretty nice digital b&w picture on about 18 over-the-air digital channels, from my cheap old 5″ kitchen-counter tv.  And, the conversion cost me about $20 total.

Knowing I saved money and will be ready for the switchover on February 17 gives me a nice warm feeling on the chilly, damp evening, and the extra channels and clearer picture are a nice bonus.

.. .. my successful analog to digital conversion, nestled atop my microwave . .

So, who the heck needs the Haier HLT71 7″ Portable Lcd Tv?  Of course, being a gracious gift-recipient, I will grin and bear it if Mama G or some other loved ones happens to slip a Haier HLT71 under my Christmas tree.

After this little tangent around my kitchen, we could use some haiku and senryu from our haijin chronicler of all things domestic, Tom Clausen.  These are from the Route 9 Haiku Group’s latest issue of Upstate Dim Sum:

well worn
the lowest branch
at school

misplaced again
the address
for my gypsy niece

Gettysburg —
a different motel
this time

my daughter growing . . .
closer and closer
to the mirror

offset from its stain
a rusted washer
on the boat’s desk

retirement home —
seagulls lined up
on the jetty

to upgrade
his iPhone
the young beggar

baby rabbit
not scared
enough . . .

for the day
the cat favors
a paper bag

thunder and lightning . . .
my wife gets up
to lock the door

.. by Tom ClausenUpstate Dim Sum (2008/II)

November 3, 2008

stop misting my broccoli! (updated)

Filed under: Haiku or Senryu,Procrastination Punditry — David Giacalone @ 2:41 pm

..  While all the web pundits are yakking about tomorrow’s Presidential Election, Prof. Yabut wants me to deal with a more personal issue that has been giving him agita for even longer than this interminable political campaign:

The constant misting (spritzing) of produce in America’s supermarkets seems to reduce their at-home “shelf-life” by making them rot, mold, discolor, lose flavor, and go limp, far more quickly than if they were sold in dry bins.  The misting is done to make them appear more fresh at the store (and to replace moisture that is naturally lost after being picked and reduces the size and weight of the items).

Whether it’s broccoli, green beans, bell peppers, or leafy veggies, my friends and relatives from several generations have all noticed that dry (unmisted) produce stays fresh and usable longer at home than misted produce.  Nonetheless, about 90 percent of retailers now use automated misting systems.  (see “Produce in the mist,” Store Equipment & Design, by John Frank, July 2000) The quick demise of misted vegetables is an expensive waste.

The misting increases the cost of items sold by the pound, while forcing customers to waste time and paper towels attempting to dry the produce before refrigerating them.  And, water sitting around in the display bins is a great place for bacteria to thrive.

At my local market, which is part of the Price Chopper chain, you need to don a slicker or bring an umbrella to keep from being soaked by the incessant, high-volume spritzing.

shopping for sweet corn –
the attractive stranger
is very choosy

stop drowning our green beans!

the grocery bag spills –
blueberries . . . r  o  l  l
bananas don’t

….. by dagosan

At a farmer’s market yesterday, I was told by a 5th-generation vegetable farmer whose large, firm, broccoli I was admiring, that she has to take special care this time of year to make sure the frost has evaporated from the inside of the bunches before being picked.  Similarly, websites that give advice on caring for purchased vegetables and them keeping fresh (like here and there) warn not to wash vegetables until you are going to use them; and others suggest placing a paper towel with vegetables in plastic bags, “to absorb excess moisture and retain freshness.”

Such advice seems to confirm my suspicions that excess moisture kills vegetables and store-spritzed veggies have a shorter life expectancy.

[But see, this study, “Cold water mist humidification to preserve the quality of fresh vegetables during retail sale.” I don’t know whether the observed freshness “during retail sale” continues once brought home by the consumer.  Similarly, I have no idea what these conclusions “on Ascorbic Acid Retention in Broccoli During Cabinet Display” mean post-retail.]

Sure, there are more important issues.  I’d rather have universal health care and peace in Iraq than dry produce.  But, we can’t let bigger issues keep us from attending to the small ones.  At least, not when we’re procrastinating from writing serious punditry.

unaware of the thief’s
eyes, melons
cooling in water

…….. by Kobayashi Issa, translated by David G. Lanoue

afterwords (Nov. 5, 2008; 2 PM): Yesterday afternoon, I sent the following email message to the service reps at my local supermarket, Price Chopper, through their website contact form.  If I receive a reply, I’ll report on it here.

Nov 3, 2008

To: Price Chopper

From: David Giacalone
Subject: misting produce – speeds rotting

Message: For quite awhile, it has seemed to me (and to many others whom I’ve asked about it) that vegetables (e.g., broccoli and green beans) that are misted at your produce displays rot or mold, or become limp and less tasty or attractive, far more quickly than vegetables in bins not being spritzed.

I know you mist them to keep them LOOKING fresh and to replace naturally depleted moisture. Neither of those reasons seems to justify shortening their “shelf-life” once we get them home.

I’ve found many sources on keeping vegetable that advise not washing them before storing them, as well as putting a paper towel with some vegetable to help absorb the extra moisture.

Do you have studies on this subject that would rebut our negative experience with misted vegetables?

update (Nov. 7, 2008):  This afternoon, I received a rather unsatisfactory Consumer Response to the above Complaint from Price Chopper.  To be fair to them, I’m going to post their entire email reply in “Case ID: 166757”:

November 6, 2008

Dear Mr. Giacalone,

Thank you for your recent email.  It is always helpful to hear our customers’ concerns, and to be given a chance to respond to them.

Your comments regarding produce misting have been forwarded to our corporate produce office for review and advisement.  We have been informed that we mist our produce to keep it fresh.  If our produce isn’t moistened it tends to dry out and decay much faster.  This is a common practice and has already been proven, so further testing is not necessary.  Your feedback on this matter is appreciated.

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to address your concerns.  It is our intent to provide excellence in all areas of service to our customers.  Your patronage and your comments are very important to us.  Please feel free to contact us at 1-800-666-7667 (option 3), Monday through Friday, 8:30 am to 5pm, or on our website at


Maureen E. Murphy
Manager of Consumer Services
Price Chopper Supermarkets

..  If you came here today just looking for some fresh haiku and senryu, from a gardener who knows how to take poper care of his plants, before and after harvesting, you’re in luck.  Here are some of the newest poems by our dry friend Yu Chang, from the newest issue of Upstate Dim Sum:

a change in the weather
the last katydid
falls silent

first bloom
I empty
a bag of manure

water’s edge —
on each wavelet
your reflection

summer solstice
a milkweed
heavy with blossoms

street vendor–
a circle of friends
chewing squid

mountain lake —
streaks of moonlight
down her back

pressed together
across an empty bowl
a pair of chopsticks

… by Yu ChangUpstate Dim Sum (2008/II)

October 23, 2008

wendy savage wendy savage

Filed under: Haiku or Senryu,lawyer news or ethics,Procrastination Punditry — David Giacalone @ 11:49 am

. . . . Confession: The f/k/a Gang found and quickly read Brian Tracey’s essay “Eat that Frog: Stop Procrastination” this morning, but it didn’t work. Instead of getting down to finishing an important legal ethics essay, we’ve compiled this little fluff piece [which has become the most visited posting in the history of our weblog] for the throngs of Google searchers trying to find the irresistible “Wendy Savage”.

in the middle
of the distraction –
an interruption

…………………. by dagosan

According to f/k/a‘s statistics page, a lot of people across the nation have been looking for “Wendy Savage” over the past several weeks. Today, however, the number of referrals to this weblog from Google searches for Ms. Savage mushroomed (with more than a thousand visitors as of 4 PM, and at least 2500 by midnight), thanks to the Boston Globe article “Calendar is Exhibit A in case for beautiful lawyers” (Oct. 23, 2008). The article includes a photo gallery with 13 pictures from the Beautiful Lawyers Calendar. (And see “Big-Firm Lawyers Posed for Hottie Calendar, ABAJournal News, Oct. 23, 2008).

The Google searchers have been arriving at our site due to this post and that one about the Beautiful Lawyers Calendar, which contains photos of six men and six women who practice law in the Boston area. One of the calendar models is Wendy Savage, the very lovely in-house counsel for Liberty Mutual in Boston, who graduated from Boston University Law School in 2006. I’m fairly certain Counselor Savage is the person most querists are seeking when they put the name in their Google box. So, I’m going to give you a little more information about her, which I found in the Boston Edition of Exhibit A (“Beautiful Lawyers (Seriously),” October 7, 2008).

However, we’ve discovered there are a lot of other interesting women named Wendy Savage, and we’re going to tell you a bit about some of them, too.

using his nose
the dog searches
the violets

…. by Kobayashi Issa, translated by David G. Lanoue

Wendy Savage, Esq: It’s just a gut feeling, but I’m betting this photo at the Globe website is what has so many people Googling some variation of /Wendy Savage lawyer/. [WCVB/ had the photo on September 29, 2008, in a slide show.] The Boston Globe tells us that Wendy Savage will be featured in March 2008 on the Beautiful Lawyers Calendar. The blurb accompanying the photo says:

Wendy, a corporate counsel for Liberty Mutual, lists fashion photography and equestrian sports among her hobbies. One day, she hopes to work as a legal correspondent in the fashion or entertainment industries.

For those who need to know more about the Liberty Mutual lawyer, here’s information (probably culled from the Calendar) presented earlier this month at Exhibit A:


Job: In-house lawyer, Liberty Mutual Insurance Co., Boston

Age: 28

Personal status: “My fiancé proposed to me and took me to Paris as a surprise.”

Before she became a lawyer, Wendy Savage dreamed of a career in modeling. But when she was told that, at 5-foot-7, she was too short to make it big, she went to law school instead.

Today, the in-house lawyer at Liberty Mutual plans to develop a specialty in entertainment law.

While Savage has done some modeling on the side over the years, her calendar cover shot is her highest-profile work to date. “It’s a group of diverse lawyers where I don’t think the focus is on physical attractiveness, but rather the person as a whole,” Savage says of her decision to participate in the project.

Prof. Yabut wonders if the young attorney had any idea her participation in the beautiful lawyers calendar would bring so much attention — and whether it’s the kind of attention she anticipated. Maybe she’ll grant an interview soon so we can learn more about “the person as a whole.”

summer dawn —
the curve of your body
under the sheets

… by Lee Gurga

  • afterwords (Oct. 28, 2008):  Boston’s Wendy Savage, Esq., graciously thanked us today for our coverage of the Calendar, and (in response to our request) sent this link from the Zehra Hyder Summer 08 Collection, and another from the Myre 08 Spring/Summer Fashion Launch Party, with other fashion photos of herself.
  • Also (Oct. 30, 2008), you’ll find two more exclusive and intriguing photos of Wendy Savage if you scroll to the end of our post today.
  • aftershots (Nov. 17, 2008): As we report in “lots more Wendy Savage, Esq.“, the Beautiful Lawyers Calendar has posted a Wendy Gallery, with ten large pictures from her photo shoot.
  • afterthoughts (Oct. 31, 2008): At Mass Lawyers Weekly‘s weblog, The Docket, Julia Reischel writes “15 Minutes of Beautiful Lawyer fame,” where she states a truth that’s plain to see: “Wendy Savage, the in-house insurance lawyer who graces the cover of the calendar, is really the one responsible for turning the product into an Internet phenomenon.”

    — you can use this Tiny URL to share this posting: —

Year-end Update (Dec. 30, 2008): See our post “a sparkingly Savage year,” which discusses the Boston Magazine article “Counsel Requests the Right to Appeal: Smokin’-hot lawyer Wendy Savage defends her buzzy turn as a pinup” (by Alyssa Giacobbe, January 2009), and the issue of professional women posing in sexy pictures.

. . . and now, more Wendy Savages:  

“Wendy Savage” is — we were reminded this morning thanks to Google — the character played by Laura Linney in the 2007 movie “The Savages.” This fictional Savage played a neurotic, aspiring playwright from Manhattan, dealing with the advanced senility of her father. Philip Seymour Hoffman played her brother. The role gained Linney her third Academy Award nomination.

his side of it.
her side of it.
winter silence

… by Lee Gurga

shaving him
dad says I would have loved
a son like you

…. by Ed Markowski

Another Wendy Savage is an actress ..

She plays Jennifer in the independent short film Computer Guy: the sitcom. Among her many stage roles was that of the Cyclist/Child in “The Wedding on the Eiffel Tower,” at San Diego’s Vantage Theatre. The Computer Guy cast page says:

Wendy Savage has been playing on the stage since she was a kid. After high school, she ventured out to the Big Apple to study acting at NYU. Several years later she found herself in the Pacific Northwest. She had the opportunity to be apart of two amazing collaborative original plays that showcased in the Seattle Fringe Festival. (“Famished” in 1995 and “Water Licked” in 1997). Before leaving Seattle, Wendy was a part of an independent film (“Slaves to the Underground”) that went on to be in The Women’s Film Festival in Seattle. Since moving to San Diego, Wendy’s favorite productions to date have been “The Marriage of Bette and Boo” (Emily), “The Wedding on the Eiffel Tower” (Cyclist/Child), and “Invisible Bob” (Mary) which recently debuted in the Fritz Blitz (2004). Wendy has been focusing on doing more film projects. “Computer Guy: A Sitcom” is her 4th independent short film. Painting is her second passion.

Christmas pageant—
the one who had to get married
plays virgin Mary

… by Lee Gurga

Wendy Savage: photographer: This Wendy is an adjunct faculty member in the Art Department of Meredith College, in Raleigh, NC. “Since 1984, Savage has been employed as a medical photographer and digital designer at NC State College of Veterinary Medicine.”

  • She has a Boston connection, having received her MFA from The Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University
  • Click for her photo studio website

morning twilight . . .
horse asleep in the pasture
covered with frost

bitter morning—
I move the injured puppy
into the sun

…. by Lee Gurga

Syracuse NY’s Wendy Savage is the New Patient Treatment Coordinator in the dental office of Dr. Mark A. Paciorek. At their Celebrating Smiles website, Wendy says:

“I am the New Patient Treatment Coordinator at Dr. Paciorek’s office. I have been working in the Orthodontic field for 21 years and I love it. I am married with four children and the whole family has had orthodontic treatment! My favorite part of my job is meeting our new patients and teaching them all about braces and how orthodontics can improve not only your smile, but your life.”

professional conference—
in the restroom all the dentists
washing their hands

…. by Lee Gurga, D.D.S. – most poems above from Fresh Scent: Selected Haiku of Lee Gurga (1998)

.. .. Physician Wendy Savage .. is the author of “Birth and Power: ‘A Savage Enquiry’ revisited” (Middlesex University Press, 2007). Her Middlesex, however, is located in the United Kingdom, not in the Massachusetts County that lies just northwest of Boston. According to the AHA Foundation:

“Born on April 12th, 1935 in Surrey, Wendy Savage is a distinguished gynaecologist and champion of women’s rights in childbirth and fertility.”

Indeed, she became a cause célèbre, in 1985, when she was suspended from her post at the London Hospital Medical College, accused of incompetence in the management of five obstetric cases. The allegations were not upheld, and Dr. Savage was reinstated in 1986; she retired in 2000. Her book “A Savage Enquiry: Who Controls Childbirth?” described that experience and is included in the 2007 sequel Birth and Power.

Well, that should be enough Wendy Savages to fulfill any Googler’s needs. I’ve got a frog or two to eat and more serious writing to work on today. Below the fold, you’ll find a few rules I still need to internalize from Brian Tracey’s “Eat that Frog: Stop Procrastination“.


October 2, 2008

Boston’s “Beautiful Lawyer” Calendar is launched

Filed under: lawyer news or ethics,Procrastination Punditry — David Giacalone @ 3:50 pm

. Susan Friery, M.D., Esq. & Carol Abdelmesseh, Esq. .. 

We told you about the Boston-area 2009 Beautiful Lawyers Calendar back on September 13th. Its launch party was held last night, at Boston’s Revolution Rock Club, and the promised Photo Gallery is now online. The images presented may help keep our minds off of lawyers who smuggle heroin to imprisoned clients, or attempt to commit travel expense fraud.

In the Beautiful Lawyers Photo Gallery, you’ll currently find six of the Calendar lawyers in about a dozen different thumbnail-sized photos, most of which appear twice.

update (October 23, 2008): You can find 13 pictures from the calendar in today’s Boston Globe article “Calendar is Exhibit A in case for beautiful lawyers”, which includes a photo gallery.   And, see our post “wendy savage wendy savage” (October 23, 2008) for more on Ms. Savage and several of her namesakes.

You may recall that Howie Altholtz, the marketing director at the Boston law firm Ruberto, Israel & Weiner, spearheaded the calendar project. According to the Boston Channel, “The goal is to lighten up the image of Hub lawyers a bit and help out a few charities such as the MSPCA, Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Rosie’s Place, the United Way and the American Cancer Society, all of which receive a portion of the proceeds from the sale of the calendar.”

Altholtz told the Boston Herald, “We were trying to capture the style and spirit of Mass. lawyers. We wanted people with really interesting stories and they are all from major, high-profile firms.”  “Calendar’s legal babes raise the bar” (Boston Herald, September 18, 2008)

If you’d like to see more (and much larger) images from the calendar, the Boston Channel website has an article, “Calendar Highlights Hub’s ‘Most Beautiful’ Lawyers” (WCVB tv, Sept. 29, 2008), that includes a six-photo slide show.  Liberty Mutual corporate counsel Wendy Savage again provides the pin-up glamor shot:

.. Wendy Savage, Esq.

mid-argument –
opposing counsel
crosses her legs

. . . by dagosan

Also featured in the slide show are Susan Friery, M.D., Esq. (Medical Consultant, Senior Associate, Kreindler & Kriendler); Steven Long (solo practitioner); Jarrett Barrios (former state senator, now president of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation); Christopher Kroon (of Duane Morris); and Carol Abdelmesseh, Esq. (Massachusetts Department of Revenue Office of Appeals).

In the 2009 Beautiful Lawyers Calendar you will find, according to the Boston Herald: Jarrett Barrios pictured in his kitchen cooking; Wendy Savage striking a fashion-model pose; Kimberly Herman, a partner and intellectual property lawyer at Sullivan & Worcester, pictured with her two kids; and Chris Kroon (also an intellectual property attorney) pictured with the tool box he uses to to rebuild sports cars.  In addition, Carol Abdelmesseh can be found dancing in a lovely pink dress.

Prof. Yabut again reminds us that you’ll have to pay $19.95 to purchase the 2009 Beautiful Lawyers Calendar.  Despite developing a crush on a few of the featured Lady Lawyers, our in-house skinflint and curmudgeon is still skeptical about coughing up a sawbuck for a wall calendar displaying lawyers — even beautiful ones.  You can all make up your own minds, of course.  Remember, a portion of the proceeds will go to some pretty good causes.

sua sponte
madame justice
catches me staring

. . . by dagosan

Year-end Update (Dec. 30, 2008): See our post “a sparkingly Savage year,” which discusses the Boston Magazine article “Counsel Requests the Right to Appeal: Smokin’-hot lawyer Wendy Savage defends her buzzy turn as a pinup” (by Alyssa Giacobbe, January 2009), and the issue of professional women posing in sexy pictures.

p.s. Speaking of lovely and multi-faceted lawyers, “our” Roberta Beary, of the Washington D.C. Bar, just had two poems honored in the haiku portion of the 2008 MiniWords Competition:

towpath –
a blue heron shifts
the twilight

pink sky –
another name added
to the monument

……………………… by Roberta Beary
“towpath” – 3rd Place, 2008 MiniWords Competition
“pink sky” – Commended, 2008 MiniWords Competition

.. ..

September 30, 2008

arnold curbs the lapdog driving ban

Filed under: Haiku or Senryu,Procrastination Punditry — David Giacalone @ 10:50 am

.. Paris and Jessica can keep doing it in their cars ..

A sensible law that would have banned driving with a pet in your lap was vetoed a few days ago by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has previously supported bans on texting while driving and driving with a cellphone in your hand.  (AP report, Sept. 28, 2008; and npr’s Morning Edition, Sept. 29, 2008)   As f/k/a has campaigned for laws prohibiting DWP and DWT, we perked up our ears and decided to sniff out the story behind Arnold’s veto. (And, as we’re also putting off writing a much more complicated and serious piece, this posting grew into a major production.)

A primary source for this post is the article “Schwarzenegger vetoes bill forbidding drivers to hold pets” (Sept. 28, 2008), in the Sunday Sacramento Bee, which has the most thorough discussion we’ve been able to locate on the context and pros and cons of the Bill, AB 2233.  The ban included a base fine of $35, which could have risen to $150 with state and county fees.  According to the London Telegraph,

“The driving-with-animals bill was backed by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Los Angeles but ridiculed as the ‘Paris Hilton bill’ by critics who described it as unwarranted interference by government.”

The law in question has been derisively called the “Paris Hilton bill,” because many celebrities are among the folk who are so attached to their pets and so self-absorbed, they’re willing to endanger the animal and others on the road in order to keep them snuggled in their laps while maneuvering large, fast-moving objects down our highways.   Predictably, according to the Bee, “Talk show host Rush Limbaugh and other conservatives ridiculed the lap-dog measure as excessive government” and a deprivation of some important liberty.  Nonetheless, Gov. Schwarzenegger has given no indication that he opposed the law on its merits.  Instead, the veto — among dozens more this signing period — was part of his current policy to sign only “highest priority” laws so long as the California Legislature fails to pass a much-delayed budget.

Disclaimer: The f/k/a Gang has not examined the 114 bills Arnold did sign on Saturday, to compare their urgency and importance to AB 2233 and the 94 other bills he vetoed.

lightning flash–
only the dog’s face
is innocent

……… by Kobayashi Issa, translated by David G. Lanoue

traffic jam
the nodding dog
springs to life

.. by Matt Morden – Morden Haiku (October 5, 2005)

Granted, this bill would not have been my own highest legislative priority this year, but it is not frivolous, and once the work has been done to get it to the Governor’s desk, it should have been signed.   (If we only did the most important things in life, an awful lot of worthwhile efforts would never be made.) The bill’s author, Assemblyman Bill Maze, who appears to be a conservative Republican from Visalia, has sponsored a lot of legislation.  He proposed AB 2233 after seeing a Tulare County woman driving with three dogs on her lap.

Maze argues: “You’ve got a live animal that has a mind of its own . . . It can get tangled in the steering wheel or pinned between your knees. It can create a real hazard for yourself and everyone else.”

And, the Bee reports:

  • “A traffic collision at 40 mph can hurtle a 25-pound dog through a vehicle with the force of a 1,000-pound object, according to a legislative analysis of the bill.”
  • “California Highway Patrol statistics show that four people were killed and 346 others injured in collisions from 2001 to 2007 due to driver inattention caused by an animal. No breakdown exists of how many were in their owner’s lap.” And,
  • “Nationwide Mutual Insurance found in a 2006 survey that 8 percent of drivers had held a pet while behind the wheel.”
  • “State law currently allows drivers to be cited if their vision is obstructed or a distraction causes them to violate a rule of the road – but not simply for holding an animal. . . . Pets must be secured in the back of a pickup but can roam freely inside a vehicle.”

Opponents say the bill amounts to excessive nannyism, and that such matters need to be left to the common sense judgment of the individual.  Of course, that’s the problem in the America of the 21st Centry:  Far too many people either have absolutely no common sense or choose to ignore it and follow their personal whim, regardless of the risk created for injury to others.

pickup truck
an old retriever
laps the wind

… by Tom Painting –  The Heron’s Nest 5.5 (May 2003)

.. According to the Bee, critics of the lapdog driving ban also insist that “Quieting a whining or scared pet on your lap, while driving, can be safer than to be distracted by an animal’s barking, fidgeting or misbehavior in a back seat.”  Of course, that proves too much — we wouldn’t buy this argument if it were a child or significant other who was misbehaving.  More to the point, it suggests a very good reason why a pet that is likely to be fidgety or upset while in a car should either be left at home or safely secured in a seat.

In an AutoBlog posting called “Governator vetos ban on lap-dogs while driving” (Sept. 29, 2008), Jonathan Ramsey observed yesterday:

“While we understand the spirit of the veto — California does have much bigger issues to deal with than lapdogs — we do sometimes wonder why a 40-pound kid has to be in a child seat, but a 40-pound, unpredictable animal can take a nap between you and the steering wheel.”

Heather at The Food Bowl weblog went into more detail, when the bill first got publicity last Spring, in her post “No More Doggies Out the Window” (May 13, 2008):

.. ….”To be honest I think this is a good move. Keeping your pet restrained either in a carrier or pet-specific seat harness while in a moving vehicle not only keeps them safe but you as well.

“Restraining your pet helps you concentrate, and what happens if you’re in an accident? Your pet could be injured from the impact (and so could you with a now-flying canine in the car!) or if it manages to get out of the car it could run away. Do you really need Fluffy on your lap for that ten minute drive?”

Similarly, when the legislation was proposed, a post at Pet Industry Insight, a weblog of the American Pet Products Association, explained:

“The issue of concern is that lapdogs are distracting and could put motorists at risk. A live animal can scamper between the driver and the steering wheel or underneath the brake pedal causing major driving implications. Not only are unrestrained pets a threat to the driver, but they too, face danger if not buckled in. Pets see the same risk a child (or any passenger for that matter) would if an accident occurred, which is why if Maze’s bill passes, drivers caught with their Chihuahuas or Poodles unrestrained will pay a penalty.”

Pet Industry Insight (which, naturally, promotes pet-related products) then asks: “So how should drivers keep their pets in place if they can’t be on their laps or in the passenger seat?” [for the answer, and much more, including some haiku and senryu, go below the fold]


September 23, 2008

automatic doors make terrible bulletin boards [with sequel added July 2010]

Filed under: Procrastination Punditry,Schenectady Synecdoche — David Giacalone @ 4:19 pm

..  Granted, the handy rule of thumb you see in our headline is not an earth-shattering piece of wisdom.  It hasn’t been passed down for generations in my family either. But, it came to me rather quickly a few days ago, when I tried to read the notice found at the head of this paragraph.  For the past week or so, that piece of paper has been prominently posted on both entry doors of the Central Library building of our Schenectady County Public Library. Despite several attempts at reading the notice, all I can say for sure at this point is that workmen participating in an Asbestos Abatement Program will be at the 99 Clinton St. Central Library to remove some asbestos sometime soon. Although the information is surely contained in the posted message, I still don’t know which contractor is handling the task nor when the removal will take place, or if the building will be shut down during the operation.

— northern entrance Central Library —

You see, the Notice moves to the left as soon as one approaches it.  That’s because it’s attached to an automatic door that slides open when you get near it, and then slides back rather quickly once you pass through.  Yes, I tried scooting over to peruse the Notice in that moment when the door stops after fully opening, but it begins sliding back to close as soon as one steps out of the entryway.

Sure, I could probably wait for a long line of entering Library patrons to pass through the doorway, or get someone to stand on the sensor pad a few moments, to let me to read the Notice while the door is fully open — or even come back when the Library is closed and the door is locked — but, that’s a lot of work and sort of beside the point for any self-respecting curmudgeon.

I’m going to assume that whoever posted the Notice on those two automatic doors did it when they were locked — otherwise, there should have been an epiphany leading to the discovery of my Terrible Bulletin Board Maxim.  If the doors were turned on and doing their sliding thing, I’d love to have seen the Affixation Moment, and the look on the Affixer’s face.

.. Southern Entrance SCPL Central Library ..

As you can see, there were quite a few stationary spots near the entrance, where one might have affixed an Important Notice.  Prof. Yabut, our legal issue-spotter, wonders whether an obligation to post a notice could be properly satisfied, when it’s been placed on an automatic door.  If the entire f/k/a Gang had not missed its afternoon nap, we might have tried some quick research to see whether the issue has been adjudicated.  However, even when we’re in procrastination mode, we try to have better things to do with our time and limited energy.  Enterprising law students, associates who have already met their September billable hours quota, or really bored law professors and webloggers out there, are nonetheless encouraged to pursue the legal point and let us know the results of your research or brain-storming. [follow-up: Two years later, I did the research and the results can be found in the update below dated July 3, 2010.]

.. In case you ever have to post a Notice or are contesting whether notice has been properly made, we repeat:  Be it Swinging, Sliding, Telescopic or Bifolding, an automatic door makes a terrible bulletin board.

afterwords (8PM): Thanks to Jo-Ann Schrom for posting this posting at her Rotterdam NY Info site.  As the regulars at the Rotterdam online community regularly have enjoyable and interesting perspectives, I’ll be clicking the link to see what they think of those sliding doors.

deja vu

follow-up frustration (July 3, 2010):  After the handful of haiku below you will find “a moving message from the Schenectady County [NY] Public Library“, with the second chapter in this aggravating tale.

May morning
the door opens
before I knock

. . . . by John Stevenson – from Some of the Silence

opening the sliding door
in her red pajamas

doorFrontF . . . . by paul m. – A New Resonance 2 & Frogpond XXII:1

through the open door . . .
her smile doesn’t forgive
all my sins

. . . . by Randy Brooks – School’s Out (1999)

Part II (July 3, 2010)


September 21, 2008

lawyers eliminating witnesses: oh, Cisco!

Filed under: lawyer news or ethics,Procrastination Punditry — David Giacalone @ 7:34 pm

. . . . . . Robert Simels & A. W. Parker . . . . .

The New York Times recently noted that “The federal complaint against Robert Simels, a well-known New York criminal defense lawyer, reads like a script from an HBO crime drama.”  “Defense Lawyer Charged With Witness Tampering” (Sept. 11, 2008).  That’s because

“Mr. Simels, who has represented some of New York’s most notorious gangsters and rappers and an assortment of athletes and celebrities, was arrested on Wednesday and charged in what officials said was a plot to “neutralize” witnesses who were willing to testify against one of his clients [Shaheed Khan, an accused drug kingpin with reputed ties to the Guyanese government].”

— Read more about the indictment of Bob Simels at the WSJ Law Blog, and Simple Justice, which links to this affidavit in support of the arrest warrant.

It may seem like an HBO crime episode, but while I was watching my favorite $5 dvd this afternoon, I discovered that the Simels tale also “reads like a script” from the classic 1950’s network tv western The Cisco Kid.  Trying to avoid any serious punditry today, I put a disc from “The Best of the Cisco Kid” in my dvd player.  The first episode I played, out of the 35 on the 3-disc set, was “Confession for Money,” from the show’s first season.  Unless I was in Mama G’s lap, at 13 months old, when she watched its original broadcast on January 2, 1951, it was my first time seeing “Confession for Money.”

The story opens with the fictional lawyer A. W. Parker (played by I. [Isaac, “Ike”] Stanford Jolley) visiting his jailed client Tom Tracey.  We quickly learn that the Cisco Kid and his sidekick Pancho Gonzales were witnesses to Tracey killing a popular banker and were due in town that morning to identify Tracy for the Sheriff.

Here’s an outline of the Cisco Kid‘s lawyer-gone-bad tale:

  • Lawyer Parker suggests to Tracey that they break him out of the jail and then split the $75,000 take from the bank robbery
  • Tracey says they don’t have time, with Cisco arriving soon, and that they instead need to kill the witnesses before they identify him.  Parker quickly accedes to his client’s idea, and sends two bad guys with rifles to ambush and kill Cisco and Pancho.
  • When the bad guys flub the ambush, Lawyer Parker is mighty irked.
  • Parker then draws up a false confession for a young man who is desperate to get $5000 for an operation for his sick mother (one more skewed decision due to the lack of universal health care coverage).  Parker tells the kid they’ll spring him from jail before trial. The Sheriff lets Tracey go and jails the kid, once he sees the confession.
  • To make sure the youthful confessor doesn’t change his mind, Tracey has his gang whip up a lynch mob, but Cisco and Pancho sneak him out of the jail.
  • Parker joins the lynching posse that chases Cisco and the misguided youth, and they end up in the usual shootout behind really big rocks.
  • The Sheriff arrives and tells the mob to put down their guns.  Parker jumps on his horse and heads back to get his papers and split town.  Cisco follows and catches Parker in the getaway cabin, but Tracey arrives and Parker takes away Cisco’s gun, handing it to his client. And, then . . . (see below for the exciting conclusion).

If the ugly allegations against the well-known NYC criminal defense lawyer Bob Simels turn out to be true, life as he has known it will change drastically. Scott at Simple Justice tells us:

“Though a bit on the arrogant side (and who isn’t in this business) and not exactly a warm and fuzzy guy, he’s smart and well-respected.”

Sixty-one-year-old Bob Simels appears to be the sort of Baby Boomer who would have grown up watching The Cisco Kid. Had Simels recalled the “Confession for Money” episode, he might have just said “no” to the whole idea of turning outlaw with his clients.  You see:

Lawyer A. W. Parker had planned to split the loot and split the territory with killer Tom Tracey.  But, before Cisco could subdue the two of them, Tracey holds up his money satchel and tells his  lawyer, “I was gonna take you with me, Parker, but I just couldn’t find room for you in my bag.” He then shoots Parker dead.  Of course, Cisco wins the ensuing fistfight with Tracey and brings him back to town to face trial on two counts of murder.

— By the way, there was a real-life 19th Century New York lawyer who went by the name A. W. Parker.  Thanks to the Google digitalization project, I found him representing the appellant in the case of Benner v. Atlantic Dredging Co. (NY Ct. of Appeals, 1892).  The real Lawyer Parker apparently did negligence defense work.  He helped his client reverse a judgment against it for damage that occured to a house that was near a site where the dredging firm was blasting rocks in a harbor for the Army Corps of Engineers.

The Simels Law Firm website is no longer accessible.  According to Propaganda Press, however, the Welcome Page at the Robert Simels firm contains this perhaps ironic paragraph (emphasis added):

“I have handled many high-profile cases, with an outstanding success rate across a broad range of issues. The key to our many acquittals in criminal cases and multimillion dollar verdicts for our clients is preparation and complete participation by our clients which result in highly effective and compelling cases in the courtroom.”

You can find much more about Robert Simels and his career, in this Sept. 11 article from his hometown newspaper, the Lewisboro Ledger.  As you surely know by now, the f/k/a Gang doesn’t go for cheap, obvious jokes.  But, we’re really surprised that other, less classy weblogs, haven’t pointed out the town where he resides —  Waccabuc, which is a hamlet in Lewisboro, Westchester County, New York.  Fortunately, neither Cisco and Pancho, nor most lawyers I’ve known, would whack a witness for a buck, or a laugh.

p.s. I think even our toughest critics will agree that this lengthy, time-consuming detour into Witness Elimination Lore was a highly successful piece of Procrastination Punditry.  It certainly has left us with no energy nor inclination to write any serious commentary this evening.  In honor of the many hours I will surely devote to watching the Cisco and Pancho in days to come, I inaugurated a new posting category today called “Procrastination Punditry.”  We’ll be using it whenever there is virtually no excuse for a post other than our avoiding doing something more pressing and important.

high noon
the boys refill
their water pistols

……………………… by Tom Painting – July Selection, Snapshot Press 2005 Haiku Calendar

morning shadows—
the gunslingers wait
for high noon

…….. by David Giacalone, Legal Studies Forum (Vol. XXXII, No. 1. 2008). Click for the original haiga (photo with poem) at HaigaOnline, Issue 7-2 (Autumn-Winter 2006), photo by Arthur Giacalone, JD.

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