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f/k/a archives . . . real opinions & real haiku

February 19, 2009

officer johnson’s undercover operation [updated]

Filed under: Haiku or Senryu,Schenectady Synecdoche — David Giacalone @ 11:57 am

.. The tired old fogies at f/k/a want to thank the energetic Scott Greenfield for covering the latest Schenectady cop scandal at his Simple Justice weblog, so we won’t have to think too hard this morning.  See “Even Cops Need Some Sleep” (Feb. 19, 2009)

  • Teaser: Schenectady Police Officer Dwayne Johnson made three times his base pay last year, while averaging 75 hours a week on the clock (making him, at $168,000, the highest paid employee in Schenectady’s history).  However, after several late-night stakeouts, Schenectady Gazette reporter Kathleen Moore reported yesterday that Officer Johnson has been parking his car outside a local apartment that is not his home for a few hours every Tuesday night since November, during his patrol shift.   Despite being tracked by a GPS monitor in his unit, no supervisor caught the apparent dereliction of duty.  See “Chief: Cop ‘stealing time’: Johnson, tops in pay, out of car during shift”  (by Kathleen Moore, Feb. 18, 2009).

Responding to the question from Schenectady Police Chief Mark Chaires, “how dumb can you get?”, Scott points out that “neither Chief Chaires nor anybody else on the force thinks that somebody ought to take the occasional gander at their top earner, the big money man, to make sure they are getting their money’s worth?” Scott then muses: “How dumb? Not as dumb as you, Chief.”

Follow-ups today (Feb. 19, 2009): “Cop case probed for collusion: Chief wants to know why supervisors didn’t notice AWOL officer’s absences” (Daily Gazette , Feb. 19, 2009); “Editorial: In Sch’dy, Car 10, where are you?” (Daily Gazette, Feb. 19, 2009; “He deserves to be fired, and anybody but a union officer or lawyer, or perhaps arbitrator, would agree.”); “High-paid cop accused of slacking off” (WNYT/CH.13, Feb. 18, 2009, with video); “Did Schenectady’s $168G cop spend hours away? Schenectady probes whether highest-paid officer was at apartment while on duty” (Albany Times Union, February 19, 2009); “Tarnishing the badge: A decade of trouble for Schenectady police” (Times Union, by Paul Nelson, Feb. 19, 2009)

update (Feb. 20, 2009): The Gazette tells us this morning that Officer Johnson was “suspended without pay Thursday while the department investigates the extent of his absences during his overnight patrols.”  He apparently will have to be paid if kept on suspension longer than 30 days. “Absent officer out for month: Bennett begins cop AWOL probe; union issues cited” (Feb. 20, 2009).  I’m surprised that Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett believes “it will take well over a month to finish the investigation into Johnson’s absences. Also under review are the supervisors who did not notice them and the officers who may have tipped him off when internal affairs attempted to catch him in the act early last Tuesday.”  I’m not surprised that he expects the police union to argue napping has become a “past practice,” approved regularly by lower-level supervisors, that cannot be changed without union approval.

The Gazette notes that “Some officers, who spoke anonymously, say everyone who works long shifts takes naps, beginning at lunchtime. They argued that an unspoken rule in the department allows napping to continue after lunch as long as police get up as soon as they get a call.”  Bennett says: “If someone had the absolute and unmitigated gall to call [napping] a past practice, well, supervisors do not have that kind of authority to authorize that.”

In his update this morning at Simple Justice, Scott Greenfield trumpets “The new frontier for police contracts: Napping Clauses.”

Officer Johnson is 49 years old and apparently considers a double shift to be his regular work day.  The f/k/a Gang understands the need to nap (although, altogether, we alter egos aren’t working 75 hours a week), but we agree with the Gazette that if the conduct is proven, Officer Johnson should be fired.  At the very least, some major auditing of his time records is needed, plus more scrutiny of his so-called supervisors.

Undercover? Lawyer Greenfield concludes: “But don’t fear that Johnson will go unpunished. My bet is that his wife will have a few questions about what he was doing in that apartment every Tuesday morning.”

We don’t get paid overtime (nor anytime) here at f/k/a, but we’re always workin’ hard trying to bring you some of the best haiku around.  As promised yesterday, here are poems written by a few of our Honored Guest Poets that were selected for the newest issue of Frogpond [Vol. 32:1, Winter 2009].  We’ll have another batch later this week.

turning back on a dead end street —
one odor changes

… by Gary Hotham – Frogpond Vol. 32:1 (Winter 2009)

heat lightning the crooked split in the watermelon

… by w.f. owen – Frogpond Vol. 32:1 (Winter 2009)

second honeymoon
a flock of turnstones
skirt the shore

dry spell
a field sparrow flashes
burnt umber

… by Tom Painting – Frogpond Vol. 32:1 (Winter 2009)

full moon–
I finally share the secret
with my cat

….. by Alice Frampton – Frogpond Vol. 32:1 (Winter 2009)

fallen leaves
the small fir

the barren windbreak sifting a rainy fog

…. by Tom Clausen – Frogpond Vol. 32:1 (Winter 2009)

winter night
the heat comes on
between us

a retinal sun
wanders through
the observation car

… by John Stevenson – Frogpond Vol. 32:1 (Winter 2009)

our long bathtub soak — 
a ring around
the moon

…. by David Giacalone – Frogpond Vol. 32:1 (Winter 2009)

p.s. Speaking of criminal justice in Schenectady, the print version of the Daily Gazette has an article on p. B3 titled “Imposter [sic] suspect in Regents exam faces lesser charge” (Feb. 19, 2009).  In it we learn that District Attorney Robert Carney won’t be charging Deandre M. Ellis with burglary [illegally entering a building intending to commit another crime] for entering a Schenectady school to take a Regents exam in disguise for another student.  We were doubtful of the arresting officers’ legal reasoning in a post on Jan. 29, 2009 (scroll to second story).  Instead, Ellis is being charged with misdemeanor criminal impersonation, which he denied at his arraignment yesterday. DA Carney explains that “There has to be some sort of notice or communication to [a] person that ‘you’re not welcome’ to convert [entering a public building like a school] to a trespass,” on which to hang a burglary count.  According to the Gazette:

“But Carney likened the case to a shoplifter.  Anyone is allowed in a store, until they’re asked to leave. But a shoplifter isn’t charged with burglary, Carney said, even though they may have entered with the intent to steal.”

Tonsorial-forensic experts should note a mystery raised in the case:  Ellis wore a wig when posing as a female student in January.  As you can see above, he has short spiky hair in his mug shot.  But, three weeks later, he appeared in court with “long hair, past his shoulders.”  Neither Ellis nor his public defender were willing to comment on the issue.   Could it be Ellis will claim he always goes around in the long wig and therefore was not trying to impersonate the female student?

..  two good ideas from Schenectady County . .

February 18, 2009

frogpond brings HSA winners

Filed under: haijin-haikai news,Haiku or Senryu — David Giacalone @ 7:22 pm

..  The newest issue of Frogpond [Vol. 32:1, Winter 2009], the journal of the Haiku Society of America, arrived at my door this snowy February afternoon.  Frogpond always has a lot of winning haiku, but this issue also announces the winners of HSA’s most prestigious annual contests: The 2008 Kanterman Merit Book Awards for best published books in 2007; the 2008 Henderson Award for best haiku; and the 2008 Brady Award for best senryu.

As usual, several of f/k/a‘s Honored Guest Poets have been honored this year.

  • John Stevenson received 1st and 3rd place awards in the Harold G. Henderson Haiku Contest for 2008:

fifteen minutes
of mince pie

[1st Place, 2008 Henderson Contest]

my attention
attention span

[3rd Place, 2008 Henderson Contest]

  • Michael Dylan Welch won 2nd Place in the Gerald Brady Memorial Contest for 2008, with this senryu:

busy Italian restaurant–
happy birthday
sung to the wrong table

[2nd Place, 2008 Brady contest]

  • Among the Mildred Kanterman Memorial Book Awards for 2008:
  • Roberta Beary’s The Unworn Necklace (Snapshot Press 2007) placed third [find poems and discussion at f/k/a here]
  • While Matt Morden’s Stumbles in Clover (Snapshot Press 2007; discussed here at f/k/a) shared Honorable Mention honors with Gary Hotham’s Missed Appointment (Lilliput Review 2007; featured at f/k/a in posts here and there)
  • The Best Anthology award went to Jim Kacian’s Big Sky – The Red Moon Anthology of English-Language Haiku 2006 (Red Moon Press 2007; find sample poems at the bottom of this prior post)
  • The Best Haibun award went to “Dr. Bill” w.f. owen for his book small events (Red Moon Press 2007)

.. In the very near future, we’ll share poems from the Winter 2009 issue of Frogpond written by our Honored Guests (update: go here and there).  Below the fold, you will find a list of all the winners from the three contests described above (soon, you will be able to find all the winning poems and the comments of the judges by clicking on the link for each contest at the HSA Haiku Contests page):


February 16, 2009

a preference for congeniality

Filed under: Haiku or Senryu,lawyer news or ethics,viewpoint — David Giacalone @ 12:53 pm

.. ..  ..  The Jerks vs. the Genial:  Law professor Jeff Harrison started an interesting discussion last week in a posting at MoneyLaw titled “Ready, Set, Punt” (Feb. 10, 2009).  He notes that likablity is a “Pretty crazy way to pick a football team right? The team would lose every game.”  Harrison then asks:

“Is there any reason to think the ‘like’ factor is different for law faculty success. At least in football there will be an objective measure of success and an opportunity to cut players. In law school hiring there are no measures and the initial hiring decisions are for lifetime jobs.”

Prof. Harrison concludes by opining that likability “sounds like a great approach if you are deciding who you want to go down to the bar with after school for a drink — which sadly may be the standard by which much hiring is done. It’s a disaster for the stakeholders of a law school.”

In response, Gabriella Montelle wrote “They Like Me, They Like Me Not” (February 12, 2009) at her On Hiring weblog on the Chronicles of Higher Education website.  She invited readers to answer two questions:

“Is likability a reasonable consideration in hiring, firing, and tenure decisions or do some committees place too great an emphasis on it? How does it factor into hiring decisions in your department?”

Montelle’s piece attracted a variety of responses, and one Comment by a “humanities doctoral candidate” [“HDC”] impressed Louisville U. law dean Jim Chen so much, he turned it into a separate posting at MoneyLaw called “You like me” (Feb. 13, 2009). [Chen’s “Rocket man” post over the weekend about the remarkably valuable yet unselfish play of NBA player Shane Battier may also be related, as part of his ongoing talent versus character debate. via Simple Justice].  Commentor HDC’s insights included saying:

“The really good scholars are self-confident, and that confidence allows them to treat everyone else with respect and kindness. They are excited about ideas, and they are willing to share. Most of all, they are willing to collaborate — they are the ones organizing symposia, inviting guest speakers, cultivating graduate students, and just generally creating the kind of atmosphere where good work flourishes and everyone benefits.

Meanwhile, Jeff Harrison wrote “But will you love me tomorrow” (Feb. 13, 2009) in answer to Dean Chen, saying that in the faculty context likability or “niceness” is the code for “are you someone with whom I will be socially and politically comfortable.” He insists that “Nice in a faculty meeting is only slightly connected to morality, selflessness, or charity.”  Going back to the football analogy, Harrison concludes:

“If personal social and political comfort are critical in determining who gets an offer to join your faculty, it’s like a team thinking more about getting drunk together than winning games.”

An anonymous commentor then told Prof. Harrison that the football analogy was not as apt for a faculty as a comparison to a baseball team.  Using Barry Bonds as an example, he states:

“In other words, superstars are worthless if they create a bad vibe in the clubhouse. . . . but the point is, good scholars who aren’t good colleagues are not worth having around, and whatever is ‘good’ about their scholarship will be worthless if they aren’t the sort of person who can get along with colleagues, train students, and just generally make their work environment a pleasant place to be.”

In my experience, HDC and the anonymous commentor have it right.  As Jim Harrison suggests, faculty should not be trying to hire or promote only persons who fit within their personal socio-ideological comfort zone.  But, they would do well to look for colleagues who match brilliance with unselfishness and congeniality — or, to be more precise, a person who is “genial” in the sense suggested in Merriam-Webster’s definition:

3 a: favorable to growth or comfort . . . b: marked by or diffusing sympathy or friendliness
4: displaying or marked by genius

Naturally (this being the cranky old f/k/a Gang speaking), we do not mean “nice” like the smiley-faced gladhanders with gold stars for every student and colleague.  Nor do we mean “nice” in Harrison’s sense of “just like me,”  as sameness is boring and intellectual quicksand.  Law school faculties need bright minds willing to challenge individuals and institutions, and debate issues of law and policy — but, there is no reason to accept less than respect for eachother and agreeable disagreement. [You need, of course, to respect colleagues and students enough to ask hard questions and expect rigorous thinking.]

Law faculty jobs are far too desirable and desired for us to believe that faculty or students have to put up with jerks and selfish manipulators in order to assure brilliance in scholarship or in the classroom.   Because there are more than enough more-than-capable candidates, there should be a preference for the genial over the jerkish.  That preference may in fact turn out to be a wonderful tool for behavior modification.

In his posting 2007 “talent versus character,” Jim Chen notes how often others have been enablers, willing to justify the odious conduct of a faculty member by saying “He’s a smart guy. Brilliant, even.” That echoed my assertion that same year that:

[H]aving a high IQ is never an excuse for having a low EQ; it’s a reason to demand that our leaders (and our kids) demonstrate and nurture a robust “Emotional Intelligence.”

Daniel Goleman introduced most of us to the notion of EQ, in his 1996 bestseller Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. (well-reviewed here; click for a quick recap of the “Four Components of Emotional Intelligence“) . . . I’m still amazed at how many otherwise-sensible people are willing to overlook or excuse the emotional immaturity and ineptness of a colleague, friend or family member (and the harm it causes other people), if the low-EQ is attached to a significantly high IQ — and, especially, if accompanied by a large bank account or a powerful position. I think having a high IQ makes the failure to appreciate, nurture and develop ones EQ rather inexcusable.

It was two years ago this week that we wrote about Robert I Sutton’s then-new book “The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t” (Warner Business Books, 2007, and an identically-titled article in American Lawyer/ (Feb. 20, 2007).  The article explains:

“According to Bob, an asshole is one who oppresses, humiliates, de-energizes, or belittles his target (generally someone less powerful then himself), causing the target to feel worse about herself following an interaction with the asshole. (And, as his examples prove, this behavior is not by any means limited to male perpetrators or female victims.) These jerks use tactics such as personal insults, sarcasm and teasing as vehicles for insults, shaming, and treating people as if they’re invisible to demean others. Sutton distinguishes temporary assholes . . . from certified assholes, who routinely show themselves to be nasty people. The latter, he argues, must go [from the workplace].”

A$$holes surely do not belong in law offices (even though many clients think they want such characters to champion their causes).  They’re even less appropriate in legal academia — especially, when their nasty little show is turned on “impressionable” law students, the very people paying their salaries.

Sutton’s book offers a 24-question self-test to see if you are “a certifiable asshole.” You can take Sutton’s Asshole Rating Self-Exam (ARSE) at Guy Kawasaki’s ElectricPulp website. Search and tenure committees might want to ask themselves how their candidates might fare if they took ARSE and answered honestly.

At her Chronicles of Higher Education weblog, Ms. Mentor advised last week that “They’re Out to Get Me: No matter how good you are at your work, your colleagues won’t keep you if they don’t like you” (Feb. 10, 2009).  She says this advice is especially important in perilous times like now, when jobs that once seemed secure seem quite shaky; and she asks whether “your colleagues already avoid you as a sour, combative personality — someone who’ll waste department energy on vendettas?”.  I’d like to think that law schools would insist on basic geniality from each of their faculty members in good times, too.  In the long run, their “stakeholders” deserve both brilliance and high EQ from every law professor.  There are far too many willing candidates to settle for any less.

p.s. Blawging with EQ: If you have a preference for thoroughness and straight-talk, and also wonder who’s been writing good material at lawyer weblogs, check out Mark Bennett’s Blawg Review #199, at his Defending People blawg.

We can’t promise you consistently high EQ here at f/k/a, but we’ll try our best.  What we do promise is consistently high-quality haiku.  For example, here’s another installment in our project presenting poems from past issues of Modern Haiku.  They’re written by poets who later became members of our f/k/a Honored Guest family. Here are more from Modern Haiku Vol. XXVIII: 1 (Winter-Spring 1997), which have not appeared before here at f/k/a:

almost 200 years of air–
in the room
George Washington died

…. by Gary Hotham – Modern Haiku Vol. XXVIII: 1


On the boardwalk
a blind man listens to the sea
finding its way back

… by George Swede – Modern Haiku Vol. XXVIII: 1

water splashing down–
the warmth of the sun
on my eyelids

little waterfall–
they come to see
why we’re not speaking

pushing in walnuts
with my heel–
autumn rain

… by Lee GurgaModern Haiku Vol. XXVIII: 1

fall rains
the spring
of mushrooms

tail tucked,
a collie skirts
the bungee jumpers

lunar eclipse
my son

.. by John StevensonModern Haiku Vol. XXVIII: 1

moonless night
the darkness deepest
where the snowy owl was

… by Yu Chang – Modern Haiku Vol. XXVIII: 1

February 13, 2009

Valentine flamingos return to the Stockade [updated]

Filed under: Haiku or Senryu,Schenectady Synecdoche — David Giacalone @ 7:27 pm

.. they’re back: Lawrence’s Valentine Flamingos, 2009  ..

As we reported in detail this time last year in “Lawrence and the Flamingos – a Stockade Valentine mystery,” a flock of pink flamingos (genus “phoenicopteris ruber plasticus ) has been returning each Valentine’s Day to the traffic circle home of Lawrence the Indian, at the intersection of Front, Ferry and Green Streets, in Schenectady’s Stockade neighborhood.  The f/k/a Gang planned to be up at sunrise on Saturday, February 14th, to see whether our Valentine Flamingo miracle would continue in 2009, and to snap some pictures, if it did.

To our surprise, while strolling the neighborhood at sunset tonight, February 13, the “flamboyance” of fourteen flamingos had already landed at the feet of Lawrence.  We don’t know if the blustery winds blowing the past two days across the Northeast accounts for their premature arrival, but Valentine romantics will have even more time to enjoy this Stockade Valentine tradition.

.. . . . . . . . . . . . . ..

.. sunset, Feb. 13, 2009, photos by D.A. Giacalone ..

.. ..

The light wasn’t great for this amateur photographer to capture the event this evening, but the photos above surely hint at the joy the big pink birds bring to Valentine lovers and Stockade residents each year (thanks to two flamingo shepherds who want to remain anonymous).  We promise to take more photos tomorrow in full daylight and add them below, along with a flock of flamingo haiku and senryu. [follow-up: the tradition continues; see suns along the Mohawk, Flamingo Visitation 2011.]

To whet your appetite, here are two haiku written specifically for this year’s Stockade Flamingo event by Roberta Beary, our lawyer friend and much-honored haiku poet:

peeking out
of his daughter’s blouse
flamingo tattoo

sober now
dad uprights
the flamingo

… by Roberta Beary for f/k/a‘s Flamingo Flamboyance 2009

[Click to read the Schenectady Gazette‘s coverage of the 2008 arrival of the flamingos.]

Valentine stroll
neither lover mentions
the pink flamingos

…………. by dagosan

first warm day
she plants
the pink flamingo

.. by ed markowski – Modern Haiku (2008)

. . . . continued (Saturday morning, February 14, 2009):

.. ..

two pink flamingos
& a waitress named Sally…
summer begins

… by ed markowski

.. ..

frost on
the flamingo’s beak –
Valentine breakfast alone

… by dagosan

Snapping photos with near-frozen fingers around 8 AM this morning, I couldn’t help but feel a bit of Valentine empathy for poor old Lawrence, standing there like a prop among the flamboyantly romantic flamingos, and gazing longingly again today at the lovely clientele of Arthur’s Market.  You may recall that our Lawrence statue was originally a carving done by wood carver Samuel Anderson Robb, about 1860, for cigar-store-Indian vendor William Demuth.  In DeMuth’s 1872 catalog, Lawrence is listed as “No. 53 Indian Chief.”  Like the shy and proud Kaw-Lija (lyrics) Lawrence “never got a kiss.”  As Hank Williams sung in 1952:

Kaw-Lija, was a lonely Indian never went nowhere
His heart was set on the Indian maiden with the coal black hair
Kaw-Lija-A, just stood there and never let it show
So she could never answer “YES” or “NO”.

Click for a YouTube clip of  “Kaw-Lija” (performed by Johnny Cash and Hank Williams, Jr. at the Grand Olde Opry).  Please, don’t be an “ol’ wooden head” like Kaw-Lija and Lawrence — take a risk and let her know you care.  Maybe next Valentine will be a little less lonely, and you’ll be viewing the Stockade Flamingos hand-in-hand.

signs of summer
on the pink flamingo
an empty beer can

.. by ed markowski

visit home
the pink flamingo’s
cracked wing

………… by Roberta Beary

parting her pink robe

…………… by Yu Chang, from A New Resonance (1999)

— hurry: you’ve only got ’til sunset to catch the Valentine flamingos —

pink envelope
Valentine hugs and kisses
from Mom

……. by dagosan

update (Feb. 15, 2009):  The Sunday Albany Times Union has an entertaining article about the Valentine Flamingos.  See “Pink flamingos back in Stockade.”  Reporter Paul Grondahl says:

“Nobody has claimed credit for spawning this quirky urban mystery. Of course, nobody’s trying too hard to crack the case and spoil the suspension of disbelief.

“The sheer audacity and cockeyed romanticism of this random act of oddity inspired the first sing-along in front of the flamingos.”

No one told the f/k/a Gang to show up to participate or snap a few shots. Nevertheless, you can click to see a YouTube Stockade 2009 Valentine video, with photos by Mabel Leon and Beverly Elander (produced by Jennifer Wells).  Due to a technical malfunction, you won’t hear zany Stockadians singing Rogers & Hart’s “My Funny Valentine,” but will have to settle for a performance by Carly Simon and Frank Sinatra.

Another long-legged-avian Valentine tradition: The Heron’s Nest Readers’ Choice Awards (f/k/a Valentine Awards):  Managing Editor John Stevenson announced this morning (Feb. 14, 2009) the winners of the Ninth Annual Readers’ Choice Awards, for the best haiku in The Heron’s Nest of 2008 (Vol. X, which is also available in a paper edition).  Congratulations to all the winners.

Poem of the Year: Fay Aoyagi had the Poem of the Year, which can be seen here.  Runners-up honors for best poem went to Burnell Lippy, Christopher Herold, and Harriot West.

Grand Prize, Poet of the Year, went to Burnell Lippy for his consistently fine haiku. Runners-up honors went to Carolyn Hall, Christopher Herold and Gary Hotham.    Carolyn and Gary are, of course, f/k/a Honored Guest poets.  Carolyn is a perennial winner of haijin awards, and Gary seems to be more active again writing his much-admired poetry for leading haiku journals.   For a little Valentine reflection, here are a pair by each of them from The Heron’s Nest Vol. X:

enough sunrise —
a small window
in an old hotel

playground swings —
a strong wind replaces
the children

…. by Gary HothamThe Heron’s Nest X (2008)

an eagle sighting —
the frailty
in my father’s hug

needles of rain
the talk show guest
addresses my problem

…. by Carolyn HallThe Heron’s Nest X (2008)

.. ..

February 12, 2009

celebrating Lincoln and Darwin

Filed under: Haiku or Senryu,q.s. quickies — David Giacalone @ 12:43 pm

. . Abe Lincoln . . born February 12, 1809 . . Charles Darwin .

My plan to start spending a lot less time weblogging has run smack up against the intriguing coincidence of today’s joint birth bicentennial for Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin.  Some commentators think it’s too much of a stretch trying to link the two great men based merely on their birth date.  As with the use of juxtaposition in good haiku, however, I’ve found the comparison — including contrasts, similarities, and differences —  to be an interesting and illuminating way to recall what each man has meant to their own times and to ours, and to look at both men in new ways.

There have been two recent books focusing on Darwin and Lincoln together, as unique human beings and towering historical figures:

If you’re too busy Twittering, actually working, or merely napping, to find and read either or both of them, I’d suggest making the time for two articles that do a good job with the task of comparing Lincoln and Darwin:

Who Was More Important: Lincoln or Darwin?” by Malcolm Jones (Newsweek, July 7, 2009)

Illustration: Bryan Christie Design; photos: Corbis … ..

.. “How Lincoln and Darwin Shaped the Modern World” by Adam Gopnik (Smithsonian Magazine, February 2009; illustration by Joe Ciardiello)

Also see the first 16 minutes of Gopnik on Charlie Rose (Feb. 4, 2009; the remainder of the interview is an Appreciation of John Updike)

Lincoln and Darwin are both known for ideas (emancipation and evolution, respectively) that threatened powerful vested interests and deep-held beliefs.  The books and articles mentioned above describe the importance of their theories — and the importance of the personal characteristics and social environment of each man in shaping their life’s work.   I’m going to focus here on another important similarity.  As Adam Gopnik says:

Darwin and Lincoln helped remake our language and forge a new kind of rhetoric that we still respond to in politics and popular science alike. They particularized in everything, and their general vision rises from the details and the nuance, their big ideas from small sightings. They shared logic as a form of eloquence, argument as a style of virtue, close reasoning as a form of uplift. Each, using a kind of technical language—the fine, detailed language of naturalist science for Darwin; the tedious language of legal reasoning for the American—arrived at a new ideal of liberal speech.”

In Newsweek, Malcolm Jones wrote:

“Lincoln united the North behind him with an eloquence so timeless that his words remain fresh no matter how many times you read them. Darwin wrote one of the few scientific treatises, maybe the only one, worth reading as a work of literature. Both of them demand to be read in the original, not in paraphrase, because both men are so much in their prose. To read them is to know these elusive figures a little better. Given their influence on our lives, these are men you want to know.”

” . . . The quality of Darwin’s mind is in evidence everywhere in this book, but so is his character—generous, open-minded and always respectful of those who he knew would disagree with him, as you might expect of a man who was, after all, married to a creationist.”

“. . . Lincoln, no less than Mark Twain, forged what we think of today as the American style: forthright, rhythmic, muscular, beautiful but never pretty. As Douglas L. Wilson observes in “Lincoln’s Sword,” his brilliant analysis of the president’s writing, Lincoln was political, not literary, but he was, every bit as much as Melville or Thoreau, “perfecting a prose that expressed a uniquely American way of apprehending and ordering experience.” What Lincoln says and how he says it are one. You cannot imagine the Gettysburg Address or the Second Inaugural in words other than those in which they are conveyed.

In addition to the notion of their “beautiful but never pretty” writing style, Jones also describes characteristics of the two men that remind me very much of some of my favorite haiku poets:

” . . . Like Darwin, Lincoln was a compulsive scribbler, forever jotting down phrases, notes and ideas on scraps of paper, then squirreling the notes away in a coat pocket, a desk drawer—or sometimes his hat—where they would collect until he found a use for them in a letter, a speech or a document. He was also a compulsive reviser.”

Putting yourself in your writing; valuing logic and clear prose; paying attention to details and being open to new ways of looking at the world; and advocating strongly-held beliefs even when some of your closest kith and kin disagree:  these are all characteristics worth emulating, as we think of two famous men who were born two hundred years ago today.

p.s. If you’re interested, we’ve written quite a few times on Lawyer Lincoln.

Our time is up for blogging today.  We’ll leave you with the next installment in our project presenting poems from past issues of Modern Haiku written by poets who later became members of our f/k/a Honored Guest family.

Here are three from Modern Haiku Vol. XXVIII: 1 (Winter-Spring 1997), written by our haiku friend Tom Clausen.  We’ll delve further into XXVIII:1 over the next few days.

freed from the cat–
baby meadow lark
all speckles

all the panes broken–
in and out of the mill
pigeons fly

garage door open
at the funeral home—
nothing there

… by Tom ClausenModern Haiku Vol. XXVIII: 1

February 11, 2009

cur-mudgeonly valentine

Filed under: Haiga or Haibun,Haiku or Senryu,q.s. quickies — David Giacalone @ 10:27 am

.. ..

Valentine’s Day –
a new sign says
“Thin Ice”

… by dagosan

.. Valentine’s Day has often brought out the curmudgeonly side of the f/k/a Gang.  [see, e.g., our posts “not really in a Valentine mood” and “off-peak romance“]   This year, JC Penney’s declaration of Doghouse Prevention Week has turned the secretly-romantic Prof. Yabut into a growling cur, rather than a lapdog.  Penney’s wants men to know that “No Bad Gift Will Go Unpunished,” and its Beware of the Doghouse website allows sweethearts to send their guy a warning or even list him as being In the Doghouse.  Naturally, in addition to graphic examples of what happens in the doghouse, there are many (expensive) suggestions on how to avoid or get out of Casa Canine.

We are not impressed.  Instead, we repeat our contention from 2005 that “Cherries in the Snow” author Emma Forrest makes a very good point:

“Love is so delicate, you can’t afford to risk it on fake holiday.” (AP/Nashua Telegraph,  “British author had no need for Valentine’s Day rubbish,” Feb. 20, 2005)

All quips aside about stimulus (or stimulated) packages, our economic crisis seems like a perfect opportunity for Valentine lovers (and even spouses) to let each other know it’s the thought not the price tag that counts.  Indeed, in today’s Schenectady Gazette article “Economy tops love this year: Retailers expect recession to cut into Valentine’s Day spending” (February 11, 2009), we learn that “Low-cost items this Valentine’s are expected to have greater sway over lovers on the prowl for gifts.”  For example, folks are buying half-pound boxes of candy rather than the larger heart-shaped offerings at Krause’s in Colonie. [Sharing fewer calories has many other advantages of course, in a nation where waistlines and bottoms keep expanding, even when the economy shrinks.]

The Gazette also reports that “The National Retail Federation said American adults are expected to spend an average of $102.50 on Valentine’s gifts and merchandise, compared with $122.98 a year earlier.”  In addition,

“BISWorld Research, a Los Angeles market research firm, earlier this month projected holiday card sales to rise over the year by 1.1 percent and candy sales to increase 0.9 percent. But holiday apparel, dining out and jewelry are forecast to take the biggest hits, declining 6.7 percent, 6.1 percent and 5.1 percent, respectively.

More cards and fewer diamonds sounds like a good trend to us.   However, if you’re heading for the doghouse, we suggest you click to hear Hank Williams’ plaintive request that his good dog “Move It on Over” and let the bad dog squeeze in, too.

If you’d like to tell your beloved how you feel in more than one language, click here for “Valentine’s Day phrases in 8 languages.”

Now’s a great time to reprise Roberta Beary’s haibun from Modern Haiku (Vol. 39:1, Winter 2008):

What I Mean Is

everyone knows everything old people know only the good die young and kids know parents don’t know it all and teachers know students wait until the day before the project is due and you and i both know that love doesn’t conquer anything in fact it doesn’t even come close

as if it mattered
i pocket
a red leaf

………………………………… by Roberta Beary, Modern Haiku 39:1 (2008)

And a couple of senryu by Ed Markowski:

valentine’s day
we do nothing

valentine’s day
the sensous curves
of a snow drift

…………. by ed markowski

p.s. National Inventors’ Day (February 11): If the love of your life loves creativity and service to humanity, Prof. Yabut suggests you remind her (or him) that February 11th is both Thomas A. Edison’s birthday and National Inventors’ Day. (via Securing Innovation weblog, which has a familiarly-anonymous editor).  If you really want to impress her, bring her to the far-too-little-known Edison Exploratorium in downtown Schenectady.   The Exploratorium aims to “preserve, promote and celebrate the unique heritage of Edison and the pioneers who gave birth to the electric age here in ‘The Original Electric City’.”  You might get sent to the doghouse for giving her an electric iron, washing machine or microwave oven, but you’ll light up her eyes with exhibits filled with those and other items pioneered in Schenectady.

Can’t make it to Schenectady?  You can find dozens of YouTube clips from the Edison Exploratorium, including one featuring Charles P. Steinmetz, General Electric’s Chief Engineer and Scientist (1865 – 1923), who wanted to use inventions like the production and distribution of energy:

“to develop the most perfect civilization the world has ever seen.  The civilization not for a minority depending on the labor of masses of slaves or serfs but a real civilization of benefit to all the members of the human race.”

…. finally, our lonely-guy 2008 Valentine haiga (photo Mama G. 1951):

February 10, 2009

zanier and zanier: sex offender frenzy in Colonie, NY

Filed under: q.s. quickies — David Giacalone @ 11:43 pm

Ultimate NIMBY: keeping sex offenders out of their backyard.

— and out of their town, too!

Paula Mahan is Town Supervisor in Colonie, NY, the most populous municipality in the New York Capital Region (nestled between Albany and Schenectady).  Supervisor Mahan has upped the sex offender NIMBY ante, and shown other politicians she won’t be outdone pandering to the public’s overblown fears of lurking strangers.  Saying her Town has become a dumping ground for predators from other jurisdictions, she has proposed a new law that would, according to an article tonight in the Albany Times Union:

” . . bar adult Level 2 and 3 sex offenders whose victims were younger than 17 from living or staying within 1,500 feet of each other, or the same distance from [15 kinds of] places where children congregate.”

……  …………….. 1500′ …………… …………………. 1500’……..

We’ve written often about the unnecessary, ineffective and un-American residency restrictions that communities have been placing on whole categories of sex offenders. See our recent post “don’t let a bad idea go statewide” (Feb. 2, 2009), which responds to a new, high-level proposal to have statewide 1000-foot no-residence zones for sex offenders, around schools, parks and day care centers.  The Colonie SOLD approach [sex offender low-density nuisance zoning] almost makes the laws in other communities look thoughtful — and is an interesting counterpoint to those who want to herd sex offenders into little cluster ghettos.   It clearly shows that Justice William Kelly was correct in Peo. v. Oberlander: Our State laws by necessity must pre-empt the additional efforts of localities, with their confusing, conflicting, and ever-escalating restrictions on where sex offenders can live (discussed in this post from Feb. 2, 2009).

According to the TU:

“But before having the Colonie Town Board vote on the new regulations, Supervisor Paula Mahan wants to assemble a task force to examine the issue and work off of her proposal.”

Stopping to think makes good sense.  However, Mahan’s task force sounds suspiciously like the tactics of Susan Savage, Legislative Chair in Schenectady County, who appointed a commission to study sex offender safety issues, but clearly wanted them to start with her own extreme position and then add more restrictions and regulations. (see our prior post)   Perhaps someone will suggest to Ms.Mahan that she read the Oberlander decision and check out proposals and solutions on the State level, before she convinces even the most conservative judges in the State that sex offender residency cannot be left to local politicians.

p.s. On the 6 o’clock news this evening, a reporter for WTEN in Albany said they checked out the state SO registry and 5 sex offenders were apparently living at one of the low-rent motels on Central Ave in Colonie.  Go here for information from the Colonie Police Department on how to find out where sex offenders live in that Town, using the State’s sex offender search index.

Motel Update (Aug. 7, 2009):  After considering various court cases declaring Sex Offender restrictions unlawful, Colonie gave up its original Low-Density Sex Offender proposal and came up with an even worse idea — restricting how many offenders can live at any one motel.  See “Colonie limits how many sex offenders can live in motels” (Albany Times Union, Aug. 7, 2009; and see CBS6Albany).  According to the TU, the law “will require hotels and motels that plan to house sex offenders to get a license” (costing $1500 or $3000) and then will use a point system to limit how many Sex Offenders may live at a particular motel (one to three points depending on the SO’s corresponding risk level designation, 1, 2 or 3).  Even the largest motels will be allowed only 9 points worth of offenders — e.g., three Level 3s or nine Level 1s, or combinations thereof.  It is hard to image that such a law could withstand the kind of state-preemption analysis that recently voided Albany County’s sex offender residency restrictions.

afterwords (Feb. 11, 2009): I woke up this morning thinking about ways enterprising persons could cash in on Colonie’s floating 1500-feet sex offender residency ban.   A landlord in an area that didn’t have “its SO” yet, could hold an auction (or raffle off) an apartment or motel unit, or simply demand a much higher rent, knowing that both offenders and Social Service employees would pay a big premium to secure a residence in an attractive neighborhood (or, more likely, any neighborhood).  Meanwhile, a sex offender leaving town might also earn a little travel money by selling off rights to (or information about) a prime location that was opening up.

…………………………… ……………………………. 1500′

update (Feb. 26, 2009): The town of East Rochester, NY, is only 1.3 miles long, but it has just passed a law banning sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of schools, playgrounds and parks, recreation and community centers and day care facilities. (see this report from

….. 2000’………… ……. 2000′ …

February 9, 2009

stein and hull and more white lies

Filed under: Haiku or Senryu,q.s. quickies — David Giacalone @ 8:54 pm

. . We didn’t “phone this one in,” but we woulda if we coulda.

frigid night
the radiator wakes me,
lulls me to sleep

… by dagosan

.. How would you have answered Jacob A. Stein’s headline question in his newest Legal Spectator column, “Did You Read the Latest Opinion of the Supreme Court?” (Washington Lawyer, February 2009).  The sage columnist lists 37 possible answers, but you should feel free to add 38.  Other ______________ .

To give you a taste, here’s a dozen replies offered by Stein. (The f/k/a Gang are leaning toward #17.)

1.  I read about it in Linda Greenhouse’s story in The New York Times.

4. I read the headnotes, or was it the syllabus?
5. I read about it in the newsletter we send to clients.

7. Let’s just say I flipped through it.
8. I liked that strong language in the dissent.

11. Is it filled with original intent?

17.  I usually take it to bed with me. It must be under the covers.
18. Congress will take care of it, just you wait and see.
19. Was it another punitive damages case, or was it the gun case?

30. Why don’t they televise the arguments?

36.  How much of these opinions do the clerks write?
37.  I am going into the hospital for some minor surgery, and I will read it there.

……. What about Dan Hull? Forget the disparaging remarks of Ron Baker, Kevin O’Keefe and Enrico Schaefer, what am I ever going to do about JD Hull.  Over at his What About Clients? weblog, Dan insists on saying really nice things about me — or, at least about someone named David Giacalone at f/k/a who bears little or no resemblance to your cranky Editor.  For recent examples, see here (“the blawgosphere’s spiritual leader David Giacalone . . . is the only sensitive guy we ever liked even a little bit”) and there (“spiritual leader and technical adviser in one person . . . Keep reading him”).  When I leave comments asking for retractions, Dan forgets to post them.  So, let’s get a few of things straight:

  • if you come here for either spiritual or technical advcse, you need a Plan B
  • we’re trying to keep a low profile these days, and our pundit necks are more likely to be in our shells than stuck out very far trying to make waves, pass judgments, or garner links
  • we’ve been unsuccessfully striving for haiku- and zen-like humility at f/k/a for almost six years;  Hull’s hallelujahs are not helping
  • we know Dan is not merely fishing for mutual compliments, ’cause he’s got one of the most-praised weblogs in the entire blawgiverse (see the left-SideBar on his WAC home page); so, we’re starting to get paranoid about hidden agendas and anxious about living up to Dan’s high expectations.  Humbled and honored.  But, mostly humbled.

Despite the above lapse in judgment, Dan seems to be on the mark with his list of “The Big Six must-reading lawyer sites” for quickly and efficiently getting “all the news–and new ideas” from lawyer weblogs.  He also does a very good job there limning the legal profession’s young Slackoiesie.

spring thunder
dust from a slap
on the horse’s rump

… by w.f. owen – white lies: RMA 2008
orig pub. Mainichi Daily News #706

Fibs and White Lies:  Dan Hull’s praise quite naturally reminds us to continue to bring you selections from “white lies: Red Moon Anthology 2008” (by Jim Kacian and the Red Moon Press Editorial Staff, January 2009; see our prior post).  “white lies” contains some of the very best haiku-related poetry published in 2008, and our Honored Guest poets are, as always, well-represented.

checkout line
my dad
could talk to anyone

writers’ conference–
from a toilet stall I hear
someone quoting me

……….. by John Stevensonwhite lies: RMA 2008
“checkout line” – Upstate Dim Sum 2008/I
“writers’ conference” – Modern Haiku 39:1

a cushion of pine needles
I recall my past
as pleasant

…. by George Swede – white lies: RMA 2008
orig. pub. Acorn 21

between flights
I summarize my life
for a stranger

…. by Hilary Tann – white lies: RMA 2008
orig. pub. Upstate Dim Sum 2008/II

February 8, 2009

re-prize: Modern Haiku (Summer 1996)

Filed under: Haiku or Senryu — David Giacalone @ 9:56 am

Modern Haiku XXVII:2 (Summer 1996) was published long before HaikuEsq had read his first real haiku poetry.  As we said last month, he’s going through back issues to find haiku and senryu written by poets who later became members of our f/k/a Honored Guest family.

The following haiku (plus one senryu) were originally published in the Summer 1996 issue of Modern Haiku.  Except for the first one by Jim Kacian, this is the first appearance of each poem at f/k/a . . . . .

first autumn wind
not feeling the knife
slice my finger

..…. by Jim KacianModern Haiku XXVII:2

snow that was part
of the wind

the work gloves off–
wind slips by
my fingers

rain softens
the paper bag–
softer air

she lifts her hands–
water splashes back
on water

window light in the mirror–
a gray hair
among the gray hairs

…. by Gary HothamModern Haiku XXVII:2




… by David LanoueModern Haiku XXVII:2
[follow the adventures of David’s ferret in his novel Haiku Wars; see our post]

Barber’s ‘Adagio for Strings’
drove right past
the rest area

spring . . .
‘HAIKU 1’ parked
down by the pond

…. by Lee Gurga – Modern Haiku XXVII:2

in Mohawk’s shallows
–prawn on my toes

the train tracks are silent
all night  long

…. by Yu ChangModern Haiku XXVII:2

and magnifying glass
a coin with his birthdate

old slippers
the comfort
coming apart

calling in sick
her own cheerful-sounding
recorded voice

… by John StevensonModern Haiku XXVII:2


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)


February 5, 2009

GAL’s alternative universe

Filed under: Haiku or Senryu,lawyer news or ethics — David Giacalone @ 1:57 pm

..  We hope it hasn’t been too noticeable in the quality and quantity of our posting, but the f/k/a Gang has had a resurgence of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome symptoms the past month or so.  To get better, your Editor needs to be less active physically and mentally, and especially to avoid stress.  Unfortunately, last week at his Greatest American Lawyer weblog “GAL” Enrico Schaefer — who is well-known as an advocate of alternative billing methods, including Value Billing — decided to put up a lengthy posting titled “In Response to David Giacalone’s Concerns about the Ethics of Value Billing” (January 26, 2009).  Even worse than merely disagreeing with me, the post is chock-full of mischaracterizations of my positions on value billing and alternative fees — presenting them as an array of “strawmen” targets that are easy to shoot down because they twist my arguments into absurdity. Most aggravating, entering an “alternative universe,” GAL depicts me as a defender of the legal status quo.  Despite my wanting to avoid controversy, a reply is surely called for. . . .

. . . Nonetheless, as I told Enrico in an email last week, it takes far too much energy and creates much too much stress and agita, to respond point-by-point to a flood of distortions.  Enrico offered to let me do a podcast interview in reply, but it is a poor medium in which to make less-than-simplistic arguments.  Instead, I decided to write a more general “apologia” that explains my basic position and tries to clarify where I’m coming from as an advocate for the consumer of legal services and reformer of the legal profession.

As I wrote to Enrico: “My fight — and it should be yours, too — is with the people who have taken the term ‘value billing’ and sold it to lawyers as a way to make premium fees higher than could be made doing the same work under the same conditions with hourly billing.”  To see what I have actually said about Value Pricing and Value Billing, start with my recent “value pricing by lawyers raises many ethical red flags” and follow the links.

Below the fold [click more], you will find the comment I tried to leave this afternoon at the GAL post.  For some reason, a message that the webserver “cannot accept the data” came up, but I’m fairly sure that Enrico will make it available there soon.

Responding to GAL’s mischaracterizations has reminded me to post a few more poems from the newest addition to the Red Moon Press best-haiku anthology series, white lies: Red Moon Anthology 2008 — which we introduced here.

cold morning
the saw’s song changes
in the heartwood

persimmon still hanging the extra day of the year

heat lightning and the dry burn of whiskey

……… by Jim Kacian – white lies: RMA 2008
“cold morning” – Haiku Poets of North California 2007 Contest
“persimmon” – Betty Drevniok Haiku Contest 2008 (Haiku Canada)
“heat lightning” – Frogpond XXXI:1

scattering cabbage whites
years later
I still think of her

…. by paul m – white lies: RMA 2008
orig. pub. – Modern Haiku 39:2

55th spring
the cardiologist inserts
a new balloon

… by ed markowski – white lies: RMA 2008
orig. pub.- Shiki Kukai (March 2008)

hard rain
a river rediscovers
the old ways

…. by Matt Morden – white lies: RMA 2008
orig. pub. – Presence 35

. . . Here’s the Comment that I tried to leave today at the GAL post


February 3, 2009

quickies and white lies

Filed under: Haiku or Senryu,q.s. quickies — David Giacalone @ 10:37 am

. . . No, this post isn’t about guys who break-up with you just before Valentine’s Day. It contains a few follow-ups and forecasts about Sex Offender laws, Schenectady’s felonious ex-police chief, the future of the legal blogiverse, and some of the best haiku of 2008

..  .. Moving Day for Kaz: Looking a lot less jaunty than he did for his plea hearing last December (see our prior post for details), former Schenectady police chief Greg Kaczmarek was sentenced yesterday to two years in State prison for drug possession.  See “Former Schenectady police chief heads to prison” (Schenectady Gazette, Feb. 3, 2009); “Two years for ex-chief” (Albany Times Union, Feb. 3, 2009).  At the sentencing, both prosecutor Michael Sharpe, of the state Attorney General’s Office, and Judge Karen Drago felt they needed to respond to complaints in the community and from Kaz’s co-conspirators that he got off easy, and that Kaz only pled to keep his wife out of prison (she got 6 months in the County jail).

According to the Gazette, prosecutor Sharpe told the court that Greg Kaczmarek had the opportunity to spare his wife at least some jail time last summer, but he chose not to.  Sharpe also make it clear that there was plenty of evidence that Kaz bought drugs, using some and selling some to others. The Gazette also states that:

“Both Sharpe and Drago attempted in court to respond to rampant criticism of the Kaczmareks’ sentences. The Kaczmareks were among two dozen indicted as players in the drug organization headed by Kirkem and Oscar Mora. . . .

” . . . The attorney for one of the accused organization managers last week even filed a formal motion comparing his client’s involvement with Lisa Kaczmarek’s. Brian Toal, attorney for co-defendant Hazel Nader, argued that the Kaczmareks got unfairly lighter sentences, calling them ’embarrassing’.”

The prosecutor and the judge agreed that the Kaczmareks were at the lower levels of the organization.  Sharpe noted that Kaz had used his law enforcement knowledge (gained from 27 years in law enforcement, six of those as Schenectady’s police chief) to advise the ringleader on avoiding the police.  The Gazette reports that Sharpe told the court:

“[T]hat allegation, and Greg Kaczmarek’s law enforcement background, warranted his two years in prison, over his wife’s six months. Greg Kaczmarek spent

However, Judge Drago disagreed about the significance of Kaz’s police background.

“While it is enormously disappointing that an individual who held a position of such esteem stands before the court convicted of a drug offense, the position as former chief of police in and of itself does not warrant a harsher sentence,” Drago said.

[Note: Your Editor leans toward giving harsher sentences to people who violate laws they used to enforce.]

Drago also said that the case is an example of how “drug addiction crosses all walks of life and how anyone can succumb to this.”

According to the Times Union,  Lisa Kaczmarek’s lawyer, Kevin Luibrand, called her behavior “aberrational.”  We’re pretty sure a fancy New York City criminal lawyer like Scott Greenfield would have used an actual word, perhaps “aberant.”

..  Sex Offender Law Web-cast:  If you hurry, you can still catch a live webcast that begins today, Feb. 3, at 10:45 AM EST, and is sponsored by the Editorial board of the Lower Hudson Journal.  It features Sarah Tofte, author of the 146-page Human Rights Watch Report “No Easy Answers: Sex offender Laws in the United Sates” (September 2007).  The forum (which will also be available for viewing after the event) should be an excellent follow-up to yesterday’s op/ed piece, “How far can  – or should – communities go to restrict sex offenders?” (, by Nancy Cutler, Feb. 2, 2009).  It asks:

What should communities do to protect children from convicted sex offenders? What strategies work and which ones don’t?

If you missed it, you could prepare for the Webcast (or otherwise bone-up on issues relevant to restricting where sex offenders can live) by reading yesterday’s f/k/a post “don’t let a bad idea go statewide” (Feb. 2, 2009).

.. .. The Turk’s Crystal Ball:  Eric Turkewitz wrote yesterday about “The Future of the Legal Blogosphere” (Feb. 2, 2009) at his New York Personal Injury Law weblog.  Eric says: “Having now trashed Twitter (Twitter and The Age of Information Overload) before using it and semi-trashed it again after using it (Twitter: A Review), and having concluded it is not the future, the question remains: What is the future of the legal blogosphere?”  Turk argues that the future will look like a combination of Listservs, a group weblog for and by lawyers and a social networking site.  More specifically:

  1. “First, what is missing from the legal blogosphere is a group blog for practicing lawyers. While Volokh or Co-Op are possible as templates for group blogs, I see something more akin to the splashier Huffington Post, except that it would be written by and for lawyers.”
  2. “Now mix in the social element, whether this is for swapping tips and links or engaging in political discussion away from one’s own practice area. It happens to some extent in comment areas, but this is limited. It also is happening in Twitter, but the format is anything but ideal. . . . .  A well-located and well-designed legal forum can be significantly superior to it.”

As an example of a model, Eric goes on to point to “Well designed discussion boards such as those operated by The Motley Fool financial site,” which could also incorporate profiles for those interested in social networking.  He then that such a site would “also have a reader base with some of the best advertising demographics in the nation. Advertising (cars, booze, travel, etc) would be an easy sell relative to other sites, as would law firm sponsorships.”  And,

“Thus, a savvy entrepreneur will one day blend the desires for blogging and the desires for a legal-social element into one web location, in an easy-to-use site.”

Eric is right.  Such a project needs to have content with substance and style, and it needs to offer value that exceeds the time spent perusing and using the site.  Turk predicts it will happen and brags that “you heard it first” at his weblog.  He forgot to say that Prof. Yabut and the entire f/k/a Gang would love to come out of retirement to put such a project together (and maybe show the Twittrepreneurs that we’re much more like phoenixes and eagles than pterodactyls ’round here).

.. White Lies? Well, only a little and temporary one.  As the day progresses, I’ll be adding poems by the f/k/a family of haiku poets from white lies: the Red Moon Anthology of English Language Haiku 2008 (see our prior post).   “white lies” contains some of the very best haiku-related poetry published in 2008. E.g., this trio from Tom Painting:

fall planting
the way my father
set them straight

peace vigil
one candle
lights them all

year’s end
the weight of the pennies
in the mason jar

…. by Tom Paintingwhite lies: Red Moon Anthology 2008
“fall planting” – Bottle Rockets 18
“peace vigil” – A Bomb Contest 2008
“year’s end” – Modern Haiku 39:2

spring at last 
letting the stallion out
into the pasture

razor wire
soldiers in the alley
tossing dice

… by Randy M. Brookswhite lies: Red Moon Anthology 2008
“spring at last” – acorn 20; “razor wire” – dandelion clocks (HSA 2008)

storm forecast__
the living room
in order

….. by Tom Clausen – white lies: RMA 2008
orig. pub. Wisteria 8

cherry blossom rain . . .
I take the convertible
back to the showroom

all the answers
in the back of the book–
summer solstice

a new light
on the dashboard
evening rain

…… by Alice Frampton – white lies: RMA 2008
“cherry blossom rain . . . ” – Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival
“all the answers” – The Heron’s Nest X:3
“a new light” –  The Heron’s Nest X:2

behind our backs —
the sounds the ocean
covers up

…………………… by Gary Hotham –
orig. pub. The Heron’s Nest X:3

February 2, 2009

don’t let a bad idea go statewide: Sex Offender Residence Restrictions in NYS

Filed under: viewpoint — David Giacalone @ 4:27 pm

.. Only one week after NYS Supreme Court Justice William Kelly struck down Rockland County’s sex offender residency law in the case of Peo. v. Oberlander (see our prior post), and in “direct response” to the decision, Senate Majority Leader Malcolm A. Smith proposed S.01300, calling the bill “Major Statewide Legislation Aimed to Protect Children from Sex Offenders” (press release, Jan. 30, 2009; reprinted at   Senator Smith’s legislation would prohibit a registered sex offender from living anywhere in New York State within 1,000 feet of a school building, park, or day care center, for at least ten years after release, and would impose criminal penalties for violations. (The press release was apparently rushed out before the actual bill was ready to post at the Senate website. update [6 PM]: Text of S.01300; bill summary)

Because Oberlander held that State law and policy pre-empted action by local units of government with regard to sex offender residency restrictions [SORR], and about 80 local SORR laws are on the books across New York State, some statewide action is indeed warranted.  What we did not need, however, was a stampede to spread residency bans that are a bad idea on a local level throughout the entire State.  [update: For example, the proposal in Colonie, NY, to ban sex offenders from living within 1500′ of eachother.]

It takes no courage at all for a politician to support such residency bans.  It does take courage, and a deep sense of commitment to fair and effective government, to resist the temptation to “do something/anything” and make believe the problem is solved.

update (Feb. 2, 2009, 6 PM): The text of S.01300 has been posted.  It would be an amendment to Section 168-b of the correction law.  Under the new Sec. 168-W (1) “No sex offender shall reside in a residence that is within one thousand feet of any” school, building where day care is provided, or park.

The residency ban will last “for the greater of ten years or the period or term of probation, parole, conditional release or post-release supervision,” and “shall apply to sex offenders convicted or released on or after” the law becomes effective [sixty days after it becomes law].

Sen. Johnson is correct that having scores of local SORR laws has created a “confusing patchwork” that we “need to simply.”  But, he is also right when he says that we need to get our laws right.  Rather than calling for hearings to determine whether current State policy is wise and effective, and whether residency bans actually protect children, Sen. Smith and Sen. Craig Johnson have done the politically expedient thing and immediately moved to impose on the entire state a law that many law enforcement and criminal justice experts have found to be not merely ineffective, but actually counterproductive — and, which will put an expensive and time-consuming burden on law enforcement.

Senator Smith, along with Senator Johnson, has decided to mollify the excessive fears of some members of our community by taking rights away from a disfavored group, even after they have served their time and have met their parole or probation requirements, and with no regard to the actual risk presented by each individual offender.

Incanting “protection of children” and “assurances to parents,” Smith and Johnson are jumping on the residency ban “solution” with “Not a scintilla of evidence that residency restrictions protect children.” (Schenectady Gazette, “Legislators scramble on sex offenders,” by Carl Strock, Aug. 26, 2007, p. B1).  And, they’re acting in the face of analysis and evidence showing that the best way to prevent recidivism is to offer offenders a supportive social, supervisory, and therapeutic network, in a context where they are well-monitored and have relevant services readily available, along with the opportunity for stable employment, and the chance to re-integrate into society.

Forcing sex offenders out of the populated areas (away from family and friends, and with inadequate transportation and services) or into tiny sex-offender ghettos, makes it harder to achieve any of those goals, and therefore increases rather than decreases the chance of re-offending.  It also hurts the families of the offenders, and will surely upset the residents of the “disfavored” areas that fall outside the zones of protection.

Under the current system, local probation and social services officials have the responsibility to find appropriate housing for the most dangerous sex offenders, taking into account each offender’s situation.  That system is working well.  Despite the misinformation that comes from politicians and proponents of harsh treatment for sex offenders after they leave the justice system, the most recent sex offender recidivism study notes that:

“sex offenders are arrested and/or convicted of committing a new sex crime at a lower rate than other offenders who commit other new non-sexual crimes.” (Research Bulletin: Sex Offender Populations, Recidivism and Actuarial Assessment, New York State Division of Probation and Correctional Alternatives, May, 2007)

As I said in one of our first posts on the subject of residency bans, in 2007: 

The policy issues presented by sex offender residence restrictions are important for the integrity of our society. Notwithstanding the example of the current [Bush] Administration in Washington, we cannot react to fear (especially exaggerated fear) by unduly restricting the civil liberties of an undesirable or unpopular class of people.

We certainly should not be reacting to such fear with measures that are likely to make things worse. [See The for a full discussion of why such bans are ineffective and counter-productive; and see the resources at the end of this posting.]  In response to the Oberlander case, the State Legislature should act responsibly and thoughtfully.  It should clarify that local government units do not have the authority to place residency restrictions on sex offenders beyond those already mandated by State law.  In order to best protect our children, the State should continue close monitoring and individualized housing decisions for dangerous sex offenders, while aiming as the long-term goal to reintegrate sex offenders into the community, as they show they are ready to accept the responsibility.

afterwords (Feb. 3, 2009):  In his coverage of the new bill last night, Prof. Corey Rayburn Yung at the Sex Crimes weblog has this interesting observation:

“The response provides an interesting contrast with New Jersey. In that state, several courts struck down residency restrictions on preemption grounds. However, as far as I know the state legislature didn’t make a political issue out of it. In New York, it seems like the legislature has taken a different approach. The state has been free to pass residency restrictions all along – so this seems like a basic attempt to politicize a court decision. I wonder if the bill will gain traction.”

It is very difficult to believe that Sen. Johnson is not already aware of the arguments against residency bans that keep a sex offender from re-integrating into society.  Should he or other legislators and policy-makers, or members of the public, want to learn more, they can go “below the fold”, where I’ve listed informative resources, along with excerpts and links from prior discussion at this weblog.

afterwords (Feb. 20, 2009): See our post on Peo. v. James Blair, in which an Albany City Court judge follows the Oberlander precedent.


February 1, 2009

out on the town with “Ed Post”

Filed under: Schenectady Synecdoche — David Giacalone @ 9:58 am

.. illusive Blawg Review Editor returns to Schenectady . . ..

It’s been 51 weeks since our famously anonymous friend “Ed Post” first arrived at the train station in Schenectady, New York, after attending LegalTech 2008 (see our prior post).  Yesterday, returning for a quick visit on his way to LegalTech 2009, the Editor of Blawg Review was speechless to discover he didn’t yet appear on a display of famous guys who’ve made railroad “whistle-stops” in Schenectady.  The customarily self-effacing Editor was not mollified by my explanation that Lincoln, Edison, Roosevelt, etc., had arrived sans pseudonyms, and actually allowed their faces to be photographed (or sketched) for the press and public to see.

I’m glad Ed didn’t notice this nearby sign, proudly announcing Thomas Edison’s arrival in Schenectady in 1886, to found his machine works, which became General Electric Corp.  My “we need a photo” argument would not have persuaded the canny Editor.

After an enjoyable $20.09 Schenectady Bicentennial dinner at the Stockade Inn, Ed could not resist the temptation to let his tech-crazy followers know he had entered the den of the blawgisphere’s infamous techagnostic. See his Tweet from Schenectady (Jan. 31, 2009).  Despite Ed‘s eloquence and practical arguments, he couldn’t get Prof. Yabut to jump on the Twitter bandwagon.  He’ll surely try again over lunch today.

Monday morning, Ed hops back on Amtrak, tooting and tweeting his way south to New York City, where he’ll be schmoozing with some of the luminaries of the world of legal weblogs.  Schenectady will miss him, and we might even be working on a plaque to greet his next arrival in town.

afterwords (Feb. 2, 2009): Speaking of LegalTech 2009, this week’s Blawg Review is #197, and its theme is LegalTech.  Legal Blog Watch teamed up with “Ed” to produce and host Blawg Review #197.  In fact, “Ed” labored away on it from his room in the Schenectady Holiday Inn, while watching Super Bowl XLIII.

After ingesting far too much food and one very large glass of Merlot, last night, the f/k/a Gang seems unable this morning to sustain any new haiku moments.  If you came for haiku today, here’s a reprise of poems from Kobayashi Issa, celebrating Chinese/Japanese New Year:

on New Year’s day
a cute little pilgrim
at the gate

the kettle’s lid
rattle, rattle…
New Year’s herbs

bedtime sake–
whether the new year comes
or not

the cat steals
a New Year’s nap…
sitting room

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

related: read about Ed’s first visit to Schenectady

p.s. Click to see a post card of Schenectady’s Union Station, which was demolished in the 1970’s prior to Prof. Yabut himself arriving in Schenectady. Its successor Amtrak Station is not quite as classy.

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