Author Archives: SHG

Ways To Think (Max Planck Edition)

When Steph West Allen sent me a link to Farnam Street, I had no idea what to expect. Stephanie often sends me links without explanation. But I clicked and saw the subtitle:

Farnam Street helps you make better decisions, innovate, and avoid stupidity.

I want to avoid stupidity, for myself and others. And indeed, the post Steph referred to was fascinating. It began with a quote from Mortimer Adler that struck home.

“The person who says he knows what he thinks but cannot express it usually does not know what he thinks.”

More to the point, we employ facile rationalizations to explain our feelings to ourselves and pretend they are well-conceived thoughts. But unless and until tested by explaining our feelings with sound cogent arguments, we’re just enjoying some mental masturbation. In one post, Farnam Street explains two ways of thinking (and this is such a great story, told by Charlie Munger at the 2007 commencement of USC Law School, that I can’t pass it up): Continue reading

Rape, Incest And Retribution

As of this moment, there are 106,673 “signatures” on a petition, or what the New York Times’ Public Editor, Liz Spayd, calls “an initiative.”  Its purpose is clear:

We the people of Montana, cannot sit by and watch the repeated injustice of our court system. There was an obvious bias toward the protection of the convicted child rapist, who was sentenced to less than the minimum required for his admitted crime. Justice for the victim was not served.

We want Judge McKeon impeached and his retirement benefits revoked. He acted in a way which was a direct violation to the Montana Correctional and Sentencing Policies and the Canons he is required to uphold as an elected Judge. He disregarded a plea deal of 100 years, with 75 suspended recommended by the prosecution and instead let the admitted, child rapist walk free on a minimal incarceration and probation. The convicted man admitted to repeatedly raping his 12 year old daughter and accepted the plea, knowing he would be sentenced to 100 years, yet because of Judge McKeon, he will be free to reoffend.


It’s unlikely that many of the signors at the petition are constituents of the judge or the politicians to whom this letter will be sent. It’s unlikely that anyone with any knowledge of law will read the petition and find anything about it legally persuasive, as it’s the gibberish of outrage, the strung-together legally-meaningless sputtering of random people on the internet. Continue reading

The Dead, The Living And The Dots

If you’re of the view that homosexuality is a sin, then you’re in the wrong place. If a person is sexually attracted to someone of the same gender, what difference does that make to you, unless you’re such a true believer in zombie novels* that you can’t get over it, or you harbor latent concerns about your own desires.

Great Britain has decided to pardon the dead.

Britain’s decision to posthumously pardon the tens of thousands of gay men convicted of seeking or having sex is just and long overdue.

Overdue is an understatement. They’re dead. Lot of good it does now.

For British men who were stigmatized, imprisoned and beaten for their sexual orientation, clearing their records posthumously is a critical recognition of historical wrongs.

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The Surreal Unpleasantness of Going Viral

It was an obvious quip in response to New York Times assistant general counsel, David McCraw’s, letter to Donald Trump’s lawyers. McCraw’s letter was fine, but kinda dull. It was a yeoman’s response to a yeoman’s demand. Given the circumstances, he could have had a bit more fun with the letter, though most readers are so pedestrian, pompous and official that anything reflecting even an iota of wit would be off-putting.

No sense of humor. What is it with people gushing over boring, official-sounding lawyer letters? Why do people adore stuffy?

So, I jumped in with a reminder about my favorite lawyer letter ever on the twitters. For most of us, there was nothing new in the letter at all. We’ve all seen it, loved it, laughed at it. But as they say with summer re-runs, if you didn’t see it the first time, it’s new to you.

Cute, right? But no big deal. Certainly, my piece of the twit was nothing of note, and the letter from Cleveland Browns general counsel, James Bailey, was nothing new. But then the weirdest thing happened. It went viral. Continue reading

Fishing For Pleas

There is a good point to be found in former public defender, Gabriel Urza’s, op-ed. Unfortunately, it’s not the point he (I think, but can’t really be sure) tries to make.

When I landed a job as a public defender in my hometown, Reno, Nev., fresh out of law school in 2004, I had no practical experience with the criminal justice system. I hadn’t volunteered with a legal aid organization, hadn’t even been on the mock trial team in school. I had never sat at a counsel table.

So when Sean, an attorney in the office who had been a public defender for a decade, took it upon himself to show me the ropes, I was all too eager to listen. He showed me how to get into the jail to visit my clients, when to fill out a D.U.I. waiver or file a motion to dismiss, how to prepare for evidentiary hearings and how to deal with belligerent clients and prosecutors.

Perhaps most important, he taught me how to fly fish.

Fly fishing as metaphor is a valuable lesson for criminal defense lawyers. But as an actual thing to do, not so much. Continue reading

Danner’s Death And The Great Divide

When NYPD Sgt. Hugh Barry arrived at Dorothy Danner’s door in response to a neighbor’s 911 call that she was acting “erratically,” whatever that means, he knew he was going to be dealing with a mentally ill woman. Danner was schizophrenic, and a regular for the cops.

On Tuesday, Ms. Danner, 66, was fatally shot by a police sergeant in her Bronx apartment in a confrontation that was condemned in swift and striking terms by Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill.

Both the mayor and the commissioner said the officer had failed to follow the Police Department’s protocol for dealing with an emotionally disturbed person.

The mayor and PC were being disingenuous. There is a protocol in place, since the killing of Eleanor Bumpurs in 1984. They whip it out as needed, but it’s just there for show. Not only has the NYPD neglected to train its officers in dealing with the mentally ill,* but the protocol is nonsensical. The cops who respond to find a mentally ill person are to wait, call Emergency Services, and let them respond. Continue reading

When The Only Word That Means Anything Is The “Hat”

It seems unfair to stop reading after the first sentence, or clause, anticipating that what will follow will be a string of words that means nothing. And it gives pause. What is it that this is meaningful to others, but it reads as insanely nonsensical jargon that means absolutely nothing to me? Is it wrong? Am I not getting it? Are they nuts? Am I?

This isn’t a new phenomenon.

Many years ago, the great British neurologist Oliver Sacks, a man with a flair for subtle observations and the clear prose to describe them, wrote a book about strange cases of mental confusion he had encountered. Its title seizes your attention instantly: The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.

The title was no joke, nor was the man in question blind. His eyes registered the colors and the contours of his wife, but his mind had lost the capacity to interpret the messages correctly. The poor woman had to endure having her husband grasp her head with both hands as if to lift her and place her atop his head.

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PENsplaining Away The First Amendment

Free speech on campus is doing fine. Wait, better than fine. Great. You didn’t know that? Well, that’s why the august writers’ organization, PEN America, is here to explain it to you.

The conventional wisdom surrounding American college life these days views campuses as hotbeds of intolerance for free speech, with students themselves leading the charge.

But a new report by PEN America, to be released on Monday, questions that story line while warning of a different danger: a growing perception among young people that cries of “free speech” are too often used as a cudgel against them.

The report, titled “And Campus for All: Diversity, Inclusion and Freedom of Speech at U.S. Universities,” covers a broad range of hot-button topics, including trigger warnings, microaggressions, safe spaces and controversial campus speakers. While it cites “troubling incidents of speech curtailed,” it finds no “pervasive” crisis.

The organization, which purports to exist to “fight for freedom of expression,” tells us to chill out about all the wild and crazy things the kids are doing on campus. It’s all good. Continue reading

The Price of Logic (In The Age of Emotion)

If you’re in that lower half of the socioeconomic spectrum, you ought to be outraged by the slur to your intelligence reflected by Caroline Kitchener’s post in The Atlantic.

While law schools are steadily becoming more racially and ethnically diverse, they remain overwhelmingly upper-middle class. Only 5 percent of students at elite law schools come from families that fall in the bottom half of the socioeconomic spectrum—a number that has hardly changed since the 1960s. The Logic Games section contributes to this lack of socioeconomic diversity.

Calling it the logic “games” suggests that’s just another ploy of the elites to keep the maginalized down. After all, it’s a game. It games law school admissions. And as the post URL says, the game is “rigged,” a word that’s bandied about a lot lately. So what is this “Logic Game”?

As soon as I told my friends and family about my plans to take the LSAT, the standardized law-school admissions test, people started warning me about one particular set of questions. Analytical Reasoning, or “Logic Games,” is a section that tests your ability to order and group information. The questions are written to seem accessible and unintimidating—they ask you to analyze combinations of ice-cream flavors or animals in a zoo—but, every year, they stop tens of thousands of applicants from attending top law schools.

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Grace And The Bloodless Coup

The third and final debate between the presidential candidates went off as expected, with each side certain that their candidate was obviously the winner, rationalizing the flaws and ridiculing the opponent’s, but for one huge distinction. As the New York Times’ headline screams:

Trump Won’t Say if He Will Accept Election Results

Instead, he will keep America in suspense. As for the suspense part, few will lose sleep wondering how this will turn out. I don’t think suspense means what he thinks it does.

There is no constitutional duty to concede. There is no law that dictates that the loser of an election give a speech, a press release, anything, congratulating the winner and, something, something, ‘Murica. Whether or not Trump “accepts” the election results isn’t, in itself, of any importance whatsoever. The results are no different if he accepts them or not. Results are results, and if he chooses to be the whiny bitch of the election, this is America and he’s totally allowed.

The concession speech is an American tradition. It’s an act of graciousness that serves to put the animosity of the campaign behind us and move forward for the sake of the nation.  The calm after the storm may not last long, but for a few moments, we rise above the partisan bickering that has served our nation so well, and so poorly, to remember why we do this at all. Continue reading

Sotomayor’s Baseball Bat

When President Obama nominated then-Second Circuit judge, Sonia Sotomayor, to the Supreme Court of the United States, some of us were more than a little dubious about the selection. She wasn’t exactly an empathetic Latina on the bench in Foley Square. We were wrong about her, to a large extent, and while she isn’t exactly the godsend to the constitutional rights of criminal defendants we had hoped, she’s the best we have at One First.

But she’s no Nino Scalia.

While celebrating civility in public discourse on Monday night, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor joked she had thought about hitting her deceased colleague Antonin Scalia with a baseball bat due to their differences in opinion.

The 62-year-old Obama appointee told a group of University of Minnesota she wasn’t always quick to tolerate her coworker’s conservative views. Continue reading

Fear of Flying

Sonnet Stanfill is a curator in textiles and fashion at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. It’s an important position, but it’s not the director of the museum, which gives rise to her gripe:

In 2015, the world’s top 12 art museums as based on attendance — what I call the “directors’ dozen” — were all led by men. When Frances Morris became the director of the Tate Modern in April, she became the first woman to join the club. This gender gap extends from Europe to North America, where only five of the 33 directors of the most prominent museums (those with operating budgets of more than $20 million) are women, including Kaywin Feldman of the Minneapolis Institute of Art and Nathalie Bondil of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. It’s the leaders of those big-budget institutions who set the tone for all.

Simple statistics have become proof of gender discrimination, which makes perfect sense if one assumes, ceteris paribus, male and female (excluding, as Stanfill does, the existence of other underrepresented genders) to be equal. There can be no other explanation, because any other explanation is inherently sexist. Sexist discussion is not allowed.

The top three art museums have never been run by a woman. The Louvre, the British Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art are treasure-filled, international destinations.

This isn’t possible, under permissible discussion, except as a product of discrimination. And it’s not for lack of qualified candidates. Continue reading