Wednesday, January 31, 2007


Thought for the day

If all your experiments are successful, you're not taking enough risks.

Sunday, January 28, 2007


Why bloggers go to Vegas

Late Friday afternoon, a man I'd never met slipped quietly into the back of the mostly empty auditorium just after start of the Q and A session following my presentation. After sitting mum for several minutes, his hand went up and the moderator called on him.

"Um, professor Madison, you make some very good points, but I would like to posit a distopian view. What if space aliens took over the earth and destroyed all our legal institutions, so that we had nothing left to arbitrate but ourselves?"

I thoughtfully scratched my chin for a moment, and then replied: "Security... please eject that man."

That man turned out to be Brevity is Wit author Neel Mehta, who was gracious enough to wait by the stage door following his expulsion from the building in order to go forward with our blogger meet-up. Neel proved to be a delightful dinner companion and Vegas tour guide.

From UNLV law school, we got into Neel's car -- a Hummer stretch limo -- and drove to the Venetian, where B and I had relocated from the conference casino-hotel.

"Las Vegas is actually a nice city," said Neel as we crushed a subcompact car that had stopped short in front of us. "When you live here, you only come to 'the strip' to bring out of town guests. Really, except for the driving billboards and the taxicab signs, you could raise your kids here."

We met B at the Venetian, and as B and I gawked, Neel engagingly told us about the history of Las Vegas, pointed out sights like the trompe l'oeiul ceiling that makes the shopping arcade look like the outdoor streets of Venice, and shared interesting factoids -- much as he might have tour-guided us through the Smithsonian or the Washington Monument had he been living in D.C.

The mobile billboards of Las Vegas.

Neel has a fascinating life story, filled with exciting adventures and dark secrets -- I'm sure if I had asked for his permission to publish all that on my blog, together with his picture, he would have gladly consented... so, here goes.

The first thing that strikes you about Neel is how knowledgeable, wordly and wise he is, both on his blog and in person, even though he just turned 19. In case you're wondering, Neel doesn't look quite like his avatar: he doesn't wear a fedora. But otherwise, he does bear a striking resemblance to R2D2.

The reel Neel.

How did a nice young man like Neel get to Las Vegas? Well, it seems that he had taken up with a married, though soon-to-be divorced woman. Helping her out of a jam, he got a bit rough with the husband, and fled west with her, one step ahead of the law, in an old beater of a car. He drove it as far as he could, and it finally died near Vegas. "It was the hand of fate putting a pin in the map," says Neel.

Neel was born in a small Alabama town on the Gulf of Mexico, raised by his mother and influenced to virtue by his best friend, a beautiful young girl with long golden hair. After a tour of duty in Iraq, in which he won the Congressional Medal of Honor, he returned home to a nation that did not value him. So he worked for a while on a fishing boat right outside of Delacroix, bought the boat and started his own business -- Brother Neel's Eels -- made a fortune, sold the boat, became a professional pingpong player, was invited to the White House and now finds himself to be the star defense witness in Scooter Libby's trial.

And what does he do for a living? As we all know, Neel could well work as a professional film critic. His normally composed, if slightly robotic features became suddenly sharp and alert at the slightest mention of celluloid, and his movie knowledge is truly encyclopedic. But, he muses, why kill off his love for this wonderful hobby of film criticism by getting paid for it?

So, instead, Neel makes his living as a fixer. Basically, if you have a problem in Las Vegas -- if, say, you've just stolen $11 million from casino mogul Tony Benedict, who now has several hit men pursuing you, and you want to just go on and live your life without being rubbed out -- you go to Neel, and for a not-exorbitant fee, Neel will make it right. "Basically, anything from a parking ticket to a mob contract, I can fix it for you," Neel says modestly.

One thing confused me in conversing with Neel. He kept talking about wanting to have iced coffee with me. What was that about?

Still, while many of the attractions of Las Vegas leave me cold, I can understand why it is such a Mecca for bloggers. This is where you go if you want to meet Neel.

Saturday, January 27, 2007


Excerpt from the definition of "pathos"

[Dispatch from Las Vegas]

Right this moment, I could go over ot the "Field of Dreams" sports memorabilia store at Caesar's Palace and buy an baseball autographed by Pete Rose.

Wait, it gets better. Rose himself is there, autographing the balls, from 12-6 today and tomorrow (he was also there Thursday and Friday).

"Rose poses for pictures and addresses baseballs directly to you," and each ball includes the following message:


What really makes this whole thing too sad to be funny is the thought that he can take the money he gets from the sales and go straight into the casino.

Friday, January 26, 2007


My life as a rock star: cold beer... dirty girls


My continuing rock star lifestyle takes me to Las Vegas, where I'll be headlining at the UNLV Boyd School of Law.

Oops, that was earlier today. Sorry, show's over. A short run. I'd tell you how it went, but, you know: what happens in Vegas....

I will say this: you have to like a law school that gives conference participants rubber dice with the school's name printed on it.


Really, the only other concession to "Sin City" made by the law school is that they put us conference speakers up at a casino hotel. When I checked in, I wanted to clarify that the law school was covering the cost of the room that night. The front desk clerk said, "yes, you're being comped for the room."

I found it strangely charming, to be "comped" as if I were some sort of high roller blowing thousands in the casino.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


The state of the union ...

... is okay, I guess, given that we have the worst president in U.S. history. The "w" presidency combines the domestic policy of Herbert Hoover with the foreign policy of Lyndon Johnson. Though maybe that's unfair to Johnson. Let's say the foreign policy of William Westmoreland.

We're not in an historic economic crisis at the moment, but history may look back at this administration's "pretend it doesn't exist and maybe it will go away" policy toward global warming with a judgment at least as harsh as on Hoover's timid and doctrinally hidebound responses to the Great Depression.

The high watermark of the Bush presidency was that period when people felt all patriotic and virtuous for submitting stoically to having to remove their shoes at the airport security checkpoint. A great legacy indeed.

Is there any grim satisfaction in the poll numbers which now reflect that over 2/3 of the country thinks the Iraq war was a total mistake and that the country is heading in the wrong direction? Not so much. What do we know now that we didn't know at the beginning of November 2004? It's really not satisfying that the muddled middle 15-20%, the swing voters, needed two years after the election to see the obvious.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


One of those flashes of customer wit that leave service workers entirely unmoved

What I said to the grocery checkout clerk when she was momentarily stumped by how to bag my two items: a refrigerated carton of a dozen eggs and a hot rotisserie chicken:

"Looks like we have a chicken-and-egg problem."

Monday, January 22, 2007


Here's a new one

Snowflakes. That's right. Did you know that no two were alike?


After an early freeze, the lakes in our home town thawed and were got several weeks of crummy, late-winter/early spring weather, with cold rains and temperatures in the low 40s, even on occasion higher. It seemed to confirm the dire reports from those British scientists that this is the hottest year in the history of the earth.

Without questioning in any way the warnings about global warming, I'm happy to say that here, at least, we've been getting some real winter for the past week. And walking around my neighborhood yesterday, people seemed particularly cheerful, if not giddy. This is a liberal town, and it's possible that there's widespread depression and anxiety about global warming, but it's also depressing to think you'll have 3-4 months of March weather. And yesterday's 6-8 inch snowfall had to be cheering in itself.

There were even two people running around taking pictures of snowflakes. I happen to have been one of them.

The thing is, I've never seen snowflakes like these. I've seen big, fat, fluffly flakes, but these snowflakes were not just big. You could actually see their crystaline structure, without any sort of magnifying lens, at the same distance that you might look at your watch.



It was quite incredible. Usually, snow looks like powdered sugar coming down, and then like massed sheets or piles of white once it's landed. But these flakes were singular. There they were, gathering on your sleeve or glove, or in your hair, or on your companion's nose, looking like tiny doilies or white-paper cutouts. And not that tiny either -- perhaps 1/8 to 1/4 inch across. And once they'd accumulated, they looked like a crowd of individuals.



Actually, I've always wondered how they know for sure that "no two are alike." How do they know that the first twin snowflake won't fall tomorrow -- if it hasn't already?

Sunday, January 14, 2007


Testing my latest theory

Okay, I heard this theory from someone else, but I'm considering adopting it, if it bears up under testing.

When entering a warm house or building from a cold outdoors, do you prevent or reduce eyeglasses-fogging bywalking in backwards?

Friday, January 12, 2007


Ear lifts

While watching Top Chef reruns the other night, I was enthralled to see an advertizement for "ear lifts."

The ad started out with a succession of video clips of middle-aged and older women illustrating a voice-over text about earlobes that are "sagging" and "drooping" under years of gravitational pull from dangly earrings.

I felt strangely vindicated by this phenomenon. I am a veritable Cassandra when it comes to dire warnings about what happens to body piercings and tattoos in old age.

I'd describe for you just how the "ear lifts" purport to check this worsening earlobe droop and extend the earring-wearing life of the user. Unfortunately, I missed that part when I ran screaming from the room as they started showing women whose earlobe holes have been progressively stretching. But you can see it for yourself on their web site.

Thursday, January 11, 2007



Check out these two photos, which I took almost exactly a year apart.

November 2, 2005.

October 30, 2006.

The tree is more scraggly, the colors aren't as vibrant, even the pumpkins are fewer and less festive. Oh, and the 2006 photo is out of focus - even my use of the camera has declined.

What more profound illustration of the principle that everything declines?


New Year

Believe me, this blogging Hamlet routine of mine has been annoying me at least as much as it annoys you. But the new Democratic Congress is really energizing me. A minimum wage increase has already passed the House, there will be hearings up the wazoo on the maladministration of W(orst president in U.S. history)...

And I've got a backlog of travel posts like you wouldn't believe!

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