Tuesday, December 30, 2008


How many times have you heard this recently? When I was younger, the standard year-end greeting was "Happy New Year." Increasingly, now people add "prosperous" to "happy." It is not enough to be "happy" in the New Year; you must be "prosperous," too. Is there any significance to this? Are "happiness" and "prosperity" identical concepts? Is "prosperity" a necessary condition to "happiness?" Or has our society merely conflated the two ideas, so that people cannot imagine themselves "happy" without being "prosperous" as well?

At first blush, we might just dismiss all greetings as empty formalities. Everyone says "How are you?" or even "Merry Christmas" without really caring about how you are or whether you have a merry Christmas. They are simply "extended greetings" that people say without intending to elicit a response. But I argue that even empty formalities imply something more. They may be empty, and people may not give a second thought to what they really mean; but they would not have become formalities unless they originally expressed something more significant.

"Happy New Year" makes more sense than "Happy and Prosperous New Year." Most people agree that it is good to be happy. In fact, when we feel happy, all negative emotions are absent. No matter our material circumstances, if we are happy at particular moment, nothing else weighs upon us. I recently discussed Sigmund Freud's analysis concerning happiness. He said that the "purpose and intention" of men's lives is "to become happy and remain so." Civilization and its Discontents, p. 25. Freud went on to explain that "happiness" consists of two primary parts: (1) avoiding "strong feelings of unpleasure;" and (2) experiencing "strong feelings of pleasure." Id. By this definition, it makes sense to wish "happiness" on someone for the new year. We all want the positive feeling that flows from true happiness. By wishing a "happy" new year, we wish the other person a year without "unpleasure" and filled with "strong feelings of pleasure." Who would not want that? Happiness is its own reward; it does strictly not depend on any material factors. It is purely emotional.

But now we tell people: "Have a happy and prosperous New Year." Prosperity is not an emotion. The dictionary tells us that "prosperity" means "prosperous condition; good fortune, wealth, success, etc." And "prosperous" means "1. having continued success, flourishing; 2. well-to-do; 3. conducive to success, favorable." Webster's New World College Dictionary (4th Ed.). To wish prosperity, then, means to wish "continued success, wealth and good fortune" on someone. Success, wealth and good fortune refer to "favorable" external circumstances, not subjective emotions. True, "prosperous" external circumstances often lay the groundwork for emotional "happiness." But "prosperity" alone does not inexorably lead to happiness. There are many extremely wealthy, successful and "prosperous" people who nonetheless manufacture their own mental agony. Happiness is subjective. Prosperity, by contrast, is more objective. It turns on circumstances, not our minds. If our end goal is to experience "positive subjective feelings," then prosperity is not necessary to achive it.

Yet our society conflates the two ideas. Many act under the illusion that achieving "prosperity" is the sole pathway to happiness. Our pervasively commercial culture is responsible for this delusion. We are surrounded by images of wealth, beauty, money and tangible "things." We equate having these things with "success" and "happiness." At the same time, we are beset with financial obligations that do not subside unless we satisfy them with money or property. Obligations fuel negative emotions such as anxiety, worry, panic, stress and depression. When we do not meet the accepted vision of "success," or when we fail to live up to an obligation, negative emotions overtake us. These emotions, in turn, generate "unpleasure," and as Freud said, we cannot be truly happy whenever we experience unpleasure. Still, "prosperity" seems to offer an antidote to this negative complex. After all, if only we had "continued success" and "wealth," we would overcome our obligations, obtain all the material "things" we want and cast out the unpleasure that blocks our path to happiness.

But this presupposes that having things will truly cast out unpleasure. Our commercial culture teaches that "success" comes from having money, having property and having the freedom to lead our own economic lives. With economic freedom comes freedom from financial obligation. That eliminates a huge source of potential anxiety. Yet even those who achieve such freedom do not escape negative emotions. Wealthy and prosperous people still experience jealousy, resentment, hatred, fear and longing. They still feel pain when physical illness befalls them. They still feel disappointment when spouses, children and friends fail them. And they still focus their energy on some imagined future that they will never attain. As long as they continue to experience these negative emotions, they will never be happy, no matter how prosperous they are.

Several years ago, I saw a picture of Paris Hilton sobbing in the back of a police cruiser. I thought: "Wow, this successful, wealthy and prosperous woman--who has virtually no financial obligations or money problems--is nonetheless experiencing 'strongly negative emotions.'" At that moment, Paris Hilton could not have been happy. She may have been prosperous, but she was not happy. Her contorted face, tears and sobs revealed that she was not experiencing positive feelings. All her money, success, fame, good fortune and prosperity did not give her mental tranquility at that moment. And this was only one picture. Who knows how often she feels that way off the camera.

So why do we wish people "prosperity" in the new year? As we have seen, it does not automatically translate into happiness. For my part, I would much rather be happy than prosperous. If I am happy, I care not for my external circumstances. I depend on my own mind for peace, not the number of dollars in my bank account. Still, I am realistic when I have to be, and I know that we need some material "success" in order to keep our bodies in the physical condition necessary to avoid "strong feelings of unpleasure." But our society does not really understand that subjective happiness is the best thing we can seek in life. Instead, we learn that pursuing "prosperity" is our main goal, even though it does not always fulfill us. Prosperity refers to what we have; happiness refers to what we are. It is much easier to lose things we have than to lose ourselves.

I do not make prosperity a talisman in my life. I know that external conceptions of "prosperity" will not make me subjectively happy. Instead, I live my life in a way that will bring me as much happiness as possible. In many cases, that approach indirectly leads to prosperity. Perhaps that it is the best way to reconcile prosperity and happiness. If we focus on matters with a view to happiness, we often find prosperity in the process. After all, happiness is ours. We make the decisions. Others label us "prosperous" according to our "wealth" and "continued success." Yet if our own efforts yield "prosperity," then we vindicate ourselves, not the expectations of others.

With that, I wish you all a Happy New Year.

Monday, December 29, 2008



No. 08-9872 C

The United States of America, Petitioner-Appellant
Willie Wilson, Respondent-Appellee.



A. Coldwater, J.

In this case, the United States appeals from a post-trial finding that the jury’s verdict against Respondent Willie Wilson (hereinafter “Wilson”) was against the manifest weight of the evidence.

Following a 12-day jury trial, a jury constituted in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia found Wilson guilty of Aggravated First Degree Murder. Acting sua sponte, the trial Judge, Hon. Charles F. Licht, reversed the jury’s verdict on the ground that: “No reasonable juror could have reasonably ignored compelling inculpatory statements made by an unavailable witnesses. Any reasonable juror would have evaluated these statements in such a manner as to cast reasonable doubt on the guilt of the accused. In this case, justice requires that the jury’s verdict be rejected.” The United States objected to the trial Judge’s ruling. The trial Judge overruled the objections. The United States timely appealed, arguing that the trial Judge had no authority to ignore the jury’s finding of fact without “evidence of wrongdoing in the jury deliberation process.” Counsel for Respondent Wilson urges us to sustain the trial Judge’s ruling on the rationale that “justice dictates the Judge’s action.” Wilson further points out that the jury was solely composed of white individuals, while Wilson is black.


The record discloses the following facts. On August 21, 2006, Willie Wilson was at home in Atlanta. He lived in a self-described “ high-crime neighborhood” where drug deals were common. At approximately 11 PM, Wilson heard a “loud noise” in front of his house. Because his house had been burglarized several times in the past, he grabbed a 9mm pistol and put it in his waistband before walking outside. He went outside, where he saw six or seven youths struggling on the sidewalk about 50 feet away. He also said he saw a “flashy metal object” passing between them. About 10 seconds later, Wilson said he realized it was a pistol. Soon thereafter, one youth pointed the gun at another and fired. The group scattered in all directions, leaving the injured man behind. Wilson went over to the man, whose name was Tyrone Gibbons. Gibbons was bleeding profusely from the stomach and gasped for air. Wilson said he told Gibbons: “Everything is going to be all right; you just have to hang in there.” Over defense counsel’s objections, the jury also heard Wilson testify that Gibbons told him: “I never should have gotten involved with Rock. That (expletive) is a killer. I’m dying, man. Ain’t nothing going to stop that now.” While attempting to help Gibbons, Wilson got blood on his hands and clothing. At some point thereafter, Gibbons died.

Approximately four minutes later, four police cruisers arrived on the scene. Officers found Wilson perched over Gibbons’ bleeding body. One officer testified it appeared that Wilson was “looking for something” in the injured man’s jacket. Officers commanded Wilson to “step away from the body” and “put his hands above his head.” Wilson complied, but allegedly shouted: “It wasn’t me! Rock did it! I’m just trying to help this kid.” The officers placed Wilson under arrest. They found the pistol in his waistband. Later that evening, Wilson was charged with Aggravated First Degree murder.

Police made no further arrests in Wilson’s case. Wilson was the only suspect. Ballistics reports showed that a 9mm pistol bullet killed Gibbons. Investigators also determined that there was one bullet missing from Wilson’s ammunition clip. But investigators could not determine whether the pistol had been fired that night. Wilson said he had fired one bullet from the pistol at a gun club about a week before the incident. During interrogations, Wilson adamantly maintained his innocence. He told the detectives what Gibbons told him before he died. He also said that “Rock” was a notorious drug dealer who hustled in Wilson’s neighborhood, often with violence. The detectives said that Rock was not a suspect in Wilson’s case. The Deputy United States Attorney urged Wilson to plead guilty because, according to Wilson, he “had the goods to fry his ass.” Wilson refused to plead guilty.

Before his trial, Wilson received word from his appointed attorney that “Rock” had been arrested for narcotics distribution and racketeering in New York. His attorney reported that he had another client who had been cellmates with Rock in a New York jail. During a conversation with this client on an unrelated case, Wilson’s attorney heard that “Rock” joked about killing a youth named Gibbons in Atlanta with his “Glock,” and that no one could touch him because he paid off members of the Atlanta city government. In street language, a “Glock” refers to a 9mm pistol. “Rock” is currently on bail in New York awaiting trial, beyond the power of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia to summon him to testify.

Six months later, a jury in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia found Wilson guilty of Aggravated First Degree Murder. The jury said it believed beyond a reasonable doubt that the ballistics evidence and officers’ eyewitness accounts immediately after the shooting established that Wilson intentionally killed Gibbons “for the purpose of stealing drug proceeds.” Although counsel for the United States objected, the jury also heard Wilson’s story about Rock’s alleged confession in New York. The jury did not find Wilson’s story credible and returned a guilty verdict after only 10 minutes’ deliberation.

Acting sua sponte, trial Judge Charles F. Licht peremptorily reversed the jury’s finding. Noting that Wilson’s evidence, objectively viewed, “would weigh heavily upon the conscience of a reasonable juror,” Licht concluded that “it would offend notions of justice and right to convict a man about whose guilt for a capital crime there is clearly reasonable doubt.” Judge Licht observed that there was “nothing in the record to make a reasonable juror disbelieve Wilson’s testimony, and no just rule of law should preclude a reasonable juror from believing Rock’s inculpatory story.” In sum, Judge Licht wrote: “To find Wilson guilty of Aggravated First Degree Murder on this evidence would be to disserve the very foundations of justice that the law and the Constitution are intended to protect.”

The United States appealed, contending: “Judge Licht’s preposterous actions set a new standard for judicial lawlessness.”


Under long settled principles, a Federal Court will not disturb a jury’s factual conclusions unless its conclusions are “clearly erroneous.” Neither a trial judge on a post-trial motion, nor a Court of Appeals on direct appeal may ignore a jury’s factual conclusions if the jury’s conclusions are “plausible in light of the record in its entirety.” Anderson v. Bessemer, 470 U.S. 564, 573-574 (1985). This standard vindicates the common law’s respect for the jury as an institution. In our system, we trust everyday people to use their common sense, intelligence and perception to determine facts. If judges could merely cast aside their conclusions, juries would have no power at all. Juries exist to protect constitutional liberties from government authority. Our “clearly erroneous” standard of review exists to give juries the discretion they need to protect liberty.

In this case, it was entirely “plausible in light of the record in its entirety” for the jury to conclude that Wilson intentionally killed Gibbons with a purpose to steal drug proceeds. Several officers testified that they saw Wilson huddled over Gibbons’ body “looking for something.” The jury also heard that Wilson had a pistol that matched the caliber of the bullet that killed Gibbons. The fact that Wilson’s pistol had one bullet missing from its ammunition clip only strengthens the inference that that bullet killed Gibbons. The jury was entitled to disbelieve Wilson’s explanation that he “fired one bullet at a gun club” one week before the incident. It is not for a trial judge—or an Appeals Court—to criticize the jury’s common sense conclusions simply because the Court feels “something else could have happened.” The jury’s conclusion was “plausible.” That ends our factual inquiry. We do not dwell on “possibilities.” We examine whether the evidence “plausibly” supports a jury’s conclusion. That is all. What “actually happened” has no bearing on our legal analysis.

We hold further that Judge Licht committed legal error in admitting the “Rock” story as evidence. Generally speaking, Rock’s story constituted hearsay. It was a statement made out-of-court offered to prove that Wilson did not intentionally kill Gibbons. Federal Rule of Evidence 801(c). Hearsay is categorically inadmissible at trial under Federal Rule of Evidence 802, unless it meets the exceptions prescribed explicitly in Rules 803 or 804.

Judge Licht concluded that Rock’s story was admissible under Federal Rule 804(b)(3) as a “statement against interest.” We strongly disagree. Under Federal Rule of Evidence 804(b)(3), “statements against interest” made by “unavailable” declarants are admissible as exceptions to the hearsay rule. But admissibility under this exception is difficult to establish, especially for so-called “inculpatory statements offered to exculpate the accused,” such as Rock’s story. In pertinent part, Rule 804(b)(3) bars such statements unless “corroborating circumstances clearly indicate the trustworthiness of the statement (emphasis added).”

In this case, there is virtually nothing that corroborates Rock’s story. Wilson offers nothing but a third-hand report from his attorney that some felon in New York heard Rock confess to Gibbons’ murder. There is nothing objectively credible about this. In fact, if believed, it totally exonerates Wilson, so he has every incentive in the world to fabricate it. Wilson’s attorney swears in an affidavit that he heard about Rock’s story without any prompting from Wilson. This is irrelevant. Under Federal Rule of Evidence 804(b)(3) we do not examine whether the offered statement was “prompted” by a request from the accused; we simply look to see whether there are “circumstances that clearly indicate” the statement’s trustworthiness. Here, we find the Rock story utterly incredible and self-serving. Moreover, there is not a shred of objective evidence that even remotely suggests that the story is anything but blatant fabrication. It would be fantastic to suggest that “corroborating circumstances clearly indicate” that Rock’s story is credible. In that light, we hold that it was legal error for Judge Licht to admit the statement in the first place.

Our conclusions require us to remand this case to the District Court for the Northern District of Georgia with instructions to reinstate the jury’s verdict. Prior to disposing of this case, however, we must make several important observations concerning Judge Licht’s conduct at the trial. We agree with the United States’ argument that Judge Licht “set a new standard for judicial lawlessness” in this case. Judge Licht ignored his oath to defend the Constitution and the laws of the United States by invoking such nonsense as ‘notions of justice and right,’ ‘the very foundations of justice and law that the Constitution was intended to protect,’ and the ‘heavy weight of conscience’ upon a ‘reasonable juror.’

These ‘notions’ are not legal authority. Judges do not have a free hand to ignore juries simply because they think they know what is ‘just’ and ‘right.’ We follow written laws, not conscience. In this case, both established written precedent and the Federal Rules of Evidence required Judge Licht to bar hearsay testimony and to uphold the jury’s factual conclusions. Judges do not intuit. We do not seek justice. We seek only to apply written standards, no matter what we actually think about the evidence tendered. Conscience, justice and right have absolutely nothing to do with our legal analysis, and Judge Licht’s conduct in this case represents a dangerous break from acceptable judicial practice. Are judges free to ignore juries simply because they think the jury acts unjustly? Surely not. If a jury acts upon a “plausible view of the record,” judges have nothing more to say about it. It may bother our conscience. It may even insult our view of justice. But that does not entitle us to contradict the jury’s factual conclusions, especially when written standards clearly command us to respect them. In sum, we squarely reject Wilson’s argument that “Justice dictates Judge Licht’s action.” We respond that law dictates our judicial actions, not justice.

Judge Licht seems to think that he is a philosopher prince with the power to determine just results. Yet the judge is not a philosopher; the judge is a technician who applies written standards. We are a nation of written laws. It would gravely upset our entire system of justice if judges began pursuing “right” and “conscience” in every case. That is not our system, and we refuse to travel in that direction.

We strongly suggest that Congress take disciplinary action against Judge Licht for his gross disrespect for American law.

REVERSED AND REMANDED, with instructions to enter a GUILTY verdict for Aggravated First Degree Murder.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


By : Mr. Edward G. Donaldson, Partner, Donaldson, Anderson & Williamson, LLP, Attorneys at Law Specializing in Property & Wealth Management

Next month, America will celebrate National Women’s Day. In February, we celebrate Black History Month. After that, America will observe Gay Awareness Week. Still later, Americans will come together for Disabled Rights Month. In the 21st Century, it seems we can scarcely go a month without recognizing some historically disadvantaged group.

But what about white male pricks with jobs and wives? Don’t we deserve some recognition, too? After all, ladies, fruitcakes and colored people get special days, and they are far less important than we are. America needs to remember who pays salaries and creates opportunity: White male pricks with jobs and wives. Yet we get no special respect on the calendar. This is inequality. And we refuse to countenance it any longer.

America underestimates white male pricks with jobs and wives. We are the guys who drive this Nation. We write the laws, pronounce the sentences and make the money. We own the banks, businesses and airlines. We do the hiring. We do the paying. We have almost all the money. If it were not for us, no American would have a job. No one would be able to pay their bills, and no one would be able to afford Christmas gifts. Yet how does America repay us? America honors women and blacks. It should be kissing our white posteriors, but instead it wastes its energy on fringe groups who do nothing for the economy. America would do well to remember that we were the guys who allowed blacks and women to be people in the first place. In that light, the fact that white male pricks with jobs and wives get no special recognition smacks of ingratitude. If it weren't for us, they would still be slaves and serving wenches.

True, America did elect a black President. But that is just a passing fad. And what will Obama really do to change things, anyway? Take away our companies? If he tries to cut in on white ownership interests, he had better hire a better security detail. As white male pricks with jobs, we understand what we have. We enjoy what we have created. We will not lose what we have earned over two and a half centuries in North America. History shows our willingness to defend what we own. Obama will not take away what is rightfully ours.

Americans do not really care about women, blacks, homosexuals or cripples. They are happy to take a day off for them once in a while, but when push comes to shove, they would prefer to celebrate the guys who allow everyone to pay their mortgages. That’s right: White male pricks with jobs and wives. We’re the guys who bankroll your paycheck. We’re the guys who manufacture your car. We’re the guys who defend you in court. While it may be tempting to celebrate dynamic speakers like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Susan B. Anthony, Americans should also show some respect to the “silent partners” who run this country. Just imagine if Dick Cheney never became famous. That’s us. And we want some damn respect.

In this country, all men are created equal. Everyone has the same opportunity to reach success. But white male pricks with jobs won the race first. Everyone else has to play by our rules, whether they like it or not. Jefferson said that Americans have a right to life, liberty, and to pursue happiness. The key word there is “property.” There is only so much property to go around, and we have most of it. Sorry, everyone. That’s just the way it is. We might be white male pricks, but we also have jobs and almost all the property. Sure, a few token black athletes have some cash. But chances are they’ll blow it all before their balling days are over. Why celebrate that? You should celebrate the quietly strong white male pricks who generate this country’s wealth.

We just want to be heard. We are sick and tired of hearing about “disadvantaged minorities” who want to tell their woeful tales to the world. What about us? Don’t we get a chance to tell our stories? We have heard enough about the suffrage battle and the slave ships. Let’s talk about getting dressed for work every morning, scheduling client meetings, rejecting loan applications, commuting and buying homes. These are the kinds of things white male pricks do. We might not do really exciting or inspiring things, but we do important things. If you follow our example, you might actually get somewhere in life. By contrast, if you try to follow Michael Jordan’s example, you will almost undoubtedly fail. In that light, by honoring white male pricks with jobs and wives, you will encourage feasible goal-making in our society, not fantastic daydreaming. Just face it: If you’re black, chances are you will not be a sports star, rapper or civil rights leader. If you’re a woman, you will not be a gender rights crusader. So why waste your time listening to hackneyed myths? Stop inflating your hopes. You are setting yourself up for disappointment.

White male pricks with jobs are wives are realistic people. We did not get where we are today by dreaming impossible dreams. We got where we are today because our dads gave us our jobs and we kept working until our bosses told us to go home. Yet no one tells our story. Rather, Americans waste their time hearing “moving” stories about downtrodden groups every month. It is time for white male pricks with jobs and wives to be heard. We refuse to be second-class citizens any longer. We demand a special week for recognition. We insist that all Americans pay homage to white male pricks with jobs and wives. We matter more than anyone else; isn’t it only fair that we, too, get a special recognition week? Who really cares about Native American History Day? Wouldn’t you rather celebrate Banking Services Executive Day? We need to stop the discrimination. We need to start recognizing white male pricks with jobs and wives. We might not be the most inspiring or commendable people in the world, but we are your bosses. We have your money. And we are people, too.

In 2009, tell your Congressman that you do not believe in segregation or unequal treatment for anyone. Tell him that everyone deserves a special day, week or month, even the white male pricks with jobs and wives who make everyone else’s life miserable.

Some may say that white male pricks with jobs and wives are the very people who created the difficulties that minorities remember on their special days. But that is not the point. White male pricks with jobs and wives may very well have made life difficult on blacks, women and homosexuals, but that does not justify differential treatment for white male pricks with jobs and wives. In this country, everyone deserves equal treatment, even the people who treat others unequally. The bottom line is that blacks get a whole month to celebrate their heroes. White male pricks with jobs and wives do not. That is discrimination, pure and simple. With your support, we will bring justice to white male pricks with jobs and wives. Soon, white male pricks with jobs and wives will get a month to celebrate their heroes as well.

During Black History Month this February, you will hear about George Washington Carver and Otis Redding. During White Male Prick Month in March, you will hear about Archibald F. Witherspoon III and Raymond F. Horvath, Senior Financing Managers at National Deposit Trust Co., Inc. These are our heroes. We refuse to be silent. We demand equality; and we will get it. If history has shown us anything, it is that white male pricks with jobs and wives always get what they want in this country.

Stand together, all you proud white male pricks with jobs and wives! You are doing the right thing in life. The day of official neglect is over. The day of official recognition is about to begin. And we will not be moved. Then again, how could we? We are the ones who move everyone else.

Friday, December 26, 2008


You may have noticed that I did not post anything yesterday or today. Never fear; I am still here. I am simply taking a much-needed mental break at a very natural time to take a much-needed mental break. Looking back over the last three months, I am amazed that I have generated as many posts as I have. Thank you all very much to all those who have taken the time to read my work and to comment on it. You can look forward to more material from me as we move into 2009.

I often write about cynicism. Cynicial values guide my analysis on many points because commerce depends on a cynical view of humanity. But there is a time and a place for trust--and even some unabashed feel-good sappiness--in life. The world may be fundamentally flawed in many ways, but at bottom I am still very hopeful and positive about my own life. If I had money, I think I would keep just enough to allow myself to keep writing without worry, then give the rest away. I think I have a lot to live for, if only because I have so much to observe! Writing is my joy. Although my pieces may often ring negative, I hope you can understand that I intend to move minds. When we understand clearly that there is wrong, injustice, cruelty and pettiness in the world, we can take steps against it, even if only on an individual level. I hope that my satires have that jarring, eye-opening effect. I suppose that is the hope of any artist. Having said that, I do not claim to be an artist. I think artists hold themselves a bit too highly. I am just an observer. I simply sense the times and write about how absurd they are. As I get older, I make more and more sense out of both my own life and the times in which I live. I am grateful for that. I still think I am youthful, but I feel that I have amassed enough experience to finally feel slightly wise. Throughout my teens and twenties I had a presumptuous idea that I already knew everything because I read things. Now, in my thirties, I am relieved to admit I know very little. I can simply recount my own impressions, memories, opinions, beliefs and thoughts. That is all I really have. I never claim to be right.

Although my posts normally breathe with cynicism, today I do not. I sincerely wish you all a happy and restful holiday week. We all need rest, despite what our employers think.

In coming days, I will return with renewed vigor to bring you essays and satires on all your favorite subjects and more. To mock advertisers, I might even say: "BUT THAT'S NOT ALL!" In 2009, we will have much new ground to break. And we will doubtlessly have new absurdities to explore.

Again, thank you for reading,


Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Euphemisms both amuse and disgust me. They amuse me because I can immediately cut through their dishonesty to understand what is really going on. They disgust me because anyone who writes euphemisms takes his reader for a gullible fool.

Cowards use euphemisms because they do not want to tell the truth about an event or situation. Rather than bluntly describe an event, euphemisms obscure truth with misleadingly neutral, unthreatening language. Many people resort to euphemisms when they are uncomfortable or embarrassed about the subject matter under discussion. In order to preserve their reputations—or their weak sensibilities—they craft their words to convey as little substance as possible. Quite simply, euphemistic speakers pervert language to feel better about themselves, not their listeners. Unless the listener has some tact, he may never actually know what the speaker is talking about. And that is unfortunate, because language controls power.

Consider these two examples. First, I saw a television advertisement yesterday about a “morning after” pill. The pitch line went something like this: “Don’t worry. Take our pill if you experience a birth control methodology failure.” A what? This sounds like some kind of ultra-technical engineering flaw, not the simple thing that actually happened: “Oh shit, honey; the condom broke.” Second, in the paper recently I read about an airliner that skidded off an icy runway then burst into flames. Passengers told stories about being violently tossed around the cabin and hearing the jet engines roar with terrifying intensity before they abandoned the plane. Those were visceral, honest recollections. But what did the airline say about the incident? “It is reported that Flight so-and-so exited the runway.” Exited? Sounds pretty calm and pleasant to me. Sounds like some guy just got up from his desk, sighed, stretched, farted, grabbed a cigarette and exited the building. What about the terror, flames, destruction and misery? I guess they did not want to bring that up.

I recount these two small examples to criticize those who take their readers for fools. I fault speakers who warp language in order to avoid difficult issues. But perhaps euphemisms reveal something more troublesome about our society. No one is ever really honest, especially when there is no compulsion to be honest. Instead, people say things in a way that feels best, even if it denies the truth. That disserves everyone, including the speaker. Worse, influential speakers in both public and private life have become extremely adept at euphemism. Euphemistic language becomes more and more subtle every year. And not everyone can decipher what these speakers actually mean.

When euphemism becomes the dominant means to communicate events or ideas, confusion, obscurity and dishonesty reign. Perhaps more disturbingly, a “communicative inequality” arises between speakers and listeners. The speaker knows what happened, but does not describe what happened in a way that others can truly grasp. The listener attempts to make sense of the speaker’s euphemism, but can never gain an honest insight. Listeners are left to interpret speakers, leading to suspicion, misunderstanding and mistrust.

Cynicism is a fine antidote to euphemism. When confronted by euphemism, a cynic immediately assumes that the speaker is detailing his words in just such a way as to benefit himself, whether financially, personally or simply to feel better. That allows him to get beyond meaningless jargon and fluff such as “birth control methodology failure” to see the speaker for who he really is: A self-interested advertiser so bent upon profit that he is unwilling to honestly describe the “uncomfortable” subject matter underlying his product. After all, if the speaker said: “When the condom breaks and you get accidentally inseminated, take our pill,” he might ruffle some sensitive feathers, and not as many people would buy his product. But he would more accurately describe reality than he would by saying: “Remedially apply our product in cases of birth control methodology failure.” In sum, euphemisms serve the speaker’s interests, not the listener’s. A cynical listener knows this, and he can translate euphemism into concise, descriptive language.

Still, penetrating euphemism takes some intuition, experience and mental nimbleness. Sadly, not everyone in our society has these capacities. For them, euphemism becomes a shadow-truth: Dishonesty becomes the new honesty; obscurity becomes the new clarity. It is all they hear. Euphemism has become immersive. When powerful speakers control discourse through language, they win every time. In this country, powerful speakers have already won; and we have no choice but to listen to them. All you need to do is turn on your television and wait no more than five minutes for the commercials to start.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008



I walked past a bank this morning and I saw the following advertisement in the window: "NOW HIRING - Join us and discover your true worth." Next to the phrase there was a picture of a smiling young female banker complete with suitpants, a wide collar shirt and a pin with the bank's logo on it.

After seeing that, I wanted to vomit.

Recently, I wrote a satire called EMPLOYEEBUILDER that mocked "employability criteria" for the 21st century. In that piece, I targeted many aspects of modern employment that bother me because they drain individual worth through unfair power relationships. Yet here was an actual advertisement that claimed employment could enhance a person's individual worth. Worse, the advertisement was not even facetious. And it assumed that a desperate young job-seeker might truly believe that working for a bank would "lead him to discover his true worth."

Discovering our worth as individuals is a lifelong quest. It is bold to suggest that there is an "objective standard" for "true human worth," but it is at least possible to find worth for ourselves. We feel worth only when we make decisions in life that accord with our conscience and spirit. We feel worth because we feel that we do things that come from our own hearts. Worth does not come from without. No matter how we experience worth as individuals, I can confidently say that worth does not come from slaving away at a bank.

Worth is an interesting concept. The English word "dignity" derives from the Latin word "dignitas," which means "worth." Dignity, in turn, means something more than "worth as monetary value." Commonly, we use the word as follows: "How much is my car worth?" It means nothing more than: "My car equals what monetary amount?" It has nothing to do with "dignity." But worth can also mean dignity; and dignity means much more. Dignity measures value by higher standards than dollars and cents. Dignity refers to human worth. It refers to the manner in which we live our lives. It sets borders for our behavior; and it prohibits us from acting in ways that contradict our beliefs. In our commercial world, everyone has a single end: To make money. But dignity imposes a barrier on the means by which we achieve that end. Some have more dignity than others. Some have less. It is challenging to develop and maintain dignity because we all want to achieve our ends by whatever means necessary. Yet I would venture that it is better to lose the end if undignified means are the only way to achieve it.

It took me many years to understand dignity. I left legal jobs because they made me feel undignified. I criticize lawyers because I feel that the very substance of their work is undignified. Even though many lawyers become rich plying their trades, I purposefully refrain from most legal work because I feel I would undermine my conscience if I practice it. Some call me lazy for doing this. I call myself dignified because I adhere to my principles. I have a sense of my own worth, and I will not sacrifice that worth for anyone's economic gain. If that leads to my poverty, then so be it. Again, it is better to lose the end if undignified means are the only way to achieve it.

Dignity comes from within. No employer can "bestow" it on an employee. In fact, to suggest that a bank can actually "confer" dignity on a petty financial associate turns the concept on its head. The path to dignity is an individual one. It is subjective. It grows from maturing beliefs and conscience, not from external rules and regulations. Yet employers care not for belief or conscience. They want productivity. To maximize productivity, they impose external rules and regulations. They supervise and observe to ensure compliance. They impose uniform behavior. More to the point, they manipulate and exploit employees' behavior for their own gain. The employee's labor is not his own; it goes to enrich the employer. For every $15 per hour I used to make as a legal assistant, I brought in $125 per hour for the employer. For every $35 per hour I used to make as a consultant, I brought in $200 or more per hour for the agency. Most employees, however, are so crushed under their own financial obligations that they think they are getting a fair deal from their masters. They do not question the gross inequality between their pay and their employers' gain. They simply do as commanded.

So is this what the bank means by "discovering your true worth?" Do you discover your "true worth" by mindlessly following bank protocols, putting on a uniform and responding to your employer's commands without hesitation? Do you happily show up to work each day to render "customer service" that ultimately inures to the bank's benefit, not your own? This not "worth." This is slavishness. Worth does not arise from blind obedience to an economically superior master. Worth arises from honestly questioning one's own path in life. Worth is a quintessentially individual inquiry; it does not depend on external rules. Yet here the bank's advertisement perverts the word, hoping to delude some poor unemployed sap into thinking he can actually improve his soul by slogging away to enrich the bank.

I say this: Enriching wealthy bank shareholders will do nothing to improve your soul. It will not make you feel dignified. Nor will it increase your own feelings of "true worth." Staring at balance sheets and reconciling overdraw complaints for $11.50 per hour will not give you a sense of purpose in life. After a while, it will probably make you feel that you have no purpose. And here lies the bank's ultimate insult: It insinuates that you can improve your spirit by doing something that requires absolutely no spiritual investment. It says you can find "true worth" in following commands for pennies. Yet your collective toils will really do nothing but allow bank shareholders to buy lavish gifts for their wives, go on vacation and pay themselves staggering holiday dividends.

Is this "true worth?" It sounds like a swindle to me. But this is the state of things in a society where people are so crushed under financial obligation that they are prepared to make any sacrifice to placate their inexorable creditors. When obligation rules, dignity dies.

Monday, December 22, 2008



Suitable Female Candidate for Marriage Contract : Please Apply Within

About Me : I am a 47-year-old insurance professional employed by a Fortune 100 Company. I have worked hard my entire career and have amassed a sizable fortune. I own a 3500-square-foot home in Illinois and a beach house in Florida. During my youth, I avoided romantic contact in order to maximize my work commitments and to advance swiftly up the corporate ladder. From time to time, I patronized escort services on weekends or Holidays. In recent years, I have been feeling increasingly lonely. Despite my financial success, I feel an increasing desire to share my life with another person. I want to know that I am not alone in the house at night. I want to be able to talk to someone when I have time off. I want home-cooked meals when I get home from work at a respectable hour. And I would like to have a regular sexual outlet. I am in pretty good shape and I am very stable. I have some idiosyncrasies related to my rigorous work schedule, but I am certain a suitable candidate will be able to accommodate them. Basically, I am a very good guy who just needs someone to be with now that I’m getting older. Money alone just doesn’t cut it for me anymore, so I’m looking for a mate.

What I Can Offer : I can offer a ½ property interest in my complete financial portfolio, consistent with local contract law, and subject to all relevant limitations governing separate property as defined in applicable statutes. While the marriage contract is in place, you will not have to work. I will provide for your housing, food, transportation, medical care, life insurance, health insurance and entertainment. You will have full access to a joint bank account from which you are free to draw funds for daily expenses, shopping, luxuries and professional appointments. You will be free to shop, socialize and entertain yourself as you see fit while the marriage contract is in effect. Barring irreconcilable difficulties or gross contract breach, upon my death you will inherit my entire estate. At present, my estate totals $11,500,000.54. My current annual income is $453,106.21. Judging from current income levels, I anticipate that, by age 65, my estate will total in excess of $25,000,000.00. In essence, I can offer you lifetime financial security. Finally, I promise unconditionally to pay for the Marriage Contract Conclusion Ceremony (MCCC), also known as the “Wedding.”

What I Would Like to See in You : I would like you to be a relatively young, pert and mildly intelligent woman with a mediocre educational background. I will expect you to remain in good physical condition (I retain sole discretion to determine whether your physical condition is sufficient) while the marriage contract is in place. I will expect you to have decent-sized breasts, subject to my approval. I will expect you to be cheerful when I am in the house. I will expect you to handle domestic duties while I am at work between Monday and Saturday, generally from 6 AM to 8 PM. Such domestic duties will vary according to the agreement of the parties (us), but generally such duties will include—but will in no wise be limited to: washing laundry, cleaning the kitchen, emptying the garbage can, walking any household pets (the acquisition whereof is negotiable consistent with my approval), scheduling appointments and engaging household assistance services, such as carpet cleaners, landscapers and cleaning women. I will further expect you to render cheerful sexual services on demand. Although I have not yet decided how many times per week I would like such services from you, I can promise that my busy work schedule, erectile difficulties and stress levels will not permit more than five (5) completed sexual encounters per calendar week. I expect you to be generally loyal to me, although an occasional extramarital affair may be tolerated given my work situation. I know that I work a lot. I will not be around very often, and if you feel the need to pleasure yourself with another man, I can indulge you if the situation warrants it. I do not want to be alone. I know I am not the best-looking guy and I will not be in the house too much. I am realistic; and you are only human. Additionally, I would like you to be at least partially honest with me. Tell me that you love me once in a while, even if you need to lie. Finally, I would like you to be either white or Asian. I will reserve greater consideration for Asians.

Disclosures : There are things you should know about me before deciding whether you wish to conclude a marriage contract with me. First, I occasionally lose my temper when things go poorly at work. I shout and yell from time to time. I have thrown household items into walls when stock prices slump. Second, I pick my nose. This is a nasty habit, and I think it is only fair that you know about it in advance. Third, I have a bad breath problem. I would appreciate if you kiss me for who I am, but I will understand if you do not want to kiss me because my breath smells like death. Fourth, I like drinking. I say patently absurd things when I am drunk, and I cannot promise that I will not insult, patronize, verbally abuse or physically molest you during intoxicated periods. Fifth, I am quite unexciting, boring and dorky. No one achieves financial success in this country without to some extent being an unexciting, boring, slavish dork, and you can expect such behavior from me. I do not really take chances, I like really bad popular music, I do not really have any interests outside work and I talk about my job all the time. Sixth, I am not very intimate. My job is astoundingly mundane and I rarely have energy to do anything but make phone calls, assemble data sheets and give pie graph presentations. I cannot promise rip-roaring, sweat-dripping sex or even truly caring hugs. I simply do not have the emotional capacity to be truly intimate. I have other, more minor flaws that do not warrant disclosure here. Nonetheless, it is my professional opinion that my drawbacks are a small price to pay for an immediate ½ property interest in my entire estate, and an expectancy to inherit up to $25,000,000.00.

Next Steps : I welcome applications from all interested candidates. If you are looking for a comfortable life with minimal responsibilities, I welcome your inquiries. I am looking to conclude a marriage contract as soon as is practicable. To that end, I encourage all interested candidates to submit application materials to me without delay. Please include facial photographs, semi-nude photographs and nude photographs. Please also include an essay discussing why you think you would be a good match for me. Next, please submit a full, verified educational history including official transcripts. Lastly, please include your income tax returns for the last seven (7) years. This will provide me an insight into whether you truly have the capacity to care about me, or whether your main motivation is simply to bear with me until I die and you get the money. Although I know that my money is a motivating factor for many candidates, I would like at least to delude myself into thinking that I mean something more as a human being.

Thank you for reading. I look forward to a well bargained-for and mutually beneficial contractual relationship with the best candidate!

(Applicants bear all postage costs associated with application materials. No exceptions.)

Sunday, December 21, 2008


Friedrich Nietzsche was my hero in college. When I began to mature intellectually, Nietzsche inspired me. He made me defiant. Granted, during my first encounters with his writings, I struggled to find quotes that matched my own rebellious sentiments. I wanted his words to fortify my own philosophy of rugged individualism. To a large extent, Nietzsche's works supported me.

But now I have different priorities. I am still a rugged individualist and I still detest group-oriented thinking, but now I approach texts for what they are, not for what they can gain me. Studying law taught me how to drain passion from my intellectual analysis. After reading spiritually barren arguments for over three years, I learned how to deconstruct language and grasp its implications without considering whether it would support a personal cause. Returning to Nietzsche nine years later, I see why I loved him. Now I think I love him even more. It is a joy to read forceful arguments again. And no one argues with as much passionate, iconoclastic force as Nietzsche.

Lately I have been re-reading Human, All-Too Human (1878). Nietzsche was in his middle 30s when he wrote this book, and its pages provide a blueprint for all his famous later works, including Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1884) and On the Genealogy of Morals (1887). Best of all, it showcases his concise, elegant style. Nietzsche makes his points in tiny aphorisms and mini-essays. It is possible to dig deeply into these small writings to find multiple layers of meaning. And while it may not take a long time to read an aphorism, you can spend all day thinking about what it means.

It is not coincidental that my own writing picks up on many Nietzschean themes. Nietzsche profoundly influenced me when I was young, and my own personality developed those influences as I experienced "real life." Consider this aphorism from Human, All-Too Human's chapter titled: "Assorted Opinions and Sayings:" "79. Twice Unjust - At times we support the truth by a double injustice, specifically: When we see and recount both sides of something that we were not able to see at the same time, in such a way that we either misrepresent or deny the other side in the delusion that what we see is actually the whole truth (my translation)."

Immediately I recognized that Nietzsche shared my views about "legal truth" and linguistic imprecision. In previous essays, I wrote that "empirical truth" depends on the human senses. Empiricists believe that "seeing is believing," and the "truth" must be "perceived by the senses." Yet Nietzsche's aphorism reveals a startling weakness in that view, because he intimates that "what we see" may not be the "whole truth." Nietzsche here makes us consider the weakness inherent in our own perceptions, especially when they involve "two sides" to a particular event. Whenever we try to recount the event from a different perspective, we "misrepresent" or "deny" details implicit in the other side.

This is exactly what happens in a jury trial. No one really knows what "happened" in an event without "actually being there" to perceive it. Language is the only way to get an understanding about what happened, and language is at best an imperfect tool to understand events. Lawyers attempt to prove their cases by presenting testimony from witnesses, who likely perceived the event in profoundly different ways. Whenever a witness describes his "version" of what happened, he "denies" or "misrepresents" the other side of the story. This is not the witness' fault. According to Nietzsche, this is precisely the danger in thinking that "seeing is believing." Every witness is "deluded" in the sense that he believes what he saw. But perhaps there were details that evaded his perception. Perhaps his own opinions, prejudices and preconceived notions colored his memory. Thus, he cannot possibly tell the "whole truth," because his own perception and memory are imperfect.

Nietzsche saw the "injustice" implicit in any philosophy that ties truth to the senses. After all, sense depends on an individual's ability to see, hear, smell, touch or taste something. No two individuals will sense something in precisely the same way, and no two individuals will use language in precisely the same way to convey their experiences. This segues into Nietzsche's core argument that "truth" is individual; it depends on perspective. Thus, it is presumptuous to believe that there is a "whole truth" accessible to everyone. Nonetheless, our senses seem to tell us the truth. Our senses tempt us into thinking we know the truth. That is why Nietzsche called it a "delusion" that "what we see" means the "whole truth." In other words, our senses give us our own truth. But that does not entitle us to say that our own perceptions equal "the whole truth" for everyone else.

How does the world function if there is no "whole truth?" How do we know whether we are doing right if we can never know what is true? The answer is simple: We create fictions. Fictions dominate life in society. In order to escape the relativism inherent in our own perceptions, we agree on matters for mutual convenience. Rather than descending into a circular debate about "what is true" from our own perspectives, we simply say: "The light was red and everyone agrees it was red." Society depends on these "stipulated truths" in order to function. Without them, no individual could ever "rightly" impose his views on another. This process is called "objectivism." By "objectifying" perception, we can say whether an event happened or not, even if individual perception is faulty. We measure the event by an external standard, not an individual one. This allows us to say whether something is right, wrong, good or bad according to the standard. Yet it is easy to mistake an objective standard for the "truth." Objectivism is simply a fiction to make life more manageable. It does not give us "truth." If anything, such standards reflect power, for someone had to set the standard under which everyone else operates.

At the end of the day, we are all individuals. We have only our own senses--and beliefs--to provide truth. But we defer to objective standards every day in order to function in society. Those objective standards, while alluring, do not provide truth. They are mere administrative conveniences intended to ease the "delusion" that derives from individual perception, memory and communication. The danger lies in putting our full trust in objective standards rather than ourselves. When we do that, we deny our own perspectives and submit to fictions imposed by the powerful; and there are few powers greater than the power to impose objective standards on something as fluid and subjective as human life.

Saturday, December 20, 2008


I love Sigmund Freud's Civilization and its Discontents (1931). Modern psychiatrists may eschew Freud's theories, but I still admire Freud's lucid writing. He may not be a scientific authority anymore, but he remains a superb essayist. Civilization and its Discontents encapsulates Freud's thought on pleasure, unpleasure, happiness, unhappiness, religion and neurosis. In our world, we struggle to find happiness and avoid unhappiness. Freud discussed these issues at length. To that extent, Freud's words have abiding resonance.

Today I examine only a tiny wrinkle from Civilization and its Discontents: The role of alcohol in securing human happiness in civilized life. In adulthood--and even before--human beings in our society seem always to yearn for Friday night because that is their first opportunity to become intoxicated. Why this yearning? Why do human beings in civilization yearn to escape the reality of which they are otherwise so proud? What accounts for this desire to flee the world? We attempt to flee situations that are dangerous, frightening, threatening, depressing, maddening or harmful. If human beings in civilization want to flee their everyday lives through alcohol, does that mean "real life" is dangerous, frightening, threatening, depressing, maddening and harmful? When I see people flocking to bars, pubs and alehouses, or when I see people heading home from work with 12-packs and wine bottles under their arms, or when I hear people at work say: "Don't make me stay past 5; you're cutting into my drinking time," I answer that question in the affirmative.

Freud discusses human beings' natural responses to "real life" in Chapter 2. He writes: "Life, as we find it, is too hard for us; it brings us too many pains, disappointments and impossible tasks. In order to bear it we cannot dispense with palliative measures." Civilization and its Discontents (Norton 1961) at p. 23. In other words, life heaps external pressures upon us. They make "real life" both dangerous and depressing. Recognizing that, Freud suggests that human beings seek to overcome these pressures by adopting three major "palliative measures:" "(1) Powerful deflections, which cause us to make light of our misery; (2) substitutive satisfactions, which diminish it; and (3) intoxicating substances, which make us insensitive to it." P. 23-24. Intoxication, then, ranks among the three ways in which human beings struggle to reduce their misery in life. Freud reserves special praise for intoxication when he continues: "Something of the kind is indispensable...[i]ntoxicating substances influence our body and alter its chemistry." P. 24. He recognizes that "real life" besieges our bodies every day, and that one of the best ways to nullify the pain is to "alter our chemistry" through alcohol.

Freud understood that human beings want "happiness" in their lives. He also understood that achieving "happiness" implicates two divergent goals. He observes that the "endeavor" toward happiness "aims, on the one hand, at an absence of pain and unpleasure, and, on the other, at the experiencing of strong feelings of pleasure." P. 25. Happiness, then, requires us to "avoid unpleasure" at the same time we "experience pleasure." After all, if life brings us pain and unpleasurable sensations, happiness would be impossible. Avoiding unpleasure, then, is the prerequisite to happiness. It is a condition precedent to happiness.

But avoiding unpleasure is no easy task, for Freud writes: "Unhappiness is much less difficult to experience" than happiness. P. 26. He goes on to identify three main causes of unhappiness: (1) Our own bodies, "which [are] doomed to decay and dissolution;" (2) "the external world, which may rage against us with overwhelming and merciless forces of destruction;" and (3) "our relations to other men."

Freud is absolutely right about the "external world's" capacity to inflict "overwhelming and merciless" destruction on human beings. In today's society, most people worry about their jobs, their money, their homes and their economic futures. They worry about whether they will be able to pay their rent, or send their children to college, or even to afford food. If they work, they long to leave the office and have some time to themselves. If they do not work, they worry about going homeless. The "real world--with all its pressures and anxiety--quickly drives them to unhappiness. Rather than experiencing pleasure, most human beings in civilization find themselves crushed under unhappiness. They experience pain, anxiety, fear, depression and unrequited longing every day. These negative emotions bar their way to true happiness, for "an absence of unpleasure" is the prerequisite to happiness. And these negative emotions stem merely from the "external world," not "relations to other men." I will address the heartbreak, disappointment and frustration that stem from "relations to other men" in a later essay. Here, it is enough to say that "the external world" piles untold unhappiness upon us.

How, then, do we cope with "real life?" If the external world produces anxiety, depression, unpleasure, disappointment and difficulty, how do human beings "palliate" their negative emotions? Alcohol is the readiest weapon. Freud acknowledges this: "The service rendered by intoxicating media in the struggle for happiness and in keeping misery at a distance is so highly prized that individuals and peoples alike have given them an established place in the economics of their libido." P. 28. In other words, human beings in civilization know that the "external world" will besiege them with anxiety, so they regularly resort to alcohol; they give it an "established place" in their mental lives. More to the point, Freud observes that alcohol gives us: "[a] greatly desired degree of independence from the external world. For one knows that, with the help of this 'drowner of cares' one can at any time withdraw from the pressure of reality and find refuge in a world of one's own with better conditions of sensibility." Id. In essence, alcohol tempers the "pressures" implicit in the "external world." Although "real life" may make us feel powerless, alcohol gives us a fleeting "independence" from its unhappy grip.

All this theoretical rumination means little without tangible examples. Earlier this week, I encountered a friend who appeared visibly downcast and exhausted. I knew that he worked almost every day and that he was not satisfied with his living situation. I, too, had not had a good day. I felt unhappy and anxious. Negative emotions clung to me and it did not seem that anything could break their hold on me. The "external world" had done its work on us both. It had "maddened, frightened and depressed us" with ceaseless labors, uncertainties and obligations. We worried. We did not feel good at all. And we definitely were not "happy."

But then I had an idea: "Would you like to come up to my apartment and have drink?" He accepted my invitation. For the next two hours, we drank vodka and all the negative emotions melted away. Rather than stare off in anxious reflection about the future, we laughed, smiled and felt good about our lives. I remember wondering why I ever felt unhappy in the first place. Of course, the alcohol had "altered my chemistry" and "drowned my cares," but while under its influence, everything truly felt "all right." During those moments, "unhappiness was absent." I had only positive mental energy, even if it was intoxicated mental energy. I slept soundly that night, even if it me made me feel groggy and sluggish the next morning. When I awoke, the unhappiness was back. But at least for a few hours, alcohol had freed me from its grip.

How many other people do this? What does it say about our civilization? Are we all doomed to be unhappy except in those fleeting hours when we chemically disable our minds from care? If so, we inhabit a depressingly unfulfilling world. Even the wealthy--whom the "external world" ostensibly touches less harshly than the rest of us--never seem to be happy, either. Human beings always seem to create their own mental impasses, which in turn lead to anxiety and unhappiness. Alcohol appears to be the only sure way to ward off those negative emotions. And it is a crude method at best, for it only keeps them away for a few hours at a time.

Perhaps it is a quixotic adventure to pursue happiness. After all, if the "external world" is bound to heap insuperable pressures upon us, and if our "relations to other men" are similarly bound to create disappointment and despair, how can we ever experience predominantly positive feelings? In other words, good feelings come upon us far less often than bad ones, and until we cast out the bad ones, we can never be truly happy. Yet we all plod ceaselessly forward in the (vain?) hope of one day banishing those bad feelings once and for all. Perhaps it is only alcohol that keeps our hope alive. And that is rather pathetic in itself.

Friday, December 19, 2008



Chicago, Illinois


PREAMBLE : We, the elected representatives of the People of the City of Chicago in the State of Illinois, authorized by the City Charter to act for the general welfare and moral edification of all City residents, and acting in defense of children everywhere, do hereby pass this ACT intended to protect the health, safety and community spirit of this Great City.

§ 1 – SHORT TITLE : This Act shall be known as the “MANDATORY CHICAGO SPORTS FAN REPORTING ACT” (hereinafter, the “Act”).

§ 2 - PURPOSES : The People of the City of Chicago intend to memorialize their understanding that sports team devotion is a citizen’s single most important civic duty. Allegiance to a Chicago city sports team is necessary to sustain robust public pride. The City Council desires to reinforce city pride and cohesion by requiring all city residents—no matter the duration of their residency—to declare allegiance to a Chicago city sports team every calendar year, beginning January 1, 2009. The Council believes that compulsion is necessary to ensure that every Chicago resident keeps his or her priorities straight in life. Sports are a priority in Chicago. Every Chicago citizen must be a sports fan. Law is the only way to ensure proper dedication to an eligible Chicago city sports team. The Council believes that the Act will improve civic and community life by creating a city esprit de corps revolving around eligible sports teams. The General Assembly further believes that enforcement of the Act will create jobs and raise revenue for the city.

§ 3 – DEFINITIONS : The following definitions apply throughout this Act:

(a) Resident : A “resident” is any living person within the city limits of the city of Chicago. This term includes everyone, even those merely passing through the city, also known as “Transitory Residents” (see below at § 5).

(b) Eligible Chicago City Sports Team : An “Eligible Chicago City Sports Team” includes and is strictly limited to the following professional sports franchises headquartered within the city of Chicago: (i) The Chicago Cubs; (ii) The Chicago White Sox; (iii) The Chicago Bears; (iv) The Chicago Blackhawks; (v) The Chicago Bulls; (vi) Chicago Fire.

(c) Reporting Period: “Reporting Period” means January 1 through December 31 in any calendar year beginning in 2009.

(d) Allegiance Form: An “Allegiance Form” means a paper or electronic affirmation that a Resident is a Fan of an Eligible Chicago City Sports Team.

(e) Fan : A “Fan” means a Resident who believes strongly in the success of any Eligible Chicago City Sports team. “Fans” must attend at least 10 home games played by the Eligible Chicago City Sports Team indicated in such “Fan’s” Allegiance Form during any Reporting Period.

(f) Enforcement Bureau : “Enforcement Bureau” means any office, institution, patrol, group or individual constituted by city Charter to enforce the provisions of this Act.

§ 4 – OBLIGATIONS OF RESIDENTS : During every Reporting Period, Residents must:

(a) Obtain an Allegiance Form from any duly-authorized city agency;

(b) Submit said Allegiance From in a manner consistent with all applicable local laws;

(c) State under oath that such Resident is a Fan of an Eligible Chicago City Sports Team;

(d) Attend at least ten (10) home games played by the Eligible Chicago City Sports Team identified in said Resident’s Allegiance Form;

(e) Retain receipts as proof of attendance at all home games described in § 4(d);

(f) Mail all receipts described in § (4)(e) to a duly-authorized city agency prior to the end of the Reporting Period;

(g) Publicly display devotion to the Eligible Chicago City Sports Team identified in such Resident’s Allegiance Form for the applicable Reporting Period;

(h) Maintain a regular cable television subscription for coverage of all regular and postseason games played by the Eligible Chicago City Sports Team identified in such Resident's Allegiance Form for the applicable Reporting Period;

(i) Pay an annual Submission Fee of $150.00 for each Allegiance Form submitted, payable within 30 days of said submission.

§ 5 – OBLIGATIONS OF TRANSITORY RESIDENTS : Transitory residents have the same obligations as all other Residents under this Act. To ensure compliance with this Act, Enforcement Bureaus are hereby authorized to construct compliance checkpoints at all roadways and railways leading in or out of the city of Chicago. Enforcement Bureaus are hereby authorized to stop all motorists or rail travelers at such checkpoints to verify their Allegiance Form status for the applicable Reporting Period. Additionally, Enforcement Bureaus are hereby authorized to question all national and international travelers arriving at or departing from Chicago city airports to verify Allegiance Form status for the applicable Reporting Period. Any Transitory Resident found not to have duly submitted an Allegiance Form for the applicable Reporting Period shall be required to make a declaration consistent with this Act, and to pay a penalty of $1,000 U.S. Currency, plus the usual $150.00 Submission Fee (see § 4(i)).

§ 6 – PUBLIC DISPLAY OF DEVOTION : Consistent with § 4(g), all Residents are obligated to publicly display devotion to the Eligible Chicago City Sports Team identified in such Residents’ Allegiance Form for the applicable Reporting Period. Such displays must consist of:

(a) Wearing Eligible Chicago City Sports Team-marked clothing at least twice per week;

(b) Discussing Eligible Chicago City Sports Team events at least once per day; but on Mondays, Residents must discuss such events at least three times (3) per day;

(c) Placing Eligible Chicago City Sports Team bumper stickers on their automobiles;

(d) Possessing at least one (1) photograph of: (i) Michael Ditka; (ii) Michael Jordan; or (iii) Harry Caray. Photographs of Brian Urlacher will not be considered;

(e) Drinking at least two (2) toasts to Eligible Chicago City Sports Team players each weekend day during the applicable Reporting Period;

(f) Painting one’s face with the colors of the Eligible Chicago City Sports Team identified in such Resident’s Allegiance Form at least once during the applicable Reporting Period;

(g) Sending a verified photograph of each Resident’s compliance with § 6(f) to a duly-authorized city agency within 30 days of the taking of such photograph.


(a) Any member of Chicago’s Executive Branch has authority to enforce this Act, including, but in no way limited to:

(i) The Chicago Police Department;

(ii) The Chicago Department of Jails;

(iii) The Chicago Airport Authority;

(iv) The Mayor’s Office;

(v) The Department of Sewers;

(vi) The Department of Parking Enforcement;

(vii) The Department of Streets and Sanitation;


(viii) The Department of Revenue.

(b) Authorized Executive Branch officers are hereby empowered to conduct random stops to verify any Resident’s compliance with the Act. Upon such stops, officers shall ask the following questions: “Are you a Resident of the City of Chicago? Are you a sports fan? Are you a Cubs fan? Are you a Sox fan? Are you a Bears fan? Are you Blackhawks fan? Are you a Bulls fan? Are you a Fire fan?” If such resident responds that he is not a fan of any of the aforementioned teams, the officer shall state: “I am going to have to take you in for violating the Mandatory Chicago Sports Fan Reporting Act.”


(1) Failure to Report Fan Status for any applicable Reporting Period is a Class C Felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

(2) Willful Failure to Report Fan status for more than two (2) Reporting Periods is a Class A Felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $100,000 fine.

(3) Negligent Failure to Properly Complete an Allegiance Form is a Class A Misdemeanor punishable by up to 6 months in prison and a $1,500 fine.

(4) Intentionally Supporting a Rival Team is a Class A-1 Felony punishable by death or life in prison, notwithstanding compliance with this Act in all other respects.

(5) Ignorance of the law shall not be a defense to any crime enumerated in this Section, consistent with principles of Illinois criminal law, and any provision of the State or United States Constitution notwithstanding.

(6) Conviction under any offense enumerated in this Section shall never be judicially determined to be a deprivation of life, liberty or property without Due Process under the State or United States Constitutions.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


Boot-It-Up-Fast Software Manufacturing Associates, Ltd.
“Let’s Make a Difference™”
3412 Great Lakes Boulevard
Barrington, IL 60001
Dear Mr. Halbrooke,

You recently inquired about employment positions currently available through Boot-It-Up-Fast Software Manufacturing Associates, Ltd. (“BIUF” or “Buff” as we like to call ourselves.) As you know, BIUF is a leading information technology outfit with offices in six major markets from coast to coast. We also maintain strong foreign sales. We lead the way in data facilitation services at all industry expos. Our design team, sales staff, development professionals and corporate leadership all take our motto seriously: “Let’s Make a Difference™.” Over the last two years, our annual revenues have increased from $450 million to $540 million. There is no reason to think that our upward arc will flatten.

At BIUF, we believe great products and great people mean great success. We also recognize that it is hard to find great people. The spirit of American business success is teamwork. Recognizing that, we look for strong team spirit in our potential employees. Everyone has a rank and position at BIUF. We have Second Deputy Design Project Assistants, Third Responsible Accounting Bureau Directors and First Reporting Secretarial Services Delivery Coordination Supervisors. No matter where you work at BIUF, you know your place and you play your position. We like to look at ourselves like a winning football team. And great football teams are composed of people who know what job they do: Quarterbacks don’t punt, and linebackers don’t throw.

You also inquired about pay and benefits packages at BIUF. In response to your questions, we pay all our employees in a competitive manner consistent with comparable industry norms. Our benefits package is also consistent with comparable industry norms. We understand that the only way to attract strong talent to BIUF is to offer competitive pay, and that is what we do. But we must point out that we live in changing times. In these days of financial crisis, employees can no longer insist on burdensome benefits and pay perks. Our employees understand that the company comes before their own well-being. They are grateful simply to be working. If they make a little less money, they make up for it with the inward satisfaction that they are playing on a team. And the team is winning.

You went on to ask whether BIUF pays overtimes wages. Yes, BIUF pays overtime wages—IN HELL. We expect all our employees to work overtime as a matter of course. We do not provide extra compensation simply because an employee works beyond traditional hours. As mentioned, we live in changing times. No company can succeed if its employees work only 8 hours per day. Team players balance their lives for the win. They put in the extra four evening hours when they have to. They do this to keep their jobs. They do this to advance the company’s interests. They do not gripe for extra money when they sacrifice family time. They know that no other company pays overtime wages, so they move forward with BIUF. A simple fact explains this: It is 2008; everyone works overtime. Overtime is the new 9-5. Why should you get extra money for working a regular day?

In olden days, federal law mandated that employees earn time-and-a-half for every hour worked beyond forty hours per week. But that law dates from 1937. It is 2008. Our economy has changed out of all recognition since that bygone era, and it does not make prudent business sense to follow an ancient law. Furthermore, mandatory overtime pay would reduce annual profits by up to 10%. That represents a crushing expense. Good businesses control costs; they do not let them run wild. Overtime is an antiquated entitlement. Workers need to adjust to the 21st Century. They need to understand that there is not as much money to go around as there used to be. And to stay competitive, businesses require more work, not less. Forcing businesses to overcompensate for every hour over forty would plunge them into financial ruin. If you don't want overtime, take a less challenging career: I hear that Burger King® is looking for managers.

You also inquired whether BIUF offers at least four weeks’ paid vacation. In response, we say that BIUF offers plenty of vacation time—MY ASS. At BIUF, we grant our employees 10 paid days off per calendar year. This is the minimum allowable under applicable law, and if it were up to us, we would not grant any days off. No one wins when employees go off on paid gallivants. BIUF maximizes production when employees are at their desks working, not when they are chasing Mexican prostitutes in Cancun. BIUF maintains its industry leadership when employees show up and run software protocols, not when they traipse off to Miami to drink pina coladas and sing karaoke with friends. We believe that 10 days off per calendar year is more than sufficient to allow time for family events, dentists’ appointments, “emergencies,” children’s school plays, deaths, illnesses, catastrophes and mental health maintenance. Anything more would gravely impact BIUF’s profit margins. Four weeks’ paid vacation? What do you think this is? Holland? We venture here to say that good American employees do not want time off. They remember who pays them and they gratefully do their jobs—without getting tired.

Lastly, you asked whether BIUF provides group health insurance. Yes, BIUF provides group health insurance—YOU THOUGHT. Again, you assume that BIUF adopts mid-20th Century business practices. We must say again: It is 2008. Companies simply cannot afford to pay monstrous insurance premiums for thousands of employees anymore. If BIUF had to indemnify its workers’ health, we would be lucky to maintain double-digit annual profit growth. Beyond that, it is not a modern company’s responsibility to insure employee health. This is not a risk BIUF should bear. Rather, employees must bear the risk of ill health. They are adults. They can do their own insurance shopping. They should be happy just to have a job in this economy, not whimper about minimal benefits. If an employee gets sick and misses work, he will be fired. That’s how the ball bounces. If he doesn’t have insurance, so what? What does that have to do with BIUF? He should have thought ahead.

In conclusion, we welcome your application to BIUF. We must observe, however, that your inquiries have set you out on the wrong foot. We have a feeling that you expect far too much grace from your employer. We also sense that you do not possess the selfless team spirit necessary to excel in our organization. Rather, it seems that you want overtime wages, vacation time and health insurance. Good employees do not complain; they do their jobs, smile and go home when we tell them to. We have a feeling that you will play ball only for yourself. We have a feeling that you will resent working on Sunday evenings. In 2008, employees need to remember that they are servants first, and individuals last. If you want a wage, you need to adjust your thinking. It is not about you anymore. It may have been about you in 1937, but it is 2008. Now, the man who pays the shekel calls the tune. You better play it the way we want, or no shekel for you.

Thank you for your interest in Boot-It-Up-Fast Software Manufacturing Associates, Ltd. Good luck on your job search.


Theodore F. Stingeford
Senior Placement Director and Third Subordinate Employee Benefits Coordinator

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


For the last few weeks, I have been following the Marc Dreier story in the New York Times--and not without a gleeful Schadenfreude. Watching a wealthy lawyer suffer for "acting like a lawyer" gives me great inward satisfaction. I ruthlessly satirize lawyers and their "profession." The Marc Dreier story provides happy corroboration for me. It lends credibility to my criticism. Now, if people claim that I am "too harsh" when criticizing lawyers for greed, superficiality, disngenuousness, glibness and moral bankruptcy, I must merely refer them to Marc Dreier.

Marc Dreier is--(well, "was")--a "top-notch" commercial litigator in New York. He went to Harvard Law School and made all the right moves in life. He founded his own firm in 1996 called Dreier LLP. Dreier LLP describes itself as "a unique group of talented lawyers and remarkable people who have joined in a professional enterprise vigorously dedicated to advancing our clients' objectives." Dreier LLP also says: "We believe the results have set our firm apart." Doesn't that sound nice? "Talented lawyers" and "remarkable people" acting in a "professional enterprise" to "vigorously advance" their clients' interests. And they "get results." How selfless.

What exactly do these "talented lawyers" do? What kinds of "results" set them apart? How about this one: Marc Dreier was recently arrested in Canada for attempting to defraud a Canadian Teachers' Pension fund in connection with a financing deal. Although the details are not clear, Dreier apparently impersonated someone in order to manipulate information that would have been important to know before doing the deal. In the process, Dreier was pocketing cash for himself. What a "remarkable person." What "great results." And what a "talented lawyer," too. Well, if he were more talented, he would not have gotten caught. There's a lesson for you, Marc.

But that was not Dreier's only "great result" in recent weeks. Specifically, it has come to light that Dreier personally defrauded dozens of New York real estate owners by selling them phoney promissory notes. Taking advantage of personal relationships he formed with several major investment houses, Dreier undertook to sell some "choice investment instruments" that actually did not exist. According to the New York Times, Dreier swindled up to $380 million from these deals. Again, a "talented lawyer" at work getting "results that set him apart." Nice one, Marc.

None of these monstrous allegations surprises me because I know what lawyers do. Lawyers are businessmen. They will resort to any means necessary to make a profit, even though they claim to "fight for justice." This "justice talk" is mere rhetoric. Lawyers ply the "law trade," which has nothing to do with intuitive justice or natural notions of right and wrong. The "law trade" concerns only technical compliance with dizzying external rules, standards and protocols. At times those rules are consistent with justice. At times they are not. But as long as a lawyer gets the "result" his client wants, he has done his job--justice or no justice. The lawyer inhabits a world dominated by petty rules and profit-seeking. There is nothing spiritual or inwardly uplifting about it. It is a world of property, money and profit. These are external matters. This is the law's province. As Martin Luther said: "The temporal government has laws that extend no further than to life and property and external affairs on earth." On Governmental Authority (1523). It is a vacuous, unfulfilling, cruel and twisted world where principle means nothing unless it can win a case.

Marc Dreier was a "successful lawyer" because he shrewdly used the law to enrich himself. He selectively used the law for maximum financial gain. In the process, he obtained "results" for his clients that "set him apart" from his competitors. With those "results," obviously his clients liked the way he worked, too. By successfully manipulating legal standards, Dreier became a "top lawyer." But what does that mean? After all, to be a top lawyer is to be a master of only "life, property and external affairs on earth." To be a top lawyer does not require inner strength, conscience, spirit, conviction or belief. Lawyers believe only what they must in order to win cases; they need not have abiding personal beliefs about anything. In fact, lawyers typify everything "un-spiritual" in life. Martin Luther put it best when he sharply distinguished between "men of faith" and "lawyers, ceremonialists and legalists." Commentary on St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians (1535). In other words, you can either have faith, belief and conscience, or you can be a lawyer. The choice is yours.

My satires target lawyers for all these reasons. There is a great deal more to life than maniacally pursuing property and success, yet this is generally what lawyers do. Worse, lawyers thrive on disputes over property and success. They "creatively" apply rules calculated to win property or to defend it. They know that men squabble bitterly over property, and they resort to any argument needed to win their fights. In essence, lawyers are little more than one-dimensional, spiritually-vacuous brawlers, yet they set themselves on a higher plane than everyone else. They cloak their vacuousness in nice suits and fancy language. They say they have a "profession," but all they really do is play with words in order to make or save money. There is nothing grandiose or spiritually rewarding about that. In Luther's terms, lawyers are quintessentially "of the world" because they fanatically dedicate themselves to "life, property and external affairs on earth." And most significantly, "the world is God's enemy." On Governmental Authority (1523).

What does Luther mean here? Certainly he was writing at a time when most people fervently believed in God. But whether you believe in God or not, Luther's rhetoric has continued strength. Luther makes his points through dualities. He draws striking contrasts between concepts in order to illuminate basic arguments. His distinction between "the world" and "God" has particular relevance in my analysis against lawyers. If the "world" means "life, property and external human affairs," then "God" must mean all those questions beyond earthly life and its property rules. "God" means conscience, faith, internal belief, spiritual well-being and intuitive justice beyond written law. If we do not have "belief and faith," we "become lawyers." That means we descend into "the world."

Marc Dreier epitomizes the dangers lawyers face through unwavering dedication to "world." Without conscience, belief, faith and spiritual well-being, there is nothing but property, wealth and bodily satisfaction. Because the "law trade" draws only on written rules and standards governing life, property and external human affairs, lawyers need not use their conscience to answer questions. They must merely comply with written standards. It is eminently possible to effectively comply with written rules without complying with justice. This is how Marc Dreier became a "successful lawyer." He simply became reckless, so that even his compatriots in "the world" recognized his deception. But Marc Dreier is a product of a spiritless "profession." It should therefore not be surprising that he acted the way he did, because lawyers win success when they ignore conscience rather than observe it. And because lawyers manipulate rules to defend property, it is understandable that they use the same rules to enrich themselves. It is all they know. They are "respected" for their "success," and this encourages them to take more and more chances.

Justice rarely appears in life, let alone the law. But happily, sometimes it does. Marc Dreier is reaping the consequences of his myopic dedication to "the world." Despite all his "success" and "talent" in the law, his failure to incorporate conscience into his existence has landed him in hot water. Still, I do not think that many "successful lawyers" will learn from Dreier's ordeal. They will merely adjust their practices to avoid detection. After all, lawyers inhabit a world where written rules solve every problem. They will simply keep their behavior within the rules, even if they completely trample the spirit behind those rules.