Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Book Review: Fast Food Nation.

I did this one in reverse. I saw the movie first, and then read the book.

While the process this time was unintentional, I find it far more satisfying to read the book after experiencing the movie.

For example, after reading A Civil Action (by Jonathan Harr), I judged it one of the finest books about litigating mass torts in the US. Then I saw the 1998 movie starring John Travolta, and felt as unsatisfied as a Cubs fan leaving Wrigley Field after Steve Bartman's unsolicited fielding play a few years ago. (

Reading the book first often leads to disappointment because the movie cannot possibly capture all the details and nuances of the book. Conversely, if the movie captures your attention, the book can fill many vacuums left by the film.

Following this strategy, I saw the movie, Fast Food Nation. While I had heard of the best-selling book, I hadn't read it when I stepped into the theater late last year.

I reviewed the film, sensing it squandered a lot of potential. Read the review here:

Consequently, this perceived unfulfilled potential intrigued me enough to purchase the book. The book didn't dispel my initial thoughts. It plumbs depths only hinted at in the film.

The book explores the histories of the various fast-food eateries, including the mavericks who launched and built them. It also looks at the factors contributing to their rise, such as the interstate freeway system, marketing, and economic forces over the past 50 or so years.

But the book digs deeper. It examines the processes that shape how food is brought to the masses, including food additives, food safety, and the "kill floor." The portrait is very disturbing. "The hides are pulled off by machine; if a hide as been inadequately cleaned, chunks of dirt and manure may fall from it onto the meat." (p. 203.) The book reminded me of The Jungle (1906) by Upton Sinclair, which similarly exposed slaughterhouse practices around the turn of the last century.

One of the more interesting passages to me was the book's exploration of franchising. Here's a pertinent passage: "Once a contract is signed franchisees are largely on their own....When a contract is terminated, the franchisee can lose his or her entire investment." (p. 99.)

The author, Eric Schlosser, then laments adequate federal laws to protect franchisees, who obviously are at a tremendous power/resource disadvantage relative to their franchisors. Schlosser however ignores state franchise laws. As I have litigated franchise issues in several cases, I can attest to the fact that California, for instance, provides a statutory scheme that provides numerous protections to franchisees in this State.

In any event, the book devolves however into a stark binary pattern. For example, in Schlosser's world, Democrats are good; Republicans (except Teddy Roosevelt [who served as president about 100 years ago]) are bad. Independents are good; big corporations are bad. Reality is far more nuanced, and this superfluous boosterism just detracts from the legitimacy of the message.

Similarly, Schlosser's alarmism is, well, alarming. Here's a sentence I chewed on a few times before moving on: "Anyone who brings raw ground beef into his or her kitchen today must regard it as a potential biohazard, one that may carry an extremely dangerous microbe." (p. 221.) It's called cooking; let's not get carried away here.

I found the book very thought-provoking in ways the movie failed to be. For this reason, I can recommend the text, if not the film.


Sunday, March 25, 2007

Jury Duty.

I performed jury service last week.

Judges, in the course of the process, likened the experience to "being drafted," but I was looking forward to seeing a trial through the lens of a juror. And, as an added bonus, no bullets would be flying in my direction.

First, I got called to a felony case with some serious charges. The defense attorney had a tough road because in the selection process it came out that the defendant had prior convictions for similar crimes, and would be pleading the fifth amendment. Not suprisingly, the public defender harped on the "beyond the reasonable doubt" standard, and made it sound as difficult as getting Donald Trump to extend a dinner invitation to Rosie O'Donnell. Out of a group of approximately 60 people, I was fortunate enough to be placed into the box of 12. I didn't make it on the actual jury because the prosecutor used a peremptory challenge to dismiss me (presumably because it came out that I was an attorney who had taught criminal law and evidence for several years).

Because it was about 2:45 p.m., there was still time left in my jury service. I was instructed to return to the jury assembly room. Somewhat surprisingly another case was empanelling a jury at 3:00, so I was called to another criminal department. This case was a misdemeanor. Again, I was put into the jury box (randomly they said) out of a much larger group. After returning the next day, my jury service came to an abrupt end when again the prosecutor, knowing my professional background, also dismissed me.

So, my streak of never being able to serve as a juror remains intact for at least another year.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Praising the Good, Part II.

This praise is a two-fer. I both give and receive praise.

This week I appeared in Court seeking an award of attorneys' fees incurred in connection with an appeal my worthy opponent filed in a commercial real estate case. Because my client won the appeal, we sought a further award of attorneys' fees as the prevailing party.

The court granted the motion, but it went out of its way to deliver praise. The judge said that this was the very unusual case where he would have awarded even more than requested. The judge said that he would have awarded more due to the high quality of the "paperwork" and the "representation." (It's true that most attorney fee requests are carved like a Thanksgiving turkey).

It's a mutual admiration society because I have often said this judge is one of the brightest on the bench, and also one of the most hardworking. (I don't say that because I mostly win in his department). On top of all that skill, he makes all counsel feel appreciated and welcome in the courtroom. Everyone can legitimately walk away from the experience thinking that the court fairly has reviewed all evidence and arguments--win or lose.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Praising the Good.

There's enough negativity in the world. (I realize this statement is itself somewhat negative.)

So, I am launching an occasional series where I will praise the good I see.

Last Friday night, I watched the end of the Los Angeles Lakers' game against the Portland Trailblazers.

Kobe Bryant exploded for 65 points, but that was not the best part.

Fox Sports West-Prime Ticket innovations in its telecast were. First, the camera angles projected the game as if the viewer were sitting courtside in one of those multi-thousand dollar seats. Second, there were no announcers. Third, there were no commercials. I don't know how Fox did it, or how it might sustain it in the future. For example, Fox also simultaneously showed a conventional broadcast, but who would prefer to watch the commercials or through distant camera angles?

If Fox employs this technique again, I commend it to anyone who has access.

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Monday, March 19, 2007

The Employee, Part II.

The woman (in part I) who was so thrilled about interviewing for a job that would give her three weeks off exemplies the employee mind-set. But, it's not her fault entirely. She probably reflects the education she received.

"Our schools train students to be employees who look for jobs rather than train entrepreneurs who create jobs and businesses."

(R. Kiyosaki and S. Lechter, Before You Quit Your Job (Warner Business Books, 2005), p. 4.)

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Brad Delp, Rest in Peace, Part II.

According to

Brad Delp's suicide note "was paper-clipped to the neck of Delp's shirt when police found his body at his Atkinson home, on the bathroom floor, his head on a pillow. He had sealed himself inside with two charcoal grills; toxicology tests showed he had committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning.

"'Mr. Brad Delp. J'ai une ame solitaire. I am a lonely soul,' the note read."


"His fiancee, Pamela Sullivan, called police March 9 after noticing a dryer vent tube connected to the exhaust pipe of Delp's car. In the garage, police found a note taped to the door leading into the house.

"'To whoever finds this I have hopefully committed suicide. Plan B was to asphyxiate myself in my car.'

"In another note on a door at the top of the stairs, Delp cautioned that there was carbon monoxide inside.

"'I take complete and sole responsibility for my present situation. I have lost my desire to live,' he wrote. The note also included instructions on how to contact his fiancee: 'Unfortunately she is totally unaware of what I have done.'"

Friday, March 16, 2007

The Employee.

I overheard a woman's cell-phone conversation about her interview at a law firm in our building.

She exuded excitement about the prospect of getting hired. She told the person on the other end, "I am so excited about this job."

Her very next sentence spoke volumes.

She said: "You get 16 days off a year."

The very thing that animated her about this job was that she would not have to do this job for 16 days a year.

This attitude perfectly exemplifies an employee mind-set. I read an interesting book by Robert Kiyosaki that examined the differences between employees and entrepreneurs. I'll explore these distinctions in a later post.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Brad Delp, Rest in Peace.

Brad Delp, Boston's golden-throated lead singer, died today at 55, the AP is reporting.

Here is the link:

Not only could Brad inspire with soaring vocals, but he inspired by being a gentleman. I had the good fortune of meeting Brad during the band's 2004 tour. He couldn't have been more friendly or dispossessed of rock-star conventions and pretentions. The band's website's single-sentence message captures it well: "We've just lost the nicest guy in rock and roll."

Imbued with massive amounts of talent and success, he could have indulged himself in the ego-gratification that tempt those few who occupy this rarified air. Instead, he reveled in being a self-actualized member of the human race, who got to live the dream of spreading happiness through his music. His happiness was synergistic as I can't recall a time when he sang without a satisfied smile on his face.

Rest-in-peace Brad; thank you for the memories and the art.