Law Religion Culture Review

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

Monday, May 28, 2007

Book Review: Blood Sport by James B. Stewart.

Blood Sport is simultaneously antiquated and timely.

It's antiquated because it hit bookstores over ten years ago. In this time, much history has been written. With the benefit of hindsight, the reader today knows chapters penned after Blood Sport's 1996 publication. Stewart even seems to confess this likelihood: "In the absence of the full report of the independent counsel, which is not expected until after the next presidential election [November, 1996], I believe this to be a comprehensive account of these events. In my view, it is this information that permits us to make sense of what is unfolding now. I hope readers will find this book makes clear what is happening, and why. And I trust they will agree that this story isn't as arcane, and confusing as those involved would have us believe." (p. 10.)

For example, Stewart discusses then-newly appointed special prosecutor Ken Starr. "Starr vowed to be fair and impartial, but thorough. While his investigation is no doubt upending life for many in Arkansas--as would any criminal investigation as wide-ranging in scope--there hasn't been any public indication of prosecutorial misconduct or partisan zeal." (p. 424; emphasis added.) Some might dispute this opinion, disguised as a declaratory sentence, today.

Also, Bernie Nussbaum, then-counsel to President Clinton, argued unsuccessfully against appointing an independent counsel for the Whitewater matter. "'But this is about Whitewater,' someone called out. 'No,' Nussbaum replied. 'This will be a roving searchlight.'...'They will chase you, your family and friends through your presidency and beyond.'" (p. 374; emphasis added.)

Nussbaum contended: "The institution of the independant counsel 'is evil,' he said. 'Not because of the people, but no matter how saintly they are, there is enormous pressure to come up with something. ... It's dangerous. It has a dynamic." (p. 374.)

Nussbaum was prescient in the sense the investigation took on a life of its own and traveled into areas far beyond the original appointment. Ultimately, the special prosecutor/independent counsel law was scrapped. Even political polar opposites concurred on this point. From Justice Antonin Scalia to Bernie Nussbaum, the consensus was to eliminate it, although they may have disagreed as to the rationale therefor.

It's timely because it provides considerable insight into Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is currently running for President. There is renewed interest in the Clintons, as evidenced by two new books on the Clintons. I predict this focus will engender interest in this "old" book. Just last week, I saw Ms. Clinton's communications director addressing questions about events contained within this text.

Blood Sport's title is a play on words from Vince Foster's note written shortly before his suicide: "I was not meant for the job or the spotlight of public life in Washington. Here ruining people is considered sport." (p. 283.)

The book opens with Foster's death as its "hook," but in the final analysis this event does not govern or even adequately set the stage for the 400-plus pages that follow. It's not a "murder mystery" or a "suicide mystery" for that matter.

To the contrary, Blood Sport sings as a character study. One of the most interesting figures portrayed within its pages is James McDougal. While he too has since died, he lived a fascinating, full life, including as a college professor in a Baptist college, a political "kingmaker" of sorts, a savings and loan owner, a real estate impresario, and candidate.

"McDougal[ ] didn't live lavishly. ... Jim seemed indifferent to most of the trappings of wealth, but he loved clothes and cars, especially Mercedes. He'd had one of the first diesel-powered Mercedes in Arkansas. He also had a Jeep, which he abandoned after backing hard into a gas pump, smashing both the car and the pump, spewing gasoline. The gas station attendant had been apoplectic when McDougal got out of the car and casually lit a cigarette." (p. 43.)

In another amusing McDougal anecdote, Stewart wrote: "While driving to work with one of his close friends, future Arkansas governor Jim Guy Tucker, he managed to beach a car on the dividing strip of North University Street in Little Rock, stopping traffic during rush hour. McDougal was unfazed, chatting with Tucker as though nothing had happened. 'Don't get out and look around, giving everyone the satisfaction of seeing what an idiot you've been,' he told his passenger. 'Don't worry. Somebody will come and take care of this.' (Someone did.)" (p. 43-44.)

The book gets bogged down when it tries to unravel "Whitewater." Originally a land-deal involving the Clintons and McDougals, this so-called scandal brings to mind the famous Gertrude Stein quote, "There is no there there." While Ms. Stein said this about Oakland, California, it applies here with equal force.

Having also reviewed DisneyWar Stewart's more recent effort (see May 2, 2007 post:, I found DisneyWar to be a more focused and entertaining read. Blood Sport meandered at times, and thus, took reader discipline to forge ahead.

Recommended for political junkies, especially those wanting special insight into the next presidential election.

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Saturday, May 26, 2007


I was reading a transcript of a debtor's examination in an Arizona bankruptcy tangentially related to a complex business litigation matter I'm handling in California. The following exchange ensued:

"Q. You're also aware that I represent [AJ], a creditor in the bankruptcy proceeding; correct?

A. I'm aware that you represent her in a civil lawsuit in California.

Q. Okay.

A. I was not aware that you represented her here in the state of Arizona.

Q. Okay. Well, I'll represent to you that I am associated and am also representing her here in Arizona.

A. You must be licensed here, then.

Q. It's my deposition. I get to ask [the] questions, okay?"

I'm sure the examining attorney was touched by the witness's uninvited concern and admonition about the unauthorized practice of law.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Fixer, Part II.


Thursday, May 24, 2007


Got time and money on your hands? Handy? Then check this do-it-yourself project--right here in the OC--that got away from someone.

Don't know if the furniture inexplicably in the house would be included.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Smile for the Camera!

During a recent trial, my worthy opponent placed an undated photograph in front of a witness who was not featured in the picture.

And then asked the case-cracker, “Isn’t your father smiling in the photo?”

At this point, the judge couldn’t contain himself any further at this irrelevancy. “Isn't that what you're supposed to do in a photo--smile?” “What does that prove?”

Friday, May 11, 2007

Book Review: Confessions of a Street Addict.

If you've watched "Mad Money" on basic cable, you know who Jim Cramer is:

"[T]he wild, excitable guy with Bozo-like tuffs of brown curly hair who ha[s] a big mouth and lots of passion talking authoritatively about how you could make money...." (p. 124.)

And that's his self-description.

Jim Cramer has written an insightful and entertaining book, Confessions of Street Addict, illustrating his myriad dimensions far beyond the manic guy yelling at you through the tv to "buy, buy, buy" or "sell, sell, sell."

What permeates this fascinating book is how multifaceted a life Cramer has lived. Following his graduation from Harvard College, he served as an intermittently homeless crime reporter for the (now defunct) Los Angeles Herald Examiner. He reports that he stayed at "I-5 truckstops, huddled beneath [his] corduroy jacket, clutching the hatchet with one hand and the .22 with the other." (p. 7.)

After these harrowing experiences, he decided some further education might be warranted. Accordingly, he enrolled at Harvard Law School. His interests, however, lay beyond Marbury v. Madison. While in law school, he pored over stock tables and made trades between, and sometimes during, classes. After a short stint as a law clerk (where even these experiences were dramatic), he decided the law was not for him, and set out to work on Wall Street.

Cramer recounts how he assiduously pursued a job at Goldman Sachs. "I got a letter from Goldman saying that it would consider me for its summer associate program but that I would have to battle hundreds of others. In retrospect I think it was a rejection letter that I treated as an acceptance letter." (p. 23.)

Arriving for an interview at GS, Cramer was placed "in a little interview room the size of two phone booths at around 11:00 A.M. I waited, patiently, reading some annual reports, for what seemed like hours. And it was hours. Nobody came to see me. At a little after 5:00 P.M. a cleaning person told me that everyone had left and that I better be heading home myself lest I get locked in overnight. I debated that possibility momentarily and then exited." (pp. 24-25.)

Cramer interpreted the snub unconventionally. He told the recruiter at Goldman, who was concerned Cramer didn't get the message: "Goldman was a tough place and only those who waited all day in a windowless holding pen would make the cut in the next round." (p. 25.)

Cramer got his interview, and then the coveted job. At this point, "Never was a guy from Harvard Law School more excited about going into sales.... I knew there was no way I was going back to the law after this move."

Once initiated into the ways of Wall Street, Cramer ventured out on his own, overseeing a hedge fund for a decade. Unlike mutual funds, managers at hedge funds only get paid if they produce gains. While this fact can engender very high highs, it can also produce very low lows, where he would have to pony up for losses.

Simultaneously, Cramer indulged his passion for writing, and wrote for his website as well as other publications. This dual life, however, led to some headaches, including a SEC investigation and other questions.

Regarding, Cramer discusses his role as a chief investor in this enterprise, including all of its "growing pains" and IPO. Particularly experience illustrates the dimension beyond mere dollars and cents. Cramer lays out the overarching human element--hirings and firings and even some skulduggery--that provides much drama.

In the end, Cramer left his hugely successful hedge fund, to focus on writing and tv work, and to avoid the angry outbursts that sometimes characterized his life at the fund, including smashing, slamming and throwing various items. As a consequence, he writes that he been able to be more present in his family's life.

Confessions shares much in common with Pursuit of Happyness. Both experienced homelessness; both made their fortunes in the stock market, and in the end, both elevated being a parent despite personal sacrifices.

Confessions is an exquisitely well-written book, full of humor, conceit, self-deprecation, drama, and insight.

This book is a "buy."


Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Defuser.

This morning I caught a radio guy talking about how to defuse an argument.

He recounted how his bishop advised him and his wife who struggled with quarrelling. He told them to stop right in the middle of the dispute. And then pray.


Not only would this act allow for a "cooling off," but it would seem almost impossible to be outwardly angered while upwardly focused.

Not sure this would work in courtroom arguments though.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Adventure Review: Haleakala (Maui).

I can truthfully say I recently biked a 10,000 foot volcano. This adventure traversed about 35 miles on a road spanning from the ocean to the top of Haleakala on Maui.

I should add, however, the bike ride was downhill.

The bike had no gears, and none was needed. Its only crucial feature: brakes. Trying to control the bike as it screamed down the mountain through about 30 switchbacks and few guardrails was a challenge of its own. Indeed, some in the group, who paid good money for the experience, bowed out, choosing instead the sag van's Naugahyde bench seat to the bike's banana seat.

A van took the bikes and the riders to the top of the volcano, which boats a crater 21 miles in circumference. From the top, the stunning views of the crater--something out of a lunar landing--as well as the shimmering ocean arrested my breath--even without biking up the hill. The views on the way down diminish only slightly.

Many services run this route, and the road gets a bit crowded--much like the queues at Mount Everest during climbing season (as written about in Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer.) Nevertheless, biking Haleakala is a spectacular experience not to be missed by able-bodied visitors to Maui.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Book and Movie Review: The Pursuit of Happyness.

This experience was aberrational.

I liked the movie better than the book.

While the movie almost ignored Chris Gardner's upbringing, more than half of the book wallowed in the despair of Mr. Gardner's early life. Reading one tragic experience after another (long before the events featured in the film) bordered on tedium and inspired fatigue. The book unduly delayed in getting to Mr. Gardner's triumphs, which are replete.

Contrarily, the movie isolated and celebrated Mr. Gardner's relationship with his young son, as they struggled with several months of homelessness while Gardner assiduously pursued his dream of becoming a stockbroker. The appeal of the film was to glorify the beautiful father-son bond made stronger in the crucible of these trials.

Both the book and the movie credited a San Francisco church's (Glide Memorial Methodist) role in helping father and son in their most needy moments. The book especially waxed eloquently on Pastor Cecil Williams' dedication to the poor in accord with Christ's admonition.

A sample: "[Y]ou couldn't live in the Bay Area without knowing Cecil Williams and getting a sense of his message. Walk that walk, he preached. On any Sunday, his sermon might address a number of subjects, but that theme was always in there, in addition to the rest.... Don't just talk that talk, walk it and go forward." (p. 7.) Mr. Gardner continues: "Go forward. That became my mantra, inspired by the Reverend Cecil Williams, one of the most enlightened men to ever walk this earth, a friend and mentor who goodness blessed me in ways I can never sufficiently recount." (pp. 6-7.)

The book curiously credits three writers. The front cover identifies the authors as "Chris Gardner with Quincy Trope." The title page instead identifies them as "Chris Gardner with Quincy Trope and Mim Eichler Rivas." In the acknowledgements Mr. Gardner writes: "Mim Eichler Rivas helped me to open up my soul. Quincy put down what happened--Mim put down how what happened felt. If there is any sense of feeling, passion, or dreams here, it is all due to Mim." (p. xi; emphasis in original.) Perhaps the writers by committee approach may have contributed to its unevenness and other shortcomings.

So, if you missed the movie in the theater, it's definitely worth getting the newly released DVD.


Monday, May 07, 2007

Concert Review: Tool (San Diego, May 3, 2007).

At the outset of Tool's appearance at Cox Arena, Maynard James Keenan ("Maynard") acknowledged those legion of fans who ventured south from Los Angeles to experience this San Diego concert.

After the LA fans cheered themselves, Maynard told the LA fans that they were in San Diego, so they should leave their Hollywood BS at the door. This admonishment drew an even larger cheer from the San Diego contingent.

Shortly before Maynard's comments, a gentleman behind me remarked to the individual seated next to him that his seat was perfect because he would be able to see Maynard clearly. The other guy informed him that he wouldn't see Maynard because he doesn't show himself to the crowd--a phenomenon I wrote about here:

Taken together, these comments illustrate how Maynard shuns the typical Hollywood-rockstar pastiche.

I realize there is a seeming inherent contradiction in one who makes his living in show business and simultaneously repudiates it or at least parts of it. Nevertheless, the show did go on. This concert deviated from the prior one as the set list drew more heavily on older material, especially 1996's Aenima, including "Forty-Six and Two" and "Aenema" (which Maynard noted they rarely play in concert), and deemphasized 2006's 10,000 Days. The band also changed the order of songs, placing the newest material later into the set (but did not conclude with any of it). There was no encore to speak of--Tool simply thanked the crowd, hugged each other at center stage, and left after about a two-hour performance.

Cox Arena is a smaller venue than Staples Center, although for some reason the sound was not as loud this time around. Nevertheless, Maynard's voice was clearer. The group employed the same basic light and stage effects (a stage much like a dry erase board and lasers), but due to less room, had to make some adjustments with the video screens, which, of course, never showed Maynard's (or the other band members') countenance.

Finally, the folks running Cox Arena should take a bow because in addition to forbidding alcohol sales, they provided free parking in the convenient parking structure adjacent to the venue, which mercifully allowed for easy egress from the locale and trouble-free ingress to the freeway--for the legions of fans to make their way back up to LA.

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Book Review: DisneyWar.

I arrived late to this party.

Published in 2005, I have just discovered and then devoured James B. Stewart's 534 page tome, DisneyWar. I have just discovered James B. Stewart for that matter. A recovering attorney, Stewart has been distinguishing himself for many years authoring such best-selling, investigative works as Den of Thieves and Blood Sport. Stewart leverages his legal training as he skillfully sifts through legal issues and maneuvers, and reports them in a simplified, yet accurate fashion.

While I had followed Disney's corporate affairs with a detached bemusement in newspapers, this expansive book pealed back the curtains to take the reader inside Disney, the corporation.

Among many other things, Stewart explored Jeffrey Katzenberg's lawsuit against Disney, the shareholder derivative action over Michael Ovitz's severance, the effort to unseat Michael Eisner as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (spearheaded by Roy Disney), and decisions to "greenlight" or pass on various entertainment properties, such as television shows and movies. The common denominator in each was Eisner.

Ironically, Eisner agreed to cooperate with Stewart and to give him access to Disney and its executives. Stewart even got to portray one of the costumed characters (Goofy) at one of the company's amusement parks. Stewart however felt free to repay this ostensible beneficence with a scathing indictment of Eisner, especially his grasping at the end of his tenure to control his "disenchanted kingdom."

Some samples:

"Beginning with the lavish, even reckless overspending on Euro Disney, and continuing with the poorly planned and executed foray into the Internet, and perhaps worst of all, the acquisition of the Fox Family cable network--each of which is a more than $1 billion mistake--Eisner squandered Disney's assets. Even one blunder of that magnitude, let alone three, might have cost a chief executive his job at any public company that was acting in the interests of its shareholders and had any meaningful board oversight. This is even before considering the exit of Jeffrey Katzenberg, the failure to honor his contract, and the hiring and firing of Michael Ovitz, personnel and judgment errors which, in the cost to Disney and the vitriol and publicity they generated, are without parallel in American business history." (p. 530)

Ouch; that's gonna leave a mark.

"And even Eisner's vaunted creativity--clearly the attribute that he himself holds most dear--seems to to have been in eclipse. There have been some recent successes, such as Pirates of the Caribbean, but even there, Eisner criticized Johnny Depp's teeth and effeminate demeanor. The animation unit as been devastated and is a shadow of its former self, overshadowed by Pixar and DreamWorks. The film studio has never again duplicated the string of hits during the early years under Eisner and Katzenberg. Eisner dismissed Finding Nemo, and Disney sold off most of the rights to Sixth Sense. Eisner criticized 'Lost', ABC's first breakout hit in years. Although he insists on being judged only by what he has done, and not what he has failed to do, the hit projects he rejected, from 'CSI' to Lord of the Rings and Fahrenheit 9/11 loom large." (p. 530.)

Because Disney is a corporation as well as a content-provider Stewart assesses Eisner's management abilities. "[Eisner's] management failures include an inability to delegate, a frequent mistrust of subordinates, impulsive and uncritical judgments, his pitting of one executive against another, his disrespect for any hierarchy of authority other than his own, his encouragement of a culture of spying and back-channeling, his frequent failure to acknowledge the achievement of others, and above all, his inability to groom a successor...." (p. 532.)

In turn, Stewart posits that this led to an exodus of management talent from Disney, which reads like a "Who's-Who" list of American corporate executives: "[T]he roster of Disney alumni either fired, forced to resign, or who left of their own initiative and who now occupy important posts elsewhere in corporate American is also unparalleled...." (Id.)

Reading Stewart's prose is much like parting butter with a warm knife. Stewart's masterfully paces his nonfiction books much like break-neck fiction--replete with dialogue and action. It's a cliche but DisneyWar was nearly impossible to put down. Immediately after I finished the book, I set out to find another book--almost any book--written by Stewart. Concordantly, I am reading Blood Sport (about Clintons' Whitewater matter), and find the same trademark Stewartian textual flourishes.

Highly recommended.

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