Law Religion Culture Review

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

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Another Dead Hero.

Another hero just ended his life.

At 46, Michael Whitmarsh committed suicide through carbon monoxide inhalation at a friend's house, leaving behind two daughters and a wife.

In addition to Olympic glory (a 1996 silver medalist in beach volleyball), Whitmarsh achieved considerable, sustained success on the pro volleyball tour, garnering 28 titles. At 6-7 he also excelled as a basketball player, starring at one of my alma maters, the University of San Diego, and playing professionally in Germany for three years.

At first blush, one might find it odd why one who breathed such rarefied air would end it all. Few mortals have ever experienced the chorus of praise that Whitmarsh did. However, maybe there is something about those who achieve so highly that they cannot cope when the public adulation wanes (or its effect does). Whitmarsh is now at least the fourth celebrity I'm familiar with who has committed suicide in the last couple of years. The other three are: Brad Delp (Boston lead singer), David Foster Wallace (writer), and Richard Jeni (actor/comic). I'm thinking it's not coincidental.

via:,0,1619006.story; and

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Monday, February 16, 2009


From The Reason for God by Timothy Keller:

"If you center your life and identity on your spouse or partner, you will be emotionally dependent, jealous, and controlling. The other person's problems will be overwhelming to you.

"If you center your life and identity on your family and children, you will try to live your life through your children until they resent you or have no self of their own. At worst, you may abuse them when they displease you.

"If you center your life and identity on your work and career, you will be a driven workaholic and a boring, shallow person. At worst you will lose family and friends and, if your career goes poorly, develop deep depression.

"If you center your life and identity on money and possessions, you'll be eaten up by worry or jealousy about money. You’ll be willing to do unethical things to maintain your lifestyle, which will eventually blow up your life.

"If you center your life and identity on pleasure, gratification, and comfort, you will find yourself getting addicted to something. You will become chained to the 'escape strategies' by which you avoid the hardness of life.

"If you center your life and identity on relationships and approval, you will be constantly overly hurt by criticism and thus always losing friends. You will fear confronting others and therefore will be a useless friend.

"If you center your life and identity on a 'noble cause,' you will divide the world into 'good' and 'bad' and demonize your opponents. Ironically, you will be controlled by your enemies. Without them, you have no purpose.

"If you center your life and identity on religion and morality, you will, if you are living up to your moral standards, be proud, self-righteous, and cruel. If you don’t live up to your moral standards, your guilt will be utterly devastating." (pp. 275-76.)


Friday, February 13, 2009

Totally Irrelevant!

Yesterday my esteemed opposing counsel received his comeuppance.

A few months ago, I brought a motion so my client, who was awarded about a million dollars in a case I tried, could be assigned a sizable income stream that the judgment debtor had from a commercial property.

In opposition, the other side argued that the judgment debtor's bankruptcy from 1991 (not a typo) should prevent collection of the 2008 judgment.

I calmly responded by saying that (1) my client was not listed as a creditor on the old bankruptcy; (2) was not discharged; and (3) even if she had been, the judgment awarded damages solely for post-petition claims, so the old bankruptcy did not bar this collection.

As soon as those last words left my mouth, my opponent bellowed (and it still rings in my ears), "TOTALLY IRRELEVANT!", while waving his left arm dismissively in my direction. The state court judge disagreed with him, and signed the assignment order that day.

Fast forward several months, and I found myself in bankruptcy court with the same attorney, who sought an injunction to stop the payments to my client.

The federal judge interrogated my opposing counsel something like this:

1. Mr. Radcliffe's client was not listed as a creditor in the 1991 bankruptcy, correct?
2. Mr. Radcliffe's client's claims were not discharged in that proceeding, correct?; and
3. And if even she had been listed as a creditor and her claims were discharged, the judgment awarded solely post-petition damages, correct?

Since the answer to all three of those questions was "correct", the Court denied the preliminary injunction.

I guess these points weren't so "TOTALLY IRRELEVANT!", unless one views state court and federal court rulings immaterial.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Book Review: Lawyer Boy by Rick Lax (2008).

“‘Nothing new is ever new’…It’s all been done before…”
--Ryan Montbleau

It’s all been done before, including this lyric. Law school memoirs have proliferated much like reality television shows. A law school memoir published in 2008, Rick Lax’s Lawyer Boy even pays homage to the “granddaddy” of all law school memoirs, One L by Scott Turow. (p. 32.)

However, because the people and circumstances involved differ, each memoir necessarily differs. And Lax brings his unique spin to the genre through an acute wit and background as a magician.

Not as introspective as One L, Lawyer Boy nevertheless comically outpaces One L, and many other law school memoirs, through hilarious anecdotes and observations that are not limited to his fellow students, professors or school administrators. For example, Lax tells a funny story about his attempt to return a defective piece of luggage, arguing the implied covenant of merchantability (pp. 131-32). He also reveals a contract he entered into with his parents to allow him to obtain doves for his magic tricks as a young man. (pp. 3-4, fn. 3.)

In Lawyer Boy, Lax reserves his sharpest wit for his legal writing instructor. (However, it’s not clear how much embellishment has been included since Lax indicates in his “Author’s Note” that “the students and professors described in this book are composites based on my DePaul law school classmates and professors.” He further notes: “I reconstructed dialog and altered details of several incidents….The details of certain law school assignments and exam questions have been changed.” ) Even if a fraction of the instructor’s comments is accurately recorded, the skewering was well-deserved.

Lawyer Boy essentially only covers Lax’s first year at DePaul law school. Even in that short time, however, Lax weaves his education into his life experiences, showing how his legal training changed how he perceived and participated in life. For example, the considerations that ran through his mind when he had to make a 911 call (pp. 231-33) or when he saw someone get injured in a gym (pp. 260-62) could only be written by a law student or lawyer.

Given these personal flourishes and the constant comedy, his book will appeal to those who haven’t gone to law school equally to those who have.

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Saturday, February 07, 2009

Officious, Part II.

"A cowboy named Bud was overseeing his herd in a remote mountainous pasture in California when suddenly a brand-new BMW advanced out of a dust cloud towards him.

The driver, a young man in a suit, Gucci shoes, sunglasses and a tie, leans out the window and asks the cowboy, 'If I tell you exactly how many cows and calves you have in your herd, will you give me a calf?'

Bud looks at the man, obviously a yuppie, then looks at his peacefully grazing herd and calmly answers, 'Sure , Why not?'

The yuppie parks his car, whips out his Dell notebook computer, connects it to his Cingular BLUETOOTH cell phone, and surfs to a NASA page on the Internet, where he calls up a GPS satellite to get an exact fix on his location which he then feeds to another NASA satellite that scans the area in an ultra high-resolution photo.

The young man then opens the digital photo in Adobe Photoshop and exports it to an image processing facility in Hamburg, Germany ...

Within seconds, he receives an email on his Palm Pilot that the image has been processed and the data stored. He then accesses a MS-SQL database through an ODBC connected Excel spreadsheet with email on his Blackberry and, after a few minutes, he receives a response.

Finally, he prints out a full-color, 150-page report on his hi-tech, miniaturized HP LaserJet printer and finally turns to the cowboy and says, 'You have exactly 1,586 cows and calves.'

'That's right. Well, I guess you can take one of my calves,' says Bud.

He watches the young man select one of the animals and looks on amused as the young man stuffs it into the trunk of his car.

Then the Bud says to the young man, 'Hey, if I can tell you exactly what your business is, will you give me back my calf?'

The young man thinks about it for a second and then says, 'Okay, why not?'

'You're a Congressman for the U.S.Government', says Bud.

'Wow! That's correct,' says the yuppie, 'but how did you guess that?'

'No guessing required.' answered the cowboy.

'You showed up here even though nobody called you; you want to get paid for an answer I already knew, to a question I never asked. You tried to show me how much smarter than me you are; and you don't know a thing about cows...this is a herd of sheep.

Now, give me back my dog.'"

via The Riddleblog

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Book Review: Journey of a Thousand Miles: My Story (by Lang Lang with David Ritz).

What price, success?

It's apropos that Lang Lang's mother asked him (after he rose to heights as a classical pianist), "'Is success everything you dreamed it would be, Lang Lang?'" (p. 205.)

His mother’s question becomes more revealing in the context of her Herculean sacrifices for his success. As a young lad, Lang Lang and his father left her behind, so Lang Lang could live in Beijing and audition for (and later attend) the conservatory. The good-bye concluded like this: “‘Enough,’ my father told her. ‘It’s time that you go. Let the boy be. All this sentiment makes him weak.’” (p. 1.) Upon his mom’s departure, Lang Lang’s dad instructed: “‘Go practice…. We’ve wasted enough time today.’” (p. 2.)

Sacrifice was the primary ingredient in Lang Lang's recipe for success. Mom sent money, but was mostly banished from seeing or speaking with Lang Lang for fear it would distract him. Lang Lang practiced. And practiced. And practiced some more. Lang Lang and his father lived in squalor in Beijing. “For the six years my dad and I had lived in Beijing, we had known extreme poverty.” (p. 165.) Everyone sacrificed and placed the sacrifices on the altar of Lang Lang’s putative musical career. “Number One” was his father’s incantation. It also became Lang Lang’s. He successfully competed in piano competitions in Asia and Europe, often felling favored competitors.

Once he came to America he studied under a teacher that rejected such competitions (p. 171), so Lang Lang focused on concerts with orchestras.

Experiencing living in America, the book takes on a cultural commentary. (See Part Four; pp. 149-205.) Lang Lang surprisingly enjoyed hip-hop music and lingo (“‘Ya, me,’ meaning ‘Do you know what I mean?’” [p. 167]), a Britney Spears concert (p. 229), and other aspects of popular culture, such as television and movies. (pp. 229-30). In an intriguing contrast, China embraces classical music as pop culture, but in a naive fashion, with many “think[ing] that Mozart is alive and well.” (p. 3.)

Another key ingredient however in Lang Lang’s success was good-fortune, or just plain luck. “I thanked the gods of good fortune”, Lang Lang tellingly wrote. (p. 225.) He was often in the right place in the right time, which is not to discount Lang Lang’s talent or hard work. It simply underscores the message of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers (see review on January 19, 2009), which is that success is the often the product of toiling (the “10,000 hour rule”) combined with fortunate timing.

It was somewhat comical for Lang Lang to argue for balance towards the end of his memoir (“I had learned perhaps the most important lesson of my education: that balance is what matters most” [p. 230]), since balance is the very opposite of his path to success as a classical pianist.

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Sunday, February 01, 2009

Church Split.

In church today, a pastor told a story about a castaway.

After being marooned on a deserted island, the gentleman was rescued.

His rescuers found him alone but with three tents on the isle.

"What's the first tent for?", they asked the castaway.

He replied: "It was my house--I slept there."

They then asked, "What's the second tent for?"

He answered, "It's God's house--I worshipped there."

They finally asked, "What's the third tent for?"

"It was my former church."

A church split on an island of one.