Law Religion Culture Review

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

Monday, November 30, 2009

Feel Free to Steal It.

Objecting to plaintiff's effort to try a case beyond the scope of her complaint, I opened my trial brief:

"To paraphrase a former Secretary of Defense, parties go to trial with the pleadings they have, not ones they wish for."

Judge loved it. Feel free to steal it.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Why the Church is Tempted to Practice a Christless Christianity.

Author of Christless Christianity (reviewed here on January 15, 2009), my former classmate Dr. Michael Horton (Ph.D., Oxford) was recently interviewed by Mark Galli in Christianity Today. Based on my own observations from visiting many churches, I believe Dr. Horton ably sums up so much of today's Church in his brief response to the question, "What is at the core of the temptation to practice a Christless Christianity?"

"When the emphasis becomes human-centered rather than God-centered. In more conservative contexts, you hear it as exhortation: 'These are God's commandments. The culture is slipping away from us. We have to recover it, and you play a role. Is your life matching up to what God calls us to?' Of course there is a place for that, but it seems to be the dominant emphasis.

"Then there is the therapeutic approach: 'You can be happier if you follow God's principles.' All of this is said with a smile, but it's still imperative. It's still about techniques and principles for you to follow in order to have your best life now.

"In both cases, it's law rather than gospel. I don't even know when I walk into a church that says it's Bible-believing that I'm actually going to hear an exposition of Scripture with Christ at the center, or whether I'm going to hear about how I should 'dare to be a Daniel.' The question is not whether we have imperatives in Scripture. The question is whether the imperatives are all we are getting, because people assume we already know the gospel—and we don't."

For the full interview posted November 19, 2009, click here.

Not all is lost, however. For example, a former pastor who appears chastened from his imperatives-driven approach seems to reject it as he transitions from being a full-time "pastor to the real-world". Here are some of his key observations: "[1]. I had NO clue the kind of financial, job, and family pressure most of our people were living with[.] [2.] Getting up and preaching what people should do is easy. Living it out is not. [3.] So much of what I preached, I will never preach again because the fact is it is not possible to do in the real world. [4.] I worked less than the people I pastored. Ministry was my job yet I asked our people to serve, volunteer, etc. AFTER they have worked 50-60 hour work weeks."

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Book Review: Speech-Less: Tales of a White House Survivor (2009) by Matt Latimer.

This book won’t be a script for a remake of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

It could be one, however, for: Mr. Latimer Leaves Washington in Disappointment, Disillusionment and Disgust.

Latimer begins the story describing his idealism. For example, he was actually an enthusiastic supporter of Bob Dole's 1996 campaign; yes, he was the one. Among other things, Latimer went to the convention held that year in San Diego, collected autographs from various political celebrities, and otherwise demonstrated his zeal for politics.

A self-professed conservative, Latimer made his pilgrimage to his dream job in the White House by serving a conservative Congressman, a few Republican Senators, as a speechwriter for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and eventually as a speechwriter in George W. Bush's White House.

Through this varied experience, Latimer becomes more and more disappointed, disillusioned and disgusted with Washington generally, and the Republican Party, as it was conducting itself, in particular. The only ones receiving consistent praise were Secretary Rumsfeld and Senator Jon Kyle of Arizona. The others? Pretty much skewered.

Of President Bush, Latimer writes: "I thought he was a good person who meant well." (p. 179.) Faint praise indeed. Latimer concludes his book with sharper criticism: "[H]aving my eyes opened to the president's willingness to abandon core conservative principles, I realized, sadly, that I didn't care about the administration anymore. The president was not the evil person his enemies made him out to be nor was he a dummy, but he also wasn't the leader I'd thought he was. I have no doubt that he meant well, that he tried to do good..., but he simply was not the president I wanted. He wasn't a conservative in the mold of Reagan or Thatcher.... If anything he seemed to be adrift." (251.)

Along with Latimer's dispiriting conclusions, he provides many funny anecdotes (even if some are hearsay) about the folly of our so-called leaders. But, in the end, is that really humorous or pathetic?

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Book Review: A Colossal Failure of Common Sense: The Inside Story of the Collapse of Lehman Brothers by Lawrence G. McDonald with Patrick Robinson.

This book can be synopsized: We were right; they were wrong.

The "they" are primarily former CEO of Lehman Brothers, Richard S. Fuld, Jr., and former President Joseph M. Gregory.

The "we"? Author Lawrence G. McDonald (a former VP of Lehman), of course, and a handful of his colleagues at Lehman.

The book repeatedly belittles the intelligence of the "they" while extolling the genius of the contrarians, the "we". Regarding Fuld, he's described in one withering passage "as a slightly pathetic, out-of-touch, confused old guy who was in office past his time, struggling with a 1970s playbook in a 2008 game." (300.) Contrasting that description, McDonald writes about his "supreme team" of "Wall Street masters", who were "the best there ever had been". (279.) His team was comprised of "the big brains that lived in fear of the small ones", i.e. the "they". (279.)

McDonald even concedes a good measure of "hindsight" guides his narrative (e.g., 196), but he does record instances where the "we" not only were objecting months and years before Lehman's bankruptcy filing on September 15, 2008, but actively taking positions that seemed contrary to the "they"'s real estate-laden agenda--for example, shorting builders' and banks' stocks.

McDonald characterizes his book as a "Wall Street thriller". (342.) If there is such a genre, this book definitely qualifies. On the "Wall Street" side, McDonald does an excellent job explaining CDOs (collateralized debt obligations), CLOs (collateralized loan obligations), CMBSs (commercial mortgage-backed securities), CDSs (credit default swaps), and the circumstances (e.g. the 1999 repealing of the Glass-Steagell Act of 1933 [3]) that led to Lehman's demise as well as the near crippling of the US (and world) economy. On the "thriller" side, McDonald and Robinson do so with a fast-paced story that is laced with uncommon wit and turns-of-phrases.

For example, "I didn't think we'd need to buy wine for the Christmas party, since the mortgage guys could probably produce chateau-bottled vintages from tap water, a technique hitherto regarded as a dying art." (113.)

As an added bonus, McDonald wraps his engaging personal story about his climb to Wall Street around the financial debacle of our time. For instance, his stories about how he bravely tried to find employment on Wall Street by posing as a pizza delivery person to get to the decision-makers echo stunts one might see in a movie.

If you are interested in learning how Wall Street was brought to its knees in 2008, McDonald and Robinson's book does so in a most entertaining way. It marries a creditable explication of the financial, legal, political and personal reasons with the riveting story-telling instincts of a Spielberg.

Highly recommended.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Book Review: Boots on the Ground by Dusk: My Tribute to Pat Tillman (2008) by Mary Tillman with Narda Zacchino.

Pat Tillman deserves tributes.

His selfless story about leaving the NFL, and millions of dollars, to serve his country is a rare and inspiring one.

Unfortunately, his decision resulted in his death in Afghanistan by fratricide.

Then, this tragedy was compounded by misinformation about the circumstances of his death.

Mary Tillman (Pat's mother) isn't one to be misled. Almost immediately after learning of Pat's passing, she asked numerous questions, read voluminous documents, and met with multitudinous officials. She even testified before Congress. This odyssey didn't lessen her pain; it only seemed to heighten it.

Perhaps writing this book will give Ms. Tillman the peace she seeks. It's more likely she will find it by extolling her son, than examining the government's failings.

In lauding her son (subtitled, My Tribute to Pat Tillman), the book really shines. It provides intriguing details about Pat's upbringing and life before joining the Army Rangers. He was a voracious reader, a man of unquestionable integrity, and an inspiring example of leadership, among other things. He never seemed to take the easy or conventional way through life. He made decisions according to his strong sense of morality. For example, before he turned down millions by joining the military, he demonstrated his loyalty by taking far less money to play for the Arizona Cardinals because they believed in him (by drafting him in the seventh round), while eschewing a much more lucrative free-agent contract to play with the St. Louis Rams.

In particular, I found the tributes Ms. Tillman included from Pat's memorial service to be staggering. Sports radio personality Jim Rome's stood out:

"I decided quite some time ago the first athlete I would ever tell my son about would be Pat Tillman.

"I can't wait to sit my son down and tell him how much I admired Pat, to tell him about that legendary Tillman intensity, his hunger, his desire. I can't wait to tell my son that it's not necessarily about being the fastest or the strongest or the most athletic because Pat was never any of those things. But nobody rated higher in those intangible qualities that you could develop: hunger, desire, courage, competitive spirit, integrity, honesty, selflessness, the things that make you a great athlete and a great man...

"Pat's the man we should all aspire to be, a man of honor, courage, patriotism, and loyalty. Money, material possessions, luxury cars, huge mansions--these things meant nothing to Pat. Integrity, relationships with family, friends and teammates meant everything...." (p. 157.)

I can't wait either.

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Sunday, November 01, 2009

Book Review: The Accidental Billionaires (2009) by Ben Mezrich.

I'd hate to see what Ben Mezrich would write if he wasn't a fan.

At the end of The Accidental Billionaires about Facebook's founding, Mezrich curiously writes: "I am an enormous fan of all the characters of this book; I am in awe of their genius, and I am grateful to have been able to get a glimpse into a world of creation I'd never known before." (p. 258; emphasis added.)

Given the encompassing term "all", this would necessarily include then-Harvard President Lawrence Summers, who appears significantly in the book when an ethics complaint was brought to him by Harvard students in connection with (then) thefacebook's founding as a dorm-room project there.

Consider Mezrich's (a Harvard grad's) bizarre treatment of Dr. Summers. While referring to him as "pudgy" four times and as "chubby" in pages 126 to 131, Mezrich flourishes: "Summers shook his head. His jowls reverberated with the motion, like fleshy waves in a swirling epidermal storm." (130.) Mezrich resumes his theme later chronicling a Harvard graduation ceremony: "Summers was almost ready behind the lectern, his wide jowly face just inches from the microphone." (238.) I've seen Dr. Summers (now a White House economics advisor, and former Secretary of the Treasury); he's not morbidly obese, so this embarrassing, excessive personal attack must have some other agenda--one I can't ascertain.

Perhaps the "all" was not intended to refer to Dr. Summers, and can therefore be chalked up to unintentionally overinclusive or imprecise language.

Nevertheless, there's no doubt that Facebook's principal founder, Mark Zuckerberg, is a central figure in the book. It's mysterious too why Mezrich would sum up his book by claiming himself a "fan", when the preceding pages present Mr. Zuckerberg in an unflattering light (at least in part). Indeed, the book's subtitle contains the word "betrayal" and Mezrich levels the charge squarely at Mr. Zuckerberg throughout the text, and notably, in its conclusion.

Mezrich too wrote the popular, Bringing Down the House, which became the movie, 21. Having read Bringing Down the House, about MIT students who gamed Vegas casinos, I eagerly anticipated reading Mezrich's latest. This book doesn't disappoint. Mezrich's prose moves swiftly and is unladen with extraneous scenes or plotlines. From a legal perspective, this book will especially appeal to lawyers because there are not one but two legal disputes discussed in The Accidental Billionaires. A fascinating ethical scenario enfolds, which could be excellent fodder for a law school professional responsibility class.

In this decade, Mr. Zuckerberg has followed in fellow Harvard dropout Bill Gates' footsteps, whom Mezrich intriguingly records Mr. Zuckerberg watching speak at Harvard while a student. Mezrich writes that Zuckerberg became a billionaire by 25. This is the business formation story of the day. Mezrich shrewdly seizes on this important, multi-layered narrative, and he does it justice.


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