Matthew's Foray into Blogging

Sunday, July 31, 2005

The Two Major Parties Are Just Alike

The two major political parties – the Republicans and the Democrats – are no different from one another. Members of both parties are looking out for their own interests, doing whatever is necessary to win elections and to remain in power. This generally means pandering to special interest groups. Regardless of which party is in office, we have corporate-controlled government. The politicians appeal to niches of voters that are not representative of the majority of Americans, and they take up issues that are not of great concern to most Americans. How many conservative Christians do you know? The percentage of the population that is homosexual is in the single digits, so there cannot be an epidemic of gay marriage that is threatening to send our country into a moral abyss. Abortion is a divisive subject, and it involves deep-seated, moral beliefs, but how directly does it affect most of us? When was the last time you, someone you knew, or someone you witnessed went out to burn a flag?

Surely there are issues that are of more pressing importance than the hot-button issues that the elected representatives use to ride into office. Areas such as energy, clean air and water, poverty, access to healthcare, civil rights, tax reform, pensions, employment, Congressional ethics, auto safety, and the tobacco industry, to list but a few, would seem to require greater attention from our government officials. Further, the positions the politicians take on these matters, and the resolutions they seek, should be in the best interest of the people. Unfortunately, the members of the major political parties take whichever position is most expedient for them, which is generally the position that their largest campaign contributors demand that they should take, not that which stands to benefit Americans most.

In a June 8, 2005 New York Times Magazine article, “10 Questions for . . .Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt,” a reader inquired of Messrs. Dubner and Levitt whether “there is a way to end the pernicious influence of ‘Big Money’ in our political campaigns.” Messrs. Dubner and Levitt answered that they “do not think Big Money is as pernicious as others do.” They stated that they demonstrated in their book, Freakonomics, that “campaign spending does not affect elections nearly as much as most people think.” I think the influence is there, and that it is significant enough.

Regardless of which party is in the White House or controls Congress, nothing that helps Americans is accomplished. Democrat and Republican administrations come and go, but our country remains dependent on oil, and foreign oil, at that, we seem forever to be embroiled in the Middle East, we continue to destroy our environment, millions of Americans continue to live in poverty and without access to healthcare, the drug war rages unabated, and so on.

Should a third-party, independent candidate come along, such as Ralph Nader, or, more recently, Kinky Friedman, the system has in place barriers to their entry. Further, I take issue with assertions that Nader was a spoiler and that he “stole” votes from the Democrats. I would argue that Nader did not “steal” these votes; rather, he provided a welcome alternative to the two indistinguishable major parties.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Congressional Priorities

The New York Times reports that both houses of Congress approved “a $286.4 billion highway measure stuffed with special projects for virtually every Congressional district in the nation.” However, the House Appropriations Subcommittee that oversees budget for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting voted to eliminate $100 million from the fiscal year 2006 CPB budget. Surely there was enough pork that could have been cut from the highway bill to free funds for the CPB.

I suppose constituents are more likely to reelect their representatives if federal money comes to their districts, such as $2.2 million to make landscape improvements to the Ronald Reagan freeway in California, than if the CPB is adequately funded. Additionally, Public Broadcasting has allegedly angered Republicans with Public Broadcasting’s leftist (albeit informative, enriching, and educational) programming.

Alternative Employment

Well, since none of the elitist s.o.b.’s in the legal field will employ me, where can I look for employment where my damn expensive law degree will not be completely wasted? It can only be the employers’ bias against students like me, who did not graduate from prestigious colleges or in the top miniscule percent of their classes, and not the allegedly weak job market. It is easier to direct my anger at real people who are making hiring decisions, than it is to make the “job market” the subject of my ire.

sour grapes noun
affected scorn: the scornful denial that something is attractive or desirable because it is unobtainable
syn. resentment, jealousy, bitterness, ill feeling, envy, ill will, scorn

[In allusion to Aesop’s fable The Fox and the Grapes where the fox disparages some grapes as sour when he cannot reach them]

Encarta World English Dictionary (2000)

Houseguest

My sister’s cat has been residing with us since sometime in March, while my sister goes back and forth between here and Austin, and generally comes and goes as she pleases. That is fine, because I rather enjoy having a cat in the house. Eloise, as the cat is named, is quite adorable. I imagine her chanting a little song, “I am so cute. I am so cute.”*

We thought letting my sister have a cat would help her learn some responsibility. I jest. (Actually, there was no “let” about it.)

* I had misgivings about writing a post about my sister’s cat. I was concerned that, in the event that anyone happened upon my blog, it might subject me to derision, or even cause some people to try to track me down and beat me up. I asked my sister whether she thought I should post about her cat, and she said I could write about whatever I wanted, but that I should omit the song. Against our better judgment, I have included it.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Oil and Gas Industry Tax Break, er, Energy Bill

The Associated Press reported, “The House by a wide margin approved a mammoth energy plan for the nation today [Thursday, July 28, 2005] that sends billions of dollars in tax breaks and subsidies to energy companies, but is expected to do little to reduce U.S. oil consumption or dampen high energy prices.” The energy bill “would provide $14.5 billion in energy tax breaks, much of it to traditional energy companies,” such as oil and gas. The energy bill would not drive down record-high gasoline prices, reduce American importation of Middle Eastern oil, or significantly boost clean energy technologies. “Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., said, ‘This bill is packed with royalty relief, tax breaks, loan guarantees for the wealthiest energy companies in America even as they are reporting the largest quarterly profits of any corporation in the history of the United States.’”

“‘This is a good bill for America,’ declared Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, a key author of the legislation.” My question to Rep. Barton is, along with the $2.7 billion in tax breaks to the oil and gas industries, was Congress able to include in the new energy bill a tax break for me?

My New Acquisition (Which I Can Ill Afford)

A fool and his money are soon parted. This is a particularly bad time for me to be spending money on non-necessaries, given that Congress recently passed the new bankruptcy legislation that makes it more difficult for consumers to escape debt. I jest.

This afternoon, after making a futile effort to apply for jobs with the Texas Attorney General, I grew weary of sitting at home unemployed.

As an aside, the WorkInTexas website is totally not user friendly. WorkInTexas is the only way to apply for employment with the Texas AG. “All applications for employment with the OAG must be submitted electronically through www.WorkInTexas.com.… [P]aper applications will not be accepted at any OAG office.” I imaging that making WorkInTexas difficult to use is a means of eliminating potential applicants or narrowing the field of applicants.

Growing increasingly frustrated with my unemployment, on a whim, I decided to venture out of the house. Bad things, man. I had in mind bad things – for my bank account, that is. I do not know what possessed me, but I decided to make a purchase that I had been deferring until if and when I had an income and disposable funds. Williams-Sonoma has been offering for some time a 3 ½ quart Le Creuset Dutch oven, regular price $200.00, for the low, low price of $150.00. I have been needing (I use the term loosely) an additional 3 ½ quart pot. In a moment of weakness, I became the owner of a new Le Creuset Dutch oven. We will worry about paying for it later. Maybe I will be gainfully employed when that time comes.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Good Eats

There is a Lyle Lovett song, “Church,” from his album Joshua Judges Ruth, in which Mr. Lovett sings,


To the Lord let praises be
It’s time for dinner now let’s go eat
We’ve got some beans and some good cornbread
Now listen to what the preacher said
He said to the Lord let praised be
It’s time for dinner now let’s go eat

I particularly like the lyrics about “some beans and some good cornbread.” I am fond of beans, and, if they are pinto beans or if they are navy beans in U.S. Senate bean soup, I like some good cornbread to accompany them. As an added bonus, legumes are a veritable nutritional powerhouse.

I will even provide instructions for a rather splendid preparation for pinto beans that involves a hambone, such as that which remains after devouring one of the honey-glazed spiral sliced hams that abound around certain holidays. As far as I am concerned, the best part of those hams is the beans that are cooked with the bone. I will even forego the ham, and the $50 price, give or take, and buy the hambone from the deli, for about $2; this is great fare for poor folk like me. Sort, rinse, and soak for about eight hours a pound-and-a-half or two pounds of dried pinto beans. Put the hambone in a large pot, pour in the beans, and cover them with water, by about an inch. Partially cover the pot, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Adjust the heat to maintain a simmer, or, if heating up your entire house by running your oven is not a concern, place the beans, covered, in a 250° Fahrenheit oven. Let the beans cook for about three hours, checking them occasionally to ensure that the water level does not fall below the surface of the beans. If, upon tasting the beans, salt is necessary, stir in about a teaspoon, and allow them to simmer for an additional fifteen minutes.

After the beans are soft and creamy textured, you can serve them with some good cornbread, made from stone ground cornmeal ground from whole kernel corn with the germ intact. If you let the beans cool and refrigerate them overnight, the texture and flavor improve, and the coagulated fat can be skimmed from the surface.

I told you I liked beans.

“In the Club”

I thought that once I passed the bar exam I would be “in the club.” Apparently, it does not work that way. Of course, I was under no such delusion, but I did not anticipate that employment would be so elusive. I am practically embarrassed that I have not yet found employment in the legal field.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The Check Is in the Mail

Every day when I go to the mailbox, I am hopeful that there will be a check in the mail for me. Of course, there very rarely is. Very infrequently do I receive money in the mail. (For that matter, very infrequently do I receive money.) The only mail I receive are bills. I also receive letters from law firms responding to the résumés and résumé cover letters I send to them. The responses invariably state that, although my résumé is impressive (actually, it is not), they do not currently have a position for someone with my qualifications. They then thank me for my interest in their law firm and wish me the best in my legal career.

I think I will head on down to the mailbox, now. Maybe there will be a much-needed check.

The Only Good Tree Is a Dead Tree

Along a similar vein as the previous post, are trees worth more dead than they are worth alive? That is the assumption I would make, based on how land is developed for commercial, residential, and other use. I can only surmise that felled trees bring handsome sums as lumber, outstripping any increase in the value of the property they cause. Developers – the evil developers – take a nicely wooded lot and clear-cut it. This results in an unsightly, empty lot; when this is repeated enough times, of course, it has a deleterious effect on the environment.

Speedway-Front Property

How desirable could it be to live in the shadow of a four-lane toll road or an eight-lane freeway? There are two relatively new residential developments in Houston that I pass occasionally that are within a stone’s throw of major roadways – the Hardy Toll Road and Interstate 45 North. I cannot understand why the developers would put houses in such close proximity to highways that generate what I imagine would be unbearable noise and air pollution. I cannot understand why any sane person would willingly purchase a house in such proximity to a freeway. It is not as though the developers are taking advantage of low-income individuals, either; these houses – cheaply constructed, cookie-cutter homes though they are – are priced starting in the $100s. Not only are the houses unsightly and right on top of the busy, noisy thoroughfares, but also the developers left nary a tree standing, neither amongst the houses nor as buffers against the cars racing by. It appears as though if you build it, they will come.

I guess that is what you get when Houston lacks zoning and the developer’s lobby holds enough sway in Texas so as to prevent the legislature or municipalities from enacting laws or ordinances that govern or restrict development.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Kinky Friedman Update

According to one of my sources in the Texas Panhandle, if bumper stickers are any indication, Kinky Friedman is going to win the Texas gubernatorial election.

Stupid Celebrity Tricks

Celebrities are generally uneducated and are largely unintelligent. Most celebrities did not arrive where they are due to their intellects, and looking good in front of a camera does not require that one have but half a brain. Therefore, celebrities should limit their public comments to the realm of that which they know – their latest movies, albums, or other performances.

Tom Cruise, in televised remarks, called psychiatry a “pseudo science” and disputed the value of antidepressant drugs. Remind me again from which university Cruise received his psychiatry degree.

Margaret Cho named her dog after a terrorist, and she said terrorism was “chic.” Cho is no longer funny when she brags about such an asinine, tasteless stunt as naming her mutt after a terrorist. No, murder is not chic, and adulating terrorists is decidedly not admirable.

These are but a few of the more recent examples of celebrities who speak tactlessly about something on which they have no knowledge. I try to refrain from making statements that would be offensive, that would make me look stupid, or that could come back to bite me in the arse. And I do not even have an audience of millions, as our worthless celebrities do have.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Are Lawyers Alcoholics, or Does the Legal Profession Induce Alcoholism?

When I was in undergrad, an individual who was among my circle of friends was accepted to attend law school. This individual was incredibly studious. Not only did he consistently make the dean’s list, but also he was the president of more student organizations than could be counted on two hands. I suppose you could also describe this individual as a teetotaler. He absolutely abstained from consuming alcoholic drink. There was a joke amongst the aforementioned circle of friends that, upon beginning law school, this friend would end his forbearance from alcohol consumption, because the perception was (again, part of the joke) that law students were heavy imbibers (even more so than were typical college students).

Apparently, alcoholism does afflict persons in the legal profession with some frequency. One of every five lawyers suffers from drug or alcohol addiction, according to a Professional Responsibility professor; I do not know her source. There is a Texas Lawyers Assistance Program, which exists to assist lawyers who need help in fighting addictions. Substance abuse by lawyers does present professional responsibility issues, and it is relevant to one’s admission to the bar and maintaining good standing. When I was in law school, I was not aware of heavy alcohol consumption by students. Of course, I socialized with other students outside of school only to a very limited extent. I did find it curious that at the few school sanctioned, student organization sponsored events that I did attend, there was always keg beer available.

Are lawyers more inclined to become alcoholics? Does the stress of the work induce drinking and drug use? Are people who are predisposed to enter the legal profession also predisposed to abuse drugs and alcohol? Do lawyers even suffer from an increased incidence of drug and alcohol addiction?

Perhaps the incidence of substance abuse is not more prevalent in the legal profession than it is in the rest of the population. Rather, it is because members of the bar occupy a special position of trust in society, it is the effect of these behaviors on the individual’s clients, law practice, law firm, partners, and the court, that make alcohol and drug addiction among lawyers of particular concern.

I Can’t Hear You

The family dog is becoming advanced in years. According to the veterinarian, although he is twelve years old, Farley is equivalent to about 85 in people years. Among other geriatric ailments, Farley is arthritic and he suffers from hearing loss. It is rather sad. His mind is still sharp, as far as dogs go. He experiences difficulty ambulating. He wants to spend the night upstairs with the family, but mounting and descending the stairs is always a drama. He wants to take long walks, but we need a Radio Flyer to carry him home (we don’t have a Radio Flyer, though, so he does not go on long walks). Farley only perceives loud, high-pitched noises. While it is unfortunate that he cannot hear us talking to him affectionately, I think this sometimes works to his advantage; when he is rooting through the trash, he cannot hear us yell at him; when he strays too far from the yard, he cannot hear us calling him back. I imagine him thinking to himself, defiantly, as he disobeys us, “I can’t hear you.” The worst part about owning pets is when they age and then leave you.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Fighting Terrorists in Iraq So We Don't Have to Fight Them in America

President Bush said we were fighting terrorists in Iraq so we would not have to fight them in America. Was not the folly of that logic apparent before the war started? Iraq has now become the fuel that feeds the terrorists ire. “Iraq has been an absolute gift to al-Qaida,” said Paul Rogers, a professor of peace studies at Bradford University in England. “[Al-Qaida] seems to have no difficulty in getting more and more recruits.” Muslims resented the presence of Westerners in the Arabian Peninsula before we decided to depose a dictator in Iraq. Poking a stick in their ant bed was going to do nothing to quell their fury. Was Iraq even a hotbed of terrorists before the war?

Thursday, July 21, 2005

How was Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince?

I inquired of my sister, an avid Harry Potter fan, how Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was. How was it?


eh
it was good
but just frustrating
no closure
and i dont see how she can wrap it all up sufficiently in another book
and he didnt get any kick ass powers that make me confident in his ability to kick ass

The previous books had “more fun stuff” in the “wizard world.” The Half-Blood Prince “just stuck to the plot,” lacking the imaginative and fun adventures that made the prior installments so enthralling. Other reviewers praised Ms. Rowling for further developing the characters in this latest installment of the Harry Potter series. My sister lamented the brevity of The Half-Blood Prince. Ms. Rowling rushed the ending, it seems.

I am among the small minority that has not read the Harry Potter books.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

“Green” Cars That Aren't Green

When I heard about a Honda Accord hybrid that was faster than the gasoline-powered Accord, I was intrigued. However, the Honda Accord hybrid achieves the same fuel economy as the nonhybrid four-cylinder Accord, and uses only about two miles per gallon less than the V-6 nonhybrid Accord, according to a Sunday, July 17 New York Times article. Other hybrids that do not save on gas include the Toyota Highlander and the Lexus RX400h.

The hybrid technology is being used to make the cars faster, not more environmentally friendly. The great thing is, the hybrid cars still qualify for a tax credit under a “clean fuels” program, which does not take fuel savings into account! Despite the lack of increased efficiency in hybrid vehicles, in a June 15 speech at an energy forum, President Bush proposed a tax credit of up to $4,000 to “encourage people to make right choices in the marketplace that will make us less dependent on foreign sources of oil and to help improve our environment.” Yeah, then we could pull out of Iraq, because we would no longer need oil from the Middle East. Dumb Americans and their demand for powerful cars.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

My Fad Diet

I am on a beer-a-night diet. Recently, I happened upon an excellent bargain at Central Market. Cases of Saint Arnold Amber Ale were marked down to $8 per one! I would have purchased more than two cases, but I was constrained by my impecuniosity. I have been limiting myself to one Saint Arnold Amber Ale a night. I do not want to go through them too fast. I have been consuming them with some regularity, though.

Oh! The Irony!

Spoken by my sister, who has been admitted to begin law school in the fall, but to whom the prospect of three more years of school, after completing four l-o-n-g years of undergraduate, is close to unfathomable: “If I am going to law school, I am going to have to have TiVo.” The irony of this statement needs no explanation.

Monday, July 18, 2005

What is the Masculine Form of “Barista”?

Since employment in the legal field has been so elusive for me, the possibility of attempting to find work outside the legal profession has entered my mind. I have entertained thoughts of taking a position at a coffee shop (if such an establishment would even have me). However, I wondered, what would I be called if I made coffee at Starbucks or It’s a Grind (besides someone who could not find a job as a lawyer)? The term “barista,” which refers to someone who serves coffee in a coffee shop, sounds like the feminine form of the word. A “barrister,” which sounds more masculine, and which is spelled with two r’s, is the British term for a lawyer. I found the answer at Wikipedia.
Since approximately 1990, the term barista (the Italian word for bartender - masculine or feminine; plural: baristi (masculine) or bariste (feminine)) has been used in English to denote a professional maker of espresso coffee beverages. Prior to that time, the less elegant prevailing term was “espresso puller.” The shift of terminology probably comes, at least in part, from the fact that most espresso machines manufactured since the 1980s no longer require pulling down on a big handle.

Currently, the definition can range from an unskilled “person behind the counter,” all the way to a “coffee sommelier,” with years of experience and training.

From Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia.” Although I could call myself a barista, I would just be a “person behind the counter.” However, I could attend the Specialty Coffee Association of Europe Advanced Barista Training and join the Barista Guild of America. Perhaps with “years of experience and training,” I could achieve the status of “coffee sommelier.” Or I could continue in my search for a job as a lawyer.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

No Pressure, Ms. Rowling

Can you imagine the pressure that J. K. Rowling must experience when she is writing a book in the Harry Potter series? Hundreds of millions of fans eagerly await the release of the next book, before there is even word of the sequel being in the works. These hundreds of millions of fans have great expectations for the much anticipated volumes. In the months preceding release to the public, after she has completed the book, the excitement reaches a fever pitch. I suppose that, possessing as creative an imagination as she does, contriving one of her magical stories that is sure to thrill is not an insurmountable feat.

Why Are Muslims So Angry?

Why are Muslims so angry? If Muslims don’t want to assimilate, don’t go to Europe. If Muslims don’t want foreigners meddling in their affairs in the Arabian Peninsula, don’t sell your oil to Americans and Europeans.

There are many things upon which I look with disfavor. There are some things that make me angry. I dislike the fact that America is dependent on oil and that we place American lives at risk and spend billions of dollars to secure a supply of oil from the Middle East. I dislike the fact that America is involved in the Middle East. I am miffed that it cost $20 to put gas in my Honda Civic. I loathe daytime television. However, I do not blow up schoolchildren or innocent people as they try to make their way to work.

I hope some ayatollah does not issue a fatwa against me for making these statements. (I know; fatwas only apply in the Arab world.)

Saturday, July 16, 2005

I am unemployable

Perhaps I should come to terms with the fact that I am unemployable. I should stop blaming the career resources center at the law school from which I graduated. I should stop blaming the legal establishment. Perhaps I am the reason that I cannot find employment.

Maybe I will attend one of the KBR seminars on working in Iraq – one-year contract, $80,000 tax-free. There are probably some qualifications that I lack, though.

Why I must take a clerk’s position, despite being licensed as an attorney

One of the named partners at a law firm at which I interviewed bluntly informed me that I was at a disadvantage because I lack the experience afforded by a clerkship. I am one, even two years behind other graduates who did hold clerkships during law school. I will have to take a clerk’s position, paying $10 an hour, to gain the experience to make me marketable to a law firm. I would need to develop the basic legal writing skills that one learns through a clerkship. If I gave any credence to what this interviewer said, I might be discouraged.

To win a clerkship with a law firm, I understand, a law student needs be in the top 1/116 of his or her class. My attempts to intern during law school were unsuccessful. I am of the further understanding that one does not learn anything through clerking with one of the firms that pays clerks $2,000 a week. It is just a ridiculous dating game and a matter of prestige for the law firms, which can boast that they pay ridiculous sums to their law school clerks.

There are instances in which clerkships are quite educational, but this is not invariably the case. I know of students who clerked for courts or attorneys who gained worthwhile experience. There are plenty of students who complete law school without having had the experience a clerkship provides. I would believe that holding a clerkship is beneficial, but it is not essential to working as an attorney.

The interviewer who informed me that clerkships should be required of law students is an alumnus of my alma mater. To my knowledge, this law firm does not work with the law school to provide clerkship experience for students. I am hot aware that this alumnus is working with the school to ensure that students gain the experience afforded by serving as legal clerks.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

“So This Is a Weak Economy?”

In a June 28 Wall Street Journal opinion piece entitled “So This Is a Weak Economy?” David Malpass, chief economist at Bear Stearns, convincingly asserts that the U.S. economy is thriving, notwithstanding what the media, analysts, pundits, and naysayers aver.

Mr. Malpass cites an average U.S. growth at “a fast 3.9% pace since the initial 7.4% tax-cut-related growth celebration of the third quarter of 2003,” whatever that means. He also cites unemployment of 5.1%, and wage and salary income growth at a 10% annual rate. He says that “household liquid assets have increased more than both total debt and foreign debt.” He says that the nation has “a robust system of innovation, market-based capital allocation, and decentralized decision-making.”

Mr. Malpass considers the strengths and vulnerabilities of the U.S. economy, and concludes that the outlook is generally rosy. He does warn that government policy mistakes often result in recessions. Among other policy goals he recommends is improvement of the quality of investment and savings in the U.S. The chief economist at a worldwide investment banking and securities trading and brokerage firm would suggest that the government take measures to facilitate investing and saving.

I do not know that I am convinced, however. If the economy is humming right along, why is employment not readily forthcoming for me? What are Mr. Malpass’s motives?

Friday, July 08, 2005

Go Home, Minutemen

The Minutemen are coming to Houston, The Houston Chronicle reports. It is about time someone did something about those poor, unfortunate day laborer immigrants who come to this country in search of a better life, performing work that no one else is willing to perform, for wages that no one else will accept.

By referring to themselves as “Minutemen,” the vigilantes who think it is their place to stop the flow of illegal immigration dishonor the valiant individuals who played an integral role in this Country’s fight for its independence. Where were the Minutemen when Arab men in America on tourist visas were taking flight lessons and traveling too and from Europe in the months and years preceding the September 11 attacks? Their name suggests timeliness, but I think they were a bit too late. These xenophobes should limit their efforts to keeping trespassers off the militia members’ ranches.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Thoughts on Mixto or “51/49” Tequila

International trade law allows countries to prevent the use of marks that mislead the public as to the geographical origin of certain goods, such as Champagne, Scotch, Cognac, Roquefort cheese, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, or prosciutto di Parma.

Mexico is rather protective of the name Tequila. By Mexican law, the agave spirit Tequila can be made only from the blue agave (Agave Tequilana Weber Azul), and can be produced only in specifically designated geographic areas. “Traditionally, spirits advertised as tequila could only originate in the state of Jalisco. But because of this liquor’s popularity, the Mexican government expanded the tequila region to include the states of Michoacán, Tamaulipas, Nayarít, and Guanajuato,” states Paul Harrington, of The Alchemist. Mezcal is made from the fermented juice of other species of agave and is produced throughout most of Mexico. Liquors distilled from any agave plant are “mezcal,” but only those made from the blue agave in certain states are Tequila; hence, the marketing slogan that all Tequila is mezcal, but not all mezcal is Tequila.

Following are two examples of the jealousy with which Mexico protects the Tequila name. Most tequila is transported out of Mexico for bottling in the United States. However, Mexico is seeking to ban the bulk exports and to require all tequila bottling to occur in Mexico, on the ground that Tequila’s authenticity is at stake.

Another example of Mexico’s protection of Tequila involves J.B. Wagoner and his Skyrocket Distillers. J.B. Wagoner began distilling liquor from 100% blue agave grown on land he owns in southern California. “Temequila” is a play on the name of Wagoner’s hometown, Temecula. The Mexican Tequila Regulatory Council has asserted that J.B. Wagoner’s “Temequila” brand sounds similar to Tequila, and is threatening legal action. Wagoner has yet to receive permission from the ATF to use the word “Temequila,” but his libation is being distributed as “JB Wagoner’s Ultra Premium 100% Blue Agave Spirits.”

The official Mexican standard or NOM, which defines Tequila as the product of fermentation and distillation of the blue agave juices obtained at the distillery from agave cores or piñas grown in the Tequila Region, allows for the addition of up to 49% sugars from sources other than the agave plant, such as sugar cane pulp, from which rum is distilled. Such tequila is derisively referred to as mixto or “51/49” Tequila. If the Mexican Government and Mexican trade groups are so concerned about what bears the Tequila name, why are they willing to allow adulterated spirits – 51/49 – to gallivant about under the name Tequila? It seems that mixtos would do more to besmirch the Tequila name than would a superior spirit distilled from 100% blue agave but nonetheless produced outside of Mexico.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Crossword

I’ve got a problem. Actually, it’s not that big a problem. I love working crosswords.

I am not really that passionate about them, but I enjoy working the crosswords from The Houston Chronicle, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, or from whatever other source I can procure a crossword puzzle. However, when I am working a crossword, I feel that I should be reading something more enriching, such as James Joyce’s Ulysses, which I have been curious to read, or even the op-eds.

“I Blog, I Said: Writing Amid the Rabble”

I heard a piece by on NPR by commentator Catherine Seipp on why she maintains a blog. Ms. Seipp is a writer for National Review Online, and she says that she can brainstorm freely in a blog, because it seems less formal than prewriting. Additionally, she likes feeling connected to the world. She “treasures the time someone called [her] a Q-Tip head” on her blog.

Inflated Grocery Prices

I have been aware of an upward trend in the cost of food items. I wonder whether the food retailers are attempting to increase their profits by surreptitiously raising prices, whether grocers are passing along to consumers their increased costs, such as from increasingly expensive fuel that results from sixty dollar a barrel oil, or whether inflation is driving up prices.

If fuel expenses are causing retailers to increase their prices, would this inflationary trend reverse itself if America weaned itself off of fossil fuels?

Monday, July 04, 2005

Is It Too Late to Migrate for the Summer?

Gardening in Houston in the summertime is no fun. It is pointless to try to nurture anything through the upper 90°, no rain days of June, July, and August. The high on July 1 hit 101° and the Houston area saw the driest June on record: at Bush Intercontinental Airport, 0.08 inch fell over the month, beating a 1934 record of 0.12 inch. You spend more money on water than you save on groceries by growing your own vegetables. Even Camille Waters, the “Lettuce Queen,” takes a hiatus from growing gourmet lettuces and herbs and spends summers in Mexico.

Declaration of Independence

I heard NPR hosts and reporters read Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence this morning, which they do every July 4. It was quite awesome.

The Tone of This Blog

Wow! This blog needs to take on a more positive tone!

Happy Independence Day!

More on Law School Grading

In a previous post, I expressed some of my opinions on grading in law school. A South Texas Law Professor provides a law school professor’s perspective on grading law school exams.

Law firms and government employers rely heavily on law school class rankings in hiring graduates. This is folly, in my opinion. As the grades are, for the most part, arbitrarily and subjectively assigned, class rank is not the best indicator of a student’s ability to perform lawyerly tasks. The lawyers at firms, however, are largely concerned with appearances, and they believe it reflects positively on their organization if they can say that they draw students from the upper percentiles of graduating classes.

Law firms are also foolish in their recruiting and clerkship programs. Many of the supposed top-notch students that the law firms pay ridiculous sums for summer clerkships do not ultimately join the law firm, or, if they do join the law firm, stay only a short while. Law firms pay outlandish amounts to law clerks for reasons of prestige, for the bragging rights of being able to boast that they pay $2,100 per week to students.

In all fairness to the law schools and the law firms that utilize the largely arbitrary and subjective grades, there are a number of students who cause me to wonder why they are in law school. If one is paying $6,600 or $9,900 per semester in tuition, one’s heart had better be in it. Law school is no place to skate by while putting forth minimal effort. I did not look with admiration on students who sold back their books upon learning that recitation was assigned, with the intent of borrowing a casebook when the time came to cover their assigned cases. I was equally unimpressed by students who only read if they thought there was a chance they would be called upon to recite in class.

I would not want these slackers representing me as my lawyer, but I know plenty of bright, diligent workers who happened not to have the good fortune of placing at the top of the class.

As an aside, perhaps I am bitter because, although my résumé is “impressive” (no, it is not), no law firms currently have positions for me. Perhaps I look with disdain on the grading of exams in law school because, despite my efforts, I did not place in the top 1/16th percentile.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Good Brew, at Home

I have been interested in brewing beer at home. I developed this yen about a year ago, after reading a New York Times article in which Mark Bittman wrote about pairing beer with food. Mark Bittman, “When the Right Wine Is a Beer,” The New York Times, June 16, 2004 at F1. Mr. Bittman visited with Garrett Oliver, the brewmaster of Brooklyn Brewery. Upon traveling around Europe some 20 years ago, Mr. Oliver discovered that not all beer “tasted like water.” Thus enlightened, Mr. Oliver began brewing his own beer.

I enjoy drinking the Saint Arnold beers. Not only does St. Arnold brew good beer, but also “Texas’ oldest microbrewery” is right here in Houston.

Some acquaintances of mine brew beer at home, and they enjoy the process and the product. Alton Brown devoted an episode of Good Eats, Episode#: EA1F10, to brewing beer. It was quite informative, of course. He made it look easy.

I wonder whether brewing beer at home is more economical than paying retail prices for it, not taking into account the value of my time.

Dried California Apricot Shortage

I am rather fond of dried fruit. Raisins, dried apricots, dried plums, dried peaches, dried cherries and cranberries are enjoyable snacks and welcome additions to a plethora of recipes. I consider dried California apricots to be a particular treat. They have a tangy, intense, almost tart flavor. I prefer the unsulphured apricots, if I can find them.

Unfortunately, I have noticed diminished availability of dried California apricots. When they do appear in stores, the price is considerably higher than it used to be. In an online search for a source for dried California apricots, I happened upon a possible explanation for their apparent scarcity and increased price. “[I]t is regrettably harder to find dried California apricots today. Due to importation of dried apricots and cheap labor costs abroad, California’s dried apricot industry has suffered.”

Alas, alack, what is the world coming to when one’s little pleasures are no longer easily to be had?

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Is it anti-Texan to be anti-SUV?

Is it anti-Texan to be anti-SUV? Given the large quantities of fuel that gas-guzzling SUVs and pickups consume, and the higher emissions they produce, at a time when America is reliant on foreign oil and our environment is becoming more polluted, I take issue with the conspicuous consumption exhibited by people who drive these vehicles. I make exception for people whose occupations make trucks necessary for them, such as farmers or building contractors, who need a vehicle with the cargo space a bed provides.

Texans love their trucks, though. It is almost one’s birthright as a Texan to drive a truck or SUV. Texans revere their trucks as much as we value our homestead rights (Texas has historically been very protective of homestead. Texas was settled by people from other parts of the country who had amassed considerable debts. These settlers then established liberal personal property and homestead exemption laws.). Thus, I have doubts about my loyalty to my home state when I look with disfavor on the eco-unfriendly sport-utes.

There seems to be a disconnect between two dollar a gallon gasoline and the new SUVs and pickups I see on the roads. Maybe these people just fill up their 30-gallon tanks without paying attention to the price of the gasoline, and then drive along, at 14 miles per gallon.

My Current Unemployment

Despite my $60,000 advanced degree, my licensure as an attorney in the State of Texas, and the submission of résumés and résumé cover letters to at least 134 law firms and government offices or courts and counting, I still count myself among the unemployed.

Why is this so? Am I unemployable? Is my failure to place in the top 5% of my graduating class the cause of my inability to secure employment? I hear that the job market is not strong, currently, and that demand for attorneys is low. That is what I am finding.

Maybe I should relocate to Ireland, the second richest nation in Europe, which has zero unemployment. Upon reconsidering, maybe I should not move to Ireland. They would not want me driving up unemployment.