Matthew's Foray into Blogging

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Outsourcing Port Management

It seems to me that Dubai Ports World’s pending takeover of operations at six U.S. seaports is not problematic so much because of security concerns, as it is because it involves government ownership of U.S. ports. An NPR feature addressed the many levels of security at New Jersey’s Port Newark. Al Qaeda could operate U.S. ports, and the security is so tight that they could not sneak anything into the United States. Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne Jr. makes a good point when he notes that government ownership of the ports makes this deal objectionable.

Republicans and conservatives would be aghast at the idea of our government owning a company that operated so many of our ports. That would be – just imagine! – socialism. But Dubai Ports World is, well, a socialist operation, a state-owned company in the United Arab Emirates. Why is it bad for the federal government to own our port operations, but okay for a foreign government?

Mr. Dionne credits this deal with bringing to light the security of our ports and our government’s process of approving foreign takeovers of American companies through the Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States, which he says is conducted in secret.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Do workweeks ever go by fast?

This seemed like a long week. Unfortunately, it will be followed by an all-too-short weekend. Someone accused me of being "testy" yesterday.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

I’ll Show Her!

I should know better than to ignore my sister’s demands as to purchases at the grocery store. If I don’t buy the overpriced junk food she requests, there will be hell to pay. She called me when I was at the grocery store and asked me to buy “something for dessert… ice cream… Ben & Jerry’s ‘Cherry Garcia.’” HEB wants $2.80 for a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Upon further consideration, I suppose this is not too bad a price, when one considers the value of a pint of whipping cream, eggs, cherries, chocolate, sugar, vanilla, and one’s labor. However, I disregarded, unwisely, the specification for “ice cream… Ben & Jerry’s ‘Cherry Garcia,’” and heeded the request for “something for dessert.” I bought a half gallon of organic 2% milk, thinking cup custards would make for an easy dessert.

When I arrived at home with no overpriced ice cream, there was hell to pay. She did not want “something for dessert.” She wanted “Ben & Jerry’s ‘Cherry Garcia,’” and she wanted it right then! I had to make a second trip to the grocery store in the same day. I bought overpriced premium ice cream, and then some – nineteen dollars of my money worth of it! I think she won.

Friday, February 24, 2006

My Sister's Day in Court

My sister had an interview in Conroe yesterday. The interview went well enough, although the prospective employer needed someone to work through the entire summer, but my sister would like to study abroad for part of that time. When she was through with the interview, I invited her to the courthouse, where I was running around between courts. I introduced her to Judge Mayes, the excellent judge for whom I had interned, in the 410th District Court, and to Meredith, the friendliest Court Coordinator. Closing arguments were about to begin in one of the four jury trials set in the 410th this week. Not only was my sister able to watch the prosecution and the defense deliver their closing arguments to the jury, but also Judge Mayes invited her to deliver part of the charge to the jury. I hope I did not keep her from her studies for too long.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

If the Coffee Is Folger’s, the Brownies Are Probably from a Mix from a Box

I prefer to bring a sandwich for lunch, rather than waste my money at the uninspiring restaurants that Conroe has to offer. However, I cannot always decline to dine with my coworkers. Thus, I will occasionally tag along and have dessert or coffee after I have eaten my economical but nourishing and satisfying sandwich (I make good sandwiches).

In response to my inquiry as to what kind of coffee they offer, the server at Italian Deli replied, “regular coffee.” I prodded further, “Do you grind the beans here, or is it Folger’s?” “It’s just plain Folger’s. This isn’t Starbucks,” she replied. I opted for the $1.03 brownie and a glass of water.

Me Thinks I Drink a Lot

Actually, I think I just spend too much money on alcohol. Are there other things on which I would prefer to spend my money?

In France, I understand, alcoholic beverages are considered a food, rather than a drug. There is not the stigma surrounding consumption of alcohol. Never mind that alcohol is allegedly the second biggest cause of preventable deaths in France. To put this statistic in perspective, according to some sources, excessive alcohol consumption is the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Good Luck, Thomas

Tomorrow is the last day of the February 2006 Washington State bar exam. After 10:15 EST, I imagine a great weight will have been lifted from Thomas's shoulders.

Good Investment?

I figure I am costing my employer money, even at my meager salary. I am still learning. Typically, students pay to learn. I am being paid to learn. I feel a slight bit of guilt when I leave at six o’clock, even though I typically arrive half-an-hour early. However, if I work too much beyond my ten hours a day, my pay begins to slip below the hourly minimum.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Expensive Tire Insurance

I recently replaced the tires on the Si with a set of Yokohama YK420’s. They are H-speed rated, and not V-speed rated, but I generally don’t hit speeds of 149 mph. Discount Tire gave me the option of purchasing “certificates.” For $15.50 per tire – $62 total – they would replace, for “free,” any tire that was irreparably damaged.

In Insurance Law, which I took in spring of 2003, we covered a case, Steven v. Fidelity and Casualty Company of New York, 58 Cal.2d 862, Cal.Rptr. 172 377 P.2d 284 (Cal. 1962), in which a Mr. George Steven purchased a round-trip airline ticket from Los Angeles California to Dayton, Ohio on March 3, 1957. After purchasing his ticket and prior to departing, Mr. Steven purchased from a vending machine, for a $2.50 premium, a $62,500 life insurance policy. Mr. Steven named his wife, Mrs. Steven, as the beneficiary. This policy provided coverage for travel on “scheduled air carriers.” Additionally, coverage of substitute transportation was limited to “land conveyances.” The Lake Central Airlines flight aboard which Mr. Steven was to travel on his return trip from Dayton was canceled. After unsuccessfully attempting to arrange for train, bus, or automobile transportation for Mr. Steven, the agent of Lake Central Airlines secured a flight aboard a Turner Aviation Corporation plane. Mr. Steven perished when the Turner aircraft crashed. The plane trip on which the accident occurred was not a regular and scheduled flight of Turner. Of course, the insurer did everything it can to avoid paying the claim, and argued that Mr. Steven was not riding as a passenger on an aircraft operated by a scheduled air carrier, as defined in policy. The insurer prevailed at trial on this theory. However, the Supreme Court of California reversed the judgment of the trial court, finding that the limitation of coverage of substitute transportation to “land conveyances” did not overcome the normal expectation that coverage would extend to any reasonable form of substitute conveyance, and that the provision limiting coverage to “scheduled carriers” created ambiguity and failed to apprise the insured of noncoverage.

How does this story relate to “certificates” on tires? In discussing this case in class, the professor noted that a $2.50 premium for a $62,500 policy was actually a high premium, as the chance of calamity was incredibly remote. I hope I do not speak too soon, but have never needed to replace an irreparably damaged tire on a vehicle. Sixty-two dollars seemed like a high premium on what was essentially tire insurance for $84 tires. I opted against purchasing the “certificates.” I am saving $62, but taking the risk that I could lose a tire, in which event I will only be out an additional $22 than I would be had I paid for the insurance.

Friday, February 17, 2006

You Buy Russian Vodka!

I stopped by Spec’s a few days ago to pick up a few items. I was shopping for two other people, one of whom wanted a 750 of Pearl Vodka. As I was taking a bottle of Pearl from the shelf, a Spec’s employee approached me and informed me, in a very convincing Russian accent, that White Gold Premium Russian Vodka was far superior to any of the other vodkas. “But Pearl has been distilled five times,” I proffered. In his Russian accent and broken English, he explained to me that the number of times a vodka is distilled does not make a difference. Essentially, it is merely a marketing tool. He talked me into it. Since Pearl and White Gold were priced about the same, I decided I would try the White Gold. I picked up the Pearl for my friend, and a bottle of White Gold for me.

The Spec’s employee then strolled over to a customer who was perusing the selection of whisky, and, in a very convincing Scottish accent….

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Lies, Lies, Lies

Lie to the cops. Lie to your spouse. Lie to the tax collector. Lie to your clergyperson. But do be forthright with your attorney.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Valentine’s Grinches

I gather that some people do not like Valentine’s Day. My brother is one of those people. A coworker’s wife, who teaches elementary-age children, could not wait for Valentine’s Day to be over. I don’t think it is that insidious. At worst, you have to pick up some flowers or a card, or go to a special dinner with one that you love. I actually enjoy surprising someone with a small gift, like the tulip plants I bought for my mom.1

1 Live flowers are immensely better than cut flowers, as the recipient can continue to enjoy the plants as they grow and produce more flowers. The Gulf Coast climate is actually unsuitable for growing tulip bulbs in the ground, as there is too much moisture, but the bulbs can be kept in pots.

Top of the Class

“You learn more from your mistakes than you do from your victories,” my employer told me. That being the case, I am the best student.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Liabilities in Excess of Assets

If I were a business venture, I would be hemorrhaging cash. I have had a number of expenses, lately. I paid for a new suit a few weeks ago that was marked down to a price I could not pass up, which was necessary to expand my wardrobe that had consisted of a mere three suits. I had to pay for an eye exam and for new lenses for my glasses. The Si had been in need of new tires since this summer, and I finally replaced them this weekend. My monthly health insurance premium is ridiculously expensive. I think I need a new CFO.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Standard Tests for Colleges

This is an incredibly bad idea. “A higher education commission named by the Bush administration is examining whether standardized testing should be expanded into universities and colleges to prove that students are learning and to allow easier comparisons on quality.” Haven’t standardized tests been detrimental to public schools at the grade school level? Students don’t learn anything because teachers are “teaching to the test.” College is stressful enough without an additional test imposed on students to measure the quality of their institutions of higher learning. I doubt that schools like St. John’s stand to benefit from “more accountability in higher education.” What compelled the Bush administration to contemplate interfering with higher education in this manner? Aren’t there more pressing issues, such as the gap in math and science skills between American students and students abroad, or the shortage in American engineering graduates?

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The Truth

“The truth lies somewhere in the middle.”

I thought this was a sagacious statement by an attorney in our office. It was made in a context where a client’s version of the facts was at significant variance with the arresting officer’s version of the facts.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

I Say “Tapas,” You Hear “Topless”

Mi Luna is a Spanish restaurant with a location in Rice Village and a newer location in The Woodlands, at which I dined for the first time this weekend. When I mention to people who are not familiar with it that Mi Luna is a tapas bar, they become excited or surprised. “A topless bar!” Maybe I should start referring to it as a Spanish tapas restaurant.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

The Super Bowl – I’ll Pass

I will not be tuning in to Super Bowl XL tonight. I am not a fan of spectator sports. Watching overpaid, under-educated adults showboat while playing children’s games does not appeal to me. I am certain that Thomas will be cheering on his new hometown team, though.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Store-Bought Will Work

Instead of buying beer this weekend, I had resolved to invest in the hardware for home brewing. I already have a large pot; the most significant purchases would have been a couple of fermenters – big seven-gallon or so glass bottles, essentially – and a few dozen beer bottles. The software would have included grain, hops, and yeast. There is a brewing supply store not too far from where I live that sells the supplies and “starter” kits. However, my “landlord” nixed that plan. She said we have enough clutter as it is, and that I would have to wait until I have my own house. I have a savings account set up for that eventual purchase. I went and bought a case of Negra Modelo, instead.

Cataracts Preview

I am without my glasses over the weekend. I have been without them since last Tuesday, when I had an ophthalmologist appointment. I left my glasses frames with my eye doctor so they could be fitted with new lenses. The optician fell ill and was out sick for the latter part of the week, so no action has been taken on ordering and installing new lenses. Actually, I do have some glasses I am wearing, but they have horribly scratched-up lenses with an old prescription. They strain my eyes and everything looks cloudy.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Have a Great Weekend!

It seemed as though all the telephone calls from the jail today were for me. When concluding conversations with clients who are in jail, I try to avoid saying, “Have a good day.”

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Performance Evaluation

Is my boss pleased with my performance? Am I progressing satisfactorily? Am I costing him too much money or am I burdensome? I could inquire of him, but it could lead to painful answers.

The Wall

I am not amongst the “build a wall” camp. Some are calling for the erection of a wall along the border between the United States and Mexico. Think of the borders along which there are or have been walls – North and South Korea, East and West Germany. Border walls, to me, carry a negative connotation.

In my opinion, the U.S. should open its borders to immigrants from its southern neighbor. Grant them citizenship, and these immigrants can pay taxes like the rest of us. People who rail against illegal immigration argue that unauthorized aliens deplete resources, largely in the fields of education and healthcare. For every statistic immigration opponents cite in favor of their position, there is an equally convincing statistic to the contrary. Mexican immigrants are not inclined to seek medical treatment, even in emergency cases, according to some sources. They still pay sales taxes. Employers withhold from unauthorized immigrants’ wages, but the illegals never see any of those withholdings.

Although they comprise a significant number of our criminal defendant clients, they do not come here seeking a free ride. They perform jobs that native-born Americans are not willing to perform, for wages below that which other Americans are willing to accept. Housing costs in the south are so much lower than prices in the northeast because there is a ready supply of migrant laborers in this region.

I support granting citizenship to any person who seeks it, provided that such applicants are not undesirables (i.e., criminals, terrorists) from other countries. What have we to fear from hard-working, tax-paying, low wage-earning citizens?

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Did He Really Mean That?

On the State of the Union Address, AP White House Correspondent Terence Hunt wrote, “A politically weakened President Bush declared Tuesday night that America must break its long dependence on Mideast oil.” It is a good sign that weaning America off Middle East oil is on President Bush’s radar. However, nowhere near the steps that could have been taken have been taken. Further, his political-speak plan is not as practical and realistic as it could be.

President Bush has been in office for roughly six years. The fossil fuel situation, though, is no better than it was when he assumed the presidency. It is worse off than it was during the seventies and early eighties, when the Arab oil embargo necessitated fuel efficient cars. President Bush’s plan sets a goal for a reduction in oil imports from the Middle East twenty years into the future, long after he is gone from the Oval Office. The Middle East accounts for less than five percent of U.S. oil imports (so it is a mystery why we are even poking around in that hornets’ nest).

One thing that President Bush did not call for or propose in his Address was increased fuel economy in automobiles. Cars and trucks utilize a tremendous amount of oil. Improving gas mileage would seem to be an obvious place to start.

President Bush’s words regarding abandoning Middle East oil might have been too fantastic to have been believable.

Keeping America competitive requires affordable energy. And here we have a serious problem: America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world. The best way to break this addiction is through technology. Since 2001, we have spent nearly $10 billion to develop cleaner, cheaper, and more reliable alternative energy sources – and we are on the threshold of incredible advances.

So tonight, I announce the Advanced Energy Initiative – a 22-percent increase in clean-energy research – at the Department of Energy, to push for breakthroughs in two vital areas. To change how we power our homes and offices, we will invest more in zero-emission coal-fired plants, revolutionary solar and wind technologies, and clean, safe nuclear energy. (Applause.)

We must also change how we power our automobiles. We will increase our research in better batteries for hybrid and electric cars, and in pollution-free cars that run on hydrogen. We’ll also fund additional research in cutting-edge methods of producing ethanol, not just from corn, but from wood chips and stalks, or switch grass. Our goal is to make this new kind of ethanol practical and competitive within six years. (Applause.)

Breakthroughs on this and other new technologies will help us reach another great goal: to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025. (Applause.) By applying the talent and technology of America, this country can dramatically improve our environment, move beyond a petroleum-based economy, and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past.

United States Capitol
Washington, D.C.
January 31, 2006

Gâteau au chocolat fondant de Nathalie

The chocolate cake I baked for a coworker’s birthday was a success, though. It met with rave reviews. I doubled the recipe and baked two cakes, so everyone at home would not see me walking out the door with a cake while they were left with no cake. The recipe comes from Clotilde Dusoulier’s Chocolate & Zucchini food blog, which the young French lady took from Trish Deseine’s Je Veux du Chocolat! (I Want Chocolate!) . This cake is quite easy to make. The version of the recipe provided by Mme. Dusoulier (whose wildly successful blog needs no promotion by me) gives the measurements in grams, thus requiring a kitchen scale. Consisting merely of chocolate, butter, eggs, sugar, and a miniscule amount of flour, this cake is dense and intensely chocolate-y and requires no frosting. Consisting merely of chocolate, butter, eggs, sugar, and a miniscule amount of flour, it is also not exactly what I need to be eating, considering my low level of physical activity.