Saturday, June 30, 2007

Fire Fire Expensive Pants on Fire

From Yahoo regarding the fire in Tahoe:
"When my husband and I drove down the street, we both just lost it. But we will rebuild," Evelyn Taylor said. "We're thankful it wasn't our primary home."

Friday, June 29, 2007

Rissky Marriage

I still remember from Torts our discussion of Riss v. City of New York, 22 N.Y.2d 579 (1968). You can read about this case and Prof. Mor*n's quote about it in this old N&B post. Turns out someone made a documentary about the case. Synopsis and trailer here. I think Prof. Mor*n and I might be the only two people on the face of the earth who think this must be the greatest movie of all time...although I don't want to attribute that much exuberance to her.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Seattle SupremeSonics

UPDATE: Armen and I updated this several times below, but I want to move this one up top. I have read quite a bit today about the majority's strong refutation of race in schools, as well as Breyer's astute recognition of the "cruel irony" of using Brown to strike down integration programs.

But most commentators have recognized that Kennedy's concurrence is where the real action is. He left open the possibility of some uses of race in school decisions--such as in deciding where to build a new school. I'm a bit puzzled as to how his view that race may be "one component" of such decisions squares with his own dissent in Grutter, but am glad that he left the door open a bit by departing from the dogmatism of the majority opinion. His checks on the majority are small, but not insignificant, cracks in the door, and the onus is now on school boards and lower courts to figure out exactly what enters through that doorway, and what must remain on the outside. Unfortunately, I'm not sure that the constitutional contours of that task are clearer today than they were yesterday.

I exchanged a couple of emails with Prof. Liu (who wrote an amicus in this case) earlier tonight, and he sent along a press release he had written, and was nice enough to let me post it here. I should also mention that Prof. Liu had very high praise for the concluding paragraphs of Breyer's dissent. I definitely agree--it's the type of lofty, slightly self-important language you expect from an opinion like this. It only takes a minute to read--the conclusion starts about p. 175 (here--careful, big file). Here is an excerpt from Prof. Liu's release:

“Today a five-Justice majority of the Court recognized that racial integration of public schools remains a compelling and enduring aspiration for our society. . . . Justice Kennedy’s controlling opinion leaves open several avenues for race-conscious measures to achieve integration, including strategic attendance zoning and school siting decisions as well as magnet schools and special programs. The upshot is that the Court has sent school districts literally back to the drawing board to devise creative assignment plans to integrate our public schools.”

“It is significant that a majority of the Court—Justice Kennedy and the four dissenting Justices—rejected Chief Justice Roberts’s attempt to read Brown v. Board of Education as a categorical rule of colorblindness. . . . It is remarkable that the Chief Justice of the United States would cite Brown to defeat not defend school integration, and five Justices rejected this view as deeply ahistorical.”


The Supreme Court's term is coming to a close, and the last batch of opinions should be out Thursday and Friday. The two school integration cases are expected Thursday.

I've been following the Seattle case pretty closely for about 2 years now, since it was at the Ninth Circuit, so I'm particularly interested in that case. I can't say I'm real sure what they're going to do with the two cases: a straight-up application of Grutter/Gratz? Split the baby (a la Grutter and Gratz--but who will swing both ways?)? Totally cut back on the use of race in public schools?

Regardless, they will probably be 5-4 decisions. As has already been noted by people much smarter than me, despite Roberts' promises of a more minimalist, conciliatory Court, this term has instead brought the most fractured (both left/right, and within the right as well) Court in recent memory. I can't imagine it will be anything different tomorrow.

At the risk of being irrelevant by 6 AM, I won't say anymore. Feel free to predict/discuss these cases and the rest of the Term, which has been pretty fascinating not only for the cases decided, but for what they may mean for the future (gulp). An update (from me or EW or Armen or whoever) will hopefully come tomorrow, BarBri permitting.

UPDATE 1 (by Armen): I initially created a post not having seen MP's post here. I will just add my own prediction.

Prediction: Seattle will be held unconstitutional. The plan just has too many flaws in it, each of which are fatal in a strict scrutiny analysis. Louisville I'm not so sure about. It hasn't even been 10 years since the courts lifted the consent decree. I have a weird feeling that Alito may either completely uphold Louisville's plan or at least provide a narrow concurrence that will be the controlling opinion. In either case, Kennedy will not be a "swing vote." He is pretty far to the right on AA cases.

Speaking of swing vote, please enjoy this clip from the Daily Show.

UPDATE 2 (by MP): And down goes the use of race in public schools. Both programs are declared unconstitutional, 5-4, in a combined opinion written by Roberts. The combined opinions are 185 pages long! Roberts' opinion apparently references Brown, and claims that this opinion is faithful to that case's legacy. The dissenters, needless to say, disagree with that notion.

Interestingly, Kennedy wrote a concurrence in which he says "that ending racial isolation may sometimes be a compelling interest in public education, and can be pursued with race as 'one component' of the plan to achieve racial diversity" (quoting SCOTUSblog). So does that become the controlling opinion? Aren't there 5 votes for allowing race as at least "one component"?

It will take awhile to sort all this out, and to read all those opinions, but the bottom line is that the use of race in public school assignments has been severely restricted, if not entirely prohibited.

UPDATE 3 (by MP): It just occurred to me that perhaps the most interesting thing up the opinions is that there is NOT a concurrence by either Scalia or Thomas. This means that you can get a pretty good idea of what Roberts' opinion says before you read it, because there would have been a concurrence if the opinion was anything less than a total repudiation of using race. Money quote from Roberts: "The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race."

Update of Update 3: Thomas did write a concurrence. No one seems to be reporting it though. It is only a response to some points in Breyer's dissent. Otherwise, Thomas "wholly concur[s]" in Roberts' opinion.

UPDATE 4 (by Armen): As MP alludes above, the opinion is 4-1-4 with Kennedy controlling. He does not like the reasoning of Breyer or Roberts. In Choper's SCOTUS class this was precisely the outcome, although for slightly different reasons. Justices Kennedy refused to join the sweeping holding of the conservative four.


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Secrecy for Secrecy's Sake

Ah, it's finally that time of year again. Dean O has written to at least the 3Ls asking if you'd like to know your class rank. And with this comes Boalt's own Cheney-like admonition:

Please remember that you may not disclose this information for any other purpose (except applying for a law teaching job) -- to do so would be a violation of the Honor Code.

Of course, here's the rule:

3.06 Disclosure of Class Rank Information for Limited Purposes
Information about students' class standing shall be made available solely for the purpose of aiding students applying for judicial clerkships and academic positions.
. . .
(D) Other Uses Impermissible. The Dean, Dean of Students, faculty, and students shall not disclose information about class standing provided by the Registrar under this section for any professional purpose other than obtaining a judicial clerkship or academic position. A student who reveals this information for any other professional purpose is in violation of the Honor Code.
What's never explained is why this secrecy is necessary. What good does it confer? Does it prevent law firm empoyers from screening on rank? I suppose that's the theory, but does anyone believe that works? One need only sit through the first two minutes of an interview with Irell (tip to 1Ls: they care about your grades) to know that the interviewer is determining your class rank. While no employer can know someone's rank for sure, seeing ten to twenty transcripts should let them figure things out pretty quick. By now, if they actually cared, the years and years of applications from Boalt students should allow them to have a comprehensive understanding of Boalt student grades. And if they don't care... well, what's the point?

The loser in all of this? The law firms that are not familiar with Boalt students, either because they are small or in a different part of the country. Why deny them access to information we must concede the larger law firms have? Why deny them information that every law faculty and judge can get?

I'd love to hear a coherent defense in the comments for this policy. I can't think of one that makes any sense. Instead, it seems like ornery secrecy for secrecy's sake alone. And for the same reason I don't like it in presidential administrations, I don't like it in academic administrations either.

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Monday, June 25, 2007

Fun With Real Numbers

The ABA has its law school data in an excel spreadsheet format here (scroll to the bottom, and HT to Leiter). Those who are more versed in using excel than I am can probably have their own fun with it, but here are some calculations.

Out of close 200 schools, we have the 17th highest cost of living. The highest belongs to University of Missori-KC at $25,000 a year off campus.

We have the 20th highest net transfer (37 in, 17 out). On the gross, we are 11th. GULC admits 100 transfers it looks like. What a monstrosity.

And our student to faculty ratio is 165th. But because we use lecturers so heavily, our course offering is 9th!!! I created my own statistic of students per course (dividing total students from sheet 2 by total courses beyond first year from sheet one) to create a ratio that's a bit more meaningful. Although we ranked 37th, the only reputable schools ahead of us were Cornell, Northwestern, and Southern Methodist. At least our course offerings are plentiful (even though three students enroll in EU law while the second coming of Christ is required to deal with the waitlist for Bundy's CPII).

Feel free to play around if you're bored, or tell me if my numbers are wrong. Just as a warning, their excel file is a bit funny with sorting.


Friday, June 22, 2007

An Informal Inquiry

Option A: Economy seats for roundtrip flight to Buenos Aires from SFO for $920.

Option B: First class standby seats for $715 for the same flights. Standby rules apply.

Please vote whether you would take option A or option B. You may only vote once, and please include your gender (I know sex is the more accurate term, but I'm still using gender, sorry SS).

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Rocky VII: Delgadillo's Revenge

I'm writing this while a guy who sounds like the Moviefone guy is lecturing on Corps in Bar/Bri. With that caveat in mind, I want to point to this story from the LA Times about LA City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo's wife, Michelle. In 1998, our dear Michelle failed to appear at a Santa Monica court for driving without a license, registration, or insurance. In 2004, she wrecked a city-owned Yukon.

To refresh your memory, Delgadillo is the City Attorney who furiously charged into court to ask that Paris Hilton be sent back to jail after the Sheriff released her to home confinement. We still don't know why he didn't charge into Parker Center to ask Chief Bratton why his officers let his wife go when they pulled her over for a traffic violation while she was driving with a suspended license. This column by Steve Lopez is on point. (I <3 Steve Lopez).

It's a bit comical and ironical. But this is just a long line of instances of corruption and utter abuse of the public trust at LA City Hall. I hate LA politics.

UPDATE: A commenter below, writes: "Armen. It's not ironic. Irony occurs when there's an incongruity between what is expected and what actually happens." Today we get news that the State Bar and others are now investigating Delgadillo. I stand corrected. It is, in fact, not ironic.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Rime of the Ancient Prosecutor

Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong, the prosecutor in the Duke lacrosse case, has been disbarred by the North Carolina State Bar. (See here and here). The Bar found that Nifong's actions involved "dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation." Among his most egregious actions were withholding DNA evidence from the defense, calling the students rapists in the media, and conducting a photo identification that used only pictures of the lacrosse team members.

The Committee Chairman called the entire matter a "fiasco," and even Nifong seems to agree at this point. And it's true, it was a fiasco--the Duke case is now remembered mostly as a failing of the criminal justice system, rather than as a case of entitled, indulgent Dukies exploiting their privilege within the community.

But the Sports Law Blog makes a case on Nifong's behalf, arguing that what Nifong did was try to "protect women from being raped and promote their coming forward by taking them seriously even when the only witnesses are them and the alleged broomstickers."

I completely disagree with that post's idea that Nifong is owed any kind of apology--he deserved disbarment. But, I can't help but ask the same question Sports Law Blog asks: "
So when will the next prosecutor take a case where it’s his word against hers?" The next time there is an accusation of rape, and it has the potential to roil an entire community, will the prosecutor take the preliminary steps necessary to reach a sensible decision? Or will s/he think about Duke, and about Mike Nifong, and decide it probably isn't worth the trouble or worth the risk of false accusations?

Nifong used the media to prosecute and denied the defendants basic due process rights, and for that he deserves disbarment. He also ignored a mountain of exonerating evidence. But, at least until that exonerating evidence became obvious, I can't blame him for believing a distraught young woman's accusations. It is, after all, often nothing more than a prosecutors' willingness to believe a victim that gives a rape law its efficacy. I only hope that the Duke case does not cast a shadow over future allegations of rape, and that prosecutors investigating rape allegations avoid wearing a Nifong-sized albatross round their necks.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

A Different Tony Gets Whacked

The WSJ Law Blog alerts us that former moderator Anthony Ciolli and a whole bunch of pseudonomous posters on Autoadmit have been sued in the District of Connecticut by a legal team including Mark Lemley. I read the complaint this morning. The plaintiffs (two YLS students who were defamed and threatened on the site) are apparently hanging their federal jurisdiction on copyright infringement, inasmuch as at least one of the victims owned the copyright in a photo of her that was posted to the site (or possibly to an ancillary site set up for a revolting "attractiveness contest"). But the "gravamen," as they say, is clearly a welter of state law claims: defamation, false light, and so forth.

I would think that Ciolli is almost certainly immune from tort liability for others' postings under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Someone better informed than me might be able to say whether he has a failure-to-comply-with-notice-and-takedown-requirements defense under the DMCA for the copyright claim. Other thoughts:

Interesting that the other (and current) site moderator wasn't sued. Not sure why. Can someone explain this?

The complaint is not all that terribly well drafted, but it does provide a convenient sampling of some of the outrageous comments from the site. Anyone who doesn't want to spend time plowing through Autoadmit's clunky interface but who wants to know what all the fuss is about should take a look.

All of the actual posters are being sued pseudonomously. Anybody have a sense how likely it is that the plaintiffs will be able to get their names through discovery?

If the copyright claim is dismissed, the case probably gets tossed, to be re-filed in Connecticut state court, right? What difference would that make?

UPDATE: See Eugene Volokh's posts on the complaint here and here.

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Monday, June 11, 2007

A Smart Bomb? Gaydar? Gayser?

The Bay Area's CBS5 is reporting that the Air Force planned to make a "gay bomb" that would use chemicals to turn the opposing army gay. (For a split second I thought they were modifying Eddie Izzard's idea of sending in the transvestites into battle first to give yourself the element of surprise). But no, they really wanted to build this.
Gay community leaders in California said Friday that they found the notion of a 'gay bomb' both offensive and almost laughable at the same time.
I can't add much more to that. (However, I am curious if anyone knows anything about the organization that apparently got the FOIA docs...Berkeley's Sunshine Project?)

A Smart Bomb? Gaydar? Gayser?

The Bay Area's CBS5 is reporting that the Air Force planned to make a "gay bomb" that would use chemicals to turn the opposing army gay. (For a split second I thought they were modifying Eddie Izzard's idea of sending in the transvestites into battle first to give yourself the element of surprise). But not, they really wanted to build this.
Gay community leaders in California said Friday that they found the notion of a 'gay bomb' both offensive and almost laughable at the same time.
I can't add much more to that. (However, I am curious if anyone knows anything about the organization that apparently got the FOIA docs...Berkeley's Sunshine Project?)

The Missing Bang

So David Chase is a big fan of the Choose Your Own Adventure series. I can see that. The final 10 seconds of the Sopranos—the ominous dime-store hit-man who heads for what has to be an old-fashioned kind of toilet, the cut-aways to people walking in the door, the furtive glances of Tony, the tortured lateness of Meadow, the dramatic cut to 5 seconds of all black before the credits silently roll—is Chase asking, if not begging, the viewer to fill in the rest. Something happened in those five seconds but Chase isn’t going to tell us. That’s going to leave a lot of people angry. But come on, this is a Boalt blog. We know how to plug in answers.

(I’ll have some more thoughts on the episode tomorrow, but for now I thought I’d focus on the ending.)

For me--like a certain cowboy President--I’m tempted to declare victory and go home. I called Meadow’s death last week and I stand by it. That’s how I see the last scene, with the ridiculously heightened tension as we cut again and again to Meadow mis-parking the car. The cinematography draws out the agony and zeroes in on her obviously bad timing (wasn’t it a kind of bad timing that led to her pregnancy, after all?). And then the final sequence—Meadow running into the restaurant, running too quickly, and Tony looks up at her and then—blank. Bad timing into the crossfire. Meadow knew too much--but not about the mob, of course, but how to get out. (“I see how the state can crush the individual,” Meadow says. “New Jersey?!” Tony asks.) That’s how every post-9/11 libertarian mafia epiphany ends up, right?

There’s another plausible ending that I just read about that’s growing on me. Quite simply, Tony’s been shot in the head. Remember the last scene from last week? Tony has a brief flashback to being on the boat with Bobby, and Bobby says, “In the end, you never hear it coming.” If the Sopranos is about how Tony sees the world—and the therapy sessions are as close to first-person narration as you can get—then sudden silence and blackness is what follows being killed. The screen goes dark suddenly because so has Tony. This also would help explain the look of shock on Meadow’s face as she walks into the diner. In the end, Tony never heard it coming—and neither do we.

Now I like that. But that shit ain’t the truth. The truth is—as my original Sopranos-watching confederate explained it—is that there are no final five seconds. It’s a meta-ending. The point isn’t that something happened, but that something always can and will. That feeling of dread and uneasy expectation is what Tony has been left with—endless agita. Under fire from family and Family and Feds. But that’s where we’ve been headed all along. For 86 episodes, Chase has confronted us with ambiguity and anxiousness, daring us to sympathize with Tony or take his side. But the “right” reaction from the viewer has never been clear; there’s too much pathos in Tony’s saga to take sides. The moral complexity is the point of the show—declared to comic effect by Agent Harris who, when he finds out Phil Leotrado has been capped, pounds his desk and says, “Damn, we’re going to win this thing!”—a joke on the viewer as much as it is on the FBI. We’re supposed to be confused about whose side we’re on. The point of the last shot is to not relieve us of that ambiguity.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Amicus Forever

This order by Judge Walton in the Scooter Libby case is making its rounds. He grants leave to 12 hot shots to file an amicus brief with the court arguing for a reduction in sentence. Robert "Punitive Damages" Bork is among those. The highlight is Judge Walton's footnote.

According to his bio, Judge Walton is a W appointee. Unfortunately for Lewis' 12 new best friends, the bio also states:

-- Senior White House Advisor for Crime, Executive Office of the President, The White House, 1991
-- Associate judge, Superior Court of the District of Columbia, 1991-2001

Ooops. This judge actually knows a thing or two about crime and criminals who don't have an army of litigation partners nudging their colleagues along for amicus briefs. The judge also seems to take seriously a lawyer's professional responsibility towards the court and towards indigent clients. Good for Judge Walton.

UPDATE: It's almost amusing to watch the conservative reaction to Judge Walton's footnote. "Gee golly I don't get it. Why would he say such a thing when 12 powerful law professors write a staged amicus brief for a defendant with enough money and power to make Solomon blush."


Friday, June 08, 2007

Les Miserables

American military casualties in Iraq hit 3500 this week. The incoming Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff may not be a yes-boy to anything out of the White House like his predecessor, but then he thinks this is some sort of a "generational war." Borderline xenophobia and bigotry have derailed a comprehensive immigration bill.

Yet what do I want to talk about? Paris. I hate her. A lot. She's talentless, not that attractive, but plenty annoying. Frankly, if I was a bit tougher on crime, I would consider those enough reasons to lock her up. But I have to part ways with Judge Sauer's decision to remand her back to jail. Breaking probation (repeatedly) is no laughing matter. And frankly the whole cooked up bull shit about a "medical condition" (see speculation here) just made things worse. But she shouldn't be in jail.

Frankly I'm pissed off that Sheriff Baca is equivocating on his decision. Damn it you're in charge of protecting the citizens of the largest county in the largest state. Act like it. I don't need to dig up crime statistics to figure out the number of violent offenses committed in LA County on a daily basis. Yeah it's nice to send a message to a celebrity that all the dollars in the world can't get you out of a few nights in the slammer. But even if this was Larry Law Student or Frank French Fries, I wouldn't want them taking up the space and resources of the County when they can be better used against those who murder, maim, steal, etc.

Thankfully, LA County is exporting its most dangerous elements to neighboring Kern Count.

UPDATE: Then again, reading this made it all worthwhile again. Damn, this is tough.

Crying out for her mother when she was ordered back to jail, Paris Hilton's cool, glamorous image evaporated Friday as she gave the impression of a little girl lost in a merciless legal system.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Mighty #ucks 2

See what I mean? In just 2 hours a post about a California hockey team winning the Stanley Cup for the first time in history is preempted by a post about a single rule enforced in only one of the leagues of the MLB. Duck you, DS.

UPDATE: Joel Stein has this commentary in today's LA Times.

Long-live the DH

In keeping with the sports theme and avoiding any and all contracts studying, DS offers the following defense of the designated hitter.

First, an excellent quote from Little Big League, an underated movie if there ever was one.

Joey - “Who you gonna get to replace O’Farrell?”
Billy - “I don’t know. Whitey Herzog turned us down, same with Valentine. None of the good guys want to work for a kid.”
Joey - “You should do it!”
Billy - “Yeah, right. Get real!”
Joey - “No, you get real. You’d be great!”
Billy - “You know how hard it is to manage?”
Joey - “It’s the American League. They’ve got the DH. How hard could it be?”

There seem to be two main arguments against the DH. First, if you're a ball player, you should be able to hit. American league pitchers aren't true players because they never have to get in that batter's box. This is nonsense. This argument would have some weight if NL pitchers were much better hitters than AL pitchers. If the NL pitchers were more valuable to their team because they could pitch AND hit, then yes, there would be a strong argument against the one-dimensional nature of the AL pitcher. But that's not the case. National league pitchers in interleague games are not better hitters than AL pitchers (at least not by enough to matter to a major league team). Now, DS doesn't have premium access to, so he can't truly compare NL pitchers stats to their counterparts in the AL, but if NL pitchers were better hitters, then in a game played in an NL ballpark, the National league team would have a decided advantage. And for any game played in an AL park, every team has a DH, so things are neutral. But, since 1997 and the start of interleague play, the AL has a 1,249 to 1,202 record against NL teams. Maybe AL teams are that much better that they can overcome their inferior hitting from pitchers and still take the edge on the overall record, but it's more likely that AL and NL pitchers are equally as bad at hitting. Which, in turn, makes the argument that all ball players should get an at-bat nonsense. NL pitchers get at bats, and they don't help their clubs while they do it, so they're really no different from AL pitchers.

The alternative of this is that if you're a good hitter, you should be required to field. This argument resonates a little more, but not much. There is a problem with specialist DHs, like the Big Hurt or Piazza. But, if we want to force guys to play, don't get rid of the DH, just require that any DH must play in 2 or 3 out of every 7 games. Force DH's to play, not pitchers to hit.

The other, and perhaps more persuasive argument would be that in the NL there's more strategy than the AL. Managers have to worry about where ptichers come in the lineup. Managers know their pitchers are (almost) automatic outs, so they have to pinch-hit more and move more players around. This is all fine and good, but why is extra strategy a good thing. 1) There's enough strategy involved in baseball anyway. 2) If you want a rule that artificially requires more managerial strategy, why not say that the 5th batter up every inning must hit the ball to the opposite field? That would require managers and players to expand skills and evaluate where certain guys get placed in the lineup. If you want more pitchers to be used, why not a rule requiring a new pitcher every 4 innings? If you want more double switches, why not require one double switch for every two lineup changes in the course of a game? If your goal is to have an easy out every nine batters, why not require a 15 year old fan to bat one out of every nine times. Now, of course, all these rules are stupid. They do nothing for the game. But the idea that the DH is bad for the game because it requires less strategy on a manger's part is nonsense too. Why is strategy an issue. It's making the game more complicated for the sake of making the game more complicated. It does not make sense.

Give DS the DH anyday. Baseball teams shouldn't have an automatic out every nine batters. Pitchers shouldn't be let off the hook at least once through the line-up. If your goal is to reduce run output, raise the mound back up. Don't get rid of hitting. Make pitchers face better hitting, not worse.

The Mighty #ucks

The Anaheim Mighty Ducks just won the Stanley Cup. If the preceding sentence does not make sense to you, congratulations, you're an American.

I have to confess something. Hockey is my favorite sport. I love the LA Kings. By implication I hate the Ducks. But much like in college sports, I have to tip my hat to the rival for winning the big one and bringing glory to our neck of the woods. No California team has ever hoisted Lord Stanley's Cup. Not till tonight. After a little more than a decade in existence, the Ducks can claim the biggest prize in hockey.

The problem is that winning the Stanley Cup in hockey is a little less prestigious than winning the Kentucky Derby. More people can probably name the jockey who rode Street Sense than the Ducks' goalie. I didn't even know they were broadcasting hockey games any more, to be quite frank. Ever since ESPN said, "aw fuck it, we'd rather show poker" to their ESPN hockey nights, the game has shifted to the Outdoor Life Network, usually available if you purchase the $4,000-a month cable package that includes Sri Lankan Music Network 1 and 2. NBC covered the playoffs, but then again this is now the network whose sports highlight is the 2036 Winter Olympic Games in Vilnius.

Sometimes, when I'm having cold sweats about a bar essay that asks about mortgages, I wish, just wish that the Canadians perverted the rules of Rugby while Americans gracefully skated on ice and beat the crap out of each other. So guys, how about a Boalt-wide fantasy hockey league next year? Anyone?

Sunday, June 03, 2007

The Law Firm of Paulie, Sil, and Meadow

If you haven’t seen it, stop reading, but if you haven’t seen it, see it. The penultimate episode of the Sopranos tonight is maybe one of the best hours of drama in history. And not just because Tony, in confessing his disappointment that Meadow is going to be a lawyer instead of a doctor, hopes that at the least “she’ll wind up at a big firm.” Honestly, Tony, you’ve got bigger problems right now than the summer program at Cravath.

The Sopranos has been the best show on television for a while now—even as it declined from the pure genius of the first three seasons. I recently caught a few of the inaugural episodes on a Saturday afternoon on A&E, and though it insults the enterprise to try to show the Sopranos on basic cable (the same goes for Mel Brooks movies and the Big Lebowski), the writing still shines through. What Chase was able to do in the first few seasons—what he lost in the later years—was to tie together a constellation of characters: the cop on the take, Assemblyman Zellman, Hesh, Ralphie, Carmine and the whole New York crew, Big Pussy, Junior in more lucid form. In the last few seasons, all of those plotlines and characters have just—pardon the expression—bled away. The Sopranos universe is emptier. But now, in emptying it out for good, Chase has regained his footing. In terms of comedy, tragedy, and sheer shock value, the last eight episodes have been spectacular, and the series is going out with a helluva bang. (No more, I promise.)

I think most of the credit goes to the writers. James Joyce would be proud of the sheer volume of sly references, allusions, witticisms, malapropisms, and other comedic constructions that fill up an hour of the Sopranos. (The silver medal for the line of the night goes to Agent Harris’s mocking deadpan: “It’s end times, ready for the Rapture.” Gold goes to Tony’s blithe dismissal of Melfi: “You don’t need a gynecologist to know which way the wind blows,” which takes Dylan up (down?) to a whole new level.)

So, how do we think it’s going to end? I read somewhere that Chase hates being told he has to wrap things up neatly, but at this point, there’s a bullet for Tony or a bullet for Phil, right?

Actually, I don’t think so. I think Chase dropped a giant hint in this episode about where things are going. When Sil, Tony, and Bobby sit down at the restaurant to plot their move against New York, did you hear the music playing? That’s the same music at the end of Godfather III, when they kill Michael’s daughter Mary on the steps of the opera house in Sicily. (That it also meant we didn’t have to hear Sophie Coppola speak any more makes it a mixed bag.) The analogue here would be that the last bullet is meant for Carmela or Meadow, the two women Tony loves the most.

Could it happen? Chase obviously respects the Godfather trilogy enormously, and you can’t go more than a few episodes without some reference. Don’t forget either how, earlier in the season, Tony presided over the baptism of Christopher’s newborn, and then killed Christopher a short while later. That’s Godfather I. (“Come on Carlo,” Al Pacino says with a sneer, “do you really think I’d make my sister a widower?” And the answer is of course yes.) Chase delivered on the foreshadowing there, and I suspect he might do it again. (And did you catch the cinematography of Melfi closing the door on Tony, which was pretty much identical to the last shot of the first Godfather?)

The punchline of Godfather III was that Michael lost those he loved the most—his daughter and Kay (again). It was a fate worse than death. Tony seems set up for a similarly morbid ending. It’s hard to think of a more bitter fate than being left alive with your wife or daughter killed, your lieutenants all dead, your sister a widower, your nephew suffocated, your son suicidal, your uncle broke and crazy, and your business destroyed. Tony is meant to suffer—not to die.

On the other hand, the tragedy of Godfather III centered on Michael’s broken efforts to love the women in his life. “I spent my life protecting my family,” Michael screams at Kay in an early scene in the movie. People get distracted by the plot about the church, but what Godfather III is really about is the ennobling but slightly sinister efforts of Michael to reconcile with Kay and to protect Mary. (I know most people don’t like the third one, but like Massive Genius, I just think its misunderstood.) Michael did everything for his family—and that’s precisely what he lost, dying old and alone with a dog at his feet where his father died with grandchildren at his feet.

The problem with killing Carmela or Meadow is that Tony doesn’t “deserve” such a Greek fate. He’s not a family guy like Michael—he’s an asshole. A misogynist, someone who has betrayed his wife repeatedly and who doesn’t understand his daughter. He’s a bad father and a bad husband. Carmela is emotionally dead already at Tony’s hands; formalizing the situation wouldn't change much. (Note Dr. Melfi’s observation about the “women who continually disappoint” Tony.) Would the pathos be as thick for Tony to lose Carmela as for Michael to have lost Mary? I’m not so sure. But I still think Chase will do it.

That’s my $3080 bet on how it ends, for what its worth. Any other theories out there? I could see Paulie being a turncoat and pulling the trigger on Tony himself. I mean, why else does Phil spare him anyway? Of course he’s “management.” And he’s had it good with Brooklyn since Johnny Sack buttered him up, and don’t forget how Tony came this close to reacquainting Paulie with Big Pussy on the boat a few weeks ago.

In closing, Judge Chase, may I make just one final plaintive plea, just two words? Sopranos prequel.

Update: The, um, head writer of the Sopranos says I'm completely full of shit.