The Thoughts and Musings of Tom Allain

If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn't help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we've got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don't want to do it

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Archive for June, 2009

Habamas Cattus

Monday, June 29th, 2009

OK, my Latin is really rusty and I have no idea if I have the right declension but it’s supposed to say “We have a cat” and it’s a takeoff from the “Habamas Papam” that is declared when a new pope is selected.

Yes, the long wait is over, and we have a cat. Pictures will follow, but for now she’s a short hair tabby that we got from the San Diego Humane Society and SPCA. Once we finished all the house stuff it was time to look at getting a new cat. As you remember, our last cat, Kirby, died in March and we’ve been without a cat since. Yesterday there was a Humane Society Adoption Center at the Ocean Beach Dogwash and they had 9 kittens. They were given names, grouped by litter. Ours was named (no kidding) Mint Chocolate Chip and one of her siblings was named Neopolitan. There was another group of three called Morticia, Uncle Fester, and Lurch.

One of our first jobs is finding a new name for her: Mint Chocolate Chip was just a placeholder name. We’ve decided to move past the vacuum cleaner names (ie, Hoover and Kirby) and we are thinking of naming her Missy. Suggestions are always welcome and we’ll keep everyone posted.

We had a good night with her last night but I still have this fantasy of inventing a time machine and going back to ancient Egypt. There I can find the person who first decided to domesticate a nocturnal animal.

Caperton v. Massey: How Could Four Justices Side with Massey?

Friday, June 12th, 2009

OK, I’ll confess a bias: When I was in high school I dreamed of being a lawyer. I liked the idea of argumentation and found that I think like a lawyer. I was cured of this desire when I joined the debate team at George Mason University. I learned that very little time is actually spent in argumentation: most time is spent in libraries going through endless articles and most argumentation is not finding the best argument but rather in burying your opponent in tons of words (with little regard to efficacy).

In any case I still enjoy following how courts rule on different issues and I confess to a dream of someday meeting NPR’s Nina Totenberg. A few days ago I was listening to NPR about the Supreme Court’s recent decision in the case of Caperton v. Massey. Here are the facts of the case:

  • In 1998 Hugh Caperton (President of Harman Coal Company) sued the Massey Energy in West Virginia, claiming they were using fraudulent business practices to run him out of business. In 2002 a jury in Boone County, West Virginia agreed and awarded Caperton the sum of $50 million.
  • Not surprisingly, Massey Energy appealed and the case began to wend its way up through the courts. During this time (in 2004) West Virginia Judge Warren McGraw was running for reelection as a judge in the West Virginia State Court of Appeals. Massey’s CEO was Don Blankenship and he began to campaign against Judge McGraw. I’ve been reading articles on this case and I can’t find any previous relationship between Don Blankenship and Judge Warren McGraw.
  • In any case, Don Blankenship began to back another candidate, Brent Benjamin, for the office. In fairness, Blankenship had given money to political campaigns before, but the sums were small. With Benjamin running for office, however, he donated $3 million
  • The campaign against McGraw turned ugly: a web page called …and for the sake of the kids accused McGraw of voting “to let a child-rapist out of prison, and court records show the plan called for the rapist to work at a local school.” Not surprisingly, Brent Benjamin wins the election and gains a seat on the West Virginia Court of Apppeals.
  • Drum roll everyone: the case of Caperton v. Massey came before the court. The lawyers for Hugh Caperton asked Judge Benjamin to recuse himself as his position was due in large part to the generosity of the defendant, Don Blankenship. He refuses.
  • Another drum roll: The court reversed the decision by a 3-2 vote with Judge Benjamin voting for the majority.
  • Final drum roll: Hugh Caperton continues to appeal, arguing that Judge Benjamin is biased and should have recused himself. Eventually it reaches the Supreme Court who agrees to accept the case.

Now it becomes news. The Supreme Court finds that there is always going to be a fuzzy line with elected judges, but wherever the line falls, this is way beyond it. In the 5-4 majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy ruled that Justice Benjamin should have recused himself: “Just as no man is allowed to be a judge in his own cause, similar fears of bias can arise when — without the consent of the other parties — a man chooses the judge in his own cause.” The opinion recognized that there may some fuzziness and there may need to be other rulings but this case was too far over the line.

The minority opinion used what I call the “Pandora’s Box” rational. Chief Justice John Roberts based his opinion on the fear of where this might go. Would Justice Benjamin have to recuse himself if the contributions were smaller? etc.

This clearly will begin an increase in litigation over judicial bias but I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. The election of judges opens the door to all sorts of questions and the fact that it can’t be settled in one case doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing.

The Long and Winding Road: Our Journey with Contractors

Sunday, June 7th, 2009

First the good news: the project is finally completed. When our last cat Kirby died in March we realized this was probably our best opportunity to get some projects completed in the house. Our home was built in 1969 and has been well taken care of. The previous owner sank a great deal of money into the kitchen and that was one the things that attracted us to the house. We were, however, a little puzzled that the master bathroom had not been touched and had all the original fixtures. We’d known for a long time that we wanted to update it.

We also thought this was a good time to replace the flooring. Most of the house (except the kitchen and bathrooms) had hardwood flooring and while we like not having to care for carpeting, it was time for a new floor. We like the look and feel of bamboo flooring and also like that it is “green” (ie, more renewable than other hardwood floors).

We also had a good contractor in mind. They are friends (actually she is Nancy’s brother’s ex girlfriend, but “friends” is an expansive term). That meant we trusted them to work on our house when we were on vacation the beginning of May. We realize what a gift we had that we could leave town and know the job was getting done. The original hope was that they would start work the day we left and by the time we were back the floor would be complete and the bathroom would be mostly complete. We expected it to take 2 to 3 weeks.

We should have known better; it’s finally finished after about 5 weeks. In the interim it’s been a comedy of unforeseen/unforeseeable delays and errors on the parts of some of the suppliers. The bathroom pretty much went as planned and that wasn’t the problem. The flooring, on the other hand, was a different story.

Here’s how it went from my memory:

  • The first part of the job was to remove the old flooring. That’s normally a pretty easy process as there are standards on how floors are laid in the beginning. However, whoever laid the original flooring used some kind of glue or cement that I can only describe as Kryptonite that went directly on the slab under the house. The guys who were doing the job had to literally jackhammer the old flooring off. About the time the floor was supposed to be completed they were about 75% of the way toward removing the old floor.
  • They underestimated the square footage of the flooring they needed to order. We asked for some decorative work to be done just inside the front door and this threw off the estimate. This meant that when they were completing the job they ran out of wood with only 2/3 of the spare room done. The whole thing had to stop while more flooring had to be ordered and shipped from the East Coast.
  • Here’s where it actually gets frustrating: Ordering more of something that you’ve already ordered should be a fairly simple job. But the flooring people (and let’s be clear here, not the contractor) ordered the wrong stuff three different times. Each time it had to be sent back and the new order had to wend it’s way across the country. Oh yes, and when the correct stuff did arrive, it needed to “season” in the house for 3 days before it was installed.

Again, the end result was excellent and we are pleased with the flooring, but exasperated at how long it took. What was supposed to be finished around May 10th wasn’t done until June 5th. And again, to be fair, we were thrilled with the contractors and highly recommend them (let me know if you need a reference) and they have learned to stop using these flooring guys. Also, I was clear that I’d rather have it done right than fast and didn’t accept any suggestions of shortcuts.

We’re glad it’s over. Next step: a new cat. Stay tuned.