Facing Number Hill

I’m sitting in a plastic patio chair on the parking lot in front of the D-K Motel, across the road from Number Hill in Arco, Idaho, the first city in the world to receive (on July 17, 1955) nuclear-generated electric power. I’m sitting in the parking lot because the D-K Motel’s wireless Internet service does not extend to our motel rooms, and this is the first time we’ve had Internet access since Friday morning. “We” is the nine members of the 2007 edition of the WYMPS tour. Since Saturday morning we’ve biked round-trip from Colter Bay Village to the top of Togwotee Pass–35 miles one-way including an 18-mile climb, and if you think the 18 mile downhill return is easy you are wrong–, 65 miles from Colter Bay Village to Old Faithful, 90+ miles from Old Faithful to Rexburg, Idaho, and 85 miles from Rexburg to Arco, Idaho, the first city in the world to receive, etc. We’ve climbed and descended more than 12,500 feet of road and have the sore hamstrings and tight calves to prove it, drunk about 2 gallons/day each of water/Gatorade/grapefruit juice/V-8 (yucky in my opinion, but it takes all kinds), even more wine/beer/gin/club soda (I’m the permanent designated driver), eaten a number of very bad meals (the southwest chicken pizza at Brownstones in Idaho Falls was to die for-literally), attended the opening night of the Applebee’s restaurant in Rexburg (operating under a provisional liquor license in the dry Mormon-dominated town, in one night our party helped the local Applebee’s achieve its alcohol sales budget for the month, even though it ran out of its one bottle of tequila before we arrived), taken a personal tour of the Yellowstone Geyser Basins with Ranger Mike (seeing first-hand the ridge where Harry Walker was eaten by the bear and the pool next to Castle Geyser where the young boy . . . never mind, it’s really gross), and seen some of the most spectacular country imaginable (samples here, here, and here). We’ve seen traffic stopped by a mama grizzly and her three cubs–a few weeks ago a jogger was mauled at 5:30 in the morning by a mama grizzly with three cubs behind Jackson Lake Lodge, a few miles from our digs at Colter Bay Village (the jogger survived)–and by a group of bison, including one stubborn old guy who stood in the middle of the road, just refusing to move. We’ve seen a herd of elk and a herd of bison, a bald eagle perched on a tree limb above the Firehole River and another circling a thousand feet up near Grand Teton, a flock of white pelicans, deer, two young moose swimming and gamboling across a lake and two more standing in a bog like moose ordered up from central casting, an antelope (John did, anyway), innumerable hawks, and muskrats. And prairie dogs. To protect from intense dry heat we’ve consumed mass quantities of sunblock (30 and 50 SPF), chapstick, and zinc oxide. We’ve done laundry once, about 15 minutes ago. We’ve avoided getting the jelly in the peanut butter (the one in-joke in this post). Two of our party saved two itinerant Belgian tandem bikers from [choose one] (a) a 40-mile uphill ride to Grant Village, (b) a night in the Yellowstone Park pokey, (c) another day without showers, or (d) the consequences of their own poor planning.

We are having fun. More to follow.

And Wayne Newton as Secretary of State

Hillary Clinton’s campaign has attempted to whip up enthusiasm for its campaign-song contest, in which you–yes, you!–could select the lucky song. Her website announced the winner with a brief, mildly amusing video inspired by the last episode of The Sopranos (which I liked, by the way) and bearing a Sopranos in-joke: Vince Curatola, who played Johnny Sack, gets up from a diner stool and gives Hillary and Bill a funny look on his way to the bathroom. There is an amusing and telling scene in which Bill whines “no onion rings?” when confronted with Hillary’s order of carrot sticks. Is Hillary running as Sensible Mommy, the one who hands out boxes of raisins on Halloween? The video cuts to black and a link to the contest winner: You and I by Celine Dion.

Celine Dion? Bad choice, musically and symbolically. Not to get all chauvinistic, but the campaign knows that Celine is Canadian, right? Her soul–if we can use that word in discussing Celine Dion–is Las Vegas, a slice of American cheese topped with Miracle Whip, but her birth certificate says Charlemagne, Quebec, Canada. Couldn’t Hillary find a tune by an American pop songstress? Ugly Americanism aside, Celine Dion’s music is insipid and You and I is a yawner of yearning and treacly aspirational lyrics and generic rock.

Enjoy the carrot sticks.  (Any happier now, young Shakespeare?)

Schneier on Irrational Responses

Bruce Schneier’s sensible observations on security are always worth reading. Sometimes his observations resonate more deeply, such as this commentary in Wired: Virginia Tech Lesson: Rare Risks Breed Irrational Responses. After the Virginia Tech shootings I wrote in Sense and Senselessness about the urge to “do something” after horrific events and how both pro- and anti-gun control advocates both seized these shootings to promote their respective agendas. Schneier makes the same points in a pithy and clear-eyed overview of this phenomenon, coining this formula: “Novelty plus dread equals overreaction.”

Pants Suit Follies

One thing I always told clients: beware of the downside of filing a lawsuit. It can go beyond the obvious concerns about expense and time. If a lawsuit will make the plaintiff look like an idiot–like my former financial manager client who, without due diligence, provided the financing to build a nursing home on a landfill and then wanted to sue the bond placement agent for securities fraud–then someone must consider the risk of a ruined reputation on the plaintiff’s business. Or job prospects. This headline confirms that Judge Roy L. Pearson, Jr. never learned this lesson: Pants lawsuit could cost D.C. judge his $100,000 job. Pearson’s boss reversed his prior recommendation–made before the dry cleaning donnybrook–that Pearson be reappointed.

Yahoo’s Grumpy Shareholders

Yahoo’s shareholders made clear their “discontent” and “disappointment” with Yahoo’s performance at the company’s annual meeting. The first rebuke that caught my eye concerned a proposal “to adopt a policy that opposes censorship on the Internet,” which only 15% of shareholders approved. That fared better than the proposal for a “committee to oversee Yahoo’s human rights practices,” favored by 4% of shareholders. While I was tempted to write a headline along the lines of “Yahoo to Chinese Political Dissidents: Kiss Off!”, I’m guessing these votes reflect disenchantment with Yahoo’s 10% decline in stock price over the last year more than a pro-political repression platform. After being approved by 97% or more of shareholders last year some of the directors received as few as 66% of the votes at this year’s meeting. According to The Wall Street Journal “approvals with only two-thirds of the vote could be considered a victory for shareholder activists who have condemned high executive pay at the company,” specifically Yahoo CEO Terry Semel’s $71.7 million 2006 compensation. Still, shareholders also rejected a pay-for-performance proposal that would have bestowed bonuses only when Yahoo outperformed its industry peers.

The shareholders also rejected the chicken a la king and chocolate cake served at lunch. A bad day for the board, all around.

A Stupid and Sad Suit

All spring I avoided writing about the case of administrative law judge Roy L. Pearson, Jr. suing dry cleaners for $67.3 million over a pair of lost pants. I responded in the same way to the ten students (at least) who sent me articles about the lawsuit: it is a stupid case brought by a get-a-life plaintiff that only makes the legal system look bad. The trial, which started yesterday in Washington, D.C., is receiving national attention (Sphere reported as of ten minutes ago 390 blog posts on the case in the past 24 hours, plus a host of news articles) and its corrosive effect cannot be avoided. The trial is a spectacle, from the outlandish attention-grabbing damages calculated at $18,000/day for the four years the dry cleaner’s signs touted “Same Day Service” and “Satisfaction Guaranteed” to Pearson’s delusional self-portrayal “as a ‘private attorney general’ championing the rights of every Washington consumer” (an approach the trial judge flatly rejected) to Pearson’s histrionic tears, which required the trial judge to call a recess, while recounting the day he says the cleaners tried to pass off a cheaper pair of pants as his.”

It’s sad Pearson has no one in his life to make him see that flaunting his personal grudges and psychological imbalance on a national stage had made him an object of ridicule. His two-year term as an ALJ ended recently. Considering the lack of judicial temperment–which is putting it chariably–I’ll be astounded if the judicial panel reappoints him. It’s unfortunate that our legal system is providing the arena for Pearson’s national undressing.

Amero Gets New Trial

A Connecticut trial court judge has ordered a new trial for Julie Amero, the substitute teacher convicted of impairing the morals of a child. The original trial court hamstrung Amero’s ability to rebut the state’s “expert” testimony (see Porn Conviction Causes Outrage) and the motion judge ruled that the jury “may have relied, at least in part, on that faulty information.” Amero faced a maximum sentence of 40 years on the morals charge. No date has been set for the new trial.