The Right Coast

February 21, 2004
A strange day
By Tom Smith

I thought it was going to be a nice sort of day. It began rainy, which meant that my youngest's soccer game was cancelled. Not to be a spoilsport, but, oh bliss, not to have to herd the children to the minivan, drive to the school, herd them back, drive home, etc. etc., but just to sit in the blissful quiet on the couch and watch the raindrops fall.

But this of course, was a complete illusion. Soon the television was on, stupid Saturday morning cartoons in full blare. Actually, I like lots of cartoons, Grim and Evil, Invader ZIM, Spaceghost, not to mention real treasures such as vintage (and extremely un-PC) Johnny Quest, but this was none of that. It was just some utterly forgettable nonsense. And this, after letting the male brood (Jeanne was at a Mom's meeting) watch Matrix Reloaded on the TV last night (we fast forwarded through the R-rated bits). I'm sorry, Matrix lovers, but what a lame movie. The martial arts bits were cool, if silly.

But I digress. Then shortly after the cartoons were off, my new 140 hour TiVO suffered a hard drive failure. It is, I am pretty sure, dead. Hours of BBC murder mysteries, countless animal shows, numerous Westerns all gone, gone. In the meantime, my twelve year old used a completely forbidden word, was ratted out by my ten year old, and sentenced to a 30 minute time-out. In a completely unrelated event, he later poked his brother in the stomach with his bokken, a wooden samurai sword. (Our house is very well equipped with wooden swords, staffs and other martial arts paraphenalia.) Another time out, shortened when I learn this was in response to middle child's throwing lemons at older child.

I forgot to mention during this whole period I am managing our 4 month year old, an outstanding little guy, if remarkably fat, which I gather is healthy. In this time he went through his whole repetoire of behaviors, which is to say, he slept, ate, smiled and laughed goofily, cried and pooped enormously.

Then the phone rang. It was about 9:30 but felt like 5:30. It turned out my ten year old had conspired with two of his friends for them to come over to our house that day. The first would be arriving in about an hour, followed shortly by another. Mom (who was at work, seeing patients) said it was OK. They were then going to go over to another boy's house for a slumber party, but that boy turned out to be out of town. Our house became the default slumber party location. So now we are having a slumber party. Fine. I was going to cook a special dinner for my wife's birthday tonight, but OK, what is a few more boys. Chaos is chaos.

I think we will be watching The Lion King 1 1/2, but I will mostly be trying to read Lawrence Lessig's acclaimed book Code. Granted, I am not in the best of moods, though I am resigned and accepting of all this, but why is it law professors can't just write like everybody else, or perhaps even a little better? I am now on about page 20, and it's getting better, but the first few pages of this book set some kind of record for pomposity and condescension. (I hear crying, so this post will have to end shortly.) It is this style of writing: "We are not convinced by reasons, but by stories. Narratives. Narratives which are stories. Stories of people. Of things. And so I will tell you a story. A story that may seem strange. At first. The story of a man and a woman. The woman grew flowers, beautiful flowers, flowers that bloomed in the spring and blah blah blah." It ends up sounding like the lead in to an episode of the Twilight Zone. And then there are all the self references. "I first had this idea when I was at Yale blah blah blah." These bits should be printed in a different font so they would be easier to skip. And the analogy of enthusiasm about free markets for post-Soviet Russia and for free markets in cyberspace, as being equally misguided, is just overblown and silly, not to mention probably wrong. Especially I suppose to libertarians types such as myself, it is really annoying to have people point to market failures in Russia and say, see! see! markets can't do without us so easily can they, can they? Yes, seven decades of war, genocide, terror, propaganda, miseducation, and general economic disaster has a way of making it difficult for a free market democracy to spring up on schedule. How very puzzling.

In a better world every law professor would spend a year laboring under an old time editor with newspaper ink in his veins, a green eyeshade, and a disposition like a constipated cat. He would tell us not to say "I" unless we had to, and use sentences with subjects and verbs. Both. And not to write in fragments. Ever. "You're not f#$%ing Hemingway, you know," he would say. But I am sure it will turn out to be a swell book. (The crying has stopped. However, we may have to revise the weapons policy around here.)