Monday, December 11, 2017

Why We Hate Lawyers

Saturday, June 8, 2002

The other day, I opened my mailbox, and mixed in between the ubiquitous junk mail (“You may have already won...”) and the recurrent pile of bills (which sparked a deja vu epiphany “Didn’t I just pay these?”), was a missive bearing the phrase “Important Legal Notice.”

Now, like most people, I lead a fairly nondescript life, and endeavor not to run afoul of the law, be it civil or criminal. So I was warily curious as to the circumstances that would warrant delivery of an “Important Legal Notice.” With subtle trepidation, I tore open the envelope and perused the contents.

It was a Notice of Pendancy of Class Action, which simply meant someone was suing someone else and I had been invited along for the ride. The someone of the first part was a Mr. Gerald D. Broder and the someone of the second part was MBNA, a large bank and issuer of credit cards (and ubiquitous junk mail).

It seems Mr. Broder had obtained a credit card through an MBNA offer of a special low interest rate on cash advances. The offer stated MBNA “may” allocate payments to cash advances before purchases. This, of course, means MBNA could, at its discretion, apply the payment toward the cash advance balance (at the lower interest rate) or the purchases balance (at the higher rate). Mr. Broder claims MBNA’s solicitation was misleading and should have used the word “will” instead of “may.” So he is suing MBNA for fraud and breach of contract.

Ignoring the obviously shaky legal merits of the case, ephemeral dollar signs danced like sugar plums before my eyes. A wave of good will flooded over me, as I imagined what a kind man Mr. Broder must be, to invite me, a complete stranger, to share in his good fortune, should he recover damages from the scoundrels! And how would I spend this windfall from Providence? Amidst the beckoning siren call of the beaches of Nice, I flipped the pages to ascertain an inkling of the amount of my pending good fortune.

Surely, over the years as a customer of MBNA, I too must have been victimized by this dastardly ploy, as evidenced by my unsolicited admission to the class of litigants. Then, on page four, preceding the caveat “assuming plaintiff were 100 percent successful at trial” (okay, so this is the high end of what we might recover), was the telltale phrase “A significant factor relied upon by plaintiff and Class Counsel is that the $3.57 made available to each member of the class under the terms of the proposed settlement represents a significant percentage of the maximum amount recoverable, assuming plaintiff were 100 percent successful at trial.” Quickly, my mind translated the legalease to everyday parlance: If we win all of what we are asking for, the most any class member gets is $3.57; but this amount may be reduced if we get less than what we are asking.

No, I thought. I must have misread it. I could not have wasted all that time reading four pages of legalease to discover that my angel of Providence was cheaper than the tooth fairy! Surely, Mr. Broder would not sue MBNA to recover $3.57? And surely, Mr. Broder’s lawyers would not take on such a case. No, this required continued reading, at least to page six.

Alas, it was on page six that the truth did out. While listing no exact size, the class consists of the potential millions of present and former MBNA cardholders, each entitled to $3.57 (or less) should we win, and Mr. Broder, who is named as “class representative.” You see, in a class action lawsuit with thousands (or millions) of plaintiffs, someone’s name has to go on the paperwork as what they call the “lead” plaintiff; otherwise the case title would be longer than the case. For lending his name to the case, Mr. Broder’s attorneys asked that he receive a little bit more than his other plaintiffs, sort of a “first among equals” position. Thus, they decided that an extra $9,996.43, just to round it out to an even $10,000, would help compensate Mr. Broder for the use of his name.

Of course, Mr. Broder’s attorneys, the law firm of Lowey, Dannenberg, Bemporad & Selinger. P.C., also asked the court to award it a modest amount in legal fees (after all, it is helping people like me get as much as $3.57 in damages) not to exceed $2.5 million, to be paid by MBNA.

I’m glad they put the “not to exceed” in their request; otherwise the court might have gone hog-wild and thrown $5 million at them. How considerate and responsible of Mr. Broder’s lawyers!

So, Mr. Broder stands to gain $10,000 for doing nothing, his lawyers stand to gain $2.5 million for doing considerably more than nothing, and I, and my fellow victimized consumers may get as much as $3.57. More than likely, MBNA will settle the suit , and those numbers may be discounted by 25 percent.

Is there something wrong with this picture? Is there something wrong with a legal system where lawyers can initiate a class action suit using a straw man (purchased for less than 1/2 of one percent of their profits) to compel a large corporation to settle a nuisance suit for millions of dollars?

And lawyers still wonder why we hate lawyers.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Rosalie’s World

I saw a photograph of a pretty, 13-year-old girl on my newsfeed followed by a headline stating she had been hospitalized after a suicide attempt. Rosalie Avila, 13, of Yucaipa, CA had been "severely" bullied for years by classmates, in school and on social media, who told her she wasn't pretty and her teeth were ugly. In her diary, she had written: “They told me I was ugly today. They were making fun of me today about my teeth.” She hanged herself in her bedroom on November 28 and was admitted to Loma Linda Children's Hospital.

As I read this, in my mind I was composing a note to Rosalie. I would tell her she was, in fact, a very pretty girl and that she was prettier than most of the girls I had gone to school with when I was 13. I would tell her that the braces she wore would straighten her teeth and leave a beautiful, permanent smile on her face for years to come. I wanted to leave a positive, encouraging post on her Facebook page, knowing that others would also, and that this little girl would come home to literally 10,000 messages from strangers to counter the vicious venom of a handful of children. I wanted to provide a counterbalance to place the messages she was getting from these "mean girls" into perspective, which is sadly lacking at that age when we are most susceptible to peer pressure.

You're NOT ugly, Rosalie. You may not believe your parents when they tell you you're beautiful because parents have to say that, but strangers don't have to. So take it from a stranger, you are pretty. And 10,000 other strangers will agree with me.

But before I could write the first line my eyes scrolled down to the next headline. Rosalie was taken off life support on December 4. In three weeks, when other families are gathered around the Christmas tree celebrating the festive season, Rosalie’s parents, Freddie and Charlene Avila, and her five siblings will be gathered beside her grave in mourning. 

The more I learned about Rosalie, the more I felt a kinship. She “always got good grades,” and she wanted to be a writer and a lawyer “so she could make the world a better place.” Instead, the world – her world – destroyed her. It's a world filled with evil souls housed in bodies of varying ages. Despite their youth, I've no doubt Rosalie's tormentors are truly evil. They're not wayward children; or bad kids; or even mean girls. They're evil. Rosalie’s family got a small taste of what the 13-year-old had been experiencing when someone sent them a photograph of a bed on social media captioned: “Hey Mom. Next time don’t tuck me in this. Tuck me in THIS,” pointing to an image of an open grave with Rosalie’s face Photoshopped over it.


I was told it was a good thing I didn’t have the opportunity to leave my message for Rosalie because it would be “creepy” for a grown man to tell a 13-year-old she’s pretty. “You don’t even know her; people will think you’re a predator.” What a sad world we live in. Here in Rosalie’s World of 2017 that would be creepy and possibly expose me to legal jeopardy; I would have thought the messages sent to Rosalie – and now to her parents – were creepy and that the senders of those should be the ones subject to legal consequences. Rosalie’s World isn’t the world I grew up in. Sure, we had bullying, but not to this extreme or this degree of malevolence. As a society, we need to reevaluate how our world devolved into Rosalie’s World and what we must do to change it back.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Attack on America

I wrote this in the heat of the moment on September 11, 2001 as I watched the twin towers burn and crumble to the ground on my TV screen. It’s worth sharing again. The only thing I would add is that we must protect America from both foreign and domestic threats.

Attack on America

September 11, 2001 

Terrorists are parasites who thrive on the fear they create.

But we do not fear these men; for that is what they are. They have no extra-human powers. They breathe as we do. They bleed as we do. They die as we do.

We must not be intimidated by acts, no matter how violent, that we might be turned from the path that we know in our hearts to be right. We cannot allow our enemies to dictate our choice of friends and allies. We must realize that our enemies have taken up arms against us not merely because of their hatred toward those smaller nations with whom we have allied ourselves, but because they are fundamentally opposed to, and feel threatened by, our entire way of life.

Balanced between the twin towers of patriotism and jingoism is the thin veneer of common sense, which even the simplest animals comprehend. Those who are attacked must attack in kind, lest they be viewed as perpetual prey.

There are no civilians in war. Innocent people will die. Innocent people have died. The world, nation by nation, individual by individual, must stand declared to be our allies or, if not, then our enemies. And let them be judged not only by their present declarations, but by their past words and deeds or silence and inaction. There can be no question of neutrality when faced with the fate of civilization itself.

And make no mistake, that is what is at stake. We face nothing less than a battle between the forces of civilization and the forces of anarchy.

Our enemies are not cowards; they are, in fact, devoid of fear. They are not ignorant; they are, in fact, deviously shrewd and calculating. But while they may rationalize their actions, they themselves are not rational.

They are religious zealots, who believe their actions are divinely inspired, who believe their faith and customs and beliefs are the only valid ones, and who believe death in pursuit of their goal guarantees them an eternal afterlife.

Therefore, they cannot be reasoned with, for reason requires rationality. They cannot be negotiated with, for negotiation requires compromise and fanaticism knows no compromise. They cannot co-exist, for their fanaticism demands hegemony. They can only be annihilated, for the only alternative is our own eventual annihilation at their hands.

Friday, November 24, 2017

The Real Turkeys

“I see turkeys… they’re everywhere!” Sorry, I must be channeling the holiday spirit of Haley Joel Osment. But I really do see turkeys everywhere, and I’m not talking about the kind stuffed on your dining room table. No, I’m referring to the taller ones flocking to stores and malls on this Black Friday, which in typical Wal-Mart fashion has been rolled back to 6 AM Thursday.

Otherwise (presumably) rational people line up six or eight hours before the stores open to take advantage of discounted merchandise, or expecting to be one of the six customers in the line to obtain a store’s Door-Buster Special (amazingly, even though the store has only six in stock, the 100th person in line still believes he or she has a chance to snag the item advertised at a ridiculously low price). These same people, who on Election Day refuse to wait 90 minutes on a voting line to decide the fate of our democracy, will gladly arrive hours before dawn and stand in the freezing cold of winter, rain, or snow for a 25% discount (remember, the Door-Busters are gone in the first three minutes) off the regularly inflated price of an item they don’t need.

If they had needed it, they would’ve bought it long before Thanksgiving. No, Black Friday sales, which focus heavily on electronic toys (from TVs to iPads), are hyping impulse items mass-market retailers want consumers to think they need. It’s all about getting consumers to think they need a product they really don’t, and then each year convincing them to upgrade to a newer or larger version. Bought the 52-inch TV last year? That was so 2013; you need a 60-inch this year. Already have an iPhone 5? The new iPhone 6 comes in gold.

The truth is, you really don’t need any of the things the marketers and retailers are hawking this weekend. What you need, is to understand the difference between a “need” and a “want”. A need is something critical that you cannot live without (food, water, a roof over your head). A want is something you desire (a PlayStation, a cruise, a yacht) but can live without.

If you need something, there are two ways to buy it: with money you have, or with credit (borrowing the money with the intent to pay it back later). If you want something, but do not need it, then you should only buy it with the money you have, and not go into debt to purchase something you don’t really need. If you don’t have enough money to buy it (which is another way of saying you can’t afford it), then you should not buy it. What you should do is put away a small amount each month towards savings and use those earmarked funds to purchase your “wants” without having to go into debt to a credit card company at 29% interest.

It’s a trap, because once those credit card statements arrive in your mail in January, you’ll be paying interest at usurious rates on your Black Friday impulse purchases through the next Turkey Day. There’s even a holiday for consumers who fall for this trap. It’s celebrated every April 1. Can you guess its name?

Thursday, November 23, 2017

If Turkeys Could Speak

As you sit down for dinner this Thanksgiving, pause for a moment to ponder the meaning of the holiday. If you are a Millennial, a recent Pew poll suggests 40 percent of you are clueless as to why we should be thankful this day.

One of the first Thanksgiving celebrations occurred in the American colonies, in Plymouth Colony (now Southeast Massachusetts) in 1621 when the Pilgrims shared an autumn harvest feast with the Wampanoag Indians. The Indians brought deer, not turkey, so venison was the main course. But the first true Thanksgiving came two years later, when the Pilgrims’ prayers were answered: rain brought an end to the drought that was destroying their crops, and Captain Miles Standish landed bearing new and much needed supplies.

But who were these Pilgrims who had settled the Plymouth Colony? They were men and women fleeing religious persecution by the English Crown, emigrating first to the Netherlands and then to the American colonies. They sought freedom of religion, which encompasses two other freedoms: the right to express ones’ self and the right to gather with others who share this expression. A century and a half later, the American colonists upon declaring their independence from England would consider all three rights to be necessary, fundamental freedoms and combine them in the First Amendment to the new nation’s Constitution.

The First Amendment is arguably more important and essential to democracy than the other nine amendments comprising the Bill of Rights or even the Constitution itself. It’s all about freedom of expression. It guarantees it through what you say (freedom of speech), what you write (freedom of the press), what you believe and the practice of those beliefs (freedom of religion), and the right to share such expressions with others (freedom of assembly).

Of course, not everyone will agree with what you say, or write, or even how you express yourself. Some may even be offended. That is the cost of, and a necessary corollary of, free expression. While there is an explicit guarantee of the right to free speech in our nation’s Constitution, there is no corresponding right not to be offended by others. Democracy will survive, and even flourish, amidst offensive words – the most bountiful plants flourish when manure is heaped upon them. But democracy cannot survive when speech and other forms of expression are forbidden by the government.

That is why it is so shocking and downright frightening to read the results of the Pew poll in which 40 percent of Millennials – those aged 18-to-34 – say they want the government to censor statements that are offensive to minority groups. America was founded on the concept of fundamental freedoms, and that the government could not be allowed to censor its citizens, in part because the government was “of, by, and for the people.” We are not governed by a dictator or king’s edicts but rather by those we choose from among us. We are our government and therefore shall not censor ourselves. That’s what made America different from all the other nations from which its future citizens would emigrate. Once we allow the government to decide what we may or may not say, we have surrendered our democracy. Once we permit offensive speech to be proscribed, the next question becomes ‘Who decides which words or statements are deemed offensive?’ Our freedom decreases in direct proportion to the expansiveness of the definition of the word “offensive”.



Freedom of speech must not be curtailed in the name of political correctness. Americans should cherish the First Amendment and not carve it up along with their turkey.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

There Must Be Something in the Water

Did you know I had a blog before there were such things as blogs? Neither did I, yet before I became a reluctant blogger I tried two brief stints as an enthusiastic one. My first attempt was at the end of the last century (I’ve waited all my life to say that phrase) and was merely a column on my personal Web site (remember when people had personal Web pages in the days before Facebook and MySpace?). It was entitled “rAnts and Raves” because it had these cool JavaScript ants crawling across the Web page. I know, but it was 90s and the Internet was new.

I ran across several of these posts locked in stasis in a time capsule and I thought I would share them with you over the next few weeks. Think of it as summer reruns in the fall. My first thought as I reread these words I penned so long-ago was, Wow, the more things change the more they stay the same. Then I realized how far we have come. In this first post from 1999, a prominent white man was accused of abusing his position of authority and power to solicit sex from a 13-year-old girl; today, U.S. Senate candidate Judge Roy Moore of Alabama is accused of abusing his position of authority and power to solicit sex from a 14-year-old girl. Clearly, in the intervening 18 years the age of nonconsent has been raised from 13 to 14.


There Must Be Something in the Water

Thursday, September 23, 1999 - Have you noticed lately how people in positions of power and responsibility in both the corporate world and government have been saying and doing outrageous absurdities without the slightest thought as to the inappropriateness of their actions or the effects on the institutions they represent?

It seems to have begun when the president of the United States unzipped his pants for a dalliance with a girl young enough to be his daughter. To paraphrase Monica Clark, when we elected him we knew he was horny; we didn’t know he was stupid. How can someone spend his whole life working to rise to the most powerful position in the world and then blow it (no pun intended) so stupidly?

You would think that people who work so hard to achieve the pinnacle of success would exercise a modicum of common sense when it come to their comments or actions. Not so, apparently. Last week, Patrick Naughton, head of the Walt Disney Company’s Web sites, was arrested and charged with using the Internet to solicit sex with a 13-year-old girl. Let me rephrase that: this guy’s job is to make both the Internet and the world’s largest children’s entertainment company look good, so what does he do?

Now consider the comments made this week by two men seeking the U.S. presidency. Pat Buchanan stated America should not have entered World War II to fight Hitler. If he were president – and he’s trying to be – he would have let Hitler conquer Europe and complete his genocide. Meanwhile, former P.O.W. Sen. John McCain was quoted as having been “outraged and deeply hurt” by Buchanan's remarks, while himself quipping to reporters that “the reason Chelsea Clinton is so ugly is because her mother is Janet Reno and her father is Hilary Clinton.”

Today, the NASDAQ suffered its fourth largest point drop in history after comments from Microsoft President Steven Balmer, who told reporters he thought the technology sector was overvalued, along with the price of his company’s stock. “There’s such an overvaluation of tech stocks it’s absurd,” he told a conference of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. So the man who is paid (some would say absurdly overpaid – Balmer is No. 4 on the Forbes 500 list with a net worth of $23 billion) to promote his company tells a press conference his company’s stock is absurdly overvalued.

So what is going on? Is there something in the drinking water making top executives and national leaders loony? How ironic that George C. Scott died today. I guess his character in Dr. Strangelove was right all along.


Friday, November 10, 2017

The Talking Fish

On the radio today, I heard about a filmmaker who devised an idea for a documentary: he would go door to door and film people’s responses to one scenario. What if you found a magical talking fish that could grant you three wishes before you released it? What would you wish for?

Of course, this is merely a variation of the Aladdin’s lamp tale from the Arabian Nights. On the other hand, it also recalls W.W. Jacob’s cautionary tale of “The Monkey’s Paw” that warns to be careful what you wish for. Or as a lawyer would put it, draft your wishes carefully to consider all the possible loopholes and save the last wish in case you need to undo the first two.

But my reaction on hearing the question was visceral, without thought or consideration. I immediately knew what my wishes would be, in order of priority. But first, what would yours be? Go on, write them down. I’ll wait. I’ll meet you back at the next paragraph.

Are you back? Got your list? Good. Here were my three wishes, off the top of my head: (1) To rid the world of hatred; (2) To rid the world of illness; and (3) To be reunited with all my loved ones I’ve lost. I probably might have made different choices as a child, and again as a young man. I think age plays a role in one’s perspective. So does a degree of selfishness. Perhaps more than ever in my lifetime I see so much hatred in the world today. It’s the cause of much persecution and most wars. In my own selfish way, I’d like to spare my family and friends, and myself from being touched by this senseless violence. And why not extend that protection to everyone else, too? Similarly, as I age, I see more of the debilitating and painful effects of illness afflicting so many, including myself. I’ve spent time at cancer hospitals watching not only adults, but young children, walking the halls or dining in the cafeteria in hospital gowns, their hair long gone and their eyes staring back with a gaze hinting at the unimaginable suffering they are enduring. However, illness affects not only them but their healthy family members as well: the mothers and father, siblings, husbands or wives… the toll it takes on them is equally devastating. Most selfishly of all, I miss my departed loved ones: both human and pets. They had been my nurturers and support system throughout the years, and the source of constant unconditional love — the nutrient we all need to survive and prosper.

No amount of money could purchase my wishes. Henry David Thoreau wrote: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” No one aspires to a life of mediocrity. We all wish to accomplish something meaningful with our allotted lifetimes. Many of us would like to leave the world a better place than we found it. So that’s how I would explain my wishes to the talking fish.

“If wishes were fishes…” But of course, magical talking fish don’t exist.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Really? You’re Famous?

Other than when I’m interviewing them, I don’t pay much attention to celebrities. I’ve often said I wouldn’t recognize most famous people if I bumped into them on the street. It turns out that’s true.

Many years ago, I was at the San Diego Comic-Con and I had reached the point where I needed a break from the hustle and bustle so I wandered away from the throng over to the hotel bar. I ended up passing the next 25 minutes downing scotch and sodas with a group of four or five other jovial men. I can’t recall what we talked about, not because of the passage of time or the abundance of liquor but simply because it was the sort of small talk one makes with strangers so that one doesn’t have to drink alone. There was a particularly gregarious young man, a few years older than myself, seated next to me who was really fun to talk to. Honestly, I felt as if we had all known each other for years and we were drinking at the local watering hole, and not strangers at a hotel bar on the other side of the country.

Eventually, I rose from my bar stool to return to the pandemonium of the convention, having been appropriately immunized with the sufficient number of shots of scotch. I said my goodbyes, waved nonchalantly to my drinking buds and headed back. I had gone about 10 feet when a young man stepped up excitedly to me and asked, “Do you know who that guy you were talking to is?”

I shrugged, slightly embarrassed at not being able to remember the name of someone to whom I’d been speaking for nearly half an hour. “Mike? Mark?” After all, what did it matter? I would speak to hundreds of people by the end of the convention and remember few, if any, of their names a day later.

“That’s Mark Hamill,” the young man said.

I remembered having watched a TV show as a kid starring a young actor named Mark Hamill and now that he mentioned it I could see the resemblance, although he was now much older. “The actor from The Texas Wheelers?” I asked. From what I later learned, I was probably about one of a dozen television viewers who had watched the show when it aired on ABC in 1974.

He looked at me incredulously. Obviously, he had never seen The Texas Wheelers but he had seen the movie Mark Hamill was cast in three years later; an obscure science-fiction film called Star Wars. At first, I couldn’t see the resemblance. Hamill was about my height, and no one has ever mistaken me for tall or anything near it. Luke Skywalker towered over the movie screen as a larger-than-life figure. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that had been simply the illusion of Hollywood.

A few years later, I was back in San Diego staying at the Marriott Marina Hotel with my full complement of pets in tow, having driven cross-country in a minivan. I learned San Diego had a doggie bakery that prepared confectionaries edible for canines so I decided to drive my Siberian Husky and my Weimaraner there one morning. What I didn’t know was that the hotel, which is adjacent to the convention center, allowed non-guests to park in its parking lot, even though the guests were paying an exorbitant daily parking fee. When I returned from the doggie bakery with my dogs I discovered the lot was full. That made me quite upset, since I had paid for parking space, so I parked in front of the lobby and brought both dogs inside and stood on line at one of the concierge desks to complain. The front desk was L-shaped and there were several lines, as this was an extremely large hotel.

My Siberian Husky became excited when she saw a woman standing in line on the other side of the L. I didn’t know why she would become so excited over a stranger until I realized who the stranger was. My Husky loved to watch television but only shows that featured animals; when humans came on, she would lose all interest and turn away from the screen. I’d often keep the TV turned to Animal Planet and at night we would watch Lassie. It was then I realized my Husky had somehow recognized June Lockhart, Lassie’s “mother” (Timmy’s mother, if we’re being technical).

The couple behind me noticed how excited my dog was, so I explained the situation to them. We had a good laugh about it and they complimented me on how beautiful both my dogs were. They told me they wished they had known the hotel accepted pets because they would have brought their dog. We talked about dogs and other things for about 20 minutes or more while we waited in the slow-moving line, and the entire time we spoke I couldn’t shake the feeling the man I was speaking to was familiar. I was certain I had seen him before, so I steered the conversation around hometowns and such but they were not from my state. Then I noticed he had a portion of a name tag jutting out from beneath his lapel. I strained my eyes, trying to decipher the writing whenever his jacket shifted, without appearing too conspicuous. Eventually, I could make out his full name and I knew immediately why he seemed familiar. After all, this was a man I had grown up watching on television. His hair had begun to gray and his face was lined with deep wrinkles but that was to be expected after 30 years. The name tag on the lapel of the man with whom I had been chatting so amicably about dogs read Walter Koenig. I had been talking to Ensign Chekov, who had appeared each week on my family’s 19-inch black-and-white Emerson TV set on Star Trek.

Back in the late 80s or early 90s, I was binge watching some of the early Dark Shadows episodes on VHS – the black and white ones introducing the 10-year-old ghost Sarah Collins, who had these haunting eyes. The next weekend, I attended  a Dark Shadows Festival in New York and received an invitation to a party at Studio 54. Even though it was past its heyday, I figured I couldn’t leave the Big Apple without checking Studio 54 off my bucket list so I popped in. Had I been expecting to see any of the brilliant Sy Thomasoff sets from the show I would’ve been disappointed; the only indication it had once been a soundstage (aside from its odd shape) was the architecture of the rafters above.

So I mingled, feeling a bit out of place as a tourist alone in New York City. Then, I saw a young woman my age (as I said, this was decades ago) who looked familiar. Naturally, I approached her (she had some friends around her) and told her she looked familiar, asking if we had met before. It must have seemed like the lamest pickup line possible, and she replied she didn’t think so; but I was certain I had seen her before so I pressed on. “Are you from Florida?” I asked. “Have you ever been to Florida? Where did you go to school? Work?” I knew I recognized her but the more questions I asked, the more I saw that “Omigod, he’s a stalker” look in her eyes, and her friends were giving me dirty looks, so I slowly backed off, hoping to lose myself in the crowd.

An even younger woman, who apparently had been standing behind me, approached me and asked, “Do you know who she is?” I replied I thought I knew her but apparently I didn’t, although her face was so familiar deep down I was certain we had crossed paths. The girl told me, “That’s Sharon Smyth. She was one of the stars on Dark Shadows.” I explained that wasn’t possible because she was my age and all the stars on my favorite childhood television show had been a good 20 years older than me. “Not her,” the girl replied. “She played Sarah, the 10-year-old ghost.” Immediately, I realized I had recognized the same haunting eyes at Studio 54 that I had been seeing for hours every day on television before coming to New York. Oops.

Flash forward about another two decades. I’d been invited to spend the week at Seaview Terrace in Newport, Rhode Island, the original “Collinwood” mansion used in the photo props for the Dark Shadows television series. The mansion was in need of repair and as part of the fundraising process I did a special limited-edition print run of about 300 copies of a short story collection and donated it so that it could be sold with all the proceeds to go toward restoration of the mansion. I know there weren’t 300 guests there that week, so either they sold them all over time or there’s a box of my books sitting in the haunted attic of Collinwood guarded by its resident ghosts. I also agreed to read some excerpts and be available to sign books during the weekend. The first evening there was a cocktail party and a few people approached me for autographs, so I kept the pen in my hand. I turned and bumped into a woman, apologizing of course, and she saw me holding the pen. She asked if I wanted her autograph. I replied, rather awkwardly, “Actually I was just signing autographs. Who are you?”

She introduced herself as Sharon Smyth, “I played the little girl Sarah on Dark Shadows.” This time there was nowhere to run and no large crowd to fade into. Oops again.

So I apologized profusely, first for not having recognized who she was, and then retroactively for having recognized her two decades earlier at Studio 54 and coming off as an obsessive stalker, LOL. A few days later, several of us attended the wonderful Judi Dench movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Sharon and I sat together to watch the film. All was forgiven, although she hasn’t invited me to another movie since.  ;­)

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Halloween Treat - The Pandora Chronicles


A special Halloween treat! Read the lead-in to the Fangs & Fur fantasy series free!

Then buy your copies of Flashbacks (Book 1) and Nightstalkers (Book 2)!

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Curmudgeon-at-Large

Today is my birthday and I have reached the age where I have officially become a curmudgeon. I was seven years old the first time I heard the word curmudgeon, or at least saw it in print. I used to read TV Guide every week, back in the days when it was an outstanding publication, not a ghost of its former self. Each week there was a one-page column by critic Cleveland Amory. In addition to being a television critic, Amory was an author, reporter, commentator, and animal rights activist. I would grow up to have much in common with him (ironically, he died on my birthday in 1998). But when I was seven, he was a grown man and we had completely different tastes in television. There were two things of which I could be certain when turning to Cleveland Amory’s review page in TV Guide each week: first, I would completely disagree with his opinion of whatever television show he was reviewing; and second, his weekly column would consistently be the best written feature in the magazine. One thing Amory taught me is that well-written prose can be entertaining and informative even if you don’t agree with the writer’s premise.

Amory had the same mixture of snark and ballsiness to which I’ve aspired most of my life. When the American Legion planned a “bunny bop” rabbit-killing contest he used his position as a commentator on NBC’s Today show to propose a hunting club where hunters would be tracked and killed for sport, arguing killing hunters in cold blood would be humane because of their overpopulation. He was armed with rapier wit and no reluctance to use it. The first time I encountered his use of the word curmudgeon may have been in one of his TV Guide reviews but it was not his only use of the phrase. Amory also wrote a column for the Saturday Review entitled “Curmudgeon-at-Large” and many years later two books entitled The Trouble With Nowadays: A Curmudgeon Strikes Back  (1979) and The Cat and the Curmudgeon (1990). I immediately liked the word, probably because my seven-year-old self had never heard it before and had no idea what it meant. Fortunately, Amory went on to define it in that TV Guide article as “a grumpy old man”.

At seven, the idea of becoming a grumpy old man – or any sort of old man – seemed too distant to imagine. After all, I somersaulted my way across the living room; old men were hunched over, wrinkled, covered with liver spots, and walked with canes. I did a few more somersaults and an aborted cartwheel attempt, somewhat jealous that Cleveland Amory got to be a curmudgeon and I couldn’t.


But now I have become one. All things come, apparently, to those who wait. I haven’t yet started yelling at kids to get off my lawn, but I do notice that – as with other older people I’ve observed through the years – as we have more years behind us than ahead of us we realize the value of each moment wasted and we have exceedingly less patience for those who would waste even a few minutes of our valuable time remaining. As advancing age brings us closer to death’s door, which could swing open at any moment, we can no longer justify standing in long lines or waiting interminably “on hold” on the other end of the phone. We spent our lives waiting our turn, and now it is our turn because we simply don’t have that much longer to wait. Younger people don’t understand this, so they see us as old and grumpy, which I suppose in some respects we are. But age has its privileges and one of those is laying claim to the label of curmudgeon.
Published Today!



A gallon of gas cost 60 cents — an outrageously high price in the inflationary mid-1970s. The Vietnam War had just ended, and the first videotape recorders were appearing in Japan. Bell-bottoms and teardrop eyeglasses were in style. Fugitive newspaper heiress Patty Hearst — who had joined her kidnappers in robbing a bank — had just been captured. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak would soon form Apple Computer Company. A year after that, the lights would go out in Manhattan for 25 hours. The following year, Egypt and Israel would sign an historic peace treaty. These were the newspaper headlines of the times. Against this backdrop, a teenage reporter sought his own headlines, interviewing the famous and the powerful, seeking new stories to tell while in pursuit of “the scoop”: the Holy Grail of all reporters. Starting at the age of 16, armed with only a pencil, a borrowed camera, and his trusty typewriter, this intrepid “cub” reporter covered some of the greatest stories and people of the era. This is his story... and some of the stories he wrote. 

What will you find in Cub: The Story of a Boy Reporter? In addition to some entertaining autobiographical anecdotes of my brief stint as a “cub” reporter (from college press and country journalism to turning down CNN), and contemporaneous articles I wrote during that period (like the inauguration of President Jimmy Carter in Washington, DC and the Spenkelink execution in Florida), Cub: The Story of a Boy Reporter also includes my interviews with and/or photographs of:

Reubin Askew (Florida governor)
F. Lee Bailey (famed criminal defense attorney)
Griffin Bell (U.S. attorney general)
Leigh Brackett (science fiction and mystery author)
Jimmy Carter (U.S. president)
Lin Carter (Conan author)
Steve Cauthen (Triple Crown-winning jockey)
Lawton Chiles (U.S. senator and Florida governor)
Midge Costanza (Carter White House aide)
Alan Dean Foster (science fiction author)
David Frost (British television personality and interviewer)
L. Sprague de Camp (Conan author)
Zsa Zsa Gabor (actress)
Dick Giordano (comic book artist)
Valerie Harper (actress)
Leon Jaworski (Watergate prosecutor)
Hamilton Jordan (Carter White House chief of staff)
Jeanette Kahn (DC Comics publisher)
Gabe Kaplan (comedian and star of Welcome Back, Kotter)
David Kennerly (Ford White House photographer)
Coretta Scott King (widow of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)
Charles Kirbo (Georgia attorney, confidant and advisor to President Jimmy Carter)
Jack Kirby (comic book artist)
The Amazing Kreskin (George Joseph Kresge, a famous mentalist)
Gary Kurtz (Star Wars producer)
R.A. Lafferty (science fiction author)
Keith Laumer (science fiction author)
Stan Lee (Marvel Comics writer and publisher)
Barry Manilow (singer-songwriter)
Eugene McCarthy (U.S. senator and presidential candidate)
Walter Mondale (U.S. vice-president)
Martin Mull (comedian and actor)
Noel Neil (“Lois Lane” in The Adventures of Superman)
Jody Powell (Carter White House press secretary)
Vincent Price (actor)
Helen Reddy (Australian singer)
Gene Roddenberry (Star Trek creator)
Robert Silverberg (science fiction author)
Jim Steranko (comic book artist)
George Takei (actor)
Jack Williamson (science fiction author)
Mike Zeck (comic book artist)
Roger Zelazny (poet and science fiction author)
Anthony Zerbe (actor)

If you’re a fan of television, movies, comic books, science fiction, politics, or the craft of writing then you will find something of interest in Cub: The Story of a Boy Reporter.

Publication Date: October 14, 2017






Thursday, October 12, 2017

Freedom Isn’t Free

The bravest thing I’ve ever seen was when an ordinary citizen in support of democracy and in open defiance of the Communist Chinese government stood up to a tank in Tiananmen Square. Alone and unarmed, in a tense situation in which the government had turned weapons of war on its own citizens to quell dissent, this one man blocked the tank’s path. The military leaders didn’t know what to do. They realized the entire world was watching and they knew what the optics of a 48-ton tank crushing a man on live international television would look like to the world. Finally, the tank commander blinked first, and the tank pivoted to swerve around the man. The man then rushed in front of the tank again.

One man can make a difference. Imagine if he had been joined by millions of others, not just the thousands protesting beside him, but millions willing to actually put their lives on the line for democracy and freedom.

Freedom isn’t free. No one gives you freedom: not the government, not the Founding Fathers, not the truisms you studied in history books in school. It has to be earned, and not just once but repeatedly like a license that must be renewed. Earning means you have to do something, not just sit on your ass, and sometimes it even requires sacrifice. Our generation has forgotten that. Ironically, we’ve had the luxury to forget because of the sacrifices of previous generations.

In the words of Janis Joplin, “Freedom isn’t free. You’ve got to pay the price, you’ve got to sacrifice for your liberty.”

It is shameful that members of Congress, and other employees of the federal government, all of whom swore an oath to protect democracy and the Constitution of the United States, are standing by doing nothing while the Constitution is being violated on a daily basis by a mentally unhinged man in the employ of a foreign hostile government.

The rest of us didn’t take an oath of office to protect the Constitution, but we did grow up pledging allegiance every day “to the flag and to the Republic" it represents. The future of that Republic, and democracy itself, is in jeopardy. One man cannot stop what is happening in Washington, DC. Those of us who speak out on public forums are standing in front of the tank. But I have to wonder, as I did watching that brave man in Tiananmen Square back in 1989, where are all the other people? Where are the ordinary citizens willing to stand up and march to Washington, not in protest, but to physically remove any and all threats to democracy? Drag them right out of office and don’t let them back in. 
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What will you find in Cub: The Story of a Boy Reporter? In addition to some entertaining autobiographical anecdotes of my brief stint as a “cub” reporter (from college press and country journalism to turning down CNN), and contemporaneous articles I wrote during that period (like the inauguration of President Jimmy Carter in Washington, DC and the Spenkelink execution in Florida), Cub: The Story of a Boy Reporter also includes my interviews with and/or photographs of:

Reubin Askew (Florida governor)
F. Lee Bailey (famed criminal defense attorney)
Griffin Bell (U.S. attorney general)
Leigh Brackett (science fiction and mystery author)
Jimmy Carter (U.S. president)
Lin Carter (Conan author)
Steve Cauthen (Triple Crown-winning jockey)
Lawton Chiles (U.S. senator and Florida governor)
Midge Costanza (Carter White House aide)
Alan Dean Foster (science fiction author)
David Frost (British television personality and interviewer)
L. Sprague de Camp (Conan author)
Zsa Zsa Gabor (actress)
Dick Giordano (comic book artist)
Valerie Harper (actress)
Leon Jaworski (Watergate prosecutor)
Hamilton Jordan (Carter White House chief of staff)
Jeanette Kahn (DC Comics publisher)
Gabe Kaplan (comedian and star of Welcome Back, Kotter)
David Kennerly (Ford White House photographer)
Coretta Scott King (widow of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)
Charles Kirbo (Georgia attorney, confidant and advisor to President Jimmy Carter)
Jack Kirby (comic book artist)
The Amazing Kreskin (George Joseph Kresge, a famous mentalist)
Gary Kurtz (Star Wars producer)
R.A. Lafferty (science fiction author)
Keith Laumer (science fiction author)
Stan Lee (Marvel Comics writer and publisher)
Barry Manilow (singer-songwriter)
Eugene McCarthy (U.S. senator and presidential candidate)
Walter Mondale (U.S. vice-president)
Martin Mull (comedian and actor)
Noel Neil (“Lois Lane” in The Adventures of Superman)
Jody Powell (Carter White House press secretary)
Vincent Price (actor)
Helen Reddy (Australian singer)
Gene Roddenberry (Star Trek creator)
Robert Silverberg (science fiction author)
Jim Steranko (comic book artist)
George Takei (actor)
Jack Williamson (science fiction author)
Mike Zeck (comic book artist)
Roger Zelazny (poet and science fiction author)
Anthony Zerbe (actor)

If you’re a fan of television, movies, comic books, science fiction, politics, or the craft of writing then you will find something of interest in Cub: The Story of a Boy Reporter.

Publication Date: October 14, 2017

Saturday, October 7, 2017

I have three novels nominated for awards at the Imaginarium Convention in Kentucky this weekend.

Flashbacks (Fangs & Fur, Book 1) is up for BEST FANTASY NOVEL

The Tomorrow Paradox  (The Adventures of Mackenzie Mortimer, Book 2) is up for BEST SF NOVEL

Cops and Robbers is up for BEST GENERAL FICTION NOVEL

A lot of stiff competition, but always nice to be recognized regardless of the outcome.

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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Red Hot Chili Peppers in a 401(k)

I was in the mall last night when I got hungry and decided to stop at the food court. I was tempted by the Chick-fil-A stand but there was no way I was going to pay $10 for eight measly chicken nuggets. Instead, I stopped at McDonald’s on the way home and bought a dozen chicken nuggets for $2.50. The cashier asked what type of sauce I wanted to go with my order. “What are my choices?” I asked. She rattled off a list of names and I chose the last one, out of curiosity because I’d never heard of it. 

It turned out to be a good choice. It was made with cucumber and chili peppers, hot and tangy, just the way I like it. The next day, I tried to find the sauce in the supermarket but I couldn’t remember the name. Finally, I returned home and dug the plastic dipping sauce container out of the trash and learned I was hunting for sriracha sauce. Or more specifically, sriracha sauce added to McDonald’s Big Mac sauce, since sriracha was merely the main ingredient in the sauce I had tasted.

So I turned to the Internet, which led me to eBay where I found plastic dipping containers of McDonald’s Sriracha Mac Sauce™ for sale at surprisingly high prices: the first ad I stumbled upon offered a single container for $10,000. I carefully washed and pressed the lid of my previously discarded Sriracha Mac Sauce™ and compared it to the pictures on eBay. They were identical. I stared into the empty container realizing with dismay that my previous night’s $2.50 dinner may have been the most expensive meal I’ve ever eaten.

I had no idea why someone was offering a dipping sauce container for $10,000. I assumed the seller must have been a flake, but then I saw other listings from different sellers, albeit much more reasonably priced, ranging from $75 to $3,000. Something was going on here. So I went back to McDonald’s tonight and dug out the three dollars I had squirreled away to buy a lottery ticket (a.k.a. my retirement fund) and ordered the Chicken McNuggets. “Oh, and by the way, I’d like some of that Sriracha sauce.” The cashier brought me a brown bag of McNuggets. I gave him the friendliest smile I could muster without looking like I was coming on to him. “Could I have a few more Sriracha Mac Sauces™?” I asked, innocently.

So now I’m driving home with $60,000 of McDonald’s Sriracha Mac Sauce™ in a little brown bag, eager to log onto eBay and fund my retirement. Of course I’ll have to forgo the lottery ticket I was going to buy, but even if this doesn’t work out I can still eat my retirement dreams.



Friday, September 8, 2017

Order Your Copy of Issues in Internet Law!

Now available as an electronic download to your computer, laptop, iPhone, iPad, Kindle, Android devices, Chromebook, and other e-readers! Save up to $10! Download the 11th edition of Issues in Internet Law: Society, Technology, and the Law from VitalSource !

The 11th edition of Issues In Internet Law: Society, Technology, and the Law has been updated for 2017 with the latest cases and trends in Internet Law. Of particular note are major changes in the areas of online privacy, and the European Union.

Topics include:

Privacy: Invasion of Privacy, Public Records, Workplace Privacy, Employer & ISP Monitoring, Data Collection, Data Retention, Data Breaches, the Right to be Forgotten, E-Mail & Chat Room Privacy, Web Site Privacy Policies, Behavioral Marketing, Flash Cookies, Device Fingerprinting, Privacy & Children, Metadata, Border Searches, FISA & the USA PATRIOT Act, the NSA, FISA Court, PRISM, XKeyscore, EU Privacy Directives;

Free Speech: Defamation, SLAPPs, Gripe Sites, Revenge Porn Sites, Mugshot Sites, Blogs & Vlogs, Obscenity & Pornography, Harassment & Hate Speech, Prior Restraint, Repression, Student Speech, CDA, Anonymous Speech, Commercial Speech, Expressive Conduct; "Fake News";

Social Media: Misuse, Ownership, Coerced Access, the Courts;

Cybercrimes: Spam, Phishing, Identity Theft, Spyware & Malware, Cyberstalking, Cyberbullying, Computer Trespass, Wardriving, Virtual Crime;

Intellectual Property: Copyright, Trademark, Patent, Trade Secrets, Creative Commons, Linking, Framing, File-Sharing, Fair Use, Public Domain, Work-Made-For-Hire, DMCA, VARA, Domain Name Disputes, Keyword Advertising, America Invents Act;

Business & the Internet: Internet Taxation, Internet Interstate Commerce, Web Contracts, e-Discovery, Corporate Securities, Crowdfunding, Reg A, Reg D;

European Union: Directives and Regulations; the General Data Protection Regulation; the Police and Criminal Justice Data Protection Directive; the Privacy Shield;

Also:Cloud Computing; Digital Currency; Right of Publicity; the Internet of Things; Web Accessibility; Net Neutrality; Online Reputation Management; Social Media Monitoring; Podcasts; Geofiltering; Digital Journalism; Hyper Local Web Sites, Digital Estate Planning; Sexting; Facial Recognition; E-Books and many more subjects.

Concisely written and covering a broad range of topics, this is the most current book of its kind!


Reviews:

“Concise overview of Internet-related legal issues.” (Law Library Journal)

“Although it deals with the complex legal issues surrounding the Internet, it is written in layman’s terms and illustrated with ‘ripped from the headlines’ court cases.” (Amazon)

“The concepts and issues are presented in a way that is sufficiently rigorous but very easy to read, making the book one I can recommend.” (Computing Reviews) * “A valuable resource, well-researched and well presented.”

“I want a copy on my bookshelf always within arm’s reach.”

“The anecdotal nature made it easy to understand the underlying legal concepts.”

“It is imperative that schools adopt this book in a way which would help young students gain knowledge about the various issues involving the Internet.” (Indian Journal of Intellectual Property Law)

“Issues in Internet Law: Society, Technology, and the Law will be a welcome addition in both academic and public law libraries… It should be acquired by libraries for its concise overview of Internet-related legal issues.” (Law Library Journal)

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Voyage of Discovery

With a new school year approaching, this is an appropriate excerpt from my book, Collected Essays of a Reluctant Blogger:



When we gaze into a classroom, we see the faces of 30 young students endowed with differing innate abilities and skills. They were not all designed to work the same way. Our educational system teaches them as if they were monolithic, or at least fungible entities. But they are not. One might be good with his hands, capable of creating fine pottery or crafts; a second might be a thinker; a third, a strategic planner; yet another, an artist or poet. One might be good with numbers, while another able to conceptualize complex theories.

It is distressing to see our leaders place their entire educational emphasis on science and math, ignoring the importance of history, writing (communication and expression), philosophy, and the arts (art, music, and literature). A society needs citizens grounded in a sense of history, for those ignorant of the past are doomed to repeat its errors. Those citizens need the ability to communicate and express their thoughts and ideas in an articulate, cogent manner, free from emotional argument ad hominem. And as we have learned from the relics of all great civilizations -- from Ancient Greece, Egypt, and Rome forward -- societies need beauty. From the Great Pyramids, to Michelangelo’s “The David”, to William Shakespeare’s oeuvre, a civilization is inspired by, and defined by, its art.

Science and math have their place. Societies have always needed ship builders and navigators, be it the Greeks to design and pilot their penteconters; the Spanish, their galleons; or the Chinese, their junks. From galleys to spacecrafts, math and science have played an integral role in man’s ability to free himself from landlocked constraints and set forth on voyages of exploration. But while important, science and math are not the only disciplines our children must be taught.

Civilizations need thinkers. Philosophers. Individuals who contemplate, as well as those who plan. The de-emphasis of the disciplines of philosophy, history, and the arts, in both our schools and our culture, explains the sorry state of our society today and the Weltschmerz that permeates us. We live in a culture of corporate greed, where individualistic selfishness has replaced altruism, idealism, and principles. But now more than ever, we need thinkers and philosophers to express their thoughts and communicate their ideas, as much or more than we need a nation of scientists and mathematicians, because while it’s important to build the ships that will take us across vast oceans or galaxies, it's more important to know where we're going and why.


Friday, September 1, 2017

Order Your Copy of Issues in Internet Law!

Now available as an electronic download to your computer, laptop, iPhone, iPad, Kindle, Android devices, Chromebook, and other e-readers! Save up to $10! Download the 11th edition of Issues in Internet Law: Society, Technology, and the Law from VitalSource !

The 11th edition of Issues In Internet Law: Society, Technology, and the Law has been updated for 2017 with the latest cases and trends in Internet Law. Of particular note are major changes in the areas of online privacy, and the European Union.

Topics include:

Privacy: Invasion of Privacy, Public Records, Workplace Privacy, Employer & ISP Monitoring, Data Collection, Data Retention, Data Breaches, the Right to be Forgotten, E-Mail & Chat Room Privacy, Web Site Privacy Policies, Behavioral Marketing, Flash Cookies, Device Fingerprinting, Privacy & Children, Metadata, Border Searches, FISA & the USA PATRIOT Act, the NSA, FISA Court, PRISM, XKeyscore, EU Privacy Directives;

Free Speech: Defamation, SLAPPs, Gripe Sites, Revenge Porn Sites, Mugshot Sites, Blogs & Vlogs, Obscenity & Pornography, Harassment & Hate Speech, Prior Restraint, Repression, Student Speech, CDA, Anonymous Speech, Commercial Speech, Expressive Conduct; "Fake News";

Social Media: Misuse, Ownership, Coerced Access, the Courts;

Cybercrimes: Spam, Phishing, Identity Theft, Spyware & Malware, Cyberstalking, Cyberbullying, Computer Trespass, Wardriving, Virtual Crime;

Intellectual Property: Copyright, Trademark, Patent, Trade Secrets, Creative Commons, Linking, Framing, File-Sharing, Fair Use, Public Domain, Work-Made-For-Hire, DMCA, VARA, Domain Name Disputes, Keyword Advertising, America Invents Act;

Business & the Internet: Internet Taxation, Internet Interstate Commerce, Web Contracts, e-Discovery, Corporate Securities, Crowdfunding, Reg A, Reg D;

European Union: Directives and Regulations; the General Data Protection Regulation; the Police and Criminal Justice Data Protection Directive; the Privacy Shield;

Also:Cloud Computing; Digital Currency; Right of Publicity; the Internet of Things; Web Accessibility; Net Neutrality; Online Reputation Management; Social Media Monitoring; Podcasts; Geofiltering; Digital Journalism; Hyper Local Web Sites, Digital Estate Planning; Sexting; Facial Recognition; E-Books and many more subjects.

Concisely written and covering a broad range of topics, this is the most current book of its kind!


Reviews:

“Concise overview of Internet-related legal issues.” (Law Library Journal)

“Although it deals with the complex legal issues surrounding the Internet, it is written in layman’s terms and illustrated with ‘ripped from the headlines’ court cases.” (Amazon)

“The concepts and issues are presented in a way that is sufficiently rigorous but very easy to read, making the book one I can recommend.” (Computing Reviews) * “A valuable resource, well-researched and well presented.”

“I want a copy on my bookshelf always within arm’s reach.”

“The anecdotal nature made it easy to understand the underlying legal concepts.”

“It is imperative that schools adopt this book in a way which would help young students gain knowledge about the various issues involving the Internet.” (Indian Journal of Intellectual Property Law)

“Issues in Internet Law: Society, Technology, and the Law will be a welcome addition in both academic and public law libraries… It should be acquired by libraries for its concise overview of Internet-related legal issues.” (Law Library Journal)

Monday, August 28, 2017

Order Your Copy of Issues in Internet Law!

Now available as an electronic download to your computer, laptop, iPhone, iPad, Kindle, Android devices, Chromebook, and other e-readers! Save up to $10! Download the 11th edition of Issues in Internet Law: Society, Technology, and the Law from VitalSource !

The 11th edition of Issues In Internet Law: Society, Technology, and the Law has been updated for 2017 with the latest cases and trends in Internet Law. Of particular note are major changes in the areas of online privacy, and the European Union.

Topics include:

Privacy: Invasion of Privacy, Public Records, Workplace Privacy, Employer & ISP Monitoring, Data Collection, Data Retention, Data Breaches, the Right to be Forgotten, E-Mail & Chat Room Privacy, Web Site Privacy Policies, Behavioral Marketing, Flash Cookies, Device Fingerprinting, Privacy & Children, Metadata, Border Searches, FISA & the USA PATRIOT Act, the NSA, FISA Court, PRISM, XKeyscore, EU Privacy Directives;

Free Speech: Defamation, SLAPPs, Gripe Sites, Revenge Porn Sites, Mugshot Sites, Blogs & Vlogs, Obscenity & Pornography, Harassment & Hate Speech, Prior Restraint, Repression, Student Speech, CDA, Anonymous Speech, Commercial Speech, Expressive Conduct; "Fake News";

Social Media: Misuse, Ownership, Coerced Access, the Courts;

Cybercrimes: Spam, Phishing, Identity Theft, Spyware & Malware, Cyberstalking, Cyberbullying, Computer Trespass, Wardriving, Virtual Crime;

Intellectual Property: Copyright, Trademark, Patent, Trade Secrets, Creative Commons, Linking, Framing, File-Sharing, Fair Use, Public Domain, Work-Made-For-Hire, DMCA, VARA, Domain Name Disputes, Keyword Advertising, America Invents Act;

Business & the Internet: Internet Taxation, Internet Interstate Commerce, Web Contracts, e-Discovery, Corporate Securities, Crowdfunding, Reg A, Reg D;

European Union: Directives and Regulations; the General Data Protection Regulation; the Police and Criminal Justice Data Protection Directive; the Privacy Shield;

Also:Cloud Computing; Digital Currency; Right of Publicity; the Internet of Things; Web Accessibility; Net Neutrality; Online Reputation Management; Social Media Monitoring; Podcasts; Geofiltering; Digital Journalism; Hyper Local Web Sites, Digital Estate Planning; Sexting; Facial Recognition; E-Books and many more subjects.

Concisely written and covering a broad range of topics, this is the most current book of its kind!


Reviews:

“Concise overview of Internet-related legal issues.” (Law Library Journal)

“Although it deals with the complex legal issues surrounding the Internet, it is written in layman’s terms and illustrated with ‘ripped from the headlines’ court cases.” (Amazon)

“The concepts and issues are presented in a way that is sufficiently rigorous but very easy to read, making the book one I can recommend.” (Computing Reviews) * “A valuable resource, well-researched and well presented.”

“I want a copy on my bookshelf always within arm’s reach.”

“The anecdotal nature made it easy to understand the underlying legal concepts.”

“It is imperative that schools adopt this book in a way which would help young students gain knowledge about the various issues involving the Internet.” (Indian Journal of Intellectual Property Law)

“Issues in Internet Law: Society, Technology, and the Law will be a welcome addition in both academic and public law libraries… It should be acquired by libraries for its concise overview of Internet-related legal issues.” (Law Library Journal)

When Johnny Comes Marching Home

Since my last post, I’ve had some people take issue with my comment that Robert E. Lee was a great man. As is usually the case when people make such comments, they do so without any knowledge of history. The world is full of people who are quick to express their opinions regardless of whether they know what they are talking about. Unfortunately, we live in an era in which people absorb sound bites and headlines to form their opinions without delving further into the facts that are necessary on which to base their opinions. So let’s look at the facts, learn a little history, and answer the question Who was Robert E. Lee?

Robert E. Lee was the son of the revolutionary war hero "Light-Horse Harry" Lee. His father led raiders who captured food and medicine from the British enemy troops that helped Gen. George Washington and his troops survive the bitter winter at Valley Forge; he was elected to the Continental Congress and later as governor of Virginia. Harry Lee commanded the troops that ended the Whiskey Rebellion and was later elected to the U.S. Congress where he eulogized George Washington as “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.” He died when Robert was 11.

The orphaned boy went on to graduate second in his class at the U.S. military academy at West Point. Lee, an engineer, helped construct the St. Louis waterfront and worked on coastal forts in Brunswick and Savannah, Georgia. He married into George Washington’s family. He distinguished himself in battle during the Mexican War. In 1859, Robert E. Lee led a company of U.S. Marines to quell abolitionist John Brown’s raid on the U.S. military at Harpers Ferry (Brown was executed for treason and murder).

Lee was recognized as a brilliant military tactician. It was because Lee was considered one of the finest officers in the U.S. Army that President Abraham Lincoln offered him the command of the federal forces in April 1861 following the secessions of seven southern states from the Union. But Lee was devoted to his native state of Virginia. As he wrote to a friend, “If Virginia stands by the old Union so will I. But if she secedes (though I do not believe in secession as a constitutional right, nor that there is sufficient cause for revolution), then I will follow my native State with my sword, and, if need be, with my life.”

The rest, as they say, is history. When Virginia also seceded, Lee resigned the commission he had held in the U.S. Army for 32 years and offered his services to Jefferson Davis, the newly-elected president of the Confederate States of America. After the Civil War ended, Lee accepted a position as president of Washington University, where he served until his death in 1870. The school was later renamed Washington and Lee.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower revered Robert E. Lee, stating he was “in my estimation, one of the supremely gifted men produced by our nation. . . . selfless almost to a fault . . . noble as a leader and as a man, and unsullied as I read the pages of our history. From deep conviction I simply say this: a nation of men of Lee’s caliber would be unconquerable in spirit and soul. Indeed, to the degree that present-day American youth will strive to emulate his rare qualities . . . we, in our own time of danger in a divided world, will be strengthened and our love of freedom sustained.”

Yes, Lee owned slaves; but so did George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. In fact, the first six presidents of the United States were slave owners. However, in a letter he sent in 1856, before the Civil War, Lee wrote: “There are few, I believe, in this enlightened age, who will not acknowledge that slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil. It is idle to expatiate on its disadvantages. I think it is a greater evil to the white than to the colored race. While my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more deeply engaged for the former.” A year before Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, Lee, in accordance with his father-in-law’s will, freed the slaves at Arlington House.

Robert E. Lee was no saint but he was a great man both because of his personal accomplishments and those on behalf of the United States military during his 32 years of service, and because of the way his actions affected the course of history. He might come up short by today’s standards in some critics’ estimations but while the application of universal relativism may be appealing to the politically correct of the 21st century, men must be judged through the prism of the times in which they lived.

Robert E. Lee was an honorable man and his decision to place loyalty to his state above loyalty to the Union is understandable given the context of the times. The United States was a young country, less than a century old when the Civil War began. There were Americans older than the country itself. Today, we envision America as a monolithic entity but that wasn’t the case when the country was founded in the 18th century. Back then, it was called the United States for a reason: it was not so much one nation as it was a union of former colonies. The Founding Fathers and their constituents actually feared a strong central government. They wanted the 13 colonies to be 13 sovereign states but they recognized the need to form a union for two specific purposes: mutual trade and defense.

They realized a common currency would facilitate trade among the contiguous former colonies, and that no individual state could stand against an assault from larger nations such as England or France so it made sense to band together. They drafted the Constitution, explicitly giving the federal government the power to coin money, raise and support armies, and provide and maintain a navy but also adopted the 10th Amendment, which states “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Most 18th century Americans looked upon the American Union the way the European Union is viewed in the 21st century: as a union of sovereign states banding together to create a common currency to facilitate trade and to provide for mutual defense. As with any union (even the union of marriage) membership is voluntary so member states should be able to enter or leave such a union. No one expects the European Union to go to war against Britain because it has voted to leave the union. One could argue the foolhardiness of both Brexit and southern succession, which leaves both the exiting states and the remaining members in a less advantageous position, but while the wisdom of doing so is debatable, the right to do so appears straightforward. If one can enter into a marriage union, then one should also be able to file for divorce, and certainly not be compelled by force or violence to remain in the union.

Robert E. Lee was not, as many this week have labeled him, a traitor; he simply placed his loyalty to his native state above that to the Union of which it no longer wished to be a part. The real traitors, if you want to be technical, were George Washington and the Founding Fathers, who at the time of their rebellion against England did not represent sovereign states but rather colonies of the British empire. But history is written by the victors and they are now American heroes; had they lost, they would have been executed by the crown as traitors and vilified as such in all the history books.

Likewise, had the American South not been defeated in the Civil War, history would have regarded Gen. Robert E. Lee as a hero and founding father of the Confederacy. It’s important to remember that in any civil war half of the population is on the other side. In the American Civil War, 642,427 Americans died – and 483,026 of them were Southerners. Part of the process of healing and reunification requires us to respect the memory of those who fought, and of those who died, on both sides because they were all Americans.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Scam Alert!

A word of caution, especially for students. There are several websites purporting to offer a free PDF download of my book, Issues in Internet Law: Society, Technology, and the Law. Two important things you should know: First, there are no PDF copies in existence. This is a scam to get you to sign up with these sites and hand them your credit card info. Once these unscrupulous crooks have that, it will cost you a lot more than the price of the book. If you are foolish enough to register and pay their fee, what you get to download is a four-page brochure (available free at the www.IssuesInInternetLaw.com site) PDF file. Second, we've also received reports of students getting more than they bargained for from these sites, by way of downloaded Trojan viruses with the file.

You can buy the book legitimately from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Amber Book Company, VitalSource, eBay, and many reputable online booksellers. Also, any bookstore can order it for you if you provide them with the ISBN (the number above the bar code, also listed on the Website).


Saturday, August 12, 2017

Statues Don't Get Up and Move

One person is dead and 34 were injured in the wake of a protest that saw Americans parading under a flag bearing the Nazi swastika turn violent, as fights broke out and a domestic terrorist drove a car into the crowd in Charlottesville, Virginia today.

Let that sink in for a moment. Someone was killed today. A lot of your fellow citizens were injured, half of them in a street fight with other citizens and the other half in an act of domestic terrorism. Not Islamic terrorism, which we hear so much about, but white nationalist terrorism. But perhaps the most stunning image of today’s news was not the physical violence or the car assault, but rather young American men proudly marching under the Nazi banner. We fought a war against the Nazis. Thousands of Americans gave their lives fighting for American values and against the un-American, fascist, and hate-mongering philosophy of the Nazis. While, unlike the Nazi regime, America allows free expression of even the most heinous beliefs, anyone who feels the need to carry a Nazi flag through the streets of America should pick themselves up and leave our country. If you’re rallying behind a Nazi flag then this is not your country and those of us whose families have fought and died for America and everything it stands for want you to go.

The violence took place in a city park. I’ll tell you its name later. Ostensibly, the protest was over the removal of a statue. That’s right, someone is dead tonight because of a piece of stone in a park. But it’s not really about the statue, not directly. The removal of the statue is what we can call the inciting incident. This is what attracted the people we’ll refer to as outside agitators. Agitators seize on an inciting incident and use it to promote their own agenda. In this case, we didn’t just have local citizens concerned about a park statue: we had groups, each with its own agenda, on both the far left and the far right. They came to clash; some even dressed in paramilitary outfits with shields and weapons and could easily have been mistaken at first glance for police. Others showed up with torches evoking memories of the Ku Klux Klan burning crosses in the previous century. But make no mistake, these agitators were not there because of the statue; they came looking for a fight and they found it.

So we have an inciting incident, local citizens concerned about the removal of the park statue, and groups of outside agitators intent on exploiting the situation and the media presence to further their own agendas. Oh, and one deranged individual who decided to mow down protesters and bystanders with a car. The groups ranged from an anti-fascist organization and Black Lives Matter on the political far left; and the Alt-Right, the KKK, and the neo-Nazis on the political far right. But let’s talk about that statue.

We need to examine both sides behind the inciting incident. Since this matter involves such polarizing groups, many of you probably believe there is only one side. But if that’s what you truly believe, then you’re part of the problem not part of the solution. Yes, the Alt-Right, the KKK, and the neo-Nazis are among the most odious humans scum ever to crawl from the primordial ooze. But that makes it even more curious that anyone, especially so many young people, would literally and figuratively march beneath their banner. The question we must ask is why, and while in some cases, such as those of the outside agitators, it could be summed up as simple hate-mongering, for others it is a matter of societal alienation and disenfranchisement. Far left liberals may be creating their own far right monsters.

The statue commemorates Gen. Robert E. Lee. Lee was a great man and a great general who chose the wrong side of the Civil War. I say chose, because both the North and the South wanted him to lead their troops; he was that well respected by both sides. The antebellum South had both a proud history and a shameful one. Beginning with Reconstruction, Southerners were browbeaten over their shameful past and attacked whenever they sought to assert any part of their antebellum culture. Yes, slavery was a large part of that culture, but it’s simplistic to paint the North as good and the South as evil, or to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Southerners must acknowledge the shameful parts of their history but Northerners must also acknowledge Southerners are entitled to their own heritage. Likewise, history is a matter of record and not something that should be changed in an Orwellian manner to suit the political climate of the day.

The statue used to sit in Lee Park, named for Gen. Robert E. Lee. Now it sits in Emancipation Park, named for the freeing of American slaves. No, the statue didn’t get up and move; it’s a statue, they don’t do that. The park was renamed. Gen. Lee’s name was taken off the park (which was then renamed for the cause he fought against) and the city voted to remove his statue. Basically, this was an attempt to rewrite history. It was an affront to Southerners whose families fought and died under Gen. Lee’s command. But more importantly, it was an attempt to erase history. History is important. Monuments and place names are important because they remind us of history. Even bad history. Especially bad history. Philosopher George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” We should not erase historical monuments that represent unpleasant periods of the past, but rather we should preserve them as a valuable lesson for all who come after us.

We should encourage people to visit Robert E. Lee’s statue and read his biography. It should serve as a teachable moment to learn about the man’s conflicted life during a period of our nation’s conflicted history. It should not be discarded, just as history should not be whitewashed.

Far left liberals need to stop creating opportunities for far right agitators to seize upon. There should never have been an inciting incident in this case. By renaming Lee Park and removing the statue, the message being sent to Southerners was not that slavery was wrong but rather a total repudiation of their entire heritage, both the good and the bad parts. . They feel they are being marginalized in their own country or in their words “replaced.”The reaction of many is naturally to become defensive  -- the young particularly, because they are seeking their own sense of identity, and are therefore easily brainwashed into becoming fodder for the far right groups.

We must see that there are two sides and rather than discounting one side’s views or grievances entirely, or allowing ourselves to become indoctrinated by the extreme left or the extreme right, we should approach inciting incidents with an open mind and a willingness to learn the history behind them and to use that as a teachable experience. Understanding each other, where we are each coming from, and why we believe as we do is the first step toward conflict resolution. Failing to do this invariably leads to the violence we’ve witnessed today.