Wednesday, February 4, 2015

New Harper Lee Novel

Really exciting news today from the world of American literature. Harper Lee, who never published anything besides the classic "To Kill a Mockingbird", is coming out with a "sequel". The back story here is amazing.

She wrote a novel in the 1950's, entitled "Go Set a Watchman", featuring Scout as an adult. Her editor's response was to say that he/she liked the flashbacks to Scout as a young child, and maybe Ms. Lee should write another novel about that, which she did.

She says she thought the original manuscript was lost, but her friend and lawyer recently discovered it among her papers, and now it is to be published!! Amazing. And amazing that Harper is even still alive, but she is, at 88, though impaired.

These stories of writers who only write one book and nothing more fascinate me. One thinks, of course, of J. D. Salinger and "A Catcher in the Rye". When I was living in Lawrence, Kansas,  in the early '70's, some of us counter-culture types were quite taken with Frederick Exley's great book, "A Fan's Notes", and we eagerly awaited his sequel, "Pages from a Cold Island". However, the sequel was a complete bust. Exley had said all he had to say in his first novel; and, in retrospect, it was really only in the first half of that novel, as the part after he underwent his electric shock treatments is not nearly as engrossing as the first part of the book.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

"Angelina", by Andrew Morton

I have never cared for Jon Voight, and now I know why. This book portrays him as an overbearing, authoritarian, hyper-critical person who alienates just about everybody he comes into contact with. This is not just true of his two children, Angelina and her brother, but of people he has worked with.

Part of the problem is that Angelina's mother never forgave Jon for abandoning her and the kids for another woman. Her bitterness knew no bounds; for example, when her assets were being listed in her will, she wrote in the margin "$150,000 unpaid spousal support". This despite the fact that Jon had always faithfully paid his spousal support to her. However, Jon has done enough cruel things to the kids during their adult lives that constitute ample grounds for resentment in their own right.

Jon never has remarried since divorcing Angelina's mother in 1980. He has expressed sadness at having to go home to an empty house when he is done working for the day. Well, Jon, it is said that "you reap what you sow". No tears will be shed from this quarter for that bum, Jon Voight.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

"The Last Boy", Jane Leavy's biography of Mickey Mantle

Jane Leavy's biography of Mickey Mantle is well-researched, and includes much useful new material on Mantle's life. What I want to focus on here is the new information about his relationship with Joe DiMaggio, whose center field position Mantle took over after DiMaggio's retirement following the 1951 season.

DiMaggio had some nagging injuries which limited his effectiveness in 1951, the year Mantle came up from the minors to join the Yankees. And yet, Joe wouldn't hear of giving up his center field position to some upstart rookie. When a writer asked him if he would consider moving to left to make room for Mantle in center, Joe replied "There's nobody taking center from me until I give it up."

This sort of arrogant, me-first attitude was typical of the negative portrait of DiMaggio depicted in this book. Although they had a locker next to each other for at least part of the year, DiMaggio never once spoke to Mantle the whole year, until his World Series injury in October. Contrast this with Hank Bauer, who took Mantle under his wing, and taught him how to act and survive as a country boy in the big city. Now who is the hero here, DiMaggio or Bauer?

During Spring Training in 1951 Mantle was an absolute sensation, wowing everyone with his power-hitting, his speed, and his incredible fielding plays. Joe was used to being the center of attention, and his jealousy was palpable.

The whole story of how Mantle hurt his knee during that fall's World Series plays into the narrative of DiMaggio as a self-centered jerk. Mantle, of course, was still playing right field, since Joe insisted on playing center. In the fifth inning of the second game against the Giants, a fly ball was hit between Mantle in right and Joe in center. Manager Casey Stengel had instructed Mantle to go hard for anything he could reach, telling him "The dago's heel is hurtin'. Go for everything".

So, Mantle was going all out for a ball when, at the last minute, he heard Joe say 'I got it". Mantle had been chastised earlier in the year for catching a ball that Joe could have caught, so he obediently tried to stop suddenly, and in the process he caught his foot in a drain and went down with a serious injury. As he lay hurt, Joe whispered to him, "They're coming with the stretcher, kid". Mantle said it was the first Joe had talked to him all year. Mantle played in pain every game for the whole rest of his career, because DiMaggio was too proud to relinquish his center fielder's prerogative of catching every ball he could get to.

DiMaggio did not give his version of what happened until 1973, twenty-two years later, when he claimed that he had said, "Go ahead. Mickey. You take it".  This is patently false, for why would Mantle have been trying to stop at the last second, if Joe had not called him off the ball? It should be noted that Mantle had the class to never blame DiMaggio publicly. He confided it in private to the author (and to his wife, who the writer interviewed), who only published it in this book after Mantle had died.

After Mantle retired, the snubs kept coming from DiMaggio. At Mickey Mantle day at Yankee Stadium in 1969, he presented Mantle with a plaque and made a graceless comment about it. At Old Timers days, Mantle would regularly get a greater ovation than Joe, which irritated Joe to no end. At one such ceremony, Joe actually punched Billy Crystal in the stomach because Crystal had failed to introduce Joe as "baseball's greatest living player", an introduction that Joe insisted upon as a condition of his making any public appearance.

At the opening of Mickey Mantle's Restaurant, practically every celebrity in New York showed up, but DiMaggio refused to come. His jealously of Mickey had never abated. At an autograph-signing event in 1995, the two of them shared a room. Mantle was being friendly and spending time with the visitors, which irritated Joe, who sent a representative over to Mantle's table with the message, "Joe D. wants you to quit shaking hands and being nice." By this time Mantle had grown up and lost his awe of DiMaggio, and he responded, "Tell Joe to get another room."

When Mantle died later in 1995, DiMaggio did not attend the funeral, instead issuing a statement which gracelessly made reference to Mantle's being sent down to the minors during his rookie year.


Mantle certainly had his flaws. His drinking and womanizing are legendary, and are not sugar-coated in this book. However, he had endearing human qualities as well, a generosity and friendliness which dwarfs the haughty, spoiled picture that emerges of Joe DiMaggio. Mantle was a true hero, while DiMaggio was a haughty, self-centered jerk who had to be the center of attention wherever he went, and who would throw a fit if he wasn't.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Hotel Loses Suit over Bad TripAdvisor Review

This was a case in Multnomah County Circuit court, which is Portland, Oregon. The Ashley Inn sued for defamation, and the judge understandably threw the suit out.

The plaintiff sought to have the identity of the anonymous reviewer revealed, but the court held that Oregon's media shield law protected TripAdvisor, which was not required to hand over that information. The plaintiff's attorneys made the incredibly weak argument that the media shield law should not apply, because it was written in 1973, before internet review sites existed. Yes, and the U.S. Constitution was written in the 1780's, before telephones, radios, or cars existed. So what? The principles still apply even as technology evolves.

Even if the plaintiff could have gotten past the media shield problem, there would still have been the problem that the review was more of a statement of opinion then a statement of fact, containing as it did allegations that the "rooms are nasty". You cannot sue successfully for expressions of opinion, unless you can prove they were motivated by malice.

Further, the plaintiff would have had to prove that it suffered actual damages as a result of the bad review. This seems really unlikely. The review was so over-the-top, with silly statements like the hotel clerk was engaging in phone sex, that it is hard to imagine that anybody would have taken it seriously.

 Then there would also have been the problem that the reviewer, like most of us, was probably "judgment-proof", meaning no actual money could be collected.

In light of all of these problems, it is hard to fathom why Ashley Inn even bothered to pursue a lawsuit. I would love to know the content of the conversation between the hotel's CEO and the hotel's lead counsel, leading up to the decision to proceed with a lawsuit. Did the CEO insist on proceeding with legal action, despite the miniscule chances of success? Or did some unscrupulous or incompetent lawyer advocate proceeding?

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Disclaimers of Liability

Interesting case announced by the Oregon Supreme Court this week. A snowboarder who was paralyzed as a result of an accident at an Oregon ski resort was allowed to proceed with his lawsuit, despite a statement by the ski resort that it would not be responsible for any injuries "even if caused by negligence".

I have long believed that such disclaimers of liability have no legal effect whatsoever. The law of torts will decide if you are liable; you cannot avoid liability for your negligence by putting a statement to this effect out to your customers. I first became aware of this phenomenon when parking lot owners would provide you a ticket containing language that they are not responsible for any damage done to your car while it is on your lot.

The idea that this kind of disclaimer of liability would have any legal significance at all is ludicrous. I could put a sign on my car saying that "I am not responsible for any harm I do to you by my bad driving". Would anybody in their right mind believe that that kind of statement would have any legal effect? Of course not.

The fact is that we all owe a duty of care to others whom we encounter in our daily life. If our negligence causes them harm, then we are liable.

Monday, December 15, 2014

12 Bd4 in the Sicilian Dragon

1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cd 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 g6 6 Be3 Bg7 7 f3 0-0 8 Qd2 Nc6 9 0-0-0

This could be called the new main line, in contrast to the old main line of 9 Bc4. Now if black attempts the maneuver Nc6-e5-c4, white is two tempos ahead of the old main line.

9...d5

In light of the above comment, Black has to get creative. He is willing to sacrifice a pawn for active play.

10 ed Nxd5 11 Nxc6 bc 12 Bd4

Experience has shown that black gets good play if white accepts the pawn sacrifice. Hence, 12 Bd4 is now preferred by better than 2-1 to 12 Nxd5, and in fact scores 60% for white.

12...e5 13 Bc5 Be6!

Black need not fear giving up the exchange, as he gets the vastly superior position if white plays 14 Bxf8. Black would respond with 14...Qxf8, leaving him with good Queen-side attacking chances.

14 Ne4 Re8 15 h4

15 Nd6 Re7 is toothless for white.

15...h6 16 g4 Qc7 17 g5 h5 18 Bc4 Red8 19 Qf2

Here we come to a fork in the road. Black plays three moves here with about equal frequency, with white scoring in the neighborhood of 60% against each. This is a nice achievement for white, but note that he has had to avoid a series of tempting but innocuous alternatives at various points along the way.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Analyzing the Oregon Ballot Measure Results

The election results in Oregon were definitely a mixed bag. The good news is that the legalization of marijuana passed. The bad news is that the open primary and ID card measures failed, and not just failed, but failed by a 2-1 margin. The open primary measure lost in every single county, while the ID card measure lost in every county but Portland's county. Oregon is simply not as liberal as people assume.

The ID measure was subject to some serious misrepresentations, such as the allegation that the cards would allow illegal imigrants to board planes. To the contrary, it would simply have given the TSA a way to determine the identity of who was seeking to board a plane. That is, it would give the government more tools to keep troublemakers off of planes. Similarly, when the police stop a driver, it would give the police a way to determine the identity of who they were stopping. How 67.4% of Oregonians can be against this is beyond me.

Similarly, how in the world can 68.1% of Oregonians be against the open primary? Do they actually like the bitter partisan politics which currently infects the nation. Or are Oregonians so insulated from the rest of the country that they don't realize how bad things have gotten?

The GMO labelling measure narrowly failed, while the measure for financial aid to students failed with a 58.6% no vote, passing in only two counties.

The inescapable conclusion: the electorate is basically conservative, and very set in their ways. They don't like change, even when that change means progress.