Previous month:
August 2007
Next month:
October 2007

Off Topic: Dog Fighting and Meat Eating

Is a person who eats foi gras who also opposes dog fighting intellectually consistent? Ted Frank asked the question, though I’ll frame it more broadly: Is it consistent to eat any meat at all while opposing dog fighting?

The lives of fighting dogs is nasty, brutish, and short. They are placed in tiny pens – usually in the basement. Free of sunlight or fresh air, their aggression grows. They are forced to endure grueling workouts, and if they do not perform well, they are killed.

Since the people responsible for dog fighting are heinous, the dogs are kicked, punched, hit with sticks and bats; they are shocked with cattle prods.  For more grisly details, read this brief.

 To create foi gras, geese who are already full have tubes placed in their mouths. Like the serial killer's victim in Se7en, the geese are force fed so much food until their live livers are enlarged.

 Both methods involve a high degree of animal cruelty. Both are provided for one reason only – human gratification. Both are also unnecessary. No one needs to eat fatty liver just as no one needs to watch dogs kill each other.

 Of course, all animal husbandry involves some level of cruelty. No animal reaches our table alive. Which is another way of saying every animal has first been killed. For us. 

A being that can feel pain and that has an emotional life and that posed us no harm us and wished us no ill will was nonetheless killed for us. And it gets worse. 

Even the average cow or chicken, being factory-produced, live a life of unimaginable cruelty. There are crammed into pins where they can’t move. They step in and breath the fumes of fecal matter. They become sick and are pumped full of drugs. You really should read “Meet Your Meat.” 

Yet we care about dog fighting but don’t care about animal husbandry? Why is that? 

Whether we admit it or not, other entities (and this includes animals) have value only to the extent that they are useful to us. Living things do not have value to themselves, as Immanuel Kant would not have argued, but rather have value as means to our ends. 

Dogs are companions. They give us unconditional love. As they evolved alongside with us, they protected us from wolves, and even to this day, they alert us to intruders. Dogs provide a service to us, this service can only be provided while they live, and thus they have value. We have tamed dogs, and thus we love them.

Other animals have value to us as nutrition – or as an indulgence. We don’t care about how chickens or cows or pigs live – or die – because their only purpose is to provide us food.

Indeed other cultures, dogs are viewed as nutrition. In those cultures, dogs are eaten. In China, dogs are beaten to death with sticks, much like in America, chickens are beaten to death with clubs. 

So people can eat foi gras or veal or factory-farmed poultry farm, safe in his or her intellectual consistency. 

Though that person might wonder... Should I live my life based on a different moral presupposition? While we tend to view Others are means to our ends, might we not live better lives viewing other living beans as having interests? 

Still, I eat meat.  So I am either a scoundrel or dilettante.  I either don't know the truth, or I know the truth and don't care.  In my defense, I did forgo eating meat. For a month. 

It was the worst month of my life. I couldn’t sleep. I had no strength. I couldn’t concentrate at school or at work. I found out that I cannot function normally on a vegetarian diet. I had to make a choice - the chickens or me? 

I choose the chickens.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that I can’t mitigate the harm. I only eat free-range chicken and grass-fed beef. (And I don’t eat veal or foi gras.) As one owner of an organic market once told me: “I’ve seen the farms. If I hadn’t been a vegetarian for so long, I’d eat this meat. The cows have wide open pastures and streams. Until the cow has its throat slit, it lives a very good life.” 

While I am still not entirely comfortable with the throats being slit, I can still sleep at night knowing that the dozens of animals I eat each year don’t suffer every day of their pitiful lives just so I can indulge my senses or find the energy to work another hour. So while I am still responsible for death, at least I am not as responsible for so much suffering.

New Blog

I'll be starting a new blog elsewhere.  It will be more of a "personal blog/things in my head" type of blog - nothing exciting.  It won't have as much to do about law as this one did.  Indeed, it will probably have very little to do with law.  I could just resume blogging here, but that would seem somewhat deceitful.  Until then, best wishes.

C&F's Future

Co-blogger Norm Pattis has grown his office substantially - adding new lawyers and new locations.  In light of this,  he won't have the time to continue blogging.  (There really isn't anything juicy to this - no "break-up" or other attendant drama.)

I've been burned out from blogging for a while now, so I'm not sure if I will continue blogging, either.  It's been three-and-a-half years, and I feel like I've talked about everything interesting to talk about.  So we'll see what happens.

Doninger: One Good Fool Deserves Another

In Burlington, Conn., folks at the Lewis S. Mills High School take themselves a little too seriously. The result is a First Amendment case that could yield important new legal principles as it wends its way through the appellate courts.

Some background: Students organize an annual music festival called the Battle of the Bands. They wanted to use the brand-spanking new high school auditorium, but to do so required a technician approved by the school board. The technician was unavailable the day the festival was to be held, thus throwing the date of the event into question.

Remember, this is Burlington. Nothing happens there. Pattis's 7th law of social dynamics holds as follows: Adolescent energy abhors a vacuum. If there isn't an issue to emote over, find one.

Enter Avery Doninger, a junior student council member and class secretary. She tried to meet with the school administrators to salvage the date for the festival. When that didn't happen, she and others sent an e-mail to parents and others urging them to contact the school to demand that the festival take place as scheduled.

Because this is Burlington, parents did just that. The principal, Karissa Niehoff, and superintendent, Paula Schwartz, were angered by it all. Doninger then went to a private web site and from a home computer wrote a blog entry calling the folks in the school's central office "douchebags," and urging more folks to call or write to "piss [the school superintendent] off even more."

It would be better if this child's passion were harnessed to a real issue, perhaps global warming. But this is Burlington, after all.

Doninger's churlish behavior came to the school's attention. She was punished for her incivility by being forbidden to run for reelection to class office. Her fellow students voted for her as a write-in candidate anyway, and she won by a plurality. School officials refused to seat her in office.

Doninger sought an injunction voiding the election she couldn't run in, removing the student the board had seated, and requiring a new election. U.S. District Court Judge Mark Kravitz denied the request, finding that Doninger did not show a substantial likelihood of success on her constitutional claim. For this ruling, Kravitz, a brilliant jurist of unquestioned integrity, has been tarred and feathered online by Doninger's supporters. Somehow this young woman has become a folk hero, a regular Joan of Arc, storming schoolhouse gates and armed with soiled feminine hygiene products.

Kravitz appears to have been seduced by the common law doctrine that the courts will not second guess school administrators on their essentially pedagogical functions. Hence, while school officials may have overreacted, that is the school's call. But isn't this child being punished for petitioning for redress of grievances?

The judge concludes that the school needs to teach civility. Doninger's uncivil discourse justifies disciplinary action.

But Doninger spoke off school premises. She did not use school property to emote. Sure, her message had an effect on the school. She issued a rallying cry. This should be protected speech.

This case may be destined for the Supreme Court. It tests the boundaries of a school's ability to discipline speech in the age of the Internet. Sadly, these important principles arise in the context of tawdry facts, facts which suggest that Doninger and the school administrators somehow deserve one another.

Reprinted courtesy of the Connecticut Law Tribune.

Is Calling Someone Gay Defamatory?

Are Ross Weil and Brett Royce gay?  Or just bosom buddies?  Weil and Royce, after all, were college roommates who moved close to each other after college.  Perhaps recognizing that they are homophobes, editors of the American University alumni newsletter "reported" that they had gotten married.  No big deal, right? 


Weil and Royce (who are sharing a lawyer, and perhaps a shoulder to cry on) are suing American University for the "false, defamatory, malicious, and libelous article."  (They are each seeking $750,000 in damages.)  The complaint alleges that calling a straight person gay is libel per se

The suit is ridiculous, but it does raise certain interesting issues.  Does calling someone gay harm their reputation?  I see nothing wrong with a person being gay, so to me, it's hardly insulting to call a person a "great big homo."  Also, I won't suffer $750,000 in damages if you call me a "girl," "sissy," or "dork."  These are childish insults, and they have as much strength as a child's hands.   

Then again, if enough bigots exist such that falsely claiming someone was gay could harm their reputation, should, as a matter of policy, people be able to sue?  In some parts of the country, being gay can get you killed

Of course, the plaintiffs live (near each other) in Manhattan.  If anything, they might now find themselves as being part of a protected class - not a bad place to find yourself in a litigious society.

In any event, Weil and Royce might not be gay.  Even if they are seen with women, they are still surely  douche bags (risqué, but safe for work).

Chicago's Real Organized Crime Problem

Chicago is crooked, as everyone knows.  If you want to visit a true "den of iniquity," go to a Chicago courtroom.  It seems injustice trickles down to the lowest level of justice - in this case, parking tickets. 

According to the Chicago Tribune, the city earns approximately $210 million by writing parking tickets.   (Via Overlawyered).  That Chicago vigorously enforces its traffic and parking laws is not itself a cause for concern.  What is a cause of concern is this:

James Reilly, head of the Department of Administrative Hearings, which handles about 275,000 appeals every year from motorists cited for non-moving violations, said that more than 50 percent of those who contest parking citations are found not liable after hearing officers consider the evidence.

"Those numbers have been consistent for 10 years, and the numbers don't lie," Reilly said. "Most people who contest a parking ticket prevail ... and if people do not agree with the decision of the administrative law officer, they have the ability to appeal to the Circuit Court."

Of course, this statistic is cited as proof that "the system works."  (This is what death-penalty advocates say when someone is spared from death row 30 seconds before being killed by the state.)  Heck, half the people who are issued a parking infraction are cleared.

Of course, the real problem is this: Why are 50% of people who are given tickets falsely accused?  How can a system that falsely charges 50% of motorists be considered fair or just?

I suppose we could say that people who are more likely to be innocent of a parking infraction challenge their tickets.  Hence, there is no 50% error rate.  The real "error rate" is likely smaller.  Fair enough.  This still means that Chicago writes 137,500 wrongful infractions a month. 

One-hundred and thirty-seven thousand bogus tickets a year.  Every year.  At an average of $50 a ticket, this means the city of Chicago attempts to steal $6,875, 000 from innocent motorists.  This is attempted theft, plain and simple.

If a corporation engaged in conduct that involved cheating over 137,500 people each year, there would be an outcry.  There would be calls for prosecution.  The Department of Justice would be on the case.  There would be perp walks.

If a group of Italian Americans attempted to extort seven-million dollars from people each year, they'd be call a family.

But since it's a city that is stealing and attempting to steal from innocent people, everyone will ignore this as simply politics as usual.

Lawyer Sanctioned for Plagiarism

An Iowa lawyer copied-and-pasted nine pages from a law review, without attribution, into his brief.  The court was no happy, and thus ordered the lawyer to attend a professional responsibility class at a local law school.  Imagine being a law student in class with this lawyer.  "So, what are you in for?"  "Plagiarism." 

Of course, I have seen a great deal of language lifted from my briefs and put into opinions.  Which is usually a good thing - except when it's just a general rule statement rather than an application of the rule to the client's facts.  If the court is as strict with other judges as he is with other lawyers, then there will be a lot of judges going back to school.

I am not, of course, defending the lawyer's conduct.  What he did was pretty bad: It's surely not something you'd want your name plastered all over the Internet with for doing it.  And I'd like to read his bill to his client to see how much he billed his client for the brief he "wrote."   

UPDATE: Via TaxProf Blog:

Mr. Cannon's second violation of the Iowa Rules of Professional Conduct was in charging his client $5,737.50 for 25.5 hours of work in preparing the two briefs. This amount is unreasonable given the actual labor Mr. Cannon invested in these projects. ... Mr. Cannon billed his client for 25.5 hours of work to prepare the two briefs. Because he could not have expended that number of hours in locating the Article, copying it into his word processing program, and adding what little material he did, his fees are far in excess of what other lawyers would charge for this amount and type of work.

The court ordered him to give his client a refund.