Wednesday, March 28, 2007

I went for an even longer bike ride today, even though it was a little chilly. I rode out to the Huron Parkway, then turned south. I "parked" my bike at Whole Foods in an effort to live up to my New Year's resolution to be more cliche. I went inside and undid all the good I was doing with one of their big-ass brownie cookies. For a place known for healthy stuff, Whole Foods has some of the best junk food you'll ever eat in your life if you check out the bakery section.

I also discovered that my helmet has some great warning labels, including one that pretty much says that in even a very low-speed crash you will probably die even if you're wearing it.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

I did two glorious things today.

The glory of the first one can only be understood by a graduate or professional student: I turned in a seminar paper to complete a year-old imcomplete. The paper is not great and probably not even good, but it's done. From my USC days I knew that an incomplete seminar paper is like a terrible Sword of Damocles hanging over your head (that ain't no crime). The only prospect more horrifying than having it continue to weigh you down is the prospect of actually finishing the damn thing. On the other hand, finishing one and turning it in is an amazing high like few I've ever felt.

The second thing I did was to buy my first adult bicycle and to ride it around town for almost an hour. I've been on a bike about a half-dozen times in the last decade, and I've always had a blast. So I had decided that I might as well get one at the end of last summer, but the weather quickly turned inhospitable and I put it off. Yesterday the weather was great, so I went to a bike shop here in town and put down a deposit. I went back today, and after a bunch of rigamarole with helmets, reflectors, license, pants clips, etc., I walked out after 50 minutes with a brand-new Schwinn Frontier. I'll probably be pissed off when it's inevitably stole in 10 days, but right now I love it.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The most surprising thing about Dayton was that tucked into a little residential neighborhood on the east side of town was probably the best Vietnamese food I've ever had. Everything else about Dayton was pretty much what you'd expect.

Yes, five of us trekked three hours southward last night for that most inexplicable of March Madness rituals, the play-in Opening Round game. It was a fun trip that left us with a greater appreciation for the Steak 'n' Shake side-by-side--especially if you find yourself in Findlay, Ohio at midnight on a Tuesday with another hour to drive--and a strong sense that Kansas is going to beat the shit out of the play-in winner, yooooooour Niagara Purple Eagles.

Other high-and-low-lights:

  • I had been told I should cheer for FAMU due to their famous band and certain personal proclivities that I may or may not concede are true. Unfortunately, FAMU did not bring a band, cheerleaders, or any noticeable cheering section. So much for that.
  • Your "that's why they're playing off for the #64 spot" sequence of the night: FAMU gets fouled, misses both free throws, gets the rebound, gets fouled, misses the front end of the one-and-one, gets the rebound, gets fouled in the act of shooting, makes one free throw, misses the second, gets the rebound, gets fouled for the double bonus, misses the first free throw, and makes the second so that possession finally changes. If you're counting, that's 2 of 6 from the charity stripe and three horrendous box-outs. Niagara may not get a single rebound on Friday.
  • Erin Andrews in person. Believe the hype.
  • I went back and forth for two days on whether I could, in good conscience, complete one of my goals of the trip: buying Wright State University T-shirts for myself and some family members. I had a WSU T-shirt I loved for years that finally got too worn out to keep, and I was hoping to replace it. Then this gets announced. I was completely torn on whether I could follow through, or whether it would be a horrible jinx to do so. Luckily I didn't have to make the decision, as we didn't have time to stop anywhere, and none were available at U. of Dayton's arena.
  • Niagara's band kept playing Our Director, which you probably don't know better as the fight song of Beth-Center High School. Hadn't heard that one in a long, long time.
Speaking of that, here's my take: I think Pitt is properly seeded and is getting a bad rap nationally. They went 27-7, including 12-4 in the Big East, and six of their losses were to tournament teams seeded #8 or higher. The seventh was to an Oklahoma State team that looked like gangbusters at the time but fell apart later, and that game was on a "neutral court" in Oklahoma City. Yes, they did not do quite as well late, but only had two ugly losses all year--at Wisconsin and the G-Town debacle in the Big East tourney--and they didn't lose to anyone in conference who they didn't also beat, Hoyas included.

This team is better primed for tournament success than previous Pitt teams in a couple of ways. One is that Levance Fields is a better pure point than Carl Krauser, especially in assist-turnover ratio. Another is that they have a much more fluid offense--they can pound down to Aaron Gray, go inside-out, penetrate from the wings (Cook and Young), and hit open threes. They only get in trouble when Gray starts missing a lot of chippies, which he will do at times, but he will dominate against much smaller opposition and go straight to the basket without having to worry about whether he's hitting lay-ups and jump hooks.

The weakness compared to previous Pitt squads is that there's no guard who will just take a game over when he has to, as Brandon Knight and Krauser could do at times (but never seemed to in the NCAAs). But they do have guys who can carry the scoring for stretches--Cook, Ramon, Graves, and occasionally Fields. The other big weakness is the one consistent bugaboo of the entire Howland/Dixon era--mediocre free-throw shooting. I hope they get an assistant who can help out in that regard one of these decades.

What do I see happening? I see another run to the Sweet Sixteen but not beyond. UCLA is a tough draw in the regional semi, and I can't see anyone knocking them off early. I think Pitt is well-built to stave off Wright State, VCU and even Duke, but my hunch is that UCLA is just like Pitt but 10% better in every way. It's not beyond the realm of possibility that the student can outduel his teacher, but it's not usually the way to bet.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

One of law school's stranger rituals is the MPRE. The Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam is required by almost every state in order to be admitted to the Bar. This may hearten those of you who are cynical about lawyers and ethics until you understand the methodology and scaling of the test. The test consists of 60 multiple-choice questions, 10 of which are experimental and ungraded, as is common on standardized tests. The score is scaled from 50-150, kind of like the 200-800 of the SAT verbal or math, the 120-180 LSAT, etc. Note that the key feature of this kind of test is that your score doesn't represent a particular number right and wrong, but rather a test-taker's place on a real or hypothetical bell curve. The middle of the range (e.g.: 500 SAT section) in theory represents the median test-taker, and on a well-calibrated test it in fact measures the median test-taker. So, of course, the median score on the MPRE is 100, the midpoint of the 50-150 range. The median MPRE examinee gets a 100.

What score, then, is required for admission to the Bar? Well, it varies from state to state, but this year the highest score required is 86, and the lowest is 75. Yes, in a number of states, the amount of ethics you need to be admitted is akin to the amount of verbal knowledge you need to get a 350 on the SAT. No state requires more ethics than the equivalent of a 420.

If that's not disheartening enough, consider that most MPRE questions are designed with a scenario and four answer choices asking whether or not the scenario is ethical. Two answers will begin "yes, because..." and two will being "no, because..." Almost inevitably, one yes and one no will be patently wrong, but the remaining two choices will be very difficult to choose between. So for most questions on the test, the test-taker can't even be really sure about whether or not something is ethical, let alone why.

So yesterday I had to show up at 9 a.m. at Concordia University--a local school that doesn't take any federal funds so that it can legally discriminate--to take the only ethics exam I will ever be required to take in order be a lawyer. I was picking up a few people, so I got down to my car at about 8:05.

As it has been for a few weeks, my parking lot was a sheet of ice over an inch thick. The melting and unmelting over the last month combined with horrible drainage has led to this joyous condition. I have figured out that if I can't get my car to reverse because I can't get any traction, I can usually put it into drive, go forward a foot or so, and then back out. Unfortunately, even this trick didn't work, and I was stuck.

This was where a wave of the type of inspiration that is so narrowly brilliant and so fundamentally flawed in retrospect came over me. Obviously, the solution was simple: I should put my car into reverse, push it back a couple of feet out of the spot where it was spinning its wheels, and then try again. A problem occurred to me--can I actually push hard enough to move the car? But I decided the only way to find out was to give it a try.

It worked! For a glorious instant, I was extremely proud of myself.

Then I realized that the car was not stopping. I tried to run after it, but that was a losing proposition. I was powerless to stop it. The Toyota parallel parked on our street, however, was not powerless to stop it. Not even a little bit.

Our parking lot has a narrow entry and then widens out, so by the time you get over to where I park, you are not lined up with the driveway opening, but with the curb and with a big tree. The tree is way off to the side, right up against a fence. Then you've got the curb, and cars can parallel park. The road itself is a small, one-lane, one-way street, and on the other side are other houses and other parking lots.

I'm still not entirely sure how the car missed the tree. I really don't know how the open driver's door missed the tree, but I'm really thankful about that part. I'm also really glad the Toyota was there, because otherwise my unoccupied car would have gone right out into the street where it could have hit anything--a car driving down the street, the interminable parade of athletes and band members who use our street as a short-cut to the athletic fields at the bottom of the hill, poorly constructed student housing across the street, etc.

I can't imagine that the Toyota's owner will share my perspective that hitting his or her car was the best that could have been hoped for in the situation; we'll find that out when he or she eventually finds and responds to the note under the windshield wiper.

It's also worth noting that the Toyota is a bit of a junker that had a lot of dings and dents already (the new one, it's true, being the granddaddy of them all), so I didn't destroy some pristine vehicle. In fact it was beat up enough that I had brief thoughts of playing dumb, that maybe they wouldn't notice the new damage amidst all the old, or that even if they did they would have no idea how they got there. Then I realized two things: (1) that you'd be hard-pressed not to figure out where damage came from when it happened while you were parallel parked next to a parking lot, especially when you saw the Honda with rear body damage parked there later on, and (2) I was on the way to an ethics and professional responsibility exam. I left the note.

It's worth mentioning that the Toyota owner would be making the incorrect assumption that the rear body damage on my Civic came from hitting their car--actually my car was unscathed except maybe slightly exacerbating the existing body damage. Not that that's relevant, but it was kind of cool.

It was somewhere in all of that thinking that I moved my car forward away from the accident, realized that my car was fine, hopped out with a combination of anger and relief, and promptly forgot about the inch of ice and fell on my ass, hard. I've been hobbling ever since, but my curling adventure a few weeks ago taught me that this will probably go away in another day or so.

I did make it to the MPRE with plenty of time to spare. Even though every 10 questions or so I drifted off into thinking about the accident and my hip and cursing my landlord and all ice everywhere, I finished with 45 minutes to spare and will be moderately surprised if I get below a 120. California requires a 79. They also don't have icy driveways there.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The offers have been pouring in, so I should report that an older, used, but working plenty well enough laptop is on the way to Dad as we speak. You guys rule. A lot.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

I don't know who had bed #3 at the Donnell House before my father, but I will forever think of that unknown person as "Wally Pipp". Yes, Dad is the Lou Gehrig of hospice. The place has 8 beds, and an average of about a person day has passed away there since he's been there--and that's with an average of about 50% capacity. I read the local obituaries every day I was home, and only one day did none of them indicate that the decedent had passed away at the Donnell House. One day there were 4.

But Dad perseveres. I talked to the doctor yesterday and he said that they do have longer-term residents, and they knew Dad would be one of those when he got there. He said that it's hard to provide any timetable becasue there's no medical reason why he's alive right now--but because he's basically stable, it's probably a matter of weeks, not days or hours. So I'm back in Ann Arbor.

My Dad has what you might consider a dying wish. He wants a notebook computer, because he wants to write a book about this stage of his life, to give his late days meaning. Of course his neuropathy means his control over his hands is (literally) shaky at best, he has no energy or ability to focus for more than five minutes at a time, and he's only intermittently aware of his surroundings. But the one thing he's consistently focused on and insistent on is that laptop. At one point I told him I'd be leaving town yesterday and that we might not have another chance to talk one-on-one, and he said ok, gathering himself for what I assumed was something serious. He asked me if I had any ideas about getting him that laptop.

At least he's lowered his expectations a bit--my brother tells me that when he first got this idea, he was saying that he doesn't want any of these low-end laptops but is looking to spend about $1200.

It is worth noting at this point that my dad will die insolvent, with no assets other than crappy old cars and his latest social security check, which my mom will use to attack the stack of bills that's gone unpaid for the last few months. So it's not as if we're denying him something that we could easily provide.

So I spent my last hour in town scouring local thrift stores for whatever crappy computer of any kind I could find. To no avail. But at least I get to relive that failure every time I post something on my own Inspiron. So I got that going for me.