Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Justice, a Dean, an Adventure

“Are you still in Boston?”  It should have been an easy question to answer, a simple text message, but it had me all a flutter and unsure how to answer.  It was quarter after one, I’d been at the airport since 10am, hoping to get on standby for a flight earlier than my scheduled 5:40 departure.  No luck, 5:40 it was.

I looked at the text in my hand.  Could I do it?  Could I leave the airport, get to Harvard and take advantage of this amazing opportunity that had just been offered to me, and get back in time to make my flight?

A friend of mine, a new friend, I hope a continuing friend for the future, Mr. Nice Lawyer, had just offered me his extra ticket to go see Justice Souter speak at the afternoon ceremony part of Harvard’s graduation.  Wow!  Chances to hear a retired Supreme Court Justice don’t just pop up everyday.  Plus, as I’m sure you can guess by his name, Mr. Nice Lawyer is really nice and fun to hang out with.  The ceremony started at 2:30.

Google map, some math, a call to Mr. Nice Lawyer, a trip to the ticket counter to check what was no-longer my carry-on bag, and the next thing I new, I was back on the T and headed to Harvard, Daddy Bunny in tow.  Good thing I didn’t throw out my 7-day pass for the T, Boston’s public transit system, when I got to the airport.


The campus was a bustle of commotion.  Men in coat tails and top hats directing people.  Signs left-over from the morning graduation portion posted here and there.  A maze of people in jeans, in dresses, in long black robes, in bright red robes, caps and gowns and cameras and smiles everywhere.  A long line of alumni, old white-haired alumni in crimson baseball caps filed slowly to their special seats in the front.

Mr. Nice Lawyer and I cut down a side-aisle and through a row, making a bee-line for some great seats next to the recording platforms.  Both blessed with long legs, we gracefully stepped over a fee rows of chairs, avoiding the people all ready seated, and took our seats.

trees and steeple at HarvardThe day was gorgeous, bright and sunny.  We sat under the shade of two large, green trees that celebrated the day by dropping a confetti of little green seedpods onto our hair and down my shirt throughout the ceremony.

The Ceremony

Things kicked off with some sort of alumni meeting.  The president of the alumni was this spunky Cuban woman with a delightful accent.  She welcomed new graduates to alumni association, introduced the Dean of the University and awarded medals to distinguished alum. 

The marching band came down the center aisle, horn angles all askew, music attached toHarvard band cropped their instruments -  Hey, even Harvard students aren’t perfect – but they did sound good.  And the tuba player had a little rubber duckie glued inside the bell of his tuba, which highly amused both me and Mr. Nice Lawyer.

The Honorable Justice

After many long speeches and frequent, nervous checkings of my watch, Justice Souter finally rose to speak.  It was a very interesting speech, mostly a criticism of what he called “fair reading” of the Constitution.  I believe this is also called strict interpretation, or something like that.  And it happens to be the rallying cry of one, if not both, of my favorite Supreme Court Justices.

Justice Souter talked specifically of two famous cases.  One, the Pentagon Papers case in which the US government argued “no law” did not mean “no law”.  And the other, Brown v. Board of Education.  Souter’s argument was that if one were to follow the fair reading approach, these cases could not be correct the way they were decided.justice souter cropped

He spoke eloquently, and made good use of pauses – the speech coach that came to CC a few weeks back would be proud.  He also spoke for awhile, which combined with the late start, made me nervous.  It was after 4, I was at least 45 minutes from the airport and my flight was boarding at 5:15.  As soon as the speech was over, while everyone else was standing for an ovation, I jetted out of there, running across Harvard Yard to the T stop.

The Stranger on the T

A nicely dressed gentleman joined me on the last leg of the T journey to the airport.  I had caught all the trains I needed immediately and was relaxing a bit, though still checking my watch now and then.

The gentleman started up a pleasant conversation, asking about the T, explaining that although he had lived in the Boston area most of his life, he had never taken the T to the airport.  I told him what I knew and explained I had minimal experience, mostly from that morning.

Being at the gate, leaving the airport, jumping on the T to Harvard and running back to the airport – the gentleman told me I was crazy.  He also told me he appreciated the effort.  He was the Assistant Dean of Harvard and had also been at ceremony.  But he had left before Justice Souter’s speech.  “David’s a great guy,” he said, explaining that he knew Justice Souter well and been able to spend some time with him earlier in the day, even though he couldn’t stay for the speech.

We had a nice chat on the bus ride, about Boston, Florida, Wisconsin and Cali.  And before I knew it, we were at my terminal.  Time to jump off and go back to running.  I did make my flight.  Thanks in part to the security man who took me to the front of the line and in part to the flight’s 30 minute delay.

What a great adventure!  Thank you, Mr. Nice Lawyer.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Roller Coaster Friday

Up, Up, Up

The corsage and boutonnière were in the fridge, the ticket was on the printer, my newly-made earrings lay on the table, and I was in the middle of making a garter to match my dress and earrings.  All the bustle and excitement were keeping me thoroughly distracted from the impending 6pm Bar results.

And then, a phone call.  So long to the grown-up prom.  We weren’t going.

Down, Down, Down

My heart sank.  I was soooo looking forward to this night.  I love getting dressed up.  I love my senior prom dress.  I love that my senior prom dress still fits.  And I love dancing the night away in the arms of a handsome man.

Oh well.  You see, I couldn’t be that upset.  Mr. Trizzle didn’t back out of the prom because he didn’t want to go or anything like that.  No, we weren’t going to the prom because there was something else fun and exciting to do: a birthday party in Napa.

Mr. Trizzle is very good friends with one particular family in the Bay Area, the whole family.  As in he’ll go hang out with the parents, even without their son, who’s Mr. Trizzle’s age, around.  And it was the daughter of this family’s birthday.  There was no way I could ask Mr. Trizzle to skip that, and he had invited me along.

Admittedly, I wasn’t as excited about this prospect as I was about the prom.  It involved no dressing up, no dancing, and presumably a lot of Berkeley liberal talk that, quite frankly, I can do without.  But, I’d also never been to Napa and a trip to a birthday in a fancy house seemed like a nice way to experience it.

Up, Up, Again

Then Mr. Trizzle came up with a brilliant idea.  We could rent a Harley and ride up to the birthday party in Napa!  There’s a place in Oakland that rents Harley’s for – per their website – taking your significant other to Napa for the weekend.  Mr. Trizzle has a motorcycle license.  I’m from Milwaukee (so liking Harley’s is in my blood.)  It was a perfect plan.

I was so excited, I ran to my closet and got out my Florence, KY Harley Davidson shirt sent by my Harley-riding aunt from Kentucky.  I pulled out my Timbaland boots and my heaviest jacket, my CHS letter jacket.   I started packing super light, not caring about much more than getting to ride on a Harley out to a party in Napa.  “Wow,” I thought, “Now I’ll have a great story to tell my wine-loving uncle in Daly City and my Harley-loving aunt & uncle in Kentucky.”  Then there was another phone call.

Down, Once More

Mr. Trizzle came back to his normal self.  Rational logic taking over.  I hate when that happens.  But, he had some good points. 

He never ridden a real motorcycle before, not by Milwaukee standards.  He’d learned to ride on what we back home disparagingly call crotch-rockets.  He’d also never ridden with a person on the back of the bike.  Add to that the fact that it would be dark before we got to the house in Napa and the whole rent-a-Harley thing didn’t seem like such a good idea.

I was crushed, but he was right.  So, I started repacking, and I repacked in true goldenrail style.  Four pairs of shoes, including my pink high-heeled feathered marabou slippers, two swimsuits, glamorous nightgown, laptop, book and work file, a one-night stay.  Yes, I wore all the shoes.

Up, a Bit

No prom, no Harley, but we still did celebrate my Bar passage a bit.  Mr. Trizzle took me out for dinner at my favorite area restaurant, Mayflower.  They have more vegetarian options than you can shake a stick at.  And I got to have my special treat of orange veggie-chicken.  It’s one of the more expensive dishes, so I only get it on special occasions.

Oh, and don’t worry, we didn’t let the beautiful white rose corsage and boutonnière go to waste.  We wore them to dinner, despite not being dressed up.

Up, Up, a Bit More

The stay in Napa was absolutely wonderful.  We didn’t see any wineries, thought I did help Daddy Bunny plant some grapes on his Farmville farm while in Napa, but we had a lot of fun.

dorian and i by the pool croppedWe sat around and talked; we went swimming; we laid out by the pool in the warm sunshine; I made bacon for the non-veggies in the group; and we all went out for real good ‘ol American barbeque. 

It was a walk-up shack with outdoor seating and picnic benches.  A line of Harley’s rested to the side of the eating area, waiting for their matching riders to finish tearing into saucy pork cuts.  I felt hundreds of miles away from Berkeley, not an hour and a half.

The cornbread was excellent, though the three-bean salad could have used a little work.  The meal worked out perfectly for Jack Spratt and I.  He wanted the BBQ, but not any of the sides on offer.  I wanted the sides and no BBQ.  One meal with two pieces of cornbread and we were both very happy.

Riding High

Mr. Trizzle and I came back from that trip so relaxed and refreshed, it was amazing.  We felt like we’d been away for a whole week in a far off land, not away for 24 hours a relatively short drive from home.  It wasn’t the prom, but it was a great time.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Wait

I sat there, just staring at the computer screen, my four digit number-typed in, the arrow hovering over the submit button, waiting.  6pm Pacific Time, 6pm the results would be released, the results that would decide the next year of my life, the results to the California Bar Exam.  6pm.  It was after 6pm.

I was waiting, not for the clock to reach a certain hour, but for Mr. Trizzle to get off the phone.  For some strange reason, he decided that 5:45pm on Friday, the Friday, was a good time to start shopping for new auto insurance.  He’s haggling over $50 and I’m sitting there, just staring at that submit button.

Finally, I could click submit.  Text popped up on the screen.  Mr. Trizzle threw his arms around me and hugged me so hard I couldn’t read the screen.  Mr. Trizzle was clearly excited (he never voluntarily hugs me), but I had no idea what was going on because I couldn’t read the screen.  I forgot, if you don’t pass, nothing comes up.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

1 Million Toilets for India

Did you know that there are more cell phones than toilets in India?   My goodness, can you imagine having to share a toilet with 3, 4 or 5 other people?

The people of India are suffering horribly for this lack of toilets.  Sharing toilets with more than one other person is highly unhygienic.   The facilities get dirty quickly and can not be cleaned as often as necessary to keep them free from deadly bacteria.  Obviously, since we in America require one toilet for every two people, if not one for each person, everyone else in the world deserves the same amount of toilets.  It’s a human right.

This is why my dear friend, Tremainz and I have decided to start 1 Million Toilets for India, so that children across India can grow up safe and happy, without the degradation and disease that comes from having to share a toilet with too many people.  We’re going to include everyone on the Indian subcontinent, too.  After all, country, continent, it’s all the same to us.
You Can Help!
Here’s how the project works.  You, rich white people who have never been outside your little bubble world, save for that two-week vacation to a third world country that totally changed your life, you are going to donate money and stacks of toilet tissue to us.  See how simple it is for you to help save the world!

Then we, the people of 1 Million Toilets for India, will solicit donations of old toilets from people in Africa.  We will take your money and buy more toilets from African toilet manufacturers.  Now, we’re helping those starving people in Africa, too!  Next, we’ll have those toilets and tissue packages shipped across the country of Africa to India.  This will help all sorts of local economies by employing drivers.

Once we get to India, we’ll use a group of volunteers sourced from our program staff, the African companies that donated and delivered the toilets, and some lucky donors who win our special contest to go to India and get their life totally changed, again.

What about the Indian toilet manufacturers and installers?  Who cares!  Clearly, if they knew what they were doing, India wouldn’t have this awful toilet shortage.  They must be terrible at making toilets, so we’re going to ignore them.


I hope, dear readers, that you realize what is written above is totally tongue-in-cheek.  Tremainz and I did develop this idea together.  The joke amused us for several days at least.  Spawned by the 1 Million T-Shirts for Africa ridiculousness [I’m not giving it a link, google it], we went off on a sarcastic binge against junk aid.

But this foolishness about junk aid has made me begin to question what I always thought of as decent aid.  I started wondering where to draw the line.  Is any aid really decent or good?

Donations of Infringing Goods

This past week, I attended INTA, the International Trademark Association’s annual meeting.  In the Exhibition Hall, generally full of vendors peddling their oh-so-useful trademark services, was a booth for World Vision. 

World Vision was there to solicit donations.  Donations of infringing goods that would otherwise be destroyed because of their violation of trademark law.  Their display featured a series of pictures of smiling African children and adults wearing Chicago Bears Super Bowl XLI Champion t-shirts and hats.  For those of you who don’t know, the Bears didn’t win that Super Bowl.

I looked at those pictures, at first slightly amused.  It didn’t last too long.  I soon learned where those pictures were taken.  Zambia.  Monze, Zambia.  The Monze, Zambia I called home for two years.
The Local Economy
My first thought was the tailors that sit outside the store fronts in Monze or under an insaka on their family compound in the village.  My second thought was of the people sitting in the dusty, crowded market in downtown Monze, selling salaula (used clothing imported from the West) and new clothing imported from Asia.  All these people lost something when the Bears swept down on Zambia as Champions.
Setting an Example
My third thought came not from my experiences in the Zambian community where these clothes were deposited, but from my training in intellectual property law.   What message does it send when we say, “you must stop counterfeit goods” with our mouths, and with our hands, fill the country with counterfeit goods?

The US government, the Zambian government, most of the other governments in Africa, are trying to teach their citizens the value of trademarks and not to infringe others’ marks.  There are many reasons for this, I’m not going to get into all of them here.  But I will mention the one most important in this instance.

Weak protection of trademarks discourages investment in the country.  It discourages new companies from forming within a country and it discourages foreign companies from entering the local market.  Bad, bad, bad.
Long Term Effects
How can we convince Company X that it should invest in Zambia, that it should open a facility and employ thousands of people and that its company will be protected from imposters when the population is taught that there is nothing wrong with infringing goods?

How can we convince Mr. Banda he should start a new business in Zambia instead of abroad when he’ll be subject to imposters and to having his company’s market overrun by free donations from abroad?  (This later issue is addressed well in Dambisa Moyo’s book Dead Aid.  I highly recommend it.)
Final Thoughts
I remain conflicted on World Vision’s program.  In general, I like World Vision and the organization's work.  But this clothing thing has made me question their other work as well.
I understand the idea that donating something is better than destroying it.  But how about just not making it at all?  Do we really need to have our Super Bowl champions shirts available immediately after the game?  What’s wrong with waiting a day or two? 

As for the infringing goods, how about removing the mark when possible, and recycling the materials when not.  There must be other solutions than drowning developing countries in our excess and illegal goods.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Research in Richmond

It was as if the Pillsbury Doughboy had been left in the oven a little too long.  Extra puffy in some places, slack in others, a strange mix of variations of white and cream, her off white sweater folding into her pinkish skin, blending into her yellow-grey hair.  I might not have noticed if she’d been nicer.  But she was in no mood to be nice.

“That’s not me; I’m just the person they pay to sit behind a desk,” she said to some poor caller who certainly didn’t get the help they were seeking.  “That’s not how things work here,” she glumly told her friend on a later call, after explaining that she can’t just tell people to read something because too many of them refuse to try, “they’d rather pick your brain,” she explained.

I made the mistake of asking her for help shortly after my arrival at the Public Law Library in Richmond.  “The website said there’s wifi…?”  “That’s not here; that’s Martinez.”  I’d soon learn, “That’s Martinez,” is her general answer for almost everything. 
Then I asked for the login for Westlaw or Lexis.  The sign clearly said both services were free for library patrons.  She looked at me as if I just asked her what number came after one.  “What do you mean a login?  You just click enter, everything’s populated.”  “There’s no information on the screen.”

Begrudgingly, she extradited herself from her chair and waddled over to the lone computer terminal with it’s empty login boxes on the screen.  “Oh. It must have gotten removed.”  I expected her to just quickly type in the user name and password and let me have the computer.  Not that easy. 

“You need to go stand on the other side of the room!”  So I wouldn’t steal the password she claimed.  Five minutes later, after I had perused every aisle of books, up and down, F. Supp., Cal. Reporter, Supreme Court Reporter, Shepard’s, Real Estate Forms, she called me back to the little terminal.

She left several times during the afternoon, each time locking the door behind her.  I don’t know if I was locked in or not.  I assume not since that would violate the fire code and there were no other exits.  But then, this is Richmond, so who knows.

At 4pm, she warned me the library would be closing soon.  The sign says it’s open ‘til 4:30, but I could see she was anxious to leave.  I finished up a few things and packed up my bags.  As I headed out the door, I turned back to say goodbye.  She smiled at me for the first time.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Sarah Dubois, Setting the White Woman Battle Back Some Years

File:Sarah Dubois.jpgSarah Dubois.  I’m starting to have mixed feelings about her.  I used to be ambivalent, but now it’s growing towards dislike.  I suppose it doesn’t matter much if I dislike her.  She is, after all, just a cartoon character.

But there’s something about the way Sarah’s turning out that is a starting to irk me.  Let me tell you about Sarah.


For those of you who don’t know, The Boondocks centers around the Freeman family, 10 year-old Huey, his younger brother, Riley and their granddad, Granddad.  Granddad moved the family out of Chicago and into a  nice suburb, where they are practically the only black family.

The Dubois’s are the Freeman’s neighbors.   There’s the dad, Tom; he’s a DA and one of the other few black people in the neighborhood.  And he isn’t named ‘Tom’ for no reason.  Then there’s Tom’s wife, Sarah.  She's white.  She’s also very active in the NAACP and often talks about the great times she’s had at protests and marches and what-not.

Sarah’s always been a bit of a naive character, struggling to walk the fine line on which her activities and her marriage have placed her.  A counter-part to her mixed daughter who’s trying to do the same things but whose line is different enough that her mother can be of little help.  Sarah sometimes does ok.  Sometimes she makes mistakes, the same way any of us do when attempting to bridge a gap into a culture that’s not our own.  None of this really ever bothered me.  It seemed a fair, if sometimes painful, depiction.

But lately, during some episodes in Season 2 and the newest Season 3 episode aired this past Monday, Sarah’s character has gone way downhill.  No longer is she just the slightly-out-of-place white woman who’s struggling to find herself in her world.  Now, she is becoming “a white woman” in the said-with-disdain, predatory, despised-by-black-woman-everywhere sense. 

White women who’s main purpose in life is to steal black men away, to collect as many as they can, like trophies.  Forbidden trophies; forbidden, lustful, sexual trophies that desire their blonde hair as much as they desire dark flesh.  It’s a stereotype, and it’s a stereotype that I hate.  (Think I’m making this up?  Google “white woman”; the first thing that comes up is an article about why white women prefer black men.)

The trouble is, this depiction, this stereotype isn’t far fetched.   I know people like this.  Well, really I knew one person like this.  Her life seems to be one giant competition between herself and the rest of the world over who can snag the most black men.  She’s not even white.  But she’s not black either, so she might as well be white; it reflects on us.


For all the comments and criticisms I hear about the ‘bad’ stereotypical ways in which The Boondocks portrays Black People, I guess it’s only fair the show does the same to the White People.   Huey is the revolutionary; Riley’s the ghetto kid; Uncle Ruckus is the black guy who hates black people.  Sarah happens to be that certain kind of white woman.

The general depictions of white people on the show don’t bother me.  But as Sarah’s character depth increases, I find myself more and more…. offended, upset, distraught?  I don’t even know what.  Uncomfortable, that’s probably it.  Why?

My best guess is because I’m afraid of being associated with her.  The other white people, the general mass of white-suburbanites, I can easily distance myself from them.  They’re vague, and general and there’s many of them.  But Sarah, Sarah’s one person who happens to have a few things in common with me.  A few things does not equal everything.  I’m not like her.  I don’t want to be like her.  And more importantly, I don’t want people to think I’m like her. 

White woman syndrome is hard enough to shake off;  I don’t need a cartoon character making it even more difficult.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Warm Weather

Sun dresses.  I love them. Spaghetti straps, flowy fabric, knee-length beauties.  I was starting to think they no longer had a place in my closet.  Then this weekend came.  Beautiful, sunny weather, warm but with a nice breeze.  Like June in Wisconsin.  I’m so happy, I could burst.

I put on one of my newest lovelies, an orange and brown paisley ankle length sundress, empire waist, smocked top, ruffled straps and a ruffle at the bottom, of course with some 5” heels, silver and brown wedges.  And I marched down the street, past the shopping plaza, past the burger place that smells distinctly like a side-of-the-road suya stand from Nigeria, and down to the estate shop. 

Estate shops are very interesting to me.  One crowded store seems to sum up so much of my life to me.  There’s an old fold-out end table like my grandpa had, along with some chairs that remind me of his living room.  A box of sewing patterns that look exactly like the ones my mommy has in her sewing room.  A magazine here, a figurine there, nearly everything in the shop reminds me of growing up, of my grandparents’ house, of my parents’ house, a bit even of my own apartment.  I guess you know you’re old when your childhood is in an estate shop.

 chair at estate shop croppedA once-yellow chair that looks like it might be circa I-have-no-idea enticed me into the shop.  It’s marked ‘$35 as is.’  The fabric is torn on the back and there’s a few small paint marks on one of  the arms. I’m still debating about it, but  I don’t think the color will go with my living room.  I’m mostly concerned I won’t be able to get the dust out from around those little bronze rivet thingies on the arms.

I did leave with some goodies though.  One of those patterns just like my mommy has, except that this one is in my size.  (My mommy was so skinny!)  And a lampshade.  No, not just a lampshade, the lampshade for which I have spent the past two months searching.  It’s for a particular lamp I made.  I will show you, soon…