Category Archives: Uncategorized

Things to do from Huacachina Oasis, population 400

Huacachina at sunset.

Huacachina at sunset.

Huacachina is one of the most awesome travel-bases in the world.

From this postcard perfect Oasis (literally) you are 10 feet from a cozy bar/restaurant/hotel in all directions and for a few dollars someone will take you into the dunes via buggy for a dizzying ride through mile high sand dunes. At the apex, the driver–with an odd confidence in the rider’s ability to perilously surf down a 5,000 foot dune, drops you off, gives you a board, and drives away leaving little choice other than to recklessly adventure downward. ($16)

For almost nothing the locals will provide transport to the Ica area wineries (yes, in a desert), and a hidden community of self-professed witches and shamans. ($6)

Peruvian wine tends to be very sweet. If you are not into wine you might enjoy the Pisco which every winery also boasts. Its the local firewater.

Peruvian wine tends to be very sweet. If you are not into wine you might enjoy the Pisco which every winery also boasts. Its the local firewater.

GiantCorkScrew

Land of witches, goblins, and mescaline.

Land of witches, goblins, and mescaline.

For $8 a van will take you on an imminently scenic three hour ride to a harbor (in the village of Pisco) where a speed boat will jettison you passed dolphins and surfacing Killer Whales to the Ballesta Islands (the poor man’s Galapagos). There you can confront a blue-footed booby, a hundred thousand squawking sea lions, and a pungent odor that even a mortician will notice.

seals2

Thousands and thousands of seals and sea lions.

Thousands and thousands of seals and sea lions.

seals3
For $100, you can be taken to a nearby airport (well, perhaps four hours away, actually, and “strip” might be a better word for “port”) and experience a 45 minute flight over the ancient Nazca lines.

Not the Nazca Lines, but another ancient creation viewed on the way to the islands.

Not the Nazca Lines, but another ancient creation viewed on the way to the islands.

Any of Huacachina’s dozen eating establishments offers amazing and cheap food. The most expensive hyper-exotic cocktail in any bar is about $2 or $3.

Pork straight from the spit. ($2)

Pork straight from the spit. ($2)

Steak in a cream sauce, rice, and huge potato fries. ($3)

Steak in a cream sauce, rice, and huge potato fries. ($3)

20,000 lbs of chicken. ($3)

20,000 lbs of chicken. ($3)

$1 -- 2 for 1

$1 — 2 for 1

It is awesome. You should go now. I’ll drive.

If you must wait, go in mid-March during the Ica Wine Festival. With huge complementary tasting tents it’s like a county fair–except instead of horses, they exhibit pumas and condors.

IcaWineFest1 condor puma monkeyLogistical Note:

At the time of this writing there was only one ATM in Huacachina and it is broken. Get money from the one at the bus station in Ica, and take the $2 taxi ride 4 miles to Huacachina,

“The Voting Information Project (VIP), developed by The Pew Charitable Trusts, Google, and election officials nationwide, offers cutting-edge technology tools that give voters access to the customized information they need to cast a ballot on or before Election Day.

VIP is offering free apps and tools that provide polling place locations and ballot information for the 2014 election across a range of technology platforms:”

To learn more about the Voting Information Project, visit here.

Perez Art Museum Miami

Richard at Perez Art Museum Miami

If I were to indulge in a criticism of south Florida’s status as a major world tourist destination it would be its lacking of a major world art museum.  

Intellectually, I understand that Boston has been around for a very long time and that early European colonists brought their Rembrandts and their Hieronymus Boschs with them. Therefore, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts is able to rival most anything Europe has to offer, and the art scene of Miami does not.

But what the Treasure Coast lacks in history, it compensates for with huge sums of money, so I was positively enamored when I heard of plans to move the disastrously located Miami Art Museum into a $131 million dollar building designed by the legendary Swiss architecture powerhouse Herzog & de Meuron. I have been salivating for years during its controversial construction, and for months since its opening, for an opportunity to visit.

The day did not start off well.

My friend was three hours late because he had run a marathon the night before and was understandably more sleepy than his alarm clock was wakeful.

When we got there, we were bamboozled into parking about a half mile away from the building on the south side of the vast and empty Museum Park. 

This really could be "South Florida's front porch" if there were people here.

This really could be “south Florida’s front porch,” if there were people here.

Since we were late we scuttled plans to have lunch at the very nearby and wondrously international Bayside Marketplace food court, instead opting for what we knew was going to be an ambitiously priced museum cafe. Indeed, the proletariat must never find out how much a sandwich costs here as they may respond by burning down the building.

At any art museum cafe there is a certain level of pretension to be expected from the menu, and in this respect, the menu at “Verde” does not disappoint.

(Actually, since the cafe is encased with glass and concrete and offers views of an overpass and the half-demolished Miami Herald building, each obscuring a view of Biscayne Bay, the only association with “green” I could make with the cafe is the vast amounts of it disappearing from patrons’ wallets.)

The view outside "Verde."  It is, I must say, an appropriate artistic expression for Miami politics.  When the new owner of the iconic Miami Herald Building was refused permission to build a casino, he spontaneously exploded half his building to treat tourists with a  perpetual view of what he thought about the government's decision.

The view outside “Verde.” It is, I must say, an appropriate artistic expression for Miami politics. When the new owner of the iconic Miami Herald Building was refused permission to build a casino, he spontaneously exploded half his building to treat tourists with a perennial view of what he thought about the government’s decision.

If you are committed to eating at the restaurant I have two key pieces of advice.

One, make sure someone else, preferably a government or evil international consortium, is paying the bill.

Two, and I cannot be too clear on this point–buy the bottled water.

When they ask you if you want bottled water, treat it with the respect you’d give a mobster asking if your bar wants to participate in their anti-violence campaign. If you say, “no,” all manner of hijinks may occur.

After waiting 15 minutes for a table (there were several free, but they asked if they could “text” us when they were more conceptually prepared to host customers)  we were seated and asked the fateful question:

“Would you gentleman care to buy a bottled water?”

“No, thank you, we’ll drink what you have from the tap.”

He gave me the look of a kidnapper asking me if I wanted to see my son alive again, then promptly disappeared for forty-five minutes–presumably looking for our car so he could cut the breaks. Suddenly, we felt fortunate that we had been tricked into parking in an adjacent county.

This gave us plenty of time to download French dictionaries to try to translate the menu and file the needed paperwork to take out the loans necessary to cover the meal.  After traipsing around outside in the 100 degree humid south Florida weather (and this has apparently never happened there before) I had the audacity to be thirsty. My entreaties for non-bottled water went ignored through three service staff before I finally brought my glass to the Maitre d’. Within a few days a half-cup of water was presented garnished with a lonely single ice-cube.

We were not alone in feeling neglected, others resorted to flash-bangs and flare guns to get their servers’ attention. When unaccountably posh servers did reluctantly present themselves, questions about menu items were greeted with a vacillation of exasperated anger, sarcasm, and outright condescending disdain:

I asked about the serving size of the ceviche listed in the “lighter fare” section.

“‘Lighter fare’ means appetizer; so it’s the size of an appetizer,” one eye expressed concern that I might have a developmental cognitive disability while the other promised that he was still looking for our car.

“Are the pizzas big enough to share?”

“The pizzas are appropriately sized for personal consumption to the individual ordering it,” he bellowed cryptically with an enigmatic arrogance.

Even by Miami’s apathetic to antagonistic customer service standards–this was a very special place.

We both ordered a pizza involving prosciutto and arugula.  Each turned out to be the size of Texas, and were objectively very good–they don’t skimp on the fancy ingredients and the food is presented with a fulgent exuberance. It was ironically salty, however, and there was no more water forthcoming absent a trip to the bathroom sink.

The patrons surrounding us got steaks and fresh fish and in every case the portions appeared generous and gorgeously exhibited.

We were way to angry to enjoy it. I am usually as docile as a Hindu cow content to block traffic in Agra, and my friend successfully offered to pay the bill to quell my rather noticeable frustration.

Attitude reset, we toured the museum’s collection.

Dangling garden

The building is one of the finest in the world.

100,000,000 building

The collection, meanwhile, is underwhelming.

It’s not bad, it’s not mediocre, it’s just underwhelming.

Previous perceptions of the universe are not shattered. Personal philosophy is not challenged. There are no emotional experiences to be had. One’s life struggles are not prompted to be rethought by canvas, photograph, video, or sound.

Being billed as a contemporary art museum, I had been hoping for a pitch black room where audio of a woman screaming would be replayed until an abrupt lighting scheme transformed the room alight with pink–as a reminder of breast cancer awareness–but the strange and the uncomfortable were not even available.

But there was some fun and idiosyncratic displays and the admission charge ($16) is well earned by simply entering the building itself.

The first exhibit that engaged me was appropriate to the curator’s decision to  relate most of the collection to the uniqueness of Miami–it is called “cocaine paraphernalia.”

What could be more Miami than this exhibit: "cocaine paraphernalia."

What could be more Miami than this exhibit: “cocaine paraphernalia.”

My favorite piece was a photograph of a lone man standing in an abandoned suburb of  post-Katrina New Orleans holding a sign with the words “A Country Road – a Tree – Evening” which are the opening austere stage directions from Act One of Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot.” In the play, Godot, who represents God, keeps sending a messenger to a pessimistic pair who keep waiting for him day after day while they vaguely know he will never come because he does not exist.   Presumably, the photographer was giving his opinion of when FEMA aid would come to this particular New Orleans neighborhood.  Creative, brilliant, funny.

Waiting for FEMA in New Orleans

Waiting for FEMA funds in New Orleans

I also enjoyed several Thai-protest sketches from Rirkrit Tiravanija which mostly reminded me of my time in Thailand during the recent political instability.

Mr. Thaksin is not popular among many of the Bangkok middle class and elites.

Mr. Thaksin is not popular among many of the Bangkok middle class and elite.

The World tents to perceive the Thais as polite and peaceful with their protests.

The World tends to perceive the Thais as polite and peaceful with their protests.

I threw this one in as a shout out to my Singapore friends!

I threw this one in as a shout-out to my Singapore friends!

Less intrinsically personal, but curiously engaging works, also abound.

I don't know what it means but I like it. I think I'd call it "purple" to add an enigmatically ambiguous layer of meaning to the work.

I don’t know what it means but I like it. I think I’d call it “purple” to add an enigmatically ambiguous dimension to the work.

I also liked, but failed to understand, other pieces.

painting 2

Something about transportation and art? Questioning the decadence of modern culture borne out of genocide and an ignored collective suffering? Why are the windows of the building with the “do not enter” symbol painted different colors and what does it have to do with a wagon wheel? I don’t know, but I paid attention and took a picture of it.

Longboat houses in Malaysia haphazardly expanding under increasing hardship?

Longboat houses in Malaysia haphazardly expanding under increasing hardship?

Sarah Morris, Le Meridien [Rio], 2012. Collection of Pérez

Sarah Morris, Le Meridien [Rio], 2012. Collection of Pérez

The one artist displayed anyone in the developed world would immediately be able to identify--but there's not much to do after staring at it for thirty seconds, nodding, and moving on to the next work.

The one artist displayed anyone in the developed world would immediately be able to identify–but there’s not much to do after staring at it for thirty seconds, nodding, and moving on to the next work.

Then there were some sculpture installations. I think everyone who toured the museum took special interest in this space module shaped backyard shed.

Exterior of repurposed aluminum space module.

Exterior of repurposed aluminum space module.

Interior of repurposed aluminum space module.

Interior of repurposed aluminum space module.

This more critical piece seemed largely ignored.

A brief, and unpleasent, history of colonialism

A brief, and unpleasent, history of colonialism

Equally subtle was this artist/sculptor’s opinion of Miami politics:

hmmm. . . not a pleased voter.

hmmm. . . not a pleased voter.

The museum’s premiere exhibit was Leonor Antunes’ “a [sic] secluded and pleasant land. in [sic] this land I wish to dwell.”

I haven't read it yet, but I did take one of the two-thousand word brochures explaining the exhibit.

I haven’t read it yet, but I did take one of the two-thousand word brochures explaining the exhibit.

I will try to return to The Perez when they schedule some  performance art in its uniquely designed two-tiered stage theater which separates the first and second floor galleries.

The  seating is as aesthetically amazing as it is pragmatically uncomfortable.

The seating is as aesthetically amazing as it is pragmatically uncomfortable.

But I may wait a while.

In 2016 the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science will open adjacent to the Perez and promises to be one of the great and elaborate science museums of the world. It is intended to rival the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and the Deutsches Museum in Munich.

When that opens the adjacent-bayside should fulfill its promised epithet of “Front Porch of south Florida.”

If only there were people. . .

If only there were more people. . .

Let’s also maybe get some food trucks and street performers out there.

In the meantime, if you are a foreign tourist only visiting for three days, your time might be more enjoyably spent strolling and swimming on South Beach, shopping at the nearby Bayside Marketplace, partying in Coral Gables, treating yourself to high tea at the Biltmore, vaporizing into Collins Avenue, or looking at lawfully naked beautiful people at Haulover Park.

Miami will eventually be one of the world’s cultural epicenters, but it isn’t there yet.  It is still, however, one of the most agreeable travel destinations in the Americas.

Logistics

Perez Art Museum Miami
Museum Park at 1103 Biscayne Blvd.
Miami, FL 33132

Closed Mondays, 10AM – 6PM Tuesday-Sunday; open until 9PM on Thursday.

Adults $16
Discounted admission $12
Active duty military and children under 6 are admitted free.

The museum can be easily reached by public transport, take the metromover to “Museum Park” station. Have lunch one stop further at Bayside Marketplace. If the food court doesn’t appeal to you, consider the spectacular Argentine steakhouse buffet at the provocatively titled “The Knife.”

Allow two hours for a thorough viewing of the collection, or six hours, if you wish to eat at the museum.

In either case, bring money.

 

Fun with National Capitals and Seats of Governments

Tallahassee was selected as Florida's capital because it was roughly equidistant from Pensacola (the administrative seat of "West Florida") and Saint Augustine (the administrative seat of "East Florida')  when Florida was regifted back to the United States from Spain in 1821.

Tallahassee was selected as Florida’s capital because it was roughly equidistant from Pensacola (the administrative seat of “West Florida”) and Saint Augustine (the administrative seat of “East Florida’) when Florida was re-gifted back to the United States from Spain in 1821.

If rudely asked to name the capitals of Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, South Africa, Tanzania and Turkey on an idle Friday afternoon, some congratulations of geographic knowledge are merited for the answers Sydney, La Paz, Rio de Janeiro, Johannesburg, Dar es Salaam, and Istanbul.

Each of the above answers is incorrect, but understandably so–in the same way that some seem unaware that Juneau–not Anchorage–is the capital of Alaska, and that the Oregon Legislature meets in Eugene rather than weird Portland.

Opting for an abandoned look, Australians built their remote and spookily empty capital in Canberra.

In Bolivia, the government buildings are located in La Paz, yet the Constitution insists that the capital is in beautiful Sucre–where national independence was declared on August 6, 1825.

On April 21, 1960, at mesmerizing expense, President Juscelino Kubitschek officially moved Brazil’s capital from Rio to ultra-modern Brasilia. 

Although South Africa greedily has three capitals, Johannesburg is not one of them. Wanting to spread the wealth of government jobs around the country, Pretoria hosts the Executive branch of government, the Judiciary resides in Bloemfontein, and the Legislature gets the best deal near an idyllic beach in Cape Town.

Dodoma became the capital of Tanzania in 1974 and one day they may actually move an administrative office there. The National Assembly finally arrived from Dar es Salaam in early 1996.

Apparently in an effort to be difficult, Ankara, not Istanbul, is the capital of Turkey.

Some countries opt not to have any government at their capitals.

(Not to be confused with the United States, which merely chooses not to conduct any government in its capital.)

The Netherlands’ Palace, Parliament, and Supreme Court are located in The Hague, but officially, its capital is Amsterdam. 

To get around this bizarreness, it is important to know that there is a political distinction between “capital,” which is wherever the country says it is, and “seat of government,” which is wherever it actually is.

Poor Morocco could never really decide. While Rabat is the official capital, its other imperial cities include Fez, Marrakech, and Meknes. Casablanca didn’t even make it to the top four! 

Tiny, but apparently self-important, Swaziland has two capitals. Their administrative capital is in Mbabane while their royal and legislative capital is in Lobamba.

Similarly, the forlorn atoll of Palau, (population 21,000) couldn’t choose between Ngerulmud and Melekeok. Meanwhile, more than two-thirds of the population resides in Koror.

In a unique approach to democratic governance, both Chile and Georgia have opted to banish their legislatures from their capitals. The capital of Chile is Santiago but its Legislature meets in Valparaiso. In Georgia, the Legislature meets in Kutaisi while the capital is officially Tbilisi.

Even the CIA World Factbook doesn’t want to recognize Sri Lanka’s attempt at moving its capital from Colombo to Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte.

Perhaps finding this whole affair of “capitals” and “seats of government” pretentious, Nauru refuses to participate at all.

It does not have a capital–though you should send diplomatic correspondence to Yaren.

That is because whether the Nauruan people like it or not, they have a “seat of government.” 

 

Recommendations for the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit and Palm Beach Judicial Bench

Richard Junnier, Esq.

Richard Junnier, Esq.

First, there are no poor candidates in this election field.

There are no kooks, crooks, clearly-unqualifieds, or those suspected of corruption. Each candidate evidences excellence, appears sincere, and has demonstrated varying levels of community commitment.

My recommendations lean toward candidates with a high volume of court experience, previous judicial experience (meaning incumbency), and whose public service has demonstrated a compassionate heart, attention to detail, and who evidence the capacity to transcend prejudice and heuristic through treating people and cases as unique and individual. I believe that these attributes optimally maximize the potential for consistent, albeit always imperfect, fairness.

When determining the varying levels of these qualities in each candidate I reviewed news reports, both traditional and social, solicited colleagues’ anecdotes, and, when available, reviewed the candidate’s websites.

One factor I refuse to consider is the political affiliation of any candidate.

Campaigning in Leon County during 2012 early voting

Campaigning in Leon County during 2012 early voting

I also chose not to review their success at fundraising, and, unless all other factors were equal, I ignored consideration as to ethnicity, gender, religion, or sexual orientation. If all other factors were equal, I sided with choices that empower representatives of historically disenfranchised communities–this is intended to further the public interest of having a judiciary as diverse as the society it judges.

These are my recommendations followed by a brief analysis of why I recommend them:

15th Circuit Judges

Group 14: Diana Lewis*

Group 30: Maxine Cheesman

Palm Beach County Judges

There are no contested elections for Palm Beach County Judge.

*Denotes that the recommended candidate is also the incumbent.

Analysis of 15th Circuit Judicial Candidates:

Group 14: Diana Lewis* 

“Nothing in this Estate will be contested. This Estate would have been opened as a routine matter on this Court’s ex parte calendar but for their same-sex marriage. There is no rational basis to apply those laws to the facts of this case. Same-sex couples are entitled to respect, dignity, and protection as any other spouse. . .”         –The Hon. Diana Lewis

Diana Lewis is the judge that ruled–as it applies to probate law–Florida must recognize out-of-state same sex marriages.*

*Specifically: Florida probate law requires that the personal representative for a decedent either be a Florida resident, a family member of the decedent, or a spouse of the decedent. Florida law prohibits recognition of out-of-state same sex marriages for “any purpose.” In this case, the person applying to be personal representative for his deceased out-of-state same sex spouse was a non-resident. Judge Lewis ruled that the “any purpose” portion of Florida law is inapplicable in this situation.

You can read her ruling, and get an idea of her nuanced writing ability, here. 

Judge Lewis has served on the 11th Circuit bench since 2003–the same year her opponent graduated from law school. Prior to that, she spent twenty years as a powerhouse attorney working with firms that are synonymous with hyper-competence. The law is not her first career, she used to be an admissions counselor for Notre Dame. She volunteers regularly with religious and secular charities and serves on the Board of Trustees for her alma mater. She also serves on multiple bar committees related to the practice and policing of attorney ethics and professionalism.

(The potential irony of this is discussed at length further below.)

Her challenger is Jessica Ticktin. Although young, she has a splendid legal resume. Mrs. Ticktin has practiced law for ten years, mostly with her father’s firm, the Ticktin Law Group (you have seen their commercials) and for four years, as managing partner. She says that she oversees 24 attorneys, 4,500 cases, and 10 offices. While the firm seems to advertise its abilities in any legal situation, she concentrates in the area of family law.

I tried to find a list of civic accomplishments, examples of volunteerism, or public recognitions. Neither her law firm nor campaign websites list anything significant.

Because Judge Lewis has twenty more years legal experience, and because she actively shows her community commitment through volunteer activities and charitable work, I recommend that she be retained.

I do this with some reluctance because Judge Lewis might be a bit of a bully.

Mrs. Ticktin has advanced an aggressively negative campaign. Citing a poll of those who practice in Palm Beach, Mrs. Ticktin claims Judge Lewis has a poor judicial temperament and a bias toward defendants in civil litigation. Mrs. Ticktin also claims Judge Lewis’ decisions have the highest rate of being overturned on appeal.

Facially, that is pretty scary, so I will analyze each of those claims.

The Palm Beach practitioners’ poll is unreliable because of its dismal response rate–10.33%. Because it is unreliable, it evidences nothing. Its use in a campaign is therefore misleading. According to the Palm Beach Post, this was explained to Mrs. Ticktin by the Judicial Practices Commission of the Florida Bar Association. Despite being admonished not to do it, Mrs. Ticktin has continued to use the poll.

You can read the full article here.

However, some attorneys have said that she yells and degrades them. The anonymous online comments are truly jaw-dropping. If you’re feeling prurient, or just want to be reminded how unkind we can be toward one another, you can look at some of them here.

Others explain that she is simply impatient with lawyers who are unprepared. Her bias is not evidenced toward defendants, but merely favors attorneys who exhibit competence. Apparently, unlike some judges, she reads every scrap of paper an attorney files prior to a hearing and gets really annoyed with those appearing before her if they have not. She takes her job very seriously.

My friends (admittedly a  very small sample) who appear before her describe her as “nice” and “extremely detailed.”

She appears to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the law, but when her decisions are appealed, quizzically, more than 40% have been overturned. That sounds high and it probably is.

However, at the relevant time, she primarily presided over foreclosure cases, and if she enters a default judgment because the homeowner is too depressed to even show up to court, there is probably going to be an appellate reversal. She does not realistically have control over that.

Beyond my hypothetical example, I researched the significance of a 40% reversal rate in civil law cases.

In a regretful effort to be thorough, I examined several academic statistical analyses of appellate reversal rates in the state courts of large counties. The one I thought to be the most relevant (though still not great) is a 2006 “Special Report” of the U.S. Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics. According to the DOJ, 15% of civil trials conclude with an appeal by the losing party, of which 43% are withdrawn or dismissed prior to appellate resolution. Of those remaining appeals, approximately 33% of trial judgments are reversed in whole or in part. Focusing specifically on real property trials (which include but are not limited to foreclosure hearings), the appeal rate increases from 15% to 24%. I would tell you what of that 24% gets reversed on appeal, but the study then divides property claims into tort and contract categories making that not feasible.

The report is here.

I tried to find a specific study pertaining to appellate foreclosure reversal rates in Florida, but did not find one. However, the website for Florida Foreclosure Attorneys, PLLC details a helpful long list of foreclosure reversals.

In other words–while high, a 40% reversal rate seems to be within the bounds of normalcy for foreclosure dockets.

Because Mrs. Ticktin’s accusations are based upon an unreliable poll, anonymous internet anecdotes, and are counterbalanced by other attorneys’ anecdotes, I instead compare Judge Lewis’ more than three-decade legal career with Mrs. Ticktin’s briefer one. I also compare Judge Lewis’ active volunteerism to Mrs. Ticktin’s apparent lack of one.

With some reservation, I recommend Judge Lewis be retained.

Group 30: Maxine Cheesman

Because of her thirty-year legal career and copious pro-bono work, I was going to recommend Peggy Rowe-Linn. Despite a lack of trial experience (none of the candidates have preformed a significant amount of Florida trial work) she would surely make an excellent judge.

Similarly, Ivy-League educated Jaimie Goodman, though the bulk of his trial experience is out-of-state, seems to have an excellent temperament, and despite specializing in employment law, has a commanding general legal knowledge. This is his third campaign for judge.

But as I wrote about Mrs. Rowe-Linn’s prodigious legal career, one thought kept attacking my mind.

“I really want to recommend Maxine Cheesman.”

First, while almost every lawyer majors in political science or philosophy, (I opted for psychology with a minor in literature thereby guaranteeing my need to go to law school if I wanted a job) as an undergraduate, Ms. Cheesman received a Bachelor and Master’s degree in Chemistry. The suggestion of a mind capable of calculus and empiricism serving as a judge is downright thrilling.

A judiciary incapable of subjecting evidence to the scientific method is why I occasionally find myself working postconviction cases involving the improper admittance of clairvoyant testimony as signaled by a psychic dog. (I really do have to write about that case someday soon!)

Second, although the span of her legal career is less than half that of Mrs. Rowe-Lynn, she has practiced law for ten years. And for that ten years she has concentrated on advancing the cause of the defenseless and the oppressed. She won the Palm Beach Bar Association’s 2012 “And Justice for All” Award for providing high quality pro-bono work to the Palm Beach community. It is no surprise that the law is Ms. Cheesman’s second career. Prior to launching her civil litigation firm in 2005, she spent 27 years in the public sector, including 15 years as a division head at the South Florida Water Management District.

Third, she consistently answers questions in the most fantastically awesome way. When asked what is the most important quality in selecting a judge, most will answer “a knowledge of the law.” When asked, Ms. Cheesman offered what I believe to be the almost never mentioned, but correct, answer–“patience.”

(That is from an interview with West Boca News.) 

I believe that Ms. Cheesman’s ten years of legal experience, supplemented with her rare and needed background in science, a 27 year public service career, and eloquent understanding of judicial temperament amid chaotic caseloads, make her at least as qualified as Mrs. Rowe-Linn.

All other things therefore being equal, Maxine Cheesman is a native of Jamaica. As the Afro-Caribbean community continues to grow in south Florida, it is time that a highly accomplished representative from that community be elevated to the Bench of the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit.

This is intended to further the public interest of having a judiciary as diverse as the society it judges.

Or as it powerfully states on Ms. Cheesman’s campaign website: “You have the power to chose who judges you.”

I recommend Maxine Cheesman.

What are your recommendations? Please share in the comments section below.

###

A Brief Note about the Florida Democratic Party’s Primary for Attorney General:

If you are undecided in the Florida Democratic Party’s Primary for Attorney General, please consider voting for George Sheldon.

I don’t have a single negative comment about his opponent, but George’s experience is transcendent. His problem solving skills and ability to create consensus have been repeatedly demonstrated during his service in senior posts at the state and national level, working under both Republicans and Democrats. He has dedicated his entire public service career to advancing the cause of human rights (by breaking up human trafficking rings), protecting the defenseless (particularly abused children), and uplifting the oppressed (by reducing the error-rates in welfare and food stamp distribution).

He spent a career working for previous attorney generals, ultimately becoming chief deputy (for central Florida) to beloved Bob Butterworth. When the Department of Children and Families was in shambles–then Governor Charlie Crist tasked him with fixing it. He has also served as a senior official in the Obama administration. Prior to serving in the executive branch, George spent 8 years in the Florida House of Representatives.

You can learn more about this extraordinary human being here.

You can compare George’s record with his, also qualified, opponent’s here. 

Recommendations for the Eleventh Judicial Circuit and Miami-Dade Judicial Bench

Richard Junnier, Esq.

Richard Junnier, Esq.

First, there are no poor candidates in this election field.  There are no kooks, crooks, clearly-unqualifieds, or those suspected of corruption. (Though the Group 70 race offers candidates who come uncomfortably close.) Each candidate evidences excellence, appears sincere, and has demonstrated varying levels of community commitment.

My recommendations lean toward candidates with a high volume of court experience, previous judicial experience (meaning incumbency), and whose public service has demonstrated a compassionate heart, attention to detail, and who evidence the capacity to transcend prejudice and heuristic through treating people and cases as unique and individual. I believe that these attributes optimally maximize the potential for consistent, albeit always imperfect, fairness.

When determining the varying levels of these qualities in each candidate I reviewed news reports, both traditional and social, solicited colleagues’ anecdotes, and, when available, reviewed the candidate’s websites.

One factor I refuse to consider is the political affiliation of any candidate.

Campaigning in Leon County during 2012 early voting

Campaigning in Leon County during 2012 early voting

I also chose not to review their success at fundraising, and, unless all other factors were equal, I ignored consideration as to ethnicity, gender, religion, or sexual orientation. If all other factors were equal, I sided with choices that empower representatives of historically disenfranchised communities–this is intended to further the public interest of having a judiciary as diverse as the society it judges.

These are my recommendations followed by a brief analysis of why I recommend them:

11th Circuit Judges

Group 16: Thomas Aquinas Cobitz

Group 26: Rodney “Rod” Smith*

Group 27: Mary Gomez

Group 58: Oscar Rodriguez-Fonts

Group 67: Fleur Jeannine Lobree*

Group 70: Veronica Diaz

Miami-Dade County Judges

Group 19: Jacqueline Schwartz*

Group 36: Nuria Saenz*

*Denotes that the recommended candidate is also the incumbent.

Analysis of 11th Circuit Judicial Candidates:

Group 16: Thomas Aquinas Cobitz Both candidates in this race are highly qualified and admired in the legal community. Mr. Cobitz has spent nearly 25 years both as a prosecutor and in private practice. He is also a renowned volunteer in his community. He is a crime watch volunteer, Chair of the Miami Civilian Investigation Panel, and Vice Chair of the Miami-Dade County Criminal Court Committee. His Florida Bar service includes his role as Chair of the Florida Supreme Court’s Traffic Court Rules Committee. He has also worked as both a hearing officer and as a magistrate.

Stephen Millan has also been a prosecutor and a solo-practitioner–mainly specializing in criminal and immigration law. Although his legal career has been impressive, I have failed to identify any extracurricular activities suggesting a serious commitment to public service, particularly when compared to Mr. Cobitz’s near-non-stop volunteerism. The Miami Harold’s endorsement of Mr. Millan includes “As the father of five sons ages 9 through 16, we suspect Mr. Millan knows a thing or two about mediation and listening to both sides.” Being a parent is very challenging, but parental status does not actually evidence qualification for judicial office. Mr. Cobitz has proven his ability to “mediate” through being a hearing officer and magistrate–surely that’s the qualification more relevant to evidence someone’s mediation ability.

You can read the Herald’s endorsement of Mr. Cobitz here.

Mr. Cobitz has several other endorsements, including one which incites concern. Mr. Cobitz is endorsed by the Florida Family Coalition–an ultra right wing cornucopia of hate and homophobia. You can read various statements issued by the Florida Family Coalition here

Under the topic “Homosexual Agenda.” You can read about all the judicial candidates FFC supports, here.

I recommend Thomas Aquinas Cobitz.

Group 26: Rodney “Rod” Smith*

Judge Rodney Smith was also endorsed by the FFC, but his opponent, Christian Carrazana, a personal injury lawyer who was fired from his firm when he refused to withdrawal his candidacy, has a very thin legal resume and I have been unable to identify any extracurricular activities commemorating a staunch commitment to public service.

Judge Smith meanwhile has experience both as a county and circuit court judge and has an extensive record of community volunteerism and public service. I recommend Judge Rodney Smith be retained.

Group 27: Mary Gomez

Both candidates in this race are highly accomplished and respected.

Mary Gomez graduated in the top 3% of her class and has approximately 20 years experience. She has even endured a stint at prestigious Carlton Fields (they don’t hire people unless they are hyper-competent). Her community commitment is evidenced with her work for a religious charity and organizations which assist the homeless and victims of sex trafficking. She has a reputation for a very even-temperament, which no doubt has served her well in her family law practice. She has also served as a mediator and magistrate. She has been endorsed by the homophobic Florida Family Collation but has exercised excellent judgment in refusing to acknowledge it on her endorsement’s page.

Alberto Milian has been a career prosecutor with an 80% conviction rate. He has also served in the Army Reserve for 18 years, ultimately as a military intelligence captain. He has volunteered overseas twice. While I deeply respect his service, his reputation in the legal community is questionable with allegations of being overzealous (causing at least one conviction to be overturned) and discourteous (if not explosive) toward defense attorneys. He has twice run for State Attorney and lost.

You can read a slip opinion discussing one instance of Mr. Milian’s alleged temper here.

Please keep in mind this is from an incident in the distant past.

While Mr. Milian is a highly accomplished advocate and has served our country honorably, I recommend the even-tempered and decorous Mary Gomez.

Group 58: Oscar Rodriguez-Fonts

Both candidates in this race are highly qualified and have demonstrated extraordinary community commitment. Oscar Rodriguez-Fonts served as an Assistant City Attorney for Miami, which assures he has a multiplicity of high-volume civil litigation experience. He has also been an assistant public defender which means he has a solid background in criminal law. He has been a staffer for two U.S. congressmen, and his bar service includes Chair of the Florida Bar Grievance Committee–this is the committee that hears complaints against lawyers. He also donates his time to many local non-profits.

Martin Zilber has practiced law with distinction for more than twenty-five years. His practice includes mediation services and he has worked for sundry law firms. He performed a brief internship with the state attorney’s office while in law school. His community involvement is impressive–including several appointments to citizen advisory boards and the Super Bowl Host Committee.

Though the Miami Herald endorsed Mr. Zilber based upon his experience as a traffic court hearing officer, I believe Mr. Rodriguez-Fonts’ experience as Chair of the Florida Bar Grievance Committee is a much more impressive display of quasi-judicial experience. (It is also a very hard position to get.)

You can find the Herald’s recommendation here.

I recommend Oscar Rodriguez-Fonts.

Group 67: Fleur Jeannine Lobree*

Judge Fleur Jeannine Lobree has practiced law for twenty-two years. First as a Florida assistant attorney general, then as a judicial clerk for the Third DCA, then as an assistant state attorney, and finally in private practice as a civil litigator. She was appointed to the county court, and when, one year later, she lost reelection to her seat, the legal community grieved her loss. She was subsequently appointed to the Circuit Court.

Mavel Ruiz has spent her entire career helping the defenseless and the oppressed. She has served as an assistant public defender, owned a criminal defense practice, and currently works one of the most thankless but very necessary legal positions in creation–the Office of Regional Conflict Counsel. No sane person should suggest that she lacks a heart of gold and is one of the more exemplary members of our species. She would probably make an excellent city commissioner or legislator.

Nevertheless, due to her more diverse experience, including prior judicial experience, I recommend that Fleur Jeannine Lobree be retained.

Group 70: Veronica Diaz

For some this may be a difficult vote. Veronica Diaz has spent time working with non-profits and seven years as a Miami assistant city attorney–which typically allows for a range of civil litigation experience. However, she has been accused of an only-very-barely legal impropriety involving sending city business, through a third party, to her fiance’s law firm–without telling anyone.

You can read the Miami Herald’s account here.

Renier Diaz de la Portilla is a controversial politician, has a mediation business, and very little legal experience. Based upon his statements as a school board member, his understanding of the separation of church and state is questionable. (He proposed a bible study course for public schools–though, of course, this may have just been politics and not reflective of what he would do as a judge.)

Both candidates are thirty-six and neither offers an overwhelming wealth of judicial experience.

Despite the allegations against Ms. Diaz, she was not determined to have violated the ethics rules. Also, the City Attorney asserted that she herself was the one who made the decision to hire Ms. Diaz’s fiancé’s firm.

Because of her superior legal experience, I recommend Veronica Diaz.

Analysis of Miami-Dade County Judicial Candidates:

Group 19: Jacqueline Schwartz*

Judge Jacqueline Schwartz has served on the Miami-Dade bench for twelve years after having spent many years as a trial attorney. She is a “big sister,” vice president of a local charity that provides clothing to victims of child abuse, organizes the annual “Law Day” for school children, and spent several years as an adjunct law professor.   Troublingly, she is also endorsed by the FFC (though she wisely makes no mention of it).

She has two challengers. Frank Bocanegra was admitted to practice law in 2008. Prior to joining the Bar, he served thirty years as an incredibly respected and accomplished law enforcement officer (retired a major) and has also briefly served as town manager of Miami Lakes. Rachel Dooley has practiced for more than 16 years both as a prosecutor and in private practice. Her endorsements include the League of Prosecutors and SAVE PAC (a respected marriage equality advocacy group). Neither opponent seem to have a remarkable record of volunteerism or record of organized nonlegal-related public service.

Both of her opponents are qualified, but Judge Schwartz has served without controversy for twelve years, consistently closes more cases than any other county judge, and frequently finds time to volunteer in the community.

I recommend Judge Jacqueline Schwartz be retained.

Group 36: Nuria Saenz*

While Judge Jacqueline Schwartz may close the most cases, Nuria Saenz consistently has the least number of pending cases. She has served on the county bench since 2005 without controversy. Prior to her judicial service she has served as a magistrate and as a general and special master. She began her career working for Legal Aid despite being in a position to accept much higher paying jobs in the private sector. Like myself, but only a few others, while in law school she served both as a Law Review editor and as a member of the moot court. (Serving on a Law Review or on the Moot Court are highly prestigious, very competitive, and tremendously time consuming. In any given year only a handful of law students in the state get appointed to both.)

Victoria Ferrer is a real-estate broker and has practiced law for about eight years. While in law school she clerked for a local probate judge. She is also, by all accounts, very eloquent and passionate about people.

Judge Saenz’s experience makes her the more qualified candidate and I recommend that she be retained.

What are your recommendations? Please share in the comments section below!

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A Brief Note about the Florida Democratic Party’s Primary for Attorney General:

If you are undecided in the Florida Democratic Party’s Primary for Attorney General, please consider voting for George Sheldon.

I don’t have a single negative comment about his opponent, but George’s experience is transcendent. His problem solving skills and ability to create consensus have been repeatedly demonstrated during his service in senior posts at the state and national level, working under both Republicans and Democrats. He has dedicated his entire public service career to advancing the cause of human rights (by breaking up human trafficking rings), protecting the defenseless (particularly abused children), and uplifting the oppressed (by reducing the error-rates in welfare and food stamp distribution).

He spent a career working for previous attorney generals, ultimately becoming chief deputy (for central Florida) to beloved Bob Butterworth. When the Department of Children and Families was in shambles–then Governor Charlie Crist tasked him with fixing it. He has also served as a senior official in the Obama administration. Prior to serving in the executive branch, George spent 8 years in the Florida House of Representatives.

You can learn more about this extraordinary human being here.

You can compare George’s record with his, also qualified, opponent’s here. 

Welcome to the Revolution

Richard Junnier at Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok, Thailand

Richard Junnier at Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok, Thailand

In the winter of 2008 I went to Thailand to witness a revolution.

I came to observe and research the latest sporadic iteration of a conflict that (almost) every traveler, internationalist, or avid newspaper fiend casually knows as–the red shirts versus the yellow shirts. Sadly, as of this writing, the political unrest has devolved into a military coup, urban curfews, and an appointed legislature.

Thai Monks in PrayerThis is discordant with the almost universal-Western perception of Thais as peaceful, differential, and obsequious. This perception is itself fascinating, because they and their ancestors, have been at near-perpetual war with themselves and their neighbors since the time of the seventh century Mon, and while their national religion may be Buddhism, their national sport is kickboxing.

They even briefly declared war on the United States, though their ambassador declined to forward the message to Washington, D.C.–how very non-confrontational of them.

Factually, coups are not unusual for the Thais–they had 17 of them between 1932 and 1991.

Perhaps it gives the military something to do when it’s not involved with border disputes to their North and West, rescuing its citizens from deranged soap-opera fans in Cambodia,* occasional but presumptuous logging in Laotian territory, and enforcing martial law throughout half the country.

*Dialogue in a Thai soap-opera argued that Thailand owned title to Angkor Wat, which was reported in Cambodia as if it were a serious sentiment. The locals replied by burning down the Thai embassy and Thai-owned businesses throughout Phnom Penh. The Thai military briefly intervened to get its citizens airlifted home. Eventually, the Cambodian government agreed to pay for all of Thailand’s expenses.

So it can get dull. Whatever the reason, the military are avid fans of defending the voting minority.

At the Palace

The Thai military has celebrated every successful free and fair election since World War II by promptly overthrowing its Democracy.

It then appoints a committee of monarchists, Army officers, and Bangkok elites to draft a new constitution (this time they’ll vote right!), hosts an election, is again thrown out of power, and then immediately hosts another coup. There is a magical symmetry with American politics in that the whole process takes about four years.

The routine of these tug-of-war proceedings are internationally ignored, creating a global perception of calm throughout the chaos.

This is potentially because, until recently, the Thais had their unique ways of having a revolution. They were often conducted politely and quietly, largely without blood or violence, and carefully choreographed not to pique the interests of foreigners. The whole process is quite Buddhist.

Therefore, such dull news reports simply cannot compete in international import with a Kardashian’s new dress or a tea-partier’s attempts to distinguish “legitimate” rape.

Thai Gaurd in WhiteBut this one was different.

The world ignored it as seas of red shirts and yellow shirts flooded the squares and parks of Bangkok. The world ignored it when members of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (“PAD”) (“yellow shirts”) seized and occupied the Government House. It went largely unnoticed that PAD had also taken the National Broadcasting Services of Thailand. When the railroads went on strike, people took the bus.

Then they stormed the runways of Suvarnabhumi Airport and blocked the roads leading out of Bangkok–effectively stranding 300,000 foreigners in Thailand.

PAD had wanted international attention, and like a thunderbolt, it got it.

What it didn’t have was a plausible explanation for shutting down an international airport.

The previous batch of coups, elections, and more coups, culminated with a revised 1997 (and now already twice-defunct) Thai Constitution.

The first elections under that Constitution occurred in 2001 when the Thai Rak Thai party (“TRT”) (“red shirts”) was elected into power with Thaksin Shinawatra, a telecommunications billionaire, as Premier. He governed as a populist, introduced rice subsidies helpful to the rural North, and became extremely popular with almost anybody outside of the Bangkok elite. (He was also not popular with Amnesty International due to his alleged encouragement of extrajudicial killings of drug traffickers.)

Thai Palace Without Gaurds

In 2005, Mr. Thaksin became the first prime minister in the history of Thailand to complete a full term in office. (Yes, you read that right!)

Not wanting to encourage such blatant stability, the military replaced Mr. Thaksin while he was attending a U.N. summit (as if attending a U.N. summit was not punishment enough) and his TRT political party was dissolved. Commemorating the tenth anniversary of the 1997 Constitution, the military introduced a new 2007 Constitution. The former leaders of TRT formed the People’s Power Party (“PPP”) (still the “red shirts”) and were immediately elected back into power under the 2007 Constitution.

In December of 2007, the PPP’s Samak Sundaravej, a celebrity chef (I’m not kidding), was elected Prime Minister. Mr. Samak, viewed as an extension of voluntarily-exiled Thaksin Shinawatra, was then removed from power nine months later. The PAD had asked the Constitutional Court for his removal due to his brief status as a culinary talk-show host during his first few months as Prime Minister–and got it! (It’s illegal in Thailand to have any outside employment while being Prime Minister.)

Government HouseThe PPP, still in power, replaced him with Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat. So Mr. Samak, viewed as a political proxy for ex-PM Thaksin, was replaced by Mr. Somchai–who was ex-PM Thaksin’s brother-in-law. Since Mr. Somchai didn’t have a cooking show, the Constitutional Court instead cited “election fraud” as a reason to boot both Mr. Somchai and his PPP-led coalition out of power–which seems somewhat disingenuous, as the PPP opposition, which brought the lawsuit, boycotted the elections entirely. Also, the PPP were only allotted two hours to mount a defense to a panel of judges, one of whom had a wife who was an active PAD officer. The Samak and Somchai removals are popularly called “judicial coups.”

These are the lessons learned by foreign judiciaries from Bush v. Gore.

So when foreign governments and journalists assertively inquired as to the reasons for stranding 300,000 of their various nationals, the PAD folks began with “well, you see, there once was this popular cooking show. . .”

Their audience stopped paying attention before they got to (probably exaggerated) allegations of corruption and Mr. Thaksin reducing the capital gains tax just prior to selling a chunk of his family-owned company to Singapore’s Temasek Holdings–thereby avoiding millions of dollars in Thai taxes.

The world largely dismissed it as a temper tantrum.

Khao San Road

Khao San Road

By the time I arrived, the airport had been reopened, which was helpful, because I flew there.

They had gone through three prime ministers in three months, and my best option for knowing who was in charge was to constantly hit “refresh” on the U.S. State Department’s “About Thailand” page.

I arrived in the middle of the night to a near empty airport–tourist season having been canceled for the conceivable future. I took a taxi to Khao San Road just as the bars were legally required to shutdown. One perk of being in a lawless land, however, is the fairly naked flouting of attempts at authority. Novelty-sized bottles of Singha, Beer Chang, and Leo Beer, were on offer from impromptu carts surrounded by bright-colored plastic children-sized chairs. If a police officer were en-route, their imminent presence would be signaled, and within seconds the road would be deserted of all evidence of debauchery. Once the officer was gone, sin-commerce would again reappear with an abruptness reminiscent of street magic.

khao san road 2

This is one way a poor people cope with poor conditions that are unlikely to improve. During the conflagration of coups and protests, counter-coups and counter-protests, daily life continues amongst the exhausted populace.

I bought a beer while watching the world burn before going to bed in a $6 hotel room. It was hot and the fan rotated with an almost willful sluggishness, creating an awake-all-night scene from “Apocalypse Now.”

I was partially using the trip as an excuse to visit with a college friend who was then a part of a diplomatic security team operating out of Bangkok. It wasn’t the sort of job where the employees are allowed to bring their cell phones into the office, so I would have to wait until the evening before contacting him.

The protests continued even though PAD had surrendered back the airport in response to the Constitutional Court effectively giving into their demands.

Gothic templeThis is the obligatory warning and, despite my example, it should be taken seriously.

Always avoid protests or other large political gatherings when visiting another country.

First, it is none of the visitor’s business and his curiosity will be perceived as foreign arrogance and an attempt at intervention. People are hurting and, unless it’s done by a news organization, taking pictures of suffering is usually interpreted as the height of insensitivity and disrespect. While they will likely just assume a visitor’s presence indicates a tourist so mentally incompetent that it would be immoral to punch him, in the unlikely circumstance that they confuse him for a Western-intelligence operative–they will beat him up and confiscate his camera for their permanent personal use. Finally, if it gets crazy, the visitor might get arrested/kidnapped/shot by the police, army, or rebels.

Never do it.

And so I went to the protests.

Whether the ruling force is a Junta or a corrupt politician, Thailand adheres to an axiom: a legitimate government does not kill its critics.

When the yellow shirts rushed the Government House, the ministers, staff, and guards let them have it and simply held government elsewhere. Rather than excite violence at the airports, particularly ones filled with innocent foreigners who might get caught in the crossfire, the authorities ordered security to retreat. If citizens wanted to camp in the parks and squares–so be it.

Thai soldier

I went to the tent cities at Lumpini Park, where protesters had been corralled from the streets to ease traffic congestion and for everyone’s mutual safety. Joggers were annoyed that they could no longer use the area for their runs. Exercise equipment was commandeered by shirtless teenage showoffs. During the day, some of the protesters were bussed away to sundry ministry buildings or businesses owned or associated with ex-PM Thaksin. They spent the day blockading access and causing general nuisance before being bussed back to their temporary tent homes.

Before entering, I asked pedestrians on adjacent sidewalks about what was happening in the park. Perhaps out of national embarrassment that their country’s political parties couldn’t cooperate, (I can relate) or simply wanting to project the best possible impression to tourists, they never volunteered that it was a protest.

“It’s a kickboxing tournament, but you do not want to go–the tournament does not start until after dark.”

“It’s an outdoor concert, but you do not want to go–it’s only in Thai and there is a much better concert at Overtone Music Cave.”

The closest to a truthful answer I got was from a deeply saddened man who looked to be about as ancient and tired as Siam itself: “It’s just some politicians talking, but you do not want to go–every politician tells lies here so it would bore you.”

 

three thai templesI quickly walked through the park, not engaging with eye-contact. I had expected more of a festival-like atmosphere.   After all, until the next election where Thaksin allies would be inevitably restored to power–they had won the day! But their grave faces were serious and angry. Aside from the odd agitated or curious look, they ignored my brisk passage amongst their mist. Those who were not wearing yellow (so picked because it is the color of the King), were decorated in the colors of the Thai flag–ribbons of red, white, and blue, cascading down their shirts and jackets.

Like some political groups in the United States, and pretty much everywhere else, they hijacked their nation’s identity as if it were only their own–implying anybody with the audacity to disagree with them were disloyal to King or God and country. 

Arguing legitimacy through patriotism or religion is a heuristically universal tactic, neither new nor unknown to any political culture.

boats and skyline

I contacted my friend who was bemused by my activities and gave me a light scolding–“I appreciate that you know what you are doing, but please be careful, it’s been very few but people have died.”

I got the address to his compound-like apartment complex, hopped into a taxi, gave very specific directions, and was immediately deposited at an infamous strip club.

To the driver’s annoyance I declined payment. My escape consisted of a strident walk through the strip club to its back-alleyway exit. Then, having previously memorized maps of the area, I hiked up and down pedestrian bridges, dodged cars crossing unsignaled highways, slid down an overpass, crossed a river and a shanty town, and ultimately ended my journey confidently walking passed the complex’s guard without comment. He gave me a polite solute.

“I’m sorry I’m late–the taxi took me to a strip club.”

“Yeah, that happens here,” my friend casually sighed. “A lot.”

It had been about ten years since we had last met, and we caught up over very cheap food and beer from a succession of street stalls. Commerce continued uninterrupted and we rose for the Thai royal anthem set to images of their King at the beginning of a movie.

The Thai Forbidden CityWe both understood that the King could, with a royal wave, send all parties home.

Having reigned in excess of 68 years, King Bhumibol Adulyadej (or Rama IX which is way-easier to pronounce), is the longest serving head of state in the world. With an estimated net-worth of $30 billion dollars, he is also probably the wealthiest.

He is surely the most loved.

I have been to many countries where law mandates that a picture of the King adorn every home. Such a law is unnecessary in Thailand.

During the uncertainty and disorganization of twenty coups he has maintained calm and order. He jokes and teases during public speeches and public panics. He presided over Thailand’s modernization while constantly visiting his most rural and poorest subjects. He used his incredible wealth to build roads, hospitals, and schools. He protected the defenseless and empowered the oppressed.

Reclining Budda

He did so as a consummate Buddhist, with modesty, non-judgment, and respect for all life. He is perceived as being morally flawless, and you may go to jail if you publicly discredit this perception. This is due to a lèse-majesté law intended to protect the King’s dignity and reputation to the detriment of the freedom of his detractors.

As King he is perceived to have adhered to a duty to remain above politics and common culture–so in those vacuums when his is the only voice which must be heard–people seek his wisdom. The public may not always adhere to his guidance, but they always respectfully listen.

He is revered as a God, but is also considered to be a member of every family. He’s that favorite uncle who serves as a supernal moral role model, but nevertheless taught you dark and dirty jokes when you were a kid.

He is the grand stabilizer of Thailand.

Today he is in frail health. While his crown is inheritable his moral authority and public respect is not. For some, the question of what shall happen when he goes is grim.

This is actually from a show on Koh Tao, as photographing in a Bangkok nightspot is enthusiastically discouraged.

This is actually from a show on Koh Tao, as photographing in a Bangkok nightspot is enthusiastically discouraged.

For the next few days I continued research by day and sought trouble with my friend at night.

He took me to bars and clubs that would excite the moral judgment of an Amsterdam prostitute. I bore witness to tricks involving ping pong balls which can not be propitiously described–even on a blog. In rousing guessing games of gender nobody really wins.

Eventually he had to go couriering in some other countries, leaving me time to sneak up North to visit the misnamed bridge on the renamed River Kwai.

On Christmas Eve, I met my friend and some of his colleagues at Club Santika. It was designed as a three story gothic cathedral, and we were setup in a special 3rd floor-VIP deck overlooking a stage and a vast pit filled with a thousand Bangkok partiers. Table service of Johnnie Walker Black was twenty dollars a bottle.

Bridge on the River Kwai

Bridge on the River Kwai

Visiting the bathroom is an intimate experience as the attendant surprises the customer with a neck massage as the patron pees.

The massage is far more pleasant than many may intrinsically suspect. Thailand has never been colonized or particularly influenced by Abrahamic religions. Therefore, the Thai conscious has never held a negative opinion about non-heteronormative behaviors or transvestism. Next to the King, the most popular person in Thailand is Parinya Charoenphol–a trans-gender Maui Thai kickboxing champion. There is, therefore, nothing sexual meant about the massage. Borne out of pragmatism, they just want a tip.

Relaxing in affordable luxury, we chatted about the role of the Monarchy and the causes of fervent support of the rural poor for a deposed self-exiled billionaire.

The stage-show involved perilous pyrotechnics paired with blaring American and British music, perfectly recited in English by uncomprehending bands who could not actually speak the language.

There was only one public exit, though my new-friends knew about a private staff exit. Flyers decorated the walls. They were advertising their “Goodbye Santika” New Year’s Eve party. “Burn” would be performing.

Years later I still think about that prophetic flyer.

Thirty minutes past midnight on January 1, 2009 Club Santika abruptly caught fire and burned down. More than a thousand revelers were trapped inside. Sixty-seven people died and more than two hundred were injured. Among the dead were employees who ushered their guests to safety until they themselves died.

One such employee was the bathroom attendant. He carried out a tourist who had collapsed unconscious through smoke inhalation, resuscitated her in the parking lot, and then rushed back into the blaze, presumably looking for more of the club’s guests. He never came back out.

I was in the Gulf of Thailand on Koh Tao when I heard the news report. I quickly called my friend to make sure he was safe. Thankfully, though it was their usual hangout, none of the members of our group were there that night. Of course, for various practical reasons, he might have been lying to me.

Thai BeachThe Bangkok unrest is dwarfed by the violence of a second and continuous revolution in its South.

It was the end of the few weeks that had been allotted for Thailand–most of which had been spent in its rebelling capital.   But there was one more adventure lingering for me in the shadows.

Those who are hyper-aware will know about what locals euphemistically call “the unrest in southern Thailand.” Without international notice or intervention, the southern provinces of Songkhla, Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat have been in a perpetual violent revolt since the days of Siam.

Koh Tao

The South Thailand Insurgency has killed thousands and those provinces are an absolute “no go” zone for travelers. This admonishment includes those who are experienced with conflict-zones. Such was a lesson I learned the hard way.

In the early hours of January 4, 2009, an explosion on the tracks, engineered by South-Thai separatists, derailed a train on the Bangkok-Hat Yai route. I was the only foreigner stupid enough to be on board. It was not a fun day and impromptu self-evacuation amid urban-quasi-militarized violence is a learn-as-you-go sport. Luckily injuries were minimal and (I think) nobody died.

For weeks afterward I tried to find information online about what happened but found nothing: just another anonymous event of war, during an internationally ignored war, not even worth recording.

I knew about the conflict, I knew not to go, I even knew that they were tampering with the railroads–I was simply arrogant and rolled the dice trying to save a few bucks on a plane ticket.

Koh Tao 2After the derailment, we were helped off the train by railway employees and a fleet of busses arrived. They drove us to the bus station in Hat Yai, but as I needed to continue my journey by rail, (and having very little money available), I had to hike across an unwelcoming city to find the train station.

I found a map and memorized it. (You never want to get caught reading a map in an unsafe area–it betrays a lack of local knowledge or belonging to anybody who might wish you harm.)

The city itself was similar to any anonymous city in a developing country, but it did have a functional semi-modern center.

When conflict and sporadic street violence is the norm, life, society, and commerce find a way to continue. Rebellious Hat Yai has embraced this philosophy–I even planned my escape to the Malaysian border at a McDonalds. The city was totally open for business.

I was not perceived as an enemy–they probably thought I was a wayward tourist who had used the wrong airport to begin a trip to Phuket. Still, there were no smiles. I confused quizzical stares as sinister. I felt no immediate danger, but there was no encouragement to linger.

Thai Beach rural

After hours of hauling a heavy pack on not an entirely uninjured back I made it to the closed railway station. “Of course it’s closed,” I rebuked myself, “there was a derailment so they’re going to close the whole system.   That’s why they took you to a bus station. That’s why the passengers competent in the language of this land stayed there.”

I hoofed it back to the bus station by late afternoon. They weren’t running buses to Malaysia. They asked: What was I really doing there?

I paid a random woman eight dollars and took an informal taxi to the border with three other foreigners who had explicitly come to explore the conflict and were also trying to flee. When I refused to pay a bribe on the Thai side of the border I found my possessions laying on the street as the Taxi tried to abandon me in the middle of a jungle-surrounded nowhere.

Rural Thai Island LifeOne of the other passengers resorted to violence in expressing his dissent to the driver. They promptly returned for me.

We were unceremoniously deposited in the outskirts of Penang, left to find our own way to further transport. We separated. I was down to my last $20 in U.S. currency and despite Malaysia being a Muslim country, all the exchanges were closed on a Sunday. Eventually a cafe owner took pity on me and Googled the bank-rate and exchanged my bill with what little he had in his register. It was enough for some food, toilet paper, and an overnight coach ticket to Singapore.

When I arrived at the border I hadn’t slept for forty-eight hours, was unkempt, slightly bleeding, and lacked my visa which had disappeared in the Hat Yai chaos.

I wasn’t looking my professional best.

This gave rise to an enthusiastic and engaging customs interview:

“Why don’t you have your visa?”

“I lost it during the explosion.”

The examiner offered me a look of concern, questioning my surprise answer and perhaps wondering about my mental hygiene. “What explosion?”

“The one caused by Muslim separatists in the south of Thailand.” After a pause, I added, rather helpfully I thought, “they blew up some railroad tracks derailing my train.”

“Why did Muslim separatists in the south of Thailand blow up the railroad tracks?”

“I don’t know, I didn’t feel they would accommodate my curiosity if I asked,” I shrugged, “to keep me from getting to the other side?”

“Why were you in Thailand anyway? Did you know that it can be violent there right now?”

I stared as I gently rubbed a slightly blood-caked contusion on my forehead–“Well, you see, there once was this popular cooking show. . .”

Food Street Singapore

Eventually he gave up and ran my name through the system. Within seconds he apologized for my detainment, fast-tracked me through the rest of customs, and my madness was once again Singapore’s problem.

Thailand’s madness continued with another election and another coup.

The military appointed opposition party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva Prime Minister. It would be three years before an election would be allowed.

When Mr. Abhisit replaced Mr. Somchai, voters were told that it was because he was too closely related to ex-PM Thaksin, who was Somchai’s brother-in-law. In 2011, voters responded by electing Yingluck Shinawatra–Thaksin’s sister–Prime Minister.

(And people accuse the Bushes and Clintons of behaving dynastically.)

Screaming Thai DragonAgain the yellow shirts rallied in the parks and squares. Again there were allegations of corruption–this time over a proposed comprehensive amnesty which would have, among pardoning both pro-and-con government protesters, allowed Thaksin to return to Thailand (he faces a two-year prison sentence for a corruption conviction commenced in absentia).

Then, on May 22, 2014, after a coffee break during yellow shirt-red shirt negotiations, General Prayuth Chan-ocha informed all parties that he was now in charge.

Elected leaders were arrested. Curfews were put in place. Independent media was blocked. Less explicably, the video game Tropico was banned.

In an effort to win popularity, Operation “Return Happiness to the Public” hosted free concerts and carnivals for the masses. Citizens were even able to watch the World Cup for free while getting a complimentary haircut.

Crying Thai Dragon

The junta has announced the appointment of a committee of monarchists, Army officers, and Bangkok elites to draft a new constitution (this time they’ll vote right!). They will host an election, again be thrown out of power, and then immediately host another coup.

At least that has been the cycle experienced for the past seven decades.

Elected populists have systemically been deposed by self-appointed elites–through the guise of contrived criminality–disguising the cynically rationalized delusion that the rural poor are too uneducated to properly participate in self-rule.

But there has been a variable steadfast these past seventy years–the King, who, although perhaps reluctantly, must, at least tacitly, signoff on these military misadventures.

City of GoldThe King is very old, and his only son, the Prince–is good friends with Thaksin Shinawatra.

The Prince is unpopular right now, but the death of a loved King has a way of changing public sentiment about a grieving son–particularly one inheriting thirty billion dollars.

I imagine he’ll abruptly find friends he never                                                                                  knew he had.

It may even be enough to dissuade the often monarch-obedient military from its quadrennial political takeovers.

The death of Thailand’s great-stabilizer may ultimately usher in an era of actual stability.

Abstract for Leibniz and the Behavioral Economic Approach to Confusing a Law Review Editor

Presenting “Leibniz and the Behavioral Economic Approach to Confusing a Law Review Editor" at the Lighthearted Philosophers’ Society 5th Annual Conference. The paper won the Joseph S. Ellin Memorial Essay Prize for best paper.

This essay satirizes the principle approaches used to theorize an optimal deterrence to criminal conduct. Organized as a cynical scholar’s advice to others on how to publish their work in academic law journals, the essay explains and then applies the differing approaches offered by law and economics, behavioral law and economics, psychology, philosophy, and humanism. It does this while incorporating each of the essay’s five recommendations:

  1. when selecting your title, be sure to include the phrase “economic approach;”
  2. to disguise your research as empirical, include mathematical formulas even though otherwise unnecessary;
  3. pretend to be a qualified cognitive psychologist;
  4. even if utterly bizarre, confidently inject philosophy into your argument;
  5. even though totally unsupported by your previous argument, end your work with abrupt uplifting redemption.

The effect is to deflate popular assumed roles of faux-empiricism and game theory in theoretical works which arbitrarily assign variable values rather than assigning values based upon scientific method based experimentation. The essay concludes with the assertion that our human nature causes many to need to believe that maximized punishment and minimized enforcement leads to an optimal deterrence of criminal conduct, that the different approaches to criminal deterrence theory were structured to reach that result despite powerful experiential, experimental, and mathematical evidence to the contrary, and that a balanced approach of valuing both the victim and offender is necessary to reach an optimal—albeit still very imperfect—approach to the deterrence of criminal conduct.