RIP (Feb. 2007 - Feb. 2015)

February 9th, 2015

I knew the time would come but I thought I could stave it off for a while longer. No soap. The short interval I took in December through January didn’t help either. So, I’ve come to this juncture with an experiment which has simply run its course. Looking back in retrospect, I covered a wide array of subjects, purposely spreading out to address the law, culture, politics, art, movies, sports, obituaries and, of course, horse racing. Oddly, I don’t think any other lawyer in Amarillo has actively managed a blog during my eight-year run. I’ve wondered why.

Looking back, I am surprised at my rate of production over the first three years. Then came the temporary hiatus after I went to work for Randall County but that was understandable. The love of writing convinced me that I could nevertheless maintain a fine balance between my professional life and writing on subjects that appealed to me. So, I picked it back up. Yet, I found it harder to maintain that balance and this difficulty drained me of the required energy if one is to continue to produce good, lively prose necessary to keep a blog relevant. Maybe the short era of the blog is over; social media now dominates with the 160-character meme in vogue.

I do believe that for a while, from Hacklawyer’s inception in early 2007 through early 2010, the blog stimulated discussion and debate. I know for a fact that even a few judges were hitting the site on a daily basis. I held fast to my stated position that I would not engage in local tittle-tattle, of which I feel good about. My case summaries hopefully were helpful to practicing lawyers although you have no idea the kind of work is involved in doing that. Maybe if you followed my updates on the Triple Crown series or Breeders Cup, I gave you a high-priced winner or two. I didn’t shy away from stating my opinions on bad lawyering; I’m at an age where I can afford to name a few names and not feel bad about it.

So, what began as a form of therapy during a phase where I was going through a bad patch ends eight years later. I left behind over 2000 posts and I can honestly say that on each one, before I began to write, I thought about its content and style deliberately and carefully. I knew then and I know now that I am responsible for each and every word put down and I make no apologies for any of those posts.

Tony Verna, man who ushered in instant replay, dead at 81

January 26th, 2015

All sports fans should take a minute or two out of their daily grind at whatever they do to honor Tony Verna, who died on Sunday, January 18 at the age of 81. He made their lives so much better for something that he pulled off way back in 1963 in the Army-Navy football game. In that contest, televised by CBS and played just 15 days after President Kennedy’s assassination, Verna pulled together his know-how and primitive video equipment to produce sport’s first instant replay. The innovation would change altogether the way sports was to be televised, watched and eventually officiated.

At the time in 1963, videotape was not a new technology. However, the equipment was unwieldy, burdensome and prone to inconsistency. Nor was it easily portable. In fact, the gear which Verna eventually used to produce the first replay weighed over one ton, all of which he had hauled from New York to Philadelphia for the game between Army and Navy. One of the main problems existing at the time was that videotape could not be replayed immediately after a shoot because there was no known method for locating the exact moment on tape where the replay would start. For example, the videotape of Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald in the basement of the Dallas Police Department, broadcast on live television, took nine minutes to play back for broadcast.

Verna had been long troubled by the problems with finding the cue to start the replay of a particular play. The first hurdle to overcome was to somehow try to find the right moment on the actual tape, hidden somewhere after the initial seven to ten seconds of garbled mush, known as video hash. It was at that point that recognizable video would appear. The solution that Verna came up with was to create a system of audio cues which actually consisted of beeps to an unusued audio track on the tape as it recorded live action. By identifying and counting the correct sequence of beeps, Verna could locate the precise position of the tape of the particular action he wanted to replay.

So, on that Saturday in Philadelphia, Verna and his engineers set up their bulky equipment to try their first live instant replay. As the game wore on and after 30 or so attempts to get the machinery to work properly, Verna finally reached that golden moment where the tape was synced accurately enough to give it a try. Then, in the fourth quarter, Army quarterback Rollie Stichweh ran for a touchdown, Verna gave the nod and CBS showed the play live and then followed up immediately with the touchdown run on tape. So striking was the effect that venerable Lindsey Nelson, the play-by-play announcer, barked to viewers: “This is not live! Ladies and gentlemen, Army did not score again!” Verna repeated his efforts again the next month at the Cotton Bowl when Navy, led by Roger Staubach, met number one rated Texas. By then, technicians had improved the cuing system and it was during that broadcast that Pat Summerall first employed the phrase “instant replay.”

By the following year, the NFL was using instant replay and it was not long at all that instant replay became a staple of sports broadcasting. It now is used across the board in all major sports - baseball, football, hockey, basketball - as a tool for the officials. It changed the fortunes of sports broadcasting and its direction forever.

Verna, affectionately referred to as “TV” by his friends and associates, went on to other achievements in sport television broadcasting. He directed the Kentucky Derby, Super Bowl and the Olympics. He directed Live Aid in 1985, held simultaneously in stadiums in England and the United States, to raise money for victims of Ethiopian famine. He was behind the 1987 international satellite broadcast of Pope John II’s recitation of the rosary from the Basilica of St. Mary’s Major, viewed by an estimated one billion people.

Verna is survived by his wife, Carol, of 45 years and two daughters and one son. In an interview in 2013, he was quite proficient about what he desired on his tombstone: “Son of Italian immigrants. Invented instant replay.” And that’s a pretty good thing there, Ricky Bobby.

Getting “schooled” at home

January 8th, 2015

I have written on home schooling before, see “Is home schooling just one more form of child abuse?” (August 21, 2008) and “No standards, no tests, no ranking, no problem!” (March 12, 2012). As dire as the situation exists in this state, where the home school industry operates absent a whit of regulation or oversight, it seems to be getting as bad in other states as well. Just recently, the Pennsylvania legislature, bowing under intense lobbying from an outfit called the Home School Legal Defense Association, has approved a package of amendments to its education code which essentially exempts this dangerous movement from any accountability to the state at all. I’ll get to some of these changes in a moment but consider these statistics as a warm-up to the topic.

  • 11 states do not require families to register with any school district or state agency that they intend to “teach” their children at home;
  • 14 states do not specify any subjects that the family “teacher’ must provide instruction thereon;
  • only 9 states actually require the “teacher” (usually a parent) to have, at the very least, a high school diploma or the equivalent before they instruct their children;
  • over one-half of the state do not require children who are taught at home to undergo a standardized test in order to judge minimal competency in core subjects or to be subject to any form of formal outside assessment.

The depressing news is that this cultish movement is growing in numbers. Researchers have known for some time that home schooling was utilized by many who were motivated by their fundamentalist religious convictions. But now, the increased numbers seem to suggest that many misguided parents are opting for home schooling so to escape what they see as the tyranny of Common Core, new academic standards adopted by some 40 states. In fact, according to the most recent federal statistics available, the number of school-age children who were home schooled in the United States in the academic year of 2011-2012 was close to 1.8 million, up from the estimated 1.5 million just five years ago. And the highest concentration of home-schooled children can be found - you guessed it - in the South and Southwest. Nevertheless, that 1.8 million is nothing more than a figure reached by extrapolation since a number of states, Texas among them, that do not even require that families register with a school district or a state education agency.

So, what exactly did the Pennsylvania legislature do in response to the massive lobbying effort of the Home School Legal Defense Association? Essentially, it removed the requirement that families submit a “portfolio,” as well as results of standardized testing in the third, fifth and eighth grades, to the state education agency in order to determine if minimum goals were being reached among these unfortunate children. The new laws allow the parents to “certify” that their children have completed high school graduation requirements and issue homegrown high school diplomas without any outside assessment, endorsement or scrutiny. And the Home School Legal Defense Association, like any fanatical organization, isn’t satisfied with that. As succinctly stated by Dewitt T. Black III, senior counsel: “What we would like is for there to be a total hands-off policy.” This organization raised close to $10 million in the twelve months leading up to March of 2013 so you can get an idea of the muscle and lung power it can marshal in various state legislatures across the country. For the record, Utah, Iowa, New Hampshire and Minnesota have either eliminated requirements that parents file any kind of documentation of having complied with minimal requirements or are considering legislation which will eliminate same.

I emphasize that I refer to these unfortunate children because they are truly innocent victims here. These kids have no choice in the matter and certainly no choice over the kind of education they receive at the whim of their misguided parents. Just as no one gets to choose their parents or the circumstances of their upbringing, these kids have no option when it comes to the methods of education. What’s disturbing about the recent growth in this social phenomenon is its seeming proliferation outside the social strata to which is has been traditionally confined for so many years. Home schooling in its early days evolved from the rejection of established scientific theory as taught in public schools, a rejection founded on Christian fundamentalism. It seemed to have a few set characteristics - children of white lower middle class compelled to “attend” home schools run by disaffected parents who, on the whole, lacked college or graduate school educational experience or degrees. The curriculum consisted of vague, non-specific courses blandly labeled “math,” “science” or “history” with a heavy emphasis on fundamental Christian dogma. There was a strong aversion to periodic testing and peer ranking. But now this profile includes parents from upper middle class strata motivated not so much by religious conviction as by an innate suspicion of state oversight and insistence that students demonstrate minimal skills in reading comprehension, science, math and English. The movement has also reaped the rewards from more benign coverage in the media which has de-emphasized its connections to the sovereign citizen subculture.

None of this is good news because it perpetuates what can only be deemed child abuse. Secondly, anyone who believes in this hooey is in effect pilfering a child’s natural-born curiosity by exposing him or her to this toxic, home-brewed amalgamation of religious bigotry, irrational distrust of mainstream educational principles and inferior instruction. If you actually buy into someone like Rick Santorum who has actually said that sending off your son or daughter to college is a bad decision because it exposes them to such dangerous, radical ideas like evolution, tolerance, gravity, etc. - well, then I guess home schooling is for you and your child. But I’ll tell you this: if you are home schooling your kid, deep down, he or she wants to go to public school for all the obvious reasons which I need not point out to the discriminating reader.

What strikes me as most ironic is the fact that an irrelevant gasbag like Santorum stands out as the ultimate hypocrite. You know, he made it through Penn State and law school without the process having made a dent into his quaint, backward notions of how his world ought to operate. And don’t think for a single moment that professionals, like Dewitt T. Black III, senior counsel for the Home School Legal Defense Fund, would condemn his children to home schooling with a non-accredited teacher subject to zero accountability. Nor would the well-heeled hacks in the various state legislatures stoop to such. It’s enough to start a man drinking late at night.

Bowl fatigue

January 5th, 2015

Well, happy new year to you. The bowl season extravaganza is mercifully over with all 38 games completed. 38! Most of them were forgettable but nine stuck out for various reasons, some related to the game itself, the others for marginal reasons. Let’s get to those nine.

Best finish had to be the Cotton Bowl where Michigan State shocked Baylor 42-41. Now, I’ll admit, I have always, always been biased against Baylor but even more so as of late because of their prissy president Kenneth Starr. You know, the guy actually had the cajones to admit recently that he “probably owes Bill Clinton an apology” for having produced a pornographic screed under the guise of a congressionally-mandated investigation into alleged Clinton administration corruption. Ya think that’ll ever happen? Starr hasn’t the character. Anyway, it was good to see Baylor get bitch-slapped on that blocked field goal with time running out. I’ve never been a fan of Michigan State either but for once in my life, I found myself rooting for the Spartans. Their win was nice to watch as the Bears retreated to Waco with their tails between their legs.

Then there was the Miami Beach Bowl with an interesting brawl at the conclusion of the game. Man, if you ever fool yourself into thinking that a so-called “church school” like Brigham Young puts a team on the field that distinguishes itself above the others just because the university is grounded in religion (cult for my money), their players’ display of bad sportsmanship at the conclusion of the game ought to have disabused you once and for all. I wonder if these good Baptists and Mormons now believe that maybe God had something to do with their defeats since they always attribute good fortune and touchdowns to the big guy above. Just wondering.

I wonder how the kicker for San Diego State is feeling now several days after his flub of a chip-shot extra point in the waning moments of their game with Navy in the Poinsetta Bowl which cost them a tie and assured overtime. Those are the kind of errors that will haunt you to the grave - just ask Bill Buckner, Tony Romo or Jackie Smith. ┬áThen there was the wacky final kickoff return in the Bahamas Bowl where Central Michigan pulled off a circa-1982 UC miracle play by scoring on a series of laterals with no time on the clock, only to fall short on converting a two-point conversion and lose 49-48 to Western Kentucky. As we say at the track: tough, tough beat. ┬áPenn State and Boston College gave the East Coasters something to cheer about in the Pinstripe Bowl with a fairly exciting game that went Penn State’s way in overtime, 31-30. And I kinda like that name I have to say - the Pinstripe Bowl. Remember its sire? Well, who could forget the old Gotham Bowl, right?

There were wretched performances by two Big 12 teams, Oklahoma and UT. Which one was worse? By all accounts, it had to be OU. As bad as the Longhorns looked in the Texas Bowl, and they sucked, it must have warmed the cockles of UT alumni collective hearts to see OU fans streaming out of the stadium when Auburn went up 40-0 with time to spare in the Russell Athletic Bowl. I mean, they really looked bush league; Bob Stoops looked like a man who had just received a terminal diagnosis. Yet, as bad as these squads performed, I can only imagine what the long drive back to Oxford from Atlanta was like for Ole Miss fans after their drubbing at the hands of a very, very good TCU 42-3 in the Peach Bowl. TCU made the statement it needed to make.

Finally, what can I say about the Rose Bowl? Unfortunately for me, I failed to document my serious misgivings about this year’s overrated Florida State team. Sure, I stated that opinion to those with whom I work but I had no idea how completely that team would shut down once it found itself down by three touchdowns. There was once a well-known baseball scout - I forget his name - who made the prescient observation that a newly-recruited pitcher is like a tea bag: you never know what you have until he gets put in hot water. Well, we now know about Jameis Winston and how he handles pressure - real pressure. I see a long and very hard road for this young man in the NFL, pretty much what we are seeing play out with Johnny Manziel. And my call in the BCS Championship game? Oregon 45 Ohio State 25.

Taking a break

December 6th, 2014

This is not a case of writer’s block but rather, simple fatigue. There’s a good many things to comment on but the spirit is just not there for now. So, Hack’ll take a break for the month so to get this holiday season over with. I’ll be back in the new year, hopefully freshened up.