Truth and Evidence

It’s interesting (at least to me) how different systems or professions address the issue of truth. How do we know if an assertion is true?

  • Anecdotal: True if there’s some comment about it somewhere
  • Arabic: If no one saw it, it didn’t happen
  • Cruentation: The victim’s body will bleed in the presence of the murderer
  • Islam: Two male Muslim witnesses are needed, except for adultery, when four eyewitnesses are required.
  • Journalism: True if two independent sources say the same thing
  • Journalism 2: Any sound reverberating in the MSM’s echo chamber
  • Kavanaugh: Any assertion must be corroborated by more than one witness
  • Law: Whatever 12 strangers agree on after being presented with partial information at a performance
  • Literary Criticism: Whatever you can publish with a lot of footnotes.
  • Medicine: Any treatment based on any kind of evidence (this is actually a step up from the previous standard, set forth below)
  • Ordeal: God will perform a miracle to save the accused if innocent
  • Religion: If you believe it or were told to believe it
  • Science: Whatever a paid journal publishes on the advice of two or more reviewers, until superseded by another article published and reviewed by two other reviewers.
    • Witchcraft: Whatever works even if it didn’t work before
  • Zerolis: Greenland may not exist, I haven’t been there.

What can be added to this list?

Vietnam

In a very real sense, I grew up with Vietnam. The war the Vietnamese call the “American War” was on television every night. The movie The Green Berets instilled us with the righteousness of the American cause. It was America’s duty to fight godless Communism, though the fact that the Vietnamese were far from godless—we saw the monks immolating themselves on the news—was somehow glossed over.

We were too young for the draft but watched the growing protests with interest. The underground newspaper, the Chicago Seed was not easily accessible to white boys from the suburbs, but we rode the train downtown and got copies there. The war wasn’t going anywhere. There was no talk of winning and no one even knew how to win. In a few years we would be facing the draft ourselves. We wanted no part of it. Saigon was not an option. From Chicago, Canada wasn’t far away. It was a four or five hour drive to Detroit and from there we could cross to Windsor.

As usual, my friend Penis, the third baseman on our church softball team, had a solution. He had an old Encyclopedia Britannica, the 1911 edition. Even though we were only in the 8th grade we had to prepare. We looked up the maps of Vietnam and they looked nothing like what they showed on the news. Of course, there was nothing about the draft and nothing about the draft dodgers who had escaped to Canada. Further research was required.

Somehow Penis got a hold of the Canadian immigration rules. To become a landed immigrant, in other words, to get to stay in Canada and not get turned back, you needed thirty points. Penis explained that you got one point for each year of education you possessed. As we were in the 8th grade, this led to arguments about whether we would be given credit for kindergarten. George had to repeat kindergarten anyway. “I was red-shirted!” he protested. This was because his parents had moved in the middle of the year. None of us really knew what it meant to be red-shirted, but it sounded very sophisticated so we accepted George’s explanation.

”What is kindergarten,” George asked, “if not education?”

We decided to calculate without counting kindergarten. No one was drafted before age 18, so we would—hopefully—finish high school before we had to head east. By then we would have twelve years of education and twelve points. Canada granted five points for the ability to speak English. Most of us, we figured, would get the full five points, but Tommy would probably only get four since he slurred his words and hardly spoke much at all. But for the rest of us, we would be at 17 points. Penis would study French in high school and claimed that his partial fluency would give him at least three points. I had some doubts about that because Penis hadn’t done all that well in Mr. Pantellis’ 7th-grade French class, which met only once per week and didn’t teach us all that much because Mr. Pantellis couldn’t speak French himself. The little we knew started Penis on the path to his final nickname because we knew that if we put the word “le” before any word, it sounded French; hence “Le Richard.” I figured I might get a point for knowing how to say “hello.” You didn’t get any credit from the Canadians for Spanish, unfortunately.

You could get up to ten points if you had a job in Canada, but we had no illusions about that. None of us had experience and except for George, none of us had ever held down jobs. I had been fired from the one job I had, working in the pro shop at the golf course due to an accident with a golf cart. They didn’t have mirrors so how was I supposed to see what was behind me? And yes, so what if it was a building, that doesn’t mean there were mirrors on golf carts. “Could happen to anyone,” I explained, but unfortunately it had happened to me.

You would think that we would work harder on our French in school to get more points, but we knew that wasn’t going to happen. None of us even knew anyone who could speak French. They wouldn’t draft you, even if you were 18, if you were still in high school, so getting held back a year would help and leave you with 19 points. The danger was that by playing dumb you would get expelled and then it was Saigon here I come.

So we needed to at least fake enough French to get two points. Maybe there was an exam, we could cram for that, wouldn’t they give us one or two points for our earnestness? We assumed therefore, that despite our linguistic ignorance, we could do well enough on the test to score at least two points. If we crossed at Windsor we probably wouldn’t get a French-speaking immigration officer and we might just be able to fake it. That would give us twenty.

But we were still ten points away from safety and a life in Canada. Then Penis found out that the immigration officer could award “discretionary” points, up to ten of them.

All we had to do was look, act and sound like we belonged. Fortunately, Chicago had one of the original National Hockey league teams. Becoming hockey fans wasn’t enough, we had to learn how to skate and be fans of a Canadian team and for some reason we picked the Montreal Canadiens. Whenever the Blackhawks played a Canadian team, both national anthems were sung. We listened to the anthem that didn’t sound familiar and figured out that this one was the Canadian anthem. The lyrics were in the Britannica. We figured one verse was enough—after all, it was an anthem and who knows more than one verse of an anthem? Penis learned to play it on the piano so we belted it out as if our lives depended on it, and in a way they did.

They play enough hockey in the Northern suburbs of Chicago so that part was easy. We learned how to skate on hockey skates; that was all they had—for boys at least. I didn’t know how to skate with figure skates, the steps at the beginning of the blade were confusing. I almost ended up being held in contempt of court years later because I had rented figure skates, fallen and broken my arm. But that was much, much later.

When I was still in high school my father asked me what I was going to do about Vietnam. “I think I’m up to 30 points,” I told him. “So it’s Canada.” For this insolence he punched me in the face. I was confident of Penis’ calculations. George had even half-convinced me that I could get kindergarten credit. “Where is kindergarten?” George asked, “in a school right? So if it’s in a school, it’s education.” He had a point, but would the Canadian immigration officer give us that point?

El hombre propone, pero Dios dispone. We were prepared for emigration but God had other plans. The year I turned 18 was the last year anyone was drafted. A few years earlier, to quell student protests, Selective Service had instituted a lottery based on the date of your birth. If your number was higher than 100, you had little to worry about; if your number was higher than 200 you had nothing to worry about. My number was in the mid-200’s. I put my draft card to use for other purposes.

Two years after that, Saigon fell and Vietnam was reunified. Penis went to law school, became a personal injury lawyer and married a woman from Vietnam. I wonder if she taught him any French. He died at age 45 of a heart attack.

Throughout the years, the Canadian national anthem stuck with me, never to be forgotten, as did the immigration rules of Canada, as interpreted by Penis when we were all in the 8th grade. Years later, I went to work for a Canadian law firm. At an Irish saloon on Yonge Street in Toronto, a television showed hockey pregame warmups. The patrons started singing the Canadian national anthem. The boozers stopped their drinking to show respect.

Of course, I joined in.

How an Apostrophe Almost Landed Me in Jail

John Delorean

I feel for those whose surnames include a ‘de, di, la’, an ‘al-’, ‘el’, ‘ben’ or ‘ibn.’ Or ‘von’. And of course, anyone who has the misfortune to have an apostrophe in their name. I feel for you.

John DeLorean (not De Lorean, which would put him in this select group) was on trial in federal court in the Eastern District of Michigan during a time when I had several cases in the same building. Every now and then I’d stick my head in–you didn’t get a sense of how tall DeLorean was when you saw him on television, but in the courtroom with his height and shock of prematurely white hair he was perhaps the most distinguished looking defendant I had ever seen. He had a car company in Ireland–no stranger to the apostrophe, he–and I couldn’t help that the Michigan venue was chosen to punish Mr. Delorean as much for having the gall to compete with American car companies as anything else.

Delorean was acquitted, an extremely rare occurrence during the past half-century. The criminal rules of procedure are slanted heavily towards the prosecution in federal court, but this is not the time to write about that unfairness. This is about an apostrophe.

BCCI

Few know that the many-tentacled criminal case against the Bank of Credit and Commerce International first went to trial in Detroit. I represented one of the defendants. BCCI was a bank founded by a Pakistani mystic and had branches in America, Europe and Asia. The bank did not have a license to do business in Saudi Arabia, but an expert witness later noted the fact that many members of the Saudi royal family had accounts at the branch in Riyadh and reported that the banking laws were mostly cosmetic.

The main allegation in the American criminal prosecution of BCCI was that they laundered drug money. My case involved the owner of a truck that allegedly was the vehicle used to deliver ten kilos of cocaine to a group of Chaldeans (the term then used for Iraqi Christians in Detroit) who sold it from their bodegas.

Most people don’t realize how local the practice of law is. Lawyers in every state, and sometimes even within the same state, raise barriers to lawyers from out of state. I was coming from Miami, a snowless city three hours away by airplane. I was suspect. These not-so-warm feelings extended to the local judges, who were promoted from the same pool of suspicious lawyers. It is only when judges join the multistate federal courts of appeal that these ill feelings start, only start, to dissipate. They never disappear entirely.

Thus, if I can be admitted to practice locally, I’ll always fill out the paperwork and pay the fee in an attempt to avoid the local prejudice. Sometimes this works, but more often than not, it doesn’t. The Clerk’s office in Detroit would admit me to practice for a ten dollar bill and I would get a pretty engraved certificate that I could put up on the wall in my office, the one with the picture of the red jeep I brought from Panama, the one with the DoT safety exemption, though they did make me get rid of the split rim tires.

When I returned to Miami, I put the beautiful new certificate of my eligibility to practice law before the judges of the Eastern District of Michigan in a glass frame and hung the frame on the wall. Were most of my clients not already in jail, they surely would have been impressed by this official document. Every now and then I would clean the dust off the glass if the accumulation made it hard to read.

The Broken Frame

The criminal justice system is a process. Arrests are the intake, then the poor accused journey through the federal system until they are convicted and sent to federal prison. The system waits for no one. A client, arrested in Detroit on another case, asked me to represent him. I prepared a document of representation, called a “Notice of Appearance” and sent it by Federal Express to the Detroit courthouse on West Lafayette Boulevard, to the attention of the same Clerk’s office that a few months before had been happy to receive my ten dollars.

A few days later, I received a call from the judge’s clerk. He told me that the judge had prepared an Order and wanted it read to me personally, so that I could not claim that I had not received it. The Order said, “This Cause having come before the Court sua sponte (that is, at its own initiative) in the matter of Michael O’Kane’s filing of a Notice of Appearance in this matter, a rule to show cause is hereby issued why he should not be held in contempt of court for attempting to file a Notice of Appearance while not a member of the bar of this court, *a full inquiry into the books and records of the Office of Clerk of Court having been conducted which show that he has never been admitted to practice in this court. Done and ordered in chambers, in Detroit, Michigan, this 10th day of September, 19XX.”

I tried to tell the judge’s clerk that I was admitted but he cut me off. “There’s not point in arguing,” he said, “you will have” to make a formal application to the court. Federal judges can put you in jail and in a criminal case–which this technically was–they can send the Marshals to pick you up anywhere in the country, even in Guam. I imagined the 30 hour bus ride to Michigan, sitting with shackles around my ankles behind an iron grate behind the driver and two men with shotguns. Prosecutors call this “diesel therapy.” I had made no more enemies in Detroit than I had in other new cities, so I had no illusions: the judge would be happy to send me to jail as a warning to others.

What stood between me and stint in federal prison–there’s one near the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor–was a pretty certificate behind a glass frame on the wall. I had no other proof.

The Burden of Proof

The certificate eventually came out from behind the glass only partially defaced, because a corner had fused to the glass. The solution was to break the glass, like you might do to get an axe in case of a fire. I have always wondered what you would do with an axe, standing in the middle of a burning building. Start vandalizing burning walls? What good would that do? What good is an axe against metal doors, anyway? But break the glass I did, in an effort to put out this judicial fire. I had to make a photocopy of the certificate; bits of glass reflected the light while on the glass platen giving the effect of glitter. I tried to send a fax to the clerk’s office but they informed me they did not take faxes from out-of-state attorneys. I explained that I was a locally-admitted attorney who was out of state and they simply repeated that out of state attorneys were not allowed to send faxes. They did offer the helpful suggestion that I call the judge’s chambers; but the helpful suggestion turned out to be less than useful when I reached an answering machine.

I thought that all I needed to do was send a copy of the certificate to the judge, but I was not to get off so easy. The clerk might misfile the certificate or not know what to do with it. After all, the Office of the Clerk had already reported, after thorough search no less, that the pretty certificate did not exist. Given that there was an official finding that the certificate did not exist, the fact that I held it in my hand was irrelevant. The judicial finding controls.

Pleading

To file the a copy of the certificate, with its glitter and all, I had to prepare a pleading describing what had happened. As I didn’t know what happened except that the certificate in my hand was deemed not to exist, I had to argue that it did exist after all. But I had to do so in a polite way, apologize for any inconvenience that I had caused the court and opposing counsel–the fact that I had made no mistake did not excuse me from the need for an apology for the lack of an apology would weigh heavily on appeal given the presumption of correctness of a lower court’s findings, especially after thorough inquiry. I made five copies, included a self-addressed stamped envelope to receive a stamped copy of the pleading and went to the Federal Express office at the kiosque on 27th Avenue and US 1, just across the street from the Shell gas station.

We Don’t Make Mistakes

Officially, I never heard the end of it. There was no ruling from the judge finding that the pretty certificate in fact existed, no order quashing the rule to show cause. I wasn’t satisfied. I asked a friend to visit the Clerk’s office on my behalf in an effort to try to figure out what had happened. A few days later, he called. “It’s the apostrophe in your name,” he said. They alphabetized it as if it were a letter, so that O’K comes before OK. But the clerk that searched went right to the K’s and didn’t look at the apostrophes. Your name didn’t come up, so they told the judge who had asked if a certain Miami lawyer was admitted. They couldn’t admit their mistake because if they did; then every time the Clerk’s office made thorough inquiry lawyers could claim that a mistake had been made, “just like in the O’Kane apostrophe case.” So the best course was to say nothing more, do nothing more and hope that the matter would be forgotten. Yes, I was out of pocket the cost of Fedex and long distance calls and I had spent a worried afternoon drafting the pleading, but so what? I should be happy I wasn’t dragged to Michigan by the U.S. Marshal and forced to sit shackled behind the two marshals with shotguns. There was no order, so there was nothing to appeal. And no, I shouldn’t expect an apology. “We don’t make mistakes.

Equus

“Is Ivermectin safe?

When used for the current indications, at the currently approved doses, Ivermectin is a very safe drug. To date, more than three billion treatments have been distributed in the context of the Mectizan Donation Program alone with an excellent safety profile. Most adverse reactions are mild, transitory and associated with parasite death rather than with the drug itself.

Does ivermectin have anti-viral properties?

Yes. Ivermectin has been proven to inhibit the replication of several RNA viruses such as:

Dengue—Zika—Yellow fever—West Nile—Chikungunya—Venezuelan equine encephalitis—Semliki Forest virus—Sindbis virus—Porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus , and recently SARS-CoV-2.

Unfortunately, ‘there is very limited evidence about the safety of ivermectin at higher doses.’ ” Read more: https://www.isglobal.org/en/healthisglobal/-/custom-blog-portlet/questions-and-answers-about-ivermectin-and-covid-19/2877257/0

According to the National Institutes of Health, “it is generally acknowledged that praziquantel is highly effective and safe with no serious adverse reactions.” Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3780935/

In the US, Ivermectin is not available except by prescription and doctors are generally prohibited from or reluctant to write prescriptions for the medicine. Anyone can bypass the system by buying veterinary formulations. The above Ivermectin product is popular among horsemen in Texas and has been used by many Covid-19 patients. The dosages are low compared to the study reported on the Isglobal website, but the presence of praziquantel is a wild card, though it too has been found to be safe. I do not know if there is a veterinary formulation that only consists of Ivermectin.

Note that the FDA’s warnings relate to “Ivermectin *products*” and not Ivermectin itself. Ivermectin itself at prescribed dosages is very safe in humans.

With Fauci having lost credibility and vaccines politicized, it is unfortunate that there are no trustworthy organizations which can provide timely advice on treatment. Physicians argue among themselves and laymen have no way to judge beyond a guess.

Schooling for Seniors Update

As it turns out, university tuition is tax-deductible for seniors who return to school to obtain additional credentials which will make them more marketable despite their advanced age. Let’s not kid ourselves: there’s no way you are going to find a job at age 70, but that shouldn’t stop you from lifelong, tax-advantaged learning. This is yet another vote in favor of the “School for Seniors” plan.

Consider the Dutch city of Groningen, a university town voted the most livable city center in Europe. English is widely spoken in Holland. Tuition is cheap. Marijuana is legal and available to soothe the aches and pains of old age.

In Ireland there is a ballyhoo over plans to build student housing, which at €1000/month is considered too expensive. Several operators are already in business and have had difficulty finding tenants. I don’t know if you’ve checked Dublin real estate prices lately, but a thousand per month rental is a steal. Americans will have only minor language difficulties in Ireland. The locals speak English and even Americans can make themselves understood.

Sign me up. Sure beats Century City.

Federal Mask Mandate

The US Department of Transportation has extended the federal mask mandate to January, 2022, requiring passengers to wear masks aboard civilian aircraft and so insuring that American bad behavior will be on display for all throughout the holiday season.

R.Kelly Trial: Where’s the Jury?

The trial of R. Kelly on federal racketeering charges is being held on a semi-virtual basis: the jurors are not in the courtroom. Supposedly this is for health reasons; but if everyone else is in the courtroom safely, what is the justification for the novel approach of excluding the jury?

For the past thousand years, common law criminal trials took place “in the presence of the jury,” a requirement that was mandatory, the language almost incantantory, ritualistic and somewhat supernatural in nature.

The ability of the jury to observe and make credibility determinations was based, in part, on that language and that ritual. Removing the requirement without statutory–perhaps Constitutional authority—in the interests of expediency is a denial of due process. The Constitution mandates a “trial by jury,” not a television show of a trial.

Nevertheless, R. Kelly will be convicted and this precise point will be raised on appeal. The appeal will be rejected because “pandemic, you know” and “R.Kelly’’s a bad guy, you know.” The precedent will be used to open the path to simultaneous, mass trials, another consequence of the Sickness, and one that will not go away even if a cheap, effective cure is found.

Mask or No Mask

I’ll go out on a limb and say that much of the civil strife in the United States is between Republicans and those who do not identify themselves as such. Since all you can really do is moan and complain about those who do not agree with you, the only way to publicly express your affiliation (other than wearing a MAGA hat and sporting an AR-15) is to wear, or not wear, a mask.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Dr. Fauci complicated matters by proclaiming that masks were not required. He later said that he was not truthful—no one likes the word lie—because he was afraid that supplies for medical personnel would run out. I have a different view—he said that they were not required because that is the message the Trump White House wanted to get out. Fauci knew that if he did not go along, he would lose his job. As an experienced bureaucratic in-fighter, Fauci knew how to play along.

As people realized not to take medical advice from someone whose last science course was high school biology, even though he held the nation’s highest office, Fauci backed away from his original dissembling and now advocated mask use, even going so far as to appear before Congress wearing two masks. Presumably the supply chain issues had all been resolved to the point that were the entire nation to double its mask usage, there would be enough to go around.

Those who stand with Trump, at least prior to falling to the illness, display their maskless faces as a sign of political will. The CDC conveniently flip-flopped, announcing that wearing masks was basically optional, though there are occasions when you should mask. Once Biden was installed as commander in chief, the military issued guidance that masks were not necessary. Not even Trump had dared to give such an order.

Elbowing your airplane seat mate in the ribs, not as a conversation starter but as a prelude to demanding mask donning became widespread, to the point that even the FAA realizes that this situation is out of control. The Red vs. Blue battlefield is on either side of the airplane aisle, where true believers duke it out with the socialist enemies of the Constitution.

The Delta variant is grounds for masking. The socialist enemies of the Constitution—so called—claim that the rise in the number of cases is a “pandemic of the unvaccinated” and beseech everyone to get the jab.

The virus ignores all of this political blather, obeying laws that are not fully understood. The only way to conquer the Sickness is by joint action. Personal choice has no place here. This is not about politics. Sickness and Death do not care about politics.

Library Blues

Libraryblues

Menard

There really was a Pierre Menard.

But he did not write the Quijote, contrary to Mr. Borges’ assertions.

Menard was the first lieutenant governor of Illinois.

Selling your Condo?

Selling a condo isn’t easy these days. Real estate agents have to do due diligence on condo board finances and do not have the necessary skills to read and analyze financial statements.

Murder in West Cork

If depicted accurately in the documentary Murder in West Cork, the evidence:

  • changed stories
  • witness identification
  • multiple “confessions” to friends (not even hearsay because a declaration against penal interest)

is enough to convict Ian Bailey of the murder of Sophie du Plantier in an American court.

sophieduplantier #ianbailey #westcork #sophieduplantier

Explosive Flatulency as a Risk Factor for Covid-19

While often a matter of juvenile humor, it has become increasingly obvious to the peer-reviewed scientific community that explosive flatulency (commonly known as “power farting”) is a serious, substantial vector of Covid-19. At first, it was thought that Covid-19 remained upon surfaces where it could be transmitted to a non-infected individual. This led to an orgy of wiping down surfaces. As the science progressed, it became accepted wisdom that surfaces were not to blame, but viral particles passed in CO2 through respiration. Further research showed that toilet plumes, where water mixed with air, were another potential source of infection. This led to a promising area of research, since after all, flatulence consists of a dangerous, flammable mixture of nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen and methane gas. It is clear that the wearing of an N-95 mask by the infected will do little good if the patient is suffering explosive flatulence.

Escalante Gave Up

Gloria Escalante, a condo board member unit owner in the collapsed Champlain Towers South building, urged unit owners in 2019 to approve the hiring of Frank Morabito, the structural engineer who examined the building in 2018 and so could “hit the ground running.” The squabbling continued at Champlain, the unit owners balked at a special assessment of anywhere from $80,000 to $300,000 per unit and no work was even started.

Escalante solved the problem by selling her condo in 2020. With the condo sold, she avoided the squabbling, the special assessment, taking out a loan to pay for it, the loss of the unit due to collapse or demolition and possible death. In retrospect, it was a smart move.

Don’t you think that other condo owners in Miami Beach are looking for the exits? Just as in the children’s game of musical chairs, there won’t always be a buyer ready to take a seat.

South Florida realtors are putting a happy face spin on things, pointing out that Miami is the new tech center and people are getting out of New York (so they can get the listing) and once the unit owner is signed up, hoping for the best. They can’t hide 40 year inspections and longer and on-their-way regulations will soon turn 40 year inspections into 30 year reviews.

Miami Beach just became a very unattractive and uneconomical place to live.

Another Accurate Prediction

Potential buyers (erroneously referred to by real estate agents as “clients”1) are now asking for deep discounts and information about the building’s 40-year recertification process, leading one agent to complain that “no one asked about this before.”

Prior to the Champlain Towers South collapse, it was the rare agent who even mentioned this potential and enormous liability to a potential buyer. Now they will have to bone up on the building’s structural status and drop prices. Only a reckless buyer would acquire a unit in a building with less than a decade to go before recertification. There is no limit on the upside cost. I predict that some owners, unable to get loans, insurance for or afford the onerous reconstruction assessments on their units, will simply walk away. The value of South Florida real estate will crash.

To those who wish to sell: good luck finding a buyer.


  1. While it is possible for a buyer to hire his own agent, real estate agents are typically hired by the seller. That means there is no fiduciary duty to potential buyers, who are hardly ‘clients.’ [return]

Bolivian Admiral Arrested

A Bolivian admiral was arrested for his role in the military coup that overthrew Evo Morales.

Bolivia is landlocked. Bolivia lost its outlet to the sea in the 19th century War of the Pacific to Chile and since then has been trying to recover access to the ocean. A few years ago Bolivia lost yet another case in the World Court. It shares Lake Titicaca with Peru, but the lake, shared with Peru, is landlocked as well.

Other than patrol boats on Lake Titicaca, Bolivia has no ships. Nonetheless, Bolivia has a navy, led by admirals who have nothing better to do than interfere in the country’s democracy.

When There’s Nothing to Report

The Guardian Helpfully Reports on the comings and goings of cats in the neighborhood

“In a small moment of hope, a cat was seen wandering a lower floor of the remaining flank of the 12-story condominium complex. Crews hoped to place a trap on the balcony so the cat could be rescued. It could not be immediately determined whether the animal belonged to any resident.”

That a stray tabby showed up looking for food is hardly “a small moment of hope.” The world press is surrounding the collapse site and their editors are paying beaucoup to keep them there while demanding they file something, anything—any kind of story at all.

So we get stories like these on the wire. They don’t even know if the cat just wandered in from across the street. “Look! A cat! A glimmer of hope!” Let’s wait for the mandatory interview with a county commissioner who claims he knows the cat.

Lockdown Suspended

The number of cases in Bahrain during the last month has dropped from a high of 28,798 active cases to a low of 2882 on the last day of the lockdown, July 2. The lockdown is only suspended; if the number of cases starts to rise again, it will be re-imposed.

2021 Scorecard

  • Storming of the US Capitol
  • Trump Impeachment
  • B737 Crash in Indonesia
  • Outbreak of UK, So.African and Brazilian Virus Variants
  • Myanmar Coup
  • Texas Freeze (“Cancun Cruz”)
  • Suez Canal grounding
  • Murder Hornets Return
  • US, Canada, Siberia Heatwave
  • Champlain Towers South Collapse

Schooling for Seniors

I was sitting around with my roommates a few years ago and the subject of retirement came up, as did the subject of finding low rent accommodation. I recounted an experience I had trying to find low-cost housing in Los Angeles in the summer. College dorms and fraternity houses were desperate to rent to those who would only stay for the summer, but you needed an .edu email address. This is not impossible, but neither is it trivial. Inspired by thoughts of Rodney Dangerfield’s Back to School, I tried to get in touch with frat houses at UCLA and USC. Despite my best efforts, I was unable to reach any of them (a Vonage line would have helped).

Before the days of the Internet, I used to have a “how to” manual with listings of universities that rented out college dorms in the summer. I used the book to secure housing while studying for and taking the Louisiana Bar Exam. I no longer remember the name of the book. Pity. It was a good idea.

Somehow the two ideas merged: back to school and free or near-free rent. The dark clouds parted and rays from the heavens illuminated my surroundings. I heard the choir of angels sing.

For years my aunt lived in Champaign, Illinois, the home of the University of Illinois, a mere three hours by car south of Chicago. State money flows into the crown jewel of the Illinois educational system. The University has world class, well-funded medical and recreational facilities. The former are underused by the student body. If you take hangovers and sexually transmitted diseases out of the equation, young people are generally healthy. At the medical school, those seeking to specialize in gerontology would be happy to have me as there are slim pickings in the potential patient pool amongst the undergraduate student body.

There’s a world class library and regular speakers and classes on every conceivable subject. There’s a music school and regular concerts. Why not enroll and get access to all those delightful benefits and student housing too? OK, so they’d put you in graduate student housing—so what? Staying at a fraternity is probably out of the question, though you never know. They might rush a sixty-year old just for the novelty of it. Free of worries about grades, my main concern would be the menus at the student cafeteria and the location of the next wine and cheese event.

There’s no reason to be lonely at a university: due to your age your fellow students will initially see you as an oddity before the crafty ones figure out that having an older friend may sometimes open doors that would otherwise be shut, especially in a country where age is a requirement to purchase alcohol. Every new class means new friends and contacts.

Don’t be afraid of showing up at any university event; by law and policy, they are open to all. There are three classes of older people commonly found on a university campus: professors, parents and boosters. People will automatically assume that you fall into one of these categories; no one will risk offense by turning you away.

Taken by the idea, my friend Roberto found that there are countries in Western Europe where tuition is free, housing is cheap, medical care is free and class instruction is given in English. Maybe Slovakia is not at the top of your education list, but it should be. “But I already have a degree,” you whine. Don’t you get it? Who cares? You can spend the next two decades sampling the educational wares of Western Europe and you won’t live long enough to finish.

But having been away from the United States for so long, the idea of my home country—not the reality of it, the idea of it—was becoming attractive so I looked close to what for many years had been home.

I semi-seriously looked at real estate in Champaign; if I could find a two story building I could set up a law office on the first floor while living on the second, a nearly rent-free, or at least subsidized rental environment (it is not easy for me to hide my obsessions). I could give new meaning to the phrase “student lawyer.” For this to be successful, I would need a federal courthouse and preferably, a state appellate courthouse nearby. With an ABA-approved law library and free Lexis available to students, a genteel appellate practice writing briefs with the occasional court appearance would be one possible pastime.

With a gut growing from all-too-frequent attendance at wine and cheese gatherings, I would discreetly encourage my classmates to take advantage of all educational opportunities open to them—especially those that offered free food. In exchange, all I would want is a heads-up on any event with a free buffet. Why be one of those seniors lining up for the early bird special, stuffing sachets of Sweet ’n Low into your purse when you can feed in style in the halls of academe—and with little or no cash outlay? Once the faculty realized that I posed no threat and was merely along for the ride of free booze and victuals they would leave me alone and treat me as just an eccentric old crank, which is fine with me.

If forced to declare a major, I would choose an impossibly difficult dead language, one that would take me years to master. I might not live so long. Nevertheless, each year I would dutifully sign up for Akkadian 101 and not let my repeated failures get me down. I would stay away from those classes where a professor might try to pass me to get rid of me. The university administration might try to discourage me by scheduling Akkadian at the ungodly hour of 8:30 in the morning, not realizing that I had no intention of attending at any hour. Class is not a realistic option so early in the morning. At 8:30 I’m dressed in a bathrobe—if expecting guests—and working on my morning coffee, sweetened with a tablespoon or two of Kentucky bourbon.

“Failure” would be my mantra, my shield against old age. If after repeated failures, I would simply switch to another impossibly-difficult language. My prior failures would constitute eloquent proof that a change of major was needed. If, God forbid, I were to come close to meeting the requirements for graduation and thus expulsion from this Garden of Eden, I’d quickly find a new course of study where none of my classes would qualify. Fine with me. Though realistically, studying and sitting for examinations is not on my agenda so I do not see how this could possibly happen.

Once a quarter I’d take my Social Security check and throw a boozy “homecoming” party for older students, inviting everyone to the law office backyard where I’d set up a bbq smoker and enlist the interns who worked for me as waiters and waitresses—no empty plates allowed. I would make it known that anyone could attend, older student or not. The first few events would be sparsely attended until word got out about the free beer and bbq.

I’d hire an undergraduate band to play at the event—they’d be happy for the gig. I’d schedule around major sporting events lest parents attend, see what a cushy life I’d got going and decide to enroll themselves.

All of this sounds a lot better than a retirement home, Century City or Boynton Beach. Almost all American States have a university town and many charge little tuition to non-degree-seeking seniors. Some States have more than one. Besides Champaign, there’s Tallahassee, Florida (Go Seminoles!); Austin, Texas; Oxford, Mississippi and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. All have been on my radar. Slovakia remains an option.

Boulder, Colorado and the home of Southern Illinois University at Carbondale are also of interest. Carbondale has the reputation of being a “party” school. For some this would be a negative but not me. The town has the added benefit of being the seat of the federal district court for the Southern District of Illinois. It’s so far south that winters are rarely harsh, almost tropical compared to Chicago.

I’ll have to investigate it more thoroughly.

Biden's Photo Op in Miami Beach

119084718 gettyimages 1233636269

Biden has nothing to do with the Champlain Towers South building collapse.

Nothing.

The feds have no involvement at all.

Hell, the City of Miami Beach, just yards away, doesn’t even have responsibility: they pass the buck to Surfside, a separate municipality.

Miami-Dade county has jurisdiction and is auditing buildings but there is more to be done.

Thanks FEMA, but this catastrophe is limited and scope and has affected less than 300 people: not a federal disaster.

Your involvement makes our goal more difficult.

We’re trying to protect our property values, thank you very much.

Hanging Spalls

Florida’s vocabulary gifts:

chad, as in “hanging chad” spall (v.)

Any others?

#English #Florida #spalling

Champlain Towers Analysis

There’s a lot being written about the Champlain Towers collapse, but perhaps, as a former owner of a beach-side unit just twenty blocks south and as a lawyer with some experience as both an owner and with Florida law, my thoughts might be a little more than just informed speculation. Or not.

Bankruptcy

The developer died seven years ago and his company was dissolved shortly thereafter. Because of the age of the building, decennial liability is no longer an issue. There has already been one lawsuit filed and many more are rumored to be on the way. What do you call a lawsuit against someone with no assets? A waste of time.

The homeowners’ association owns the common areas of the building; the unit owners hold their individual units. The value of all the remaining condominiums just went to zero. The destroyed condominiums don’t exist any more. The sister buildings are not part of the HOA; except for safety issues, they might as well not exist. The HOA thus has no assets; their only reasonable move is to file for bankruptcy. This halts all litigation; the bankruptcy court appoints a trustee, just like with Eastern Airlines or Bernard Madoff Investments, and looks for any assets to cover debts. But he won’t find much, because…

Demolition

The remaining portion of the Champlain Towers will be condemned and torn down. There probably is a way to rebuild the building and make it safe as long as the collapse was not due to saltwater intrusion or shifting soil. We already know that the building was sinking at the rate of 2 mm per year. The repairs to the building to make it safe before the collapse came in at 9 million; now the bill will be much, much higher.

It will be months before a building permit is issued if that is the direction the HOA wants to go but more importantly, who will pay? The HOA just lost at least half of its “taxpayers,” there are fewer owners remaining on whom to place an assessment. I would also guess that at least some members of the board are dead; there will have to be a new election; there is probably nothing in the condo association agreement to cover a situation like this.

That is another reason why it bankruptcy is important; the trustee can decide whether it is commercially viable to restore or demolish the remaining structure. The risk of certifying the existing building and the land on which it sits as safe is so great that I doubt the city/county would do it and even if they did, no one will insure the building now. The remaining residents–all of whom who will have to move out–will try to get State of Florida assistance but that will take months and there is little legal basis to help them unless the State decides to underwrite building collapses generally.

Insurance

My instincts tell me that there was no insurance for this kind of event, but I have reached out to an insurance professional for confirmation.

AirBnB

Officially, the building had a rule against AirBnB’s. My first thought was how many AirBnB’s were being rented out at this location? AirBnB’s are against Miami/Miami Beach ordinances but the South Florida market remains AirBnB’s fifth largest market globally. So someone is finding AirBnB rentals.

Even if the HOA had prohibited AirBnB’s, this is very difficult to police. I read article after article discussing the unaccounted for people, how they were “visiting a friend,” how they were “vacationing,” even how they had come to Miami to get vaccinated.

“Staying with a friend” is what AirBnB hosts tell their guests to say to avoid these rules. Other than the usual complaints against AirBnB, it is significant here because the last thing absentee owners running irregular mini-hotel businesses want is added expense. Having to replace towels is bad enough, but a special assessment can kill profits. Owners can and will do anything to postpone such assessments; it gives them a chance to avoid those fees by selling the unit and buying somewhere else. It also means that that you will have a group of owners who will vote against any and all improvements. Even though AirBnB’s are prohibited now, it is not clear at all whether they were prohibited in 2018, the year that significant structural damage was uncovered.

The 2018 Inspection

In 2018, structural engineers inspected the Champlain Towers and wrote a report which contained a word that, like “hanging chad,” Florida has now given to the world. The word is of course, “spalling” which refers to chunks of concrete not just cracking, but falling off the building. They found a good deal of spalling, rusting rebar and recommended urgent repairs to the tune of 9 million dollars. The City of Surfside’s inspectors praised the HOA for starting the 40-year building recertification process three years early.

Except for three years nothing happened. Maybe because the Board voted against it, or the AirBnB owners voted against it: at this point we don’t know. At some point this year, however, the HOA proposed making structural repairs but added 6 million dollars’ worth of non-essential, aesthetic improvements–condo boards in Florida tend to do that. There were probably more arguments about those non-essential improvements than the rusting rebar. A special assessment was voted and was based on the size of individual units. The special assessment ranged from a low of $80,000 to a high of $300,000. We know that the funds had not been collected since one of the surviving unit owners said that he had canceled his loan application.

The 2018 Inspection: Secret?

The Becker Law Firm (formerly Becker & Poliakoff) has a large condominium practice in South Florida and represents many homeowners’ associations. The 2018 report was delivered not to individual unit holders, but was prepared for the HOA itself. The HOA is a separate legal entity apart from the homeowners. At least some of the homeowners had from time to time sued the HOA, though none had sued to force the HOA to implement the critically needed repairs. Why didn’t anyone in this litigation-happy building sue? There can only be one reason: they didn’t know.

Why do I think that the HOA’s lawyers told the HOA that they had no obligation to disclose the report to the individual owners? At some point, we may find out, but I think it is likely the Becker Law Firm has already given notice to its own malpractice carrier. I think it is likely that no unit owner sued the HOA because they didn’t know about the inspection.

The Three Year Wait

Why the three year wait? With unit holders, whether absentee AirBnB owners or not, voting against special assessments, maybe condo management realized that they would never get a 9 million dollar special assessment approved. But with the 40=year recertification just around the corner, it would be relatively easy to style the required repairs as part of the 40-year process and win approval that way. I admit that this is speculation on my part, but otherwise, why the wait?

Mortgage Liability

While some unit owners may have paid cash for their units, most took out mortgages. If they did not have mortgage insurance, the mortgage debt persists despite the destruction of the underlying property. This may send a few owners into bankruptcy court as well.

Political Pressure

There are high rises on both sides of Collins Avenue stretching from the county line all the way to South Beach. My condo was twenty blocks south at 6767 Collins. There will be enormous political pressure on the investigators to find that the cause of the collapse was peculiar to that particular piece of land and not general in nature. If general in nature, like rising water levels, the property values of those buildings on the east side of Collins Avenue have just dropped precipitously. Those who have renewable umbrella insurance policies will be happy, but my guess is that not everyone does. I know I didn’t.

The Future

How this will all play out is anyone’s guess. What was prime South Florida real estate all of a sudden became much less attractive. Lots of owners will be unable to pay new special assessments and will seek to sell their units, creating a glut on the market and a drop in property values. But it’s South Florida: there are always a few who believe that even when undercapitalized they can fix things “for now” and squeak by. The bankruptcy trustee will probably find a developer who is willing to wait a few years, figuring that when all the excitement quiets down a few strategic political campaign donations will make pulling a new construction permit a possibility. People will forget about these victims because there will be new catastrophes and new victims. Nothing in South Florida is permanent. Even apartment buildings collapse.

Trapped?

Trapped

Trapped in debris? Earthquake? Avalanche? Collapsed building?

Or just visiting an Associated Press or Al Jazeera office?

If so, keep these tips in mind:

Criminal Justice System is Arbitrary and Capricious

Gravano

The US criminal justice system is arbitrary and capricious.

Sammy got 5 years for 19 murders.

How many are on death row for less?

#warondrugs #criminaljustice