How to Find a Lawyer Overseas

Need a lawyer overseas? How do you find one?

It really depends on the country and the type of case. For BigLaw, see if a national firm has a presence in a foreign country.

For criminal cases, use the NACDL directory. The Big 4 are repeating history and practicing law again–remember Anderson Legal?

A foreign connection does not a foreign case make. If trial venue is in the US, a need to take evidence abroad does not convert your case into a foreign one.

Beware of foreign lawyers who think they know US procedure. If you haven’t been paid yourself, don’t even bother.

Expect a lot of irrelevant hocus pocus.

Never notarize a document in Hong Kong. Use 28 USC 1746 whenever possible; save yourself a trip to the Embassy and the thousands local Hong Kong lawyers will demand for no good reason.

The Santos Protocol

A New Way to Find a Job

Today’s job hunt should start with careful invention following the example of Congressman George Santos (R.NY) and the preparation of a resumé that need not align with fact.

In this post-truth, Santos Protocol, Inventing Anna world, a fact is whatever you claim it to be.

Disagreement can be shrugged off as opinion and fact-checkers mere haters.

A good legend avoids mentioning licenses that might be verified. A refutation can be met with the rejoinder that typos, mis-spellings and apostrophe’s often lead to confusion, whether this has applicability to your name or not.

Contractors are never employees and NDA’s can cover as much time as you like.The former status can be used to claim a wide range of affiliations, the latter provides cover for time periods spent unemployed.

The Santos Protocol: you can be anyone. You are anyone. Fiction is narrative and you are entitled to your own truth. And moreover:

A good lie is better than the truth.

The Santos Protocol

A New Way to Find a Job

Today’s job hunt should start with careful invention following the example of Congressman George Santos (R.NY) and the preparation of a resumé that need not carefully align with facts.

In this post-truth, Santos Protocol, Inventing Anna world, a fact is whatever you claim it to be.

Disagreement can be shrugged off as opinion and fact-checkers mere haters.

A good legend avoids mentioning licenses that might be verified. A refutation can be met with the rejoinder that typos, mis-spellings and apostrophe’s often lead to confusion, whether this has applicability to your name or not.

Contractors are never employees and NDA’s can cover as much time as you like.The former status can be used to claim a wide range of affiliations, the latter provides cover for time periods spent unemployed.

The Santos Protocol: you can be anyone. You are anyone. Fiction is narrative and you are entitled to your own truth. And moreover:

A good lie is better than the truth.

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 into the DeLorean trial—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 thinking that the Michigan venue was chosen to punish DeLorean as much for having the gall to compete with American car companies as anything else.

DeLorean was acquitted, an extremely rare occurrence in federal court 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.


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 despite this deficiency, many members of the Saudi royal family had accounts at the branch in Riyadh. At that time, he said, Saudi banking laws were mostly cosmetic.

The main allegation in the American criminal prosecution of BCCI was that the bank 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. The money was then collected and transferred to the American branch of BCCI in Tampa.

The first criminal prosecution then, took place in Detroit, where DEA agents had tracked my client’s truck and seized it when it arrived to offload its Colombian merchandise.

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 multi-state federal courts of appeal that these ill feelings start, only start, to dissipate. They never disappear entirely.

Whenever 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 a Rule to Show Cause and wanted it read to me personally, so that I could not claim that I had not received it.

The Clerk started reading. “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 and thorough 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 no 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,” a form of torture. 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 a 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.


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 quiosque 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, nor an 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.

You asked, We quacked

Duck 2

But Britney’s a Special Case

Britney Griner was benefited in more ways than one by the extraordinary prisoner exchange with Russia. Russia and the US do not have a prisoner transfer treaty. The US does have such a treaty with 11 countries and is a signatory to two multilateral international conventions1. The terms of these treaties are all the same: upon transfer, a prisoner is not automatically freed. Instead, the prisoner is to serve the remainder of his sentence in the prisons of the receiving country. The receiving country’s parole rules, however, would apply.

When these treaties were negotiated, federal parole still existed, but parole was abolished under the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984. Since then, federal prisoners must serve their complete sentence, with 55 days granted each year for good behavior. A transferred federal prisoner still has to serve 85% of his sentence upon return to the United States.

If there had been a prisoner exchange treaty between the US and Russia, Griner would still have the bulk of her sentence to serve in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons. Assuming good behavior, she would be freed in 7 ½ years.

A life sentence imposed overseas means life in America. For many prisoners, the idea of returning to the US for confinement is unthinkable: with permitted conjugal visits, in many cases foreign prisons are more humane than American ones. Parole eligibility, amnesty and more frequent pardons are all reasons not to come home.

Despite the existence of a valid prisoner exchange treaty between the United States and Peru, that treaty was never invoked in favor of Lori Berenson, convicted in 1996 of terrorist offenses and originally sentenced to life. Although her sentence was later reduced to twenty years, Berenson did not seek transfer to the United States under the treaty. Instead she remained in Peru and had a child with her husband. Returning to the United States would have meant incarceration without parole. Berenson thus remained in Peru.2

Britney Griner got special treatment indeed. I’m not sure she realizes just how special her treatment was.

  1. [return]
  2. Berenson’s case is complex; she was even furloughed, permitted to travel to the US and then returned to Peru. Bill Clinton lobbied for her release; did it never occur to him to use the existing treaty to secure her return? [return]

Horizontal Space in Ulysses

If you need blank horizontal space in Ulysses, try using a UTF-8 space character.

Ulysses does not strip blank space where that blank space is a UTF-8 character, like U+2004 (three em space). While this symbol cannot be generated in Ulysses–like s̵t̵r̵i̵k̵e̵t̵h̵r̵o̵u̵g̵h̵ for example–if generated in an external program and copied to Ulysses, it will both be displayed in Ulysses and upon export.

Eastern Brown Snake

I had a conversation about these critters last week. They are found, fortunately enough, in Queensland, Australia but not in Thailand. Their venom is neurotoxic and extremely dangerous. They commonly grow to a meter and a half in length.

If you come across one, run.

Snakebites are one of the leading causes of death in Myanmar, where I once briefly worked as a lawyer before being fired by a jealous, Spanish HR person who was upset because I wouldn’t ask the Spanish ambassador to renew her passport. I invited her to come along and meet the ambassador; she could ask him herself for the favor if she wanted to. I didn’t know the ambassador and felt that such a request would be presumptuous.

This was the only run-in I had with a snake in Myanmar.

The Duke of Sodom and a Time Travel Mystery Solved

I came across a reference, in a new biography of Colette, to the “Duke of Sodom,” a French dandy, contemporary of Oscar Wilde, named Robert de Montesquiou. I thought I’d look him up, for after all, anyone who has earned the sobriquet “Duke of Sodom” must be a memorable character.

I was surprised to find on his (English language) Wikipedia page a reference to time travel and one of the great mysteries that has intrigued me for so many of these years and in a small way, was the seed for my El pueblo (The Settlement, serialized here) though to be fair, it was the juxtaposition of contemporary and 15th century architecture in San Miguel de Allende that suggested the possibility that there might be a place out of time.

Two English ladies were visiting Versailles around the turn of the century, turned a corner and found themselves in the 1700’s. They believed they had crossed the threshold of some kind of time portal and had traveled in time.

Their story was mentioned, if I recall, in the People’s Almanac in the 1980’s as well as in other books. The tale suggested that while time travel may be exceedingly uncommon, visiting the past nevertheless was possible.

They wrote about their adventure, never realizing that there was a simple explanation for their shared experience and the Duke of Sodom was responsible for their confusion:

An Adventure

In his biography, Philippe Jullian proposes that the Moberly–Jourdain incident in 1901, in which Charlotte Anne Moberly and Eleanor Jourdain claimed to experience time travel in the grounds of the Petit Trianon, is explained by their stumbling into a rehearsal of one of Montesquiou’s Tableaux Vivants, with his friends (one possibly transvestite) dressed in period costume. Joan Evans, who owned the copyright to An Adventure (1911), Moberly and Jourdain’s account of their experiences, accepted this solution and forbade any further editions.

A mystery solved, methinks.

Paul Pelosi Update

While the arresting officers’ body cams have not been released, at least one journalist has seen the footage. The recording shows that Paul Pelosi indeed opened the door to the officers, did not say that he was in danger, and then retreated back into the house away from the officers and towards his assailant. It is not clear how long Pelosi stood near DePape before the assault started.

The federal indictment states that it was the officers who opened the door, not Pelosi. Who opened the door is neither an element of the offense that DePape is charged with, nor is it exculpatory. However, it does show that at least some of the now-retracted NBC reports were accurate then and are accurate now.

In a run of the mill case, detail fuzziness could simply be explained by time pressures or sloppiness in not correcting a draft. It is hard to believe that either of these excuses were present in a crime involving the husband of the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

The bodycam footage remains unreleased. Worse, the 911 call has not yet been released.

An Act of Charity

A young mother with her malnutritioned two year old son has staked out a begging post at the entrance to the BTS Metro station at Ekkamai. She is unwashed, unshod; she looks about fourteen and her son, similarly covered with the dirt from the busy street, is always either sleeping in her arms or playing in a discarded styrofoam box. She holds up a dirty plastic cup recovered from the trash for her begging; a few, but only a few stop to drop a few coins into her cup.

I give her 20 baht whenever I pass. She sees me coming and smiles, knowing that I will stop as I approach, that I will turn away from the pedestrian traffic and reach into my pocket for a small banknote for her little family. The little boy never smiles.

Last night she was still at the station when I returned from dinner around 10 pm. There were few out at that hour; her takings at that time would be few. I slowed my pace and waved. She smiled.

Her son looked at me and gave me the finger.

Moving Tips

Travel Light

Two ideas: throw stuff out. 10% won’t survive the move anyway. Put stuff in storage. If you haven’t gone to the storage in two years to redeem it, throw the whole lot out.

Second: Packages under 70 pounds can be shipped via US mail. You can ship your packages poste restante to the nearest post office if there’s no one to receive your mail at your new home. This can be much cheaper than hiring movers.

Three: buy a 24 foot container—they’re cheap—and fill it up yourself with your junk. If you’re lucky the container will be lost in transit and you will be freed.

There’s a saying in the South: three moves equals a fire. Heed it. You don’t need all of what you have.

My pet peeve is that hotels refuse to accept luggage deliveries on behalf of a future guest. You ship luggage on Friday. It arrives at the hotel Monday morning; you haven’t checked in yet. Your luggage will be refused even if your reservation is for the same day. This is ridiculous.

The Gerontocracy

The American president is eighty years old.

Eighty. Years. Old.

We are ruled by a gerontocracy. Chuck Grassley, a senator from Iowa, is 89 years old and was just re-elected to another six-year term.

Nancy Pelosi, House Speaker, is 82 years old. She too was re-elected.

Brooks Sentenced to 762 Years in Prison

Darrell Brooks, the Waukesha hit and run murderer, was sentenced this week to six consecutive life terms on the six convicted counts of first-degree murder, plus an additional 762 years for seriously injuring dozens of other victims.

Such a sentence is difficult to imagine, in an additive sense, for none of us know what will happen tomorrow. We do, however, have a very accurate picture of the past.

In 1260, 762 years ago, Kublai Khan became the great Khan of the Mongol empire. Barbers and physicians were indistinguishable, for another five hundred years the two professions were joined. The Black Death would not reach Europe for more than another century.

No Christians were protestants. The Fifth Crusade had failed nine years previously; Jerusalem was controlled by the heirs of Saladin. Arab and Christian rulers shared the Iberian peninsula. The Eastern Roman Empire would endure for another two hundred years or so; the crescent moon of Islam would not be raised over the city called Constantinople until 1453. The Most Serene Republic of Venice was a world power and would be for another 500 years.

Middle English was the language of England and would not evolve into today’s intelligible Modern English for another two centuries. Scribes copied books onto a relatively new material called paper, movable type printing was two hundred years in the future. The educated world communicated in Latin, a language in which a young Heloise composed poetry sent to her lover and husband Abelard prior to her death, only a century before.

The Christian Kings would not expel the Arab emirs from their Kingdom of Granada and fund an Italian sailor’s dream for another two centuries and three decades. Unaware of these matters, Aztec kings ruled over large parts of what today is Mexico while making blood sacrifices to their gods.

Brooks is forty years old and may live at most only another half century. We may think that the world of 2072 will be very different from our own, and in some ways it will be, but whatever changes that come to us are nothing compared to those occasioned over the last seven-tenths of a millennium.

Twitter’s 8 Bucks Plan

If Twitter:

–starts charging $8 for verification to meet KYC (Know Your Customer) anti-money laundering requirements

–layers on #Ripple/#XRP

–restricts access to verified accounts

–now you have a profitable payment ecosystem from/to verified users anywhere in the world.

To make Twitter a payments platform like WeChat/TenCent you have to verify users.

It will disrupt the international remittance business and provide cheap banking services for the unbanked.

Would you pay $8 to let anyone send you money from anywhere in the world?

Without percentage-based transactional fees?

I bet a lot of merchants would.

If government at all levels permits payment by Twitter, and merchants get on board, and utilities, and employers



-Western Union



-retail banks

-credit unions

all have a big problem.

The above is an edited copy of posts I made on Twitter on this subject; it has been one of my most popular posts with hundreds of likes and re-tweets.

Saudis Help Achieve Ukrainian Prisoner Exchange

Perhaps the US would be wise to stop insulting the Saudi petroleum minister and attacking the Saudis generally and instead solicit their help with respect to Brittney Griner.

More on the Mail; a Trystero in Panama and a Lonely Parrot

The predilection for writing letters did not begin in Bahrain. In another lifetime, I worked for the Panama Canal. One of the benefits, at least as seen by one who suffers the affliction of writing letters, was a provision of the Panama Canal Treaty which gave employees of the Canal access to the military postal system until the end of the so-called “transition period,” which began on the treaty’s effective date of October 1, 1979 and ended on April 30, 1982.

The incidents of sovereignty were slowly being cast off, and like Y2K (though no one had heard of that then, obviously) no one was really sure if all the bases had been covered in the treaty, the implementing agreement, the newly renamed Canal Zone Code and any other regulations, instructions or memoranda that were flitting about. Taking down a flag is easy, but not everything else that needs to abolish a jurisdiction is so simple—e.g., they retained limited criminal jurisdiction but forgot to provide for federal public defenders. Typical. 

In those days, the idea of privatizing a national post office was unheard of. The flag followed mail carriers as they made their rounds, historically it was one of the few federal institutions that touched people’s lives (at least until the income tax became law) and stamps were as good as currency. The Canal Zone had its own post office. When, on October 1, 1979 they took down the flag, that post office went out of business and was turned over to the Republic of Panama’s own postal system. 

So, for thirty-one months, Panama Canal US citizen employees had access to the military postal system. The idea, I suppose, was that this would cause as little impact as possible on those who wrote letters, read magazines or received Jenny Craig diet products through the mail. Sending letters overseas in those days was complicated; half the time the postal clerk would have to pull a black binder from a shelf in someone’s office to check if there were any special mailing requirements. During the Canal Zone days, mail from the US was domestic; similarly, mail that traveled through the military postal system was also considered domestic for the most part. You had an APO (Army Post Office) address in Miami and were charged parcel rates to Florida. 

I quickly read the writing on the wall and knew that I, along with about 1700 others, would soon lose military mail. This was disconcerting. I sent a questionnaire around to military post offices in different countries to see how they handled things and if there was any regulatory holes into which we might, in the future, place letters.

Civilian US employees in Korea were unionized and active; perhaps they had figured something out. We were theoretically a part of the Department of Defense, after all, but just barely. The fight over the Canal Zone was in the past and the focus was now on obtaining Panamanian support, or at least no-objection, for our backing the Contras in Nicaragua, not to mention the FMLN unpleasantness in El Salvador. 

The Gipper took to the airwaves and showed the public how close Nicaragua was to Texas; communists could any day now be at our shores. Cuba was closer, of course, but that conflict had long been back-burnered. 

I obtained no results and no hope from what the Pentagon called my “unauthorized world-wide survey” of military post offices. I thought they were being a little dramatic. April 30, 1982 was rapidly approaching and with it, the likelihood of weight gain if Jenny Craig’s tasty meals became uneconomical due to an increase in postal rates.

What then, to do? I was completely out of ideas and could only dread the inevitable. That day in April finally came and with it, an extraordinarily rare ceremony was held, the closing of a United States District Court. As far as I know, only two US district courts have ever closed. The US District Court for China was closed when the Japanese invaded Shanghai in WWII, and the US District Court for the Philippines was closed when the Imperial Japanese Army displaced General MacArthur. Neither court was ever to open again. 

No violence attended the closing of the Canal Zone court. The ceremony was presided over by the Fifth Circuit’s chief judge, Charles Clark. The general staff of the Panamanian Defense Forces filled up the jury box. Judge Morey Sear, the last Canal Zone district judge, sat next to Judge Clark.

My boss, Dwight McKabney, later wanted to prosecute Judge Sear for “donating” a bench from the court to Tulane Law School. McKabney felt this was an unauthorized transfer of government property. His own boss wanted only for Canal affairs to be run smoothly. Making an accusation against a federal district judge with life tenure was not, in his view, a good idea. With the end of the transition period Sear lost his diplomatic passport and sinecure in the Canal Zone. But he was still a sitting judge in New Orleans of the District Court of the Eastern District of Louisiana, where I used to spend time in Tulane’s library while preparing for the Louisiana bar exam. No accusation was ever made against Sear. In 1987, the bench was still in Tulane’s law library and as far as I know, remains there today.

On that April day I met Colonel Manuel Noriega for the first time. He was our ally then. General Torrijos had died in a plane crash less than a year before and the military general staff were still jockeying for position. I shook his hand but didn’t have any conversation other than perhaps exchanging mutual “mucho gustos.” The Canal had good relations with the Colonel, who at that time was powerful but not formally in a leadership position. The Canal had a special liaison office with the Panamanian Defense Forces and things ran smoothly, at least until we decided to ignore the treaty and invade Panama eight years later—a treaty violation, I’d like to point out.  

On the day after the ceremony, there was no more mail. Everyone’s post office box—for there never was door to door mail service in either Panama or the Canal Zone—was closed. 

Or was it? For some strange reason, and clearly a violation of the blessed treaty reached by two sovereign nations—my box continued to receive mail. It was just a regular post office box—PSC (Postal Service Center) Box 843, APO Miami 34002. Against all odds, somehow my box had remained open at Albrook Field. 

I felt like a criminal when I went to pick up my mail. I wasn’t supposed to be there. If they asked for the military ID which authorized me to pick up mail, I had nothing to show. It is hard to act surreptitiously in a large post office with circular mirrors where the walls meet the ceiling bathed with white light from the batteries of fluorescent tubes illuminating postal customers from above. For a month or so, I pretended like I had a right to be there, found my box and turned the combination knob. Twice to the right, once to the left and the box opened. 

But one day the combination stopped working. The box wouldn’t open. There was no mail for me. I went to the former Canal Zone post office in Balboa. For a little more than two years it had been an unused outpost of the Panamanian postal system. I signed up for a box and was assigned Box 2914; but I had to call the box “Apartado” because English was no longer allowed. Day followed day without mail.

In these days of instant communication, e.g., “I texted you five minutes ago. Why haven’t you answered?” and free international voice calls (WhatsApp, Line) the isolation that separated people at a distance is forgotten. But it was isolation and that distance caused friendships to be lost. When someone left town they were, in effect, gone for good, unless they returned. This effect was magnified when anyone left for overseas. Mail was one way to breach the distance and stay in touch.

Though it had nothing to do with the unauthorized survey, by pure coincidence I found out that US citizens in Haiti had access to the State Department diplomatic pouch to send and receive mail. The privilege was restricted to government employees working in Haiti. There was an alternative mail system after all.  

I didn’t see any reason why this couldn’t work in Panama. The effect of the Treaty was to deprive US citizen PanCanal employees of their access to the mails as a consequence of the disestablishment of the Canal Zone. Without a political entity, there could be no post office. The mail was an incidence of sovereignty and a vestige of a now-objectionable colonial period. Soldiers might get US mail, but civilians? Unthinkable. 

The concept of privatizing government assets had not yet reached the Western democracies. Instead, the pendulum swung the other way: “nationalization” was the way that governments took the assets of foreign companies, usually American companies at that. The American attitude was that this was just a few steps away from socialism or communism and must be resisted at all costs.

Privatization was not a word in anyone’s vocabulary. Had it been, the Canal Zone post office might have been sold to FedEx or DHL, except back then, the former didn’t exist and the latter was a messenger service that only delivered documents after-hours to attorneys in Northern California. 

By the time US mail service was cut off I was living with a parrot that had developed a fondness for the maid’s daughter, Katia. The parrot cried out Katia’s name at all hours of the day and night. Jungle parrots can hear each other’s shrieks at a distance of three miles. My living room was not that big. The parrot’s loneliness was contagious. I was discouraged only when there was no mail in the apartado but when Katia wasn’t around the parrot was inconsolable.

I formally submitted the issue of access to the diplomatic pouch to Canal management and was told that access was not possible. When asked for the legal basis for this view, I was referred back to the treaty. But the request as framed had nothing to do with the treaty. All that was in the past. Diplomatic pouch access was in the present and was common in Haiti as well as other countries. Those who were telling me this didn’t realize that they had no legal basis to say ‘no’ because if they said ‘no’ they would be admitting that we really weren’t a federal agency or that we weren’t really federal employees and that they could not do. 

Negotiations continued but eventually I got a call. They had set up a new post office for the employees through the embassy’s diplomatic pouch. It was more restrictive than the military postal system, but now those who watched their waistlines could get their Jenny Craig again. Thomas Pynchon wrote about a mysterious secret postal system called the trystero in his novel, The Crying of Lot 49. My trystero ran for almost two decades. 

In Panama I lost my respect for the Rule of Law. When you can pick and choose which laws to obey and which ones to ignore, whether the subject of your legal inquiry is a wooden district court bench or a lonely parrot shrieking for a friend, you lose respect for the supposed black and white Rule of Law very quickly.

The Stateless Suckling

An infant lay in a baby carriage in front of the photo studio. I was there to get visa pictures as was the infant’s father, who was from Malaysia.

A Thai-Chinese woman in her 80’s made a fuss about the infant, who I wrongly assumed was the child’s grandmother—or great grandmother. “She’s second generation Thai Chinese,” the Malaysian told me. She lives across the street but likes to hang out at the photo studio.

An Italian arrived on a motorcycle to get passport pictures. I told him he would have to ask the boss and pointed to the infant. He realized this was a joke and asked grandma, who had nothing to do with the shop except that she liked to sit on their stools. Old people are lonely, but people in their 80’s are really lonely.

The infant made faces and looked like at any moment might burst into a fit of screaming tears. “He doesn’t have a passport,” the Malaysian told me. “His mother is Chinese. Chinese passports are easy. Malaysia is a different story. He’s stateless.”

“Don’t worry,” I said, “at this point he doesn’t know he’s stateless.” “Being born in Thailand doesn’t automatically make you a Thai citizen if your parents were born elsewhere. And Malaysia is so difficult.”

Grandma interrupted him. Pointing to me, she asked me in Thai, “where are you from?”

Mei guo, I answered in Chinese. Why not? Except for the Italian, it was the majority language in the shop at the moment.

A few more minutes for your photos, the real manager piped in. “Did you say you’re from America? I used to live in Kansas.” His hearing was acute.

“Not sure what we’ll do about the baby,” the Malaysian said. “Without a passport, he can’t leave Thailand.”

Mei guo?” Grandma asked. She said something quickly in Thai. Maybe she didn’t understand Mandarin. “Khaojai koh hua?” I asked her, mixing Thai and Chinese and using the Chinese phrase for Mandarin, koh hua or ‘common speech.’ She said no, the baby looked up and I asked “Guangdong hua? referring to Cantonese. She repeated the phrase, which I took to mean ‘yes.’

The Italian asked me what I was saying and I told him in English. “Do you speak any other languages?” he asked. I laughed. “I don’t speak those,” I said, “I just know a few words. But yeah, Spanish.”

In flawless textbook Latin American Spanish, the Italian announced that he had ‘good friends’ in Medellin. This rarely is a good sign. His familiarity with the show Narcos and the Italian Gamorra was less than reassuring.

Grandma was stroking the chest of the infant, who, perhaps startle by the confusion of languages around him, hadn’t said a thing.

“Got to get him a Malaysian passport,” he said to me before leaving. My pictures were handed over, so I left as well.

Drug War News

One undiscussed aspect of the pardon is whether those who are incarcerated on other offenses, but whose presumptive guidelines were calculated based in part on the now-pardoned conduct, are entitled to sentence reductions.

Under the Sentencing Guidelines scheme, a federal felony counts for three points and so boosts the defendant into the next column and can double the sentence.

Laptop Landlords

Property owners who delegate rental management to local companies an who may never even have visited their leased property.

Since real estate agents claim that one of their core skills is showing a property and none of these properties are ever shown, perhaps they will unbundle their skills and give home owners a discount.

Don’t hold your breath.

US v. UK

In the US, it’s


In the UK, it’s


When writing Markdown, it’s

*. or


Because it doesn’t matter if a full stop is italicized or not.

But after a while, the error ceases to leap out at you. Query: will this lead to the long-awaited unification of punctuation in the English language?


Typing envelopes is a practical use for a typewriter.

By the time you:

  • open a WP program
  • find “Envelopes and Labels”
  • choose label
  • copy addressd
  • paste address
  • connect printer
  • change printer paper feed
  • confirm paper change
  • reject “black ink low” warning
  • insert envelope
  • print envelope
  • throw away envelope for improper geometry
  • print envelope successfully

My envelope was already typed.

BTW, if you don’t use an ink-jet printer, because laser printers use plastic as ink, the plastic will wear off as the envelope passes through automatic sorting systems.

This isn’t an issue with impressions made using a typewriter ribbon.

A Unanimous Decision

In 1975, the US Senate unanimously agreed to posthumously restore citizenship to Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis.

Statues of the former have been removed; not sure if there were ever any statues of the latter outside of Mississippi.

No Intellectual Integrity

It is now silly to pretend that there is any intellectual integrity to Supreme Court decisions. For the past 60 years, we studied and learned from Roe. Now we’re told it was all ginned-up nonsense and that should have been obvious from the beginning.

Studying the current decisions as anything other than political is thus an utter waste of time.

Saudi Biden Fist-Bump News

This is the kind of nonsense I’d expect from grifters, con artists and others of that ilk. In order to avoid the photo op showing Biden shaking hands with MbS, the invented cover story–which probably made sense sitting around a briefing table in Washington–was, “no handshakes because of Covid.” They’d have to be careful though, since playing up the Covid danger highlights Biden’s age, which is preferably kept to the ID card he carries in his wallet and is not otherwise mentioned.

But as von Clausewitz pointed out, ”no plan survives first contact with the enemy.” The little card prepared for Biden that tells him what to do may have said, “no handshakes” but Biden fist-bumped the Israeli defense minister upon arrival in Israel—and then shook hands with everyone else. MbS won’t be satisfied with a fist bump or anything less than the courtesies extended to the Israelis so that great DC plan–well, it won’t survive.