Friday Links

“Don’t Judge This Man Until You Hear Why I Defended The Monkey Man!,” proclaims the fabled hero, Mr. District Attorney, on the cover of Mr. District Attorney #12, published way, way back in 1949. Here’s the thing: Why is the district attorney -defending- anyone? He’s a prosecutor! If there were concerns about the guilt of the Monkey Man, shouldn’t he have simply refrained to prosecute him? And if the Monkey Man is not to be prosecuted, why on earth is he in court being put on display? Or is the district attorney suggesting that – due to unexplained reasons – he temporarily left the prosecutor’s office to defend the Monkey Man? If that’s the case, surely he knows that his own personal reasons for electing to defend the Monkey Man are not admissible? And if he has decided to represent this poor soul, why is he calling him The Monkey Man, rather than by his real name? That doesn’t seem right. Oh, well. (For our prior discussion of Mr. District Attorney comic book covers, please see here, here, here, and here.).

We typically don’t write about applications to change one’s legal name, but a guy in Missouri has legally changed his name to Led Zeppelin II.  Can you believe that? Is there anything cooler than that? We doubt it. However, it probably would have been too much to change his name to Led Zeppelin IV. That would be gilding the lily. Whatever the case, good for the new Mr. Zeppelin, and we hope this inspires someone to change his or her name to Van Halen II. (Hat Tip: Boing Boing).

If you haven’t already, check out this piece by Dionne Searcey at the Wall Street Journal Law Blog entitled “Congress Examines Alleged Fraud by Asbestos Claimants.” It’s worth a read, to be certain.

By the way, thanks to the Greenville chapter of the Public Relations Society of America for its invitation to our editor, Jim Dedman, to speak on “The Perils of Blogging.” They seemed to dig his speech, although they must not have read Steve Buckingham’s piece on Monday about his editorial management style. Alas.

On iPhones, Surreptitious Concert Taping, and The Future

We here at Abnormal Use enjoy going to concerts, which is why we were curious to learn of the recent rumors that Apple is developing some type of software to prevent iPhone users from surreptitiously filming a live music performance. Here’s what The Daily Mail reported earlier this year:

The days of filming a live concert or sporting event on your iPhone may soon be a distant memory.

Apple is developing software that will sense when a smartphone user is trying to record a live event, and then switch off the device’s camera.

Anybody holding up their iPhone will find it triggers infra-red sensors installed at the venue.

These sensors would then automatically instruct the iPhone to shut down its camera function, preventing an footage from being recorded.

Only the iPhone’s camera would be temporarily disabled; other features, such as texting and making calls, would still work.

It may be too early to speculate, as the only evidence is a patent application, one which we here at Abnormal Use have not seen.

But that’s not going to stop us from speculating.  That’s what we do best. Sometimes. Give us a break, we’re a blog. Let’s assume the report is accurate and analyze the issue.

There are some obvious free speech issues if there is a kill switch for a video instrument, but we’ll leave those issues for a con law blog. We suppose that if the venue controls the sensors then they could be disabled for bands that permit video recording of their performances.  However, generally, we’re not sure how we feel about a third party – a rock club – enabling some device which thwarts certain functions on our phones.  But, if the venue elects to enable the sensors at all times, then they may be depriving the owner of a phone from recording the performance of a band that has no objections to such recording.

However, this got us thinking.  If true, the rumor suggests that Apple is being responsive to pressure from record companies who have identified a problem of sorts:  surreptitious and possibly illegal recording of concerts. That irks some artists, too (although others are happy to have their live performances available on the Internet). Might this all set some type of precedent, though?

One wonders how long it will take the Plaintiffs’ bar, inspired by this news, to suggest novel modifications that Apple (or any smartphone manufacturer, really) could have or should have offered.  Often in the news are automobile accidents caused by texting drivers.  Clearly, such an accident is likely the result of that driver’s own negligence – and perhaps even negligence per se in light of recent ordinances and statutes that have been adopted in recent years.  However, if that driver is catastrophically injured, will we soon see plaintiffs’ lawyers suing cell phone manufacturers on the theory that the smart phones, using their own GPS technology or other functions, could have or should have detected that the vehicle was traveling at a certain number of miles per hour and thus the texting function should have been disabled?  The GPS function on the phone can tell a user where they are, where they are going, and they even track in real time the movement of the phone. If a user utilizes the iPhone’s Maps program and clicks on the GPS button, a blue circle appears on the map representing the location of the phone, and if the phone is moving at 60 miles per hour because it is in a moving vehicle, the blue circle moves in real time on the map to correspond with the vehicle’s movements. In sum, the phone recognizes that it is traveling at a high rate of speed and might be configured to disable certain functions under the circumstances. Or perhaps the cars themselves could have been enabled with sensors that thwart texting when the vehicle is in motion? (Obviously, such functions might cause issues with passengers who elect to text while the vehicle is in motion.).

But you get the idea. Sure, it sounds silly, but how many times have we been surprised by the craziness of certain plaintiffs’ theories in recent years?  It’s only a matter of time.  After all, there are devices already in existence which will prohibit a person who is intoxicated from using their car. (Those too would have seemed nutty just a few decades ago). Why not something along these lines?

Maybe, maybe not. It’s not like we’re futurists or anything.

Former NFL Players Allege NFL Concealed Risks of Injury

This past summer, the National Football League endured a 136-day lockout, the longest work stoppage in league history.  While current players spent the four month hiatus negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement, retired players had their own beef with the NFL.  Back in July, 75 former players sued the league and helmet manufacturer, Riddell, alleging that Riddell and the NFL concealed the harmful effects of concussions from coaches, players, and trainers.  Anderson v. National Football League et al., No. BC46842 (Cal. Sup. Ct.  July 19, 2011).  In addition, the players allege that football helmets were defectively designed and manufactured for attenuating the foreseeable force of impact.  Anderson was the first of three similar class actions filed in the Los Angeles County Superior Court.  On August 3, 47 additional players brought similar allegations against the NFL, Riddell, and a number of other sports entities.  Pear v. National Football League et al., No. LC094453 (Cal. Sup. Ct. Aug. 3, 2011).  On August 26, another 18 players entered the picture. Barnes v. National Football League et al., No. BC468483 (Cal. Sup. Ct. Aug. 26, 2011).  At this time, the three actions have not been consolidated.

Even with the protection of helmets and pads, concussions and injuries are still commonplace within the game.  While injuries still occur, they shouldn’t be attributed to any defect in the equipment.  Football is a dangerous game.  Players routinely collide into one another using incredible force.  If not for helmets and pads, injuries would be even more prevalent.  To our knowledge, there are no feasible alternative designs which could eliminate concussions.  The manufacturers are not responsible for the risks of the game.  They are responsible for doing what they can to minimize those risks.  Players should know of the potential harm their profession poses to their bodies.

Last year, we reported on the claim brought by a former player’s widow against the NFL and an equipment manufacturer.  In that case, the plaintiff alleged that helmets and shoulder pads were defectively designed and that the NFL failed to warn of the dangers of heat stroke.  By contrast, the recent string of claims allege that the NFL not only failed to warn, but intentionally concealed the dangerous effects of the game of football. We can’t speak as to what the NFL did or did not know about concussions. Whatever evidence may or may not be produced on that point, how can the players allege that they were completely oblivious to the dangers?

With scientific and medical research, we are constantly expanding our knowledge about the brain and the prevention of head injuries.  Accordingly, it is understandable that a player in the 1920’s may have had less knowledge about such things than a player in the 1990’s.  With the expansion of knowledge, the NFL and the equipment manufacturers have evolved their standards to protect players.  The abandonment of the old leather-helmets illustrate this point.  By the mid-1940s, football helmets were required by the NFL.  Obviously, the league recognized a need to protect the head.  We can only assume that players understood this same need every time they strapped on a helmet.

We recognize that protecting one’s self from the danger of an impact does not necessarily carry with it knowledge of long-term effects of concussions.  However, today’s scientific evidence was not available yesterday.  Indeed, one need not be a practicing physician to recognize that every time something is damaged, it doesn’t come back in quite the same position it was before.

We here at Abnormal Use love football.  We respect the players and recognize the risk they take on a daily basis for both the thrill of the game and our entertainment.  These latest lawsuits against the NFL, however, are misguided.  Football is dangerous.  Helmets are not just a placard for team logos.  They are worn for a reason.

Vice Squad: Friday Night Lights

Vice Squad here. A lot of folks have been asking what the requirements are to join the Squad. There’s one: You’ve got to be willing to get your hands dirty. And if you want to be the Bureau Chief like yours truly, you’ve got to be willing to get your hands real dirty. Even if it means causing collateral damage to the ones you love.

Which leads me to this past Friday night. Just as quittin’ time rolled around, the Editor-in-Chief of Abnormal Use Jim Dedman — called. I swore under my breath. This was not going to be good.

“Buck, it’s Dedman. I need Vice Squad on assignment. Tonight.”

“I’ll bet you do, Dedman.”

“Listen, playboy,” he says. “I don’t want any attitude from you. This is on a short fuse, and so am I.”

I chuckle at his melodrama. “I’m listening.”

“I need you for a special assignment. I need you to go to the fair — the Upper South Carolina State Fair.”

“Yeah, I’m familiar with the fair, Jim. But I’ve got better things to do. Why don’t you send your sister’s kids or something?”

“Not a chance, Buckingham. First of all, I love my sister’s kids. Second, I need professional boots on the ground. Unfortunately, you’re all I’ve got.”

“If it’s so important, why don’t you go?”

“Buckingham, don’t test me! You know I’m afraid of clowns! Besides, I’ve got a wine-tasting at The Commerce Club in half an hour. You’re going.”

“I’d love to, Jim. I really would. But I’ve already got plans with my girlfriend. Maybe next year.” I felt good about this response. The girlfriend card usually worked.

“That’s just it, Buck. She’s going with you.”

“Ohhhh no,” I protested. “Catie’s a good girl. She’s got an innocent heart. She can’t handle this. She’s from Massachusetts! She’ll never be able to handle a Southern fair.”

“She’s got to grow up sooner or later. Turns out tonight’s the night.” My blood was boiling. “You probably want to get there around 7. Oh, and Buck?”

“What’s that, Jim?”

“Be careful out there, Buck,” Dedman laughed as he hung up the phone.

God, I hate him.

I headed back home to break the news to Catie. At first she thought I was kidding. But as I explained this wasn’t a joke, Catie broke down in tears. “Please don’t make me do this,” she pleaded. “I’m sorry, honey. Dedman says we have to go.” Her tears were pouring now. “God, I hate him!” she cried. I know, baby. I do, too.

I do, too.

We got to the fair around 7 pm. Catie and I immediately made our first pass through the attractions. It smelled like funnel cake and cow manure. I was instantly taken back to my days as a young man growing up in East Tennessee going to the Appalachian Fair. Back in those days, I would look forward to August with eager anxiety. Not for the beginning of school. But for the arrival of the fair. I could not be kept off the Pirate Ship, the Gravitron, the Tea Cups, or whatever new ride had been set up for the sole and express purpose of making me sick. I couldn’t get enough. And neither could the tens of thousands of people who showed up from the “metropolitan” area. I use the word metropolitan in quotation marks because there is very little metropolitan in the Upper East Tennessee / Southwest Virginia / Western North Carolina area. The only more inappropriate word choice for my homeland would be cosmopolitan. But I digress.

So I used to ride the rides with reckless abandon. It was not possible for me to care less about who was operating these rides, or more importantly, who was assembling them. Had they received training in proper operation and safety procedures? Who was responsible for inspecting the rides? Was this a drug-free work environment? It didn’t matter. The only questions I cared about were: (1) how long was the line; and (2) did I have enough tickets. Beyond that, the only training I required of my ride operators was the taking of tickets.

Flash forward to Friday night. There I stood in the middle of the thoroughfare grappling with the more safety-conscious questions I never bothered to ask in my youth. I decided very quickly that it would take a lot of money—a lot—for me to get back on those rides today. In fairness, it probably wouldn’t take that much money for me to get on the Pirate Ship. It was probably more dangerous for me to be standing on the ground looking at it than to actually ride. By contrast, if you want me to ride the county-fair knock-off version of the Tower of Terror, you had better bring your check book and a deed.

After 30 glorious minutes of carousing at the fair, we decided we’d had enough of that and headed over to the demolition derby. I know what you’re thinking, ladies. Yes, I am that classy. And no, I am taken.

The derby was everything I had hoped it would be, and more. Ten cars entered the event—bearing names like Widowmaker, Doom, Kat Dog, Family Tradition, Trailer Park Bandit, and (crowd favorite) Christine. One car made it out. Let me take this to Serious-Town for a minute: Winning a demolition derby is an impressive feat. Whether you believe it or not, there is strategy. The best drivers will charge at their opponents in reverse. That way, the charging drivers can cause damage to the engine blocks or frames of their opponents without risking damage to their own. Consequently, some of the best cars in the derby are ones with long frames and low profiles. This is almost certainly something that Cadillac designers in the 70s didn’t think about when they made a car with lots of trunk space, but now, in 2011, it’s an extremely useful feature.

More than winning, though, the most impressive feat from Friday night was avoiding arrest. Yes, arrest. It seems there was an altercation during the demolition derby. For an event where motor vehicle collisions are encouraged, it is almost inconceivable that a collision during the race could cause a fight. But cause a fight it did. I’m not entirely sure what happened, and not surprisingly, eyewitness accounts vary. But after the first round, the driver of “Doom” got out of his vehicle and sat in his window Bo Duke style pointing back at one of the other drivers. I immediately rose to my feet. Catie turned to ask what was going on. Oh, dear, sweet, innocent Catie. If you knew anything about racing, you would know that when a driver gets out of his vehicle during a race, there is going to be a fight. It’s a law as universal as gravity. This law is true whether we’re talking about NASCAR, indy car, go cart, or Mario kart. It’s especially true when there’s pointing involved.

Friday night was no different. The driver who got pointed at eased himself out of his car and extended his arms in a “You want a piece of me?” gesture. Turns out, the pointing driver did want a piece of the other guy and went charging at him across the arena.

Now here’s a practice pointer for any would-be race participants out there. If you are ever driving your car and you find yourself in a situation where you have asked another driver if they want a piece of you, and the other driver indicates that he does, do yourself a favor: Do Not Remove Your Helmet. I have no idea whether racing helmets are designed to withstand crushing fist blows from opponents. But I have a sneaking suspicion that racing helmets are better designed for absorbing such blows than, say, the human face.

This information would have been helpful for the guy who asked if anyone wanted a piece of him. Like a gentleman, he removed his helmet before the fight. He then promptly received a swinging punch to the left jaw, which he took like a gentleman—a gentleman that had just been shamed with a fist in front of a live studio audience. The 2,000 or so in attendance collectively groaned “Ooohhh,” affirming the everyone’s belief that the punch did, in fact, look like it hurt. Then the crowd erupted in cheers.

Somewhere in this mess, the pit crews charged into the arena. This is never a good sign, yet simultaneously, always a great sign. More punches were thrown. Then the cops ran in. Again, the crowd went wild. South Carolina’s finest subdued one of the punch-throwers by twisting his arm up his back. It is at this point that I witnessed one of the greatest acts of bravery / loyalty / stupidity I have ever had the privilege of seeing. One of the pit crew (I think) charged at the guy who had been subdued by the cops and delivered a punishing uppercut—while the cops were holding his victim back. I wanted to scream “Finish Him!” and start typing in a code for a fatality but couldn’t find a gaming controller anywhere. Fortunately, the cops read my mind, grabbed that guy, and before anyone knew it had him cuffed and stuffed, ready for intake.

After that, the race was pretty mundane. Sure, there was a crash that nearly took down a light pole. And there was an oil fire. But you know, no big deal.

After the race, I looked at Catie and asked, “Well, what did you think of your first Southern fair?” Her response was two words: “I’m horrified.” Fair enough.

Vice Squad out.

BMW Enters Driverless Car Market

We here at Abnormal Use have blogged a few times now about Google’s attempt at a driverless car and the implications such a development might have on product liability law.  The question we posed to you, dear readers, is this:  when the law has developed around the [perceived] limits of technology, and that technology moves beyond that body of law, what happens?  When the driverless car crashes, who is responsible–can the owner of the car that caused the accident turn around and sue the manufacturer for a manufacturing or design defect? Read our prior posts for our thoughts on those general issues.

News alert: We may soon find out.  As recently reported by Wired, BMW is also testing a so-called “autonomous vehicle” and has outfitted a 5- series sedan with technology that enables the car to navigate heavy traffic, or in an emergency.  As such, the technology may not be intended to totally replace the driver, unlike the Google technology.  The BMW only takes over when driving becomes a chore: in a traffic jam.  The BMW is also not as well traveled as the Google car; BMW has put only 3,100 miles on its sedan’s odometer, while the Google car has more than 140,000.

The auto accident attorney in TX like Eric Ramos Law, PLLC says it’s further evidence that this is one direction in which automobile technology is headed, and product law must be prepared.  And yet, here is a thought: is the current state of product liability law already equipped to handle such a question?  The fundamental question of any products case is always this: what caused the injury or damage?  There are a number of possibilities – the design is bad, the manufacture of the particular product was shoddy, the owner failed to maintain the product, or it was simple operator error.  If we consider this the basic universe of theories, then is the law ready to handle the driverless car crash today?

9/11: The Passing of a Decade

Today marks the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the United States.  Accordingly, we here at Abnormal Use and Gallivan, White, & Boyd, P.A. will take a moment to reflect on this solemn occasion.  There is no denying that we are a different country today than we were on September 10, 2001.  And yet we are also the same country – a place where we have the freedom to disagree with anyone about any subject, openly and in public.  Blogs like ours are not possible in many of the world’s countries, and we are thankful for the opportunity to express our opinions, and  read the opinions of others, in a forum that sparks lively and at times heated conversations.  We now have to take off our shoes before passing through metal detectors at the airport, and the purse searches at the ballpark are a little more thorough than they used to be.  But we are still free to disagree with one another and, for that matter, our government.  In that way, the attacks failed miserably to achieve their purpose. But on this day, on this anniversary of one of the greatest tragedies this nation has ever seen, we pause to reflect upon those who lost their lives that day and those who heroically came to the scene to respond to what had happened.  They and their families remain in our thoughts and prayers.

Friday Links

Above you’ll find the cover of Batman Gotham Adventures #35, published not too long ago in 2001. There Batman stands behind the judicial bench, gavel in hand, with some type of governmental shield in the background. The bench itself is even emblazoned with the scales of justice. “Crime and Punishment,” reads the tagline on the issue’s cover. This cover begs the question: What is Batman doing in a courtroom? Why is he the judge? Was he appointed by the president? (We’d love to see that confirmation hearing). Or is this state court? Why isn’t he out catching bad guys?

By the way, you might recall our humble appeal a few weeks back to nominate us for this year’s ABA Journal Best Blawgs Award. Well, today is the last day that the ABA Journal is accepting those nominations.  The deadline is finally upon us! We’d sure appreciate it if you would consider nominating us for the honor, and we thank you if you have done so already. For information on how to make a nomination, please see here.

If you’re a South Carolina lawyer, turn to page 30 of this month’s South Carolina Lawyer bar magazine to see an article written by GWB associate and former Abnormal Use contributor Mary Giorgi.  It’s title: “Admissibility of Expert Testimony and Scientific Evidence / It Must Be Required to Be Desired.” Good reading, to be sure, and if you’re feeling nostalgic, check out Mary’s past blog posts here.

In this recent post, Kevin Underhill of the very funny Lowering The Bar law blog remarks upon news reports of an Iowa man sentenced to ten days in jail for failing to timely return materials checked out from his local library.  What got our attention, though, was Kevin’s linking of a past piece on the President George Washington Library Book Presidential Scandal. We’re stunned. Agog, even.

Last but not least: Orangutans use iPads! (Hat tip: iPhone J.D. blog).


Lawyer Advertising Rules Update

Late last month, the South Carolina Supreme Court amended its Rules of Professional Conduct to address several lingering issues related to lawyer advertising. The amended Rules are meant to be consistent with the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct.  You can read them here. The amendments delete the previous ban on testimonials, eliminate a mandatory solicitation filing requirement and fee, and add requirements for electronic solicitations.

Specifically, advertisements for legal services can now include testimonials IF the ad specifically identifies that the statement is a testimonial, discloses whether or not it was paid for by the lawyer or law firm, and if it was made by an actual client.  Most importantly,  the ad must “clearly and conspicuously” state that the any result achieved in one case “does not necessarily indicate similar results” in another.   Sounds like a really long commercial.  Right?

For a full summary of the new rules, check out blogger Greg Forman’s recent post on the subject here.  He does a great job of laying it out for us.

In the meantime, here is a brief update on what is happening in other states on similar issues:

Florida –  On May 27, 2011, the Florida Bar proposed new rules for attorney advertising which would also allow for the use of some testimonials. See here.

Virginia – Virginia State Bar’s Standing Committee on Legal Ethics has issued proposed amendments to their Rules of Professional Conduct and seeks comments by September 14, 2011.  That’s next week! For a summary of those changes, click here.

Michigan – On July 19, 2011, the Michigan Supreme Court rescinded its previous order that amended that state’s Rules of Professional Conduct and proffered these new amendments. They also provide for a comment period which ends November 1, 2011.

Here’s the deal: the rules have not changed THAT much.  Things have just been clarified a little and updated to include web advertisements and electronic communication.  The same rules of thumb still hold true.  If a statement is a lie, or even stretching the truth, you probably shouldn’t put it in an advertisement pushing your legal services.  You also shouldn’t make any promises or guarantees.  Oh, and keep it classy.  Like this.


No Class Action to Recover Return Costs of Toys Laced with Date Rape Drug

In 2007, Spin Master Ltd. recalled more than four million Aqua Dots toys in the United States after discovering the product’s Chinese manufacturer mistakenly substituted 1,4 butanediol for the adhesive 1,5 pentanediol.  When ingested, 1,4 butanediol metabolizes into gamma-hydrobutyric acid (GHB), otherwise known as the date rape drug.  Reportedly, two children in the U.S. and three children in Australia were hospitalized after ingesting the product.  We are guessing this is not what Wal-Mart had in mind when it deemed the product one of its “Top 12 Toys of Christmas.”

Not surprisingly, coating a child’s toy with a pre-metabolized date rape drug resulted in some legal action against the company and the product’s major retailer, Wal-Mart.  Recently, in Aqua Dots Products Liability Litigation, — F. 3d —-, 2011 WL 3629723 (7th Cir. August 17, 2011), the Seventh Circuit issued an opinion regarding class certification in the multi-district litigation.  The proposed class did not sue Spin Master due to any physical injury the plaintiffs suffered from the butanediol-coated toys.  Rather, the plaintiffs elected not to pursue a refund from the distributor and challenged the adequacy of the company’s recall program.  The District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, relying on Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(3), denied the plaintiffs’ motion to certify the class holding that it would be more advantageous for the plaintiffs to return their products for a refund rather than pursuing litigation and racking up attorneys’ fees.   Not happy with this result, the plaintiffs filed an interlocutory appeal.

The Seventh Circuit criticized the district court’s interpretation of Rule 23(b)(3). According to the rule, class certification is proper when “a class action is superior to other available methods for fairly and efficiently adjudicating the controversy.” While it recognized the district court’s objective, the Seventh Circuit did not equate a recall campaign with a form of adjudication.  Apparently, that three-judge panel has never attempted to return a product to Wal-Mart.

While the Seventh Circuit disagreed with the district court’s reasoning under Rule 23(b)(3), it ultimately agreed with the court’s decision – albeit under Rule 23(a)(4).  Under Rule 23(a)(4), a court may certify a class action only if “the representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class.”  On that point, the Seventh Circuit had this to say:

Plaintiffs want relief that duplicates a remedy that most buyers already have received, and that remains available to all members of the putative class.  A representative who proposes that high transaction costs (notice and attorneys’ fees) be incurred at the class members’ expense to obtain a refund that already is on offer is not adequately protecting the class members’ best interests.

There is no question about the inherent dangers of exposing young children to the date rape drug; however, it is nice to see a court stand up for a company who has acted reasonably under the circumstances.  Spin Master acknowledged that a mistake had been made and took a reasonable course of action to remedy that mistake.  Unless the proposed class can demonstrate some long-term physical harm due to 1,4 butanediol exposure, the only damage these plaintiffs have suffered is the time spent returning the product.

To be fair, we here at Abnormal Use have also had to return products a time or two and can attest to the hassle.  Getting in the car, driving to the store, and – dare we say – waiting in line all amounts to time better spent doing anything else.  It’s torture for sure, but somehow we endure.  Even with the perils of this arduous task, however, we will gladly do it ourselves instead of paying a plaintiff’s attorney a 30 percent take to do it for us.

Tip of the hat to our friend, Ted Frank at the Point of Law blog for alerting us to this opinion.

Vice Squad: On Assignment in the Gulf

Dateline: 12:36 pm, CST, Saturday, September 3, 2011, Pensacola, Florida

Vice Squad here, on location from Florida’s panhandle. I’m on assignment this weekend with a bachelor party for an old friend, conducting field research into the depraved and licentious behavior of young American men bound for holy matrimony. This has required me to go undercover, to blend in with my subjects, to become one of them. Do I do this willingly? Of course not. I do it all in the interests of academic integrity and for the benefit of you, my dear reader. Mostly.

To be certain, I am exposing myself to a certain amount of danger in submitting this field report. As I write, I am sitting outside under the swirling clouds of Tropical Depression Lee. It is gently spitting rain and generally punishing this part of the world with a force equivalent to the cooing of a newborn baby. This weather event, touted as causing a current state of emergency, has prompted local residents to look to the sky and casually proclaim, “Meh.”

The greater danger comes from the circumstances surrounding the preparation of this very post. I’m among five of my closest friends. For a bachelor party. At a beachfront Florida town. On Labor Day weekend. On the first college football Saturday of the season. I’m sure you can imagine how popular I am right now, as I sit here preparing this post. I would love to share with you the things that are being said about me. But I can’t, not unless they’re heavily edited, and even then, I don’t think they’d make grammatical sense. So trust me, I’m enduring a significant amount of personal ridicule to file this field report.

Oh, look. The first round of kickoffs just happened.

The trip so far has been filled with observations about the products we depend on in our daily lives. I’ve highlighted five of those observations for your consideration.

1. Google Maps. We’re staying at my buddy Matt’s house in Pensacola. I’ve never previously been to this city, and frankly, had no idea how to get here or how much time it would take. These problems were quickly solved courtesy of the Google machine. Almost instantaneously, we had alternate routes available and estimated times of arrival. For the most direct route, 7.7 hours from Abnormal Use headquarters in Greenville, South Carolina. No sooner had we gotten this information from Google, something funny happened. We turned on Google. In the blink of an eye, the information provided by Google became an enemy. It was questioning our manhood. “Google says it will take almost 8 hours. That’s [redacted]. I bet we can get there in six and a half. Probably six.” The entire car agreed without hesitation. Literally one minute earlier, none of us had any idea where we were going. One minute later, after Google had shown us the way, we had unanimously voted that Google didn’t know what it was talking about. In fact, we saw Google as challenging us. The machine was daring us to beat its time. Challenge accepted, Google. We left Greenville at 5:45 pm.

We pulled into my pal’s Pensacola driveway at 12:30 am–6.7 hours after departure. Unfortunately, Pensacola is a time zone behind Greenville. It was 1:30 back home. We had been on the road for exactly 7.7 hours. Touche, Google.

2. Chick-fil-A. We decided to stop for dinner on the far side of Atlanta, and we decided there was no better place to recharge our batteries than the Original Chick-fil-A location. The original restaurant is in the Atlanta suburb of Hapeville, which backs up to the far side of the Atlanta airport. If you’ve never been here, you need to go. It’s everything you love about Chick-Fil-A, multiplied by everything you love about Waffle House. There’s table service, a full menu of side items like sweet potato souffle and mac and cheese, and it’s open 24 hours. This raises two important points. First, when I say “full menu,” I mean full menu. Specifically, they serve beef. At a Chick-fil-A. Riddle me that. The second point is even more staggering: it’s open 24 hours. Everyone knows that Chick-fil-A is closed on Sundays. And we have found ourselves on more than a few Sunday mornings wishing that our Creator would make a special exception just one time so we could get a chicken biscuit. Our prayers have gone wholly unanswered. This blew our minds, so we asked our resident Chick-fil-A expert and waitress Tammy how this works. Apparently, the original is open until 4 am on Sunday mornings (almost certainly a prime business time) and then closes until Monday morning. However, Tammy has assured us that she is putting a proposal together to see that the original will also close promptly at midnight. We’re fine with this and we support her efforts. After all, if not everyone can get Chick-fil-A on Sunday, then no one shall get Chick-fil-A on Sunday.

3. Automatic Vehicle Collision Detectors. We took my car to Florida. My car does not have an automatic vehicle collision detector, but I had the next worst thing: my buddy Nick. Somewhere on a quiet stretch of I-65, Nick saw a car on my rear quarter (the only other car around for miles, mind you) start to merge into me. Rather than inform me in a clear, cohesive manner that we were about to be involved in a mass fatality situation, Nick releases an incomprehensible cry that can only be described as the mating call of a yeti. It had been dead quiet in my car before, making his cry that much more alarming. I nearly wrecked from the shock value alone. The merging car moved back in its lane before anything more serious happened. Nick collected himself and explained that the car, at its closest point, was a mere inch away from us. Reports from other parts of the vehicle indicated that while we had a close call, it was nowhere near as close as Nick’s freaking out suggested. Certainly, if we were in danger, a collision detector would be useful, and the risk makes me wish I had the capability in my vehicle. But the fact of the matter is that even if I had a collision detector, Nick’s caterwauling would have drowned it out. Maybe a better feature would have been a cone of silence around his seat. This would have been useful for most of the trip.

4. Cigars. I love a good cigar, especially when I’m driving. There are certain risks involved, though, that are not for the untrained aficianado. First, you’ve got to be careful of where you ash. Hot ash in the lap is not pleasant, not as bad as a boiling hot cup of coffee, sure, but still, not good. Second, you’ve got to be careful about checking your blind spot with a stogie in your mouth, unless you just really like a trail of hot ash streaked across your window. Finally, in particular regard to stick shifts, if you’re pushing into third or fifth while holding your cigar, you’re likely to end up with ash in your cd player. Not that I know first hand about any of these problems . . . .  Moving right along.

5. Matt’s TV. Let me begin by saying that I am grateful for Matt opening up his home to us. However, Matt’s TV is a problem. To be fair, it is a large, flat screen manufactured by a reputable company (which shall remain nameless). And it’s designed for 1080p HD picture quality. Unfortunately, Matt is in a service area that can’t deliver that picture quality, so everything you watch ends up looking like a Tim Burton movie–animated computer graphics. The limited amount of football I’ve been able to watch while writing this post looks like Madden ’12. I say all this for 2 reasons. First, technology is great if there’s the ability to use it. There’s no point in having a Porsche if all the roads are dirt. Don’t get me wrong: this isn’t Matt’s fault. He was relocated to Pensacola from an area that had the ability to deliver high picture quality. But second: now that you’ve moved, Matt, you’ve got to get a TV that doesn’t make everything look like it was made by Pixar.

As an epilogue, I understand that Matt is working on getting a new TV. His flat screen is mounted on the wall with an assembly that is rated to support 30 pounds. Matt’s TV weighs 90. This problem may take care of itself in the very near future.  In related news, I predict my next post will consist of live-blogging a TV falling off a wall.  I’ll be sure to write it with a view toward the post becoming admissible evidence, either in regard to Matt’s insurance claim or his wife’s murder trial.

This is the report from the field. Vice Squad out.