October 16, 2005
Nina in Vienna
Posted by Gordon Smith

My colleague Nina Camic is photoblogging from one of my favorite cities, Vienna, where I served a Mormon mission over 20 years ago. Servus, Nina!

I feel compelled to note, however, that her reference to "afternoon delight" is not what the Starland Vocal Band had in mind when they sang those words.

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September 30, 2005
Shoes & Airport Security
Posted by Gordon Smith

When I am traveling, I try to wear my slip-on Timberlines because they can make it through airport security without difficulty. And if I am required to remove my shoes, they do not pose a big hassle.

Sometimes, however, I am dressing up and packing light and take only one pair of dress shoes for the whole trip. In the past on such occasions, I wore a pair of Johnston & Murphy shoes, which have metal in the sole. One day, a helpful security official told me that Allen Edmonds manufactures shoes with a plastic insert precisely to facilitate getting through airport security. I was quite pleased, therefore, to stumble upon an Allen Edmonds tent sale a few weeks back, and I snatched up a pair of black dress shoes.

On the way to Kansas City, my shoes performed beautifully, passing through security in Madison without a hitch. Unfortunately, today in Kansas City, one of the TSA officials decided to make all of us remove our shoes. I mentioned that my shoes did not contain metal, and he responded, "We are looking at the width of the sole." Arrgh!

This is from the TSA website:

        TSA Shoe Screening Policy    

You are not required to remove your shoes before you enter the walk-through metal detector.

        HOWEVER, TSA screeners may encourage you to remove them before entering the metal detector as many types of footwear will require additional screening even if the metal detector DOES NOT alarm.       

Screeners will encourage you to remove the following footwear that is likely to require additional screening:

  • Boots 
  • Platform shoes (including platform flip-flops)
  • Footwear with a thick sole or heel (including athletic shoes)
  • Footwear containing metal (including many dress shoes)

Footwear that screeners are less likely to suggest you remove includes:

  • "Beach" flip-flops
  • Thin-soled sandals (without metal)

So it seems that the TSA has given screeners some discretion to request removal on the ground that my soles are too thick.

Notice that I am not required to remove my shoes. The screener may encourage me or suggest that I remove them ... but I can refuse?  So I wonder what would happen if my response were, "I would rather not take my shoes off, but thanks for your concern. Excuse me, may I pass now?" (Of course, I would never do that because I appreciate that the screeners are just trying to do a job, but I really hate the hassle of removing and replacing dress shoes.)

UPDATE: This should be classified under "things you don't realize you are revealing." After reading this post, one of our readers wrote, "I wonder, do we both have wide feet?" He made the inference from the brands that I wear.

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September 22, 2005
Houston in Your Rear-View Mirror
Posted by Christine Hurt

Being from Lubbock, I always get asked about the song "Happiness was Lubbock, Texas in my Rear-View Mirror."  I think for many people today that song is more applicable to Houston.  Even though most parts of Houston are not under a mandatory evacuation order, anyone who has been watching the news the past month has decided not to take any chances and are heading out of town.  Houston has closed schools and businesses for today and tomorrow.  We know of one wedding that was cancelled because One Shell Plaza and the restaurant on top is closing.  But, how do you get one or two million people out of Houston?  Very, very slowly.  According to the Houston Chronicle, travelling from a southern suburb to the farthest northern suburb, normally an hour to an hour-and-a-half drive, took 13 hours yesterday.  Today, the city is going to reverse the traffic on major freeways so that they all go in the direction of "out."  Good luck, guys.

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September 20, 2005
Those Airport Security Lines
Posted by Victor Fleischer

Ever wonder what economic effect those long lines have?  These guys can tell you.

Not surprisingly, increased screening drives down air travel demand.  Pointless and excessive screening is the non-obvious way of letting the terrorists win.   We should take some of the money dedicated to screening (whether in the form of cash outlays or silly rules that lead to welfare losses) and reallocate it to better uses.

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August 28, 2005
United Airlines, um, humor
Posted by Victor Fleischer

I flew in to National Airport today on United.  I usually enjoy the approach over the Potomac, with the view of the monuments on the left ... this time, though, right before we would have touched down, the pilot gunned the engines and pulled up.  Sure got my adrenaline going.  We climbed up back into the pattern, circled around, did the Potomac approach again, and landed.  Phew.

The guy next to me swears he didn't hear them put the landing gear down the first time.  Somehow I doubt that, but who knows.  It seems more likely that there was a plane taxi-ing on the runway, or maybe we weren't lined up quite right.  It didn't seem particularly windy or bumpy.  Do pilots get the yips, like golfers do with putting?

After the second (actual) landing, the flight attendant tried to cheer us with some Southwest / Jet Blue style humor:  "We have now definitely landed at Washington Reagan National Airport.  The local time is approximately 4 pm ... Even with our abort landing, we have arrived more or less on time ... We understand that you have many, many bankrupt airlines to choose from, and we appreciate your choosing United ..."

Ha ha.  Is "abort landing" sort of like a "water landing"?  Next time, maybe they'll joke about pension-less maintenance workers throwing sand in the landing gear. 

No matter how funny they try to make it, flying is not a pleasant experience these days.  When it comes to flying, I'll start looking for the humorless, competent airline. 

I was reading earlier about the mindset of the class of 2009.  It just occurred to me that none of my law students would remember this. I find it hard to forget.

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August 21, 2005
Noise-Canceling Headphones
Posted by Victor Fleischer

Eric Goldman properly complains about airline announcements and notes,

I mention all of this because, on my last flight from San Jose to Chicago, I saw at least a half-dozen passengers using noise-canceling headphones. I tend to be a late adopter of technology (i.e., I still don't own a cellphone), but I've already queued this up on my wish list. With these headphones, I wouldn't care how many announcements the airline made; I could just tune them out and blissfully sleep/work away. I'm waiting for the price to come down, but I will definitely be getting a set.

I hate to break the news, Eric, but noise canceling headphones do not completely solve the problem of unnecessary airline announcements.

I have had a set of Bose headphones for about a year (I have heard that cheaper brands work as well, but I have not verified the claim), and they do a very good job of canceling out the hum of the airplane engines.  But the headphones are designed to cancel out white noise, not voices. So if the lawyer in the row behind you is screaming into his cell phone while you sit delayed on the runway, you will hear him.  And often you will hear the unnecessary announcements (Do I really need to know everyone's gate connection?  Is it that hard to find a monitor?).  In fact -- this is what makes the technology so interesting -- you can pretty much have a conversation in a normal tone of voice with the person next to you. 

My solution is to beat the airlines' white noise with better white noise.  You can plug the headphones into your Ipod, and with the noise of the airplane engine dimmed, you can listen to music at low volume and still concentrate on work.  (Incidentally, tablet PCs are esp. good for airplanes; when fIying coach, it's difficult to open up a full size laptop on the little tray table.)   

During takeoff and landing, however, when electronic devices must be turned off, there's nothing you can do but suffer. 

I have noticed that Mark Tushnet, who sits across the hall from me, works all day with his Bose headphones on.  Maybe that's the secret to his amazing productivity ...

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August 19, 2005
Airline Travel Redux
Posted by Christine Hurt

Eric Goldman has some thoughts on whether airline announcements are necessary or spam-ish.  His thoughts point out the divide between infrequent fliers and at least occasional fliers.  I noticed this divide among my three flights yesterday in between Lubbock, TX and Milwaukee.  I travel with my two kids, 3 and 6.  In my extreme desire not to inconvenience others in the security line, we are dressed as if visiting an inmate in a federal prison.  We wear sneakers, no belts, no jewelry.  We carry no change.  We take off our shoes in the line and carry them to the security machine.

However, the couple in front of us had not gotten the post-9/11 memo.  They both wore metal-tipped cowboy boots and metal belts.  Between them, they tried to go through security with one extra large pocket knife and three lighters.  The man had about $4 in nickels and pennies in assorted pockets.  As I was wondering to myself whether they had been to an airport in the last four years, I was struck by the fact that 9/11 was four years ago.  Wow.

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July 23, 2005
Goodbye, Philmont!
Posted by Gordon Smith

We left Philmont this morning after my two oldest children returned from their mountain treks all bubbly about their experiences. After they showered, we drove away from the ranch, and we asked each of them, "Are you a different person now than you were a week ago?" My oldest daughter immediately replied, "Absolutely." She had not been at all excited about the prospect of wilderness hiking, and now she is talking about returning to Philmont next year to work on the staff. (My son was onboard with the experience from the start, but even his high expectations were not disappointed.)

I spent most of the week hiking, averaging 5-10 miles per day. It was great exercise in a magnificent place, but I was ready for something new by week's end. Truth be told, it wasn't the hiking that tried my patience, but the Scout leaders. Nice people, but if you are the type of person who has to own the DVD of Follow Me, Boys!, we probably aren't going to have a meaningful conversation.

One of my favorite parts of the week was the bird watching. Although I have not taken a serious interest in birding, I am a casual bird lover, and I snapped some photos of Philmont birds, including this one, which I was told is an oriole, though I can't find a good match on this list of New Mexico birds.


If you recognize this bird, could you let me know whether it is really an oriole? You can also see a red-tailed hawk and hummingbirds. And if you are interested, check out the doe and fawn that I stumbled across on a very short hike on my first day. (They were so close they actually scared me. I was wondering if I had ever seen a news story of a man being trampled by a doe.)

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July 19, 2005
The Buzz at Philmont
Posted by Gordon Smith

While the rest of the United States is talking about the nomination of John Roberts to the Supreme Court, campers at Philmont are abuzz about another subject: Harry Potter. Between sessions, people are reading at picnic tables or on the cots inside their tents. Staff members carry the distinctive purple book around the camp, looking for an opportunity to read a quick chapter here or there. While we talk to each other generally about the Harry Potter series, we are careful not to reveal too much about this book.

The other topic that seems to get a reaction on every hike is the Tour de France. Lance Armstrong has raised the profile of cycling to incredible heights in the U.S., and I am interested to see how many people will be interested next year after Lance has exited the scene.

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July 17, 2005
Philmont Scout Ranch
Posted by Gordon Smith

We have arrived, and I am blogging on Philmont's wireless network!

I am sitting at a picnic table behind the main administration building. My oldest son just walked by with a group of ten or so young men. They are preparing for a wilderness trek that will last the whole week. As they were doing a provisions check earlier, the trek leader said, "Let me just make this clear from the beginning: we will not be showering this week." Out came the towels ... and the deodorant. These boys are going to be ripe by Friday.

My oldest daughter is going on a wilderness trek with five or six young women. I am not sure if they are bringing deodorant. She is about 25 pages from the end of Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince, and when we called her out of the Suburban for the orientation meeting, she thought she would not see the book again until next Saturday. That was not a nice start to the program, but then I discovered that she would not be leaving camp until tomorrow morning, and I retrieved the book for her. She has brightened considerably.

Our three youngest were MIA last time we checked. We think they might be by the horses, but we aren't sure. My wife is checking out the horses, and I will leap into action if they aren't there.

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Driving America
Posted by Gordon Smith

I have visited all 48 of the continental United States, most many times. Usually in an automobile. I love driving, and I especially love driving in the western United States.

The Plains are appropriately named. At various times, I have driven across Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, and North Dakota. Each of them is plain in a distinctive way, but all of them offer a similar reward. Something about the long vistas and expansive horizons prompts me to revisit the big picture issues of my life. For me driving across the plains is a time to reflect on past failures and accomplishments and to create a new list of goals.

That happened yesterday, as we covered most of Kansas and half of Colorado. The sky was cloudless, and the temperature reached 98°F. Rest stops were shocking, as the asphalt and concrete had absorbed the heat of the sun. In that sort of weather, there is nothing to do but drive and ponder. I am grateful for that experience and reminded that some of the best days of my life have been spent driving across the plains.

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July 14, 2005
Take Me Home, Country Roads
Posted by Victor Fleischer

Light blogging the next few days as I head off to Wild, Wonderful West Virginia for a reunion with Judge M. Blane Michael and 10 years worth of clerks.  MBM was one of the first Clinton judges, and legend has it that when asked in his confirmation hearing whether he had any judicial experience, he replied that he once took first place in the county fair chicken-judging contest. 

(The judge is hardly a hillbilly, having attended NYU Law and having worked at Sullivan & Cromwell.  But he can play the role; he did grow up without running water.  The senators loved it.)   

These days, Judge Michael is on the short list for the Supreme Court. 

Well, he's on a short list.  Senator Byrd's short list.  The Charleston Gazette reported yesterday that:

President Bush called Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va. — a frequent critic of his administration — on Tuesday to discuss the pending vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court. ...    

Bush has talked with several senators about a potential replacement for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who announced plans to retire on July 1. In addition, Chief Justice William Rehnquist has thyroid cancer, and his potential retirement has been a subject of speculation for months.

During his conversation with Bush, Byrd suggested two names for consideration: M. Blane Michael, a judge on the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, and Walter Dellinger, former acting solicitor general of the United States.

I love Byrd.  I'm sure either MBM or Dellinger would please the conservative base.

And for any smart law students out there looking for a great appellate clerkship ... I can't promise you that MBM will take O'Connor's seat, but he's a great judge, a superb writer, a wonderful man, and I have never had a better boss. 

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July 02, 2005
Posted by Gordon Smith


Even after lots of trips to Europe, I still enjoy a nice medieval castle now and then, and Glimmingehus did not disappoint. Built in 1499, when this part of Sweden still belonged to Denmark, this castle is a fortress that was never attacked. The entire structure is extremely well-preserved, and it provides an authentic view of medieval life among the rich and famous. (As noted on the official website, "Finds from archaeological excavations have revealed the highly exclusive nature of the Glimmingehus household. The most expensive objects available in Europe in the early 16th century have been found, including Venitian glass, extruded Rhineland glass and Spanish ceramic ware.")

The castle and Ales Stenar were first recommended to me by one of my summer colleagues, but my wife and I actually decided to go when we read about them in Henning Mankell's first Inspector Wallander mystery, The Faceless Killers. They appear near the end of the book, when the Inspector tries to impress a married woman by taking her on an outing to the two sites. Although she is impressed with the tour, she declines Wallander's invitation to divorce her husband. Seemed like a pretty fine endorsement of the sites.

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Sweden's Stonehenge
Posted by Gordon Smith

Ales Last year I visited Stonehenge for the first time. Today I visited the Swedish Stonehenge: Ales Stenar. The weather was absolutely perfect, and this impressive monument is located on a cliff on the southern coast of Sweden, overlooking the Baltic Sea. We watched parasailers drifting over the edge of the water as a herd of cattle milled about the ancient stones. Like Stonehenge, Ales Stenar is a mystery. The rocks apparently track the movement of the sun (the sun sets over the north west tip of the monument on the summer solstice and rises at the opposite tip on the winter solstice), and it may have been a burial ground, though no graves have been located on the site.

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June 24, 2005
Glad Midsommarafton!
Posted by Gordon Smith

Tomorrow is midsummer, but today is Midsommarafton (Midsummer Eve). We stayed in Lund and spent the afternoon at the Kulturen, a folk museum. We watched the raising of a Midsommarstång (the "midsummer" pole, also referred to as a May pole) and participated in some of the traditional dances. The best part was when the person singing the song for the "Frog Dance" chastized all of us for hopping on the second verse, when we were supposed to be acting like pigs. You had to be there, I suppose.

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