April 2010 - Cats, Frogs, and Naked Women

by Justice William W. Bedsworth

Sitting on the library table in my chambers is a memorandum from the Judicial Council entitled, “Information for Implementing New Rules of Court Regarding Public Access to Judicial Administrative Records.” It is, sadly, not the page-turner its title would lead you to expect.

In fairness, the titles of Judicial Council memoranda shouldn’t have to sell the content. The Judicial Council writes for a fairly responsible and sophisticated audience. Most of my colleagues don’t need a cover page promising Invasion of the Buxom, Sex-crazed Shortstops from Zongard 4 to get them to read it. 

I’m kinda the exception here;(1) if it doesn’t involve science fiction, sports or my grandchildren—and wasn’t written by Robert B. Parker or John Dunning—it may be difficult to get me to open it.(2)

This, lamentably, has been true of “Information for Implementing New Rules of Court Regarding Public Access to Judicial Administrative Records.” It has not yet snared my attention.

Don’t get me wrong. IfINRoCRPAtJAR, as I like to think of it, is a laudable attempt to render intelligible new rules pertaining to public access to records of judicial administration—including our emails. This is a task that should have been assigned to St. Jude rather than the Judicial Council,(3) and the memorandum they produced to that end, represents an effort of Herculean—if not Sisyphean—proportion.

It is, however, not a fast read. It was sent out on the last day of 2009, and I am only up to Frequently Asked Question Number Eight, “If a record is covered by the rules, is it automatically subject to disclosure?” 

This is barely halfway through the memorandum, and I feel bad about my slothful pace. Justice Fybel assures me Frequently Asked Question Number Eight is one of the very best chapters—absolutely chock full of rules and cross-references and such—and I can’t wait to get into it. But I kinda got bogged down at Frequently Asked Question Number Six, “Are there types of records and information that are not covered by the rules? What are examples of records not covered by the rules?”

As Justice Ikola has since pointed out to me—and as I realize now, in retrospect, I should have divined myself much earlier—the second question in Number Six is kind of a clue about the answer to the first one.(4) But I’m afraid I was intimidated by the fact FAQ 6 was actually two FAQs and it took me awhile to build up the courage to dive into it.

So here we are well into 2010, the material scares me and bores me at the same time, the rest of the class is way ahead of me, and the cute girls in the class think I’m stupid. It’s junior year Algebra II all over again.

The simple fact is I am NOT a Twenty-First Century guy. I was good at the Twentieth Century, and positively rocked on some Nineteenth Century stuff.(5) But now we’re hip deep in the Twenty-First Century and I can feel the email piranha nipping at my ankles with their razor-sharp online video teeth.

According to The Week magazine, “an industry study found that in December, Americans viewed 33.2 billion online videos, with an average duration of 4.1 minutes. That’s a combined total of well over 250,000 years.”

That’s how I know the piranha are getting ready for dinner. I generally ignore the online videos emailed to me. I am obviously WAY out of step with 21st Century America.

We’re pouring 250,000 years a month down the Internet time sink. 2500 CENTURIES a month: enough to take us back to the first coelacanths before I break eighty again! And I’m not contributing a single honest hour to the effort.

I’m afraid I don’t have the attention span necessary for 4 minutes and 6 seconds of an online video. Most online videos I’ve seen involve cats doing stupid stuff or naked women being naked. 

I have three cats of my own, thank you very much. More than enough cat-watching available without resort to the Internet.

And as for naked women, well, you know the story about the old man who finds a frog sitting next to him one day? The frog tells the guy it will turn into a beautiful woman and make mad passionate love to him if he just kisses it. The frog is in the midst of describing all the amazingly erotic things it will do for the man once his kiss turns it into a beautiful woman, when he picks it up and puts it in his pocket.

“I don’t understand,” shouts the frog from his pocket. “Aren’t you interested in having a beautiful woman make love to you?” “Sure,” says the old man. “But at my age, I’d rather have a talking frog.”

Well, I am approaching that point.(6)

So the fact my fellow Americans are watching 33.2 billion of these things a month goes a long way toward convincing me it’s too late to heed The Who’s adjuration to “die before I get old.” Generations of my countrymen are turning the Internet into The Opiate of the Masses, and the best thing I ever get out of it is an invitation to lunch.

You think that’s an exaggeration? Here’s what I get in the way of online videos:

1) Somebody’s cat playing a piano, somebody’s dog riding a skateboard, somebody’s monkey riding a surfboard, somebody’s brother-in-law falling off a garage, somebody’s favorite player sinking a shot from so far out he was being guarded by a parking lot attendant, somebody’s parking lot attendant playing a piano while riding a surfboard off a garage onto a monkey riding a skateboard in the driveway.
 Really, folks, did NONE of you watch Ed Sullivan or The Gong Show? They had these acts on every week.

2) A string of 87 beautiful photographs of sunsets and whales and things, backed up by elevator music(7), meant to convince me that life is worth living or obstacles can be overcome or Jesus Christ is my savior. These usually come with a message telling me how much I am valued by the person who sent the email and urging me to forward it to twenty of my closest friends, after which “something amazing” will happen to me.

The only amazing thing that happened was that it took me several of these to realize my primary value to the person who sent the email to me was as “Friend Number 16” in his own effort to get “something amazing” to happen.

3) A video of two guys in bowling shirts telling me why whatever the FDIC has done in the last 24 hours is a scam arranged by some vast global cartel that will only plunge us closer to the great black hole of socialism and add to the vast wealth of the Rockefellers or the Masons or the teachers’ unions or whoever, unless we rise up and “Take Back Our Country” from the Rockefellers or the Masons or the teachers’ unions or whoever.

Like most of the stuff I get online, the only expertise involved here is knowing how to make and post a video(8) or construct a professional-looking website. After that, it’s all the same stuff your brother-in-law the aluminum siding salesman says when he has too much to drink at the Rotarian Flag Day Barbecue.

4) A cartoon in which Uncle Sam, Mr. Ed, or a caricature of the President sings some clever ditty meant to convince me the Democratic Party is the agent of Satan, the European Union or the International Communist Conspiracy—apparently on the theory (I desperately hope the incorrect theory) that Americans will believe anything if it is presented in the form of a cartoon or conveyed in rhyme.

5) A cartoon in which Uncle Sam, Mr. Ed, or a caricature of Sarah Palin(9) sings some clever ditty meant to convince me the Republican Party is a bunch of rich old Christian white folk who should be distrusted because they have nothing in common with me.

Except, of course, that they’re rich and white and old and Christian and can appreciate a clever ditty.
 And on these and their ilk, my fellow Americans spend 250,000 years a month. To borrow from the argot of marathoners, I have fallen so far behind that I have clearly “lost touch with the leaders.”

And while the Judicial Council’s Tolstoyan IfINRoCRPAtJAR memo probably doesn’t touch on time spent watching online videos(10), I suspect it was prompted by them. I think a fear that citizens demanding judicial email records might find more of them about cats playing pianos and international conspiracies than about Gazorninplat Widgets v. Coastal Commission, may have provided at least a part of the impetus for IfINRoCRPAtJAR.

Well, they’re welcome to mine, but they will be greatly disappointed. All they’ll find out is that I am hopelessly out of step with the rest of society and not nearly as easily entertained as people seem to think. Hardly worth the effort.

Unlike Frequently Asked Question Number Eight, which I just gotta get to right now.

Beds’ Notes
(1) Under the terms of the consent decree the Chief Justice made me sign, I am required to acknowledge that I’m kinda the exception to any good thing ever said about the Courts of Appeal.
(2) I don’t mean to pat myself on the back here, but this is the type of immediately usable and easily implemented brief-writing tip you won’t get from Brian Garner and Antonin Scalia.
(3) Jude is the patron saint of lost causes—and, thereby, of the Orange County criminal defense bar.
(4) Ikola’s really smart.
(5) Baseball, cowboy boots, American Realism and Naturalism, doughnuts, carburetors.
(6) Had I not had the foresight to marry a beautiful woman, the frog would have long since been in my pocket.
(7) You never hear Merle Haggard or Garth Brooks in an elevator. Unless, of course, you get in an elevator with Merle Haggard or Garth Brooks.
(8) Which, in all fairness, is well beyond me.
(9) Is it possible to caricature Sarah Palin?
(10) If I get past FAQ 8 and find out it does, I’ll write another column and correct this mistake. You’re welcome.


William W. Bedsworth is an Associate Justice of the California Court of Appeal. He writes this column to get it out of his system. He can be contacted at william.bedsworth@jud.ca.gov.