Archive for the ‘Random stuff’ Category

Your least favorite song is now less annoying, or, at least, less costly. 

Thursday, September 24th, 2015

Yesterday, Hon. George King of the U. S. District Court for the Central District of California issued his opinion in Rupa Marya, et al. v. Warner/Chappell Music, and held that those companies that have been collecting royalties on performances of “Happy Birthday to You” over the last 80 years or so (yes, there are some, and the most recent purported owner has been racking up about $2 million per year in licensing fees from commercial use) do not actually own the song.  In a 43-page opinion that, for the record, makes it something like 300 times the length of the song it is about, Judge King determined that the song’s original copyright, obtained by the Clayton F. Summy Company from the song’s alleged writers, Preston Ware Orem and Mrs. R. R. Forman covered only certain specific arrangements of the song and not its lyrics.

As in the case of many an old song, the melody came from elsewhere, and is attributed to sisters Patty and Mildred Hill, who wrote “Good Morning to All.”  Judge King noted that has long been in the public domain, though, again, the writer is somewhat in question.  Because Summy Company never did acquire the rights to the lyrics, its successor in interest—Warner/Chappell Music—never acquired them either.

There’s more to Judge King’s opinion than fits into a little post like this, but the upshot of it all is that, when your Uncle Bob starts getting drunk and rowdy and singing to you at your birthday soiree, you can no longer shut him up with the threat of calling the copyright police.  Wait, am I the only one who does that?


Zero tolerance

Monday, September 15th, 2014

Late last week, the NFL indefinitely suspended Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice for domestic violence in a showing of its “zero-tolerance” stance. A security video of the incident in which Rice clocked his then fiancee in a Las Vegas hotel elevator was obtained by the website TMZ, and it is a sickening thing to behold. The league—which had previously suspended Rice for a paltry two games—then backpedaled and penalized Rice much more harshly. The indefinite suspension has led to Rice being released by the Ravens and has raised questions as to how much league Commissioner Roger Goodell’s office knew and when it knew it. (For his part, Goodell has claimed he never saw the video before last week, despite the incident having occurred much earlier this year.) It’s easy to question the truthfulness of that assertion, and many have and continue to do so.

Journalists and sportscasters who cover the NFL have been put in a difficult situation by this. When the same people you cover and who, thus, provide your livelihood are at fault, it’s a big step to criticize them. Access can be everything when it comes to doing the job. The truth is that this probably isn’t a job for former coaches and players who are used to talking about X’s and O’s, but punting this over to the “hard news” people isn’t the answer, either. The people who watch the NFL are also the ones that need to hear about this, and the surest way to get them to do that is by including it as part of NFL coverage. While sports news organizations have shied away from finger-pointing, a few individuals such as Hannah Storm and James Brown have stepped up at least to recognize the problem as a societal one, as well as a league one.

Nevertheless, the league can’t skate on this one. The figures may show that the league has no greater domestic abuse problem than American society, itself, but the NFL is, itself, a cultural leader. This violent game is, for better or worse, a part of the American fabric. It is, by a long stretch, the most popular sport in the country–nothing else even comes close–and that gives it a special responsibility. From August through January, NFL football is ubiquitous and inescapable. It doesn’t just follow society, it helps create it. You don’t get to play a part in creating a culture and then disclaim any part in its faults. As a cultural leader, the league has a responsibility to that culture, as well as to its own fans, 45% of whom are women. If nothing else, the notoriously image-conscious league should be looking to demonstrate its concern for nearly half of its own fan base.

The league can do one of two things here. It can step up and join a serious conversation about violence against women—with real enforcement against transgressors—or it can hide its collective head in the sand and keep talking about a societal problem, without acknowledging its own role in creating it. Hopefully, it will choose the better path. The NFL glorifies violence on the field, gives massive amounts of money to young men who may be ill-equipped to handle it, and apparently avoids learning unpleasant facts that might change its behavior. I’m not saying Roger Goodell knew what happened in that elevator. I’m saying he had a responsibility to find out, and he failed horribly on that count. Sweeping this under the rug is no good. Society should have zero tolerance for that.


The Doctor is in

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

When I was a boy in Scotland, I used to be riveted to the television every Sunday evening to see the adventures of my favorite hero—a man called “The Doctor.” I first encountered the Doctor in the early 1970s, when he was played by a gray-haired gent by the name of Jon Pertwee. Mr. Pertwee, may he rest in peace, will always be my first and favorite Doctor, but he’s far from the last. Because the role I saw him play was none other than Doctor Who, the central character of a low-budget though imaginative BBC series about the travels and travails of a wayward Time Lord, who spent his days rescuing humanity and any number of other civilizations from doom with his wits, his empathy, and his trusty (and sometimes, not so trusty) T.A.R.D.I.S. The Doctor was a superhero of the mind. He didn’t have strength or flight or any of that sort of stuff. He couldn’t turn invisible or turn someone else to ash. But he could think his way out of any situation. And that kept me coming back every Sunday. I couldn’t stay away. I needed my appointment with the Doctor.

But, as I got older, the Doctor seemed passé. He was something from my earlier days. Sure, it was fun to go back and watch some of those old episodes, but the feeling wasn’t the same. I knew everything. I didn’t need the Doctor anymore. The Doctor hadn’t changed. (Well, actually he had. Multiple times, actually.) I had.

Really, the question was whether the change was for the better. Was life better post-Doctor? The fact I’m writing this post, within a week of Peter Capaldi, the twelfth—or to my mind, thirteenth—incarnation of the Doctor taking his place in the canon, probably suggests the answer is “no.” The Doctor is an enigmatic character at the best of times, and Capaldi plays enigmatic to the hilt. His Doctor doesn’t care what you think of him—even though he does—and he’s thoroughly alien—even though he’s not. (Incidentally, I love Capaldi in the role.)

I came back to the Doctor. But why does the Doctor make things better? Because it turns out I don’t know everything. Because mystery is good. And the Doctor presents a smart mystery; an enigma that’s all wrapped up in a figure whose force of heroism isn’t strength or some kind of superpower, but empathy and intelligence and a belief in life. He’s a hero because he falls into it, not because he strives for it. And because he can be the one who’s needed when he’s needed. He’s the right man at the right time. And that’s all that any of us can hope to be.

The frenzy leading up to Capaldi taking over the helm of the T.A.R.D.I.S. has been a revelation. He’s been on a world tour with his co-star Jenna Coleman. Last year’s Comicpalooza in Houston had two major themes—Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Doctor Who. The speculation as to what kind of Doctor Capaldi would be has been rampant, and I’ve loved every minute of it. After 30 years, my superhero—my hero of the mind–has conquered America. The Doctor is in.


You tell them to do what?

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

Comcast has been getting some electronic publicity for the wrong reasons, of late. First there was the recording of the latter half of a 20-odd-minute phone conversation between a Comcast customer and a “Retention Professional”—one of those guys whose job it is to beg, badger, and cajole you into not cancelling your service. Unfortunately for Comcast, the customer in this instance was Ryan Block, a tech journalist, VP of Product for AOL, and founder of gdgt—a website offering reviews of electronics and tech products that was recently sold to AOL. In short, Comcast poked a guy who knows what he’s doing when it comes to this internet thing, and he posted the recording on Soundcloud.

If you haven’t heard the recording, here’s a link. Warning: it’s a finger-nails-on-a-chalkboard-painful listen. Comcast’s rep becomes steadily shriller and more hysterical as he demands that Block explain why he would want to cancel “the number-one rated internet service.” But eventually he caved. When Block’s recording went viral, Comcast’s COO, Dave Watson, responded with an internal memo—leaked to the Consumerist—that makes clear that what happened to Block was wrong. Oh, and it was also, pretty much what Comcast trains its reps to do.

But at least Comcast respects its reps, even if it’s willing to put its customers through hell, right? After all, Watson didn’t just blame the employee for that root-canal-meets-colonoscopy of a phone call. He pointed the blamethrower at the company, too, and that shows a healthy respect for the spot in which Comcast puts its workers, right? Maybe not so much, according to a new lawsuit filed in New Jersey by a former Comcast door-to-door sales rep, Terry Hurley.

Hurley’s lawsuit says that Comcast refused to get licenses from various New Jersey cities that would allow him to solicit door-to-door. (Incidentally, Hurley alleges he worked for Comcast as a “Win Back representative,” which is apparently the next guy they sic on you after the “Retention professional” fails.) So after a customer has just had to fight like crazy with Mr. Retention to get his service dropped, Mr. Win Back shows up without the proper documentation. What could possibly go wrong? Well, in Texas, we’d probably shoot him, but in New Jersey they just called the police who warned Hurley that he was soliciting without a license and he needed to knock it off. To his credit, he did. And then Comcast fired him for failing to meet his sales quota.

Now, truth be told, Hurley’s lawsuit doesn’t sound terribly strong to me. Sales quotas aren’t necessarily tied to sales territories, and the worst thing Comcast did by failing to obtain the needed licenses was reduce the size of Hurley’s potential sales territory. But it shows a real callousness toward employees, customers, and . . . well, pretty much everyone, if Hurley’s underlying allegations have any truth to them. Comcast’s reps already get trained to violate basic etiquette. It would be nice if they didn’t get told to violate the law, too.

H/T to Courthouse News Service.


Unwritten rules

Friday, April 25th, 2014

The baseball season isn’t even a month old as of this writing, but we’ve still had our first two instances of “unwritten rules” violations.  What are “unwritten rules”?  Well, they’re the customs that everyone agrees to follow, except when they don’t agree on them or don’t agree to follow them.  Get it?  Baseball has a mess of them, and they often seem peculiar, arcane, or just plain silly to an outsider.  Anyway, here are the first two instances from this season (or at least, the ones I know of).

 First came the Houston Astros’ manager Bo Porter having not-so-nice words with Jed Lowrie, shortstop for the Oakland Athletics.  The A’s were cruising as early as the first inning against the Astros, putting up seven runs to the Astros’ zero.  With Lowrie coming up to bat, the Astros played the shift, meaning they positioned all the fielders to the right, resulting in the third-baseman playing about 20 feet off the third-base line.  With his team already up 7-0, Lowrie tried to lay down a bunt along the third-base line, which would have made a near-impossible play at first for the Astros’ fielders.  On his next at-bat, Lowrie found himself the target of several retaliatory brush-back pitches.  He flied out to end that inning but had a few choice words he shared with Astros’ second baseman Jose Altuve.  And that was when Porter got involved, leaving the dugout to read Lowrie the riot act.

 A manager chewing out an opposing player is an unusual sort of thing.  It’s kind of like an invited guest yelling at the help.  It’s just not done.  But that’s not the unwritten rule I’m talking about here.  Porter was incensed because he seemed to feel Lowrie violated the unwritten rule of “thou shall not take extraordinary measures to pile on to an already beaten opponent.”  This may apply doubly when the opponent has the Astros’ anemic offense.  Whether or not Porter really had any right to get upset is a matter for debate.  If your team is capable of being beaten before the end of the first inning, it doesn’t make much difference what the other team does, and because it was only the first inning, more than arguably, Lowrie was just doing his job.  But the fact that Porter felt justified in being incensed shows how seriously some take the unwritten rule.

 In another instance, just in the last week, Yankees’ pitcher Michael Pineda got ejected from his club’s game against the Boston Red Sox and landed a 10-game suspension, to boot.  Formally, the ejection and suspension were punishment for doctoring the surface of the baseball with pine tar to allow himself a better grip.  Baseball has a long history of pitchers scuffing the ball with nail files, emery boards, or sandpaper; smearing the ball with Vaseline, to make it slip off the fingers; and the liberal use of pine tar by both hitters and pitchers.  (Don’t get me started on corked bats and PEDs.)  It’s an express violation of the written rules, but the conventional wisdom is that “everybody does it.”  It’s the nasty little habit everyone has:  like picking your nose, scratching inappropriate places, or sniffing your armpits.  As long you don’t advertise it, everyone is willing to act like it doesn’t happen.

 But, Pineda’s sin was doing it to the same opponent twice in a row and being so obvious that the Red Sox couldn’t help but catch him at it.  (The smear of pine tar on his neck was readily visible in game photos.)  Red Sox manager John Farrell brought it to the attention of the umpire and said after the game, “when it’s that obvious, something has to be said.”  Again, the unwritten rule:  “Cheat discreetly.”  Pineda’s violation was so great that Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman felt the need to express his embarrassment about it.  (Of course, a person more cynical than I might suggest that it’s rather nice the Yankees are still capable of feeling shame about something.)

It got me thinking about the unwritten rules that govern my own profession and my own little corner of it.  In litigation, generally, but especially in the appellate arena, we’re all expected to play nicely together and avoid disagreement for its own sake.  So when a fellow appellate lawyer—a smart, experienced, and honorable practitioner of my acquaintance—mentioned on Facebook this week that he had received pushback from his opposing counsel on getting an extension of time to file a brief (and this, when he had only just entered an appearance in the case), the opprobrium was palpable.  Every appellate practitioner has been in that situation of having looming deadlines and too much to do to meet them all.  Our unwritten rule is that you don’t oppose someone when he asks politely for your position on his extension.  You agree to hold your tongue, regardless of how you feel about it and explain it to your client as a strategic decision.

 So, in some ways, the attitude of legal practitioners mirrors that of baseball players.  Even if the rules don’t require civility in certain areas, custom certainly does, and the lawyer who flouts the unwritten rule risks becoming a pariah.  No one wants to be on the business end of that brushback pitch.


Scary times…..

Monday, March 24th, 2014

I don’t claim to be a student of world history or politics, but I do remember my high-school studies in world history, and that’s why Vladimir Putin scares the hell out of me. Because Putin is the shiny new face on, not just the old Soviet Union, but the ethnic philosophies that Hitler espoused after he rose to power with the Third Reich. Yes, I’m aware of Godwin’s Law, but hear me out.

Putin is ex-KGB. Everyone knew it when he rose to power, but he seemed to be a benevolent version of it. He was invited to join in with G7 and NATO discussions, and the belief was that he represented the face of a kinder, gentler Russia. But the arguments Putin is putting forth these days smack of the same stuff that was used to annex portions of Czechoslovakia in the years leading up to World War Two. Back then, Hitler argued that the Sudetenland—the western-most portion of Czechoslovakia—was heavily populated with ethnic Germans and should be annexed as a part of Germany. This is, of course, the exact same argument Putin has used for annexing the Crimea. Hitler argued the same thing with regard to Austria before annexing the entire country. It remains to be seen if Putin will do the same with the rest of Ukraine, but it doesn’t look promising for anyone who holds peace as a priority.

Dealing with the devil carries a cost. Putin became a part of the international community and received legitimacy from U. S. administrations. It seems that no one knew he would become this. These are scary times we live in.


A work in progress

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

I apologize in advance for the shamelessly “homerish” tone of what follows, but I felt the need to write this.  I’ve been in Houston for many, many years now, and I see things happening that I am proud to see.  I think we are doing well.

A few days ago, I had need to visit the Clerk’s office of the Fourteenth Court of Appeals.  The Clerk’s office is in the same building as the Court, itself, the recently restored 1910 Harris County courthouse, which has now become home to the Fourteenth and also to the First Court of Appeals.  I parked on Preston Street, in the area known as Market Square, and headed southeast toward the courthouse.

As I walked by the corner of Preston and Travis Street, I saw the beginnings of a mural that was being drawn and painted on a two-story wall.  The painting was in its infancy, but the outlines of the mural were already drawn.  It was a drawing of Houston’s downtown skyline with the word “Houston” prominently displayed in the middle of it all.  Colors were being filled in, bit by bit, though the end product was far from complete.  Nevertheless, it was obvious, even at this early stage, that the end product would be full of vibrant color and energy.

And I thought to myself:  “This wouldn’t have happened ten or twelve years ago.”

Because, strangely, I think I find myself in a city that is experiencing a renaissance.  Houston has, for many years, had a civic inferiority complex.  There have been scams and scandals here, but nothing that would draw anyone in; nothing—besides money —that would make them want to be here.  But, it seems that may be coming to an end.  What I see recently is a new sense of pride.  It’s been tried before, but this time it seems like it’s sticking.

Suddenly, Houston is cool.  Houston is a destination.  Even in neighborhoods off the beaten path (and I include my own humble home which has become known as “the GOOF,” where new restaurants and one of the best craft beer bars in the country now reside), there seems to be a sense of possibility and maybe a feeling that there is actually something unique here and worth exploring.  Maybe it’s a transient thing.  Maybe it’s just the fact that Houston survived the recent economic turmoil with less fallout than most cities.  Maybe having a job constitutes being hip, these days.

The truth is that the Bayou City (yes, that’s what we call it) has always been a strange amalgam of go-for-broke business (see, the Allen brothers), artistry, and immigration.  Houston is now the most ethnically diverse city in the entire country, and it’s a leading indicator of where the country is going, ethnically, politically, and demographically.  It’s increasingly progressive.  And now, it’s being discovered.  It‘s kind of nice.  Because there’s always been a lot here.  We’re still building, but it’s not done yet.  We’re still making it better, because it needs to be and because we can.  And if we weren’t, we’d be abandoning the very foundation of Houston’s success.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned from being here, it’s that Houston doesn’t stand still.  That’s just not the way we do things here.

UPDATE:   And the Daily Beast confirms it.


Baseball and the public trust

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

A winning sports franchise can be a point of civic pride.  Economists and others much smarter than I frequently seem to argue about the value of professional sports to a city’s bottom line, but there can be little doubt that such things contribute to a city’s image and can influence how its own residents perceive it.  There’s an air to the classic teams—the “Showtime” Lakers, the “Bronx Bomber” Yankees, and the blue-collar “Steel Curtain” defense of the Steelers—that reflects the cities they call home.  Never mind that much of it is just image; it’s an image the public loves to see and make its own.

So it helps to explain (though, perhaps, not to justify) when public money goes into building stadiums and arenas for these millionaires’ games.  As long as a team owner is working to put a winning team on the field and seems like a nice enough sort, he can generally be confident of support from much of the public, though there will always be a vocal minority in opposition.  And then there’s Jeffrey Loria (look down the page; amazingly, he’s only number 9).

Loria is the owner of the Miami (née Florida) Marlins of the National League.  Loria isn’t just disliked; he’s despised.  This is despite the fact that the Marlins have won two World Series in the last 15 or so years, in 1997 and 2003.  So why all the Loria hate?  Because of stuff like this.  Yesterday, the Marlins came to an agreement in principle to ship away in the neighborhood of $160 million in future salary commitments to players, several of whom—like All-Star shortstop Jose Reyes—were signed only last offseason.  (ESPN Radio reports that many of the players traded had back-loaded contracts, suggesting that this move was likely planned all along.)  This followed the shipping of several other stars—Hanley Ramirez, Heath Bell—to other clubs during and immediately following the 2012 season.

Now, fire sales are nothing new.  Rebuilding franchises do it all the time.  There comes a time when a club simply has to cut bait and build for the future.  But the Marlins are old pros at this, having had fire sales immediately following both their World Series wins (interestingly, the only two times that the club has made the playoffs in its 20 year existence).  And this latest one comes shortly after Miami taxpayers footed 80% of the bill for a new Marlins stadium, even as Loria pleaded poverty.  (The financing was a concern all along and even drew the attention of the SEC.)  A resourceful hacker got a hold of the Marlins’ financial statements and furnished them to Deadspin.  They showed that the club was anything but in the red, months after it asked the public to finance a stadium it claimed to be unable to finance itself.  And that’s the real rub.  The taxpayers helped Loria line his pockets, and now he is punting on his end of the deal.

Granted, nothing requires Loria to put a championship team on the field.  Loria can soak the local populace and pocket the funds that come from it.  But, as I mentioned before, sports teams are a source of local pride.  Even so, a national organization—in this case, Major League Baseball—oversees them.  And this has got to be MLB’s worst case scenario.  Essentially, one of its owners has defrauded local government.  That’s bad for the business of government, it’s bad for the business of baseball, and it means that the local fans aren’t just taken for granted, they’re taken for a bunch of suckers. I rather suspect that Loria’s actions may prompt some sort of legal action from the city.  The question is whether it would have a leg to stand on, given that it seems the entire city government bought Loria’s line without asking many questions.  It seems the city never asked for much information about whether the Marlins could afford to contribute more; they just took them at their word.  That word was no good.

Miami residents should be revolted by Loria and perturbed by their own city officials who allowed this to happen.  And Major League Baseball should be getting involved.  Otherwise, the prevailing image of baseball in Miami is essentially a real estate con.  No city should have its team provide that image.



The Man and the Myth

Sunday, August 26th, 2012

In my other life (the one outside of the legal profession), I’m a pretty avid cyclist and have been for over a decade.  This translates to my going out on weekend bike rides of 40-50 miles a pop for most of the year and usually riding at least one significant two-day tour (think, MS150) each year.  For most of the time I’ve been a serious cyclist, Lance Armstrong has been the central figure in the professional sport, or, at least, the one best known to everyone in the U.S.

You can call Armstrong a lot of things:  a Tour de France champion, a fierce competitor, an arrogant opportunist, and a philanthropist.  And for a lot of years, a number of authorities have been trying to pin another label on him:  dope cheat.

Professional cycling has been a dirty sport for a lot of years.  It becomes understandable when you see what riders in one of the major tours put themselves through—thousands of miles up seemingly impossible climbs and through all manner of conditions.  And at the end of weeks of racing, a few seconds can decide the winner from the also-rans.  Doping became a huge and shameful part of the sport, and the efforts have only recently gotten serious in cracking down on it.

For his part, Armstrong presented a script that Hollywood couldn’t have written any better.  A cancer survivor—and barely, at that—who came back to, not just win, but dominate on the biggest stage his sport has to offer.  Add to this the fact that he used his new-found fame to raise millions of dollars for cancer research and to improve the lives of people suffering from cancer, and it’s a story that seems too good to be true.  And the U. S. Anti-Doping Agency says it is.

Anti-doping forces have been pursuing Armstrong for years, accompanied by members of the media—including a very vocal French contingent—who believe he cheated to win France’s signature sporting event.  But, during his career and the thousands of drug tests that involved, no one ever nailed Armstrong.  He passed every test, if not with flying colors, at least sufficiently to prevent his accusers from proving their case.  Nevertheless, this week USADA purportedly stripped Armstrong of all seven of his Tour de France titles and obliterated fourteen years of his career.  And this bothers me for a number of reasons.

Everyone agrees that urine and blood testing is the gold standard for finding out if an athlete has been doping. As mentioned, that kind of testing was done on Armstrong to an incredible extent, and he never failed a test that actually lived up to the appropriate procedural.  (I have heard it said that some of Armstrong’s test results were thrown out based on “technicalities.”  What the media tends to call “technicalities” are often what we in the law call “fundamental rights” and this isn’t the place for me to expound on my loathing of the term “technicalities.”  Suffice to say, the USADA couldn’t get the job done with its testing.)  When USADA realized it couldn’t convict Armstrong with scientific evidence, it turned to anecdotal evidence–testimony from teammates and former teammates, some desperately trying to clear their own names or find someone else to blame for their own getting caught (see Floyd Landis).

Secondly, Armstrong has now said that he’s not going to fight the allegations anymore. The USADA’s reaction was that his refusal to contest the allegations was being taken as an admission of guilt. That’s rubbish. Absent a duty to speak, silence is not a confession of anything. USADA has taken the position that, because Armstrong won’t engage it anymore, it is now free to dispense with the burden of proof altogether and jump straight to “guilty.”

Third and finally, there is the question of the tactics employed by USADA, WADA, and other anti-doping crusaders. As I’ve written before, these people strike me as true zealots, and their tactics raise some serious questions about privacy and propriety. Riding in a bike race doesn’t mean giving up all rights to privacy and to due process.  So do I think Armstrong is innocent? Probably, no. I’d like to think so, and I still hope so. The truth is I don’t know. But do I think he’s been shown to be guilty and given his procedural due? Absolutely, unequivocally, positively, no.

For my part, I will continue to admire Armstrong.  Even if his Tour wins were tainted, there is plenty of likelihood that he was no worse than anyone else participating.  Moreover, the symbol of Armstrong will always be at the forefront.  Having seen my father succumb to cancer and having witnessed my wife haunted by its specter, what Armstrong has done for cancer awareness and funding is bigger than anything else he might or might not have done.  Ever.  I will continue to wear my LIVESTRONG bracelet every day, even in court.  And when it breaks, I’ll go buy another.  Because sports isn’t just about competition; it’s about myth-making.  And sometimes we need the myth more than we need the man.


Super Arguments

Friday, June 8th, 2012

Okay, this is the kind of stuff that makes me love being a lawyer.  Some people practice for the money; some do it for the prestige; some do it because they honestly are doing good things, great things even, that are so, so necessary for our system of justice.  But I’m shallow compared to them, and I admit it.  I just love the clever argument, and I love being the one to make it.  And that’s why I would have given up my Spiderman PJs to be the lawyer for Toy Biz, Inc., who came up with this gem.  And the connection to the superhero comics of my youth is just an added bonus.

It seems there’s a distinction between “toys” and “dolls” when it comes to import duties.  Let’s face it.  All these things are manufactured in China and shipped into the U.S.A.  When Toy Biz moved to import a bunch of “action figures” from the Marvel Comics universe—specifically, the X-Men, Spiderman, and the Fantastic Four—it was told that they’d be subject to the 12% ad valorem import tax rate on “dolls.”  This was as opposed to the 6.8% ad valorem duty on “toys.”  How did Toy Biz answer?

It argued that the “action figures” at issue “are properly classifiable as ‘Toys representing animals or other non-human creatures (for example, robots and monsters) and parts and accessories thereof: Other.’”  In other words, they said the X-Men aren’t human.  Whatever your position on Mutant Rights, that argument is terrific.  And it won.

Of course, this leaves me thinking:  what is the fate of Iron Man (aka Tony Stark)?  It’s only the suit that makes him “super,” so does the Tony Stark (Iron Man suit) version get treated differently from the Tony Stark (Armani suit) version?  And really, he’s the same guy, either way.  So what happens?

Incidentally, if anyone wants to contact me about this . . . really, for whatever reason . . . my information is on this site.  Just sayin’.