The Laboratorium
September 2004

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Today’s Odd but Probably Meaningless Coincidence

Meat Loaf’s character in Fight Club is named Robert Paulson.

The voice actor who played Pinky (of Pinky and the Brain fame) is named Rob Paulsen.


I flashed on a vision of a world dotted with conferences, convocations, and “Cons” of all types, each an engine for converting feelings of inferiority and self-loathing into their opposites.

—Jonathan Lethem

Tremble Before the Mighty Pedestrian

Seen on a highway road sign:


(thanks to Aislinn for the find)

Trouble And/Or Bother

The CHAIRMAN: It may be those words you put in there, which I never could quite understand, “and/or”—

Senator JOHNSON (interposing): Just describe them please, to the legislative counsel.

The CHAIRMAN: They borrowed them from advertisements appearing in the New York papers trying to sell bonds. That is where they were borrowed from.

Senator JOHNSON: They are as disagreeable to me as a split infinitive.

Mr. MITCHELL: They came originally from an old expression used in policies of marine insurance. That is where I first saw them.

The CHAIRMAN: I do not like them anywhere.

Limiting Jurisdiction of Federal Courts: Hearings Before a Subcommittee of the Committee on the Judiciary, 72d Cong. 16 (1932).

Big Names in Tax

One of the odd little tidbits you pick up as a law student is an episodic familiarity with the names of various federal officials. If you get sued (or sue) in your official capacity, your name may wind up on all sorts of famous cases. True, the cases will be cited by the name of the other party (precisely because your name is on so many), but still, your identity will leave traces in the record—and in the minds of students.

Thus, for example, I know that there was an EPA head named Costle (Douglas, it turns out), and a Secretary of the Interior named Lujan (he was and remains a Manuel). IRS commissioners, all in all, are the most memorable: the Lucases, the Eisners, and, of course, the Helverings.

I had a brief hope of reconstructing the entire early history of IRS commissioners from the names of leading tax cases, but it turns out that there have been quite a number of them. While looking around for a canonical list, I found this neat page from the IRS, which lists the longest-serving and shortest-serving commissioners. One reason Guy Helvering is so famous, I now realize, is that he served for so long—and, ironically enough, he was immediately followed by the shortest-serving commissioner in the history of the office.

Oh, and one more thing. While Googling for all of the above, I also turned up good old Mrs. Macomber’s first name: Myrtle. Just another marvelous detail that fell by the wayside in the casebook editing process.

Ginseng is Totally Good

The legends are quite marvelous. Ginseng hunters refer to the plant as chang-diang shen, “the root of lightning,” because it is believed that it only appears on the spot where a small mountain spring has been dried up by a lightning bolt. After a life of three hundred years the green juice turns white and acquires a soul. It is then able to take on human form, but it never becomes truly human because ginseng does not know the meaning of selfishness.

It is totally good, and and will happily sacrifice itself to aid the pure in heart.

— Barry Hughart

A Study in Contrasts

If you go to Ikea by car, you may be unable to find a parking space.

If you go to Ikea by bike, yours will be the only bike on the rack.

Starry-Eyed and Bleary-Eyed

I’m at home this week, before I go back to school over the weekend. (Home home, not home as in where I live during the school year (although that’s still “home” when compared with the place I sublet for the summer (which itself is “home” as distinguished from “work”))). One of my duties this week has been driving my parents to and from the eye doctor.

The reason I’ve been pressed into this particular form of car service is that the pupil-dilating eyedrops they get at their eye exams leave them sensitive to bright light to a degree that makes driving outdoors in the late-summer sun somewhere between painful and impossible. (Funny: the last time I had my eyes checked, I recall driving both there and back. But maybe I lingered long enough picking out new glasses that I had time to undilate.)

Even with my taking care of the driving, going outisde before the drops have worn off is still painful. Thus, I’ve had the experience twice this week of shuttling around my parents while they hide behind sunglasses and shade their eyes. It’s as though they’ve suddenly become movie stars and I need to help them hide from the paparazzi.