Friday, July 25, 2014

Isla Vista, circa 2007

Oh the things you find cleaning out the draft folder of your email account. I found this gem from June of 2007. I’ll give you a moment to recover from the fact that that was already 7 years ago (!!). I am assuming that since it was in the draft folder the intended recipient never got it—anyway, it was too good to keep it to myself. Below is the body of the email:

Here's a story for the books. I probably didn't tell you but around the first week of this quarter [Spring quarter, 2007] I was one of many Isla Vistans to experience the tragedy of bike theft. Someone (probably in a drunken stupor) absconded with my treasured green huffy beach cruiser. I didn't notice until Monday morning when I went to my back yard and noticed that something was bike! I realized it was partially my fault for not locking it to something, plus I’ll be going to Ireland soon and don’t need a bike; plus I figured it had already served me the first three years of college, so I got over it and spent this entire quarter on foot. It wasn't too bad actually, I rather enjoyed the quality time in the sunshine walking from this lecture to that one.

So, Thursday. My last day on the campus of UCSB. It's 8:45 in the morning and I receive a phone call as I study for my Italian final at 10. It's CSO (Campus Security Officer) notifying me that they have found my bike. Can you believe it? The last day of class and now they find my bike. Good thing I paid that $6 my freshman year to register that bad boy! So, the officer asks, "Do you own a green beach cruiser?" to which I reply, "Well I did, but it was stolen" "When was it stolen?" he asked, "The first week of April" I said. "What color was it?" me: "Green...Is it still??" there was a pause, I already knew "No, it's been spray painted black." My heart broke when he told me this—I loved that green bike. I guess CSOs are trained to spot spray painted bikes because they are more often than not spray painted for a reason.
So apparently they come across my bike at the chem building. They checked the serial number and registered owner and notice that it doesn't correspond with the person who had it. The officer told me they had to conduct some "investigation" and I could pick it up in a few days. It gets better....

I have been interning for a criminal defense attorney since January and Friday was my last day in the office. I get in around 9 and the phone rings. It's a PNC (potential new client)-some guy saying he needs advice, thinks he needs a lawyer. I take down his name and information and pass it along to the attorney who calls him back later that day. So toward the end of my last day the attorney offers to take me out to lunch as a thank you. We get to the restaurant where a few of his colleagues (he used to be a public defender, so it was a bunch of public defenders) were already eating. They all start talking about whatever cases they're working on and the guy I intern for brings up this client he was hired by today. He said he is being brought up on charges of possession of stolen property.

He describes the client: "So this guy has this bike and he is apprehended by a CSO asking him how he got it and why it's spray painted and if he knows the registered owner—and he didn't really say anything. So the CSO tells him he can be expelled for these charges, but if he signs this statement saying that he had no intent of returning the bike there would be leniency, so he does." The attorney then asks me, "In your experience, have you ever known anyone to take a bike and return it?" I said "No. My bike was stolen and they never returned it. Actually I just got a call from CSO yesterday saying that they'd found my bike" The attorney: "Wait, CSO told you yesterday they found your bike?" Me: "Yeah.." "So when was it stolen?" Me: "The first week in April" He chuckles to himself then says, "I think I might be representing the guy that stole your bike" we all laugh; he continues "Well at least now I know I can represent the guy, it's not a conflict of interest if you don't work for me anymore"

If you’re wondering what happened to my beloved huffy, I must admit even I don’t know. I recall another phone call where I was told I could pick up the bike and asked if I intended to press charges. I said no because as I mentioned since I was going abroad at the end of August, I didn’t see much sense in storing the bike at my parents’ for a year. I also thought I wouldn’t be returning to Santa Barbara, but I hadn’t yet realized the missing credits after my time in Ireland. 

 The scene of the crime (my back yard in IV, 2007)

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The fruits of my labor

I turned in my project this week and for those who are interested in an example of (what I hope may be considered) forensic linguistic analysis, here it is.

Let me explain what my task was. I had to find forensically relevant data, define a research question, and analyze the chosen data with a certain methodological approach to reach some kind of answer to the research question. I have never written such an analysis before, so I was appropriately intimidated but prepared to tackle it. The hardest part proved to be finding data. Of course I was also unsure of what I wanted my research question to be, but it wasn’t until weeks after beginning I realized I should first choose the data then read it to develop a research question instead of coming up with something I’d like to analyze and then try to find examples of it in whatever data I could find.

The module I submitted this project for is Introduction to Forensic Linguistics, which dealt with a number of units involving arrest and rights, legal language (statutes, legal documents, warnings), linguistically vulnerable groups (non-native speakers, mentally or otherwise disabled), police interviews, courtroom language and linguistic evidence. I could have chosen data in any one of those categories but chose to go with courtroom language. That in mind, my next task was finding some court transcript that was freely available online because I did not want to pay the inordinate costs of shipping copies (priced per page, by the way) or tracking down witnesses to sign ethical release forms. After enough Google searches, I came across the Innocence Project and one case in particular, a death penalty case from Texas: that of Cameron Todd Willingham—the only person ever executed in the United States where fire was the murder weapon (Mills and Possley, 2). In December of 1991, a fire burned Willingham’s house killing his three young children while the mother was out buying Christmas presents. 

The conclusions reached during the initial investigation, which formed a substantial amount of the state’s claim that it was Willingham who intentionally set the fire using a liquid accelerant (lighter fluid), were discredited by a number of independent arson experts, scientists and investigators in the years that followed Willingham’s conviction. The “techniques” the initial investigators drew on were largely experience-based and described by some of the experts who read the preliminary reports later as “discredited folklore.” (Grann, 16). No clear motive was present, other than the beer-drinking, wife-beating, dart-throwing, satan-worshiping (as evidenced by iron maiden posters and a tattoo of a skull) derangement the state clung to. There was little evidence at the scene to tie Willingham to the crime, but the state took the arson story and ran with it and were ultimately more successful than Willingham’s public defenders at persuading the jury that Willingham, beyond a reasonable doubt, set the fire in his own house with the intention of murdering his own children.

Incidentally, I found this data on what happened to be ten years later to the day that he was executed. Before I really dug into the transcript I did some research on the case itself and found there was plenty of coverage on it.  Mishandled evidence, unfounded conclusions and ultimately, the word of a mentally ill inmate resulted in Willingham’s conviction in 1992. The inmate I’m referring to, Johnny Webb, is the witness whose testimony I chose to analyze. The reason being that in 2000, eight years after the trial, Webb, who at the time he testified was on a number of medications and would subsequently be diagnosed as having bipolar disorder, recanted his testimony—amounting to a description of Willingham’s sudden breakdown and confession in jail. Webb was quoted in an article about the case: “The statute of limitations has run out on perjury, hasn’t it?” (Grann, 8). He also described his memory of that time as “in bits and pieces,” (Grann, 8) a phrase I found significant as it was present in the trial itself in the form of a question from the cross-examining lawyer (transcript p. 35 line 7)

If nothing else, learning about this case and the “byzantine appeals process of death-penalty cases, which frequently takes more than ten years,” (Grann, 11) solidified my opinion against the death penalty as a form of punishment: as “Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has said that ‘the execution of a legally and factually innocent person would be a constitutionally intolerable event’.” (Grann, 9)

Works cited:
Grann, David (2009, September 7). Trial by Fire: Did Texas convict an innocent man? The New Yorker. Retrieved from
accessed on March 18, 2014

Mills, Steve and Possley, Maurice (2004, December 9). Man executed on disputed forensics: fire that killed his three children could have been accidental. The Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from,0,1173806.story
accessed on March 18, 2014.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The brilliance of The Daily Show

When you move to a new country, you have to learn a new way of living. Old habits and creature comforts have to be parted with and you have to find new joys and rituals in your current surroundings to really make yourself feel at home. But after three plus years abroad I have still held on to one aspect of my American life, and that is I am still an avid viewer of The Daily Show. One of my favorite memories of Jon Stewart was not even from the Daily Show. It was my freshaman year at college and I was flipping through channels and landed on CNN and watched one of the greatest live segments I’ve ever seen
(A 2004 episode of CNN’s Crossfire, co-hosted by Tucker Carlson [right] Paul Begala [left]. Stewart stated that the show [Crossfire] was more theatrics than actual debate, as it purports to be. Carlson retorted with indignation that Stewart, who had recently interviewed then presidential candidate Kerry and “sniffed his throne,” [Carlson’s words] would accuse them [Begala and Carlson] of partisan hackery) Stewart: “You’re on CNN! The show that leads in to me is puppets making crank phone calls, what is wrong with you?” 
Stewart has on ocassion alluded to the low brow nature of some of Comedy Central’s other programs to contextualize the jocularity of the show, even though many people (this viewer included) consider it a vital source of current events. There are many reasons I love this show but more than anything I appreciate the attention to detail Stewart and the staff writers put into the writing. 

I was inspired to write about this after reading an article titled Separating the Sheep from the Goats: Celebrity Satire as Fair Use Nicholas D. Sirabella. Sirabella’s article deals with parody and satire and their history with copyright law as it pertains to “fair use.” In the title, “fair use,” refers to the legally accepted use of copyright material (for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research) as it pertains to the Fair Use Doctrine, which was added to the Copyright Act in 1976 (Sirabella, 778). In determining whether a particular use of copyright material is fair, courts are to consider:

1.     the purpose and character of the use [made by the defendant-person accused of copyright infringement], including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
2.     the nature of the copyrighted work;
3.     the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
4.     the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.”  17 U.S.C. § 107 
According to Sirabella, in a celebrity satire, for example a segment on the Daily Show, “the satirist [Stewart] references a copyrighted work because it indirectly-but strongly-evokes a celebrity in a specific way.” (Sirabella, 788) As an example you see the graphic displayed (taken from the Daily Show’s website from the episode that aired on September 25, 2013) which serves as a deliciously witty reference to the 80s cult classic buddy film Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure , starring Keanu Reeves (Bill) and some other dude (Ted) as San Dimas high school students who go on an excellent time travelling adventure. As I am not a copyright lawyer, I cannot attest to a situation where one uses the title of a movie and then becomes in jeopardy of having misapropriated (unfairly used) a copyrighted work (the title of a film). But in this case it constitutes, in my opinion, what Sirabella describes as fair use through celebrity satire. The plot and characters of this movie serve as a perfect mode to frame this, if I may borrow a word used liberally by Reeve’s character in the film, bogas story. By inserting only the word “healthcare” into the title viewers who have seen or are familiar with the film now have an idea of the tone of the story, namely one of a light hearted comedic romp that will feature a healthcare bill and Senator Ted Cruz.

One of the main points Sirabella makes is that celebrity satire, which he deliniates from parody, satisfies criterion established in previous landmark cases for fair use of copyright material
Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music (1994) and Bill Graham Archives v. Dorling Kindersley Ltd. (2006). The former involving rap group 2 Live Crew’s song “Pretty Woman” being protected as fair use because it was a clear (clear, as established by the court) parody of Roy Orbison’s “Oh, Pretty Woman” and the latter referring to the use of clips from films in a television biography of an actor, as the clips served a clear purpose (according to the court) in the context of the biography (Sirabella, Lans).

At the crux of the argument for considering parody as fair use purpose is that using another (copyright) work to comment on something can enhance the overall “impact of the criticsm or comment.” (Sirabella, 776) and how this kind of use is “productive: in which there existed a socially laudable benefit to the public beyond that provided by the prior [original] work.” (Sirabella, 779). Another point for considering parody as fair use as established in Campbell is that without using the borrowed material, the effect of the commentary is not the same. That is, the commentator could not use some other material and deliver the same message-using the borrowed work is a necessary part of the commentary. (Campbell, 510 U.S. 580-81) In the case of the Daily Show episode I’m referring to, using any other film in that graphic would not have resulted in the same effect for the purpose of covering this story and offering comedic commentary on it.

Sirabella goes on to distiguish between parody and satire stating that a parody is referencing and commenting on the same work, whereas in satire a work is referenced but in order to comment on something else; and in celebrity satire a copyrighted work is referenced, because it indirectly-but strongly-evokes a celebrity in a specific way.” (Sirabella, 788) In my opinion, the word celebrity in this context refers to both the person offering the critique, in this case Stewart, of another prominent personality, in this case a politician, whom in today’s media has come to represent a kind of celebrity as their actions and remarks have become increasingly publicized and scrutinized to a similar extent as entertainers.

I thought of a recent segment on the Daily Show where Jon Stewart summarizes Ted Cruz’s 21 hour Senate speech against Obamacare. The style of coverage is such that clips of the speech in question are played punctuated with witty remarks by Stewart in between. Stewart effectively turned the 21 hour monolgue into a sort of interview, where in these pauses he would ask a question phrased in such a way that simultaneously introduces another segment of the speech to answer the “question” posed, and highlights the absurdity of some of Cruz’s remarks. Even though the viewing audience were probably aware of what Cruz was speaking against when this episode aired, Stewart didn’t even mention “Obamacare” to introduce the story. In my opinion, this move is crucial to the step-by-step deconstruction of Cruz’s speech culminating with a brilliant example of a satirical parody, and to demonstrate the chasm that exists between Cruz’s rhetoric and the “threat” posed by Obamacare.

First Cruz’s preamble is played, where he explains whom he is speaking for and what Americans are interested in (Stewart: “Stuff crust pizza? No wait…”) Cruz: “freedom.” Stewart then “asks” Cruz to cite “a historical precedent that is apropriate to the threat we now face” the video clip continues with Cruz referencing 1940s “Nazi Germany” and historical figures who were prepared to accept the Nazi party and that “in America there were voices who listened to that [cries of people like Neville Chamberlain who said people should appease the nazis]” Then comes the reveal that Cruz is speaking in favor of defunding the health care law. Stewart: “Yes, it’s Ted Cruz…casting himself as Churchill to Obama’s Chamberlain in the great fight against…Hitler’s…health care exchanges..I lost the thread of the metaphor” 

Stewart prefaces the remaining clips mentioning Cruz’s academic prowess as a Harvard graduate with the reassurance that he will provide a cogent line of argumentation to explain his opinion of Obamacare as a threat to the American people and justify the tone of his talk to that point. This sort of commentary demonstrates the satirical nature of the Daily Show as it is at this point obvious to the viewer that Stewart knows what is coming next and how ridiculous it is, but for the purpose of commenting on the impotence of Cruz’s speech, and in order to let the audience come to that conclusion on their own, Stewart appears to give him the benefit of the doubt and continue offering Cruz chances to redeem himself and the validity of his cause. The next clip reveals Cruz mentioning a tweet of a speech made by Ashton Kutcher. Stewart: “Senator! You…say we are facing one of the great perils of our age and yet you’ve outsourced your argument and wisdom to a dude who can’t find his car?”

Stewart implores Cruz to cite a study or a book to give weight to his arguments-cut to Cruz reading from Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham. Stewart then points out the irony in Cruz reading Green Eggs and Ham in his speech to oppose Obamacare (Stewart: “You go with a book about a stubborn jerk who decides he hates something before he’s tried it”) Stewart points out Cruz’s lack of substantive critique and potentially misleading information put forward regarding economic troubles and loss of jobs as a result of Obamacare coupled with no real proposed alternatives as reminiscent of another “famed Dr. Seuss character, the Bore-ax.” 

As a note, The Lorax is one of children author Dr. Seuss’ most popular books, written in the 1970s amidst the environmental movement and containing such themes as “citizenship, environmentalism, the necessity for businesses to practice sustainable use of resources and making room for natural environments and economic development” (Quaden and Ticotsky), whose title character and hero speaks on behalf of the trees and appears from the stump of the first Truffula fell to warn of the consequences of industry encroaching on natural habitats. 

“He was shortish and oldish and brownish and mossy. And he spoke with a voice that was sharpish and bossy” (taken from the Lorax) The Onceler, the other main character and symbol for the potential threat of big commerce, cuts down Truffula trees in a pristine valley and in his factory turns them into Thneeds to be sold for a profit. Seuss is known for creating words that sound somehow like other words, most of the time to facilitate the rhyming pentameter of his stories. Another aspect of Seuss’ syntax would be taking a word that is one part of speech, say a comparative adjective, and transforming it into a present or past participle participle verb as in “Business is business and business must grow. I biggered my factory, I biggered my roads, I biggered my wagons, I biggered the loads…I went right on biggering selling more Thneeds. And I biggered my money, which everyone needs”

Slowly the Onceler’s operation grows and more trees are cut down and the Lorax again appears pleading on behalf of the local fauna who are no longer able to live “on the far end of town where the Grickle grass grows.” Eventually all the trees are cut down and the factory that once boomed becomes empty. The Lorax then departs leaving only a stump with the word “Unless” carved into it. The Onceler then explains what he realized it meant to a young boy listening to his story “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better it’s not”

The Bore-ax, the satirical retelling of the Cruz story, contains characteristic Seussian constructions (“In the land of DC in the senate of snooze, lived the showboatiest blab whose name was Ted Cruz. Cruz talked about healthcare, compared it to Nazis. As comparisons go, he was off by a lotsies”) and word play with a few bleeped out words “Repeal it, defund it, erase it, deny it. Murder it skull f%&$ it, bread and deep fry it,” which Stewart then comments on as odd for a children’s book. The Daily Show co-opted a literary style and adapted a well-known story in order to deliver social commentary on an inefficacious attempt to speak on behalf of a group that cannot speak for themselves. As Sirabella puts it, “The parodist mimics certain attributes of the work to ensure that the audience recognizes it, but diminishes or exaggerates other attributes of the original work to focus the attention of the audience on the broader commentary.” (Sirabella, 787-788)

The function of the Bore-ax (as a clear reference to the Lorax) in the context of recapping the Cruz story is manifold. If one deconstructs the Lorax into his set of defining attributes, you can see the brilliance in the metaphor used by the Daily Show to critique Cruz’s “mouth masturbation” The Lorax is depicted as a kind of wet blanket with an inability to compel the Onceler to listen to what he is saying. Though the Lorax has a message worth listening to, the way it is delivered is not convincing. The similarities to Cruz in this case are striking, though he is an elected official and not a self-proclaimed representative as the Lorax is, and his goals are arguably less virtuous than the Lorax’s. Nevertheless the imagry of the Lorax, a kind of martyr speaking for the masses, decrying change, complaining of destruction and warning of impending doom yet without offering any compromises, serves the purpose of commenting on Cruz’s approach to criticizing Obamacare quite well in this viewer’s opinion.

In the end of Seuss’ story, the Onceler realizes he should have listened to the Lorax because he was right about the dangers of unbridled expansion. However, the conclusion of the Bore-ax offers the Daily Show’s ultimate critique of Cruz’s talk, namely that Cruz could have better spent his time and effort working on the bill itself (before it became a law and later deemed constitutional by the Supreme Court) rather than pontificating atop his stump on behalf of those he “represents.”

Works Cited:

Lans, Maxine. June 10, 1994. “Supreme Court gives good rap to parody” Marketing News page 10 accessed October 1, 2013

Quaden, Rob and Alan Ticotsky. 2012 Creative Learning Exchange. “Lessons from The Lorax” accessed October 1, 2013

Sirabella, Nicholas D. December 2011. Separating the Sheep from the Goats: Celebrity Satire As Fair Use Cardozo Law Review vol. 33 no. 2page 773 accessed October 1, 2013 summary of Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music (92-1292), 510 U.S. 569 (1994)  The Lorax Dr. Seuss 1971 Random House NY


Screenshot images taken from episode Wednesday 25 September 2013 from