March 2011

They’re iconic.  They’re silly.  They’re probably unsafe and possibly, depending where you live, illegal.  And, as I was to discover, somewhat mysterious.

They wax and wane in popularity.  Two theories as to the mysterious origins of these objects seem to emerge.  One has dice first appear as part of the 1930’s and 40’s hot rod culture.  Since these vehicles were by definition hobbled together with salvaged parts of junked cars (i.e. a restored Jalopy), and often illegally raced, the owners of these cars acquired or crafted a rebellious devil-may-car attitude, part of which included an actual set of dice, either for luck in racing or to indicate a jaded roll of the dice attitude towards life or death.  Pretty heavy man.  Jump forward a few years, and we have anecdotal reports of world war two pilots flying with dice in the cockpit for luck.  The military connection returns after the war with clandestine hot rod racing at hastily constructed military airstrips abandoned after the war.  (At least no one complains about the noise – the popular television auto show, “Top Gear”, tests it’s cars on a track at an airstrip).  So now we agree that dice mean: “I’m up for racing”, and “Life and death issues matter little to me since I came back from the war”.

The magical leap from the actual die, to the fuzzy (or “fluffy” in the UK) plush toy that dangles from the rear view mirror is unclear.  Everyone seems to agree that an iconic look for a 50’s vintage car includes fuzzy dice.  However, a painful viewing of Hot Rod Girl (1956) shows the fuzzy dice, not in the daredevil’s car, but in the car of the teenage bystander.  So it seems as early as the mid-fifties, the icon of white-knuckle danger had become a mere decoration.

The objects themselves are cheaply made, with a carnival give-away feel to them – it’s very difficult to see anything “bad ass” about them.  A pair of electric blue plush toys hanging from the mirror hardly seems to suggest:

“Speed, danger, DEATH!” (Note the conspicuous absence of the fuzzy/fluffy anything in the book cover.  Hey – they got a NY Times review!)

The only danger that seems to come from fuzzy dice, at least according the statutes of most US states, is obstructing one’s view.  This also includes graduation tassels, rosary beads, air fresheners with naked girls on them – the lot.  In most cases, this gives your local rozzer a chance to pull you over and find you doing something more illegal (driving drunk, cleaning your unregistered hand gun, etc.).

Alex was recently south of the border, and found the desire to hang stuff was something of a universal:


Angry Short Cuts

A short cut can be costly, as professional celebrity and sometime singer Courtney Love discovered this earlier this month.  Courtney and clothing designer Dawn Simonrangkir were in a four thousand dollar dispute over payment due for a dress in 2009.  Courtney took her real or imagined grievances to her public via the social media site Twitter as well as MySpace and, stating, among other gems, that she felt that Ms. Simonrangkir was a “a**wipe nasty lying horsebag thief”.”  The horsebag in question filed a defamation lawsuit against Courtney, who claimed she was just sharing her opinion.  The designer’s attorney countered stating that “Love mounted a malicious campaign to not only terrorize Simorangkir, but to ruin and destroy her reputation and livelihood…”  Love’s attorney decided that it made more economic sense just to settle and not risk a first amendment case she might not win.

Short cuts do count – perhaps she should have just forked over the four grand for the dress.

Dying words

In our fabulous book, Short Cuts, we argued that dying words, however apocryphal, have a special weight.  If you’re dying, why lie?  In fact, we hope that the dying don’t take their secret to the grave.  A spectacular example involves the 1934 photo of couple of bumps in the water in Scotland.  This was purported to be of course old “Nessie” or the Loch Ness monster.  Fast-forward to 1994, when a 90-year-old Christian Spurling announced that he and other family members had faked the whole thing by dragging a small model through the water some 60 years earlier.

The U.S. Supreme Court seems, in a limited way to agree.  Ruling on a Michigan case where a dying man’s last words were used as testimony in a murder trial where the victim named his killer to the responding police and died a short time later.  On television, where I learned most of what I know about the legal system, that would be enough to settle the case or at least form a lynch mob.  However, in that pesky constitution of ours, there’s this wacky “Confrontation clause,” which says that defendants get to cross-examine any “testimonial” evidence, like eyewitness statements.  Since the victim had, let us say, moved on, he couldn’t be cross examined.  However, in a 6-2 margin, the court decided that the dying man’s statements to police were actually “non-testimonial” and could be admissible in court.  The deal was, if the police just ask a guy bleeding from a gunshot wound “what happened” this does not constitute an actual interrogation where actual testimony could be obtained.  So it’s all in the context in which the questions were asked.

I’m reminded of a conversation with an attorney at a party somewhere talking about the “Hit by a bus” legal strategy. While they may not teach this one a Harvard Law, the basic idea is to stall a case until, the plaintiffs lose interest, move away, or get “hit by a bus”, thus ending the case.  In cases where the “confrontation clause” may come into play, one can hope that those giving testimony are elderly, ill, or jaywalkers.






$430k Love settlement shows tweets can be costly

Associated Press, March 7, 2011, Los Angeles

Courtney Love Pays $430,000 For Twitter Rant

By Andrea Devaro on March 7th, 2011


High court says victim’s dying words can be used in court

By Bill Mears, CNN Supreme Court Producer

February 28, 2011 1:44 p.m. EST