A blog by Jay Wexler about his book Holy Hullabaloos: A Road Trip to the Battlegrounds of the Church/State Wars, to be published by Beacon Press in June of 2009.

Hullabalooza Hits Salt Lake City

Next week I'll be in Salt Lake City, and on July 7 at 6 pm will be reading from HH at Sam Weller's Bookstore, which everyone says is a great independent bookstore. Looking forward to some interesting discussion with folks from SLC. The event is being sponsored by a cool-sounding group called Drinking Liberally, and the nice people at the Salt Lake City Weekly have written up a little something something in the most recent issue, saying some very nice things about the book. If you live in SLC, I hope you'll consider coming, and if you know people who live in SLC, I hope you'll tell them about it. Yay, SLC.

Will Kagan Give Scalia a "Run for His Money"?

So it looks like the big news takeaway from the second day of the Kagan hearings on Tuesday is that Kagan is funny. She engaged in banter with the Senators and made a pretty funny joke about how all Jews spend Christmas at Chinese restaurants, and was generally humorous and charming. At one point, as has been widely reported in places like CNN and Mother Jones, Senator Schumer from New York, who may or may not have a high level staff member who is a good friend of mine, noted that Justice Scalia right now gets the most laughs at oral argument but that "if you get there, and I think you will, you're going to give him a run for his money."

How did Schumer know that Scalia gets the most laughs at oral argument, you might be wondering? Is this him just guessing? Or does he have some scientific evidence that Scalia gets the most laughs? Well, let's see what Schumer actually said at the hearing. After noting that Kagan has a "pretty good sense of humor," Schumer said: "You know there was a recent study I read that showed that when he sits on the supreme court bench hearing cases justice Scalia gets the most laughs." (watch video here, this comment appears at about 1:36:55)

Wait? A study? On Supreme Court humor? Oh, right, he must be referencing my Nobel Prize winning monograph from 2005, Laugh Track, published in the Green Bag and discussed in a front page New York Times article on a very slow news day. That's where I geniusly (is that a word? well it is now!) counted how many times each justice said something that got a "(laughter.)" notation in the oral argument transcript.

Well, is Schumer right? Might Kagan give Scalia a "run for his money?" We don't know for sure, of course, but we do have a little bit of data about how funny Kagan might be at oral argument. Kagan argued six cases in her tenure as Solicitor General, including the first amendment corporation free speech case Citizens United, the cross in the Mojave Desert case Salazar v. Buono, and some other big cases. Last night, I went through the transcripts from those six cases and counted seven laughs from comments made by Kagan. This translates to a "Laughter Episodes Instigated per Argument Average" (or "LEIPAA") of 1.17, which exceeds Scalia's LEIPAA for the 2004-2005 term, which was 1.027, not to mention Justice Thomas's LEIPAA for the same term, which was 0.0000000. I guess Schumer's right--Kagan might end up being the funniest justice after all!

Kagan's oral argument humor is not of the esoteric, law professor geek variety, or even the kind of underpants humor that Justice Breyer has been know to engage in from time to time. Indeed, most of her humor was of the "bantering wittily with the justices" type, which we can probably assume will continue if and when she makes it on the bench. For example, one time, in the argument in U.S. v. Comstock, Scalia asked Kagan a question and Kagan responded, "Mr. Chief -- excuse me, Justice Scalia -- I didn't mean to promote you quite so quickly." This got some "(laughter)," as did Roberts' response: "Thanks for thinking it was a promotion." Earlier in the same argument, after Kagan went on and on about some point, Scalia said, "I must say I'm -- I'm not terribly impressed with -- with the argument --" to which Kagan funnily responded: "I can tell, Justice Scalia."

Finally, in the argument in a case called Robertson v. US ex rel Watson, Kagan and the Justices were talking about who a particular relator (someone who sues to vindicate the rights of the US government) is an agent of, and after Scalia asked her a doubtful question, Kagan responded: "If -- who would you like the person be an agent of, Justice Scalia," which got a "(laughter.)" I actually think Roberts' response was even funnier--"Usually," he said, "we have questions the other way."

Well, anyway, that was fun. Thanks Senator Schumer. And if you feel like holding up a copy of my book Holy Hullabaloos: A Road Trip to the Battlegrounds of the Church/State Wars today, and perhaps mention that Publishers Weekly's starred review said it was "laugh out loud funny," that would be terrific!

Nice Shout Out for HH from The Daily Kos

The Daily Kos had a nice shout out for Holy Hullabaloos today. That was nice. They said: "And if you want a broader, generalist (but eminently readable and fascinating) overview of the Supreme Court's approach to the religion cases in the context of the First Amendment, I commend Jay Wexler's latest book, "Holy Hullabaloos: A Road Trip to the Battlegrounds of the Church/State Wars" -- a book that is both intelligent and funny)."
Thanks, Daily Kos!

Uhhh, BookTV thing went, uhh, umm, pretty well, uhhh

So, Saturday night was the first and maybe only showing of my speech last month in New Mexico on CSPAN 2's BookTV. If for some reason you missed it, like if perhaps you were eating dinner or making sweet sweet love to your loved one or were watching the rerun of M*A*S*H on another channel where Radar gives a ride to Colonel Blake, you can check it out here. Watching myself on the screen for an hour was completely painful. On the upside, I thought I looked pretty good, or at least not too terrible. I was worried that sweat was going to be pouring down my face, all Nixon losing the Presidency to JFK like, but somehow the camera didn't pick all that up, and I thought the decision to wear my snazzy gray/pink suit was the right choice, even though some nice friends on facebook suggested wearing a toga and shades instead. But the really painful thing was listening to all the "uhhs" and "umms." I knew that I did this, and even suggested at one point that maybe I should play a drinking game where I would take a drink every time I said "uhh," but let's just say I'm glad I didn't do that because I would have died of cirrhosis within twenty minutes. And to make things worse, just as I was cringing and fretting and worrying that I totally blew this opportunity with all of my umms and uhhs, I get a real time email from a random woman in Hawaii whose inexplicably cruel message, in full, reads: "I wanted very much to hear what you had to say, however your habit of interjecting -UH - repeatedly is so distracting that even your humor and pleasant voice did not help." Ahhhhh. Must go die now.

The World Cup and Holy Hullabaloos on BookTV: A Winning Combination!

Probably the first thing you said to yourself when you heard that C-Span 2's BookTV will be showing my talk about Holy Hullabaloos and church-state law to the New Mexico ACLU this Saturday, June 12, at 6:30, was "what the hell is Holy Hullabaloos?" But then once you figured that out, you probably said to yourself, "I wonder if that conflicts with the big England-U.S. soccer game in South Africa on Saturday?" Well, I am here to reassure you that indeed there is no conflict at all. The big soccer game is on early in the afternoon, and so you'll have plenty of time to watch that game, and even have a short nap and dinner, before tuning into watch 67 minutes of me talking about constitutional law and holding up my portrait of Sam Alito with a small bunny on his shoulder. According to one schedule I have, it does seem that the BookTV presentation will conflict with a replay of the even earlier Argentina-Nigeria match, but for one thing, you'll already have watched that over breakfast, and for another, let me just tell you, Argentina has the best player in the world (or at least one of them) and will win 2-nil.

Saturday, June 12, at 6:30 pm: Be There or Be Square

So, CSPAN's BookTV is showing my speech to the New Mexico ACLU on Saturday night, June 12, at 6:30. I'm excited but nervous. I mean, I did try to shave my unibrow and tear out some of the more long and spiny looking eyebrow hairs that I could find, but you know what they say about television and eyebrow hairs, right? You don't? Yikes, you should look that up.

Anyway, it's appointment television. If you're watching my speech, then you should make an appointment with your psychologist!!!! Wow, that's funny. I told that joke to my wife, and she didn't laugh, and just said, I don't understand.

Over the course of the coming week, I'll have some posts on why you should choose my program over some of the competing television shows that will also be showing at 6:30 on Saturday evening. You ought to look forward to that.

Damn You, Lipsyte! Me and Awesome, Famous Author Make Same Joke About Death Row

On my way home from Albuquerque yesterday I read Sam Lipsyte's terrific new novel, The Ask. I'm a big Lipsyte fan, and this is his best novel yet, in my opinion. The fact that I read the whole thing in a day is probably a good testament to how great a piece of work it is (and also that it takes a long time to get to Boston from Albuquerque). So, is it clear here that I think Lipsyte is great and that this novel is super great? Good. Glad that's cleared up.

Have you ever had a great idea (or at least one you thought was great) only to then find out that someone more successful and talented has also had the same idea and was able, unlike you, to bring it into the public eye? Sort of like how I wrote an article about teaching about religion that was read by seventeen law professors and then Stephen Prothero wrote a book about the same thing and got on Oprah?

Well, on page 80 or so, a character in Lipsyte's novel tells the protagonist about his idea for a reality show where famous chefs prepare gourmet last meals for prisoners on death row going to their executions. As Nick tells Milo: "The world's top chefs prepare exquisite last meals for condemned prisoners. Stuffed quail for the auntie slasher. Baked Alaska for the office party Uzi sprayer. Chicken a la Berkowitz."

Sound familiar? Probably not, unless you're one of the seventeen people in the world who has read my script for a sitcom called "Death Row," which I wrote in 2004 and has been on my website ever since. Rusty is about to be put to death, and Sally the prison chef is determined to make him a gourmet meal (he demands McDonald's). As Sally asks Trent, the warden: "Do you think he'd enjoy a Baked Alaska for dessert?" Get that? Baked Fucking Alaska!!!!

Now, just so we're straight on this, I'm definitely not saying that Lipsyte somehow stole my idea. Lipsyte surely doesn't need any help coming up with ideas, and I think it's pretty unlikely that he is one of the seventeen people ever to read "Death Row." Plus, the joke is mostly in the telling, and Lipsyte does far more with it than I do. But still, I would like two things noted for the record. First, me and Sam Lipsyte came up with the same pretty decent joke, and second, I did not steal the joke from him, which is what I assume people will think when I submit "Death Row" to the upcoming Fox TV sitcom contest which it will then win and be made into a huge sitcom that will make me even more famous than Sam Lipsyte, who unlike me, did not get rejected by the Guggenheim Fellowship people. Of course, it's possible that the script will not win the contest, since it's not won several previous contests, including one where the judge said that America is "not ready" for a sitcom about death row, but this time I'm making some key changes to the script so maybe this time America will be ready.

Hullabalooza Goes to New Mexico

Next stop on the Holy Hullabalooza train is Albuquerque, New Mexico. I'll be there next Saturday, May 22nd, first to speak at the ACLU of New Mexico's Annual Meeting which goes from 10 am to noon at the Harwood Art Center, and then to read and talk about church/state law at 7 pm at the Page One Bookstore. C-SPAN's Book-TV is supposed to come film the ACLU event, so I think I'll wear a snazzy suit, don't you think? If you live in Albuquerque or know anyone who does I hope you'll come out/recommend that they come out. Yay, New Mexico.

Memoir Monday: Another Humiliating Summer Associate Tale

Last week I described being disinvited to a firm barbecue at the first law firm I worked at during the summer of 1996. Today let me tell you an embarrassing story from the second half of that summer. I was working at Jenner and Block in Washington DC, which was more my style in terms of not everyone there was full of testosterone and eager to crush their opponents like small bugs. In fact, it was very informal. Although this was still during the era when everyone wore suits to work, at Jenner nobody really wore their jackets around, and so I just left a jacket in the office in case something were to come up and I needed to put one on. That way I didn't have to wear a jacket back and forth to the office every morning and every evening on my way to drink beers at the Hawk & Dove as a way of trying to forget about the previous 8-10 hours of work. This was particularly good because, as you may know, DC is hot as hell in the summer.

Every summer associate was assigned a mentor. This mentor was supposed to give you advice and also take you out for dinner at the end of the summer, this dinner usually involving high quality cuts of meat and aged single malt scotch. My mentor was Bruce Ennis, who was a super famous first amendment litigator who was in charge of the firm's appellate practice and had argued many cases in front of the Supreme Court, both at Jenner and earlier on in his career when he was the legal director for the ACLU. (sadly, Bruce passed away in 2000 from Leukemia) Anyway, having Bruce as a mentor was in one sense very exciting because he was so prominent and famous. On the other hand, though, he was extremely, extremely busy and so I didn't get the chance to spend much time with him. Also, he couldn't take me out to dinner and so one day suggested that we get breakfast instead. We agreed to get together the next morning.

Okay, so breakfast wasn't quite as good as dinner, and I figured I shouldn't order any scotch at 9 in the morning, but hey, who was I to complain--I got to have a nice breakfast (we were meeting at some place called the District Club or something) and talk to a famous guy for an hour or so. Not bad. So I showed up at the restaurant at the appointed time. Bruce was there and we attempted to go into the club to eat. It was at this point that I was informed that I could not enter the it is now becoming quite clear to be incredibly fancy country club-like place because I was not wearing a jacket. Oops I said. Bruce frowned. How was I supposed to know that I was supposed to wear a jacket to goddamned breakfast?

Luckily (?), the maitre d said that he thought the club might have an old used jacket someplace in the back for me to wear. So we waited awkwardly outside the club--stupid 26 year old me in my ill-fitting pants and flowery tie and no jacket and this tall famous guy with a very nice jacket--and waited for the matire d to come back and hand me a terrible, oversized, ill-fitting awful green jacket that I put on over my gray pants and probably blue shirt and red tie. We went in and got our waffles and coffee and tried to talk about whatever we talked about which I can't for the life of me remember because all I could think of the whole time was GET ME OUT OF THIS PLACE WHERE I HAVE TO WEAR A USED JACKET TO EAT WAFFLES WITH A FAMOUS GUY.

Video from Literary Death Match

Some nice person, I assume it was Todd Z, though I thought he had said his camera was busted but maybe not, has posted a video from the Boston Literary Death Match of me reading my story "You are Not Tu Fu," which hearkens back to my days as an Asian Studies major and living in Taipei and Xiamen and fruitlessly studying Chinese for 6 years and, hmm, maybe I should do some Memoir Mondays about some of this.