Serious Questions Raised By My FIRE Interview

So FIRE — the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education — interviewed me about free speech and anonymity and stuff.

The video raises question.

1. Why has no one ever taught me to shave properly? What the fuck, Dad?

2. Is the distracting way my wattles shake when I talk the reason that I have difficulty interacting with animals and young people?

3. I look more credible in black and white. Is there a way to screen for only color-blind jurors?

4. Do I really talk like that?

5. No really. How am I not punched in the face more often?

6. I think the grey hair at the temples works for me. Is there an appropriate way to approach people sideways? Or would I look like a crab? A huge, bewattled crab?

Last 5 posts by Ken White


  1. ChrisH says

    1, 2 & 5 – definitely add a beard. I was always rubbish at shaving so eventually gave up myself!

  2. Nathan M. Easton says

    I struggle with similar problems myself! One of the great advantages of a career in the law is that it allows one the opportunity to command the attention of a room, regardless of how unsightly one would be considered in normal society. I have met a number of fantastic litigators who are extremely homely individuals.

  3. Joe Dokes says

    I feel your pain. Whenever I see a picture of myself I wonder, "Why do I look so freaking old?"

    As for #5 I think the reality is that the US is really an amazingly tolerant nation. Think about it, how many other countries would put up with Sacha Baron Cohen? Yes, I know he got his start in Britain, but he represents a long line of comics whose main goal is to be outrageous. Sadly I think our universities are doing everything in their power to make the US less tolerant.

    Joe Dokes

  4. Boblipton says

    I certainly don't imagine I would look any better, but have you considered ear-reduction surgery?


  5. Aaron says

    #3, it's the lighting and color temperature settings. You're office has fluorescent lighting, right? And then daylight coming in through the windows, right? Yea…that's incredibly hard to balance well without using sufficient lighting to give you an instant sunburn.

  6. Carl says

    re. #6, I find it very effective in conversation to occasionally pause, turn my head slightly, and stare pensively into the distance as if deep in contemplation. This simultaneously creates the impression that I am a profoundly thoughtful person, while giving the other person an opportunity to admire my distinguished temples.

    Or so I like to think.

  7. LKB says

    "Dr. Bunsen Honeydew here at Muppet Labs, where the future is being made today."

    Seriously, good interview.

  8. Anton says

    Lawyers aren't supposed to be distractingly handsome. They are supposed to look mature, trustworthy and smart. You have all those things.

    Men can be 'attractive' without being good looking, one of the great unfairness of life.

  9. says

    Though its always great to put a voice and moving face to a name that you have been reading their writings for ages, it also now means I am now faced with the horrible situation that the awesome Aussie accent I always had you talking with in my head now has to be American..

    Bugger it!


  10. anne mouse says

    #2. It's not just jaw movement. You shake your head side to side when you talk. That's useful for keeping people's attention in normal conversation and especially in a courtroom where you're at a bit of distance from the jury, but a little distracting in a TV close-up. Just take a breath and speak even more slowly than you would in court, and you'll probably find your head movements slowing down too.

    #4. Believe me, it could have been a lot worse. The clip was edited to remove a bunch of pauses, stutters, etc., so the viewers see you stating your points clearly and cleanly. Just imagine what the editor could have done if (s)he'd wanted to make you look bad.

  11. L says

    I can only help with #1 — I found it almost impossible to ever get a good shave until I switched to a single edge safety razor – it's so worth the transition. Here's the current setup:

    Concur in part and dissent in part. I recently switched from a cartridge to a safety razor, and it's great. I get a much better shave and I actually enjoy shaving.

    But you don't need to spend almost $150 on your shaving rig. I spent $20 on a safety razor handle and a pack of blades, and I just use a normal shaving gel.

  12. Matt W says

    Great interview! I have this problem where I look in the mirror and think, "Yeah, I look alright." But when I see photos or videos of myself I wonder, "Who is that hideous person who looks vaguely like me?!"

  13. says

    Ken, you sound just fine, and the only thing I noticed about the way you look is that you seemed really worried, which was slightly annoying. But honestly, if I were being interviewed on camera, I would look really worried too.

  14. says

    @Shkspr: Yes, Osborn sounds like a slightly-more-red terra cotta.
    @Matt W: It's because your face is slightly asymmetric (yes it is, everyone's is). Photos aren't a mirror-image, but, obviously, the image in a mirror is a mirror image. You're used to seeing yourself the wrong way around. So, photo-you looks like an impostor. This is true for everyone who uses mirrors.

  15. Dan says

    You are more normal-looking and -sounding than I expected. I kind of thought you'd be a sort of Fonzie-esque bad boy, wearing shades.

  16. Fritz says

    Re: Catch Phrases

    I worked for a state Department of Corrections. During our academy the lawyer who represented the state in prisoner lawsuits uttered the words, "As everyone knows, you can't yell fire in a crowded theater". Thanks to Popehat, I had a line on at least one person who was completely full of shit. That is, should I ever be sued by an Offender, I had sufficient exposure to the level of legal analysis on offer that I would, with confidence, tell my state "Thanks, but no thanks", and hire my own damn lawyer.

  17. Kratoklastes says

    Being interviewed for TV always makes an inexperienced interviewee look like a deer in headlights.
    My one encounter with TV cameras – I was interviewed by Sky News Australia the morning after 9/11, for its impact on insurance stocks – made me look like a complete rabbit. I was doing that standard NLP "Look up and to the left to access visual memory; right and level to access your words" the whole time. The nett effect was looking wild-eyed.

    My PhD supervisor – who has been among the doyens of CGE economic modelling since the 80s – has to go on TV a few times a year, and still looks slightly sheepish every time.

    Don't compare yourself to the slick political types: their advantage is that they are sociopaths, so everything about their delivery is faked and they have no emotional commitment to either the content or what people think about them.

    Lastly: wattles? You call those wattles? That's barely a good double chin – more like a chin and a third. In my 30s I had an under-chin arrangement that made me look like I had endemic goitre; in my 50s I'm down to a chin and a quarter.

  18. onehsancare says

    Huh. Even after reading what you were concerned about, I noticed none of those issues. Great interview!

  19. Steve Simmons says

    Heck, you look younger and cleaner-shaven than I do. Then again, I'm dog-fuckingly old and have a full beard, so what the hell.

  20. nodandsmile says

    @G Thompson

    Clearly Ken was faking the non-Australian accent. Obviously his style, and understanding, of humour could only arise in the antipodes…

    Sorry North American dudes

  21. L says

    That is, should I ever be sued by an Offender, I had sufficient exposure to the level of legal analysis on offer that I would, with confidence, tell my state "Thanks, but no thanks", and hire my own damn lawyer.

    Do you have the option? (Serious question, no snark, I'm genuinely curious.)

    The thing about the state-hired attorney defending you is that s/he may be ignorant about important principles of First Amendment law, but s/he's almost certainly an expert on defending prisoner litigation.

  22. Fritz says

    Do you have the option?

    No, probably not (the situation never presented itself, I don't work there anymore, so who knows?). However, if that was the level of legal analysis on offer (he said it with a straight face and everyone else in the room nodded along while I almost fell out my chair), you can be assured that, when it came to a question of legal jeopardy where my freedom or my property were at risk, I'd get a second goddamn opinion.

  23. says

    You looked fine on the interview. No discernible "wattles". The color stuff made you look better shaven than the B&W, but unless you are talking about the parts above the ears as they move to the back, no problemo. As a professional performer, you never want to look at your takes the same day, or even the next (I'm primarily a musician – never listen until the next day). Well done, as one appoaching-middle-age fart to another.

    I am surprised, though, that there was no mention of the Pony Menace. Cutting-room floor, no doubt.

  24. andrews says

    [ single-edge, safety razor, brush and soap ]

    When you get serious, yes, brush and soap. But these safety razors are anything but safe. They are intended to lull you into carelessness. I suppose the real ones are better than the disposable safety razors. Also, I suppose I should rather be boiled in oil rather than in pony urine, but neither option is particularly appealing.

    Straight razors do require some level of attention, but if you are shaving we hope you are intending to pay attention anyway. The better shave and the reduced blood flow make this the clear choice.

  25. Miranda says

    There appears to be a shot in your office. What happened to your treadmill desk? And why were no associates cowering in fear?

  26. Walt Hougas says

    After reading the intro, I was expecting some malformed mutant. Then I watched the video and saw a perfectly normal looking human. Big disappointment.

    On a slightly different topic, does anyone else find that upon meeting a new person at work, a flash of an impression that the real human in front of you isn't as pretty as the people who appear on video. Then some random time later, you realize that person is actually quite normal looking? Possibly I'm just superficial in this way, but I'd like to know if anyone else experiences this feeling.

  27. M Chamberlain says

    When I was in my 20s and contemplating the kind of man I wanted to end up with, I devised a hypothetical: The Newspaper Test. It goes like this: Fifteen years out, can I imagine that I'm sitting at a sunny breakfast table with this person, reading the Times (you know the one), and when he lowers the paper to opine on something … it's a thought-provoking, informed exposition on hate speech — and not actual hate speech.

    Fifteen years out, that's actually really important! And I like a bit of stubble, too. You have a fan, across all dimensions, in Princeton NJ.

  28. FlameCCT says

    2. Is the distracting way my wattles shake when I talk the reason that I have difficulty interacting with animals and young people?

    No. If it were the wattles then animals and young people would appear to be more attentive as they watch the movement closely.

    BTW: There are exercises to firm up the wattle affect although that might take away the attention they bring. ;-)

  29. albert says

    Ixnay on the beard. 'Grey' beards age you a lot, and dying them is a PITA. Your appearance is fine. You look like a wise father or favorite uncle. That, IMO, is a priceless commodity to have in front of a jury, or, for that matter, a judge, or a witness on the stand. The guys are right about shaving; electric razors can't compare to a blade.

    . .. . .. _ _ _ ….