Thursday, November 30, 2006

It was fun while it lasted

We had heavy rains here overnight, as proved by the little lake-lets on so many of the streets this morning as I drove Younger Daughter to school -- but at the moment, as you can see, the latest Dreaded Storm is passing well to the south of us. There just a light mist floating through the Loop at the moment.

But a foot of snow is predicted for tonight, starting (of course) during the evening rush hour, or maybe only six inches (depending on which late newscast you watched last night). The old are panicking, the young are thrilled (Younger Daughter this morning: "Maybe we'll have a Snow Day!") -- and the rest of us, who will attempt to keep our routines whatever Nature does or does not do, are busy steeling our resolve.

I don't know exactly how that's done, but it sounds appropriately grim.

Was it only Sunday that I was standing outside church, in shirtsleeves, talking to a neighbor who told me that he'd put up his Christmas lights and barbecued the day before? "And that's not right," he concluded... but he wasn't really complaining.

Welcome to Chicago: Don't take a nap, because the seasons may change while you do. And maybe more than once.


Now you may be wondering -- what has happened to the Curmudgeon? Yesterday I tackled fusion reactors, now I'm reduced to talking about the weather.

Well, have you looked at the comments to yesterday's post?

Obviously, some of the terms I used triggered some sort of alert on more than one person's news feeder. I looked at a couple of these comments this morning and read them -- my lips were moving the whole time, you understand -- and I can't make heads nor tails of them. (And, no, I'm not talking about Captain Picard's or MJ's comments either.)

Like Eliza Doolittle, I think I may be well advised to stick to two subjects: the weather and my health. At least for the time being.

I've got some studyin' up to do.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Fusion power -- and fusion bureaucracy power shortage

This started out as another Thanks-
giving story.

At left is a picture of Thiago Olson, a 17 year-old kid -- who built a fusion reactor in his parents' Oakland Township, Michigan home.

Here is the link to Gina Damron's story about this achievement, published in the November 19, 2006 edition of the Detroit Free Press. Here's just a brief excerpt:
He's on the cross country and track teams at Stoney Creek High School in Rochester Hills. He's a good-looking, clean-cut 17-year-old with a 3.75 grade point average, and he has his eyes fixed on the next big step: college.

But to his friends, Thiago is known as "the mad scientist."

In the basement of his parents' Oakland Township home, tucked away in an area most aren't privy to see, Thiago is exhausting his love of physics on a project that has taken him more than two years and 1,000 hours to research and build -- a large, intricate machine that, on a small scale, creates nuclear fusion.

Nuclear fusion -- when atoms are combined to create energy -- is "kind of like the holy grail of physics," he said.

In fact, on, the Stoney Creek senior is ranked as the 18th amateur in the world to create nuclear fusion.
I'd seen this story on line last Wednesday, the day Oldest Son and his many buddies descended on my house for a Thanksgiving Eve turkey dinner.

So, while they were eating -- keeping a safe distance, lest I get bitten too -- I mentioned the story and gave them a bit of a hard time about it. These young men are all seniors at the University of Notre Dame, and each one brighter than the next. So, naturally, I called them a bunch of slackers -- comparing their accomplishments to this high school kid, Thiago Olson: He goes down into his parents' basement and experiments with a nuclear fusion reactor he built himelf; you guys go into my basement and play Guitar Hero II.

Well, I thought it was funny.

But, cautious sort that I am, before including that anecdote in my Thanksgiving story, I wanted to look up the article again on line and provide the link.

And I didn't find it right away.

Instead, I found this November 23, 2006 AP story by Angela Charlton. Here are the opening paragraphs:
PARIS - Physicists have dreamt about it for decades: harnessing the fusion process that powers the sun to make clean, safe and limitless energy. A multinational pact signed Tuesday may bring that dream a step closer to reality.

Seven partners representing half the world's population have agreed to build an experimental fusion reactor in southern France that could revolutionize global energy use for future generations.

Yet it is also just an experiment - a bold, long-awaited, $12.8 billion experiment - and it will be decades before scientists are even sure that it works.

The ITER project by the United States, the European Union, China, India, Russia, Japan and South Korea will attempt to combat global warming by offering an alternative to polluting fossil fuels. Controlling climate change and finding secure energy sources are urgent goals worldwide.
Wonderful, thrilling stuff.

Except for two problems. First, more from the story:
Physicists have been trying for half a century to create fusion, which replicates the sun's power source and produces no greenhouse gas emissions and relatively little radioactive waste.

The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor project recognizes that no single country can afford the immense investment needed to move the science forward.
Trying? For 50 years? What do you mean it will be "decades" before we know if this works? Thiago Olson got a fusion reactor going in his parents' house... and he's the 18th "amateur" to do so. Nor did he bankrupt the resources of any nation while working on his hobby, although Ms. Damron's story did say, "To get all of the necessary parts, Thiago scoured the Internet, buying items on eBay and using his age to persuade manufacturers to give him discounts. The design of the model came from his own ideas and some suggestions from other science-lovers he met online." Maybe ITER could try eBay as well?

The other problem with the ITER project is its glacial pace. Last week's story looks an awful lot like the same story reported in June 2005. Here is the June 2005 story from the BBC and from the Boston Globe. You decide.

And this French fusion reactor idea has been kicking about since at least November 2003 as this BBC story shows.

People: Thiago Olson was probably still working with Lego in 2003. Since then he's built a fusion reactor in his parents' garage. Granted, a practical commercial fusion reactor is surely more complicated, and expensive, than young Mr. Olson's basement model. But why is this happening so s...l...o...w...l...y?

Forget about the dramatic plunge in energy costs that science fiction writers have promised ever since commercial fusion was first imagined: Think of what this would do to the propspects for peace in the world. Oil would become... irrelevant.

I wish I were more technically inclined, so I could lend a hand. Instead, all I can do is ask our government: Can you give Thiago Olson a call? Olson told the Detroit Free Press that he hopes someday to work for the government, like his grandfather, who designed tanks for the Department of Defense, once did. Maybe someday should be today.

What do you think?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Walter -- or how I almost lost my first legal job before I started

This is a commercial dishwasher similar in appearance and function to the one in our dorm kitchen during my undergraduate days. Dishes would go in dirty at one end, and emerge from the other, clean and hot. Very hot.

Although I worked in the kitchen frequently during my undergraduate years, I never got near the dishwasher. My job was to take the dishes off the conveyor belt as they came from the dining hall into the kitchen and bang the excess food and garbage off them.

This was the mid-70's and people still smoked indoors. Particularly after meals. There were ashtrays on all the tables, but my fellow students often used a dish for this purpose, particularly on Steak and Shrimp Night.

The undergraduates looked forward to Steak and Shrimp Night as a rule: The meat was identifiably some sort of beef and the shrimp was heavily breaded and deeply fried. And there was sauce for the dipping. Salad bowls were filled with sauce at the outset of the meal... and discarded cigarettes and sauce at the end.

Those were the worst, as I recall, because so many of the kids put their butts out in the sauce. But there were several frustrated chemists among the undergrads at every meal, or chemistry majors who couldn't get enough of mixing and pouring and experimenting... and my job was to bang this garbage off the plates before sending the tray down the line.

I was never considered for 'pitching' or 'catching' dishes into or from the dishwasher because those were jobs reserved for the regular help. The kitchen staff was almost exclusively African-American. There may have been an Eastern European or a Greek among the servers, but never in the dishwashing area. And these weren't college kids: One weekend night, when supervision was light, a couple of kids pulled knives on each other to decide the question of who would 'pitch' and who would 'catch.' ('Catching' was the less favored task because -- remember? -- the dishes came out hot.)

I tried not to work weekends.

During the week the dishwashing room was under the supervision of a very large man with a deep growl for a voice. Walter was not a manager; he was merely in charge. The younger, smaller employees gave Walter his choice of tasks. And he chose to be at the far end of the conveyor line, as far from my station as possible. By the time dishes reached him, they were no longer disgusting. Whether he rinsed dishes or trays before giving them to the 'pitcher' I do not recall; I didn't pay attention to what Walter did. I did find it prudent, however, to pay attention to Walter.

As a college kid, I had a longer leash than the 'regular' employees. I could, for example, leave the room if necessary. If Ms. Jefferson (not her real name), the heavyset woman who oversaw the kitchen operations, saw me leaving, I would simply say that I'd be right back. Cryptic, uninformative, and true. And Ms. Jefferson would smile and say hurry back. I assume the food service was contractually required to employ a number of college kids -- and getting any to work there was a problem. Thus, my longer leash.

Walter sometimes found it necessary for me to leave the room to buy him a half pint of blackberry brandy (I searched long and hard for a picture of a half-pint, but this will have to do). That I was not yet of age to buy liquor was of no moment to Walter or myself. When called upon, I would dutifully run across the street to the bar (which had a package store attached) and procure what Walter wanted. I have no recollection of paying for it myself; in undergrad, that was extremely unlikely. So I am reasonably certain that Walter advanced the necessary funds.

Nor was my age an impediment at the checkout counter. This was the mid-70's. Also, I may have been known to the management. I stress may have been; I admit nothing.

But all good things must come to an end: In my senior year I procured a job 'clerking' for a lawyer downtown. Since I had just been accepted in law school this was a hardly a substantive position; 'gopher' may have been a more accurate title -- but human nature being what it is, I seized on the grander description.

I broke the news one night to Walter. I told him I'd found another job. "Who with?" he asked. Walter wasted few words.

I answered the question. Walter had another: "He's not a judge, is he?"

No, I assured him, my new boss was not a judge.

"That's good," said Walter, "because otherwise I'd have to kill you."

Walter delivered this slowly, deliberately and without the barest hint of a smile. The word "kill" acquired, if not an extra syllable, at least a few extra letters. And I believed him.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Toolmaking ability and the perils of the modern law practice

My late father (also a lawyer) asked me once if I thought a carpenter's most important tool was a hammer.

"I suppose so," I answered.

"Well, if a carpenter breaks his hammer, he goes to the hardware store and gets a new one. But as a lawyer, your most important tool is your word. If you break your word, there's no store in the world that can sell you a new one."

There is the entire course in legal ethics, rolled up in a short (true) story.

Of course, it doesn't always work out that way. I remember a case from 20 years ago or more. It was memorable to me because it was my first really big case -- it involved the collapse of a canopy over an entrance to the then-brand new Louis Joliet Mall in Joliet, Illinois.

The property owner had sued all the various sub-
contractors; I was merely an intervenor. I had an $11,000 business interruption subro case involving a mall tenant whose store was shut down for a few days following the incident. But there I was, on the same service list with some of the biggest law firms in Chicago. At that time in my career, it was pretty heady stuff.

And it became interesting, too, when a motion to dismiss the main complaint was filed by one of the structural steel contractors. An agreed briefing schedule was supposed to be entered (the property owner having requested time to respond in writing to the defendant's motion). And, as I happened to be in the courtroom that morning on some other matter (there were only two motion calls in the entire Cook County Law Division at the time), I checked into the order. You know, part of seeing how the "big boys" play.

And this is what I saw: Not an agreed briefing schedule at all, but an "agreed" order dismissing the property owner's complaint with prejudice.

I heard later that the young associate who had entered the bogus dismissal order was fired... but the incident was a jarring reminder that not everyone plays by the same rules.

A lot of people seem to think that their lawyer should be a snarling, disagreeable bulldog, giving no quarter, showing no mercy.

But good things can't happen when everybody behaves badly. Lawyers are more than mere paid mercenaries, bound to slug it out with each other at all costs while clients hover nearby, looking for signs of weakness. Sometimes we have to tell clients bad news -- that their case is a probable loser -- that it is better to settle now -- that the client is wrong. It isn't always easy -- but my license does say that I am both Attorney and Counselor.

I particularly remember one very good judge (now deceased) who used to tell everyone at pre-trial conferences that a good settlement is one which makes everybody just a little unhappy: No one gets everything they want.

Hmmmm. No wonder fee bills are often so hard to collect.

Thanksgiving aftermath -- update

If you looked at my last post, you'll note my reference to a video game that completely captivated the teens and post-teens in my house over the Thanksgiving holiday. This is it.

Don't ask me why it worked; it just did.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Thanksgiving aftermath

I was working Wednesday. Really cranking the paper out -- like I should be doing today -- but today I came to work on timesheets.

I truly, deeply, sincerely hatetimesheets.

But, there I was, working, and I thought to myself I'd better check in with Oldest Son. He had mentioned he might need to stop by the office on his way out to our house -- with his seven traveling companions (an eighth would arrive later) -- to fax something. It was around 1:30 pm and I'd not heard from him. I didn't want to leave until I knew whether he was expected. However, I had told Long Suffering Spouse that I'd be home for lunch. I was so certain of this that I took nothing with me to eat. I had already come to regret this rash prediction.

"I'm at home already, Dad," Oldest Son told me, when I dialed his cell phone. "We got here about 15 minutes ago." I terminated the connection and redoubled my efforts at getting out of the office. I got home at 4:00.

Long Suffering Spouse was not frazzled at all; the turkey would be done soon, she told me... and then she found something for me to do.

Which, by the way, I did. Along with the next task, and the tasks after that. So there.

Nearly all of Oldest Son's group was in the basement, taking turns playing a video game that Middle Son had brought home the night before. The exact name escapes me, but it involved clicking on plastic guitars and "hitting" the indicated notes as they came up on the screen. There were two of these guitars. And a whole lot of clicking going on.

A couple of them came upstairs to burn off excess energy by tossing a football around the back yard in the fading light. The twilight may have explained why they seemed to hit the house more than they hit each other. But this did not last long, and they were soon back in the basement clicking with the rest of them.

Feeding this small army of Oldest Son's friends was not our only concern this Thanksgiving Eve. For 22 years we have taken our Christmas picture on Thanksgiving Day; this year, since Oldest Son was supposed to leave the house at 6:00 am, that would be impossible. We had hopes of getting the picture taken tonight -- but it would depend on when Older Daughter might arrive.

There was a window of opportunity that would close when Middle Son and Oldest Son went out for the evening. As college students, they'd want to go out just a little after I wanted to go to bed. So there was an opportunity -- and I already knew I'd not be going to bed this night.

Dinner went well. And quickly. The Domers were like a plague of locusts, consuming nearly every scrap of the 20 lb. turkey that LSS had offered for the occasion. I believe the bones, plates and tablecloth may have been in jeopardy. I did get one slice after they'd all had a first helping... and it was a good thing I'd snuck in when I did or I might have had peanut butter and jelly for dinner.

LSS told me later that one of the boys had confided to her that he'd not been home for Thanksgiving in any of his four years of college -- so he was really happy to have this home-cooked meal.

This was a real Kodak moment... until you considered that this same group was descending on the California home of another of their number tomorrow and had similarly scammed his mother. I chose not to remind LSS of this when she told me the story.

The purpose of this expedition of Oldest Son and his companions was not to eat as many Thanksgiving dinners in as many venues as possible; no, they are attending the Notre Dame - USC game tonight. Whether that game also proves to be a turkey remains to be seen.

Dinner concluded, the Domers returned to the basement to resume clicking on the plastic guitars. There was still one of their company who'd not arrived; he couldn't get out of his last class or something and had to take the train from South Bend. They would wait to start their nocturnal rounds until he arrived.

But where was Older Daughter? Middle Son told us she'd be leaving Indianapolis at 5:30. We assumed she meant 5:30 Eastern time -- but Middle Son said, no, she meant 5:30 Chicago time. The window for our photograph was growing very, very small.

Then Older Daughter called. It was 7:00 pm or thereabouts -- and she was still in Indianapolis! Traffic had not moved for an hour, she said.

So much for the Christmas picture. "I hope you get here in time for your friend's plane," I said. Older Daughter's companion was a girl she knew from the church choir, maybe a year older; she was flying home to Texas -- and to make certain that she'd be on time, she planned to leave our house around 4:00 am. Oldest Son had joked that he'd be happy to wake her up as he and his buddies were coming in from the taverns.

You can understand why I was going to try and stay awake all night.

But it all worked out. Older Daughter did arrive -- well after her brothers had gone out. We'd bunked her guest in the new den, in a chair that I'd always found ideal for sleeping. Older Daughter stayed with her instead of going up to her own room.

Very loyal -- except that when the girl's alarm began going off at 4:00 Older Daughter shut it off. At least twice. And neither of them woke up.

Fortunately, LSS had the chair in the old den, where I was watching the History Channel from the couch through the back of my eyelids. LSS woke up and shepherded Older Daughter's guest out the door.

And Oldest Son's companions had retired for the evening by 2:00 am or so. Early, I realize, for college students -- but they may have been exhibiting just the teensiest amount of good sense. And Oldest Son -- who was the designated driver as he showed off the neighborhood haunts -- had a bad cold. That may have cut into the festivities.

My original plan was to drive the kids to the train and let them take the Blue Line into the terminal. But service on the Blue Line has been so chancy of late, I thought to take them into the airport myself.

It's a darn busy place, even at 6:00 am on a holiday morning. Well, the Air Canada terminal was quiet. But United and American were doing a landoffice business, with cops banging on the hoods of taxis, hurrying them out of the way. Nine kids exploded out of our van when we finally found a spot acceptable to the gendarme directing traffic -- "a clown car" one of the kids called it, hopefully because of the way it was stuffed with kids. I choose to interpret it that way, anyway.

I hurried home. Long Suffering Spouse would be putting on our turkey in a couple of hours, and we had to ready the house for Aunt Betty.

Rationalization and realization?

I didn't blog Wednesday. Just to show that I could.

OK, I read a few other blogs. Left a few comments.

But I didn't post. And I didn't blog at all yesterday or on Thanksgiving. So I can stop any time I want to....

That sounds wrong, doesn't it?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Holiday holidays -- a survey question

OK, I'm taking Thursday off. If I'm still alive after all these kids descend on our house... starting tomorrow. (See the end of this post if you're really interested... and, yes, Long Suffering Spouse is going with the two turkey dinner plan. She talked to Oldest Son on Saturday and discussed the idea with him. And when he said, "Welllll, if your really want to..." it turns out that she did!)

I'll be in the office tomorrow, I think, for at least part of the day, all the visitors notwithstanding -- and not because of the visitors either. In fact, I intend to get home early, so that I can offer support (or valium, if I can get my hands on some) to my spouse as they begin to arrive....

I suspect, however, given the abbreviated schedule tomorrow, that this will be the last post for a few days. (If I get on line at all, it will be to browse through Grand Rounds, hosted this time by our old blog friend Dr. A. (Running through the list quickly this morning, I saw that he did include a piece by another friend of this blog, Mother Jones RN. So that was nice.)

But what about Friday? If you have Thanksgiving off, do you have Friday off as well?

This year, Christmas falls on Monday. Assuming you get that day off, do you get any other day off as well in connection with Christmas? New Year's Day is also on Monday, of course. Any time off there?

At my old firm, when Christmas fell on Tuesday or Thursday, the Monday or Friday was frequently an optional day -- but we had to work the corresponding day during New Year's week. Or we could do it the other way around -- which is usually what I did -- so long as we worked the three out of four days. Christmas on Wednesday put Tuesday in play as the possible day off. But whenever it fell, the office was quiet on Christmas Eve... little up in court... clients called, if at all, only with holiday greetings (making sure they weren't working alone, I suppose).

But here, in a wholly unscientific survey, you tell me: Not counting vacation days that you're taking on your own, what days off do you get for the holidays?

Monday, November 20, 2006

There is a limit to how low we'll sink

This is good news: the Fox O.J. 'special' interview has been canceled. This is better news, if true: The linked article also states that Simpson's book -- detailing how he might have killed Ron Goldman and his ex-wife Nicole, the mother of his children, but all the while denying that he did it -- will also be withdrawn.

But consider this quote from Rupert Murdoch, News Corp. chairman (News Corp. being the parent company of both Fox and the company that was to publish Simpson's non-confession confession: "I and senior management agree with the American public that this was an ill-considered project. We are sorry for any pain that his has caused the families of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson."

"Any" pain? Like maybe there wasn't any... but just in case we're apologizing?

Try heart-wrenching, gut twisting, re-open the wounds pain, and plenty of it. You should have apologized for that if you were actually sorry. And, Mr. Murdoch, your apology should also have mentioned that you've told the people involved in green-lighting this project to go look for other work.

But the deficiencies of the apology aside, it's gratifying to know that there are some societal standards of decency. Until the next time the line is moved... ever downward.

Celebrity gossip, Curmudgeon style

I have actually heard of Tom Cruise; I saw Risque Business, mostly because it was filmed in Chicago.

(I want to point out that I have ridden the CTA many, many times and nothing like that ever happened to me.)

Anyway, Mr. Cruise has apparently made a number of other movies as well. I seem to recall watching Eyes Wide Shut on cable -- strictly because it was Kubrick's last film, you understand.

And I was aware that Mr. Cruise had divorced Nicole Kidman, whom I do recall from the aforementioned Eyes Wide Shut. Yes. (*Significant pause follows.*)

Sorry. I became distracted for a moment.

Anyway, I know Mr. Cruise has made a number of other pictures because I read all the reviews (get well soon, Roger Ebert) but I've never had any interest in seeing any of them.

As for this Katie Holmes person, I have no idea who she is, although, in this wedding photograph, she certainly seems attractive.

According to the news, this wedding was performed in Italy, in some old castle, and was quite a big deal. To each their own, I suppose.

Although the young couple does seem to have put the cart before the horse, haven't they?

I also read that this wedding, however tardy, was a very exclusive event. Not even our own Oprah could get an invite, and yet, according to an article I seem to recall reading on the subject, Oprah was in some way associated with Mr. Cruise's tender declaration of affections toward his new bride.

I was also not invited to the nuptial celebration, but I had other things to do this weekend anyway.

Many of you looking in on this, however, are familiar with Empress Bee and her husband and blogging companion Sarge Charlie. They're off on a cruise... to Italy... and their blogs are on hiatus pending their return.

Coincidence? Does anyone know if they packed candlesticks?

Friday, November 17, 2006

Quick! It's almost Thanksgiving

Poor Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is the quintessential American holiday -- equally accessible to persons of any faith, color or creed. (I think PETA members can even get soy patties in the shape of turkey legs, although I may have made that up.)

Yes, I know, Canadians have a Thanksgiving Day too, in October, before Winter really closes in. But do the Detroit Lions play on your Thanksgiving? Hmmmm? How about the Dallas Cowboys?

Our Thanksgiving -- American Thanksgiving (hereinafter referred to solely as "Thanksgiving" unless the context requires otherwise -- I just love throwing stuff like that in out of place) is uniquely American. We celebrate the Pilgrims and the virtues of religious freedom and tolerance that we are taught they brought to these shores... and which would have been anathema to them. Ah well. No myth holds up to close inspection.

Thanksgiving's only flaw is the lack of a serious retail component. It used to be considered the starting date of the Christmas shopping season. Of course, that was back in the days when Labor Day was considered the starting date of the campaign season.

Do you wonder why some people -- me included -- wax nostalgic about the good old days?

And families have special and wonderful Thansgiving traditions. In our house, for example, on Thanksgiving I eat too much and watch football on TV... OK, I do that most Sundays during the Fall, too, but, you know, I eat turkey on Thanksgiving.

When I was growing up, we had to worry about when the Thanksgiving meal should be served. There were really only three viable options:
  1. At halftime of the Detroit game;
  2. Between the end of the Detroit game and the start of the Dallas game; or
  3. At halftime of the Dallas game.
That last always seemed a little late for the holiday meal; with too extended a cocktail hour, family harmony might begin to suffer.

Thanksgiving was always at our house after we moved out of the City. Yes, there was a period of nearly 12 years when I was technically a resident of a far northwest Chicago suburb. It hadn't been fully absorbed into the suburban sprawl when we moved there, in the late '60's. It had a thriving business district, a volunteer fire department, and folks went to the see the football games and plays at the high school because that's what people in town did. Whether they had kids in the school or not.

It was, in short, Norman Rockwell's America brought to life.

More or less... there was a motel on Northwest Highway that used to advertise, "Have your next affair on us." That might sound more like Peyton Place than Mayfield (home of the Cleavers of Leave It To Beaver)... but maybe the proprietors didn't see the possible second meaning.


Whether it was a truly innocent incarnation of Americana is a question I'll leave for another day; for now, it is enough for you to know that it was located not far from where Christ lost His shoes.

The guest list varied from year to year. People died from time to time. But my mother's two sisters and their families were always in attendance. One sister followed us up from the South Side and moved to this distant outpost; she was always the first to arrive on Thanksgiving, with her husband and two daughters and a whole bunch of pies she'd baked herself.

The other sister lived in a western suburb and always got lost looking for our house. Every single year. She brought her husband and her thousands and thousands of kids. OK, there were seven, but that seemed a large number to me at the time. And she didn't bring pies. And although she got lost every single year, her oldest son became a Naval Flight Officer. That's the guy who sits behind the pilot on a carrier-based jet and tells the pilot where to go and drop the bombs or shoot the missles. A navigator! Life works out funny, doesn't it?

In the modern world, Thanksgiving arrangements seem so much more complicated. People still die. And people divorce. My sister, Aunt Betty, was planning on bringing our brother, Uncle Bob, to our house this year... but he conned our surviving aunt into letting him deep fry a turkey at her house. So Aunt Betty called and asked if she could bring her kids instead. Just for awhile... her ex-husband would be picking them up to take to his parents' house. And Oldest Son is bringing eight friends Wednesday to stay overnight... but they're leaving Thursday morning... early... I hope... for California, where they have tickets to the Notre Dame - USC game. Older Daughter told us she'll be home Wednesday, too, also with a friend -- a person who had to drive to O'Hare anyway because she's flying out Thursday as well. I don't know if she's staying for dinner. I don't know who she is or where she's going. Indeed, I've never heard her name before this week... and, if I did actually hear it, I've already forgotten it.

I was talking on line to Middle Son about his plans. He's hoping to get picked up Tuesday because he has no classes on Wednesday. "Just you?" I typed back. "Is something wrong?"

Long Suffering Spouse is considering two turkey dinners -- one on Wednesday night for the Domers. I told her she'd better talk to Oldest Son first: The group may be planning to go out nightclubbing instead. Of course, being college students, they may want to do both....

And Thanksgiving night, the NFL Network is going to provide a third football game. I'm worried about how this may even further complicate dinner arrangements....

Thursday, November 16, 2006

A question about complaining: Your input is invited

There is a question here... eventually... on which I would like your opinion. Stay with me for a moment even though there are no laughs today.

Tomorrow I have three credit cards due. Since becoming self-employed I have become something of an expert in figuring out how to use each and every day of each credit card's grace period, walking the check in to the bank or the store on the due date (unless I forget, of course).

I know I won't be able to pay all of these cards in full tomorrow. What eats at me is the fact that I settled a PI case in late October. While the settlement was not large, I was obliged to expend a relatively large amount on an expert. But between the modest fee (diminished further by payment of a referral fee) and the recoupment of my costs, I was looking forward to a decent payday. Only I'm still looking forward to that day because the claim person for the defendant's insurer does not understand that a med pay subro claim is not the same thing as a lien. She wants to finance the settlement of that claim from my client's proceeds -- but she made her settlement offer on the carrier's behalf with knowledge that a subro claim was pending.

This kind of stuff makes me crazy -- and, worse, it keeps me from focusing on the very real work I have to do. And to do my work I need to be focused... which is not easy for an easily distracted person such as yours truly.

Now you may call this whining and self-pitying... and I can hardly dispute that.

But I set it out because it provides necessary background for the question I have for the group.

When I vocalize these kinds of feelings at home, Long Suffering Spouse will tell me about someone else's problems... and these are always much worse than anything we're going through.

You don't have to go far in the world or in the Blogosphere to find people worse off than Long Suffering Spouse and myself. For all of my cash flow problems, at the end of the year I'll have made an income that a lot of people would envy. Too darn much of it will be eaten up in late fees and interest... but that's a digression. And most of my financial problems are self-inflicted: If I could concentrate on tasks at hand instead of fretting about things over which I have no control... working instead of just waiting for return telephone calls... I'd surely earn more money. And I've chosen to send my kids to private schools because it's a sacrifice I think and I hope and I pray will pay off for them... so I know I shouldn't complain that my checking account is on life support.

But I do complain, of course. I think complaining is a fundamental human activity. If you are unsure, click "next blog" (not now!) and you will see someone else's complaints. Probably in a different language.

But I don't like it when people respond to my complaints by pointing out that others have it worse: I know, I say, but that doesn't make my complaints any less valid. Long Suffering Spouse begins to doubt my sensitivity... and I begin to realize that I'm not articulating what I really mean.

Yesterday I was kvetching with a friend and he brought up the horrible ordeal of a former colleague of his. This man's wife is dying. It is his second marriage; he lost his first wife to cancer. And he lost a college age son in a senseless, stupid auto accident. Job might think he's got it better than this man. And my friend told me about the second wife's illness, and I choked up... but I flared up when my friend then said something like, "Compared to our problems...."

And an explanation began to take shape: I think I get upset when I'm asked to find solace in someone else's suffering. That seems ghoulish to me. I don't want to feel better because someone feels worse. I want to feel better because I solve my own problems, or work through them... or at least because I've vented.

So my question: When you're complaining and people remind you that others have it worse, does that help you regain perspective or a sense of proportion? Is that what it's supposed to do? And why is that not the same as finding comfort in others' misery?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

On courthouses

This is a picture of the Richard J. Daley Center in Chicago. That's the Picasso whatchamacallit in the Plaza on the left.

This is one of seven primary courthouses in Cook County. The First Municipal District sits here, including Traffic Court. This is where you'd go if you get a speeding ticket in Chicago.

Also in this building are the Law, Chancery, Domestic Relations and Probate Divisions. Most of my business is done here. Although this is a Miesian box, it was designed by Miesian disciples, not by the master. I've always thought this building to be 'warmer' or 'friendlier' than the Federal Courthouse in the Dirksen Federal Building down the street (which actually was designed by Mies van der Rohe).

There are a lot more courtrooms in the Daley Center now than when the Blues Brothers drove through the lobby in the late 70's. A lot of the county officials who formerly had offices in this building were relocated across the street to 69 W. Washington so that new courtrooms could be carved out. And the Appellate Court moved to 160 N. LaSalle. One of the reasons I was 10 minutes late to court yesterday -- besides the train -- was that I went initially to the wrong courtroom. I went to the 24th floor, instead of the 25th.

The Criminal Courthouse is at 26th and California; I try and stay away from there. There are also five Municipal District Courthouses in Skokie, Rolling Meadows (just across from the Arlington Race Track -- and I'm told that was not a coincedence), Maywood, Bridgeview, and Markham. I've had cases in all of the municipal districts. And there's a lot of other places where courts convene in Cook County.

But this is not the way things work in all Illinois counties. I had a case once in Dixon (ironically the attorney on the other side was also from Chicago). The folks out there practically sent flares up on the road so we could find the place. When I arrived, I asked someone where our case would be heard. "Where would you like?" came the reply. "We have two courtrooms." (And this person was not being sarcastic.)

The bigger the county, the bigger the courthouse. DuPage County has pretty close to 1,000,000 residents. The current DuPage County Courthouse, on the outskirts of Wheaton, looks like a trendy mall, inside and out. But it was the subject of protracted litigation shortly after it opened -- seems the designers failed to put in adequate ventilation. And people started coming down with "sick building syndrome": The fumes given off by the new carpets and furnishings were recirculating in the building. The Sheriff's police -- who worked the security entrance -- went on a deliberate work slow-down to call attention to the problem -- creating massive delays every single morning.

Of course, the furniture was probably not the only ventilation problem. The building was a "no smoking" building right from the start -- but folks figured that meant out in the hallways and in the courtrooms and didn't think it meant in their private offices. I was at a pre-trial conference shortly before the building closed for repairs (for a year or so we had court in the nearby county fairgrounds) and when we repaired to the judge's chambers, he immediately lit a smoke. The mound in the ashtray suggested that this was not his first that day.

This is the old Kane County Courthouse. There's a new building west of Geneva where the criminal cases are heard. I don't know what else is heard there. This is the only Kane County Courthouse I've been in and I know that at least some civil cases are still heard here. This is a true 19th Century courthouse, and the Civil War monument out front was erected by the Grand Army of the Republic, the Union Army veteran's organization.

Moving west from Geneva, the DeKalb County Courthouse is a true beauty. I've often thought that the restored courtroom on the top floor could be a movie set -- and, in searching for pictures this morning, I found out that it apparently was used in one movie. If you're ever in Sycamore, stop by and take a look.

I mentioned recently that I'd been in Ogle County for court. They'd built that new building on the upper right since I'd been there last.

This may be my favorite new courthouse, in Yorkville, Kendall County. Yes, it runs smack dab up against a cornfield (no one ever builds a new courthouse in the old courthouse square anymore), but those cornfields will be subdivisions soon enough.

What I like about this building is that it captures the spirit of the old fashioned courthouses, and even some of the look and charm -- but with all the modern bells and whistles, including the hidden door in the courtroom where people in orange jumpsuits and leg irons can be more easily brought in and out.

Hope you enjoyed the nickel tour.

Uh oh

I'm getting an error message when I try to publish.

This is the message: "001 Connection refused."

Of course, if this ever sees the light of day it is because this problem has somehow been overcome....

But I had my coffee this morning, so what's the java problem?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Blues on the Blue Line

Alright, this is a New York subway platform, not the platform at Clark & Lake on the Blue Line. But the density of the crowd in this photo is similar to that which I encounted at Clark & Lake last night shortly after 6:00 pm.

I needed to get home to take Youngest Son to baseball practice.

Yes, I know it's November. And the temperature outside was in the low or mid-40's. And it was sort of misting -- stuff that would be snow if it were just a few degrees cooler.

But Youngest Son got picked for a travel team a while back and the team practice all year long -- sporadically now, but with increasing frequency and duration as Spring draws closer. (My teams never practiced more than sporadically at Bluejay Park, even just before our seasons.)

Last night we were going to an indoor facility where the team has a membership so that Youngest Son could be evaluated by a high school varsity coach who moonlights at this facility. He used a video camera and computer to show Youngest Son's swing in comparison -- side by side -- frame by frame -- to actual major leaguers. It was pretty nifty. But that's beyond the scope of today's story.

I had hoped it was late enough that we'd be past the peak of our rush hour. But the rush hour never ends if the trains never come... and that seemed to be the situation when I got down on the platform last night. And began waiting with everyone else.


But I did more than wait, too. I began positioning myself. If getting a seat were the goal, I'd take a train going through the Loop, down to Jackson, and barge onto the train there. But last night the plan was to get home, as soon as possible, because I had to be in Wheeling at 8:00 pm. That's a distance from my home. And I harbored some small hopes of eating dinner, too.

As a grizzled subway veteran, I knew where the last car on the train would stop. I knew where the doors would be. There was no way to get through the crowd to where I thought the rear doors would open... but there was a small opening where the front doors should be.

I wormed my way through the crowd. And the crowd's luggage.

I live on the Northwest Side of the City and the Blue Line -- the train I take -- goes right into O'Hare Airport. Travelers use it all the time. And many of them have luggage.

Note to travelers: When taking the Blue Line to O'Hare, try and get on one of the front cars on the train. Not because I want a seat in the back -- although I do -- but because the front of the train is closest to the stairs and escalator leading out of the CTA station and into the airport proper.

So I had position now. And I continued to wait.


Eventually, the rumble in the distance and the glow of the headlights of the subway car rounding the curve into the Clark & Lake station told me my wait was over and that -- if I was lucky -- my ordeal was about to begin.

I don't know where this photo was taken. It shows an uncomfortably crowded subway car -- but the car depicted above was deserted by comparison to the car I squeezed onto last night.

If I weren't already a married man, I would have become honor bound to become engaged to at least two other passengers... that's how close we were packed together. And several people on my car had luggage, too.

Still I suppose, despite the resemblance to a college fraternity prank, the crowded conditions last night were better than those on Friday evening.

You may recall how cheerful I was Friday to begin with. Things seemed to be looking up when I got one of the last available seats on a train stopping at Clark & Lake at around 6:15. The kid in front of me swiveled around in his chair and looked at me quizzically: Are you really going to sit there? And I did notice an equally young kid sitting next to me, head lolling to one side and then the other. But I'm sure I don't look particularly dashing when I fall asleep on the subway, as I've been known to do.

At least I thought he was sleeping... until he began to moan.

The kid in front of me whipped around again at this; it occurred to me that they were acquainted in some way. The moans of the kid next to me began to form words: "I think I'm going to puke."


Sometimes one doesn't mind standing up on the train....

And then there was this morning: I'd been running since 6:30, taking Younger Daughter to school, taking the van in for service, dropping Long Suffering Spouse off at her school, taking Youngest Son to the high school where he was "shadowing" today, and returning the car to the parking lot of my wife's school... and then walking to the Blue Line. It's not a long walk.

And I didn't have to be in court until 10:00 am. So I was not too concerned about running far later than usual, even with all of these errands.

A quick search of the Internet will confirm for you the troubles our fair city is having these days with the CTA Blue Line. Years of deferred maintenance have taken their inevitable toll: A recent, well-publicized derailment forced the CTA to establish slow zones along several stretches of the line... and it has thrown the schedule all out of whack. This last bit is not admitted, of course, by the public authorities. But that's why the subway platforms are crowded downtown well after the rush hour should have been concluded. The trains aren't running a schedule anymore at all; they're running in unpredictable bunches.

But one positive aspect of these track slowdowns is that trains coming into the station where I board every morning come in at verrrrrrrrrrrrrrrry slooooooooooow speed. I can hear the warning bell go off, but still buy my paper, get through the turnstile and down to the platform and even down to my preferred car position before the train craaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaawls in.

And that certainly seemed to be happening this morning. I heard the warning bell, bought my paper, got through the turnstile... but a woman had beat me to the escalator.

It's a narrow escalator to the platform at my stop. There are stairs, but they are located in another part of the station, well back from where the trains stop. There was no way for me to go around this woman. And this woman was not going to move down the escalator.

Even though the train was in the station.

Even though the door closing chime sounded.

Even though the doors closed.

Three trains sped past on the way to the airport before another train craaaaaaaaaaaaaaawled into the station this morning. I was 10 minutes late for court.


I want to thank Barb at Skittles' Place for the "shout out" she gave me on Monday. I checked with some of the young people first to make sure I understood the expression -- and they assured me that this was a good thing: Barb wasn't yelling at me.

So, thanks Barb! Here's a shout out back at you.


(Did I get that right?)

Monday, November 13, 2006

So -- when does this "right judgment" gift kick in?

Some quick background: Youngest Son received the Sacrament of Confirmation Saturday morning. As I understand it (and my understanding is quite limited, thank you) Catholics believe that, in the sacrament, a young person on the threshold of adulthood receives a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit, strengthening the young person's bond to Christ and His Church. The young person also receives also the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgment and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence, and the spirit of holy fear in God's presence.

It's that gift of right judgment in which I'm most interested: All teenagers need it (we can talk about adults another time) -- but this gift too often lies unopened and unappreciated -- like spiritual socks and underwear. Who wants Right Judgment as a gift if you can get Playstation 3?


I was late arriving for the ceremony, of course, far later than the 9:45 am deadline that I'd been given at the rehearsal on Wednesday. But I got down the aisle ahead of the Bishop. I even had time to greet my mother-in-law, who was sitting with Younger Daughter and Middle Son in a pew as close as possible to where the rest of us were obliged to be. And the confirmandi had not even begun their procession as I came in. They were, however, trying to stay in line and good order in the vestibule.

For a 13 year-old, standing still is like trying to split the atom with scissors.

But they all looked nice, all in their red gowns, except for the color just like the robes worn by the Hogwarts students in Harry Potter. Instead of crests for Slytherin or Gryffindor, though, they wore name tags, tags showing the names they had chosen for themselves as part of the ritual.

The gowns, however nice they looked, are a sad commentary on the fashions of the day: We began using the gowns because kids -- and their parents -- can not really be trusted to come to church dressed appropriately. Oldest Son was contemptuous. "At least they didn't make me wear a dress," he harrumphed.

Oldest Son was dressed in suit and tie; if he was feeling any ill effects after being out until 2:30 or so in the morning, he did not show them. His friend -- the kid who drove him to Chicago (thankfully they took cabs on their nocturnal rounds) -- was still sleeping in our basement. Oldest Son beat me to the pew only because I dropped him off before looking for a place to park. "I'm just the father," I told him. "They don't care whether I show up or not. But you're the sponsor. You're required."

Confirmation is like Baptism by choice: Parents choose a child's name for Baptism, but the child chooses a new name at Confirmation. Parents choose the child's Godparents, but the child chooses a sponsor for Confirmation. And because these young people are supposed to be making a conscious decision to become full-fledged members of the Church, they're supposed to have studied up on all this... and, at rehearsal, Wednesday night, the teachers hinted darkly that the Bishop might have a few questions for them before letting them be confirmed.

After the Gospel reading, the pastor called the names of each of the confirmandi. They stood and faced the congregation, each in turn. When they had all been introduced, the pastor recommended them to the Bishop as worthy candidates for the sacrement, and we were invited to show, by our applause, our assent.

But the Bishop said he wasn't entirely certain -- and the worst fears conjured by the teachers a couple of nights before began to take shape in the minds of the confirmandi... particularly when the Bishop walked down from the altar into the nave of the church. Wireless mikes allow a lot of freedom of movement. And it would be easier, the Bishop said, to walk around the aisles so that he could ask his questions.

He paused. "Isn't that amazing?" he asked. "As soon as I mention I'm going to ask questions, all I see are the tops of peoples' heads. There must be something seriously interesting on the floor...." (The confirmandi respond with nervous laughter, but most don't yet look up.)

"OK," the Bishop said, "I'll make it easy on you." (A couple of heads look up tentatively.) "I'll just ask one question. And if you get it right, I'll be done -- but if you get it wrong, we'll just have to ask a whole lot more questions. We'll be here to 3:00 pm at least." (All the heads are now back looking straight down at the floor.)

"Look at the altar," the Bishop commanded, and the kids' heads, reluctantly, came up and looked. Look at your pastor, he said, look at the two other priests assigned to the parish. "Look at them carefully," he warned, walking down the aisle away from the altar. "Here, I'll move back so you all have a good look."

He paused for a moment or two -- although it must have seemed an eternity to the kids. "Alright, have you all looked? Then here's my question... Don't I look much younger than any of those guys?"


We could have stood in line to have our photo taken with the Bishop after Mass, but Oldest Son was anxious to get back to school: The Notre Dame - Air Force game was not even shown on broadcast or cable television in the Chicago market, and Oldest Son wanted to get back to South Bend so he could watch the game in some tavern that had a satellite dish. And we had left his friend alone in our house. So we left as soon as we could and I dropped Oldest Son off at home before going on to the restaurant. "I don't need to wear the suit to lunch, do I Dad?" he'd asked. No, I told him, he'd done his duty -- and, besides, this way I'd recover the shirt he'd borrowed.

So there we were at the restaurant, all present and accounted for except Older Daughter who wanted to come... but has no car and could not make the trip up from Indianapolis. We'll see her at some point Thanksgiving weekend. And Youngest Son was turned away from me, tie askew, shirt untucked, trying to watch the football game being shown on the TV over the bar. Younger Daughter made a big deal out of ordering a virgin strawberry daiquiri, just to aggravate my mother-in-law. My mother-in-law took the bait of course. Middle Son was on his good behavior, although he'd be on his cell phone the moment we got back to the house, pleading for the friend who'd dropped him off in the morning to come and take him back to school. Oldest Son and his friend were polite company, although the slow service was trying Oldest Son's patience: He was constantly updating his calculations on when he'd return to South Bend.

Long Suffering Spouse had a glass of zinfandel and I had my martini and we looked at the domestic scene before us... and it was very, very pleasant.

But when will this gift of "right judgment" kick in? For any of us?

Friday, November 10, 2006

End of the week and not a moment too soon -- or -- There's so much disappointment in the world

Today's photo was captured from this site.

This picture does not show my Undisclosed Location. Actually, there's no place in Chicago that looks like this, except sometimes my lawn in August... and there's no mountains anywhere near my lawn. But the picture depicts my mental state as this week mercifully draws to a close.... pretty much empty and the end of the line.

I had no Internet this morning (second time this week) and the financial issues that were discussed here yesterday are largely unresolved. And at 4:30 yesterday afternoon opposing counsel in a case called to ask if I could fax him a copy of my brief in our case... a brief that was due yesterday... and that I continue to work on today. Doesn't he know that, to a lawyer, "deadline" means "gee, I better start looking at this, huh?" (You bet he does. But today's a court holiday -- how can you possibly salute our nation's veterans if public employees don't get a day off? -- and I'll bet counsel was hoping to 'work from home' today. There is so much disappointment in the world.)

Because today's a court holiday, I didn't feel the need to wear a tie. But I'll have to make up for that tomorrow, when Youngest Son will be confirmed. Oldest Son will be his sponsor, but he's away at school and I had to fill in for him at Wednesday night's rehearsal. The teachers warned the kids that the Bishop -- who doesn't even slap the kids anymore! -- might ask them a question or two of each of them as he adminsters the Sacrament.

The kids groaned loudly, Youngest Son right along with the rest. I leaned over to him and told him how easy he's got it. I reminded him of how much more work a Jewish boy would have to do for his bar mitzvah. Yeah, he said, but they get better parties after.

I guess there's a trade-off.

Anyway, as soon as the Internet was restored here, Oldest Son IM'd me asking what he needed to wear for the ceremony. "A suit would be nice," I typed back. There was a long pause before he tapped out an acknowledgement. I had just added to the disappointment in his world.

But he'll get even with me: He's bringing one, and maybe two, of his friends to stay overnight with us tonight. Seems some time ago one of his buddies won a one hour 'party' at an Old Town saloon; tonight is the appointed night. The saloon hopes to get people through the doors... and keep them after the hour is up. Oldest Son and his group will probably move on to someplace else. Still more disappointment.

And the best part is that Long Suffering Spouse has no idea we're entertaining house guests this evening. I'll have to break the news to her when school is out. And you know the fate of the messenger who brings bad news....

And while Oldest Son is out nightclubbing, I'll not be able to have so much as a single libation: I have a blood draw in the morning for a doctor's appointment next week.

There's so much disappointment in the world. I hope your weekend is not too disappointing.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

We think we have the problem under control now

The Curmudgeon has been unusually cranky in the past few days, even by his standards. However, we have him heavily sedated and and we hope to get him back doing some of his long-pending legal work soon. If he behaves, we may even let him blog again.

Right now, I don't think we even want him commenting on other people's blogs.

I have tried to ascertain why he is in such a funk. As near as I can tell (and he does ramble a bit, as you readers have noticed... and, saaaaaaaaay, it's contagious, isn't it?) the problem seems to be that it's the 9th of November and
  • The November rent isn't paid;
  • The November mortgage isn't paid;
  • The malpractice premium (due November 1) isn't paid; and, also
  • There's money in the Client Fund Account which would alleviate these various problems but he can't yet disburse funds.
And there was something this morning about a lien on a settlement that isn't a lien at all but a subro claim... but the carrier is so far refusing to cut checks. He wasn't very clear on any of this -- he's really in something of a state.

We do however hope to resume regular programming as soon as possible.

Macy's loss to become Federated's gain?

Still cranky this morning, folks. At least today's rant is on business, not politics: I saw this in the Chicago Sun-Times this morning and it reminded me of a view I'd previously expressed.

Herewith a portion of this morning's article:
Federated Department Stores posted a surprise third-quarter loss Wednesday due to $145 million in costs to convert Marshall Field's and 10 other regional department stores to Macy's, and gave new details about sales declines at the former Field's stores.

Federated jettisoned Marshall Field's name and reconfigured the chain as Macy's on Sept. 9, one year after it bought Field's former owner, St. Louis-based May Department Stores.

The $3 million net loss, or 1 cent a share, compared with a year-ago profit of $436 million, or 91 cents, according to Federated's earnings announcement Wednesday.

Total sales, including Bloomingdale's and long-time Macy's stores, increased 6 percent to $5.89 billion -- just short of analysts' forecast of $6 billion.

Sales have declined at Field's and the other former May Department Stores because of fewer sales events and inadequate inventory of goods, among other reasons, Federated Chief Financial Officer Karen Hoguet told Wall Street analysts.

Hoguet cited poor sales of furniture, silverware, bedding, coffee-makers and other home furnishings; lengthy waits for merchandise that wasn't in inventory; fewer sales promotions at Macy's than at the May stores, and salespeople needing time to learn about Macy's new merchandise assortments.

"We have a lot of work in front of us to create a quality selling culture and to execute correctly the localized assortments in the new Macy's stores," Hoguet said.

Hoguet said Macy's stores will offer big home-store sales for the holidays, and she said she is confident the stores are headed in the right direction.
I suggested in the italicized rant portion of the earlier post that this "direction" was right down the tubes. But, recently, I heard an alternate explanation of this crazy move that -- while Machiavellian -- just might (eventually) justify the jettisoning of the venerable Field's name: It's all a real estate deal.

After a few years of declining sales, the sale of the State Street property -- for condo conversion or whatever -- might fetch more than the store itself would be expected to produce, even with years of strong sales. The Macy's stores might even catch on in the suburbs, which are used to generic, national brands, so it could be a win-win for Federated.

If that's the way it plays out... well, cold hard cash will trump tradition and sentiment every time... except in the movie.

I still like the movie.

* * *
Actually, Mircale on 34th Street is one of the best, and most lawyer-friendly, movies ever made: Even the prosecutor -- who's supposed to be sort of a villian -- is shown to have a human side. If you're a psychologist, maybe then the movie doesn't work for you.... What do you think?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Minimum wage hike may minimize opportunities for our teens

Warning: This post comes dangerously close to political, although I submit it is really a family and parenting issue. My perspective may be skewed; I was up late last night watching the election returns and my Internet isn’t working as this is written (obviously if you can see this, that's been remedied). But I may be unusually curmudgeonly this morning.

The Democrats have taken back the House of Representatives on a platform of (1) not liking President Bush and (2) saying the Iraq war was a big mistake.

This is not much of a platform on which to govern, so House Speaker-in-Waiting Nancy Pelosi offered, as an opening gambit, a vow to raise the minimum wage. Rod Blagojevich, newly re-elected as Governor of Illinois, has made a similar pledge.

At first blush, this seems like an easy idea to get behind: Who’s against people earning more money? (Except perhaps the plutocrats who, in theory, would be called upon to pay these higher wages – but they didn’t vote for the Democrats anyway.)

Now every time wages go up, some jobs are probably going to go away – or offshore. I recently had occasion to call a well-known computer company (we’ll call it “Dell”) about problems I was having with two different computers. Because one was a laptop and the other a desktop, my call had to be transferred – and it was transferred from India to the Philippines. I know this because I asked. I’m curious about these things; I ask a lot of questions when I make these kinds of calls.

On the other hand, if the jobs that are lost are jobs that don’t enable a full-time employee to obtain even basic housing and stay off Food Stamps and Medicaid – well, maybe such jobs are better lost. That’s a policy choice. That’s the political part that I’m not going to express an opinion on.

No, what concerns me is that, once again, there is no exemption proposed for younger workers. Teenagers. High school kids. College students. These are not people who are – by and large – supporting families. These are the kids who’d be earning mall money. Movie money. Hamburger money.

My kids have insisted for years that their peers don’t find summer work or after school work without ‘connections’ – usually parental. I’ve written about my kids’ difficulties in securing work in the Summer. And while Younger Daughter is working now at the neighborhood hardware store, one of the men with whom I share this Undisclosed Location has a son who manages that store. It probably didn’t hurt that I mentioned to my colleague that Younger Daughter was coming in for an interview.

Kids need to start someplace. And, frankly, 16 or 17 year-old kids are not ideal employees; I sure wasn’t at that age. Kids have to learn how to work – and, while the problems caused by an inexperienced teen might be tolerable at $5 per hour, they may not be worth it at $7.50.

And the minimum wage ties in also, I’ve come to believe, with illegal immigration. It has been argued that undocumented foreign workers take jobs no citizen will take – migrant farm workers, for instance. And this is true. But American teenagers traditionally cut lawns. Yet I don’t see local teenagers working for the lawn services that go through my neighborhood each week; I see foreigners. In our part of the country, they’re largely Hispanic. And while being a janitor or porter is not the most glamorous job, is it really a job that no kid will take? Then why are the cleaning services around here composed almost exclusively of foreigners? (In our area the cleaning people are largely from Poland or other parts of Eastern Europe.) Didn’t American kids once work as busboys in restaurants? I seem to recall this – but I haven’t seen any lately.

Now, I’m not checking green cards on any of these people. Each and every one of these foreign-born persons may be fully documented resident aliens, studying diligently in their off hours for the citizenship exam.

But I doubt it.

I think employers – big Fortune 500 companies and small time operators alike – are hiring illegals – directly or (particularly with the big companies) through ‘subcontractors’ – and paying less than the minimum wage, paying little or no payroll taxes, and paying no benefits. It’s so much easier than working with teens: José isn’t going to ask for Friday night off to go to the high school dance. Irina isn’t going to need every Thursday night off for choir practice. Stan doesn’t have play practices to work around. And an illegal is never going to call in sick because she broke up with her boyfriend. I'd guess that some of the plutocrats don’t care about the minimum wage because it is irrelevant to their business practices.

Of course, we could start enforcing our immigration laws. I don’t suggest mass deportations of hard-working people who are trying to get their own piece of the American dream – this happens from time to time, and these unfortunates are promptly replaced by equally eager, and equally illegal, aliens. No, if we start jailing the people who hire the illegals, we would then create an incentive for employers to think about alternate hiring schemes. Such as hiring teens and stiching together part-time schedules. However, when executives from big companies start going to jail for hiring illegal aliens, run to your windows: You’ll see pigs flying by. Lots and lots of pigs flying by.

So I suggest an alternative: Raise the minimum wage if that’s appropriate – but create an exemption for people under 21. Or for full-time students under 23. Something. The market will take it from there: And our kids will find jobs when they go looking.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Dona nobis pacem

We can argue about -- or, better yet, respectfully discuss -- the methods and means of achieving this... tomorrow.

For today, only a heartfelt prayer from an inhabitant of a troubled world: Grant us peace.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Two more reasons why you should always read the Comics first

(Click to expand.) This sure explains how I feel most of the time, and in far fewer words than I could ever use.

And then there's this one:

This is not my Younger Daughter's room -- not only is it far too neat, Younger Daughter would have racks of hair care products instead of clothes -- but there's that ring of Truth (with the capital-T intended) about this, isn't there?

A pall hangs over Chicago this morning

And it's not just the rainy, leaden clouds that don’t just hang, but actually loom overhead. No, the clouds could thin -- as I saw out the window of the train at one point this morning on my trip to the Loop -- and the Sun could peek out. But it would be a mocking light. The gloom would remain. No light, natural or artifical, can dispel it.

Where there was once hope and promise, there is now only fear and anxiety. Sunny optimisim is replaced by stoic pessimism. We know, now, that it is only a matter of time before the entire structure collapses into a heap: Not only have the Bears lost a game, but Rex Grossman looked... inexperienced.

And Brian Urlacher is... injured. The stiff upper lips of strong men across the Chicago area are trembling, even as you read these words.

No, in Chicago, on Mondays, during the Bears' season, it is either unrestrained exuberance -- or impenetrable gloom.

Today is a day of impenetrable gloom. And did I mention that Urlacher is injured? That he left the field early? And that *gulp* today he will have an MRI? Do you know what this means?!

I do. It means this is Chicago and this is the way we are. And if you think I'm exaggerating for comic effect, please look at any of our newspapers today, or log onto one of our sports radio stations, WSCR or WMVP. The sky is surely falling, and we'd best move out of the way....

(The Grossman photo was captured from the Chicago Tribune; the Urlacher photo was captured from the Chicago Sun-Times.)
I, of course, am wholly immune to this pessimism and merely bemused by this. Although you may doubt me if you read my update to Friday's post....

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Good news for a change -- and another question

When the phone rings on a Friday evening, it's almost never good news. This is one of those fundamental truths of mankind that I have absorbed, like a series of body blows, over the years.

But it was the cell phone ringing Friday evening as I was trying to wrap up for the week, not the office phone. So that was ambiguous. It had to be someone in the family because I try not to let the cell phone number get out much. And there's no voice mail on it, so people eventually learn that, even if they have the number, there's not much use in calling it.

It was Oldest Son.

And he was happy. Really, really happy. He'd gotten one of the jobs he'd interviewed for. A good job. One that will pay real money.

He'd tried calling home, he said, but he couldn't get hold of Long Suffering Spouse. So he tried my cell phone. I told him to call his mother directly because she'd truly love to hear this news direct from him. (And she did.)

But it got me thinking. We talk to Oldest Son from time to time, of course, but usually we initiate: I generally send an IM, either because I see he's there or commenting on his Away Message. He doesn't call us. Usually.

Except, like yesterday evening, when he was very, very happy.

Older Daughter calls all the time. But she calls especially when she's sad. Or upset. Or in a bad mood.

And I'm wondering: Is this another boy/girl thing? Or is this just two different people doing things in their own distinct ways?

I'll hang up now and wait for your answer.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Answering Older Daughter's question and posing another to the group

"Dad, am I still insured on the family auto insurance?"

There are worse ways that an unmarried, 20-something daughter can begin a conversation ("Hello Grandpa," comes immediately to mind) but as a means of getting the pulse elevated, this recent question from Older Daughter worked quite nicely.

Fortunately, my legal training immediately kicked in. "It depends," I said, tentatively.

Now I know I've said this before, but it bears repeating. "It depends" is the greatest all-purpose legal answer ever crafted. It keeps the conversation moving while you scramble frantically for a more substantive answer.

"It depends on what?" Older Daughter asked.

"It depends on whether you got into an accident." Various scenarios immediately began flashing through my mind.

Older Daughter, as you know, is living in Indianapolis these days. If it were certain that she was going to stay there, or stay somewhere other than under the family roof, she'd no longer be eligible for insurance under our policy, no matter what premium we'd paid.

Full time students can be covered under the family auto policy, even though they live on the other end of the country, but when school is over -- as it is, for now anyway, for Older Daughter -- and the child sets up a separate residence -- as Older Daughter has -- coverage is usually over as well.

Of course, most young adults setting up housekeeping change their voter registration, get a new driver's license and library card. I don't think Older Daughter's done any of this. We did get her to set up a separate cell phone account -- but she's kept the Chicago number -- and I'm pretty sure her college loan statements are going to her new address. But she is firm and resolute in her indecision.

At best, though, that's an argument for the continued existence of coverage -- and not one I'd look forward to testing in court. So I was relieved when she quickly told me she'd not been in an accident... but still suspicious.

I confronted the problem directly. "Why do you ask?"

The apartment in which Older Daughter's Boyfriend resides recently sustained a fire. My daughter's nearby establishment was not involved -- but ODB has internet, and she does not, so her computer was at ODB's place. As was her camera. And he had a washing machine in his apartment. She did not. And she had laundry there that she was planning to wash over the weekend. Thus Older Daughter was a fire victim, too. (And, no, I didn't ask a lot of questions about this. If it's a fool's paradise in which I'm living, let me live here in peace.)

Anyway, she was calling because one of the members of her church choir sells insurance. And he had proposed that Older Daughter and ODB now purchase renter's insurance.

That's right; neither one of them had renter's insurance at the time of the fire.

Note to you young people out there: Renter's insurance is cheap, particularly by comparison to what Older Daughter, ODB and ODB's roommate are now facing.

Anyway, the insurance salesperson/choir member pointed out that he could offer a discount if both renter's and auto insurance were obtained through the same carrier. Thus, her question. "No," I explained, as patiently as I could, "while we do have our homeowner's and auto coverage with the same carrier, asking for separate coverage for your apartment is likely to raise a couple of questions about your residency."

Ya think?

Anyway, Older Daughter realizes that she has to buy a car and obtain auto insurance. However, she also assumes that the Bank of Dad will finance these endeavors. No matter how much I've whined about income and expenses -- and it's not just that I whine here, you know -- no matter how much I've share my beleaguered finances with my older children -- they still think I'm holding out on them. If they would only remember where in the back yard they think I've buried the gold....

Meanwhile, Younger Daughter waits for me to add her to the auto policy, her new license gleaming in her purse, while our new, unsuspecting car is parked innocently across the street....

Now, my question to the Blogosphere at Large:

Last night I sent my link to The Bestest Blog of All-Time and asked to be linked up.

The question I have for you may prove to be academic only: I mean, I recently submitted my link to Critique My Blog... and it promptly went out of business. But assuming that my blog does not prompt Bobby Griffin to fold his tent immediately as well, what "category" should I be going for? I see a lot of familiar names in the "personal" category and this blog is certainly "personal" to me. But I was looking for something else. I searched in vain for a "wannabe philospher king" category... which is what I was really looking for... although "would-be oracle" would be alright, too... but I couldn't find that either. So, I was thinking -- do you think I could get away with "funny"?

And what will that do to my sense of gravitas?

Your responses are eagerly awaited... I think....

Update -- 11/6/06 -- And you thought I was kidding....
This was the top post on Bestest Blog of All Time when I logged on this morning:
Hi everyone. Unfortunately we are going to have to have unscheduled, unexpected downtime. This afternoon I went in to use the computer and it appeared to be off (even though I knew it had been on earlier). But, upon closer inspection the keyboard lights were on and the fan was blowing, but the screen was blank. So, I did a hard shut off and turned it back on. The screen came on for about 2 seconds and then shut off again. This was about 4 hours ago. Since then the computer has cooled down and charged up, but the screen still does the same thing. I'll check it again in the morning, and if it still doesn't work, I will take it to be fixed. In any case (whether they can fix it, or whether I have to buy a new laptop), I don't expect the site to be down for more than a week. But, I simply cannot run the site without having 24 hour access to my own computer. If you have a review scheduled to run (Lizza, Mimi, Jessie), it will run as soon as I can get my computer up and running. Thank you for your understanding and patience.
It's really a talent. In related news, both political parties are lobbying for me to throw my last minute support in the congressional campaigns... to the other party....