Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Mr. Language Curmudgeon tackles email etiquette

Older Daughter holds a degree in English from the University of Illinois, our state's most prestigious public university. It was the job prospects for English majors that led her, by mesne conveyances (just a little, and slightly-misued, lawyerly flourish), to seek a career in nursing.

Now licensed in Indiana, Older Daughter is seeking employment in the nursing field. She has been directed to one or more "nursing recruiters" and she and I were conversing on the phone recently about an email she proposed to send to recruiter Hannah Helpful (oddly enough, a made-up name). Older Daughter started reading me her draft: "Hi, Hannah," she began -- and I interrupted.

"You are a proud graduate of the University of Illinois, with a degree in English, no less," I reminded her, "and you begin a business letter with 'Hi, Hannah'?"

"My degree is in English literature," Older Daughter responded, "not grammar. Besides, emails are supposed to be informal."

Says who? That's what I want to know.

I think I persuaded Older Daughter to change the tone and content of her letter, starting with a change from "Hi, Hannah" to "Dear Ms. Helpful," but that's not the point.

The point is that, since our conversation, I've started to look more carefully at emails that I've received. More than a few start with "Hi" or "Hello" as if they were phone conversations -- and I'm talking about business emails here.

I hate to sound priggish, but, for cryin' out loud, people, business emails may be discoverable in litigation. Do you really want the court and jury to hear opposing counsel, in full sneering mode, read an email that you wrote beginning with "Hi"?

I don't pretend to understand the ins and outs of "e-discovery" -- I have enough trouble finding stored emails on my own computer -- but I know enough to know that this is officially the next big thing in the ever-growing trivialization of the legal process. There are computer programs written to sift through reams of emails that no one will ever actually read -- unless they contain particular key words.

Let me put it this way: You would not send out a business letter that begins "Hi." An email sent in the course of one's business -- even one typed out on the teensy-weensy keys of one's Crackberry -- is a business letter. Informality leads to imprecision... even sloppiness.

Careless spelling and punctuation -- celebrated, apparently, as 'virtues' in 'informal' email composition -- can create all sorts of problems down the road. Consider the world of difference between these two statements:

The Dinner Party: "Let's eat, Mom!"

and

The Donner Party: "Let's eat Mom!"

And yet, the two sentences differ by only one letter and a comma.

Typos happen (more than a few examples are, unfortunately, available right here in this blog). Ambiguities are found every day in carefully drafted insurance contracts and statutes (sometimes I help find them). Why start out with an attitude that typos, imprecision, and resulting ambiguity will be SOP?

The executive summary of this post: Stop writing "informal" emails for business purposes. Stop it now. Tell 'em Mr. Language Curmudgeon told you this is the way it must be.

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P.S. -- Don't believe me about e-discovery? Check out the link I got in the email just today (which, by the way, did not begin, "Hi, Curmudgeon") about this American Bar Association CLE program, the 4th Annual National Institute on E-Discovery.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Curmudgeon says nice things about the Postal Service?

The U.S. Postal Service is in the news again these days because its Board of Governors has recommended the elimination of Saturday mail service as a means to cut costs. It's not a done deal: The unions are opposed and Congress would have to approve the change -- but it may happen.

The cuts would mean that people would get bills only five days a week instead of six... and that would be nice... but that's not the "nice things" I want to talk about this morning.

Instead, I want to talk about service. Good service. I've had two occasions recently to stop in at different post offices and, both times, received prompt and courteous service.

Stop laughing! I'm serious!

I recently had occasion to send a gift of baby clothes. My wife boxed them up and I took them over to our local post office -- on a Saturday morning. The line was short. The lady at the counter was friendly. Of course, she did have to ask if I was sending anything dangerous. I said baby clothes aren't dangerous until worn by a baby. And then only if the diaper leaks. The lady laughed politely and explained my shipping options. I selected the less expensive one -- which would put the package in the hands of its recipients by the following Monday anyway, Tuesday at the latest, and was on my way in five minutes. Not bad, right?

The other instance is even better: I had occasion recently to file a Petition for Leave to Appeal (PLA) to the Illinois Supreme Court. Though that court has a satellite office in Chicago, it does not accept filings there. These must be made in Springfield, the state capital. It's a bulky package -- 20 copies of the brief must be sent (21 if you want a stamped copy, and you must include a self-addressed, stamped envelope -- SASE -- for that) and the check for the filing fee and the letter to the Clerk requesting the filing and the copies earmarked for opposing counsel... it was a lot of paper to juggle. In fact, just carrying over the load from the printer, just a couple of blocks away, was enough to put me in a sweat.

Also, filing a PLA is not a happy thing. The party that loses in the Appellate Court -- my client in this case -- has the option to make the attempt -- but the odds against the court taking the case are staggering. In a typical court term, less than 2% of all PLA's are accepted for review -- sometimes as few as 1%.

Finally, there is limited time to file a PLA. Once the client decides to make the attempt -- and the lawyer has fully disclosed that, in authorizing a PLA, the client may be just throwing good money after bad -- the appellate lawyer must try and write a compelling brief that would make this case stand out from all the many others clamoring for the Supreme Court's attention. This takes time. Whatever time is allowed for under the rules is almost certain to be used up almost to the minute in crafting the brief. Illinois follows the "mailbox rule" -- which means that a brief mailed on the deadline day will be considered received as of that day. This is just the opposite of the rule followed by every charge card issuer in the nation.

Anyway, I came huffing and puffing into the branch station at the Thompson Center, tired and with a bad attitude, and box full of briefs. I had envelopes prepared for the briefs to be sent to opposing counsel -- the rule says they only need three. The box I had was too big for 21 briefs and I was hoping to use one of those express mail boxes advertised on TV ("if it fits, it ships"). I saw a display and tried to guess what I needed.

I was soon intercepted by a postal employee.

Her job is to keep the line moving (downtown, on a weekday, there's always a line). She asked me what I wanted to do and I told her. I was not surprised, of course, when she told me I was doing it all wrong.

But then she helped me. She got me the right box. She even directed me to a particular line so I could get the right postage for my SASE. She was friendly. The lady at the window was friendly. This trip took longer than five minutes -- but not a minute longer than necessary.

I suppose these various postal employees may have seen in me a kindred (read: equally grouchy) spirit and that I may have received good service because of that.

But I don't think so.

Imagine: The Postal Service is in danger of going under just when it becomes customer-friendly. Is this a case of too little, maybe too late? Or does it mean that, deep down, people would rather be treated like dirt? Gosh, I hope not.

Monday, March 29, 2010

A wedding shower for Oldest Son

If we go strictly by tradition and American custom, a bride may have three showers. None are supposed to be any fun. One is put on by the bride's family -- the sisters of the bride, preferably, or if no sisters are available, an aunt. Officially, at least, though often not in practice, the mother of the bride does not put on a shower.

The brides' girlfriends also have a shower. These have largely degenerated into bachelorette parties, similar to bachelor parties, complete with too much liquor (though the drinks may well have umbrellas in them) and, possibly, even some rude entertainment. Traditionally, though, this was just another sedate, well-mannered event, albeit one at which the bride might receive negligees (thereby permitting the bride and her unmarried girlfriends to speculate wistfully that setting up housekeeping might involve something other than putting away new kitchen supplies). In the modern world, it seems, much of the speculation has been removed. Thus, jaunts to Vegas are substituted.

Most awkward of all, however, was the shower thrown by the groom's family. Typically, the bride is a largely unknown quantity to her fiancee's family. The groom's sisters, if any, or an aunt or two are supposed to host this one (because the mother of the groom is not supposed to) and, hopefully, the bride will be supported by her bridesmaids. Awkward silences will expand to fill the space between the forced oohs and aahs as packages are opened.

Long Suffering Spouse didn't want to inflict this on Oldest Son's bride-to-be. My wife likes "couples' showers." Invitees are asked to bring their spouses; the bride and groom are asked to bring their friends: The kids still get presents, but the guests at least have a chance to have a good time.

The burden for Saturday's even should have fallen on the shoulders of Older and Younger Daughter. But Older Daughter is in Indianapolis and Younger Daughter is in college. So Long Suffering Spouse scoped out the party room of the place from which we sometimes order pizza. We'd had a shower for Older Daughter at another pizza place -- a fancier place, part of a chain -- but Long Suffering Spouse felt we'd been pushed out the door too quickly at the end. Also, she noticed that the restaurant started taking drink orders which were added to our tab -- without at least first offering the soft drinks, wine or beer that was part of the agreed-upon package.

We tried, and failed, to secure Oldest Son's cooperation in inviting his friends. He declined to cooperate -- politely -- and so did his bride-to be. I "Facebooked" Oldest Son's roommate to make sure he knew about the party (and he showed up Saturday, agreeing that my 'end run' was the only sure way he'd actually have known about the event). A lot of my cousins could not come -- but they always designate someone. We had a representative sampling of our college friends. We had wine, we had beer, we had pizza.

Things were shaping up nicely. And then we heard that the bride's mother would be coming up from Texas to meet us. Ooops. We've not met the bride's parents before.

We've just booked two-and-a-half hours at a pizza joint on Milwaukee Avenue -- not exactly the most impressive setting at which to receive one's new in-law. (Note that I didn't say it would be inaccurate, merely unimpressive.) I'd asked my son's fiancee about this scheduled meeting the weekend before: "I hope your mother has something else to do on this trip besides go to a pizza joint on Milwaukee Avenue."

"Oh, sure," she told me. "We have a dress fitting that morning."

I was greatly relieved. Here was an Event (capital E) that would overawe anything else, and fully justify the trip, at least from the perspective of the mother-of-the-bride.

As it happened, we didn't get to meet the bride's mother Saturday. She fell and broke her ankle last Thursday. This was a day or two after our Older Daughter fell and dislocated her knee. (Surgeries are pending for both.) Meanwhile, my wife, who believes strongly that Everything Happens In Threes, is quite nervous.

We got to meet the bride's father on Saturday instead. Poor man. He got a last minute ticket to Chicago because his wife couldn't come. And thus he had to go to the dress fitting on Saturday morning. Speaking from my own experience, I can think of few things I would rather do less that see a daughter's bridal gown fitting. I saw Older Daughter's wedding gown on her wedding day. That was enough.

I don't know what the man may have thought of us; Long Suffering Spouse and I thought he was nice enough. He seems well pleased with our son. That's more than enough to suit us, don't you agree?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Pope owes the faithful some serious penance -- and real reform

The headlines from Europe have been depressing of late. The child molestation scandal in the Irish church was back in the news as apologies were made and no significant punishments were meted out. Then, in Germany, came word that, years ago, there had been a child molesting 'priest' transferred -- after 'therapy' -- to another pastoral assignment, all while the current Pope, then Archbishop Ratzinger, was merely the bishop in that local diocese. This 'priest' was later convicted of molesting boys in another parish.

Most recently -- and most egregiously -- comes the revelation that a priest in Milwaukee, assigned to a school for the deaf, molested as many as 200 boys. The abuse took place over 24 years from the 50s into the 70s -- but the evil was not uncovered until the mid-1990s. Wisconsin bishops asked the Vatican in 1996 for a trial to strip this 'priest' of his collar and, after far too long a delay, a trial was convened. However, the trial was halted after the accused priest "personally wrote to Cardinal Ratzinger protesting that he should not be put on trial because he had already repented and was in poor health and that the case was beyond the church’s own statute of limitations." The 'priest' died a couple of years later, in 1998, still technically in good standing with the Church.

The Vatican has responded to these latest news stories -- whining in a front page editorial in L'Osservatore Romano about "the prevalent tendency in the media to obscure facts and force interpretations with the aim of spreading an image of the Catholic Church as if it were the only one responsible for sexual abuse, an image that doesn't correspond with reality."

There is only one correct statement in that little quote: The sad reality is that it is not only in the Catholic Church that one finds pedophiles. They are drawn to any place with children -- public schools, scout troops, Protestant youth groups.

What Mother Church fails to understand, however, is that it is only in the Catholic Church that molesters were protected and moved from place to place, giving them fresh opportunities to abuse children.

It was not that the Church intended to hurt children. Actually, the Church hierarchy took steps that seemed reasonable, for a while anyway, to obtain psychological and psychiatric counseling and therapy for their errant brothers before allowing any return to pastoral work. Ironically, a religious institution put too much faith in science.

Because therapy didn't work. And, instead of recognizing the awful truth that child molesters can not be "cured," the church fathers thought that they simply needed to provide more therapy, more treatment and that would solve the problem.

Thousands -- tens of thousands -- of children suffered around the world as a result. And the Church hierarchy tried its damnedest (and I use this word advisedly here) to keep things quiet, thinking by this means to "protect" itself.

The scandal only now erupting in Europe surfaced in the United States over two decades ago. (For those of you conservatives who think tort lawyers do no good, think again.)

A Chicagoan, Anne M. Burke, wife of 14th Ward Chicago Ald. Edward M. Burke, became interim chair of a lay National Review Board of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Perhaps the board was established to paper over the problem -- perhaps there was a sincere desire in the American chanceries to purge the Church of this grievous sin. It doesn't really matter. What matters is that in 2002 Justice Burke (then a justice of the Appellate Court, now serving on the Illinois Supreme Court) and her board forced the American bishops to adopt a zero-tolerance policy toward child abusers.

No second chances. Therapy? Sure -- but no abuser would ever be put in a situation where he could have unrestricted access to children again. And -- most important -- we call the police now. The American Church has learned that it must treat an abuser like the criminal he is.

A few years ago, my pastor asked me if I'd be willing to participate in training so that I might serve, if asked, on a local board addressing clergy abuse. (Lawyers are always volunteered for these kinds of things.) I agreed.

I will not violate any confidences, even in an anonymous blog, but I have been asked by a couple of different religious orders to participate in review boards since that time and I have served.

It is not pleasant work.

But I am encouraged. Maybe it had to be dragged into it kicking and screaming, but I think the American Church is beginning to change for the better. The people I've dealt with understand the problem. They understand that molesters will not change, can not change. They understand that a pedophile often has a cheerful, sunny disposition that makes him attractive to families... and their children. They are adopting -- and, I believe, following -- policies which will keep them safe from false accusations and, most important of all, children safe from real dangers.

It's not just the Church. When I became a Cub Scout leader I was asked to take a course in sex abuse training. A lot of it is defensive -- and common sense: Don't put a child on your lap. Always have another adult present. Never be alone with a child. Religious fathers and brothers are getting this training now.

Will there still be incidents?

Yes. In Chicago, the example of the abuser Daniel McCormack -- where the Church's new policies were not followed -- is still fresh. But at least he went to jail.

To non-Catholics, it must seem astounding that any of us would remain faithful to an institution that has been so... evil (I can't find a different word). But the Catholic Church is not its venal bishops. The Church survived the Borgias and the Medicis. It will survive this, too.

But Pope Benedict must now "get it." The Pope, like his American brothers, must recognize the wisdom of zero-tolerance and the paramount need to protect children. Secrecy must be abandoned and civil authorities must be alerted whenever scandal is suspected. Joseph Ratzinger was part of the problem; Benedict XVI must confront his past and repent it -- and become part of the solution.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

One more thing about this health "insurance" stuff

(Shelby asked for more on this... so don't blame me.)

When I was taking the bar review course, around a million years ago, one of the instructors (a Kent law professor, Michael Spak), said something about new laws that's stayed with me: New laws are always good for lawyers, he said. It may not be in your field, but it's more work for somebody which means more work to go around for all.

The current health care bill, or bills, or whatever, may prove the exception to this rule.

Oh, the legislation is going to provide a field day for all sorts of lawyers -- state attorneys general from a number of largely "red" states are already plotting constitutional challenges to the packages. But that will surely be only the tip of the iceberg, depending on whether the laws survive these initial court challenges.

A colleague said to me yesterday, in fact, that he's figured out the bill: Congress has required all Americans to have money, he said.

"Money?" I asked.

"Money," he said. "You have to buy health insurance under the new law. You need money. If you don't buy health insurance, you'll be fined. You need money for that, too. Either way, you need money."

"But what if you don't have money?" I asked.

"That's the part I haven't figured out," he conceded.

Sarcasm aside, the key flaw in the new health insurance laws seems to me to be the idea that Congress has the power to compel citizens to purchase anything -- insurance, corn flakes, arugula -- under our Constitution. (Read this column by Jonah Goldberg on this point -- it's from the National Review Online, though I read it this morning -- in print in the Chicago Sun-Times.)

The federal mandate to purchase health insurance is not like a state law which can compel citizens to purchase auto insurance for two reasons: First, driving is a privilege granted by the state. I sure hope the distinction between driving and living is comprehensible -- even to federal judges. Second, states have police powers that our federal government of specific, enumerated powers does not have. Or did not have.

The challenges to this health care law will bog down all sorts of lawyers in the courts, perhaps for years, and may (will probably?) work its way up to the Supreme Court of the United States itself. Who knows who will be sitting then? John Paul Stevens is nearing 90 and clearly considering retirement. Ruth Bader Ginsburg has had a couple of serious cancer bouts; rumors of her retirement also circulate from time to time. Whoever is sitting at the time, the Court might divide 5-4, along ideological fault lines, on the constitutionality of the health insurance laws... and that would be a disaster for the country as a whole and the legal profession in particular.

If the health insurance laws are thrown out, the Left will decry right-wing judicial activists and the Right will be more firmly convinced than ever that the Court is our last bulwark against a rogue Congress. The rule of law -- the idea that we are a nation of laws, not of men (the word "men" used here in the generic, non-gender-specific sense because "people" sounds wrong) -- will suffer in both camps. (Suffer? I would venture to suggest that faith in the rule of law is flickering and nearly extinguished in both camps already.) And yet, it is the rule of law that has made our nation rise above the petty ethnic and tribal differences that have doomed other civilizations.

And the funny thing is, more and more, as I think about it, "health insurance" isn't really insurance at all.

The fringe elements are in control of both of our political parties. We must either reclaim the parties or start new ones. And we need new census maps. Anti-incumbent maps -- maps drawn in compact, contiguous shapes, as near to square as population will allow, without regard to the political or other leanings of those who reside therein. We got away from that -- legally -- to protect minority voting rights under federal law. I don't know if we can go back. But that's where I think we should start.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Hey technology! Stop doing me such favors....

I had a mediation last week that lasted all day and, in that time (without going into identifying details), we agreed how much money my client should get (I represent the plaintiff) -- but the defendants, who all agreed to the overall price, failed to agree among themselves who would pay what portion of that price. Imagine ten businesspeople trying to figure out how to split a single lunch check. Each could agree on who ordered which sandwich, but problems would still arise: "You had more of the onion rings than anyone!" "Yeah? Well, you ate all the chicken wings!" "Whose bright idea was it to order pitchers of Coke? Sam here drank one all by himself!"

The mediator, a retired judge, was working the phones throughout the week after the mediation and even into this week. The judge's assistant has called me with updates -- but the updates are all of the they're-still-working-on-it variety.

Meanwhile, today was supposed to be the post-mediation status hearing before the non-retired judge who is presiding over the actual court case. We're supposed to tell this judge whether we've settled the matter... or whether we're going to plunge, wallet-first, into trial preparation.

My thought was that I would wander over to the courthouse this morning and tell the judge what's been going on and obtain a short extension. I like going over to the courthouse in the morning. I get to see people. People get to see me. Sometimes I even have conversations with people... without typing!

But this was too easy a solution to be workable. The defendants' attorneys took time out from their squabbles over who should pay what to argue about what to do in court this morning. If they'd come over to court with me we could have argued in front of the judge. Then everyone, even the judge, would have felt connected to the process.

Instead, however, some of the defendants' attorneys urged that an order be entered yesterday, striking today's hearing, and setting up another date next week. Emails were exchanged. Phone calls were made and received. I was working on a project that was not overly difficult -- but required me to stay focused for more than 10 minutes at a time in order to get it finished. Though I therefore tried to stay out of the discussion, I was on the receiving end of various phone and email messages. Finally, I called the judge's chambers and asked if I could bring over an order yesterday, instead of this morning. The judge's case coordinator agreed.

I went back to my project with one wary eye on the clock. Courtrooms tend to shut down around 4:00pm and, at my rate of progress, I was going to be getting over there about a minute on either side of that witching hour. I maintained my focus for a little while and finished my project, printed it, put it on the fax machine, typed out my order, photocopied it and ran over to court.

Unlike a visit to the courthouse first thing in the morning, the Daley Center in late afternoon is a lonely place. There are trials underway and, in other courtrooms, where there are no trials, many judges and their clerks are working diligently to prepare for the next morning's calls, but there are no crowds of lawyers and clients milling around the lobbies or in the corridors. The deputies conducting the security inspections are tired and maybe a little bored. There are some people around. But the Daley Center is a big building, and it feels pretty empty at 4:00pm.

I had the elevator to myself. When I got to the courtroom, the deputy told me the case coordinator was already gone for the day, but perhaps she'd left word with the clerk about my order and he took my paper and went to look. I got my order stamped and ran back to the office. The order had to be scanned and emailed to counsel. This doesn't happen nearly as quickly as you might think.

The upshot? I spent far more time on the post-mediation status yesterday than I would have today -- but I could not bill all that wasted time. And my oft-interrupted project took me longer to do than it should have, too. And I can't bill that client for the interruptions occasioned by the other case. And all thanks to "time-saving" technologies.

Spare me.

Monday, March 22, 2010

On the morning after Obamacare passed the House

The Channel 9 news at 9:00 cut to the C-Span feed at the end of the newscast last night to show the first of the votes on Obamacare. But the station couldn't stay with the count; there was a Sunday sports show to air.

I flipped over to C-Span to keep watching.

I watched to vote carry -- with a couple of votes to spare -- then I watched the Republicans try to resurrect the anti-abortion Stupak amendment -- then I watched Rep. Hoyer rise in opposition to the motion and cede time to Rep. Stupak, who argued against the amendment that had once been his (winning great applause from fellow Democrats) because President Obama has promised to issue an Executive Order that will preserve the status quo established by the Hyde Amendment some years ago. All this happened fairly quickly and without identifying captions on the speakers but this is what I perceived and I think I perceived accurately. It was hard to follow, because the actors in this drama were following a script written in procedural gibberish. Youngest Son, who was watching also, kept asking for "English, please," but I could not translate and follow the proceedings at the same time. I do know that one of President Obama's first acts as president was to repeal an Executive Order entered by George Bush -- that revived an order first implemented by Ronald Reagan, then reversed by Bill Clinton -- the so-called "Mexico City Policy" which prohibited American funding of family planning services to groups that "offered abortion-related services overseas, even if funding for those activities came from non-government sources. It essentially barred recipients of U.S. foreign aid from promoting abortion as a method of family planning."

Given President Obama's documented opposition to pro-life causes, it is hardly surprising that some were skeptical that his promise for a pro-life Executive Order implementing Obamacare would be redeemed. But it is significant that Rep. Stupak believed: The small number of Democrats who would have supported his amendment switched sides -- and these were the margin of the Democrats' victory last night. There is reason to believe that the Republicans who raised the banner that Stupak laid down were doing so not from pro-life convictions, but to try and bury the overall bill.

The whole thing was a disgusting spectacle and I could only bear to watch for a little while. The last straw, for me, was when C-Span began taking calls from viewers, all of whom had strong opinions, pro and con, about the legislation, with no clue about what the bills actually provide.

This morning, the markets will react to the inevitability of Obamacare. Pharmaceutical and health care stocks will go up or down based on the wild speculations of committed proponents and opponents of the legislation alike. But the speculators will, for the most part, not have read, and certainly not have understood, the bill.

Neither have I. Neither have you. I would bet that most of the congressmen who voted for and against the bills last night have not read the bill either. I wonder if most even have someone on their staffs who claims to have read it all.

Part of the blame for this must rest with the administration and congressional leadership: The negotiations of the final bill were secret -- and the final provisions were not made public until the middle of last week -- and, by "public" I mean public only in the loosest sense because in the muddle of the Internet I am unable to locate what I can authoritatively link to as the exact text of the bill passed last night. It was at least claimed that the final bill was released in the middle of last week. I can find a million news stories telling me what others think is in it, good and bad, but not the bill itself. I can't even tell you how long the bill is -- I've heard 3,000 pages, but that may be an exaggeration.

It is certainly more than 1,000 pages. Various versions clocked in at more than 2,000. So, whatever the actual number, hundreds and perhaps thousands of pages of legislative sludge will be inserted into the statute books, probably this week, allegedly affecting one-sixth of the American economy. The Congressional Budget Office, which has studied the actual bill, believes it will reduce deficits even as nearly a trillion new government dollars are poured into health care.

There's only one way that can happen: The bill must raise taxes.

The Republicans who oppose the bill have done a poor job of pointing this out. The Democrats who supported the bill may not even know that they have supported a massive tax increase.

Court challenges will follow as details of the final plan emerge. Some 38 states are considering -- and one has passed -- laws refusing to participate in Obamacare. There will be challenges to these as well, perhaps even a constitutional crisis as the national government asserts new powers in areas formerly governed by state law only.

If courts strike down all or some of the Obamacare provisions as unconstitutional, will respect for our courts be increased or diminished further? (I'd make book upon the latter, assuming the Obamacrats remain in office when the court challenges are finally resolved.)

The administration and the Congressional Democrats were bound and determined to get health care "reform" at any price. A bill -- any bill -- had to be passed. The Republicans were equally insistent that the bill -- any bill -- must be defeated. In both camps, truth was the first casualty of the ideological war. But, eventually, the details of the price we will all pay will emerge as people begin to obtain and read through and study the actual new law.

Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats have performed admirably in these events. Each blames the other, but both are to blame. And we the people will reap the consequences.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Ups and downs, pros and cons, of solo practice

My wife dropped me off a block away from the train station this morning. The light at Harlem was green and morning commuters are not a patient bunch. Someone might have rear-ended the family van if Long Suffering Spouse tried to stop to let me out. So she kept going until we were past the expressway entrance and pulling over again became an option.

So I walked back a block in the direction of... home. I realized... I could just keep going. No one would know, or care, really, not until Long Suffering Spouse called to check in at lunch time and found that she couldn't reach me at my office number. There's no boss looking at his watch when I wander in; there's no clock to punch. If I want to take a walk at lunch, if I want to visit museums today, if I want to just get on a bus and ride, there's nobody but me who would immediately protest.

On the other hand, I only make money if I work. If I stall long enough, I will lose my Undisclosed Location and my house and my family. But effort is only roughly correlated with income: I can work and not get paid. This happens all too often. I haven't gone on a binge or on strike or anything -- and, still, this year so far, I've made $1,500 from my law practice. Five hundred smackers a month! Woo hoo!

This is a consequence of people not paying their bills. But the money situation is turning around; I've worked long and hard and my labors are beginning to bear fruit. And one of the two large delinquent accounts is apparently making an effort to catch up; I had a happy email from my co-counsel on one of those cases yesterday. She's waiting for the client's check to clear. That's good news -- but, in the meantime, to stay alive, I've borrowed more on my life insurance. There's not much chance of paying any of that back any time soon.

So there's no one that makes me stay here in the office except me and mine. In that sense, I'm free. But I'm just as dependent as the salaried employee is on that proverbial next check -- and, unlike a salaried employee, I don't know when, if ever, it will come.

The tension is constant; the pressure unrelenting. Is it any wonder I fantasize about book contracts?

On the plus side, I've already won my office NCAA pool. On the other hand, I'm also guaranteed to finish last. And it's the same result, year after every year.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Here's why the House must vote on Obamacare

I had no intention of being political this morning -- I have too darned much work to do -- but this post on Rather Than Working got me a bit riled. Dave, who is at least sympathetic to the idea of Obamacare, went looking on line for some clue as to what the latest version of the bill might be -- you know -- the one on which the House is supposed to vote.

He could find nothing.

Initially, I thought the bill before the House pretty much had to be the Senate Senate bill as passed, but, upon reflection, I realized that this bill, if it could be passed by the House as it passed the Senate, would leave nothing to be "reconciled." So there must be some version of the Senate bill, amended to appease the various factions in the House, that must be voted up or down.

Or -- now says the House leadership -- maybe not. Maybe, says Speaker Pelosi and others on her team, they can pretend it was passed. And wish it it were passed. And, somehow, using this deem and pass rule, the bill will be considered to have passed... by Pelosi et al. ... even if there would not have been enough votes to pass on the yeas and nays.

Ms. Pelosi, it seems, is obviously willing to stoop to extraordinary procedural machinations in order to pass her bill. She is quoted as having said, "You go through the gate. If the gate's closed, you go over the fence. If the fence is too high, we'll pole vault in. If that doesn't work, we'll parachute in. But we're going to get health care reform passed for the American people."

But can she do this?

Well. One of the sites I saw this morning says this would be blatantly unconstitutional because it would violate Article I, Section 7 of the U.S. Constitution, which provides, in pertinent part:
Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a Law, be presented to the President of the United States: If he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his Objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the Objections at large on their Journal, and proceed to reconsider it. If after such Reconsideration two thirds of that House shall agree to pass the Bill, it shall be sent, together with the Objections, to the other House, by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by two thirds of that House, it shall become a Law. But in all such Cases the Votes of both Houses shall be determined by yeas and Nays, and the Names of the Persons voting for and against the Bill shall be entered on the Journal of each House respectively.
But this provision clearly applies to veto overrides only. So my breathless right-wing friends are wrong about Speaker Pelosi's proposed 'deem and pass' tactic violating this provision.

But, they are not wrong about what the procedure being unconstitutional... IF one-fifth of the House demands a vote. Article I, Section 5, of the Constitution provides:
Each House shall keep a Journal of its Proceedings, and from time to time publish the same, excepting such Parts as may in their Judgment require Secrecy; and the Yeas and Nays of the Members of either House on any question shall, at the Desire of one fifth of those Present, be entered on the Journal."
Inasmuch as Congressional Republicans seem as ignorant of the Constitution as Congressional Democrats, there is no guarantee that a vote will be properly demanded. But, if it is, 'deem and pass' should be DOA.

And if Ms. Pelosi insists on pretending it was passed anyway, Mr. Obama should perform the bravest political act of his life and promise to veto the bill before the reconciliation folly takes place. Because any judge, liberal, conservative or Trotskyite, would have to rule the entire health care reform bill unconstitutional or else violate his or her oath.

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P.S. -- From what I've been able to gather, 'deem and pass' has been used to do things that were generally considered necessary... but unpopular... like voting to raise the debt ceiling. No one wants to be on record as supporting raising the debt ceiling, when it becomes absolutely necessary, but there's no serious, substantial opposition to it either. Just another Profile in Cowardice....

St. Patrick's Day with Long Suffering Spouse

My Cuban bride makes a mean Irish soda bread, but I brag on her cooking all the time.

So this morning, I will mention instead one of her favorite St. Patrick's Day traditions -- corned beef.

Now, ethnically, I suppose, I'm about as Irish as Paddy's pig -- but I have no particular liking for corned beef and I can't abide cabbage. But as the Feast of St. Patrick approaches my wife's desire for corned beef overwhelms her, and she lays in a supply for herself.

And some rye bread.

And some mustard.

And pickles.

So I asked my wife: Are you celebrating St. Patrick's Day or having a last sandwich fling in the house before getting ready for Passover?

The family increases

"The family increases."

This was what my father-in-law said anytime he found out a new grandchild was on the way. Once, at a family Christmas gathering, my wife told her father she was expecting -- but asked him please don't say anything because it was too early in the pregnancy. So... at dinner... all my father-in-law said was, "The family increases." Those three words -- and my wife's face -- told the entire story anyway.

This brings us to last night, when the phone rang. It was my mother-in-law. "The family increases," she said.

I have a niece who was expecting; from these words alone, I knew she'd apparently gone into labor.

We don't have much contact with our niece -- she's a lawyer, married to another lawyer who's serving in the Army. They're based in Virginia at present. But distance is not the reason for our lack of contact: Long Suffering Spouse doesn't talk to her sister, my niece's mother -- which is the sort of thing you find all the time in an Irish family. Except, of course, my wife's family is Cuban.

But talk, schmalk! A baby is a baby and the birth of a healthy baby in the family, even in a branch we don't talk to, is a happy thing. And my mother-in-law, who does talk to that side of the family, was over the moon. "I'm going to be a great-grandmother!" she enthused.

"What were you before? Mediocre?" I asked, immediately ashamed of myself for being a smart-aleck. I quickly passed the phone to my wife.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Curmudgeon thinks about ways to boost readership

Monday morning, and wallowing in self-doubt:

Like a lot bloggers, I suppose, from time to time I wonder why I haven't hit it "big" yet: Not only do I not have a book contract, I don't get even 100 visitors a day. And, lately, most of those come here looking for a cartoon I reposted about piñatas back in September 2007. (If you've landed here looking for that, go here instead.)

For comparison purposes, Ken Levine's blog (as of this morning) is averaging 4,920 visitors a day. Of course, Levine has written for M*A*S*H, Cheers, and lots of other TV shows you've heard of and watched. He's broadcast major league baseball (and currently has a Dodgers talk show on KABC in Los Angeles). So there's that.

And, with his fund of Hollywood lore, Levine has stories of national interest. A lot of the stuff I do here is more 'local interest.' Moreover, Levine stands behind his work; I blog anonymously. Maybe, therefore, it would be a better comparison to look at a local interest, anonymous blog. One of my favorite Chicago blogs is Second City Cop, an inside -- and, for that reason, necessarily anonymous -- look at the Chicago Police Department. This morning, says Sitemeter, SCC is averaging 10,736 visitors a day. And I'll bet none of them are looking for someone else's cartoons about piñatas.

Now I really feel bad.

I know part of my trouble here is that I am consistently inconsistent: I don't blog about a single topic. I blog about family, or politics, the practice of law (occasionally), or anything else that pops into my head on a given morning. How can anyone expect a blog about nothing in particular to hit it big? Can you imagine a TV show about nothing attracting an audience? (OK, besides Seinfeld....)

From what I read in the papers, extremism seems to be a good way to generate blog numbers: Take an extreme stance and heap abuse on anyone who dares to disagree. I used to doubt that such creatures really existed in significant numbers -- but after looking occasionally at the on-line comments to almost any news (or sports) story, I was forced to reevaluate. I don't like to read blogs like that... but, if all I want are numbers, maybe I could write one....

It's just... what kind of extremes could I shout about? I don't wholly buy into the agenda of either political party. On a given issue I lean one way or the other -- but that lack of bulldog commitment would probably doom an extremist enterprise from the start. Unless... do you think there's a future in extreme moderation?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Have you ever heard of a "hospitalist?"

I visit Ellee Seymour's blog on occasion; she's been kind enough to return the favor (or, since she's English, I suppose I should say 'favour') from time to time. Ms. Seymour blogs on English politics and apparently enjoys a considerable following.

Earlier this week Ms. Seymour had a post entitled "Introducing the Hospitalist." Per her post, this is "an American concept." An excerpt:
A hospitalist is a medic who cares for all the patient’s needs from the moment he enters hospital, until the moment he leaves. He is also a point of contact when the patient returns home and wants to call and check on medication or has any immediate concerns. Patients and their families often find it hard to take in important medical information and its full implication while in hospital, and it is reassuring for them to know there is one person who is aware of the full facts and, most importantly, is accessible.

As I understand it, the hospitalist is basically a case manager who will liaise with patients and hospital staff to ensure their needs and will follow through all the needs regarding his treatment. They will ensure there is no confusion or misunderstanding surrounding complications, such as when a patient has more than one medical problem and is seeing more than one consultant.
I've never heard of any such thing.

Of course, I'm a middle-aged Dad and, therefore, by definition, clueless on most things, especially if they are in any way trendy. Also, with the significant exception of having most of my colon removed three years ago (how time flies!) I have managed to avoid hospitalizations recently and may, therefore, have a reasonable excuse for not knowing about it.

So, I open up the discussion to the group: Have you ever heard of a "hospitalist?" Have you any experience of this specialty... whether good, bad or indifferent? If you have some information on the topic, leave a comment, please (and, lurkers, please consider yourselves specifically invited to leave a comment as well).

Thank you.
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And, if anyone is interested in my own hospitalization story, here are the posts, in chronological order. I thought these were pretty amusing when I wrote them... although, of course, I was heavily drugged up at the time....

Thursday, March 11, 2010

An heretical thought about health "insurance"

I realize it's probably too late in the process to go back to first principles in the American health care debate, but I have a day job and I can't think about these things full-time.

I am an insurance lawyer by trade. I started out in insurance defense and moved into coverage work. I have limited experience, though, in life, accident or health coverages. My work has been primarily in the area of auto, homeowners, OLT (owner-landlord-tenant) or CGL (business) coverages. At one point I did a lot of fire work, both first and third-party stuff (meaning sometimes I was representing the insurer directly and sometimes I represented an insured who was accused of causing a fire loss at someone else's property).

In the course of my career I've learned that the bedrock principle of insurance is fortuity. Basically, insurance can be procured to protect against things that might happen -- not for things that must happen. For example, if the wind blows very hard and tears the roof off your house -- that's covered. However, if the roof wears out and lets the rain in -- that's inevitable and, therefore, not covered. (Entropy increases.)

And therein lies the difference between property insurance and what we call health insurance: With proper maintenance, a building can last indefinitely. (Tourism depends upon it.) The fortuitous risks to which a building may be exposed in the course of any given year can be identified and measured and rated accordingly.

On the other hand, with the best possible maintenance, and a dollop of good luck, a person can expect to last for... what? A hundred years? 90? As people age, even those who've enjoyed very good health can expect increasing problems. They may never occur -- but, when they do, they're not unexpected.

Doesn't the very idea of health insurance violate the principle of fortuity?

I think that the principle, or something very much like it, might apply if large groups of people are considered. But individual health policies take into account the health of the insured at the time of application -- they are 'rated' individually. Thus -- as the reformers keep telling us -- people with pre-existing conditions or predispositions to certain conditions or even prior conditions can't find insurance. Well, of course not -- not if we're talking about a product that only covers fortuitous losses.

The Democrats in Congress are shortly expected to pass mandatory health insurance requirements as part of the bloated, however-many-thousand-pages-this-week health care bill. Yet I'm not sure we know whether there is such a thing, really, as health insurance.

I'd like some guidance on this, please.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A possible explanation for America's toxic political climate? Blame the media....

Sounds like a song you've heard before? Stay with me for just a moment, please. I believe I have something different to offer.

It is commonly believed, at present, that America's political climate is so toxic as to render our government dysfunctional. The True Blue Left blames the Red Meat Right for these conditions; the Red Meat Right blames the True Blue Left. Both sides agree on only one thing: If the other side would merely surrender unconditionally, a new Golden Age would begin.

Merely!

For those of us who wholly align with neither side, life is becoming increasingly uncomfortable. Since either side accepts, as an article of faith, that all those who are not with them -- 100%, four-square, solid with them -- are against them, a lot of us in the middle start to imagine that things must have been better in the past. I read a column in Newsweek recently that cited the U.S. Senate under Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson, as an example of a happier time when bipartisanship was not a curse word. The columnist even referred readers to Robert Caro's book on LBJ's tenure as Majority Leader, Master of the Senate. Good heavens! The body portrayed in that book is something that no one should want to emulate. Ever. If that assemblage can be held up as a positive example for today, the present is indeed bleak.

Thankfully, history teaches otherwise.

Messrs. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams collaborated successfully on the Declaration of Independence and in European diplomatic assignments, getting the infant America launched on the world stage. When Adams and Jefferson both resided in Paris, they were apparently warm friends. At their end of their long lives they engaged in a lively correspondence that largely healed the wounds that had destroyed their friendship.

But such wounds! Back in America, when they became political opponents, Jefferson encouraged (and found money to pay for) the most astounding attacks on Adams. Adams' vanity, his ambition -- even his sanity were challenged. He was accused of being a monarchist -- and that was one of the nicer charges leveled against him.

Adams had some choice words for Jefferson, too, although the most partisan attacks on what came to be the Federalist side came from Alexander Hamilton. (Adams cordially despised Hamilton as well.) If Adams usually limited his vitriol to his diary or to private letters... well, his "private" letters sometimes found their way into print.

Collected into contemporary biographies and histories, these attacks and counterattacks are often sickening to read. Not that every charge was necessarily false: Jefferson's alleged relationship with Sally Hemings was first made public by James T. Callender, one of the "journalists" that Jefferson and his friends had employed to slander Adams and the Federalists. Of course, Callender's charges were not leveled until after Jefferson had cut off his income. (Though probably true, the story of the Jefferson-Hemings liaison was so salacious that even Adams refused to believe them.)

Thus, the media has always been poisonous -- which you might think contradicts my thesis at the outset of this essay, blaming the media for our present degenerate political climate.

But Adams and Jefferson did not have to contend with Fox News or MSNBC or Daily Kos or Rush Limbaugh. No one confides only to their diary any more. Sarah Palin, for example, vents on a Facebook page. The 24/7 news cycle, the competition for ratings, and the money to be made from punditry have elevated Callender's heirs to fame and fortune. And no rumor, no charge, no accusation of villainy goes unreported... or unrebutted. Who among us would remain friendly with someone who Faces the Nation every Sunday morning and attacks us personally?

Thus, things are the same as they ever were -- only much, much more so: We know about every attack, every smear now -- instantly and constantly.

The remedy?

Some circumspection on the part of the political class would help. But that's probably far too much to hope for. I suppose the ultimate remedy lies in our hands. Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, on the one hand, and Keith Olbermann, MSNBC and the Daily Kos, on the other, succeed because people watch and listen. We should demand better.

I hope we will.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Curmudgeon rants against Daylight Savings Time -- or at least against 'springing forward'

I suppose I can blame Bee for getting me started on this one.

My blogfriend Bee made an entirely innocuous remark the other day about looking forward to the return, this weekend, of Daylight Savings Time. I don't particularly care that it will be lighter later or darker earlier... although lately I've begun to appreciate the fact that it's less hazardous trudging across my bedroom floor in the mornings these days because the sky is starting to brighten now when my alarm clock goes off. Next week it will be pitch black again. But that will pass soon enough.

My real problem with Daylight Savings Time is that this weekend will be only 47 hours long.

I don't want to give up that hour.

It's no good telling me I'll get the hour back in the fall; I know that. I look forward to that. I think all weekends should be longer than 48 hours.

Many years ago I had a number of cases against a PI attorney who 'commuted' from Michigan. I never knew exactly where. He may have lived in Grand Beach or New Buffalo -- where many Chicagoans congregate during the summer months -- or he may have been further north. Wherever he was, he was not just a summer resident; he lived there full-time, keeping some sort of apartment here in the City for the three days a week that he came into the office.

That's right: He came in on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays only and was not available for court or depositions on Monday or Friday.

No one ever forced him to do otherwise, though periodic efforts seem to have been made. He had an associate who came to court on Mondays or Fridays to beg postponements until a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday when The Man would be available. As far as I know, these requests were always granted. (None of the cases I had with him ever came to trial so I don't know if he made an exception for trials -- I wouldn't be surprised either way at the answer to that question.)

I didn't much care for this guy at the time -- he was a pain in the neck for several reasons, not all of which had to do with his unique scheduling -- but he certainly had a good idea about weekends. Ninety six hours seems about the right number to me -- long enough to rest from the rigors of the week just past, long enough to start work on some pending domestic project, long enough to become weary of said project and to look forward to the change of pace that work might bring... yes, I think this would be about ideal.

Sadly, I don't think it's possible today. Of course, I don't know how it was possible then.

But while the 96 hour weekend may not be realistic -- a 47 hour weekend strikes me as an abomination. It will get lighter in the evenings eventually at this latitude -- for a little while, anyway -- even without fiddling with the clocks.

Maybe if we moved the clocks forward on a Tuesday or something it wouldn't bother me as much.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Off to the law library... and a look out the window

I don't know that I was inspired by my blogfriend Dave's recent example; I'd like to think that, despite paying a King's Ransom each month to Westlaw, I retain a fondness for books, an appreciation, that can occasionally overcome my considerable interia and get me out of my chair and over to the Daley Center Law Library. That is where I am headed momentarily.

Because it was designed as a courthouse, the ceilings in the Daley Center are all unusually high. Though only a 30 story building (31 if you count a floor entirely devoted to mechanical equipment), the Daley Center is taller than a lot of buildings with more floors. In fact, according to this Wikipedia article, the Daley Center stands 648 feet tall and is the tallest flat-roofed building in the world that contains fewer than 40 floors. This is something like being the world's tallest midget, I suppose. For comparison sake, the George W. Dunne County Administration Building across the street at 69 W. Washington (the old Brunswick Building) has 35 floors but stands only 476 feet tall.

This would make 69 West Washington shorter than the Chicago Temple Building next door. (Clarence Darrow maintained an office in the old Temple Building, you may remember. Or not.) Wikipedia claims that the Temple Building (77 W. Washington) is 568 feet tall. The 69 W. Washington Building just looks taller because it is a standard Miesian box; the Temple building has a Methodist Church, complete with spire, sitting atop the office floors.

Anyway... the views from the Daley Center Law Library, on the 29th floor, are rather spectacular. Today, I guess I shall have to make a point of verifying for myself that the County Administration Building really is shorter than the Temple Building.

But the real purpose of my mission is not to look out of windows, but rather to consort with books. I have a project due Friday -- and, so that I don't give away too many potentially identifying facts -- let me just recite an old legal maxim: "When the law is against you, pound the facts. When the facts are against you, pound the law." There is often a third sentence included in this saying: "When both the law and the facts are against you, pound the table." Let's just say that my mission this afternoon is to give the law just one more chance before I am reduced, in this particular case, to pounding on the table....

Friday, March 05, 2010

Why the grocery bills have yet to drop in the Curmudgeon house

"What would you like for dinner?" This is a question that Long Suffering Spouse frequently poses if we talk on the phone after her school day is over.

This is a question I never seem to answer correctly.

If I say, "I dunno, what have we got?" that's criticized as evasive.

I've tried, "Whatever you make is fine with me" -- which might seem sappy, I suppose, except it's true. Long Suffering Spouse is a fine cook. Nevertheless, this answer is also insufficient.

What might a good answer be? "I want roast beef, medium rare, darn it, and mashed potatoes and fresh green beans -- none of that frozen stuff. And the wine had better be properly chilled!"

Somehow, I don't think that would be well received either.

I employed the 'what have we got' gambit earlier this week when Long Suffering Spouse asked me about dinner. She sighed. "Well, I could make a ham casserole or tuna casserole or maybe Chinese food."

I suggested we could save the tuna for a Friday. (It is Lent, you know.)

"Well, then, ham casserole or Chinese food?" Somehow I don't think my wife's recipe for Chinese food is found in any book of Oriental cooking. It is, rather, Chinese food dumbed down for my picky palate: Chunks of beef, a smattering of carrots to make it look legit and, over in one section of the wok, some vegetables that my wife will actually eat. It's the preparation in the wok and the fact that it's served over rice that makes it "Chinese." All I know is that the meat from Costco that my wife uses for this dish is melt-in-your-mouth good.

Who knew?

Tempting as the Chinese food sounded, further questioning revealed that the ham was older and needed to be cooked soon. "Ham casserole sounds fine," I said.

"Are you sure? You sound like you want the Chinese." (I may have made yummy-noises thinking about the beef.) But I persuaded her that I was sincere in my willingness to eat the ham dish.

That conversational minefield safely traversed, we moved on to other things. I mentioned that Middle Son might be dropping by tonight. Since he's moved out, he's come back most Sundays, going to the late Mass at our parish and staying for dinner. He's brought his ironing a few times. I think Long Suffering Spouse was disappointed when he didn't bring ironing. She's "teaching" him how to iron properly.

This week Middle Son didn't make it on Sunday. He's putting in long hours in his new job, including mandatory Saturdays during Tax Season. He's also tried to maintain a typical 20-something social schedule. The combination means that by last Sunday evening, he was barely ambulatory -- and not interested in driving to our house... even if dinner would be served.

But, in those weeks when he hasn't made it home on Sunday, he's tried to come over some other night during the week. This was, apparently, going to be one of those nights.

"I don't know if ham casserole will be enough," Long Suffering Spouse said.

Our conversation ended soon after and I got busy doing some actual work -- so busy, in fact, that I didn't get home until about 7:30. Middle Son had been at home for awhile.

I greeted him and put down my briefcase, shed my coat, and went into the kitchen in search of ham casserole. I didn't see it at first because it was hidden by the wok.

The empty wok.

Obviously Long Suffering Spouse had decided that, if Middle Son was coming over, one entree would not suffice.

I started looking around for any chunks of melt-in-your-mouth beef... but found nothing.

Then I saw the ham casserole. Half of that was gone, too.

I ate dinner and visited with Middle Son -- he seems to be settling in nicely in his job and in his apartment. Figuring that his present location is not likely to last more than a year, Middle Son is continuing to use our address for a lot of his bills and other mail. When he left, he took a stack with him.

Long Suffering Spouse sighed as the front door closed behind him. "He looks good in a suit, don't you think?"

I agreed.

"But I think he's lost weight, don't you?" she asked.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why the grocery bills have yet to drop in the Curmudgeon home. I hope you weren't expected a rant about tomato prices?

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Actually, this isn't on the door at my Undisclosed Location...

...but it seems all too descriptive of my own habits....


Obtained from this site -- where you will find the usual hodgepodge of some naughty pictures, some utterly tasteless and offensive, and the occasionally funny one.

This one is funny.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

It's baseball season again in Chicago?

I'm not talking about Cactus League games starting this week in the Arizona desert -- you see, Dr. Bee, this post isn't really going to be about sports -- although I'm happy as anyone that I'll have baseball games to watch on TV real soon.

It's slightly above freezing in Chicago, and the snow cover is retreating, but it's still plenty deep in spots -- and yet Youngest Son is trying out for the varsity baseball team. The schedule would make much more sense if Global Warming were further advanced....

If Youngest Son makes the team -- and, unlike last year, he's supposedly been assured that he will -- all three of my sons will have played varsity baseball in high school.

That's pretty amazing for the sons of a guy who didn't get off the couch in high school except maybe, sometimes, to shoot pool. It just goes to show you that Long Suffering Spouse is athletic.

But the tryouts this year are at 5:00am, yesterday, today and tomorrow! That's neither a typo nor an exaggeration: 5:00am. (Last year I was amazed to hear of a 6:00am tryout time, and that was on a Saturday. Obviously, I know nothing about sports.)

Yesterday morning, I struggled out of bed at 4:33am to say good morning to Youngest Son. He was sitting, fully dressed, wearing his letterman's jacket (he's already lettered in football) in the living room, munching a piece of pound cake. I wished him luck. I told him I'd have only one question when I saw him next: What time did the coaches really show up?

"5:03," Youngest Son volunteered as soon as I got home last night. "The head coach arrived at 5:03 and we were inside the building by 5:07." For some reason the school was locked at that hour.... imagine that!

Youngest Son insisted that the full complement of hopefuls was in place by 5:15 except for one coach who was ill. The head coach had been sick last week. (For that matter, Youngest Son was pretty queasy last night -- but, thank heavens, not nearly as awful as last year.)

It was 4:35 this morning when Youngest Son started down the stairs. I didn't get out of bed today. Both Long Suffering Spouse and I mumbled best wishes. We think he responded. (He may still have been queasy this morning: There was still some pound cake left when I got downstairs.)

I thought the idea behind the ridiculously early tryouts was to wean out all but those who were serious candidates to make the team. Things may work out that way, but apparently the real reason why varsity tryouts are so early is that so many freshman try out for their team that every available inch of athletic space is taken up in the afternoons. Youngest Son was pressed into service helping out at yesterday afternoon's tryouts. He may be asked to help again today.

That's a long day. A long couple of days.

But not, apparently, if you really, really enjoy it. And if you really, really want it.

Thus, this post is not about sports... it's about desire and determination. And joy.

Heads or Tails #129 -- "cup"

Sometimes I think Barb is just trying to get me in trouble with these Heads or Tails topics. Cup? If I were a Canadian, I might fool you into believing that the first thing that I thought of was Lord Stanley's Cup... but I'm not Canadian.

Cup? I'm a (reasonably) healthy American male. Good heavens, what images do you think the word "cup" would conjure up for me?

Nevertheless, since (I pretend) you can't see this weekly interior dialogue, I will try and fool you into believing... yes, I'll take a walk down Memory Lane instead....


It was just a coffee cup. Ceramic of some sort, I suppose, green on the outside and, at one time at least, white on the inside.

It was among my most cherished possessions, though, when I was a senior in high school.

I was one of about 10 guys in the AP Physics class. The class met daily at the obscenely early hour of 7:30am. Our teacher, Mr. C, knew that this was far too early for teenagers to be alert all by themselves, so he allowed us to install a coffee pot and bring our own mugs to sip during class. At least I think we were allowed to imbibe during class; the intervening decades fuzz the memory just a bit. If we weren't, what would have been the point?

I do recall, clearly, the deterioration of that coffee cup during the course of the year. We may have been in an AP Physics class, but the cup itself could have served as a class project for AP Chemistry.

Soap and water might have worked wonders to prevent this... but this did not occur to me initially... as the year wore on it became a point of perverse pride to see just how scummy the interior of this cup could get. It was a wonder there was room for any actual liquid coffee in there at all.

(No wonder so much of my innards have since been removed!)

Unlike all of my children, I went to a co-ed, public high school. But there were no girls in AP Physics. There was only one brave girl in our Calculus class.

This is additional proof that girls are smarter than boys: The girls figured out that they could get honors credit far easier by staying in chorus... and they all got A's. I remember being thrilled to earn anything better than a 'C' in those two classes. I even scored a passing grade on the AP Calculus test. The AP Physics test can be discussed on another occasion (it at least provided me with a valuable lesson in how to approach... and how not to approach... Big Tests).

I don't know what became of my beloved green coffee cup. Perhaps it became an EPA Superfund site. I do know that only one of my five children took Calculus in high school. None took AP Physics.

Remember "The Jetsons"? In the future, kids were going to take Calculus in kindergarten.

What happened to that hopeful future?