Thursday, May 31, 2012

And now a word from our sponsor

I haven't done a shameless plea for new readers for this blog for some time.

Last month, you may recall, I plugged a new blogging venture, The Blog of Days, and I hope you've gone over to visit, and maybe even added BoD to your bookmarks or reader or whatever.

But what I haven't done recently is beg for new Second Effort readers.

Soon -- and I am working my way up to it -- I'm going to update the format of this blog. I've used a Blogger-supplied HTML template since 2005 that I've tweaked manually from time to time, but a lot of the cool whizbangs and gimcracks you see on other peoples' blogs simply aren't here. Why, I don't even have Facebook, Twitter, or Google+ buttons. (I do have an email option -- but that was all I could have in 2005. The other stuff either hadn't been invented yet or wasn't yet popular.)

Actually, you always could link from here to Facebook by copying the URL for the blog, or for any particular post, and pasting it into Facebook. It churns a bit and then provides a nifty-looking link, just as if you'd linked to an article from the Chicago Tribune or the Washington Post. Facebook might even give you thumbnail picture options. It's not hard -- but you do have to think about it. I want to make it easier. Because if you like something here, and you tell your friends, maybe a few of them will visit, too.

I said years ago that I'd know I'd made it as a blogger if I ever got a link to one of my own posts in my real (non-anonymous) email. It hasn't happened yet. Maybe adding those buttons you see at the end of everyone else's blogs posts will hasten the day for me. Maybe not.

But -- as with every human endeavor -- there is risk. I will probably lose stuff in the transfer. There's a lot to move. Not all of the Sidebar stuff will make it. I'll probably lose some links. I'm worried that some of the formatting on older posts may get lost. It would take me a long time to "fix" all the 1600+ posts that are already here.

But I'm going to do it. Soon. Because, even after nearly seven years, I'm still determined to be an overnight sensation.

(No, wait, that didn't sound right....)

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Nervous father-to-be brings back memories

The young insurance adjuster was clearly nervous about something. He whispered to his attorney who nodded, and nodded, and finally spoke.

We were at a mandatory arbitration hearing recently, a proceeding that is supposed to reduce the docket in the Municipal Division of our Circuit Court (that's the division that hears our smaller cases, where less than $30,000 is at stake). A mandatory arbitration hearing is like a trial, only a lot of the evidence can be pre-admitted if served on all parties more than 30 days before, and the hearing is not in front of a judge, it's in front of a panel of three lawyers. (Whether that really is the proper ratio -- three lawyers = one judge -- has not been adequately researched, in my opinion.)

And the mandatory arbitration hearing is run on the clock, too. Like a baseball game, a real trial can take all the time it needs to get the evidence heard (assuming the jurors can stay awake -- see, U.S. v. Clemens), but a 'mandatory arb' hearing must fit within a two hour time slot.

Usually, that's not a problem.

But the young insurance adjuster was leaving nothing to chance. "Mr. Chairman," said the lawyer, addressing the panel chair, as we were getting our pre-hearing housekeeping matters attended to, "my witness wanted the panel to know that his wife is heavily pregnant --"

"Mazel tov," someone interrupted.

"Thank you," said the witness.

"-- and she could go into labor at any time. My witness wants to leave his phone on during the hearing --"

"It's on vibrate," the anxious witness offered helpfully.

"-- just in case," said the lawyer as quickly as he could, determined to get in the last word.

"I assume this is your first child," I said. I wasn't asking.

"Why, yes," said the witness, looking surprised. "How did you know?"

Everyone in the room above a certain age -- and that was most of us -- laughed.

"Experience," I said, and all of us who'd laughed before laughed again. We weren't mocking the young man. Maybe we were a little envious that he was just starting down a path that, for each of us, was well-trod. I'm sure we all had a story or two we might have told at that point.

Here's one of mine.

Long Suffering Spouse was just about due with Oldest Son. We weren't past her due date yet (Oldest Son was the only one, I think, who actually came early) but all the signs and portents indicated that my wife's time was near.

I had a doctor's deposition that afternoon. It wasn't going to take that long; the depositions of treating physicians generally don't. There might be some notes that need deciphering and there's always some fluff and nonsense about background, training, and education, but all these other questions are asked usually just to camouflage the real purpose, which is, generally, to determine whether some present complaint really is, in the good doctor's opinion, related to the accident that gives rise to the suit and, if so, how firm the doctor is in that belief.

I think the deposition was set for 3:00pm; the doctor was coming downtown from Hyde Park (unusual in itself -- usually doctors make us come out to them -- perhaps this was on the doctor's way home). I got a call from the attorney who was producing the doctor shortly before I would have set out for his office. "The doctor's running late," I was told. "He got tied up in surgery. Come over around 4:00."

I checked in at home, advising my bride I'd be a little later than expected.

"Well, alright," she said, "but don't make it too late. I think something's going on."

"You're in labor?"

"Well, maybe. We'll see."

I went to the other attorney's office.

Four o'clock came and went, but the doctor did not arrive. I cooled my heels in the waiting room. This was 1985 and I'm pretty certain that I had no cell phone way back then. But the firm's waiting room may have been equipped with a telephone. They often were, in those days.

Around 5:00, however I did it, I called home. "The doctor's not here yet," I told Long Suffering Spouse.

"No?" she said. And she was quiet for a moment. Too quiet.

"It's definitely started, hasn't it?" I asked.

"It might stop at any time," she said. "It's nothing much yet, but, yes, I'm in labor."

"I'll play it by ear here," I said. "I'll get home as soon as I can."

At this point I thought to clue in the receptionist about my dilemma. (Can you imagine a receptionist working overtime because of a deposition? What a strange world it must have been in 1985, but that's how I remember it.) "So," I concluded, "do you have any idea of the doctor's ETA?"

"I'll call," she said, and I assume she did because, a few minutes later, she called me back to the window (her work station had a window, like a large teller's window, complete with little round hole for sound and a wide slot above a narrow ledge through which mail and most packages might fit, but which no person could squeeze through). "He's just about ready to leave now," she said, "he can be here by 6:00."

I thought about it for a moment. It had been tough to get a date for the doctor's deposition in the first place and I was reluctant to lose this chance. But then I thought some more. "You know," I said, "maybe we should reschedule." She called out the other lawyer, who readily agreed to cancel that day's attempt. We picked a new date. I thanked the receptionist for her courtesy as I wrote the tentative new date for the deposition in my office diary.

"This isn't your first child," the receptionist said. And she wasn't asking either.

"No, it's our second," I said.

"I could tell."

"Really?" I was genuinely surprised, just like the nervous insurance adjuster the other day.

"For one thing," she said, "you're speaking in complete sentences."

Oldest Son was born about 12 hours later.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Sometimes I'm just happy that the jargon is meaningless to so many others, too

From Randall Munroe's webcomic, xkcd (click on the link to see the
cartoon in situ -- and in order to read Mr. Munroe's embedded comment).

I've spent a lot of time reading LinkedIn profiles in recent weeks, trying to see how I can catch the social networking wave and possibly some actual business as well. I am continually amazed by the gibberish that passes for job descriptions. When I read some of these profiles I wish I could actually reach out and grab the person by the neck and throttle him (or her) and scream what do you really do?

But it's not just LinkedIn profiles that are baffling me. I took a deposition of a young man a few weeks back -- nice enough kid -- about the age of Oldest Son. He testified about his job (under oath, mind you) and I didn't understand a damn syllable of it. Something to do with marketing. And he travels. A lot. But I could develop no understanding of what he actually does.

Is this the new economy? As soon as someone figures out what you do, they stop paying for it? Come to think of it, Oldest Son is a consultant -- and I have no clue what he does either.

This might explain a lot about my law practice.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Dear Anti-NATO protestors: What are you for?

Dear Anti-NATO Protestors:

I get it. Honest, I do. You're against the war in Afghanistan.

Well, so am I.

Now what?

Chanting is great; thinking, though, is better.

We went into Afghanistan, in the aftermath of 9/11, because the Taliban regime was harboring -- serving as a base of operations for -- Al Qaeda, the very sick and twisted people who brought down the Twin Towers and crashed another airplane full of civilians into the Pentagon.

They'd all been our friends once. You probably don't know any of this because your memory doesn't go past the first screen on your Facebook page, but most of the Taliban and Al Qaeda -- even Bin Laden himself -- were mujahideen that we supported when they were resisting the attempted Soviet takeover of Afghanistan. "Friends" may be too strong a word for many of them -- although some of them were apparently friendly to us, then -- but at least they were the enemy of our enemy.

I know, I know, you probably didn't learn about the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in school -- but that's the reason why the U.S. boycotted the 1980 Moscow Olympics. You could look it up on that neat phone your parents gave you for graduation.

Anyway, by 2001, the bloom was definitely off the rose: If the Taliban weren't going to give us Al Qaeda, we were going to take them. And (although Bin Laden and a few other big fish got away) we did what we set out to do, tearing up Al Qaeda's infrastructure and kicking the Taliban out in the process. Kicking out the Taliban meant, by default, we'd gotten involved in an Afghan civil war.

Apparently, there's almost always a civil war on in Afghanistan, at least since 1978 or so, when a Soviet-backed regime seized power in a bloody coup. The Soviets tried to prop up their proxies, eventually committing thousands upon thousands of their own kids, and history will recall this as one of the nails in the coffin of Soviet Communism.

The Russians had had designs on Afghanistan since the days of the Tsars. In the 19th Century, the British tried to occupy Afghanistan (if only to frustrate the Tsars), and suffered dearly for it. The Russians learned nothing from Britain's example -- just as the English had learned nothing from the example of Alexander the Great, who also tried, and failed, to conquer Afghanistan.

Kids, you can criticize our Military-Industrial Complex all you want. I do. Heck, even President Eisenhower did. But American policy in Afghanistan never included hopes of conquest. If we've nevertheless been guilty of propping up the corrupt regime of Hamid Karzai, what would you suggest as an alternative?

The only alternative I know of is a return of the Taliban -- and they do kooky, nutty things like blowing up 1,700 year old statues because the statues are un-Islamic. (Not that they could be otherwise, given that they were carved centuries before the Prophet was born, but logic is not the strong suit of these fine men.) Educating your daughter is a death penalty offense with these charming and delightful folks, for parents and daughters alike. They gleefully blow up girls' schools (there really aren't any mixed schools) -- and they think gang rape is a perfectly acceptable means of punishing a girl for daring to appear in public without a male relative as her escort. No, as a general policy, maybe we should be like Starfleet and follow a non-interference directive... but isn't it kind of hard not to take sides in this case? I mean, seeing as how we were already there?

But, relax, kids, you've already won. The United States is bailing out of Afghanistan as soon as possible. We're trying to make our retreat look dignified, unlike some of our so-called NATO allies (the French for example?) who are racing pell-mell for the exits. The hope is that, somehow, with our additional expenditures to train and equip his troops, Karzai will be able to hold on for a decent interval after we've gone.

We tried to train and equip the South Vietnamese, too.

As I remember, it seemed like an awfully short time between our pullout and the fall of Saigon. Maybe it will be different this time. Maybe.

But, hey, kids, don't give those Afghan people a second thought. Not that you've given them a first thought.

Yours sincerely,


P.S. -- A bunch of y'all were still out marching yesterday afternoon when I left the office to go out on errands. All the big shots have gone home and you're still messing up traffic? Go home.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

You think negotiating arms limitation treaties is tough? Try choosing bridesmaids....

No wedding since Adam and Eve's has been without some drama.

Just yesterday, in fact, I read online that Balding Billy, Prince of England and Duke of Cambridge, just revealed how he complained to his grandmother about the invite list for his wedding. He'd been given a list of some 777 people, apparently, including "not one person I knew or Catherine knew." The Queen advised him to rip it up and start over, he said. Start with your own friends, the Queen told Billy, and we'll add to your list as we require. (Queens love that royal "we" stuff.)

Not revealed, at least in the article I saw, was any hint of the royal negotiations over bridesmaids.

As near as I can tell (and maybe there's research out there to support this hypothesis, who knows?) the likelihood that a marriage will be of long duration increases in inverse proportion to the number of bridesmaids.

In other words, a marriage celebrated with only three bridesmaids in attendance has a far better chance of lasting than one in which six or seven participate. Maybe you've never been to one, but you've probably heard about near-Broadway extravaganzas with 10 or more bridesmaids. These marriages often don't last past the honeymoon.

But the problem is that no red-blooded American girl arrives at the threshold of matrimony without promising (on average) 36 girls that they will be in her wedding. (OK, yes, I totally made that number up -- but, based on what I've seen in my life, it seems just about right.)

It starts in kindergarten. At that tender age, boys may not yet think that girls have cooties; sometimes a boy will even tell his parents that he plans to marry Cindy Lou from the playground. Usually, though, as soon as the boy sees a neat-looking bug or a puppy, Cindy Lou is forgotten like a politician's pre-election promise. Meanwhile, Cindy Lou has asked three of her bestest friends to be bridesmaids. Twenty or twenty-five years later, when Cindy Lou has made real marriage plans, one or two of these girls will surface.

As near as I can tell, bridesmaid solicitation drops off after pre-school and kindergarten and does not pick up again until junior high. Now, although crushes come and go, Cindy Lou and her friends plan weddings in the abstract -- the identity of the groom is really unimportant (see, Kardashian, Kim) -- and mutual promises are given and exchanged among Cindy Lou and her besties that each will stand up at the others' nuptials. A dozen or 15 years later, some of these may still be in Cindy Lou's life, if only on the periphery. But when that Facebook status changes, they will demand to know: What color are the dresses?

The planning continues in high school and college. New girlfriends come into Cindy Lou's life, old ones are shed like a snake molting, but the invitations -- mutual, sincere and (thankfully!) wholly unenforceable -- continue to be exchanged.

All of them -- even ones who two weeks before the engagement claimed to now hate, loathe and despise Cindy Lou -- will confidently expect to be asked once Cindy Lou decides to take the plunge. (The ones who say they hate Cindy Lou say they want to be asked just so they can turn her down flat -- but even most of these will admit that they'd consider accepting... if Cindy Lou asks nicely.)

Meanwhile, there are others who must be accommodated for the sake of family harmony: The bride's sisters, for example, and any sisters-in-law. And what about the groom's sisters? Sometimes these alone can fill up all reasonably available bridesmaid slots -- leaving dozens of one-time BFF's feeling absolutely betrayed.

Younger Daughter, you may recall, is getting married soon -- three Saturdays from now, in fact. And, if you've been keeping up, you know why we've proceeded with some haste. One clear and definite advantage of throwing the wedding together quickly, at least from Younger Daughter's point of view, is that a dozen or more girls who were supposed to be her bridesmaids will (if our luck holds) not find out about the wedding until after it's over. As it is, Younger Daughter has five bridesmaids -- Older Daughter, Abby, a girl she's known since pre-school (you younger readers may have thought I was exaggerating for comic effect, didn't you?), a friend since grammar school, and a college classmate.

Of course, the banns were published in last Sunday's Bulletin. Anyone paying attention would now know when Younger Daughter will be wed. But only if they've gone to church.

So don't tell any of them, OK?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

NATO Summit shows Chicago's Finest at their best

The TV stations tried to be fair and balanced when they edited the raw footage of the clashes between Chicago Police and anti-NATO protesters Sunday evening; they showed both the proud Superintendent of Police, Garry McCarthy, praising the actions of his officers and clips of anarchists claiming that the police had turned a peaceful demonstration into a violent fiasco.

But that wasn't fair and balanced. It was totally unfair to the Chicago Police -- as anyone who'd watched the live coverage of the events could tell.

There'd been a big demonstration as close to McCormick Place (site of the NATO festivities) as the Secret Service would permit. Veterans of the Afghan and Iraqi wars addressed a crowd of ex-hippies, hipsters, peaceniks, and whatever. It was a largely peaceful protest, even when some of the veterans hurled their combat medals in the direction of McCormick Place. And when it was all over, protest organizers (not police, mind you) took to the microphones to encourage the crowds to disperse; buses were parked west along Cermak, waiting to whisk the protesters to their next destination. Many left as requested.

But some did not. Chanting "don't move west!" these agitators tried to encourage those around them to stay and... do what?

Yes, that was as close as the protesters were allowed to the NATO conference table; did they think they were going to rush security and present their case to Mr. Obama or any of the other assembled world leaders in person?

The police then ordered the crowd to disperse. The protesters had secured a permit to block the intersection of Michigan and Cermak until 4:00pm or so, but the permit had expired. The medals had been thrown. The buses were still waiting.

There were masses of blue-helmeted Chicago police hemming in the dawdling protesters. State police backed them up. The plan was clearly to herd the happy radicals back along Cermak and away from McCormick Place.

But, again, some in the crowd were not cooperating. Whether all of these were members of the so-called "Black Bloc" of anarchists who have allegedly triggered violence at other international gatherings is beyond my ken. What was not beyond my ken, thanks to live TV feeds from the rooftop of an adjacent building, was indisputable proof that these protesters were doing more than exercising their right of free speech. Some were also throwing stuff. Water bottles were one of the items that could be easily recognized by viewers at home. What was in those water bottles was hotly contested.

It was a hot day Sunday. The police said that some of the protesters had emptied their water bottles and, um, refilled them... if you know what I mean.

Not every water bottle was a urine missile. They did not have to be; it was enough for the cops in the front line to know that at least some of these objects being hurled at them were likely to contain bodily fluids.

Some contained bodily solids.

These had been thrown, not just at police, but also (according to Facebook posts from his circle of acquaintances that Middle Son told me about) at workers in the financial district during protests earlier in the week. (In other words, I'm not just relying on the police blog, Second City Cop, here.)

A TV camera, many feet away, can not necessarily detect the contents of a bottle, only that a bottle is being thrown. If a police officer showered with bottled water reacts by blazing away with his billy at anyone within reach, that would be an overreaction -- and justification, to the anarchists at least, for further acts of violence in response. If that same bottle contained something other than water... would a violent reaction be so unjustified?

Not so far as I'm concerned, I can tell you that.

But the Chicago Police took whatever was thrown at them stoically.

Watching the live feed (on WGN) Sunday afternoon, it was obvious that the missiles were being hurled from well within the groups of protesters. They were hoping their brothers and sisters in front of them would take the brunt of anything they provoked.


It also became obvious, when the bottles and other tossed objects didn't provoke a sufficient reaction, that the anarchists tried other tactics. They would rush -- or push others in front of them, which is much the same thing... only safer (for the people pushing, not those pushed) -- the police lines. Some would get in a cop's face and scream... something. The TV cameras couldn't pick up what was being said, necessarily. Sometimes the protesters had big, dumb smiles on their faces as they screamed -- and, yet, I don't think they were singing Kumbayah.

When a protester would try and push a cop, the line of cops would push back. If a protestor tried to grab a baton, he or she would get a whack -- and be pulled into the knot of police and escorted to the rear.

Yes, the police eventually... slowly... moved forward... pressing or compressing the demonstrators... some of whom got bored (or had a momentary flash of intelligence) and left on their own... but there was no overreaction by the police.

The police lines were rotated periodically. Fresh officers were brought up to relieve their brothers (most were men in the front, from what I could see) so that no one had to take the abuse too long.

At one point, the protesters grabbed a metal crowd control barricade and passed it hand over head, intent, apparently, on using it as a battering ram against the police line. The police took it away from them, passing it back, moving forward slowly yet again.

It was a bravura performance by Chicago Police.

Having shown this live, for the reporters to later air stories with protest organizers decrying random police violence and overreaction and all sorts of other stuff that patently did not happen was irresponsible. The reporters were not siding against the police, necessarily; they were trying, I think, to get both sides of the story.

But sometimes there is no second side.

Phil Rogers on NBC-5 last night reported on a press conference staged by protesters at which various acts of police violence were denounced... but he reported that the press conference was abruptly terminated when reporters began asking for names, dates and places... because they hadn't seen it either.

They hadn't seen it, because it hadn't happened.

Chicago's Police Superintendent, Garry McCarthy, was at the protest Sunday, in his white uniform, with no visible protective gear, directing his officers and appearing to provide encouragement for those in the line.

My mother always said don't take the bait, don't hit back -- teachers on the playground only see the second punch. The Chicago Police apparently listened to their mothers this weekend, and did well for it.

Context is everything: What you don't see when you look only at a single picture

This image has been widely shown this weekend, seemingly showing an enraged Chicago Police officer lashing out at a demonstrator during the recent NATO Summit.

The protestors and their friends want you to believe that this proves that the police were violent, that they overreacted, that they beat up poor, helpless kids just trying to make the world more peaceful.

Well... stuff and nonsense.

I've tried (without success) to figure out how to post the Tribune video here this morning that explains what really led up to this picture. But here is the link that should take you to the video. It's well worth the couple of minutes it will take to watch.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Dear Anti-NATO protesters: I'm with you... unless you start messin' up my town

Dear Anti-NATO Protesters:

I guess that's probably giving you too much credit. Most of you wretches probably don't even know what NATO is. But you're here and you're angry and you want me to know that you're part of the 99%.

Well, here's a news flash for you: So am I.

I look at Facebook sites like The Peoples Boycott (apparently one of the things you're boycotting is apostrophes) and I agree, generally, with many of the cartoons and other images you've posted there.

A sampler for those who haven't seen this stuff:

Break up the banks? I'm for it. I've said so here.

Now... what do you propose instead of the handful of megabanks that dominate our economy?

Some poor idiot was quoted on the news last night as favoring a "barter system." Um... no... that won't work. Sorry.

And you're against war.

Me, too. I've said that here, too.

If you'd ever studied American history (not necessarily your fault since it's barely even hinted at in schools anymore) you'd know that most of our greatest soldiers were against war, too.

But how do you propose we stay safe in the real world with determined adversaries entirely hostile to our way of life?

Besides you, I mean.

The Chicago Sun-Times got a reporter placed on one of the highway buses transporting useful idiots to Chicago from all over the country. Kim Janssen was on a bus from New York. According to Janssen's report:
An additional 16 buses — funded, like the Occupy Wall Street bus, out of a $218,000 donation from anonymous donors and National Nurses United — are due to arrive in time for Friday’s "Robin Hood Tax" rally from Los Angeles, Oakland, Portland, Boston, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Providence and Washington, D.C.
One of the folks on the New York bus was Shen Tong, "a student leader of the 1989 Chinese democracy protests in Tiananmen Square who became a tech millionaire after he was exiled to the U.S."

Hey, wait -- if he's an Internet millionaire, doesn't that make him part of the evil 1%?

And I'm thrilled to welcome visitors to Chicago, even you crazy kids on the bus -- I'm proud of my city, and happy to show it off, even if I'm not always enamored of the weather or our politics -- but I have to wonder.

Instead of sweeping bums, kooks and weirdos off the streets of other American cities and sending them here to yell about things they don't understand, couldn't that $218,000 have been put to a better use... couldn't those donors have bought $218,000 of JP Morgan Chase stock and voted it against Jamie Dimon's $23 million salary and against his continued employment? We just bailed this bank out -- you, me, and any of those folks on the bus who actually paid any taxes (there must be some, besides the aforesaid Mr. Tong) -- but Chase just pissed away another $2 billion in more derivatives gambling and Dimon keeps his job? Has no one learned anything? (Don't you worry, though: Chase will get that $2 billion back by jacking credit card and checking account fees, so everything's good, right?)

Anyway, Welcome Protesters! Have a good time. Clean up your messes. See the sights, shout your slogans, rush the TV cameras.

But don't be startin' no trouble -- 'cause, if you do, and if your empty heads get busted, I have no sympathy for you at all.

Yours sincerely,


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Happy Mother's Day, Mom! When do we eat?

We discharged our Sunday obligation at the first opportunity (7:00am Mass), leaving us with time to get our regular Sunday chores started before leaving to pick up Youngest Son.

Younger Daughter went with her mother to the grocery after breakfast; I got the laundry started. The last load was in the dryer before we left for Wisconsin. I admonished Younger Daughter to make certain the dryer was off before she left for a Mother's Day observance at the home of one of Olaf's aunts.

Our dryer is old. Most things in our house, at this point, are old, including its usual occupants. Appliances, like people, often develop little quirky behaviors as they age. My ancient computer (almost seven years old at this point!) starts making noises like a jet landing at O'Hare when it's thinking about crashing. The light in the first floor powder room sometimes refuses to turn off even when the switch is flicked. When the light switch is securely in the off position, the light will sometimes turn on anyway, all by itself. The timer or moisture sensor or whatever it is that makes a dryer go off doesn't always work on our dryer. Like the Engergizer Bunny, it sometimes keeps going... and going.... I want my clothes dry, but I don't need them fried to a crackly crunch.

Younger Daughter knows all about these little enhancements, and she promised faithfully to check the dryer before leaving. But she is getting married in less than a month. She was meeting yet another set of future shirt-tail in-laws, on their turf, and, of course, she is something like four months gone. So I wasn't entirely surprised when she called me as I was driving home from Wisconsin, looking to verify which was the proper exit for her and Olaf to use for their party, and admitted (in response to my question) that she had no idea whether the dryer had turned off before she left.

Long Suffering Spouse had piles of papers to correct -- what else is new? -- but she insisted on coming with me to pick up Youngest Son. She tried to grade some papers in the car -- but she has trouble doing that sort of thing in a moving vehicle.

Still, we picked up the boy without too much trouble. It turns out that South Janesville College was holding its commencement on Mother's Day and many of the streets around campus were closed for the occasion. After a couple of futile laps around the campus, Youngest Son found us a path through an alley and a sorority parking lot, bringing us into the street in front of his fraternity house where all his belongings were piled in a heap at the curb. It looked more like a Sheriff's eviction than organized packing for the summer, but it was easy enough to load the van and head out.

We knew what we were heading into.

Middle Son had already declared his intention to come visit on Sunday and Oldest Son and Abby agreed to come, too. Older Daughter couldn't come. She's missed so much time with her so-far unsuccessful IVF treatments that she'll be working most weekends at her Indianapolis hospital for the foreseeable future. She's managed to get clearance for her sister's wedding shower this weekend and, of course, for the wedding itself, and she'd made it up here for graduation -- there was just no way for her to get here for Mother's Day as well.

Long Suffering Spouse had decided to barbecue. When we got Youngest Son back, and his stuff out of the van (and the living room), she realized that she needed more charcoal and Worcestershire sauce and ketchup. Youngest Son and I went and obtained these items. Everyone else arrived in the meantime, even my mother-in-law. My wife thanked me for my efforts: "Why didn't you buy ice?"

I kept Long Suffering Spouse company by the grill while everyone else watched the White Sox bullpen blow up in a game they should have taken from the Royals. I really wanted a nap -- that was the best way to crown our labors of the morning -- but we were obliged instead to entertain. Younger Daughter and Olaf returned from their excursion somewhere along the way and everyone settled in for a long evening. My mother-in-law had gotten a number of old family photographs scanned (badly) and saved to a CD. My ancient computer could not read the disc, but Younger Daughter's computer could. Olaf emailed me the files. Younger Daughter noticed. "Did I say you could use my computer?" she asked, but not harshly.

"In a couple of weeks, it'll be my computer, too," Olaf answered.

"We'll just see about that."

I used my rudimentary photo-editing skills to improve the scans and saved them to my machine. My mother-in-law regaled one and all with descriptions of each picture, most of which were taken in Cuba during the 1950s and before.

After my mother-in-law left, I had the opportunity to sneak into my recliner, but the kids were determined that the party should continue. After awhile, Long Suffering Spouse started grading papers again. The older kids eventually got the hint and left. Youngest Son put on a movie.

I thought I might sneak off into Dreamland, but Olaf decided that now would be a great time to challenge me to a game of Words With Friends.

It was a tough game, especially when Olaf got 93 points in a single turn (X on a triple letter square, used in a word that stretched to the triple word square). Olaf says that Words With Friends should really be named Words-With-Soon-To-Be-Enemies. I think he decided this after I managed, despite my increasing fatigue, to come back and win the game.

The movie was good (Moneyball -- of course we'd watch a baseball movie at our house) but Youngest Son had seen it. He stretched out on the floor and went to sleep. Younger Daughter, the futon now hers alone, soon followed. Olaf was the last man standing, but he took off as soon as the movie concluded. It was after 10:00pm.

"Well, we can start our weekend now," I told Long Suffering Spouse.

"Happy Mother's Day," she said, "When do we eat?"

"You didn't really mind making dinner tonight," I ventured.

"No, not really," she conceded.

We both fell asleep, awaking at 1:00am or so to trudge up the stairs to our room where we could be in position for the 5:30am alarm.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Youngest Son gets an opportunity; his parents get ulcers

(I know I promised a Mother's day post. But, bear with me, Bee; today's post is a necessary prerequisite to the Mother's day piece.)

Youngest Son has worked hard at his baseball up at South Janesville College (we're not as certain about his academic achievements) and he was rewarded with a start in the first game of a possible two game championship series this past weekend. This year, the conference tournament was held at some school way the heck on the other side of Iowa.

We didn't know he'd be starting. He told us he might see some action in the tournament but he thought he'd most likely come out of the bullpen.

Problem was, although the team won their first game Friday, they got hammered in the second. Baseball people will understand how a double elimination tournament works; for everyone else, this means SJC would have to win three games on Saturday to claim the conference crown and the trip to the NCAA Regional. And that meant they'd need an extra starter.

We didn't go to the tournament -- five or six hour van trips to watch your kid warm up in the bullpen aren't really how I'd choose to spend my time. And we couldn't really afford either the time commitment or the hotel. But there was a modern, high-tech alternative: The games would be shown -- TV! -- online. The camera angles weren't great; they had one in the press box that covered the lion's share of the game action and another in the third base dugout that they used between innings, just to relieve the monotony. If my son had been the third baseman, I would have been less than thrilled -- but the camera angle was ideal for watching the pitcher.

Well, Youngest Son told us Friday night about his possible start, so I had to figure out how to put up the online broadcast during Saturday's first game. And it was a thriller. SJC was cruising to an easy victory, but the other team forgot to read the script, battling back from a 5-0 deficit. The game was tied 6-6 going into the bottom of the ninth. Long Suffering Spouse and I were gathered around the computer in the den living and dying with every pitch -- and it wasn't our kid out there. Not yet. If SJC didn't pull this one out, our kid wouldn't get his chance at all.

And so disappeared Saturday morning. Long Suffering Spouse wanted to get to the grocery; I was planning on doing that blog post I told you about yesterday and I had a bunch of other stuff lined up behind that. And Younger Daughter had warned me that I needed to get fitted for my wedding tux by close of business Saturday, too.

SJC scratched out a run in the bottom of the ninth to eke out a 7-6 win.

Youngest Son would take the bump in a half hour's time. We choked down lunch. My heart was still pounding.

I know it sounds antisocial, but it's just as well that Long Suffering Spouse and I weren't out there in Iowa. This is Division III college baseball; seldom does anyone get a chance to move on to the next level. When the last out is recorded in the season's last game, baseball ends for the team's seniors. Sudden, sudden death.

The emotions that pour out in that moment are raw, sincere, and overwhelming. And it's not just the kids who are caught up in the terrible finality of that moment; it's their parents. I know. I was one of them just a few years ago when Middle Son's baseball career came to an end. If things went well, it'd be great to bask in the gratitude of the other parents -- but if things went badly....

Six of the eight position players in this game were seniors, their whole future in the hands of a largely-untested freshman, going up against a team that had won its first two games by scores of 12-0 and 14-0 (SJC had been the recipient of the 14-run drubbing.) The other team was not made of supermen; SJC had split its series with them during the regular season. But they were starting the day fresh and needed to win only this game to advance; SJC was coming off a cardiac special of a game, without an opportunity to rest or regroup.

You know where this is going, don't you?

Hollywood endings make great movies because they help us escape from reality.

The reality is that baseball is a game of failure: The batter who fails to get a hit in 7 of 10 chances will probably earn a plaque in Cooperstown. The freshman pitcher who has worked his tail off and who would do anything in his power to extend the baseball lives of his senior teammates is going to put everything he has into his game.

But if he had enough already his coach would have been an idiot for only using him sporadically during the year.

Youngest Son walked the leadoff batter on four pitches. It wasn't even close. I could scream at home and get up and walk around to burn off nervous energy. Long Suffering Spouse could yell "no walks!" and bury her head in her hands. We didn't have to fend off the death glares of the senior parents.

Somehow he got through the first without any damage.

In the top of the second our center fielder hit a screamer over the left field fence: The seal was broken. They could be scored upon! SJC scratched out another run besides, staking Youngest Son to a 2-0 lead.

Reality intruded in the bottom of the frame. Their leadoff hitter sent another rocket over the left field fence. 2-1.

Then things got really interesting.

The top of the order came up in the bottom of the third. That kid Youngest Son walked on four pitches in the first? He walked again. Then Youngest Son uncorked a wild pitch; he was trying to keep the ball down, but he threw it into the ground about 10 feet in front of the plate. Now rattled, Youngest Son hit the next batter. Two on. Nobody out.

Then it looked like Youngest Son had righted the ship: He struck out the next man. He got the guy after that to fly out to center, not deep enough for either runner to advance. Two out, two on.

But now Youngest Son was facing the kid who'd taken him deep in the last inning. This time he hit a shot to left center, driving in a run. The ball was fielded cleanly, so the batter had to stop at first, but with two outs the runner at first had no trouble making third. Tie game.

Here came the only note of controversy. Youngest Son faked a throw to third, then turned and threw to first. Chicagoans may remember Sox pitcher Jack McDowell used this pickoff move all the time, with fairly good results; he was so identified with it here that a lot of us still call that the "McMove." MLB is talking about making this move illegal, but it isn't yet. Youngest Son's McMove didn't pick off the runner at first, but it sent him diving back.

Then the other team's coach hollered "balk!"

The home plate umpire thought about it for a second and made the signal. The runner at third trotted home. The runner at first moved to second. Youngest Son's coach exploded out of the dugout and protested vehemently, but to no avail. Youngest Son tells me the other coach -- the one who'd planted the fatal suggestion in the umpire's mind -- later admitted to Youngest Son that he hadn't balked. Whether this was meant as consolation or cruelty is a matter of speculation; Youngest Son chose to accept it as almost an apology.

He walked the next batter, but induced a groundout to first to end the third.

Meanwhile, back in front of the computer, Long Suffering Spouse and I were making all the noises that a human mouth can make -- groans, sighs, shrieks, shouts -- no, it wouldn't have done for us to have been in Iowa at all, where we'd have to sit much more quietly. I might have exploded from the strain.

The first tournament game against this other team had really gone south in the fourth inning. Here, the pattern repeated. Did the third baseman fail to get in front of a grounder, expecting the ball to bounce up into his outstretched glove, only to wave at it, like a matador, as the ball went by? Did the outfielders misplay a fly ball that dropped in when it should have been caught? Was the wild pitch in this inning really wild, or did the catcher make an insufficient effort to smother a curve ball that was supposed to have been thrown in the dirt? The scorebook says that all four runs in this inning were earned; I think that this may have been the only gift that Coach had left to bestow on his senior fielders. Youngest Son was lifted with two outs, losing 7-2. My heart ached for my son. My heart ached for all those kids.

There would be no Hollywood ending. No come-from-behind win. No redemption. A couple of late rallies produced only one additional run. The final was 12-3.

It was a long and tearful bus ride home.

Youngest Son texted me from the bus: He'd have to come home tomorrow. Could we get him around 3:00pm or so?

You do know it's Mother's Day tomorrow, don't you? I responded.

Well, we have to leave tomorrow, Youngest Son responded.

How about 10:00am? I countered.

He called when the team stopped for dinner. I have to pack, he said. And we won't be back until very late.

We eventually compromised on noon.

So it was that a new item got added to the Mother's Day agenda... and we hadn't done any of the preparatory work we'd intended.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Nothing like family to puncture your balloon

I entered a contest a few months back at the urging of some colleagues. I entered my public blog (the one written in my real name) in a rather prestigious local contest, seeking an award bestowed by a prominent local bar association.

I can't tell you too much more about that without compromising my anonymity, particularly in light of the way it turned out.

I got a letter a month or so ago that congratulated me on being named a finalist in the contest... and had I bought my ticket yet? They sure did want all the finalists to show up -- just not enough to 'comp' them.

Well, I was thrilled about all this, but knew enough to grumble a bit when I told Long Suffering Spouse. "Hmmmph," she said. "That sounds like the kind of contest you'd win. Congratulations -- pay us money. How much is this going to cost? $50?"

No, I admitted, rather sheepishly; the awards luncheon would set me back $60.

"Sixty dollars!" said Long Suffering Spouse -- thinking no doubt about our already staggering credit card debt and the bills about to come due for Younger Daughter's wedding. "Have you even paid your rent this month?" When I assured her I had, her attitude softened a bit. "Well, maybe something good will come of it," she conceded.

I paid the $60.

But determined to wring at least $60 worth of publicity from the occasion, when the sponsoring association put out a press release naming all the finalists, I linked to it on Facebook.

I achieved my objective: I got a couple of dozen comments and "likes," some from judges and political types, and I was feeling pretty good about myself again when Youngest Son called. (Youngest Son was still away at South Janesville College).

"Wow, Dad," he said, "I saw your post on Facebook and read the press release. Pretty good stuff."

I puffed up to twice my normal size. "Yes," I agreed, with all the false modesty I could muster.

"Yeah," Youngest Son continued. "There's newspaper reporters, and TV reporters, and magazine writers, and radio reporters." He paused for a minute. "And then there's you."

Pffffffffft. All the air went out of the balloon again. "Yes," I admitted sadly. "It's kind of like Sesame Street -- One of these things is not like the other; one of these things is not the same...."

But the big day arrived -- and lo and behold, I won! Half of the the finalists received the top award and I was the recipient in my category. I got a beautiful leaded glass trophy, etched with my name and the award and everything.

That handsome award (and paying the $2.25 fare) got me admitted to the subway that evening.

But, still, I was pretty geeked about it -- and I wanted to make certain that I'd gotten the full $60-worth out of the occasion. Although there were a number of photos taken at the luncheon, none of them made it online anywhere where I could steal, er, cite to them. Over the weekend, then, I tried taking pictures of the trophy (do you know how easily fingerprints show up on dark glass lit up by a camera flash?) and I started looking up the other awards received by the other finalists.

It was pretty darned impressive stuff. Nearly all of the other finalists had received major awards from other journalistic or governmental watchdog groups; one was even a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in its category. I spent a good chunk of Saturday -- when not watching Youngest Son's conference baseball tournament online -- putting a post together about it all. I put that up, finally, with links to all the finalists' different awards and everything, and then linked my post to Facebook for good measure.

Sure enough -- more "likes," more complimentary comments, and I was again feeling pretty good about myself.

Then, yesterday afternoon, as much of the family that was in town gathered at our house for Mother's Day. (More about this, perhaps, later in the week.)

At one point Long Suffering Spouse asked Oldest Son if he'd seen my trophy. (I had proposed blocking the front door with it, but Long Suffering Spouse vetoed that idea. Still, she gave it a pretty prominent place in the living room and it would have been difficult to miss.) Oldest Son allowed that he had. He'd even seen the post I put up about it, he said. "I tried to read it, too," he said, "but it was so boring I couldn't finish. I tried again and gave up. I showed it to Abby; she works with lawyers, maybe she could get through it, I thought, but she couldn't read it either."

Oldest Son's wife, Abby, sitting right next to her husband, chose at that moment to be intently engaged in conversation with someone -- anyone -- else.

It didn't matter.


Friday, May 11, 2012

No fool like an old fool -- Part 2,327

No, I haven't tried setting up some sweet young thing in a flower shop. I don't even care much for flowers -- as Long Suffering Spouse would tell you without hesitation -- "They'll do me no good when I'm dead," she'll say as another Hallmark holiday goes by without a floral offering.

On the other hand, if I started bringing my wife flowers at this late date, she'd probably start to wonder whether I had taken up with some floozy at the florist's.

Actually, it all started a week ago last night when Long Suffering Spouse and I moved Younger Daughter out of her dorm.

Younger Daughter's dorm room was not much bigger than the back of our minivan, and the room itself was so stuffed with Younger Daughter's junk that I despaired of getting everything stacked in the vehicle.

Among the items to be moved was a 27-inch flat screen TV.

Flat-screens aren't that heavy; I'd probably have needed a derrick and a crane to move a 27-inch cathode ray tube model, but I could easily lift this little flat thing, especially when it was neatly boxed up for transport.

I just couldn't see very well around it. It's kind of an awkward size. And I probably shouldn't wear my glasses except when I drive or watch a ballgame at the park or sit too far from the computer screen. I need the glasses for distance. Longer distances, that is, than from the bridge of my nose to the bottom of my feet.

My wife gave me the TV set to carry and a warning besides. "This was a gift," she reminded me, "and we can't afford to replace it. Don't drop it."

Duly instructed, I got my load safely down the hall and down all but one of the flight of steps that stood between me and the van.

Well, I told you I was wearing my glasses and the box was an awkward size -- and somehow I missed or forgot or didn't quite make that last step and I toppled over like an overweight tree.

But -- and my little pea brain was working much faster than I can type this -- I realized that I could not allow the TV to fall with me. I could not drop the screen and I certainly could not fall on it. Even as I was falling, I raised the TV box aloft, like a cue card, as I twisted into a very balletic slide on my right knee across the indoor-outdoor carpeting of the dorm entryway. I ripped my jeans, of course, and started bleeding immediately. But it was a wide cut, not a deep one, so I didn't bleed a lot. (Either that, or I'm stingy even there.)

I used to get injuries like this when I was 10 and would fall off my bike -- skidding on a patch of gravel or something. Even with the necessity of picking out the gravel and the dirt, the injury would heal within a couple of days.

Twenty or twenty five years later, though, when I slipped on a patch of ice at a parking garage and bounced down the stairs on my butt (dignity, always dignity!) I ached for months. Somebody told me that, after 30, no injury heals completely.

Now, with another couple of decades under my belt, I'm beginning to wonder if new injuries will ever heal, even a little. My knee still hurts this morning. Though I've babied it with topical antibiotics and kept the wound operating-room clean, it's still an angry red around the edges and a sickly green in the middle. The colors aren't exactly right, but it sort of looks like somebody painted the Great Red Spot of Jupiter on my knee.

But you should have seen me holding up that TV. I wish I could have seen it. But I wish I could have seen that last step even more.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

President Obama endorses gay marriage

That was yesterday.

In other news, there's a big Obama fundraiser tonight at George Clooney's house.

I guess ticket sales had been slow.

Mr. Obama is nothing if not calculating and deliberate. Therefore it seems evident, in retrospect, that Mr. Obama and his campaign advisers first let Joe Biden endorse gay marriage... but when that didn't sufficiently ignite the fundraising base they next let the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, make a similar announcement.

Ordinarily, and certainly on paper, the Secretary of Education ranks far below the Vice President in the power pecking order. But Mr. Duncan is a fellow Chicagoan, a frequent basketball-playing partner of Mr. Obama's. Having Duncan signal support for gay marriage was meant to say, nudge, nudge, wink, wink, that Obama was really in favor of gay marriage too.

Still, fundraising did not take off.

Thus yesterday's 'bold' announcement.

I'll bet there's a good turnout tonight at Mr. Clooney's -- and a far more enthusiastic crowd than might have otherwise assembled.

But Mr. Obama knew he was taking a risk -- would this gain or lose him votes in Ohio or the other swing states that will decide his reelection bid? It wasn't as if gays were going to abandon him for a Republican -- good heavens! -- but elections aren't just about votes. They're also about dollars. Mr. Obama's support among business leaders is far more limited than it was in 2008; he needs to replace those dollars somewhere. There's a lot of money floating around in Hollywood.

Besides, when it comes to what's right and what's wrong, the pro-gay marriage people are closer to the mark than their adamant foes. This brilliant bit (obtained from George Takei's often entertaining Facebook page) points out the hypocrisy found among too many in the one-man-one-woman crowd:

A Biblical scholar may know differently, but I can't think of one place in the Gospels where Jesus takes a position on homosexuality. But I know He was no fan of divorce. For serial monogamists to claim that gays would make a mockery of marriage would be laughable, if it weren't so stupid. This tongue-in-cheek definition of "marriage" recently posted on Urban Dictionary seems about right: Marriage is "[w]hat straight couples have legally and commonly don't want, and what gay couples don't have legally and commonly want."

Homosexuality has existed at all times in all places in all cultures. Some people will be gay whether homosexuality is tolerated, persecuted, celebrated or made a capital offense.

Because there will always be gay people, it stands to reason that some of them will, in due course, fall in love and live together.

One of the compelling arguments in favor of gay marriage are the indignities visited on gay people who are hospitalized. Because a longtime companion may have no legal status (and because of well-intended privacy laws foisted on us by Ted Kennedy), overly fussy hospitals sometimes refuse a dying person the comfort of the person closest to him or her.

You do not have to think homosexuality "right" or "good" to know that this is wrong, wrong, wrong.

On the other hand, gay marriage is just not marriage.

You can make an argument that marriage is not just one-man-and-one-woman -- there is ample precedent for marriage to be defined as one-man-and-several-women. The Bible tells us that Abraham had two wives ("and look at all the trouble that's gotten us into," says Long Suffering Spouse). But nowhere, never, not at anyplace or time in the world did marriage ever mean one-man-and-another-man or one-woman-and-another-woman. Even in ancient Sparta, where male homosexuality in the army was encouraged as a means of building unit cohesion, discharged veterans were expected to settle down with a female and marry and breed new soldiers for the city-state.

You can't change the meaning of a word by imposing upon it an artificial definition. Yes, certainly, language evolves and the meanings of words can change over time because people use them differently. "Fie" was pretty strong language in Elizabethan times. I'm old enough to remember when "gay" meant "happy." I suppose the dictionary may still support that definition -- but, if happiness is what you're attempting to convey, don't try trying telling strangers how gay you feel.

I suppose my objection here is a consequence of my training as a lawyer. For years I have had to cope with answering Interrogatories drafted by lawyers who feel the need to "define" every piddly term they use. Some are not necessarily hard to deal with. In a typical "Definitions and Instructions" section you might find this:
The term "person" means any natural person, corporation, association, partnership, joint venture, or other business entity or organization, or any governmental or administrative agency.
(And yet many lawyers were among the persons most upset when the Supreme Court decided to think that corporations are persons!)

But some "definitions" are just impossible-to-comply-with gobbledygook:
The terms "and" and "or" should be construed either conjunctively or disjunctively, whichever makes the interrogatory more inclusive.
Think about this for a minute: Under this "definition" the phrase "three or four" might equal seven!

And these "definitions" just send me over the edge, every stinking time:
The singular form shall be construed to include the plural, and vice versa, whenever such a dual construction will serve to bring within the scope of any of these Interrogatories information that would otherwise not be within their scope.

The past tense shall be construed to include the present tense, and vice versa, whenever such a dual construction will serve to bring within the scope of any of these Interrogatories information that would otherwise not be within their scope.
I always object to this verbal clutter by presenting my own counter-definitions, insisting that my Answers are intended to be read in standard English, unless the use of another language is clearly indicated. I'll insist that the singular will not include the plural, nor the plural the singular, nor will "up" mean "down" or "in" mean "out."

No one has ever challenged my position on this in front of a judge.

I object to gay marriage = marriage just as I object to and = or. Redefining "cow" to include "horse" does not make it OK to eat My Friend Flicka.

Giving legal recognition to homosexual relationships is a new thing. For now, therefore, the new term "civil union" is more than adequate for this purpose, as long as Adam and Steve in a "civil union" are given the same legal rights as Adam and Eve in their marriage. I've said here before that I'd take the government out of the marriage business entirely and instead license the consensual relationship between any two persons (not barred by consanguinity) as a civil union. I'd let churches decide what is, or is not, "marriage."

Eventually, perhaps, by common usage, marriage will come to include same-sex relationships. That's the way the language may evolve. But it ain't there yet, whatever they say tonight at George Clooney's house.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Zay N. Smith's QT is back -- now as a blog

A quick illustration from today's post as to why I missed him terribly:
News Headline: "Why no Wall Street prosecutions?"
News Headline: "Obama and the Dems in bed with Wall Street?"
No, no, no, no.
We have to get this straight.
It is the Republicans who are in bed with Wall Street.
The Democrats like to curl up at the foot of the bed.
The link to the new QT site is now cheerfully added to the bloglist in the Sidebar.

A month and counting to Younger Daughter's wedding

One month from today, on June 9, I will walk my other daughter down the aisle and give her away in marriage to Olaf.

Well, I'll try to give her away; actually, instead of getting her out of the house, I'm getting her and Olaf back, at least for the summer.

This will almost certainly extend into the fall, however Olaf fares on his actuarial exam, and even if he secures gainful employment -- after all, my first grandchild is due in early October and I don't think Long Suffering Spouse is going to let them go before that happens. She'll have her excuses (they need to save up for a security deposit, Younger Daughter shouldn't be lifting anything heavy at this point) but I think we can all see through these, can't we? (I imagine Olaf's mother sitting in her west suburban home fuming at all of this -- muttering I didn't even get to put a bid in on this! Somehow I think we may see more of Olaf's parents this year than one ordinarily sees of one's in-laws.)

There will, however, be one time when Long Suffering Spouse will insist on no inter-generational togetherness: "The kids are not coming back here on their wedding night," she's told me.

My wife has delegated to some of the older kids the task of finding a suitable weekend getaway site. Older Daughter volunteered to pitch in; she and Hank have taken a number of vacations since they've married and she is, if she does say so herself, pretty good at finding bargains on the travel sites.

Indeed, Older Daughter was bragging on her prowess in this regard in a recent conversation with Oldest Son. He listened patiently, waiting for her to wind down.

"I think I can get it for them for free," he told her. (Apparently he's got some huge stash of convertible miles or points or something through his work.)

"Oh," said Older Daughter. "You win."

She wasn't very happy. Sibling rivalry never really ends; only the areas of competition change.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

New underwear bomb plot foiled! Let's clamp down on civil liberties some more!

And you thought getting through airport security was tough when you only had to take off your shoes!

I have no doubt that some genius at TSA has already proposed strip-search boarding -- sexually segregated, of course, and behind privacy screens.

Not that it would work, of course.

What does work, and what the CIA apparently did in foiling this latest bomb plot was what used to be called "police work." That's where real security comes from: Identify genuine threats and investigate, infiltrate or monitor them. Eventually, if Americans are discovered to be involved and if they violate the law, arrest and prosecute them. If foreigners are involved, and if they pose a threat, take such actions as are permitted by the law of nations and, in cases of imminent peril, such additional measures as may be necessary to protect human lives and property.

Am I droning on here?

Well, let me make this much abundantly clear: I do not mean we should be spying on all Muslims.

Nor do I mean that the government should be permitted to build a giant facility in Utah where everyone's every email or Facebook post may be intercepted and read by government snoops. And yet? It may actually be happening. Call that Total Information Awareness if you will; I call it unreasonable, unconstitutional and... oh, my, it is going to be harder and harder to hang on to even the shreds and tatters of our civil liberties in the very near future, isn't it?

Look: There are blogs, there are websites, there are ezines, there are pamphlets and books and lectures -- all out in public -- in plain sight -- where the terrorists first recruit the dupes who would don the exploding BVD's. There's plenty to monitor without violating anyone's rights. It's just a matter of paying attention and following up; that's police work -- not secret police work.

Remember right after 9/11? Remember when everyone was saying that, if we give up our freedom the terrorists will have won?

By that definition, Mr. bin Laden's unhappy interview with SEAL Team Six notwithstanding, the terrorists have apparently won.

Is that really what you want?

Monday, May 07, 2012

Being busy means never having [time] to feel sorry for oneself

No, business hasn't picked up.

It's just as well, I suppose, because the demands of my personal life are overwhelming at this point.

For those who came in late, or who haven't been paying careful attention, here's where we stand (in no particular order of priority):
  • Younger Daughter graduated from college Saturday. She's getting married four weeks from this Saturday. Her baby is due in early October. Nothing like cramming several years' worth of life events into the span of a few months.
  • And Younger Daughter, her husband and, in due course, their child, will be living with us for the foreseeable future: Younger Daughter has part-time work at her old school, but Olaf didn't quite graduate -- and he has to start studying for the exams that are the only way he can be successfully launched into a career as an actuary.  We're really hoping he becomes employable before their kid is born -- that way the little guy will have insurance.
  • Older Daughter, meanwhile, is not pregnant. She's been undergoing IVF treatments; this was her second attempt at implantation and everything seemed to be going well -- much better, certainly, than the first attempt -- except that, suddenly, it wasn't going well at all. These have been a couple of very busy, emotionally draining weeks in the Curmudgeon household.
  • Older Daughter is, however, buying a house. She and Hank are stressed beyond reason -- Long Suffering Spouse is concerned for their marriage at this point -- but their dog was chewing the carpeting in their apartment. The only solution, in their view, was buying a house. House hunting has brought another problem to the surface in their relationship: Hank is perfectly content to stay in his native Indianapolis forever; Older Daughter somehow thinks that means he's ready to relocate to Chicago at any moment. There are other stresses in their relationship, too -- Hank is more devoted to his church choir than to his marriage. (Of course, Older Daughter did date this guy for about 60 years before they finally married -- and before she was married, she too was perfectly willing to sing in the same choir. Not since, however. And the fact that the choir director expects people to rearrange their careers, their families, their very lives around his sometimes random choir schedule hasn't helped.  But surely Older Daughter saw this before the marriage, too, didn't she?)
  • Older Daughter was at our house this weekend for her sister's graduation. Hank stayed behind. It wasn't just the choir that dictated that he remain; he's involved in a project for his father that necessitates his staying close to base. I can't describe the project without potentially compromising anonymity.  Older Daughter will be dragged into the project tomorrow, however, on her day off, for at least 12 hours. She was furious about it -- and none to pleased with me when I tried to explain that she absolutely should paste a big smile on her face and help out tomorrow. She kept arguing with me (of course). I finally told her I could offer absolution, but I wouldn't mean it.
  • Long Suffering Spouse is stressed beyond reason as well. She wants to mourn and comfort Older Daughter; she wants to be happy for and with Younger Daughter at the same time. It's a tough balancing act; she's shed a lot of tears, mostly when she thought no one was looking. And, have I mentioned? Long Suffering Spouse is cooking most of the dinner for the 100 or so wedding guests. (Our financial circumstances don't allow us many other options.) My wife won't even be through with school until the wedding -- the graduation Mass is only a few hours before Younger Daughter's nuptial Mass.
  • Middle Son is taking another part of the CPA exam at the end of this month. Maybe. He's waiting to see if he passed his most recent test -- a retest of a part that he'd previously failed, but only by a little. He hasn't passed any of the tests yet. Some people test better than others; he knows this, but it's beginning to gnaw at his confidence. Meanwhile, his girlfriend Margaret, the one who's just graduating from college and will start at a higher salary than he makes three years out? She's working half-time this summer in order to prepare for her CPA exams. Middle Son fully expects she'll pass it all first time out of the chute. There's pride in his voice when he says this -- but there's something else in his tone, too.
  • But Middle Son has been a trooper: He's been scouting for employment opportunities for Younger Daughter and looking for pitching opportunities for Youngest Son. Middle Son had a good collegiate pitching career -- until his back served notice, in no uncertain terms, that he could not hope to go on. Youngest Son, meanwhile, has had a pretty good freshman season -- he's gotten a fair amount of innings pitched, although his results have been mixed. We spoke last night: He's trying to prepare me for decidedly mixed results on his report card as well. Long Suffering Spouse wanted me to mention -- again -- how many hopeful history teachers were turned loose on an unsuspecting world at Younger Daughter's graduation. Long Suffering Spouse is certified as a history teacher, but she's given up hope of teaching that subject; there's no demand. She sometimes feels trapped as a Spanish teacher (she's also certified in Spanish) and she's increasingly worried that Youngest Son won't be able to find work when he gets out. Especially if he gets 'mixed results' in his coursework. Youngest Son is not entirely receptive.
  • And then poor Abuela. Long Suffering Spouse's older sister, Dr. Doom, and her husband came to stay at Abuela's house last week. They brought with them their older daughter, her husband, and their two children. Abuela's oldest great-grandchild is now firmly in his terrible two's -- and my mother-in-law's house wasn't exactly child-proofed when my kids were toddlers. Dr. Doom and her family can easily afford a hotel, but they invited themselves over to Abuela's house because... because... because.... Well, I have no clue why, come to think of it. Abuela is (if memory serves) about to turn 79; she didn't need a house full of guests. (And, no, we didn't see these out-of-town visitors. Long Suffering Spouse and her sister haven't spoken since Abuelo died, 14 years ago. I spoke with Dr. Doom, via Skype, at the wedding of Josephine [Long Suffering Spouse's other sister] and Ferdinand in July 2010 -- I was at the church early, or the start of the Mass was delayed, or maybe both, and I was walking around trying to stay out of trouble when heard a disembodied voice. You ever want to get a good healthy startle -- just start hearing disembodied voices when walking around a church! Dr. Doom and her husband live in Cyprus [you'd really have to be an attentive, long-time reader to remember that] and Florida; I think they were overseas for Josephine's wedding and monitoring the proceedings via laptop computer. All I know for certain is that Dr. Doom wasn't happy about Josephine's newest husband either; it was the first time she and Long Suffering Spouse had agreed on anything in years.)
  • Anyway, Abuela's house-guests were hardly gone before her sump pump began making ominous giving-up-the-ghost noises. Yes, Abuela's sump hole also had a guest-starring role in the "family way" posts I put up earlier this year. This time, though, unlike when the sump cover crumbled, I agreed she should call the plumber -- and she did -- and, even though she had to pay a stiff premium for service on a Sunday, with the rain in the Chicago area in the last few days, it seemed like a smart idea. The plumber left, however, before black sewer water began backing up in the basement bathroom. He'll be back today.
Anyway, that gives you a brief overview of what's going on in my world. My nearly $50,000 in credit card debt no longer even makes the priority list.

Long Suffering Spouse has often said that we should write about our lives -- but no one would believe it.

She doesn't know that I already do.

And it's our 30th wedding anniversary tomorrow, too. No, seriously.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Today is World Press Freedom Day

This post is reprinted in its entirety from The Blog of Days, my new blogging venture. I hope you'll bookmark it or put it on your reader and, even, sometimes, occasionally glance at it. I promise posts will be generally shorter there -- and there will be a predictable theme, namely, providing something to celebrate or commemorate on each and every day, Saturdays and Sundays included. I haven't set up a blogroll there yet, but I will if there's any interest. Meanwhile, thanks for looking at today's Blog of Days entry here on Second Effort.

The United Nations officially designates today as World Press Freedom Day, which seems just a touch ironic, given the high esteem and regard in which journalists are held throughout so much of the world.

Of course newspapers and newspaper reporters haven't always been so popular in the United States either. General William Tecumseh Sherman once said, "If I had my choice I would kill every reporter in the world, but I am sure we would be getting reports from Hell before breakfast." He wanted to hang reporters as spies from time to time, and he was not the only general who felt that way. But they weren't always right.

But this discussion is contrary to the spirit of the occasion. Instead, to get in the mood for today's celebration, how about renting or buying Humphrey Bogart's 1952 classic, Deadline USA? I found a small snippet of the finale on YouTube which I present herewith in the good faith belief that, in context, this is a fair use:

The speech by Ed Hutcheson (Bogart's character) captures the essence of World Press Freedom Day:
It's not just me anymore. You'd have to stop every newspaper in the country now and you're not big enough for the job. People like you have tried it before -- with bullets, prison, censorship -- but as long as even one newspaper will print the truth, you're finished.
That speech always mists me up some.

If you can't find Deadline USA for rent or sale today, consider watching the 1948 film noir, Call Northside 777, with Jimmy Stewart as a crusading Chicago reporter -- a Chicago movie that was actually filmed largely in Chicago.

If you'd prefer lighter fare, you can't go wrong with the 1940 screwball comedy, His Girl Friday, with Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. His Girl Friday was a remake of the 1931 movie, The Front Page, with Pat O'Brien in the Rosalind Russell role. If you don't know these movies, you'll scratch your head for awhile over that one. The Front Page was originally a play, written by two Chicago newspapermen... but this is The Blog of Days, not cinema appreciation class.

So raise a glass today to all the ink-stained wretches, an increasingly endangered species. To the Fourth Estate!

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

The copier repair person knows who to blame

We have a new copier here at the Teeny Tiny Law Office. As befits our straitened circumstances, the machine is less expensive than its predecessor; as befits our smaller quarters, the machine is also smaller than its predecessor.

But, as a new high-tech piece of office equipment, smaller and cheaper does not mean less complex. Open the front panel on the machine to view the paper path and you will probably be reminded of an M.C. Escher print. The new machine can do anything the old machine could have done, and more: We can print in color, if we want (although that can get costly fast), and we can print from our desktop computers, if only we had a shared network. Which we don't.

The machine has worked well enough since we've been here. It jammed on me when a copy job I was running emptied an already depleted tray 1 and didn't smoothly pick up with tray 2. The on-board computer diagnosed about 17 places where paper might be lurking and, sure enough, when I could finally figure out the diagrams, and open up all the hidden compartments, I found all of them.

Now in order to open up the right hand side of the machine, where paper is originally taken up from the trays, I found that I did have to shove the machine a little further away from the window. The trays where copies emerge thus became uncomfortably close to the low-rise, two drawer metal file cabinet we have for our common papers, electrical cords of unknown origins and miscellaneous shipping materials. But I made sure that the two were not touching. I tried to move the cabinet a little further down, too, but it's a heavy little bugger. (Who knew empty FedEx envelopes would weigh that much?) And I couldn't move it too far anyway because I'd be running over the cords for our part-time assistant's (once a month is really part-time) computer. And if I went more than a couple of inches, I'd have no hope at all of getting the door closed ever again.

Did I mention the room is small?

Anyway, everything seemed all fixed, settled and done until the other day when my colleague had a rush job to do.

I suppose saying "rush job" is redundant in context.

Paper jams can not occur unless you're in a hurry; some day scientists and engineers will prove this for you skeptics out there who've never worked in an office.

Our tenant helped my colleague out for awhile; they found most of the paper jams, but they eventually gave up. My colleague stepped out. That's when I stepped in. (I don't think all three of us could have stood by the copier at one time anyway.) Together we found the last stubborn holdout piece hidden in the works. By then, my colleague had called Ricoh to schedule a service call. He asked if he should cancel it, based on our success, but I said, no, let someone come out and look because a new machine like this shouldn't have these problems, even on rush jobs.

I wish I'd been able to be here when the service person arrived (I had an appointment in the suburbs yesterday morning). Apparently the wonders behind the M.C. Escher print are quite marvelous to behold. And there was some readout there by which the service person was able to establish exactly what the problem was, and who caused it.

You already know, don't you?

The receiving trays on the copier weren't touching the metal cabinet when I had moved the machine -- but the trays go up and down depending on the size of copy job. It went down just a millimeter too far because of the size of my colleague's job and -- beep! beep! beep! -- paper jam.

It was all my fault. As usual.