Wednesday, October 31, 2012

One good thing about grandpa-hood, even if the kid is under my roof

Things are more amusing with that extra degree of distance.

Case in point: Younger Daughter has been very concerned about the baby over the last few days. The baby occasionally makes a wheezing, gasping noise -- like the breathing gears have slipped for a moment -- but she recovers quickly enough. But yesterday, she didn't recover very fast at all. The baby strung together a series of gasps, enough to send Younger Daughter into almost a pre-panic mode. (You know -- what's that number for 911 again?) Younger Daughter picked up the baby -- and got covered with baby barf for her troubles.

"Something obviously went down the wrong pipe," I told her.

"I suppose," Younger Daughter said, "but I think she's catching a cold, too."

Younger Daughter continued on this catching-cold theme well into the evening yesterday. She asked Long Suffering Spouse -- "does her head feel warm?"

"Well, only because she's been snuggled up against you, yes." But Long Suffering Spouse agreed that the baby sounded a bit congested.

And that might explain why she had such a terrible night last night -- apparently the baby kept Younger Daughter and Olaf up for much of the night.

I say apparently, of course, because I managed to sleep through most of it.

At least I think I did -- but, somehow, I'm still very tired today.

Today was the day marked for baby's first shots. I said I didn't have a shot until I was four or five, and then hardly any after that until I was in college. I think watermelon shots were all the rage then, but I don't recall what was in them. Long Suffering Spouse and Younger Daughter each tapped a dissatisfied foot at me. That's when you can see how closely those two are related -- when they are expressing identical disapproval of me.

The baby was wheezing still this morning as she was being readied for her trip to the pediatrician. Long Suffering Spouse was trying to get ready to leave the house and Younger Daughter wanted her help with something in the kitchen so the child was left with me for a few moments and I heard the wheeze.

At the pediatrician's office, the nurse said she heard some congestion sounds from the baby, too.

But the nurse left the room before the doctor came in.

And when the doctor came in, the baby was the glowing picture of perfect health. Not a wheeze, not a cough, not a sniffle, not a gurgle out of place. Eyes bright, stoic acceptance of the needle and all. "The doctor thinks I'm just a hysterical mother," Younger Daughter told me on the phone as she drove home.

"Get used to it," I told her. "No kid ever performs on command, especially when mommy or daddy wants them to."

That used to really bug me when I was the daddy. Now, however, it seems so much more amusing....

Monday, October 29, 2012

For $1,000, Curmudgeon gets a free lunch

I wrote a few months back about winning an award for my real-life blog (that is, the one I write in my actual name). Late last week I finally received my prize.

Well... actually... I didn't receive my prize -- nor was I supposed to.

All the famous journalists who won this prestigious award (and me, too) were supposed to designate a journalism school to receive a $1,000 award in our name.

At the time, Long Suffering Spouse was not pleased. "It's bad enough you have to buy a ticket to the lunch in order to get your award" -- noblesse oblige, I thought, but did not dare say aloud -- "and then your 'prize' is to give money to someone else?"

Well, um, yes, I said, quietly.

I actually had suggested the money be given to South Janesville College, where my tuition payments on Youngest Son's behalf have been chronically late -- but that suggestion was vetoed. There was no way for me to use the money for me or mine.

So, after thinking on it awhile, I decided that the money should go to my old college newspaper. The university I attended did not have a J-school, but we did have a school paper, and my time with the paper was one of the big highlights of my undergraduate career.

I sent the letter to the bar association (the group that made the award) and forgot all about it.

Forgot about it, that is, until about two weeks ago when, out of the blue, I got a letter from the Dean of the School of Communications at my old alma mater. (We didn't have a School of Communications when I went to college. There was a Communications Department. But that's inflation for you.)

Anyway, the Dean wrote to thank me for my generous gift and to invite me to lunch with at least a few of the kids who now run the school paper. The date for the luncheon was fixed for last Friday.

I had the happy inspiration to invite another lawyer along, one who'd been Editor-in-Chief of the paper a year or two after I graduated. He'd just won a big award from our college -- and I thought he'd make a much better role model for any impressionable youth we might happen to meet.

The Dean told me to meet him at the school at Noon. I and my companion were at the school at 12:00 noon on the dot.

The Dean wasn't there. He was already at the restaurant. Which restaurant? The receptionist wasn't certain; the Dean hadn't said. She went looking for the Dean's cellphone number.

"School of Communications," my companion said.

"Yeah," I said.

But the Dean was found eventually -- and that's when we found out that the Dean hadn't actually found any of our newspaper successors available for the occasion. We're not sure if he ever asked anyone.

Still, we repaired to a nice restaurant (which surprised me -- I was expecting a school cafeteria and had eaten my daily ration of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches ahead of time accordingly) and, despite this inauspicious beginning, had a pleasant lunch (I had as little to eat as possible).

There was just one problem. My companion and I hadn't talked for some time. So we caught up a bit during lunch. And, given the reason for our being there together, we talked about former comrades on the newspaper, former teachers, former school administrators.

"Do you remember so-and-so?" my companion would say.

"I do," I'd say. "She died -- oh, my -- it must be 15 years ago now. But how about so-and-so?"

"So-and-so? I haven't thought of him in years. He died in the late 90s."

This went on and on, back and forth. A couple of times we'd come up with a name and the Dean would chime in. "Oh, I heard about him when I got here. He was famous. How did he die again?"

Not everyone we thought of was dead, of course. It just seemed that way. On the other hand, no one we mentioned was in prison. So that was cheery.

If ever there was an excuse for a three-martini lunch, this surely was it. But I couldn't imbibe. I had to leave work early Friday to get to a wake.


Friday, October 26, 2012

Frivolous Friday: Everything I need to know I get from the comics, part 4,794

I saw this David Horsey cartoon on Facebook this morning; here is a link to Mr. Horsey's cartoon and the column he wrote about for the Los Angeles Times, "Campaign 2012: All voters matter, but Ohio voters matter the most."

I am so glad I don't live in Ohio right now.

Meanwhile, over at Pearls Before Swine, recovering lawyer Stephen Pastis has been exploring the comic potential of lemmings leaping to their deaths.

You never envisioned suicidal lemmings as a comic gold mine?

Tim Rickard's Brewster Rockit strip has hapless Brewster debating the evil Dirk Raider again in their long-running campaign for President of the Galaxy.

Fair use, I hope, to pull a few strips from this week's entries. In the first, Brewster is getting coached for the debate.

Unfortunately, the good advice is misunderstood....

The important thing to remember is that this is just a comic strip, having absolutely no similarity to anything that might be going on in real life right about now.


And, finally, we have this installment of Real Life Adventures, by Gary Wise and Lance Aldrich, from earlier this week.

Kind of hard to argue with the father's conclusions here. Which means that, if there were even a molecule of truth to it, TV's awful Ancient Aliens would be about galactic idiots. Who came to Earth long ago to share their distorted "wisdom." Whose lessons we have learned too well (in other words, we're idiots, too). Which gets us back to the very first cartoon in a way, doesn't it?

Thursday, October 25, 2012


Among the many things Long Suffering Spouse does better than me is wait. While she waits for someone or something she grades tests or papers, or does lesson plans, or updates seating charts -- something, always something.

When I send out an email and I'm waiting for an answer, I sit. I check my email over and over again. I read a couple of comics. I fret. I look at my email again -- but, basically, nothing, always nothing.

My story is that I have to set up to do anything. I have to budget uninterrupted time to get anything done. You know how you get uninterrupted time in a solo law practice -- even one as bad as mine's become? Come in on Sundays. Other than that, there's no guarantee.

Especially when you can't wait well. I can't stop thinking about what I'm waiting for and focus on the next task -- because I know I'll have to shift gears again just as soon as what I'm waiting for arrives.

Today, I'm waiting for responses to three emails. I just got the phone call I'd also been waiting for and now I have something to do. Which I'll do immediately.

Well, almost immediately.

I have to sign out of Blogger... and check my email again.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Please don't do your child's homework -- it's OK to fail in 5th grade

Today's installment of Zits, by Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman.
Obtained from the Chicago Tribune Comics Kingdom.

Today's Zits cartoon struck close to home.

We all want our children to succeed, of course.

The parents who send their children to the parish grade school where my wife teaches want their children to succeed so much that they're willing to pay dearly for the opportunity. Tuition is incredibly expensive -- even if my wife's salary is less than half of what she'd make in the public schools.

And therein lies the problem.

No, not my wife's salary.

I'm referring to the young parents' need for return on investment.

We're Americans, darn it, and we're used to short term gains, instant gratification, quarterly dividends.

Going to a real restaurant takes too long, so folks go to McDonald's for fast food.

But even going to McDonald's takes too long for many in our impatient era -- so we have drive-thru windows.

Kids, however, are not hamburgers.

Kids learn in fits and starts and sometimes the window is open and sometimes it's closed and all the parents' wishing and hoping and praying can't make that change.

So kids will sometimes screw up.

Parents: It's OK.

My wife doesn't want your kids to fail. Honest. Even I don't want your kids to fail and I don't know who the heck you are.

But for young, impatient American parents, that's not enough. Conditioned to immediate results, they want their sacrifices to result in A's and B's for their kids -- surely nothing less, lest their investment be in vain. The greater the investment -- the greater the sacrifice -- the more urgent this need for an immediate return becomes.

Now we go from the general to the specific.

Long Suffering Spouse is the school Spanish teacher. But, this year, in addition to those duties, she's taken on a section of 5th grade history to help out a colleague who's going through chemo right now and needs to throttle back a little.

My wife gave her 5th graders an assignment to prepare a report on particular explorers -- it's similar to the projects she gives her junior high kids who have to do reports (in English) on particular topics on a couple of different Latin American countries they study in Spanish class.

These reports are written and then presented by the kid to the class.

Especially with the younger ones, my wife works with the kids for quite awhile in class, showing them how to look up facts, how to organize the facts, how to make sure they hit each of the points necessary to complete the project assigned. They have to bring in new facts each day for a couple of days, then a rough draft -- I didn't go into great detail with my wife about the details -- I just let her vent -- but only finally does the big day arrive.

One young scholar was particularly uninspired by the task. He spent most of his class time doodling or chatting with a neighbor. He did, with considerable prompting, complete a rough draft, but -- said my wife -- it was awful.

But then the day came for his report.

And the transformation was stunning. The written report hit every point on the rubric (that's teacher talk I've picked up along the way) and more. And the writing? Well, let's just say the vocabulary and sentence structure were both far beyond fifth grade standard -- pretty much all the way up to fifth grade mom standard, actually.

The kid could only read his report; he couldn't answer any questions about it or even quickly find confirmation of something he'd just read. It was almost as if... almost...

Well, let me tell you a story about my years when the boys were in Cub Scouts. Every year we had the Pinewood Derby. And we had Pinewood Derby kit cars and the boys were supposed to make the cars and paint the cars and decorate them and whatever. And every year we had a little contest, before the races, where the kids could oooh and aaaah over all the cars and vote for the snazziest looking. Invariably there'd be one little boy who, in an Irish whisper, would ask his father, "DAD, WHICH ONE OF THESE IS MINE?"

Let's just say I don't think this young 5th grader could have picked "his" paper out a stack either if the names were concealed.

Long Suffering Spouse is less subtle than I am. She not only concluded that the kid's mom had written the paper for him, she called her out on it.

The mother's responding email was defensive, denying everything.

Parent-teacher conferences are tomorrow. She'll be coming, probably loaded for bear. But my wife will be ready for her.

It's OK to botch a paper in 5th grade. It's OK to mess up in school. The D or F the kid would have earned on the project -- had he been allowed to do it -- wouldn't have ruined his grade for the trimester; it certainly wouldn't be the only thing to keep him out of Harvard. And he might have learned from the experience.

What does that kid learn from his mother's doing the paper for him?

I wouldn't recommend what the mother in the comic strip offers to do either. I would have suggested telling the little brat to cut his whining and get the job done. But, then, I didn't bother my kids' teachers (or coaches) when they were little, not unless absolutely necessary. There were a few such times. But there are exceptions to almost every rule.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Remembering. Curmudgeon is summoned to a wake

Steve and Charlotte showed up at the house Friday evening with a gift for Younger Daughter and the baby-to-be-named-later. We were giving a baby shower on Saturday at a neighborhood pizza palace but Steve had to be on a plane before dawn Saturday morning.

Older Daughter -- and her evil, hyperactive devil-dog, Cork -- were in town for the occasion, and Steve and Charlotte wanted to visit with her. And they both wanted to hold the baby, of course, while Olaf and Younger Daughter hovered.

Thus, when my cell phone went off, nobody really missed me as I excused myself to another room.

It was my cousin Clarence (no, not his real name), and he was doing "Irish duty."

I've mentioned "Irish duty" before, but I may not have adequately defined or explained it.

When someone dies, word must get out to the deceased's family and friends. The Irish seem to specialize in this. It's not that we're obsessed with death, nor are we particularly gloomy (certainly not all the time). It's just... well, a person deserves a launch into The Next World suitable to the circumstances of his or her leaving this one.

If a person has survived to a ripe old age, it's a big party, and the grandchildren and great-grandchildren are everywhere in evidence, giving promise to the continuation of the species. We're sad, of course, and we'll miss the one who's gone, but that we believe that person lives on Elsewhere -- and he or she certainly does in the stories retold on family occasions thereafter.

If the person who's passed on is younger, the proceedings are proportionately sadder.

In this case, the deceased was a second cousin to Clarence and me. He was younger than us by a decade and more, unmarried, no children. He'd had his "troubles."

The Irish are good with euphemisms. A modern, non-Irish secular person might say that the decedent had battled substance abuse problems... and eventually lost.

We say he'd had his demons, his struggles; he suffered from the curse. The curse used to refer specifically to alcohol problems, but I think in the modern age, with all the pharmaceutical wonders out there to tempt us and do us harm, the curse may properly include those who've struggled with powders or pills.

I don't know which it was in this young man's case. Clarence knew. But, of course, Clarence did not share any details with me; that's the beauty of euphemisms. If I knew, I knew. If I didn't know, I didn't need to. But I could listen and respond sympathetically when Clarence said, "We thought he was over all this. I'd been emailing him just this week. He was planning to come out here" -- Clarence lives in the D.C. area these days -- "to visit in a few weeks."

Clarence had been close to the young man. I had not; I don't know if I'd seen him since one of the annual family picnics decades ago. It didn't matter, of course. I needed to know of the man's death, too.

And as close as Clarence was to the young man, Clarence's younger brother Liam (not his real name either) was closer. Liam's an ardent hockey dad -- he's got two sons who are apparently pretty good at it -- and the decedent was a big hockey fan/player/camp follower. At least as important, if not more, the young man's father -- my mother's cousin -- and Liam are in business together.

I had to let Clarence go on for awhile before I hung up the phone. I went back into the living room. Steve gave me a look. "Irish duty," I said. "Who passed?" he said.

I told them all. Long Suffering Spouse piped up right away. "We'll have to go to the wake, whenever it is," she said.

Long Suffering Spouse may have been born Cuban, but in 30 years of marriage she's absorbed the cultural norms.

Steven and I talked about who'd found the man -- and who'd found someone else recently that Steve knew -- and about autopsies and death investigations and we speculated about when, with all of that, the body might be released back to the family. The young people gave us a few minutes to get this out of our systems, then we went back to telling stories more appropriate to this occasion, about babies and showers and travel.

Now, of course, in the modern alienated world, many of you may wonder why I would feel a need to go to the wake of someone who was a stranger to me, even if he was close to a couple of my cousins,

But that's one reason already, you see.

And there's more.

The decedent's grandmother, my mother's aunt, my Great Aunt Margaret (do I really have to say it?), was a delightful woman. We'd usually only see her once a year, at those family picnics, but she always had a kind word for my wife and remembered the names of all my children. My mother had grown up in this woman's house. My mother's mother -- this woman's sister -- had been widowed at a young age (pregnant with her third child at the height of the Depression). I don't know if it was a two-flat where they lived, exactly, but it functioned as such, with my mother and her mother and sisters on one floor and my mother's aunt and her husband -- Uncle Donny (yes, correct, not his real name, either) and, eventually, their son, the decedent's father (he's a good 10 years younger than my mother).

They lived on the West Side of Chicago, in an area then Irish and Jewish. Later, that neighborhood would resegregate practically overnight -- it's a Chicago thing -- an early effort at capturing the phenomenon in fiction is found in James T. Farrell's Studs Lonigan trilogy -- and all the West Side Irish picked up and moved further west. Some landed in Oak Park and River Forest and their descendants remain there today. Uncle Donny and Great Aunt Margaret ended up in Bellwood. Uncle Donny died and that suburb resegregated and eventually, in the early 1980s, their son, by then a very, very successful businessman, finally persuaded his mother to move to a condo in a tony far-west suburb. Long Suffering Spouse and I, newly married, were offered first crack at the furniture Great Aunt Margaret was going to leave behind.

We're still using the bedroom dressers.

We absolutely had to go to her grandson's wake.

It was a big crowd that turned out yesterday evening. That would be expected in the case of a younger man, especially one with a large extended Irish family. I wanted to pick up Long Suffering Spouse as soon as she could get out of school, so as to beat the worst of the crowds. But I miscalculated in one important respect. The decedent, like his father and grandfather, and several of my cousins, were in the commodity trading business. That's a big business in Chicago. But the trading floors close early; we wound up waiting in line a long time.

I was amazed, as I so often am these days, to note the ubiquity of smartphones among those waiting in line. I shut off my dumb phone when I walked in the funeral parlor, a gesture as natural and automatic to me as taking off one's hat in such a place. But so many of the younger ones -- and some at least my age -- had their screens on the whole time while waiting in line. Maybe there was aftermarket trading to monitor; the commodities industry (like most industries) is a mystery to me.

Long Suffering Spouse and I went through the line eventually, paying our respects to the decedent's only brother (who had the grace to pretend to remember me after only a momentary pause) and to the decedent's father (who remembered me, but thought my wife might be my sister). It was a hard day for the man, with harder ones, I'm sure, still to come.

We found Liam, too, hanging out in the back of the room. He was probably there for the duration, but Long Suffering Spouse and I needed to get home. I saw Liam's wife, Ally, talking to someone and I steered my wife over to say our goodbyes to her, too.

Ally introduced me to the man she'd been speaking to. "I think you may be cousins," she said. "You're Liam's cousin?" the man asked. I nodded. "Well, you're from the wrong side of the family, then. That's what I tell Liam."

"Well, I'm used to that," I said. "I'm from the wrong side of the tracks, too." His ancestor, you see, was Great Uncle Donny. Ally had never met Great Uncle Donny. Neither had Long Suffering Spouse. I put my head down on one shoulder (Uncle Donny had a neck problem and couldn't lift his head straight) and tried to imitate the old man I remembered.

"Yes, that's him," said the stranger, kindly, because my imitation was truly awful.

But, you see, we do remember, if imperfectly. It's what we Irish do.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Curmudgeon turns lucky streak into myth-making

I don't have that much contact with the-baby-to-named-later (yes, she has a real name, but I haven't decided what to call her here) even though the child is living under my roof.

So it's not like there's a big data set that's built up in the three weeks or so that the child has been at home -- but in that time I have so far always managed to carry the baby without her fussing.

Now, you know and I know that this is mere luck and coincidence. But I am painting this as a grandpa superpower and Youngest Daughter is so sleep-deprived I think she's beginning to buy it.

Long Suffering Spouse has changed the baby and provided an occasional emergency bottle -- I've done none of those things -- and, of course, with uncomfortable diapers or on the clock for a meal, the baby has fussed considerably when my wife has handled her.

Of course, Long Suffering Spouse has her little methods.

She sings to the child. She bounces up and down a bit -- gently, of course -- and talks and coos and walks around with the baby and, usually, she'll get the child to settle down, too.

Oh sure, I tell her, if you're willing to surrender your self-respect, you can get the baby calm. I, on the other hand, don't have to resort to such grubby tricks.

Long Suffering Spouse sees straight through this.

"You're just warm," she says, "and you put her right to sleep."

Well, yes, that's a big part of it.

Olaf witnessed his daughter's falling asleep in the crook of my elbow the other day. (I don't know why Olaf wasn't holding onto his own child at that point either).

"I want you to remember something for me," I told Olaf.


"When the baby gets older, there will come a time when she thinks Grandpa is boring. Remind her for me then that there was a time when she used to like boring just fine."

Friday, October 19, 2012

Curiosity travels millions of miles, finds litter

Well, this has been an unfocused week here at Second Effort: A family story, a computer gripe, personal angst, and outrage at the Taliban. How can we tie this all up, neat and tidy, for a Friday?

Well, we can't.

So we'll change the subject -- again....

This artist's concept, obtained from the Huffington Post,
shows the rover Curiosity, of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission,
as it uses its Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument to investigate
the composition of a rock surface.
You're looking at an artist's depiction of NASA's Mars Rover, Curiosity, as it rolls around the Martian landscape testing rocks and looking for signs of life.

This isn't an actual photo, of course, because -- at least as far as we know -- there's no one there to snap the rover's picture.

But we have to hedge here. The Huffington Post is reporting that Curiosity has found a "shiny object" in one of its first probes of the Martian surface. Herewith the object:

No, take a look again. You'll see it. There's a speck here that clearly does not match the surrounding dirt.

The linked HuffPost article says NASA scientists are not yet ready to say what the speck is -- but they're pretty sure it didn't fall off the rover or the lander that brought the rover to the surface. It appears, they say, to be of Martian origin.

Some dumb Martian may have left a gum wrapper behind. Littering may be a universal constant. But did Blxrrszt leave that there recently... or many millions of years ago?

Or maybe it's a piece of plastic from an ancient Martian landfill. That stuff never breaks down, does it?

Here is a story to watch with great interest.

But in the meantime, does anyone else notice the similarity between Curiosity and these two Hollywood space robots?

Johnny 5 from Short Circuit and WALL-E from, well, Pixar's WALL-E, bear a distinct resemblance to NASA's Curiosity, don't you think? Is this an accident? I think not.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Taliban upset that their botched attempt to kill an unarmed 14-year old girl has received 'biased' coverage

A Pakistani schoolgirl holds a 'get well' poster for Malala Yousufzai
saying that she prays for the girl's recovery. Me, too.
(Reuters photo by Moshin Raza, obtained from Yahoo! News)
I saw this story, by John Hudson, on Yahoo! News last evening and did a double-take. Was I reading a parody from The Onion? Hey, I know The Onion has fooled the Iranian government -- how much easier must it be to fool me?

But it appears that this linked story is serious: Hudson writes that the Taliban is miffed because their botched attempt to kill Malala Yousufzai, a 14-year old girl, has received bad press.


Hudson's article quotes a spokesman for a Taliban faction called Tahreek-i-Taliban Pakistanan (the leader of which has apparently called for attacks against the press because in the wake of the overwhelming negative reaction to Yousufzai's shooting) as saying his group would respect reporters and press organizations except for "highly biased" organizations.

"Bias" as determined solely by the Taliban.

Hudson also quotes a "spokesman for another Taliban insurgent group, Sirajuddin Ahmad of Maulana Fazlullah" as saying, "Right from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to Hillary Clinton and President Obama, all of them used whatever bad language and words they could use on the media but when we tried to reply to them, no media organisation was willing to give us importance."

What's to reply? I wondered at first. These idiots tried to kill an unarmed 14-year old girl simply because she had the temerity to want an education -- and to say so, publicly.

But as I thought about it more, yes, the media coverage of the shooting has been biased: It's been far too secular. We in the West use the language of crime or terrorism and the Taliban insists that they are talking about "religion."

So let's look at it from a religious perspective, shall we?

The Taliban are superstitious pagans -- yes, pagans -- hiding behind selected tenets of a great Abrahamic religion. They are tribal thugs who worship only their weapons. And they know -- at least their leaders know -- they are perverting the religion they pretend to profess. How can I say this? Because, in order to mouth the few cherry-picked verses of the Koran they use to justify their crimes, they must have learned -- and chosen to ignore -- the rest of their tradition, which condemns them.

The Hell that the Taliban are creating on Earth, however, for those unhappy enough to live in their evil shadow, is nothing compared to the Hell the Taliban are creating for themselves in the World to Come. Maybe they should worry about that.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Curmudgeon tries to figure out what to do next

It's come down to this: I'm 55 years old and I need a job.

And I don't know what to do.

Oh, I can still be a lawyer -- I just can't get anyone to pay me. And my tolerance levels are not what they used to be. Partially, it's stress: Like a rubber band stretched too tight, I'm snappish.

So my tolerance for crazy clients or crazy opposing counsel is not what it should be. And I don't have a file -- not one! -- that's humming along like it should. Everything has a complication or three.

That case I wrote about last week? The one where it took three months to get agreement on the wording of the Releases? The Plaintiff's attorney in the underlying case is going to court tomorrow to 'enforce' the settlement. A $10,000 tail is wagging a much, much larger dog. And for absolutely no good reason.

And that's one of the more straightforward cases I have right now.

I have another case that's been assigned to mediation. But one of the parties doesn't want to mediate. The attorney insists that the clients can settle this between themselves. That is their right, of course. But they can't. My client offered a virtual unconditional surrender -- take the money at issue and just go away. But the other side doesn't want to go. And new issues are raised constantly: Litigation as Whack-a-Mole. Meanwhile, my client so desperately wants to settle that it will mediate, it will meet privately with the other side, it will do anything but let me and my co-counsel press the litigation. But it takes two sides to make peace. My client hasn't accepted, yet, that the other side does not want peace on any terms my client can possibly accept. Mediation may make the other side see the futility of their position -- yes, I know, in traditional mediation the neutral will seldom evaluate -- but, even in a mediation, a mediator is free to press a party into a 'reality check.' And retired judges evaluate more than they say they do. In that case, I think the other side has a crazy lawyer. I don't know if the client is crazy or not. A mediation will tell.

I have another case where my own client is nuts. I can't talk about this one. Not yet. But it's not pleasant.

And the new hourly client I thought I'd picked up in the spring has yet to pay a bill. First it was problems getting properly registered in the third party service that evaluates bills before sending them on to the insurance company client. This dragged on for months. Then, although I was finally approved, another month went by with no check. I reached out to the guy who hired me -- who now says I wasn't properly given a "vendor number." But he's working on it.

Good grief.

The only numbers I really need are the ones on the check.

And there's a real problem with this case now, too. Which I also can't talk about.

I went to the doctor yesterday and he downright insisted I go on blood pressure medication. I resisted; I've talked him out of it before. He talked me into it yesterday.

Meanwhile, I read want ads online. I don't understand most of them. The impenetrable jargon gets me down. I am a person who works with words, and pretty much always have. When I can't understand job ads, what does that say about my declining skills? I'm out of touch, at least.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

I love WordPerfect, but X6 is testing my affection

I suppose the Battle of the Word Processors ended long ago, with the evil Bill Gates winning the day -- as usual -- with Microsoft Word.

I can't stand MS Word, personally. There's only one feature in the entire program I've ever found useful, namely, the Track Changes function (Ctrl + Shift + E). If someone saddles me with a Word document (I had to buy a copy of the program at one point just so I could open client documents) I can at least use that one helpful feature to note any suggested revisions.

No, I've been a loyal WordPerfect user for many years. I learned on WP 4.1 for DOS. I've owned one or more copies of WordPerfect since WP 4.2 for DOS.

The difference between the programs is fundamental: Word lets you use paragraphs in a few different ways, all theirs, while (thanks to Reveal Codes) WordPerfect lets you format any way you need to -- word by word, letter by letter, if need be.

Another brilliant feature of WordPerfect is that files created in one version can be opened, without difficulty, in other versions of the program. Word files, however, go back so far and no farther. Word 2007 started creating something called .docx files which I couldn't open up on my registered copy of Word 2003. Someone told me where to find a 'patch' -- but files opened in this manner come with a warning that the format may be altered or some of the other zippy new features may not translate.

It was the alleged ability of WordPerfect's latest iteration, X6, to cleanly open .docx files that got me thinking about moving up from WP X5, the version I had been using at work: Somebody had sent me a Word file and I needed to make changes but these might involve formatting -- always, always, always a disaster with Word -- and this pushed me over the edge.

And when I called the nice people at Corel (the current WordPerfect corporate owner; there have been several) they sold me an upgrade with a disk and a download so I could install my backup copy of the X6 program on a mini I sometimes use at home (the mini has no disc drive* of any kind).

Well, of course, things being how they are, I did the download to the mini right away -- and let the disc languish in my desk drawer at work for quite awhile.

Eventually, though, I got around to installing it.

It uninstalled all prior versions of WordPerfect (I'd moved WP 11 over to my new desktop at work when I discarded the old one). WP X5 wanted to make sure I wasn't ripping off the Corel Corporation by installing an 'upgrade' disc without owning an older version of the program -- but it didn't uninstall WP 11. I've seen programs insist on eradicating all versions of their former selves and I've seen programs that sit on top of the old ones; I didn't think much of it either way.

Anyway -- another good thing about WordPerfect -- the new version was quite similar to the old one in terms of all the things I'd want to do. I increased the size of the default document and instructed it to keep Reveal Codes open at all times. Everything was fine and familiar.

Until I went to print an envelope.

Naturally this was toward the end of the day and I was running on fumes.

I went to print an envelope and only the bottom line of the address appeared at the very top of the envelope. I went through about 20 envelopes -- moving margins, saving new custom envelope descriptions, trying everything I could think of.

Eventually -- don't ask me how -- I got an envelope to print more or less correctly.

I went home.

But next day I could not repeat my triumph. Another 20 envelopes were sacrificed. I started looking for help. Corel initially sent me directions on how to print envelopes.


I've been printing envelopes in WordPerfect since (at least) the late 1980s. I know how to do that.

Eventually, I worked my way through the automated help to a human. After the margin fixes didn't work -- again -- he told me to reinstall my printer.

I reinstalled.

But my results were the same.

If it weren't for the one stinking envelope I got once I'd swear this was a software bug in the new program. In fact, I still think it must be.

The nice man from Corel suggested I reinstall version X5. Run envelopes with that and see how it works, he said. (It worked fine for two years until I bought X6; I was pretty sure it'd work again now.) But -- eventually -- a new grandchild and some actual legal work got in the way -- I tried reinstalling X5.

It won't reinstall.

Not unless I uninstall X6.

That really would defeat the purpose, though, don't you agree?

* Apple says there is a difference between "disc" and "disk." I'm pretty sure I used the right version here; at least I tried to.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Youngest Son meets his new niece

It's Fall Break at South Janesville College this week (that's the fake name I gave the real school that Youngest Son attends) and Youngest Son came home Friday... for a couple of days.

He's headed back to school this morning, after the morning rush subsides.

"I can get some hours in this week," he said when we asked why he wasn't planning on staying at home for the entire break. In English, that means he could get some hours in at his campus job -- which involves maintenance of the baseball field. "We're going to rebuild the mound and repair the batters' boxes," he told us when pressed for details. "And there's recruits coming in, too, and Coach wants me to show them around." (Youngest Son plays baseball, you'll recall.)

Youngest Son borrowed a frat brother's car to come visit, though; he was the only sibling who'd yet to see the new grandchild (two weeks old already).

Younger Daughter made sure her baby brother got time with the new baby. They both fussed. Then Youngest Son announced plans to go to the high school football game Friday night -- big conference game against a fearsome rival, he reminded us.

I didn't need much reminding. The school Youngest Son's alma mater was facing Friday night has produced a few pros and scores of D-1 college players since my kids began playing football. I remember, years ago, when Oldest Son was still a sophomore in high school, driving out to Joliet, the home of this other school, to try and catch some of the game and possibly bring the kid home.

Friday evening traffic being what it always is, I got there for the last few seconds of the sophomore game. The varsity -- the big kids -- were warming up. Big? I thought I was walking past statues on Easter Island, only these statues were solid muscle -- sides of beef in shoulder pads -- and doing calisthenics. And the fans were out in the stadium parking lot... tailgating. Our kids may have, technically, played in the same conference, but not in the same league, if you catch my drift.

So Friday night, I saw Youngest Son long enough to exchange pleasantries (you need a shave, boy, that is the ugliest facial hair I've ever seen) and then he was gone.

Fridays being what they are, I fell asleep in my chair soon after. I woke up when I heard the screaming.

My wife couldn't help herself. She'd been grading papers the entire time, but the Cardinals comeback had finally claimed her full attention. The ninth inning of Game 5 of the Washington-St. Louis series brought out strong emotions even from those who had no rooting interest. I was conscious long enough to watch Washington's collapse. "They had two outs!" my wife said. "Two outs!"

I did notice, at one point, that the only noise in that packed Washington ballpark came from the Cardinal dugout. Everyone else just stared, slack-jawed in disbelief. "You were snoring again," my wife added, changing the subject.

Somewhere in all this, we noticed that Youngest Son wasn't yet home. His game should have been long over. "Why don't you text him?" Long Suffering Spouse suggested. "Find out where he is."

Youngest Son responded to my text promptly. He was still at school, he said, talking to one of the baseball coaches. His old school had beat their rival -- "first time in 23 years!" Youngest Son enthused. He'd come home soon, he promised.

And he did eventually come home. We had a pleasant conversation -- but it took place on either side of 1:00am and my recollection of the details are fuzzy. And Long Suffering Spouse had a blood test at 7:30am. So we needed to retire for the evening, or what was left of it.

Surprisingly, Youngest Son went upstairs, too.

I went and tried to roust him out of bed next day around 1:15pm. He ate. Long Suffering Spouse and I had errands to run -- and out the door we went. When we returned, Youngest Son informed us of his plans for the evening: His brother had invited him over to a party at his apartment. This was sufficient incentive for the kid to shower, at least. When he came back, it was time for us to take him over to Middle Son's Wrigleyville bachelor pad.

Middle Son came out to meet us (Long Suffering Spouse rode shotgun with me). "Do you guys want to come up for awhile?" he asked politely. We begged off. He promised to bring his brother back on Sunday. "We'll save a couple of spots for you at 7:00am Mass," we told him. "You do that," he said.

Around 1:00pm Sunday I started texting Youngest Son again. "Are you alive?"

I got no response.

Long Suffering Spouse told me to try Middle Son instead. He did respond. "No, things are fine here," he texted back, but he did allow that his brother was having second thoughts about the wisdom of eating a leftover burrito a little while before.

Youngest Son was eventually returned sometime in the middle of the afternoon -- and he promptly announced plans to visit someone else that evening. At least he also smuggled our recycling over to Abuela's house for her Monday pickup (Chicago doesn't have a recycling program in our neighborhood, so we send ours across the suburban boundary -- someday, I'm sure, we will be ticketed for this: That suburb doesn't take just anybody's garbage, you know).

But Youngest Son did spend some time laying on the couch yesterday afternoon while his new niece lay in an infant chair beside the couch. Neither one of them was entirely awake. They both sort of looked at each other in a dull, uncomprehending way.

Quality bonding time, indeed.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Curmudgeon unsure about early voting

An old-time Election Day reenacted in Colonial Williamsburg
Early voting starts October 22 in Illinois. Perhaps it starts sooner in your state, perhaps later, but whenever it does, early voting is increasingly popular.

I'm not too sure about early voting.

I know I'm just one little, lonely vote -- and (largely because of my contrariness) nearly everyone I vote for will lose -- but I'd like my vote to count anyway.

I think of myself as a man of faith. But I just can't muster any real faith that voting downtown, or at the library, will somehow result in my vote being counted at my local precinct on election night. It's hard enough, somehow, to believe that my in-person vote will actually be counted.

I like the feeling of voting on The Appointed Day. It's a festive atmosphere for me -- maybe not as festive as in Colonial Virginia where Thomas Jefferson lost his first election by failing to provide liquor for the local electors -- a mistake he did not thereafter repeat -- but I can imagine people all across the country heading towards the polls on their way to work, just like me, making their voices heard. (And, as noted, usually drowning mine out... but, still....) I like saying hello to all the volunteers who stand in the cold or the rain or whatever, handing out their palm cards. I've been there. I wish them all luck.

By the way, even if you do wait, like I do, to vote on Election Day, don't wait to vote until you're on your way home. This tactic is fraught with peril... at least in Chicago. We had a mayoral election some years back where the CTA trains seemed to develop equipment problems during the evening rush, but only those headed towards neighborhoods that were likely to vote for a particular candidate.

Anyway, this morning I'm curious to know whether any of you who might happen across this post intend to vote early -- and why. Leave a comment.

I'll close with this: If it would make the robocalls stop -- if it would make the attack ads stop clogging the news -- then, you betcha, I'd vote early.

But it wouldn't.

So, really: Why vote early?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

All this fuss over Big Bird is pretty silly... but, on the other hand....

Oh, sure, the first presidential debate of the 2012 silly season is ancient history now. It's the Ryan-Biden debate that the chattering class are focusing on now.

The spinning is so silly: Basically, the Democrats are trying to lower the performance expectations for the Vice President to the point where, if he faces toward the camera and gets through the entire thing without wetting himself, they can declare some species of 'success.' Meanwhile, they build up Paul Ryan as a seasoned debater, not just Darth Vader in an open-necked shirt, but the sort of verbal opponent who uses words like an expert dueler might have used a rapier once upon a time in Heidelberg: If Ryan does not physically scar Biden, or send him screaming from the stage, then (according to the spinners) Ryan will have 'lost.'

I'm all about equal time. I'd tell you how the Republicans are spinning the debate tonight... but I live in Chicago, Illinois. We don't have a lot of Republicans around.

But, in the time-honored history of this blog being a step behind everyone and everything else, let me weigh in on Big Bird.

I didn't get all huffy at cartoons like this one (that I saw recently on Facebook; I believe the copyright of the cartoon creator is indicated on the image itself). I was amused by this cartoon and some of the other Photoshop creations -- Hilary Clinton hustling Big Bird to a safe house, Big Bird saying that Sesame Street is brought to you today by the letter "O" (for Obama), and so on and so forth.

But this Jack Higgins cartoon in this morning's Chicago Sun-Times finally got me going. Maybe I still -- deep down -- have some lingering belief that print is more important.

Yes, Gov. Romney made some remark about in the debate about cutting public funding for PBS -- not that it gets so much any more anyway -- and such a cut sure wouldn't balance the budget, not even if multiplied a thousandfold -- but the immediate hue and cry that Romney was out to kill Big Bird was simply silly.

Big Bird and the other beloved Sesame Street characters are owned by the Sesame Workshop (formerly the Children's Television Workshop). Remember the Tickle Me Elmo craze of a couple of years back? The Sesame Workshop is a not-for-profit corporation, but surely it could make big bucks if it had to. I was actually surprised to learn today that Sesame Workshop receives so much of its income from 'corporate, foundation, and government' support:

Graph obtained from Sesame Workshop financials page.

A very quick and uneducated look through the financials that are available via the page linked above, however, suggested to me that it will not wink out of existence even if a Romney administration refuses to provide further Federal funding for PBS.

And I was feeling pretty smug about my resolution of this tempest in a tea pot, when I saw another picture on Facebook.

Specifically, I found this picture, of a Tweet, claiming that, once upon a time, The Learning Channel was founded by "NASA and the Health Department as an educational channel."

Then it was privatized.

Now it brings us Honey Boo Boo.

That was scary stuff -- and couldn't possibly be true, I thought -- so I dialed up Wikipedia.

According to Wikipedia, "The channel was founded in 1972 by the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare and NASA as an informative/instructional network focused on providing real education through the medium of TV; it was distributed at no cost by NASA satellite. It was privatized in 1980 and was then named the Appalachian Community Service Network. In November 1980 this name was changed to 'The Learning Channel', which was subsequently shortened to 'TLC.'" It was thereafter bought by, and is still owned by, Discovery Communications.

And TLC really has given us Honey Boo Boo.

Suddenly, I'm not so smug anymore.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

We haven't yet decided what to call the kid

I'm not talking about the bogus pseudonym I may coin for purposes of this blog. I'm talking about what we're actually going to call the child around the house.

Don't worry; our grandbaby has a name. You can't get out the hospital these days without completing a birth certificate. I'm surprised they don't make the newborn sign up for a social security number right then, too.

We always had names for our kids before we went to the hospital. In those days, of course, new parents weren't always aware whether their newborn would be a boy or a girl so we had to have two names picked out just in case.

And we always did -- with one exception.

Middle Son had to be a boy. My wife and I were in easy agreement about his name -- but we couldn't agree on a girl's name at all. My story is that the boy, were he a girl, would have been named "Female" (pronounced fe-molly) but my wife disputes that. "They always brought me the birth certificate to sign," she says. "You were usually not around for that."

Olaf and Younger Daughter knew they would have a girl and they picked out a name early on.

As is typical, my wife and I were the last to know their choice.

The child is named after both of her grandmothers -- my wife's name being first. But we haven't yet decided what to call her.

Long Suffering Spouse is not reluctant to share her name with the child; she just feels weird saying her name and meaning someone else. And, besides, as she has pointed out for many years, no one pronounces Long Suffering Spouse's real name correctly anyway -- and the kid will fare no better. Her young parents will learn in time.

So the question is... what to call the child.

I think babies tend to grow into names. Something more or less just 'sticks,' whatever may be written on the birth certificate. Sometimes these names match up with what's on paper -- sometimes the given name and the name that's used are totally different. I know families where an older sibling has effectively named a new arrival, hanging a nickname on a kid in toddlerhood that survives to old age. But this new one is the first of her kind; no sibling can do that to her.

I've called my granddaughter various things in the past couple of weeks. Brunhilde. Esmeralda. The Blob. The Lump. Nancy Noisy. I've also called her Princess Rain in the Pants, but that handle is too long and -- hopefully -- will be no longer be accurate or descriptive in a couple of years.

Baby seems to work for now. The Baby, if we're being formal.

This will change.

Maybe when she sleeps through the night.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Why people hate lawyers, part 5,238

Sure, I know, my most loyal readers want more grandbaby stuff and less of the boring decline and fall of Curmudgeon's law practice.

And, trust me, there's less and less to write about on the practice side.

And I not only didn't get a MacArthur Genius Grant -- again -- I didn't even get nominated for the ABA's Blawg 100. Again.

But I'm cranked out of shape this morning by something up in court: A case that settled... wait for it... in early July. Three whole months ago. And it's not over yet. It may not be over, officially, when I walk out of the courtroom this morning.

Here's the deal (sort of -- you know I can't breach client confidences): My client paid a whole bagful of money to settle a personal injury case -- a lot less than the plaintiff wanted, less than our policy limit, less than the injuries alone would have suggested. A lot less. But there were some good facts on the liability side. There was also a question of whether our coverage actually applied at all. We -- I -- had an argument that it did not apply. I represented the insurance company in a separate coverage case. Both my case and the underlying case were resolved -- I've mentioned this, didn't I? -- three months ago.

But, at the mediation, I had this bright idea. Another insurer was providing one of our insureds a defense in my coverage case (there was probably no coverage under that other policy, but the duty to defend is broadly construed in Illinois -- that's how come my client had hired another firm to represent its insureds in the underlying PI case even though it didn't think there was coverage).

I'm confusing you, aren't I?

Well, to cut through all the legal stuff (there goes next year's Blawg 100 nomination), we got the other carrier, the one providing a defense in my coverage case, to kick in $10,000 toward the overall settlement. It was, in the context of the case, a token contribution -- but a significant one for my client.

After the settlement was reached, the second carrier hired a law firm to interfere with, er, monitor and approve the settlement documents.

Three months later, I think we got a deal.

But, I swear, it was as if the attorney for the second carrier wanted to try and find a way to bill $10,000 for not even drafting a release.

Litigation can be a trap for parties. It should be avoided by most rational people. Don't text and drive. Don't jaywalk. Don't climb out on roofs pretending they are patios. Don't screw your business partners. Pay your bills on time (he that can not do, gives advice).

Because litigation can be like a spider web. It can be a trap for the parties, like spider webs are traps for flies. And some lawyers can be way too much like spiders, sucking the last bit of juice out of every trapped fly.

It's not all of us, but it's too many of us. And I have to get ready for court now.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Good jobs news? All jobs are not created equal

The AP's Christopher S. Rugaber reports this morning (via Yahoo! News) that the unemployment rate has fallen below 8% for the first time in 44 months.

The new rate is 7.8%, Rugaber writes, and the number of unemployed persons, 12.1 million, is the lowest number reported since January 2009. On it's face, this seems like good news.

But... let's go inside the numbers for a moment. According to this morning's AP account, the government defines an unemployed person as one "who's out of work and has actively looked for a job in the past four weeks." It makes sense that a person who stops looking for work because he or she has found work is no longer unemployed. But persons who give up looking -- because there are no jobs to be had -- or no jobs those persons can fill -- are also no longer considered to be unemployed.

Say what?

Rugaber writes that, "The job market has been improving, sluggishly but steadily. Jobs have been added for 24 straight months. There are now 325,000 more than when Obama took office."

But what kind of jobs are these?

Well, Rugaber writes, "many of the jobs the economy added last month were part time. The number of people with part-time jobs who wanted full-time work rose 7.5 percent to 8.6 million."

In other words, a lot of people who once had good jobs, now have crappy jobs, or part-time jobs.

All jobs are not created equal. When your neighbor loses a white collar, middle management job and takes a part-time, or even full-time, job at Mickey D's or Wal-Mart to slow the hemorrhaging of the family's savings, that's not the end of the Great Recession in that household, is it?

If 1,000 white collar jobs are lost, and 1,500 jobs are 'created' flipping burgers or folding pants, a third grader doing the math might conclude that there was a net gain of 500 jobs in the local economy. But can anyone seriously contend that the economy, under these facts, is somehow "better"?

It's a big country. Maybe what I see around me is purely local, not reflective of the true trend in the country as a whole.

But what I see is 'growth' only in low-paying, temporary, non-career track, or even part-time jobs. What do you see around you?

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Demographics is destiny: The China Syndrome

You've got a few (thousand) choices besides me if you're looking for hard-hitting analysis of last night's presidential debate.

But there's one line Mr. Romney used -- and he's used it lots before -- that sparks this morning's effort: "I'm not going to keep spending money on things I got to borrow money from China to pay for."

It's a good line. China holds a huge amount of our national debt. I've joked for years that there's no need for China to ever invade us if they want to bring us to our knees: All they've got to do is call their loans.

That's called kidding on the square. Or whistling past the graveyard. Something like that.

As we keep buying more and more we can't pay for, China owns more and more of our debt.

Some people look at this and -- in all earnestness -- think it's dangerous for a potential enemy to have so much of an investment in our country. But think about it for a minute: It would also be dangerous for China to have no stake.

Right now, if America succeeds, China profits. That's an incentive for them not to do anything bad to us, except send us the occasional Asian Longhorned Beetle, Emerald Ash Borer, or Brown Marmorated Stink Bug infestation. And put lead in our kids' toys.

So even if, by some economic miracle, we could buy all our debt back from China, we wouldn't really want to. We want China to feel invested in us, but we don't want to be dependent on them. It's a balance we must seek, not an either-or proposition.

But China has another problem besides potentially shaky American T-bills (remember that financial cliff we're about to go over?) and it's not easily solved.

China has a surplus of men. Young men.

China decided to control its population with a strict one child per family policy. Forced abortions, sterilizations, all sorts of repressive tactics were used to enforce this policy.

In a perfect world, even with a one-child policy, roughly half of the one-child families in China would have a daughter and half would have a son. (When nature takes its course there are slightly more girls born than boys.)

But, in our imperfect world, that's not how it worked out. Many Chinese baby girls were aborted, or killed after birth. For cultural reasons, and perhaps instinctive ones too, parents who could have only one child wanted that child to be a boy.

But now... there's lots of Chinese boys and few Chinese girls. That's great if you're obsessed with Malthus: the Chinese population must and will go down.

In the meantime, though, what do you do with all the extra boys?

There are three possibilities and two of them aren't likely: The Chinese government could embrace and promote homosexuality. Let the boys pair off. Cultural reality, however, says that's unlikely.

There could be some sort of mass religious movement with a strong monastic component. If young men want to go off and be monks, that would ease the problem of having too few girls to go around. But... how do you start a monastic movement in an officially atheist country?

The third choice -- and by far the most likely -- is to start a war.

There's a reason why 18-year olds are sent off to wars: They're naturally aggressive, they want to prove themselves, and they think they're immortal. The Chinese government either must find an outlet for the aggressions of their male surplus population or they may be toppled by them. What do you think the Chinese oligarchs will try to do?

If I were in the Russian government -- with a thinly-populated, resource-rich East and a long border with China -- I'd be taking this possibility very, very seriously. The Mongolians have resources as well, and a lot of empty space. They can't be comfortable either.

There are other targets for potential Chinese aggression, the United States included. But the Chinese government is practical and cynical. Resources are wealth. A little war will ease the population pressure and bring great potential wealth to the Middle Kingdom. And sad, bloody human history is replete with examples of brides being found in conquered territories. A push into Russia and/or Mongolia seems most probable.

Will the winner of the November election have to deal with this? Maybe not. Maybe the lid can be held on the pot a few years more. But I hope they're making plans in Washington, too. How do we handle this? How do we ride this out? Can we stay neutral? And, if we can't, with whom must we stand?

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

So tired of unreasonable people

It's bad enough to have a law practice dwindle away to almost nothing without having the few cases that remain involve really, truly unreasonable people.

You will understand that, even on an anonymous blog, I can go into no details that might disclose any confidences -- so my kvetching must be even more vague than usual.

But the two most prominent examples that come to mind at the moment involve mediation. They are different types of cases and I am representing the plaintiff in one and a defendant in the other. But, in the former, the defendant does not want to mediate and, in the latter, it is a co-defendant.

The real dispute in the case where I'm appearing for one of the defendants is with another defendant. In that case we've been ordered to submit the case for mediation -- and the co-defendant still throws up every obstacle that can be invented to avoid the inevitable. Here is a case where my client has tried to give away the money that is the ostensible object of the suit, just be rid of the co-defendant. But this suit isn't really about money, it's about the co-defendant wanting to continue to have some control over my defendant's activities in a given area. My client has tried to negotiate directly with the co-defendant -- it's my client's right, but it's against my advice -- because my client can't believe the co-defendant can be this unreasonable.

But my client is wrong.

With all the decision makers in one room, a skilled mediator might be able to make them understand the hopelessness of their position and be reasonable for just long enough to sign a settlement agreement. (I have no illusions that the rationality would last the night following, but, armed with a mediation agreement, my client's nightmare would be nearly over.) Otherwise, my client will have to realize that this case will not go away without my spending the time and money necessary to get this case resolved in court. My client has an excellent chance of winning -- but my client is unsure whether the emotional price is worth it (much less the cost in fees) and that's why I've so vigorously championed mediation. My client wants to settle this matter peaceably. If mediation does not make the other side temporarily reasonable, it should make my client understand and accept that there can be no peace with the co-defendant.

It takes two willing partners to make peace, but only one unreasoning jerk to force war on the most reasonable person around. When war is forced upon you, your duty is to make it as swift and terrible and final as possible. This is a lesson that my client has to learn.

In this first case, the co-defendant doesn't want to mediate (the co-defendant does not wish to be reasonable) or litigate (I believe the co-defendant calculates that it will most likely lose if it comes down to litigation). Instead, the co-defendant believes that, if only enough time passes, the co-defendant may again seize control of my client. It shouldn't happen, but it might.

Well, Curmudgeon, you might say -- why is the co-defendant's stalling strategy unreasonable? You agree it might work.

Well, maybe in this case, 'unreasonable' is not the best word. 'Dishonest' might be a better one, because the co-defendant is not participating in the case in good faith and not negotiating with my client in good faith.

But, even after thinking about it, 'unreasonable' is the best word to describe the other side in the second case I've alluded to so generally.

It's a tort case. My client's medical specials exceed the defendant's policy limit. Liability is not 100% clear -- whatever you may see on television, such cases are rare as hen's teeth -- but the physical facts are in our favor. But the defense has a legal defense -- an issue that the courts can decide as a matter of law -- and, of course, the defense has raised this issue with the court.

And lost. My co-counsel and I turned back the defendant's summary judgment motion over a year ago.

Is it a close case?


Could the eventual trial judge see things differently?

Yes. The legal defense that was raised in the summary judgment motion can be reframed as a question of the admissibility of certain evidence, vital to our ability to put in a prima facie case.

Could a jury go against us?

Of course. In my experience, juries take their responsibilities seriously and try their darndest to resolve the case before them on the facts they've heard from the witness chair and on the instructions provided by the judge. If we get our evidence in, we should get a verdict, and probably one substantially in excess of the defendant's insurance policy. We have taken certain steps to potentially open up the defendant's insurer to liability for any excess verdict. But juries can, and sometimes do, strange and unpredictable things. Theirs is not a mechanical process. They may not like the plaintiff. They may feel sympathy toward the defendant. They may like the defendant's attorney better. They may not -- despite their honest collective effort -- understand the court's instructions.

Even if we win at trial, could the Appellate Court see things differently than the judge who denied the summary judgment motion last year?

Yes. Appellate courts are far less likely to overturn jury verdicts -- but they can and often do say that a case should never have reached the jury because of an error of law made by the judge. Legal questions are -- generally -- subject to de novo review in a reviewing court. The court can not readily substitute its conclusions with regard to the witness testimony for those reached by a jury, but they can and do second guess the legal decisions of their brother or sister trial court judges.

So if there is a path to victory for the defense in your second case, Curmudgeon, why do you think the defense is unreasonable for failing to mediate?

Well, there are other factors, too unique to my case, that I am not at liberty to share. Some of these are strongly in our favor. But even from this general, vague outline you can see that the only winner if this case goes through appeal will be defense counsel. The insurance company may not pay out its policy limit for a verdict or as a settlement, but what good does it do the insurer, really, if it spends as much or more to achieve that result?

Lord knows, I don't want to sound like one of those University of Chicago-types on the Seventh Circuit, but there is an economic component to litigation that reasonable people should take into account.

Look at it this way: We're asking for mediation. What does that mean? It means that we're not wedded to getting a judgment in excess of the policy limit. It means that, despite the amount of the specials, maybe there's a way in which our client can live with a settlement for less than the policy limit.

It's an algebra problem. If we go to mediation there is some number, x, which will settle the case. By asking for mediation, we are at least acknowledging the possibility that x may be less than z, where z is defined as the policy limit. If we go to trial, there is a cost to the defendant's insurer, which we'll call y. The value of y depends on when, if ever, defendant sells a court, trial or appellate, on its legal defense. At least potentially, then, y > z and both are potentially greater than x. The reasonable insurer should want to mediate under these circumstances, even if only for the same reason that I want my client to mediate in the first case: To find out whether a reasonable settlement can be reached or whether scorched earth is the only option.

But even publicly traded insurance companies don't always act reasonably.

Which brings up another case where an insurer that didn't actively participate in a coverage suit that was resolved along with an underlying tort case (by mediation) but nevertheless pitched in $10,000 toward a much larger settlement. It decided it needed separate counsel after the fact -- and has probably spent more than $10,000 in fees interfering with the orderly wrapping-up of the case (by reopening the negotiation of the wording of the releases in the two settled cases). But I can't talk about that case. I think we've finally agreed on the shape of the table where the conference can take place.... Then again, I haven't checked my email in the past hour....

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Olaf is employed; Long Suffering Spouse reacts

Reading over the last few posts it seems that, in all the fuss and bother about the new grandchild, I seem to have skipped over a very important fact: Olaf got the job he'd been interviewing for.

You certainly could have inferred that from the last couple of posts -- but let me back up a bit.

On the subject of Olaf's employment, I left you sort of hanging with my September 24 post. In that post I'd mentioned that Olaf had gone to a job interview early in the morning. This was a second interview, with a man who'd been unable to see Olaf on the first go-round because he -- the interviewer -- had been in the hospital.

The interview went well. It went so well that Olaf was asked to come back next day -- as an employee.

So that was Tuesday. Baby came Wednesday -- and Olaf bolted from work the moment he learned that his bride had been admitted to the hospital. He stayed at the hospital Wednesday night and all day Thursday leading to the rather pointed questions that Oldest Son asked Olaf on Thursday evening: "So. You've got a new job? Congratulations. How many days have you worked? One? And how many have you taken off?"

But I already told you that story.

What I didn't share with you was the scene of wild celebration in the Curmudgeon home on Monday evening when we learned that Olaf would be gainfully employed and that he would have full family insurance coverage within 30 days.

OK, maybe not wild celebration in the sense of trumpets blaring, bands playing, dancers strewing rose petals and such. But we were pretty darn happy, let me tell you. Happy and relieved.

Long Suffering Spouse was thrilled, and she told Olaf so: "I'm so happy you have a job!"

Then she turned to me: "Now it's your turn."

Monday, October 01, 2012

Curmudgeon becomes a grandfather, Part II: Standoff in a hospital room

At the end of the long day when our granddaughter was born, Long Suffering Spouse and I were on the same page: Our child -- Younger Daughter, that is, not our grandchild -- needed peace and quiet and rest.

These are typically in short supply in a hospital, and less so than ever when a new baby is involved, but we wanted Younger Daughter to have some space and time to heal. Long Suffering Spouse had never undergone a C-section but, in the course of delivering five babies, had roomed with several who had. And we have friends who'd been through this. And we've both been through abdominal surgery. So we both had some idea of what Younger Daughter had been through. So our question was, how can we help provide that time?

Older Daughter was coming up from Indianapolis whether we liked it or not -- but she's a nurse. She might be useful. (Turned out, she was.) In fact, because Older Daughter was expected, Long Suffering Spouse and I both planned on going to work the next day. I had a seminar I'd enrolled in; my wife never takes a day off.

But at 5:00am my wife's cell phone signaled the arrival of a text message. It was from Younger Daughter. When you see this, call, the message read. She called.

Younger Daughter was feeling poorly. Her husband had been up with her all night (fathers stay in the hospital these days -- very different from when my wife had our kids) and Younger Daughter could already see he'd be next to useless. She wanted her mother's help.

Before we went our separate ways then, I composed an email to Middle Son and Oldest Son, advising them that -- if they were planning to visit -- to plan on making it a 'flying visit.' Get in and get out, I suggested, even if it is your sister's birthday (it was).

Younger Daughter did not need to play bedridden hostess.

I noticed that, overnight, Olaf had posted a picture of his new daughter on his Facebook page and the 'ooooh, isn't she cute?' comments were starting to accumulate.

The news embargo has clearly been lifted, I thought, and I thought about posting a picture of me with the new arrival on my own Facebook.

Then I decided against it. Olaf's parents hadn't even been in to see the baby. I was only there the night before because I was the chauffeur. I could wait.

Olaf's parents couldn't wait.

Now you have to understand that Olaf is their only child. Why that is so is, of course, none of my damn business. But it became astoundingly clear, from the moment that Olaf and Younger Daughter announced their marriage plans (and the impending blessed event), that Olaf's parents were a tad... Baby Crazy.

We met Olaf's parents for dinner shortly after the engagement was announced. (We'd been introduced, in passing, but we'd never talked to these folks before this.) Long Suffering Spouse and I wanted to talk about the wedding -- at that time, we had questions like, when would it be, who would be invited, whether we could have a reception and, if so, how. Olaf's parents wanted to talk about Baby.

Long Suffering Spouse and I wanted to talk about health insurance. We weren't certain then whether Long Suffering Spouse's coverage would cover the birth and we sure wanted to talk about what the kids were going to do afterwards. Olaf's parents wanted to talk about Baby.

Long Suffering Spouse and I wanted to talk about Olaf. If you've been following along here, you know the strides Olaf made this spring and summer with his health and with the completion of most of (but not all of) his graduation requirements. But, at the time, we weren't certain that Olaf was getting the medical treatment he needed. Olaf's parents wanted to talk about Baby.

Long Suffering Spouse and I wanted to talk about jobs and employment and living arrangements and auto insurance and all the bazillion things that the kids had barely begun to consider and on which they might need our help. Olaf's parents wanted to talk about Baby.

Don't get me wrong. It was not an unpleasant meeting. They are not unpleasant people -- just the opposite, really (although, if you've been through all the wedding posts with me you know I have some reservations about Olaf's Aunt Floofy). But Olaf's parents were just so excited about Baby that they couldn't focus on anything else.

Even though they did, eventually, get involved in the wedding planning (they decorated the parish hall that we secured for the reception), they haven't stopped being focused almost exclusively on Baby.

There are aspects of jealousy and suspicion here. Olaf is living with us. Baby is living with us. It is only understandable if Olaf's parents start to think, at some point, what are we, chopped liver?

The suspicion surfaced during the wedding planning. Remember my post about Aunt Floofy and the wedding napkins?
When it was determined that Olaf's family would take on the decorating responsibilities, they insisted on inspecting the locus in quo. As a teacher in the parish school, my wife has been entrusted with a prodigious collection of keys. There are some foreign cars that weigh less than my wife's key set. But none of these, however numerous, open the Parish Center. Access to the shiny new facility is strictly controlled (we actually had one of the first private parties in the place; after Older Daughter got married in Indianapolis, we had a second party here so that we could celebrate with our friends and neighbors -- that was the occasion on which my wife first field-tested the spinach lasagna).

The point, however, is that my wife can't always get in there. She is in there, nearly every day, during the school year, because there's a track around the perimeter of the room, on a mezzanine level -- 17 times around is a mile -- and Long Suffering Spouse walks it during her lunch hour. But she can be there then only because the gym teacher has the place opened up at that time. The gym teacher has keys; the gym teacher is, I think, the only teacher with a key.

So when Olaf's mother began pestering my wife for a site inspection, Long Suffering Spouse was unable to instantly comply. I'm speculating, of course, but I think the logic train may have run like this: She works in the building; she should have keys to things in her building; she's not letting me see the room -- sabotage!

Logic trains, like real trains, sometimes run completely off the tracks.
And, now, with Baby finally here, Olaf's mother was determined to be at the hospital as soon as visitors were admitted. She and her husband were in the door at the stroke of 11:00am.

And Long Suffering Spouse was already there (Younger Daughter had sought, and received, permission for my wife to come in before visiting hours began).

This just didn't go over well with Olaf's mother at all.

And then Older Daughter arrived, too.

Never mind that Older Daughter and Long Suffering Spouse were focused on getting Younger Daughter up out of bed and to the bathroom and trying to get her plumbing restarted after surgery. Never mind that they were getting ice for Younger Daughter to suck on and making sure the pain meds came on time and all the other little things that Younger Daughter needed, but wouldn't want, from her mother-in-law. She was in pain. She wept trying to get to the bathroom. This is not how you want others to see you, even family, unless it's absolutely necessary.

And Olaf's mother made no pretense of trying to tend to Younger Daughter (nor should she have). Instead, Olaf's mother got hold of that Baby and sat and sat and sat. She posed for pictures. She gave the baby up for feedings, reluctantly, and, later, verrrrry reluctantly, when Abuela came in. (Olaf's father spent a lot of time looking out the window.)

By this time I had gone to my mid-day seminar downtown and had come home.

Throughout the course of the afternoon, I was receiving text messages from my wife.

They're still here.

She's not leaving.

Younger Daughter is exhausted.

Don't worry, Olaf slept.

Well, of course he slept. He'd been up all night. There was nothing left for him to do but sleep after Long Suffering Spouse and Older Daughter took total control of the situation. New fathers are pretty much useless anyway -- I remember -- so I couldn't understand why Long Suffering Spouse was miffed at the boy for doing the logical thing and catching 40 winks.

But Long Suffering Spouse was really aggravated by her in-laws' continued presence. I tried to explain -- knowing all the while I was treading on dangerous ground -- that Olaf's mother did not want to leave as long as Long Suffering Spouse was there. Come home for awhile, I suggested. I'll go back with you this evening.

But to no avail.

Hunger overtook Olaf's parents at one point and they left to get food from a place across the street from the hospital. They brought food back for Olaf, but nothing for Younger Daughter. I've heard the story both ways: Either Younger Daughter was still on liquids only or her diet was switched to regular while Olaf's family was out foraging. Either way, Olaf's mother only offered Younger Daughter some french fries. Younger Daughter was crying angry tears this morning as she again recounted this tale (I forget which version she told).

The one thing I knew was I was not going to the hospital at this point.

They had too many people there already. It's not like I didn't want to go over. But Younger Daughter was not getting her rest.

I think the in-laws finally left around dinner time; I didn't want to know. But there weren't gone for long before Middle Son showed up with pizza for dinner. Oldest Son showed up with his wife -- to the great amusement of my wife and daughters, they held the baby like it was carrying the Ebola virus. At some point our friends Steve and Charlotte showed up.

Long Suffering Spouse called at this point to let me know that a party had broken out. Well, it was Younger Daughter's birthday. She got me on the phone and asked, "How are you?"

"I'm pissed," I snarled. "We agreed the girl needed to rest and now there's a --"

Long Suffering Spouse hung up.

Ooops. I'd been on speaker.

The impromptu party didn't last long anyway. Everyone paid their respects and left.

Although... Oldest Son did congratulate Olaf on his new job. "How long have you worked there?" he asked, all innocence personified. "One day? Really. And how many days are you proposing to take off now?"

Older Daughter stayed with her sister that night so Olaf could come home and get some rest and work Friday. But he's off today, Baby's first full day at home. Working every other day isn't going to go over well for long either.

My parents never came to the hospital once when any of my kids were born. Of course hospitalizations were shorter then, but it's not as if my parents had to fly in from Timbuktu. I do think, though, they were out of town by the time Older Daughter was born. That wasn't intentional -- Older Daughter was two weeks late (no one is allowed to be two weeks late these days) -- but it may have set the precedent. And, in those days, you had to scrub and put on a gown to hold your grandbaby. Who needs that? my parents said. We'll come to your house, you can pour us a drink, and we can chuck the little one under his or her chin as much as we want.

I kind of like that attitude.

But, on the other hand, I understand, even sympathize a little, with Olaf's mother. She feels excluded. She thinks she's missing something. And she is: I woke up this morning at 3:30am to the sound a baby crying. I haven't had to do that in nearly 20 years. I could easily have done without. Trust me, I don't need a baby under my roof, and I was just starting to enjoy being an 'empty nester' when all this stuff started in February. I wouldn't flinch if the kids moved in with Olaf's parents. But that's not what the kids wanted.

What's got me worried today, however, is that, after his mother's virtual sit-in demonstration at the hospital, Olaf apparently barred his mother from returning.

I don't like that. It's not going to help.

I tried to explain it to Younger Daughter like this: Olaf's mother means you no harm and no disrespect. She's excited about her granddaughter, that's all. Olaf's mother will calm down eventually -- the baby will upchuck on her or leak through her diaper or some other disgusting baby thing and that will help considerably -- if only the kids just let it happen. There are so many people in this world who mean to give offense. Why take offense at people who don't mean to give it? Heal up quick and plan on to spend some time sitting like a lump while your mother-in-law holds your baby. And holds and holds and holds. Get this set up as soon as possible. But I don't know if she'll listen.