Thursday, July 27, 2006

The White Sox have fallen out of the Wild Card lead

And they're 8½ games behind Detroit in the AL Central pending today's action.

But we'll always have 2005. (Hopefully that's not all we'll have for another 88 years -- but that's a different worry....)

No one can take that championship away from us. Which puts us way ahead of Floyd Landis.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Privacy vs. anonymity vs. invisibility

We are never truly alone, not here in the Blogosphere. A local news program ran a feature recently about how what we post online can come back to haunt us. The Tribune had a feature this week about MySpace, complete with suggestions such as don’t post an embarrassing photo of yourself, especially posing with a bottle or near a keg. There is a growing realization that prospective employers can Google you, find your web page, and decide that the buttoned-down corporate image you projected in your interview is at fatal variance with the wild and crazy party animal you depict on the Internet.

The kids seem to think this unfair; they think there’s some expectation of privacy here.

I don’t know how you can make something available on every computer in the world and still expect “privacy.” But that’s just The Curmudgeon in me.

From time to time I will search on my own real surname, looking to see what’s out there about me. Not that I’ve posed in the vicinity of any kegs lately – but I am a self-employed attorney with websites, for which I pay through the nose, and a “public” blog. If a prospective client is looking for me, I want my professional sites to be “visible.”

Of course, my children share my surname – and that can be interesting: A few weeks ago, following a link from a Yahoo! search, I came across what amounted to a girl’s diary, on line. My Oldest Son figured in a paragraph about some outing or other, one of many names, several of which were familiar to me because the diarist is from our neighborhood.

So I read on.

In the next paragraph, the writer wrote about her excitement at the prospect of meeting again with her boyfriend, after a prolonged separation, and how she, and he, acted on that excitement.

There are some things I don’t need to know. I understand that, in general, 20-something girls may not always save themselves for the marriage night; I went to college during the height of the Sexual Revolution, when herpes seemed to be the scariest thing out there, and when virtually random copulation seemed the order of the day. (I was 4-F during the Sexual Revolution. I tried to enlist at every opportunity – but to no avail – and that’s a different story.) I just don’t want to have my nose rubbed in the nocturnal adventures of my children’s circle of friends while browsing the Web. Let me cling to my illusions for as long as possible.

Not that this girl forced me to read her diary – but it was on line for me to find. Anyone could find it – even her parents. I can’t believe that this is what she had in mind in creating her personal blog. (And I think the site has been taken down. I didn’t keep track of the web address for the girl’s site – I didn’t want to keep track – but I recently ran the same search argument and her site no longer came up... so maybe her parents did find it. Yikes!)

Her site was by no means private.

And neither is this one – although it is anonymous. But all anonymous means is that I’m not using my real name.

Actually, when I started blogging I thought that choosing “The Curmudgeon” as my nom de plume would give me a distinctive online identity. I should have known better. There are all sorts of sites for blogging curmudgeons – old curmudgeons, young curmudgeons, 'gamer' curmudgeons, knitting curmudgeons, even a gay curmudgeon. One I’ve bookmarked and starting reading regularly is The Comics Curmudgeon.

So I went for anonymous with this site – and wound up invisible. I just put a Site Meter on this page to document how invisible I am. But I think that will change in due course.

At least it might, if my next post is more amusing.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

A coaching career ends

Saturday morning, before the Bluejay Park Picnic, my Pony League Reds will play their last game. And I will have coached my last game.

It's about time.

You remember Bull Durham -- when Kevin Costner manufactures a "rainout"?

We got one of those today, only I didn't turn on the sprinklers. God did.

But we need a rainout that lasts the length of Noah's flood: We lost our last game 20-2. This was an improvement, I think, over our last loss: 25-3. The numbers are, however, proportionate.

Our best players have quit, or are injured, or have simply disappeared. And our left fielder returned from vacation with an earring. Not even Charlie Brown had to worry about a left fielder with an earring.

But I did.

No, it's time for me to hang it up. I like baseball. I like the kids. But I don't know enough baseball to teach what these kids need to learn in order to keep playing.

Youngest Son pitched most of a 13 run inning in that 25-3 debacle. He was part of a nine run inning on Tuesday.

And yet, speaking as a neutral observer -- as neutral as I can be in the circumstances -- I swear it was not entirely his fault. Or even mostly. If a ground ball jumped into an infielder's glove in either of these last two games, he would have dropped it instead of throwing it to a base. We made more errors than the CIA did in concluding that Iraq had stockpiled weapons of mass destruction.

There was one positive development in Tuesday night's game. Because so many of our regular players were out, for one reason or another, we had to give a kid his first opportunity to pitch.

This is a big kid, a kid who's played a good first base for us most of the season. He caught a lot of games last year, but his last year's coach warned me that the kid was injured and lost for the season while catching. He broke both thumbs. We don't want kids hurt -- and his mother was fine with him playing first base. But as the defections mounted, we put him at catcher -- and he has a cannon for an arm.

Still, I didn't pitch him. He wasn't pushing for it either. But the 14 year-old All Star coach had given him some opportunities to throw batting practice, so he could get used to the idea of throwing while someone is standing at the plate. And he was starting to like the idea....

So I gave him a shot Tuesday night -- and he did well.

OK, so he gave up four runs. But he struck out the side in the first innning he pitched, walking only one (who, as kids do in our league, came around to score on a combination of wild pitches and stolen bases....)

Most importantly, the coach of the team we were playing is the freshman coach at the local high school. He asked me where this kid's parents were -- and I pointed out his mother, who comes to all the games. This other coach has now seen this kid at three positions -- and he wants him for the freshman team. And the kid is going to that school.

So I feel good about that.

But it's definitely time for me to go.

I've been a popular coach -- popular with most of the parents, that is -- because I don't try to bend the rules about playing everyone for three innings. Ours is a recreational league. Everyone is supposed to get their shot. And, for all the success my sons have enjoyed, it's the less talented kids with whom I identify. I was like them -- only not as good.

But the kids now are coming up on high school. If they want to play there, they have to play better. And (see above) I can't teach them.

At the picnic on Saturday, after our last game, I will tell them that I hope to read about their accomplishments -- in the Sports pages, sure, if it works out that way, but more imporantly in the "Schools" section in the local paper, where they publish the names of all the kids who make the honor roll.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The ties that bind are being loosened

One of my favorite columnists, Neil Steinberg , announced in his column Monday that he will no longer wear ties on hot days. He wrote, “I'm instituting what I call the 90-degree rule: If it's above 90, the necktie -- an antique bit of empty ritual that does no good to anybody except lawyers, and I'm not a lawyer -- stays in the closet.”

Well, I am a lawyer, and Tuesday was my day to serve as an arbitrator in the Cook County Mandatory Court Annexed Arbitration Program. That may sound more impressive than it actually is. About five or six times a year I sit as a member of a panel – each panel consisting of three lawyers – hearing smaller cases (cases in which less than $30,000 in damages are sought) filed in the Municipal Department of the Circuit Court of Cook County. Some of the rules of evidence are relaxed so that hearings can be conducted more swiftly. Each hearing takes less than two hours; we are assigned to hear three a day. We decide the facts and assess damages and costs and prepare written awards – awards which can be, and frequently are, rejected by one side or the other on payment of a $250 fee.

A disproportionate number of our cases involve “substandard” insurers – the kind that advertise on late night TV, not the ones that advertise during sporting events (although it is becoming increasingly difficult to articulate meaningful distinctions between the corporate behavior of the substandards and that of the so-called standard lines insurers). So there are dreary and repetitive cases involving property damage to cars that have been rear-ended (that should have settled with a phone call, with no suit ever being filed – or which should at least have been resolved in inter-company arbitration) and lots of cases involving modest injuries to people involved in low impact accidents – all treated with ‘therapy’ that consists largely of hot packs.

But now I’ve understated the case: It’s fun to serve as an arbitrator, particularly for a judge wanna-be like myself. One of the three lawyers has to preside at the hearing, and I usually get to be the chair. So, except for the much smaller pay, it’s kind of like being a judge. As close as I’m likely to get anytime soon, anyway.

And the other panelists are usually interesting people. Many are retirees. The Chicago Bar Association Senior Lawyers Committee supplied much of that first crop of arbitrators, more than 12 years ago. (In fact, that’s how I got to be an arbitrator; my father – a senior lawyer – was invited to go, and told me to go instead.) A lot of these original arbitrators are gone, now, just like my father - but the ones that are left are treasures. So I usually have great fun chatting before the lawyers come in to present their cases.

And that’s where we come back to the original thread of this story: The lawyers who present cases at the Arbitration Center are often young; these smaller cases provide useful training for budding trial lawyers. And the young lawyers may be harbingers of a change in the practice of law: Neither of the first two lawyers that came in Tuesday was wearing a tie. One wore a suit and an open-necked shirt. The other was dressed in khakis and a sport shirt – not tucked in. His client failed to appear; when he walked in with a folder and without anyone in tow, I initially thought he was a pro se – a person representing himself.

At our second hearing Tuesday, one of the lawyers wore a suit – but the other wore jeans and a denim shirt, sleeves rolled up, like he’d just come in from punching dogies home on the range. Although I don’t think he was wearing cowboy boots – I really didn’t have the heart to look.

Apparently, Mr. Steinberg, even the lawyers are starting to abandon neckties. What are we going to do without our ‘antique bits of empty ritual’?

Nothing succeeds like success succession primogeniture

News Item: Todd Stroger, son of former Cook County Board President John Stroger, is slated by the Cook County Democratic Central Committee to take his father’s place as candidate for the presidency of the Cook County Board. John Stroger recently retired following a stroke he suffered earlier this year, in March – mere days before he won renomination in a hotly contested primary.

If elected in November, Todd Stroger will not be assuming his father’s separate seat on the Cook County Board. That office will pass to Alderman Bill Beavers – clearing the way for Beavers’ daughter, presently his chief of staff, to assume his aldermanic office.

Comment:Say, who should we complain to about this?

President Bush?

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan?

Illinois State Comptroller Dan Hynes?

Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley?

No, wait, these politicians all got their jobs because of their Daddies. (The list could go on... and on....)

I know! How about Illinois Governor Rod R. Blagojevich?

No, that won’t work either. He got his job through the good offices of his father-in-law, Ald. Dick Mell – although they’re feuding now.

This kind of stuff always comes as a shock to newspaper editorial writers and other people who you’d think would know better.

When I first ran for judge, 12 years ago now, I had to go door-to-door to collect signatures to get on the ballot. People would ask me about my credentials – but not what kind of a lawyer I am, or the kinds of cases I work on. No: They wanted to know, almost without exception, who my father was. Was he a judge? Police? Fire Department? Streets and San?

When I told them that my poor father had only worked as a lawyer for nearly 50 years, most of them with various title companies, and – excepting only a stint in the Army – never on a public payroll, my neighbors regarded me, not with disdain, or pity, but with a knowing look that said, “You’ll never get anywhere with this.” Some of them said this out loud. In those cases I always replied that this was certain to be true if they wouldn’t sign my petition – and most then did.

But, of course, I did lose. Badly.

In the tangled politics of Chicago, I was – well – not a peasant, not exactly – but certainly not royalty. My neighbors asked about my pedigree because they wanted to evaluate my chances. Might I be the slated candidate? Or was I just spitting in the wind? They knew what the editorial writers can't quite seem to understand: One must be born to the purple to get elected here.

Ah, democracy.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Soccer fails as substitute for war and other observations

France beat Germany.

That should have proved the point.

But then France faces Italy in a battle for world domination! (That, you should pardon the expression, is overkill.)

A.J. Pierzynski secures election as the 'last man' on the American League All-Star Team because Chicagoans vote early and often for the controversial catcher.

Meanwhile, in an unrelated story in a Chicago Federal court, four high-ranking members of Mayor Daley's administration, including Daley's former patronage chief, are convicted of fraud.

Or is it an unrelated story?

Former George Bush pal and disgraced Enron chairman Ken Lay succumbs to a heart attack before he could be sentenced.

In an unrelated story, George Bush celebrates his 60th birthday in Chicago with current pal Mayor Daley -- the same day that the Federal jury returns mostly guilty verdicts against the aforementioned four high-ranking members of Mayor Daley's administration.

Are these stories unrelated?

Monday, July 03, 2006

All-Star Last Chance Ballot inspires best election slogan

White Sox catcher and enfant terrible A.J. Pierzynski is on the MLB "last chance" ballot, with a chance to be the seventh White Sox player to go to Pittsburgh for next week's All Star Game.

It's a classic Chicago-type election: We can vote as often as we wish, without fear of consequences. In fact, voting early and often is encouraged.

Pierzynski's candidacy has inspired a number of slogans, but none better the one I heard on the radio this morning.

It's a Chicago slogan. (And we revere catchy slogans here: "Punch 10" is still etched in our collective memories; pale imitations of that slogan were used even in the last primary, years after the demise of straight ticket voting, and even though the old punch ballots have been abandoned in the aftermath of Bush v. Gore).

It's a slogan even Michael Barrett can get behind.

Now, excuse me while I get back to voting: Punch Pierzynski.