Thursday, September 28, 2006

Waiting for the second Wednesday in November

That'll be the day after the upcoming elections... and it can't come too soon.

In Illinois we have a spirited gubernatorial contest between the Democratic incumbent, "Had Enough?", and the Republican challenger, the current State Treasurer, "What's She Thinking?".

OK, these are not the candidates' actual names, these are just the monikers they've hung on each other in the course of their negative ads.

Their interminable, ubiquitous negative ads.

These are not the only names they call each other, although these are the names most frequently used. Sometimes they call each other "George Ryan." (He's the former governor who will shortly be reporting to prison because of a conviction on official corruption charges.)

Both the current candidates may be under Federal investigation; they each say the other is. "Had Enough?" is certainly under investigation -- but maybe not (yet) for the $1,500 check his daughter received from one of the Governor's "closest friends" on the occasion of the little girl's 7th birthday. He's like a godfather to the child, the Governor explained. Which prompted Middle Son to call his godfather recently and complain that he'd been seriously shortchanged.

Oh, and just after giving the $1,500 birthday gift, the long-time childhood friend's wife just happened to get a State job. And she was quoted in the Chicago Tribune one recent Sunday about how she hates the Governor's guts.

(It's so sad when your spouse doesn't like your childhood friends. I'm sure a visit from the FBI had nothing to do with her soured opinion of the Governor.)

I could provide you with links on all of this -- but why bother? If you are even dimly aware of Illinois politics -- or receive any Illinois TV station -- you know I'm not making any of this up. And if you aren't aware of Illinois politics -- because you're safely across the country, or in another country altogether -- well, you probably wouldn't have much interest in following the links anyway. It would only disillusion you.

Just keep telling yourself what Churchill said: "Democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."

Oh, no, there's another commercial....

Must... find... mute... button....

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

A visit to Older Daughter's place of employment

Older Daughter called Thursday night. "So, Dad," she asked, "what time will you be done with your deposition tomorrow?"

As I'd mentioned in this morning's post, I went to Indianapolis last Friday, for an expert's deposition. Inasmuch as this is also where Older Daughter now resides, I at least wanted to stop by and say hello.

But I had no answer to Older Daughter's question. "It's a deposition," I told her, "It takes however long it takes. It shouldn't take too long."

"Well, will you be free for lunch then?"

No, I told her, we were starting at noon, and of course I had to talk to the expert first.

"Well, will you be able to pick me up after work?"

Ah, I thought, now we come to the nub of it. Older Daughter has no car. She's working in a suburban location (I don't know if it's technically in a suburb, but she'd previously made it clear that this new office was not on a major public transportation route.) "I don't know," I told her. "I'm actually hoping to be done before you'd get off work."

"Because it would be helpful if you could pick me up tomorrow." Older Daughter listens when she wants to.

"I don't know when I'll be done. You can't predict this stuff. I think it'll be short, but I'm not even the one asking the questions. It's what the other guy wants to ask."

"Oh." There followed a lengthy, awkward pause. She then said she could get her boyfriend to pick her up. But this clearly sounded as if it were a last resort.

"That sounds best," I told her. "I'll call when I'm done and we'll see where you're at."

"OK," she said, but it may not have been entirely OK. Our conversation ended shortly thereafter.

Fast forward to Friday afternoon. The deposition was done and it was not even 3:00 pm local time. I called Older Daughter on her cell phone.

Actually, that's her only phone, still with a Chicago area code. I remember when you could tell where a house or business was from the exchange -- the first three digits of the seven digit number. I can even remember when the first two characters of the exchange were usually letters. RAndolph 6... BUtterfield 8... no, wait, that's an Elizabeth Taylor movie....

"So you're going straight home?" Older Daughter asked when she picked up the phone.

"I thought I'd drop by your office if that was alright," I told her. Long Suffering Spouse had bought a book she wanted me to give Older Daughter. Younger Daughter had found her sister's camera in a pile of laundry -- before running it through the machine -- and I was to return that as well.

Older Daughter brightened. She started rattling off directions. I cut her off. "Just get me close," I told her, "then I'll call back."

I thought I'd be taking the Interstate, since I was downtown and she was somewhere on the northeast outskirts of the city. But she told me to take an arterial street 103 blocks. I wanted to make sure that these were directions she was relaying and not her own best reckoning.

I don't wish to imply that Older Daughter is directionally challenged; I wish to state so expressly. When we first moved to our current home, a decade or so ago, she got lost... going around the block.

But the directions were fine and the subsequent directions were equally good and I arrived at the office a lot faster than I thought I would going down an arterial street for so long a distance.

Older Daughter is a receptionist in a pediatric neurologist's office. I gather the doctor is a hospital employee, but this was not the hospital. It was just a professional building owned by the hospital. In the middle of the woods.

Aside from the bucolic setting, the office looked like any number of medical offices which I've visited over the years. Older Daughter was attired in the pajamas favored by most persons in the health care industry; the younger the patients being cared for, the more colorful the scrubs. Older Daughter's were colorful.

I was a little unsure of the protocol for such a visit. After all, I'm not yet accustomed to having adult children. I was entirely unprepared for the tour I received. No -- not the tour of the office -- I was prepared for that. I was a little taken aback by the "tour" of her apartment -- via images captured on her new cell phone.

I met most of Older Daughter's colleagues, but a procedure was underway so I did not meet everyone. Then the patient and her mother left. Another staff person, who'd been assisting in the procedure, came into the reception area, and I was introduced as "the father."

"Oh," said the new arrival, "well, we'll just have to see about that...." Her voice trailed off quickly and she beat a hasty retreat. I didn't turn back to look at her, but she apparently began gesticulating wildly at the office manager because that lady also excused herself.

A moment later, they both returned, the office manager laughing, the other lady apologetic. I didn't realize your were Older Daughter's father, she said, "I thought you were the patient's father." Apparently, the recent patient was not living in an intact nuclear family -- and the mother had made some choice remarks about the absent father.

I took the lady's proffered hand and shook it. "That's alright," I assured her. "The blood test came back negative."

But, other than that, I believe my visit was a success: Older Daughter didn't get fired. I think she was even glad to see me -- and show me a part of her developing world.

Observations between Chicago and Indianapolis

I had to produce an expert for deposition in Indianapolis last Friday. Opposing counsel and I agreed on a noon EDT start so we could drive down and back in a single day. I wasn't too worried about the deposition running long because the other attorney needed to get home for the start of Rosh Hashanah; actually, I'd been pleasantly surprised he'd agreed to the Friday date at all.

Indianapolis is "close" to Chicago, in national terms, but it's still a 200 mile drive through a lot of open country. It gave me plenty of time to think -- mapping out Monday's heavier-than-usual post, for example. Herewith some other observations:
  • Some farm smells are wonderful -- new mown hay, for example. Cow manure, on the other hand... not so much;
  • Gasoline prices in Chicago are hovering around the $2.70 per gallon mark, down from $3.30 or so just a short time back. In Indiana, though, prices were dramatically less: $2.12, $2.09, $2.15 -- the highest price I saw in Indiana was near the Illinois border ($2.39).
  • An election is looming, the Republicans are in danger of losing control of Congress -- and gas prices are all of a sudden falling. Coincidence -- or not?
  • Gas prices are lower in Indiana, a red state, than in Illinois, a blue state. Coincidence -- or not?
  • I parked my car a block from the Indiana Capitol and walked a block and a half to the Class A skyscraper where the court reporter maintains its offices. I walked through the open lobby without challenge -- no ID check -- no building pass.
  • When I went to the court reporter's office, I inquired where I could freshen up after my journey. The very nice lady who was showing me around anticipated my next question: "No," she told me, "you don't need a key." No key to use the washroom!
  • Later in the proceedings, I again needed a short break. I'd observed a side door from the hallway -- and sure enough, when I went out the door I was in the hallway where I wanted to be -- and I returned by the same route. The door was not locked!
  • I'd apparently traveled 200 miles and gone back in time.
  • This is such a big country -- I was safely within the Midwest at either end of my little jaunt Friday and yet that same distance would, for instance, take me three-quarters of the way down the entire length of Israel. Madison Street, the dividing line between north and south in the City of Chicago, would run more than two miles beyond the width of Israel at it's narrowest, pre-1967 middle. (I looked it up after I got home.)
The deposition concluded, and it was time to go visit Older Daughter. She lives in Indianapolis now. But more on that later. I'm actually going to try and get some work done first....

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

There's something fishy about this story

From an AP story in this morning’s Chicago Sun-Times. The subject of this story is pictured above:
MILFORD, N.H. -- A teddy bear has been implicated in 2,500 deaths. Of trout, that is. State officials say a teddy bear dropped into a pool at a Fish and Game Department hatchery this month clogged a drain. The clog blocked the flow of oxygen to the pool and suffocated the fish.

Hatcheries supervisor Robert Fawcett said the bear -- who was dressed in yellow raincoat and hat -- is believed to be the first stuffed bear to cause fatalities at the facility.
A spokesman for Paddington Bear said that "Mr. Bear was shocked and saddened by the loss of all the little fishies, but he is standing by his brother and he expects his brother to be fully vindicated after the investigation is complete."

The spokesman stated that Paddington Bear, pictured at right, has no plans to visit his brother at the present time but that he has canceled all upcoming public appearances “for the time being.”

    Monday, September 25, 2006

    Lawyers and doctors

    Dr. Anonymous’ remark the other day, “Imagine that, a lawyer and a doctor agreeing on something – call the papers,” made me chuckle – but it made me think, too.

    There is a palpable tension that exists between the learned professions – but I don’t think it can all be explained by malpractice cases. And it certainly does not arise from any natural antipathy between lawyers and doctors: Actually, lawyers need doctors, like fish need water – and, no, not just as targets.

    Just two examples: How can a plaintiff’s lawyer prove up a personal injury case without the testimony of the treating doctor? How will defense counsel refute the injury claim without the testimony of the expert doctor who reviews the records and maybe examines the plaintiff?

    I’ve got a hypothesis that may provide a better explanation of why doctors and lawyers so often come into conflict. My belief is that many doctors and lawyers have fundamental communications problems. Let me illustrate this theory by telling a true story, from my own experience.

    Janice Goodheart (not her real name) was a dentist, not an M.D., but then I wasn’t doing medical malpractice defense work at the time. There are few plaintiff’s lawyers who can properly evaluate and handle a medical malpractice case; the medical malpractice defense bar is also very, very small – even in a state like ours with 80,000 attorneys. Dr. Goodheart was young, attractive, whip smart, and perfectly at ease in ordinary conversation. She is the hero of this story, and not just because she was my client.

    Dr. Goodheart had a patient, a teenage girl, who – Dr. Goodheart noticed – had worn braces for what seemed to her to be too long a long time. Dr. Goodheart didn’t want to interpose herself in the patient’s relationship with the orthodontist – but appointments came and went with no change in the status of the braces. When one wears braces for too long a time, there is a risk of “root resorption” – the roots of the teeth may actually die back because they’re not performing their assigned function of holding the teeth in the head.

    So Dr. Goodheart became curious as to whether this risk was being appropriately monitored. She asked her patient to have the orthodontist call her. But the message was either not delivered or the orthodontist chose not to respond.

    Really concerned now, Dr. Goodheart started calling the orthodontist herself. She couldn’t get a return call for some time, and when she finally did, she got a patronizing, don’t-you-worry-your-pretty-little-head-about-this-specialist-stuff response.

    It wasn’t just the orthodontist’s patronizing manner that moved Dr. Goodheart to really assert herself, but it may have been the final straw. She persuaded her patient and the girl’s parents to see another orthodontist – Dr. Goodheart recommended him – and the new orthodontist immediately took steps to remove the braces and set the girl up with an endodontist in the hopes of saving as many of her teeth as possible. The new doctor also steered the girl and her family to a lawyer. The lawyer was himself a dentist; he knew who the good guys and the bad guys were in this scenario.

    But he was trying to push this case to an early conclusion. So, rather than wait for discovery to take its leisurely course, he came up with a procedural accelerator: He named Dr. Goodheart as a ‘respondent in discovery’ so he could get her deposition at an early date. She wasn’t a defendant in the case, not at that point, but the procedure is designed to allow a plaintiff to explore whether anyone else (besides the original orthodontist, of course) should be named. Dr. Goodheart contacted her malpractice carrier when she got the court papers; I was brought in to represent her for the deposition.

    I knew I was in trouble almost immediately: I haven’t exaggerated the favorable impression Dr. Goodheart made in normal conversation, but as soon as the talk drifted anywhere close to the facts of the case, Dr. Goodheart became evasive and inarticulate. If you were talking to her in your kitchen, you’d start counting the silverware. You’d figure she had either stolen some already or that she was going to. I told you she was the hero of the piece – but if you could see her stumbling and stammering in response to the gentlest questions about the case and what she’d done you’d think she must be the villain.

    Still, I had to produce her for deposition. I worked with her as much as I could. I prepped her several times – or I tried to. But she wasn’t getting better; if anything, she was getting worse. So I tried prepping the plaintiff’s attorney: As a dentist himself, he was particularly sympathetic. He’d seen the records. He expected Dr. Goodheart to put the final nail in the orthodontist’s coffin; he wanted her to come across well. He promised to be gentle.

    And he was. And she still stunk. And the dentist-lawyer joined Dr. Goodheart as a defendant. “I don’t have a choice,” he told me, and I think his apologetic manner was sincere. “The orthodontist will turn this into a case against her if I don’t. And he’ll win that case. A jury is going to hate this woman.”

    I’m certain that Dr. Goodheart is no fan of our tort law system. And I’ll bet she does not grasp that all her wounds were self-inflicted. You might call it a blind spot in her intellectual make-up. But that’s unfair: I think it’s just a different kind of intelligence. It doesn’t afflict all doctors – the expert witnesses for example, or researchers – but then I’m equally certain that most lawyers would make poor doctors.

    You don’t have to be brilliant to be a good lawyer; you have to be determined. Focused. Patient. You have to be able to explain what you eventually figure out. Like the math teachers always wanted in high school, we must show our work. If lawyers were doctors, while we were busy explaining everything we’d considered and rejected, and why we chose each path in the first place, our patients would die in droves.

    A doctor just has to figure it out; explaining how he or she captured that lightning in the bottle is not really important. Do you think the parents care how the doc figured out what was wrong with junior? As long as junior gets better, that’s all that matters. Doctors may not have to be brilliant either, but it sure helps, especially because doctors are far less likely than lawyers to have the luxury of time.

    Once that flash of insight occurs, and the proper treatment or medication is prescribed, the doctor is ready to move onto the next challenge. Retracing one’s steps is difficult, and describing the ‘process’ by which the doctor figured out the diagnosis may be impossible. But lawyers are, of necessity, required to explain the steps and the process, whether to the judge, or the jury, or the client, or the insurance claim handler. So we lawyers ask questions that doctors (a) have a hard time answering and (b) don’t think are all that important. We might as well be speaking different languages – and conflict is inevitable.

    That’s the hypothesis. Antithesis anyone?

    Thursday, September 21, 2006

    Technical difficulties?

    This is one of those posts that will certainly be edited out when the book is created from these disjointed entries.

    I have no sidebar. No archives. No prior posts. No profile. No links (and I haven't read Gil Thorp yet this morning).

    And the blog cuts off about two and half entries down the page. And I didn't do do anything since the last time I was here (yesterday) that can account for this. (Doesn't that sound like a whiny -- and probably guilty-of-something kid? No, Mom, I didn't do anything!)

    The theory is that when I publish this everything will come back, just as it was before.

    Hey, I can dream, can't I?

    Does this ever happen to your blog? And how do you fix it when it does?

    Wednesday, September 20, 2006

    Yeah, Pete, I'm also sorry that you bet on baseball

    Some day Pete Rose will be admitted to the Hall of Fame. But it won't happen soon.

    We want to celebrate our baseball heroes -- and, although Pete Rose’s accomplishments on the field are amazing, there’s not much to ‘celebrate’ about Pete Rose. Gambling on baseball is (so far, anyway) the one mortal baseball sin. Heck, even Joe Jackson can't get in the Hall -- and, even if he took some of the money in 1919, his sterling play during the Series shows no hint of him assisting the plot to throw the Series.

    Players now are "enshrined" in Cooperstown. This is slightly different from canonization, because only an ability to get along with the sportswriter-electorate is required, not actual holiness, and because only miracles on the field are necessary for election. In the present climate, you'd have to think that even Ty Cobb, the leading vote getter in the original Hall of Fame class, would have trouble getting in.

    Pete Rose should never be "enshrined" in Cooperstown. But we need to find a way to recognize the achievements of flawed people like him, holding them up as cautionary tales, not role models. Otherwise Mr. Rose will soon have a lot of company waiting at the gates of the Hall.

    Tuesday, September 19, 2006

    Welcome to Catholic education; we do fundraising here

    I actually used that line, talking to incoming pre-school parents some years back when I did my tour of duty as Chief Flunky of our school parents group.

    No one fled in terror; some were polite enough to laugh.

    Through the years we've had wrapping paper sales, candy sales, Carson's Days, Barnes & Noble Days, Fashion Shows, and raffles, raffles, and more raffles.

    These are not to be confused with the school band's candy sales, or the Cub Scout raffles, or Pumpkin Sales, or Popcorn Sales. Or the bake sales held for the Student Council. Or Girl Scout Cookies. (They call the shortbread cookies "trefoils" but, whatever they call 'em, I eat 'em.)

    Then there's the fundraisers that support the church and the school. And the Men's Club has its golf outing and Super Bowl Party. (Don't tell the NFL: We actually use the words "Super Bowl" in advertising the event. We're not supposed to. That's why all the plasma TV ads after the New Year talk about the 'Big Game' even though everyone and their brother knows they mean Super Bowl....)

    Last Sunday the choir had a bake sale; I forget where they're trying to go this year. There's a Crop Walk to end hunger coming up -- and Oktoberfest will be here before you know it. And we have to remember to take a case of pop or Gatorade to the football game a week from Sunday so the Athletic Committee can sell it. And, of course, there's the building fund. We're also trying to build a Parish Center -- a gym, a stage, some meeting rooms, maybe a track for the seniors to use.

    And we just got the raffle tickets for Younger Daughter's high school fundraiser.

    Of course, fundraising isn't exclusively a Catholic thing: Middle Son's college is affiliated with the Lutheran Church. And his baseball team has already held one fundraiser. There's a meeting tonight to discuss their golf outing. Oh, and they have raffle tickets, too. They have a new outfield fence that has to be paid for. (I can get you a nice banner ad on the wall if you like....)

    Fundraising isn't even confined to religious groups: Youngest Son and I are supposed to attend an organizational meeting for his travel baseball team this Saturday, after the school football game. That's when we'll find out what that will cost -- and what fundraising we're going to do there. Bluejay Park always had a raffle. I'll bet that this new team will have one, too.

    And every Friday is a different fundraiser. Last Friday was Tootsie Roll Day for the Knights of Columbus. That means the Lions Club Candy Day and Kiwanis Peanut Day are coming up. I prefer the Miseracordia or Salvation Army Donut Days, though, because I can just put the tag on my jacket in the morning and walk around the Loop without being solicited on every corner. Or the American Legion Poppy just before Memorial Day.

    I have a friend who used to grumble that he was getting hit up for a donation every time he turned around. The school fundraising in particular used to bother him: We pay tuition, he said; why can't they just charge what it costs instead of hitting us up for nickles and dimes every week?

    I understand his point -- and, when times are tight, as they always seem to be of late, I'm embarrassed when I can't always kick in -- but the fundraisers provide a certain rhythm for the year. They help mark the passage of the year, of the seasons. Like the Saints' Days in the Middle Ages. Comforting islands of continuity in what otherwise is a turbulent sea of change.

    Monday, September 18, 2006

    How does one strike a balance? -- or -- Is the office rent due in two weeks already?

    From Written By, the magazine of the Writers Guild of America, West, entitled The Last Seduction, quoting Patricia Wallace, the director of information technology at Johns Hopkins University and author of The Psychology of the Internet, about the dangers of spending too much time blogging: “For many people, the Internet can be a big-time drain, especially for people who tend to procrastinate.”

    I came across this article via a link from Ken Levine's blog.

    Not that I was procrastinating or anything....

    Since I'm self-employed, there's no one except me to tell me to stop reading other people's blogs and get back to work. I have noticed that my productivity is not what I would hope it should be some days, especially when I read on too long, chasing link after link. (Of course, my productivity is never what I think it should be... and it's been like this for years, even before I ever heard about blogging... but, you see? I'm already digressing....)

    Since some of you who've stopped by here recently are far more experienced at blogging than I, I'd love to hear how you balance blog life... and real life.

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

    Friday, September 15, 2006

    A reason to be especially happy as Happy Hour approaches

    This from a story I found this afternoon on Yahoo News:
    WASHINGTON (AFP) - People who consume alcohol earn significantly more at their jobs than non-drinkers, according to a US study that highlighted "social capital" gained from drinking.

    The study published in the Journal of Labor Research Thursday concluded that drinkers earn 10 to 14 percent more than teetotalers, and that men who drink socially bring home an additional seven percent in pay.

    "Social drinking builds social capital," said Edward Stringham, an economics professor at San Jose State University and co-author of the study with fellow researcher Bethany Peters.

    "Social drinkers are out networking, building relationships, and adding contacts to their BlackBerries that result in bigger paychecks."

    The authors acknowledged their study, funded by the Reason Foundation, a libertarian think tank, contradicted research released in 2000 by the Harvard School of Public Health.

    "We created our hypothesis through casual observation and examination of scholarly accounts," the authors said.

    "Drinkers typically tend to be more social than abstainers."

    The researchers said their empirical survey backed up the theory, and said the most likely explanation is that drinkers have a wider range of social contacts that help provide better job and business opportunities.

    "Drinkers may be able to socialize more with clients and co-workers, giving drinkers an advantage in important relationships," the researchers said.

    "Drinking may also provide individuals with opportunities to learn people, business, and social skills."
    Unless of course you're a closet or "pantry" drinker:
    "One of the unintended consequences of alcohol restrictions is that they push drinking into private settings. This occurred during the Alcohol Prohibition of 1920-1933 and is happening on college campuses today. By preventing people from drinking in public, anti-alcohol policies eliminate one of the most important aspects of drinking: increased social capital."

    The researchers found some differences in the economic effects of drinking among men and women. They concluded that men who drink earn 10 percent more than abstainers and women drinkers earn 14 percent more than non-drinkers.
    That sounds good. But where are the women drinking?
    [W]omen who frequent bars at least once per month do not show higher earnings than women drinkers who do not visit bars.

    "Perhaps women increase social capital apart from drinking in bars," the researchers said in an effort to explain the gender gap.
    Are there that many women taking advantage of the samples at Costco? Or nipping at the cooking sherry while talking on the phone? And how would this help "drinking women" earn 14% more than their teetotaling sisters?

    I will have much to consider as I sip my jar this evening....

    The Curmudgeon tries to facilitate mother-daughter communication -- or -- Yet another clueless male story

    At Younger Daughter’s high school, the day after Back to School Night is a free day. It was Back to School Night last night so the question was what Younger Daughter would do today while the rest of us were at work or school.

    Younger Daughter had tried to explain her options to me on the ride to school yesterday morning: She’s been fighting with Ramona, but Ramona wanted her to go to Woodfield. Ramona had also invited Cindy. But Cindy wanted Younger Daughter to go with her to Old Orchard. Cindy told Younger Daughter that she (Cindy) had lied to Ramona and said she couldn’t go anywhere. And that was OK because of the way Ramona had confronted Younger Daughter at lunch last weekend when Cindy and Younger Daughter were patching up a recent dispute. Ramona hadn’t been invited, but she’d wheedled the whereabouts of this summit meeting from Cindy’s mother. And she was making such a big deal out it, too. And Younger Daughter was mad at Cindy again, too, because, I think, Cindy was lying to Ramona. Or maybe it was because Cindy wanted to shop for Homecoming dresses for the upcoming dance at her boyfriend Brian’s school. And all Cindy ever talks about is Brian. When she isn’t actually hanging out with Brian.

    I was unable to discern any clear plan of action from these disclosures. I suggested that Younger Daughter could avoid all this controversy and spend time with her grandmother – and this was not well received: “Great, I’m almost 17 and you’re getting me a babysitter.”

    Younger Daughter went to her job immediately after getting home from school. Long Suffering Spouse went to Back to School Night. When they spoke late yesterday evening, Younger Daughter’s plans for today were not addressed. The conversation instead focused on the various teachers and classes and all the things that Long Suffering Spouse heard for the very first time about forms that needed to be turned in, class requirements – many important things – but nothing having to do with today.

    So this morning I asked LSS what Younger Daughter was going to do today. And, of course, she didn’t know. Younger Daughter came downstairs and I put the question to her. And she said she wanted to go to Woodfield.

    “Woodfield?” I exclaimed. “With Ramona?”

    “Oh, no. No way,” said LSS.

    Younger Daughter stormed out of the room one way; LSS went out the other.

    I won’t go into the play-by-play on all this; a lot happened quickly, but at some point here I must confess to raising my voice. I may have shouted a bit. I was a wee bit frustrated because we had to leave very soon and there was, as far as I could tell, no resolution of what Younger Daughter would do today.

    My little outburst instantly united LSS and Younger Daughter in common cause – against me. I was, in their newly united view, completely out of line. And I, foolishly, tried to defend myself by running through my understanding of what Younger Daughter told me in the car yesterday, concluding with what I thought was an honest question: Why would anyone want to spend the day with someone with whom you are fighting?

    “I’m not fighting with Ramona; we patched that up. I told you all that,” Younger Daughter said.

    LSS began to laugh. “You can’t expect your father to keep track of all these details. He’s just a male, you know. Don’t give him anything but the highlights.”

    Younger Daughter explained at this point that she and Ramona and Cindy would all go to Woodfield; that Ramona’s mother would drive; and that Younger Daughter would be back by early afternoon. (Cindy? I thought – but weren’t you mad at her too – and I thought you said she’d lied to Ramona about... but fortunately I kept my mouth shut. But my head began to hurt. Badly.)

    “Oh,” said LSS, “Ramona’s mother will drive? Well, then, sure you can go.”

    And then I made another mistake: See, I told them, I’m facilitating good mother-daughter communication. No, they both told me, in no uncertain terms, you’re just a nut-burger, yelling and carrying on like a crazy man.

    But they’ll get over it.

    I think.

    Thursday, September 14, 2006

    Did the punishment fit the crime?

    I actually saw this AP story in the Chicago Sun-Times this morning, not the Houston Chronicle, although that is the on-line source from which I reprint this:
    NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla. — Nicole Delameter has learned to be more judicious when selecting a parking spot.

    When Circuit Judge Stanley Mills arrived for work Monday, Delameter's 1990 Oldsmobile was parked in his reserved space at the courthouse. So he parked his 2005 Cadillac behind her car and forced her to sit in his courtroom until he was ready to leave.

    Delameter, 26, swears she thought the "reserved" sign meant it was reserved for those going to court. She had to sit in the judge's courtroom for more than three hours — and she had come only to give her sister a ride to a boyfriend's court hearing.

    "I'm very, very sorry," she told the St. Petersburg Times. "I'll never do it again in a million, million years."

    Mills said it was the second time in as many weeks that he found someone parked in his space.

    "There's two perks to the job," the judge said. "I have my own bathroom, and I have my own parking spot, and you're not going to get to use either."
    Given his response to a goof parking in his space, what horrible fate would await the doofus who stumbled into the learned judge's powder room?

    Wednesday, September 13, 2006

    What's in your wallet marriage contract?

    Many Jewish couples observe the tradition of executing a Ketubah prior to their marriage. Like a pre-nuptial agreement, a Ketubah may set out what will happen in the event the marriage fails. But the Ketubah does more; it allocates the duties, privileges, rights and responsibilities that will govern the couple during the marriage. It is a marriage contract.

    We’re not Jewish. And I can’t remember signing any marriage contract.

    But Long Suffering Spouse insists that there is a contract – and under the contract I am obligated to do all the practice driving with our children.

    We have Driver’s Ed in Illinois; it is offered at the public high school just down the street from where we live. But Driver’s Ed is just the beginning. Parents have to certify that they have driven with their children for hours on end before the child can receive a driver’s license. We (I) had to certify 25 hours under the former law; it was recently raised to 50. Younger Daughter started under the old statute; I’m hoping she’ll be ‘grandfathered’ out of the new requirement. I’m really hoping....

    The kids have each in turn made fun of me: Me with my imaginary brake, my grimace in every turn, my holding on to the door handle. Sometimes – when there are no cars on the road – it can almost be pleasant. The radio is off. So we chat. I learn more about what’s happening in their lives. I can sometimes even sneak in some fatherly advice without being tuned out. (And then a car comes out of a sidestreet... do you see it?... it’s going to turn in front of us... aieeeeee! *Pause* We made it! *Huff* *Puff* Release death grip on door handle, pretend I was merely stretching instead of almost putting my foot through the passenger side floor. “Now what were you saying?”)

    Anyway, I’m curious: What terms in your marriage contract came as a surprise to you (or to your spouse)? If you’re not married, what about your parents? Or your friends? And will I ever get to see my contract?

    Monday, September 11, 2006

    An unhappy anniversary

    There are moments in time that bind all of us together, memories we share with everyone who was alive on that date, all different, but all of the same defining event.

    The numbers of persons who learned live and first-hand of the attack at Pearl Harbor are dwindling now. Those of us who remember President Kennedy's assassination are at least in their late 40's. And only adults now have first hand recollections of where they were when they learned of the Challenger explosion.

    So it will also be, some day, with 9/11.

    All of us who witnessed that day -- I was going to say "experienced" but only those in Lower Manhattan, or at the Pentagon, or the innocents on board the doomed airliners, and the members of their immediate families truly "experienced" the horrors of that day -- all of us who witnessed that day drew lessons from it.

    Here are the lessons I've drawn: First, good communications are vital. And "official channels" alone are insufficient. Flight 93 never reached its target because people used their cell phones. They found out something of what was going on outside, enough to know that the hijackers were going to kill them, notwithstanding any promises they'd made. So they tried to take the plane back. It didn't work -- but the hijackers did not reach their target.

    The second lesson is a subset of the first: When disaster strikes, government should strive to facilitate good communication, not control it or shut it down. The bureaucrat's first instict is to stamp "top secret" on everything, and worry about what should be disclosed later. And, as you recall from watching coverage all day long on 9/11 -- isn't that something we all did, at least eventually? -- there was all sorts of misinformation, disinformation, and uninformed specultation that was bandied about. Facts had to be mined like gold nuggets from the rushing TV stream. But secrecy is what the terrorists use. Maybe the police have to use secret tactics to hunt down terrorists before another 9/11 happens.

    But when something does happen, secrecy doesn't help. Information does -- even partial, undigested information. See Flight 93.

    I don't think these lessons are accepted by our government.

    What do you think? What lessons have you drawn from 9/11 -- and, in your opinion, have these lessons been learned by our leaders?

    Saturday, September 09, 2006

    Marshall Field's gone -- I hope your Federated stock is gone, too

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    by amhalveytoo

    Today Marshall Field’s has become Macy’s. Boo. Hiss.

    Marshall Field’s State Street store was a tourist destination – it was special. It was distinctively Chicago. I used to direct lost visitors to Field’s all the time. But I don’t think people from Omaha or Dubuque are going to go out of their way to visit “Macy’s on State” – Federated’s new name for Field’s flagship store - particularly if there's already a Macy's in their local mall. If Federated were to buy Harrod’s of London, would it change the name of that store to “Macy’s on Brompton Road?” Would people from New York still fly over to shop “Macy’s on Brompton Road” on weekends? Why?

    Clearly, Federated is within it’s rights to call the stores that it owns anything it wants. But, in a spirit of cooperation and reconciliation, I offer a couple of alternatives. How about “Bankrupt’s?” “Chapter 7” might be a catchy name for the young people. Vague, hip... and accurate. In a couple of years, I’m guessing.

    But before we forget Field’s entirely, I want to share one of my favorite Field’s stories.

    My wife expected me to pick up her makeup stuff because I worked in River North, an easy lunchtime walk from the Field’s at Water Tower. I resisted this assignment for as long as possible – but eventually I ran out of excuses.

    I was terribly unsure of how to make this purchase, but I wrote out my instructions and walked tentatively into the store. I eventually figured out that the Clinique products I was supposed to get could not be had at the Revlon counter. And there were so many other counters besides.

    I eventually was directed to the Clinique counter and a woman wearing what appeared to be a lab coat came over to wait on me. I recited my list and she started pulling the various products. But as she took my charge card, she leaned over, and, in a conspiratorial whisper, said, “You know, sir, there is another Clinique counter on the Mezzanine. It might be more... discreet.”

    The light bulb went on: She thought this stuff was for me! I could think of nothing else to do at that time but to mumble thanks. But the next time I went in, I made sure to gargle with testosterone first. I made sure thereafter to always scratch and spit and speak in a baritone growl.

    Besides, my wife’s complexion is much darker than mine. The makeup would have looked awful on me.

    Tuesday, September 05, 2006

    A question of honesty

    Youngest Son looked pretty good in the fielding drills a couple of weeks back when I took him to try out for a travel team for next Summer.

    So much of is wrong with youth sports may be found in the preceding sentence: Why the heck are we trying out for a baseball team for next Summer before the end of this Summer? But these are the conditions which prevail; whether you like it or not, you must accept as a given that, if the boy wants to play travel ball next Summer, he’d have to catch on somewhere now.

    I told Youngest Son he looked pretty good in the fielding drill, but I thought his outfield throws weren’t as good as some of the others I saw. I couldn’t see the kids' batting practice very well; they staged it on a diamond across the way and it didn’t look like the other fathers were going over to watch. So I stayed put. There’s a herd mentality that quickly forms at these things.

    Youngest Son had no doubts as we left the park. “I did good, Dad. I think I’m on this team.”

    Last Fall, when we tried out for a different travel team, Youngest Son was not nearly as confident. “I was in the middle,” he told me after the second day of tryouts. So we sat on tenterhooks all weekend waiting for the cut list to be posted. And he made the first cut – which gave us the opportunity to go back for a second weekend of tryouts. After the first day of the second weekend, he was pessimistic. “I’m on the bottom of this group,” he told me. After the second day of the second weekend, the coach called me over... and that’s how Youngest Son and I wound up spending this season at Bluejay Park.

    But this time, Youngest Son was upbeat. He didn’t waver when he got called back for a second tryout, just to see him pitch and catch. Only three boys were present. One hadn’t been to the first tryout. But what about the other kid? And where did that leave Youngest Son? I wondered – but Youngest Son had no doubt.

    Still, I was pleasantly surprised when the call came in Saturday that Youngest Son had indeed made the team.

    But it got me thinking about how honest kids can be in evaluating themselves. I’m pretty sure it’s not limited to Youngest Son. I recall when Oldest Son was a high school junior, trying to catch on as a second baseman with the high school varsity. “It’ll depend on how much Dan McGee pitches this season,” he told me. McGee played second when he wasn’t pitching. If McGee could pitch, they’d need Oldest Son to back up at second. But McGee had a sore arm, my son told me; he’d probably get cut if McGee could only play the infield. I asked Oldest Son if McGee was really that much better than him. Oldest Son looked at me like I was completely stupid. (Of course, I get that look a lot. And not just concerning baseball. And not just from my kids. And McGee – no, not his real name – couldn’t pitch, but Oldest Son made the team anyway. But McGee is playing Division I baseball now; Oldest Son has retired.)

    Nor do I think this brutally honest streak is confined to my children. When I did my tour of duty on the parish Athletic Committee, a regular topic of conversation was how ‘cuts’ were handled. It wasn’t the kids who were complaining about cuts; it was the parents. And my fellow committee members – all of whom know more about this stuff than I ever will – all insisted that the kids (boys and girls alike) know where they stand even when the parents are clueless.

    I can understand why parents can’t objectively evaluate their own kids’ skills – even I’m not that dense – but what happens to us as we get older? What happens to our ability to honestly evaluate ourselves?

    Friday, September 01, 2006

    Why my sons play football -- or -- why The Curmudgeon is not a psychologist

    Oldest Son was short for his age back when he was in the 5th grade, 11 years ago or so. Short and reed thin. Spindly, even. This came as no surprise to me and my Long Suffering Spouse; after all, we'd seldom seen this child eat anything more substantive than air molecules.

    No, what surprised us was when he announced his burning desire to play football.

    Long Suffering Spouse is one of three sisters – no brothers, football-playing or otherwise. I never played football. We had no practical experience. But we immediately had the same thought: This kid is going to get broken in half if he plays football.

    I recovered first, realizing that he'd be competing against others his own age, and reasonably close to his own size. Long Suffering Spouse still had visions of muscle-bound behemoths turning her son into paste. She was adamantly opposed to the entire idea and she was not keeping her opinions to herself.

    But Oldest Son was most insistent. And that's an understatement.

    As the first day of summer practice approached, tension reigned in the Curmudgeon household.

    I finally thought of a way out of this dilemma – or so it seemed when I explained it to my wife. I told her that football practices begin during very hot weather; the kids run constantly and otherwise exert themselves for hours at a time. Oldest Son would surely come to his senses after a even brief exposure to this torture. And, just to cover ourselves against a recurrence of the problem, I proposed a little flourish. My wife thought it potentially cruel, but she understood my thinking.

    So I called Oldest Son into the room. Long Suffering Spouse stood behind me, pale, not speaking a word, radiating displeasure. Oldest Son was of course oblivious.

    "Son," I told him, "your mother and I have decided to let you go out for football – but on one condition."

    "I'll clean my room," he said.

    "Besides that," I said. I saw Oldest Son tense. To a kid, cleaning your room is the equivalent of any of the 12 Labors of Hercules; what other impossibly onerous condition could I possibly have in mind?

    I didn't keep him in suspense very long. "You'll have to go to every practice. Even if they have two-a-days." Actually, those don't start until high school – but, as I mentioned, I had no practical experience at this point. "And I don't care how much you complain. How much you cry or carry on. You can not quit for a week. No matter what."

    Now I could feel Long Suffering Spouse tense even more behind me. She'd bear the brunt of that, of course, and she wasn't looking forward to it.

    "Do you understand me?" I asked. I probably straightened my tie before calling the kid into the room. This was serious Father Knows Best stuff.

    "Yes, Dad," Oldest Son said.

    Of course he didn't ask to quit. Not once. He played eight years, through high school. He's still playing dorm football at Notre Dame. Pads and equipment and referees and the works. Very serious stuff indeed.

    And by 6th grade, Oldest Son had the "first day of hitting" – when contract drills begin – circled on his calender.

    He didn't get broken in half. And Long Suffering Spouse got over it. But that's another story.