Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Blind ambition? Blinded by ambition, at least

Photo obtained from the Chicago Sun-Times.

Others said no.

Congressman Danny Davis has already come out and said he was recently offered Barack Obama's U.S. Senate seat by Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich.

I'd bet he offered it to others, too. (Not Jesse Jackson, Jr. -- even Blagojevich isn't that crazy. I think. Maybe.)

No, I'm sure our disgraced Governor reached out to a number of prominent African-American Illinois politicians. Blagojevich was presumably trying to pander to the African-American community, figuring a few African-Americans will likely sit in judgment of him in a year or so when his corruption case comes to trial. Maybe, he hopes, one or more future jurors will be so grateful to Blagojevich for keeping an African-American presence in the Senate that he or she will vote to acquit, no matter what the evidence shows.

Seems like a long shot to me.

Another motive, perhaps, is to show that he, Blagojevich, is still in charge. He wants to put the Senate on the hot seat: To reject an impeccable choice like Roland Burris will persuade some people that the Senate is just another group of racist white folks. Yes, that's cynical, racial 'wedge' politics -- the kind of stuff supposedly rendered obsolete with Obama's election. But it may still work: Blagojevich hopes that some senators will fear tarnishing their liberal credentials to the point where they feel they must accept Mr. Burris. If Blagojevich can make this appointment 'stick', he shows he can still 'govern' -- at least this is the discharge of one of his job functions -- and he may thereby take some of the wind out of the sails of the impeachment drive.

I think that, if this is what Blagojevich truly thinks, he's dreaming. But, then, I though he was dreaming when he thought he could get reelected in 2006 despite the federal investigations already swirling around him.

But he got reelected.

Still, I'll let others speculate on Blagojevich's motives. I want to talk about Roland Burris.

There are those, today, who are denouncing him for saying 'yes' to Blagojevich's request that he accept the appointment. He certainly didn't have to agree.

Burris did not need this appointment to secure his place in local history. He was the first African-American elected to statewide office in Illinois ever. He served as Illinois Comptroller from 1979 to 1991. He served four years as Illinois Attorney General after that. Barack Obama stands as much on Mr. Burris' shoulders as he does on any one else's. Burris blazed a trail that Obama could follow.

But... Burris wanted to be a senator. He ran for the Senate in 1984, losing to Paul Simon in the primary. He ran for Mayor of Chicago in 1995, losing to Mayor-for-Life Richard M. Daley. He's run for Governor three times, in 1994, 1998 and 2002. In 2002 he lost to Rod Blagojevich in the primary.

It's all too easy to lose an election -- so much harder, sadly, to lose one's ambition.

So before you cast stones at the man for saying 'yes,' are you so sure you would have said no? Maybe it would be easy for you because you have no political ambition... but have you ever wanted something else -- something that you wanted so badly you'd do almost anything to get it?

There's a reason why Jesus included "lead us not into temptation" in the Lord's Prayer. He knew, surely, that people are susceptible to temptation. We may know what's right and what's good in the long term and we may still succumb when tempted. Don't put us in that spot in the first place, we pray, every time we say that prayer. Don't set us up to fail.

Rod Blagojevich tempted Roland Burris with something Burris wanted in the worst way.

I feel sorry for Mr. Burris today. I would have hoped he'd be stronger. But I can't promise I would have been. Lead us not into temptation. And deliver us from evil.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Heads or Tails #71 -- Watch

The theme of today's Heads or Tails is "watch." However, Barb didn't tell us what to watch... and I'm feeling literal today....

Requiem for the Writstwatch

For nearly my entire life men have worn wristwatches. Getting a watch was a rite of passage for young people, another step on the road to maturity... sort of like one's first cell phone now, I suppose.

Getting that first watch meant we were old enough to be trusted with a complicated (and expensive!) mechanical device... mature enough to remember to wind it every day.

That was the theory, anyway. In my case there was a serious dichotomy between theory and practice: I'd overwind the watch, or forget to wind it, or otherwise scramble the poor thing's innards. I went through a couple of watches, at least, before my parents found me a self-winding model: Not a battery-powered model, but one that wound as you moved.

I was so sedentary the watch often stopped.

I don't think I knew anyone who actually wore a pocket watch. But we saw them in the movies. Old people wore them, especially rich old people. We knew the character on the screen had a pocket watch because we could see the chain leading to a vest pocket. And who but rich people wore vests anyway? At some point, the plot would require the actor to remove the watch, with elaborate ceremony, from that special vest pocket. If he had a long speech to deliver, winding the watch gave him something to do with his hands. If it was a really long speech, he'd polish the watch, too.

Pocket watches were symbols of retirement. Maybe John Cameron Swayze got a wrist Timex for 25 years' service. If you remember John Cameron Swayze you've probably taken a licking or two in your own life but kept on ticking. My grandfather, who died 10 years before I was born, had a pocket watch. It sits on the mantlepiece of my fireplace at home.

Pocket watches were manly; at one time, wristwatches were considered women's wear.

Then came World War I. Officers in the trenches found wristwatches easier to see and harder to lose. Soldiers needed their hands free for weapons and things.

But the day of the wristwatch has just about wound down. My kids don't wear them. I think they'd still get that weak old joke -- what time is it? a hair past a freckle -- but I'll bet their kids won't understand at all.

It dawned on me that watches were passe the night we moved into the Undisclosed Location. It had been a long afternoon and the evening was certainly well advanced. And we were paying the movers by the hour. One of my colleagues asked one of the young movers for the time. He reached into his pocket and consulted his cell phone.

"I remember when people looked at their wrists to tell the time," I said, to no one in particular.

Timex watch picture obtained from this source and edited to fit the space.

Monday, December 29, 2008


Oldest Son brought his girlfriend to Thanksgiving dinner; this made it a virtual certainty that he would bring her by at some point during the Christmas holidays. It also meant that we would have to get her a gift.

So we had two questions for the boy: When are you coming and what should we get for the girl?

Being a typical male of the species, he had no fixed or definite ideas on either subject. Not right away.

However, on the Thursday before Christmas, whilst I was 'Google-chatting' with him, he mentioned that he and his girlfriend would like to stop by over the weekend because he wouldn't be home on Christmas Day. (He'd made plans to visit the girl's family in Texas.)

"Oh," I typed back, "could you be more specific?"

"Sometime between 6:00pm Friday and 6:00pm Sunday," he responded.

"What are you -- the cable company?" I replied. Eventually, though, it was agreed that he would call home that evening and discuss these things with his mother.

He actually didn't call home until Friday night, but it was in the course of that later conversation that Long Suffering Spouse wheedled a gift idea out of the boy: His girlfriend would like earmuffs.

You know, the kind with the wire going over the head? Not headbands...

And certainly not ear warmers....

Oldest Son's girlfriend has long hair and the fit-behind-the-head ear warmers don't fit at all in those circumstances.

So, we had a practical suggestion. We did not then know it would also become a Quest.

In our blissful ignorance, we did not head out to the stores at First Light on Saturday; we had our coffee and noshed on Christmas cookies and enjoyed the peace and quiet before the Nocturnals stirred. In fact, Long Suffering Spouse was pretty well convinced that this was just an errand she'd undertake on her own. I was pretty well convinced she was going out on her own, too: I hate going to stores when they're not crowded.

But it had been such a pleasant morning. When Youngest Son suddenly presented himself and informed us that someone would have to drive him to school for a baseball workout, I heard myself volunteering to go with and help get the earmuffs. Long Suffering Spouse darn near demanded identification: "Who are you and what have you done with my husband?"

On the way over to school, Long Suffering Spouse suggested a detour to a toy store. She wanted to see if she could find a board game. The store wasn't at the mall where we figured to get earmuffs... but how long could that take? We had time.

We should have seen the toy store as a sign: We found a legal parking space, with time on the meter even, but I could barely climb out of the car over the snow plowed onto the sidewalk. And the store had been picked clean -- either they'd sold nearly everything several days before Christmas or they couldn't afford stock for the shelves. Either way, we came up empty in our search for the board game. But we weren't discouraged. This was a mere diversion and we headed off for the earmuffs.

It had begun snowing... again... and traffic was beginning to snarl. We'd not yet made it to the mall when Youngest Son called. The workout was over. It seemed inefficient to ask his siblings to get him; we thought we'd swing by and get him instead and we did.

He wasn't too upset when we told him that we'd not yet gotten the earmuffs. There'd be a slight delay in getting you home, I told him, but how long could it take? Ten minutes? (In the movie version of this tale, this is where the soundtrack music turns truly ominous.)

Long Suffering Spouse was driving. I was happy to let her. It's far easier to drive in downtown Chicago, in rush hour, with bicycle messengers weaving in and out, dodging cab drivers who think the Rules of the Road are only for American citizens, while trying to avoid pedestrians stepping across the street at any and all points along the block, than it is to find a parking space in the mall on the Saturday before Christmas.

But we did park, eventually.

And there were no earmuffs at Target. Only ear warmers. Or headbands.

Nor were there any at Kohl's.

Penney's was on the other end of the mall; we walked through Sears on the way. There were no earmuffs in either place. Walking back, we stopped at several boutique-type places: Bupkis.

We left the mall and went to two sporting goods stores in two other places: Nada. All the ear warmers you could ask for. Headbands of all kinds of different fabrics. No earmuffs. The manager at Dick's Sporting Goods told Long Suffering Spouse that he'd not seen earmuffs in two years, but that he thought it might be a fashion thing and we should try a high end department store.

It had been snowing all the while... and we'd been at it for nearly three hours since picking up Youngest Son. His patience had begun to wear thin. Meanwhile my job was to text Younger Daughter and Middle Son looking for suggestions about where to hunt the elusive earmuff in the wild. They were not helpful.

And did I mention it was still snowing? It was snowing harder now, and getting dark. But Long Suffering Spouse was officially on a Quest. We were going to find earmuffs.

We headed east to Old Orchard, a fancier mall in Skokie, Illinois. From where we were it was about a 10 or 15 minute trip even at rush hour -- but, in falling snow, on the Saturday before Christmas, it took at least a half hour.

We were still en route when Younger Daughter texted me to advise that Oldest Son and his girlfriend were on their way. "They'd better not be," snarled Long Suffering Spouse. "We are not coming home without EARMUFFS." I broke the news to Younger Daughter. She promised to inform her brother. Then I suggested that she and Middle Son clean up the living room. This was not well received. I looked over to Long Suffering Spouse for some support, but her eyes were fixated on the snowy road in front of us, and she looked a little crazed. "Earmuffs," she kept saying, "earmuffs. Who would think it would be so darn hard to find earmuffs?" I told Younger Daughter to deal with things as best she could.

There was no parking at Old Orchard. This is not an exaggeration. We drove around the parking lot for a good 15 minutes establishing that this was indeed the fact. Finally, Long Suffering Spouse told me she was getting out. I was to drive around until I found a parking space or until she called me to say she was ready to leave, whichever came first.

Have I mentioned I really, really hate to drive around in shopping mall parking lots?

But this was not an occasion to remind my wife of this fact. One look at her would have persuaded anyone of the truth of this statement. I therefore meekly acquiesced. She set off in the snow; I continued to drive around.

After another quarter hour I found a parking space. I reached Long Suffering Spouse on the cell phone. She was in Macy's. (Yes, that Macy's, which I have railed against on a number of occasions in these essays for putting another New York label over a fine Chicago institution. I did not care at this point. At this point, if Saddam Hussein's Bazaar was selling earmuffs, I would gladly have gone there.)

As I was searching for my wife, I received a phone call from Oldest Son. "What is going on with you people?" he asked. I told him that, instead of earmuffs, he should have asked for something easier to get, like the formula for Coca-Cola or the recipe for Kentucky Fried Chicken. "Huh?" he said.

"Some day I'll explain," I said. "But with the snow, we're at least an hour away. So don't hurry over, OK?"

"OK," he said, but I could tell he was still confused.

It was around this point that Middle Son decided to get cute and text me: "This is what comes of waiting to the last minute." I texted back a suggestion that included the word "#@$%" -- at least, that's how I spelled it. But he figured out what I meant.

When I finally found Long Suffering Spouse, I found she had made a selection: She'd found earmuffs! First, she found earmuffs that were made with genuine rabbit fur. She didn't much care for that idea, but she was at the point where they could almost be made of dog fur. (So was I.) Still, she thought she'd look further... and she was rewarded with a big fluffy-looking faux fur pair. We grabbed 'em and ran.

Well, we ran as fast as you can in a store on the Saturday before Christmas (and the last night before Hannukah, which, in Skokie, is at least as relevant a consideration, let me tell you). As things turned out, Long Suffering Spouse and I were very glad that we'd made the effort.

But that's a different story.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Closed for the Holiday

You might have already guessed this from the absence of any posting this week. I'd actually planned a couple of posts and I have a few family stories to share as well.

But it's been snowing here in Chicago. Or icing. Or raining. Or there's been freezing rain. Sometimes all of the above in what our weather forecasters so politely call "a winter mix."

Right now I'm ready to strangle Irving Berlin. He got all these people dreaming of a White Christmas -- but, brother, I wish they'd wake up. I also wish the slush and water mix at every street corner in the Loop weren't six inches deep.

The slush will be removed eventually. But the crumby weather has complicated a complicated time. I'm going to mellow out now for an hour or so, putting stuff away, getting out some correspondence here at the Undisclosed Location before plunging back into the Holidaze.

Limited programming should return next week. In the meantime, I hope you and yours have a very Merry Christmas... or whatever Winter Solstice Holiday you prefer.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Magnetic field failures and mass extinctions

You were probably feeling too jolly about now anyway. Let's grim things up a little with this article from Discovery News which posits a link between a weakening of the Earth's magnetic field and the Permian-Triassic mass extinction 250 million years ago, when 90 percent of life on the planet was wiped out.

I don't like the odds.

Yukio Isozaki of the University of Tokyo suggests that a weakening magnetic field allowed increasing amounts of cosmic radiation to reach the Earth, breaking nitrogen atoms into ions that formed seeds to create huge cloud masses and massive global cooling. This catastrophe was put in motion by "a plume of super-hot material" that began rising from the Earth's core. It was the movement of this plume toward the surface weakened the Earth's magnetic field, according to the article.

When the plume reached the surface, it became three supervolcanoes. From the article:
On their own they were too small to do much harm, but together Isozaki thinks they cooled the climate even further, launching an extinction as bad as the one that would kill the dinosaurs 185 million years later.
This didn't happen overnight: The sequence so far took around five million years to complete. The really massive die-off came 10 million years later. Isozaki thinks this, too, was a consequence of the plume.

Other scientists disagree. According to the Discover News article, Gregory Retallack of the University of Oregon agrees that the first extinction event was bad -- killing as many as two-thirds of all species -- but thinks there was a recovery before the really massive die-off. The apparent recovery between the two events apparently diminishes the likelihood that the extinction events are causally linked.

I'm not at all sure that's comforting.

Anyway, the deterioration of the Earth's magnetic field was not a one-time-only event. Wikipedia's article on geomagnetic reversal suggests that the field is deteriorating right now, and the rate of deterioration has accelerated in recent years. On the other hand, "The rate of decrease and the current strength are within the normal range of variation, as shown by the record of past magnetic fields recorded in rocks." Also, the Earth's magnetic field "has gone up and down in the past with no apparent rhyme or reason."

Ah, well. The point is, Al Gore can make us curb all our hydrocarbon emissions but if the Earth's magnetic field flips on us, we all might die anyway. It's flipped before and will flip again.

Life on Earth has only a precarious hold. As large as our home planet is, it is still a speck in the cosmic order of things. And our planet changes over time -- always has, always will. Who are we smug humans to think we can arrest the planet's natural course? Why our we so arrogant to assume that our pollution will cause more than a blip in the natural course of the planet?

As a species, we really should be thinking about Plan B, don't you think? We need to start boldly going: In nature, dispersal is recognized as a really good survival strategy.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Dueling Banjos

From the comic F Minus, obtained this morning from Yahoo! News.

I was alone here at the Undisclosed Location when I saw this one; this was fortunate because I actually laughed out loud. As opposed to LOL-ing (feel free to follow the link if you're curious).

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Finally! A name that includes the teens and post-teens in my house

For those just tuning in, of my five children, only one still lives at home full-time. Youngest Son is in high school. Younger Daughter and Middle Son are both still in college and they're home now for the holidays.

I've struggled with what to call the teens and post-teens under my roof. Sure, I can use multiple terms, as in the preceding sentence, but I'm trying to be less verbose. More succinct. Less windy. More precise. (I guess this still needs work, eh?)

But I've studied their habits and I've observed their behaviors, trying to identify traits that they all have in common.

They eat a lot. When Middle Son returned to school after Thanksgiving Break his away message was "I miss my refrigerator at home." He didn't miss Mom or Dad. He missed an appliance.

Long Suffering Spouse challenged him on it just the other day. "Of course I miss you," he said quickly. "That goes without saying. It's just -- well, at school you have to eat at 5:30. If you don't go at 5:30 there's nothing left at 6:30. And what do you do when it's 11:00 and you're still hungry?"

He then told us of his many late night excursions to this fast food joint or that one and which chain's value menus he truly values. But it's a big pain, he concluded, especially since (because he has no car of his own) he has to con someone else into driving him.

In anticipation of their homecoming this past weekend, Long Suffering Spouse laid in at least twice the usual amount of supplies. The kids descended on these like locusts.

I suppose I could call them the Eaters or the Locusts. But Younger Daughter, in particular, would take offense. She claims she's only eating now because there's nothing to eat in the cafeteria in her dorm.

Back in the day, we had meal plans at school that went like this: When the cafeteria was open, we could eat.

That was too simple. Nowadays the kids get x meals per semester. Or maybe y food points. Each time they go to the cafeteria, one meal or some specified number of points is deducted from their plans. And the schools have some sort of "snack plan," too. A lot of schools have fast food joints on campus; different schools make different arrangements, but it all comes down to the same thing: Points get used up at night. Younger Daughter said she had no meals left on her plan at the end of the semester even though she never went to breakfast and seldom went to lunch. It was the late night snacks which drained her account. Which brings me to the other trait I've noticed.

They are not active during the day.
They stay up very late at night. I know I've whined about this here in the past, but I remember going to my parents' house after finals and sleeping the clock round for a couple of days. (OK, technically, I don't remember because I was asleep, but I remember it being a weekend... and then, all of a sudden, it was Wednesday.)

But theirs is not recuperative sleep so much as it is dormancy during daylight. Try as we might, Long Suffering Spouse and I can not make them hew to the diurnal pattern. Worse, the collegians immediately contaminated Youngest Son -- he still has to leave the house at 6:30am for school but, as soon as his siblings came home, he pushed back his bedtime by several hours, the better to get in quality video game time with his brother.

Next week, I suppose, that won't be as much of a problem. But he has finals this week... and I fear that sleep deprivation may prevent him from achieving his best possible marks.

But this trait, finally, gives me the label I've been looking for. We don't have to call them teens and post-teens. They are Nocturnals.

Star Trek and Monty Python: Together as nature never intended

A video of the 'Camelot' song from Monty Python's Holy Grail posted yesterday by Barb reminded me of this gem that I saw, and blogged about, a couple of years ago.

Since then, I've learned how to actually post the videos, too.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Heads or Tails #69 -- anything round

Today's Heads or Tails is to write about anything round. I hope Barb is unafraid of a little circular logic....

If you say this with just the right touch of menace in your voice, this is a threat: "The world is round."

It is the snarl of the temporarily disadvantaged, the statement uttered to give the seeming victor pause, to make the one temporarily on top realize that, as the world turns, he or she may wind up on the receiving end of whatever he or she is dishing out now. Oddly enough, when I was first on the receiving end of this statement, it came from someone who always expected to finish on top. Big over little. Strong over weak. In such a case, the phrase means not just that we will take turns clubbing each other over the head, but that, when the normal order of things is restored, the speaker will be in a position to return the disadvantage many times over.

It is a promise of vengeance. Of retribution. It is never shouted -- well, maybe Chris Columbus shouted it in Queen Isabella's court -- but never shouted in this context. It is spoken in a dry, matter-of-fact way. Say it with me again. "The world is round."

It's not true, of course. According to that branch of applied mathematics known as geodesy, the actual shape of the Earth is called the geoid, not a sphere at all. Actually, the true shape of the Earth is more like an ellipsoid. An ellipsoid created to approximate the shape of the Earth would be called a reference ellipsoid. There is a particular reference ellipsoid, for example, which serves as the basis for GPS determinations. (Because this is a mathematical model and not always and everywhere synced up with the exact shape of this Earth, this may explain why sometimes your dashboard direction finder tells you to turn left where there is no road. Or maybe not.)

Anyway, if anybody ever tells you "the world is round," with all the threat and menace with which that phrase is often used, you might want to challenge that person with these facts.

Please note, however, Second Effort takes no responsibility for any physical injury or dental work which may result.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Come to Chicago: We've got something for everybody -- even ice skating zombies

Yes, that's what you're looking at in the picture below.

Maureen O'Donnell writes in this morning's Chicago Sun-Times about the approximately 100 zombies who skated around Millennium Park yesterday.

It turns out that this was an event organized by a website called Chicago Zombie. They were hoping to set a world record for most zombies skating at one time but apparently fell short. Maybe it was the overly restrictive rules (which I actually copied verbatim today from the CZ site): "Keep in mind this is a PUBLIC rink. Therefore, no dripping/oozing blood, etc. that will dirty up the ice. If we make a mess, we will be asked to leave, and the cops will become involved."

O'Donnell's article does note that one young mother was not thrilled to see the zombies on parade; they scared her two year old daughter, she said.

For the most part, however, people apparently took the zombies in stride. That's the mark of a world-class city: Nothing fazes us. One park worker told the Sun-Times reporter that she should have come the night before... when 200 drunk Santas took over the rink after a pub crawl.

Ah, those Christmas spirits....

Friday, December 12, 2008

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Poor Ron Santo: He doesn't know how lucky he is

Believe it or not, it was only Monday that the biggest story in Chicago was that Ron Santo was once again denied entry to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Ron Santo is a beloved figure in this town. He's the color commentator on the Cub radio broadcasts and -- from what I'm told -- his comments are often just groans or shrieks or cheers, depending on what the Cubs are doing on the field.

And he has a compelling personal story: He had a long and successful playing career even though he had juvenile diabetes. He's lost parts of both legs to the disease in recent years. He's not been in the best of health.

I never really saw Santo play much. After all, he was only with the White Sox for one year (in 1974) and his statistics that one year weren't exactly Hall of Fame caliber: In 117 games for the Sox, Santo batted only .221, with just five homers and 41 RBI. He was used more as a DH or second baseman with the Sox; we had Beltin' Bill Melton as our regular third baseman then.

I know some of you, knowing the rivalry between Cub and Sox fans in this town, may think I'm being snarky by saying that Santo should be relieved that he's not been enshrined in the Hall. But I'm being sincere.

I'm thinking of the last great Chicago ballplayer who teetered on the cusp of Cooperstown for many years.

I'm thinking of Nellie Fox.

Every year, an ardent campaign would be undertaken to get Fox in the Hall. A lot of prominent people joined the Nellie Fox Society to promote his election.

Fox died in 1975. He wasn't around to experience the annual ritual of his being snubbed by the Hall. In 1985, the last year of his eligibility on the writers' ballot, Fox got 74.49% of the votes -- just two votes short of the 75% needed for election. The Dean of Chicago sportswriters, the late Jerome Holtzman, later baseball's official historian, argued that the numbers should be rounded up so that Fox would be elected. The Hall said no.

Like Santo, Fox had the numbers on the field to merit election.

So -- every year -- there was a fresh outcry over the injustice of it all. Fox, long dead, remained very much alive in the hearts of his partisans.

And then the Veterans Committee finally relented and Fox got in. Fox has a statue now along the outfield concourse at U.S. Cellular Field. But it's just not the same.

So -- Mr. Santo -- take it from me, a lifelong Sox fan: Don't be so upset that the Hall has denied you again. A lot of people are very upset for you. On your behalf. And you should bask in the glow of their genuine affection.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A little perspective, please, on Obama and Blago

In a comment to my post yesterday afternoon, Sarge asked the same question a lot of people outside of Illinois asked yesterday: Will the revelations that Illinois' Democratic Governor, Rod R. Blagojevich, was trying to auction off Barack Obama's U.S. Senate seat somehow 'dirty up' the President-elect? (At his site, Sarge provided his answer: "The fact is that Chicago has had corrupt politics forever and now we have a President that was born in that corruption.")

Well, Sarge, yes, Chicago has long had a well-deserved reputation for official corruption. Illinois has a long and shady reputation for corruption. Paul "I can smell the meat a' cookin'" Powell was from Downstate Vienna. A more recent example, our Nobel Peace Prize nominee (and current Federal inmate), former Governor George Ryan hails from Downstate Kankakee.

But that doesn't mean that the President-elect is personally tainted because he comes from here. I come from here, too, you know, and I don't think I'm corrupt. (Of course, I have been a spectacular failure in my brief forays into politics... but that's a different story.)

Sarge's post notes the one indelible link between Messrs. Obama and Blagojevich: Soon-to-be-sentenced Tony Rezko. But that does not mean that Obama and Blagojevich were close in any sense.

It is part of the ritual that, when a politician is charged with official corruption, his or her colleagues immediately attempt to distance themselves. And the ritual was observed in Illinois yesterday, with one politician after another (Obama included) saying how little contact they'd had with Blagojevich, how seldom they'd seen or spoken to him.

Oddly enough, in this case, these politicians were telling the truth.

Well before his indictment, Illinois politicians complained that Blagojevich was inaccessible. He did not live in the Governor's Mansion in Springfield; he seldom even visited his Chicago office. He appeared at events, staged for the media, and then went home. One local TV station staked him out for days -- he didn't leave his house at all except for a couple of choreographed events -- and no one came to see him, either. Of course, he could have transacted business by phone.

But, if he was, he wasn't talking to his fellow office-holders. Sen. Dick Durbin recently complained that he had to wait something like 11 days to get a return phone call from Blagojevich when he called to discuss the Senate vacancy.

The AP photo by Randy Squires, at the top of this post, which appears to depict Obama and Blagojevich swapping pleasantries as if it were Old Home Week, was actually taken in August 2005, on Democrat Day at the Illinois State Fair. That's the kind of event where Blagojevich might be seen with other pols -- and, even then, in more recent years, many politicians would go out of their way to avoid any event when they might have been seen with this guy.

And I'm talking before yesterday.

It's not just because Blagojevich has been unpopular. It has been widely known -- to everyone, that is, except perhaps the Governor himself -- that he was under increasingly close Federal investigation. Pols generally distance themselves from persons under threat of indictment. There's a certain fear of guilt by association. There's a concern about the likelihood of being taped.

There was a weak joke when Blagojevich was sworn in for a second term (yes, I can't believe we reelected him either -- but that's how heavily Democratic Illinois has become): Who was the happiest person at the inauguration? Answer: Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, of course, since he's going to be governor soon.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said she'd not talked to Blagojevich since the 2008 Democratic Convention in Denver. It was at the convention, you may remember, that Blagojevich and his nemesis, Lisa Madigan's father, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, exchanged hugs. This excerpt from an August 28, 2008 story in the Chicago Sun-Times by Abdon M. Pallasch and Dave McKinney is presented to refresh your recollection about that bizarre incident:
The group hug started when U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. sought to make peace with fellow South Side congressman Bobby Rush, who is recovering from cancer treatment.

"If there's anything we've ever done or I've ever done to offend you, I'm leaving it at this convention. You're my friend, and I appreciate you," Jackson said, jumping off the dais to give Rush a long hug to cheers from hundreds of delegates.

"All is forgiven," Rush said.

Jackson continued his redemption tour, calling state Sen. Debbie Halvorson over to apologize for the startling attacks he made on her as the Democratic candidate for the congressional seat next to his because he disagreed with her approach on the Peotone airport.

Then, Jackson asked, "Who else out here has been mad at me?"

[Chicago Mayor Richard M.] Daley -- admitting later he felt sorry for Jackson -- surprised Jackson with a hug.

Jackson cried. He tried to speak but had to step away again, wiping his eyes.

Turning to the grudge match that has had the most consequences for Illinois, Jackson said, "I'm not going to be satisfied till I see Rod Blagojevich give Mike Madigan a hug."

The two rose and gave each other the briefest hug of the love fest.
Anyway, nobody really had to 'throw Blago under the bus' yesterday -- and this includes the President-elect (whom Blago called, in one of the taped conversations, a phrase that rhymes with an other trucker). Blagojevich has been alone on Fantasy Island for some time.

This is not to absolve the President-elect of all sins of omission or commission related to political corruption in our home state. But the Governor's goofy hopes to sell Obama's Senate seat should not create any real difficulty for Mr. Obama at all.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Illinois governor charged with trying to sell Obama's Senate seat

And that's not all. Governor Rod R. Blagojevich also stands accused of trying to get the Chicago Tribune to fire editorial writers who'd offended him -- in exchange for taking Wrigley Field off the company's hands and putting the taxpayers on the hook for its increasingly expensive upkeep.

The criminal complaint against Blagojevich is minimal at this point, but it is supported by a 76-page Affidavit by an FBI agent. You can read the whole thing here.

Now, here's the thing: Blagojevich has been under federal scrutiny for years. Years. There were well-placed rumors about investigations seeming to point directly toward the governor when he was reelected in 2006. (Yes, we reelected him.) The Tony Rezko trial focused on events early in Blagojevich's first term as Rezko was finding various corrupt players for Blagojevich to appoint to this board or that one. Yet, despite the increasing heat, all of the stuff referenced in the FBI affidavit refers to calls taped in the last five or six weeks.

Five or six weeks!

This may be the first political corruption trial in Illinois history where the defendant pursues an insanity defense. Who else but a crazy person would say the things Blagojevich said on tape knowing full well that the federales were circling ever closer?

And it just might work.

Coyote ugly? Not this one....

The little car was parked across the street and it hadn't been driven for awhile. And we hadn't cleaned it after the last snow. I'd decided that this was the car we'd drive today.

So there I was, out across the street from my house, in the minutes just before sunrise, warming up the car and knocking off the snow.

The Sun doesn't officially rise in Chicago these days until sometime around 7:00am, but this was only a few minutes before and there was plenty of light to see. And something coming down the street caught my attention.

It looked almost like a big yellow dog, but there was something odd about it. It was sauntering down the snowy street as if it was marching in a parade: Not indifferent to its surroundings, of course, but trying to look that way.

It was coming from east to west, walking right past my house, then past me, then to the corner. Just before reaching the corner the animal turned and cut across the parkway onto the sidewalk. I watched it for almost another block because I was trying to decide.

Was this just a stray dog? Or was it something else?

Slowly the tumblers clicked into place. It was a coyote. It had to be. That's why it looked like -- and at the same time didn't quite look like -- a big yellow dog.

I pulled the now somewhat cleaned car into the driveway and went into the house in search of Youngest Son. We should have left for school long since. I wanted to say what I'd seen as soon as I got in the house, but Youngest Son preempted me: "Did you see the coyote?" he asked.

We're pretty smug, we humans, in our cities. But whatever we build, however much we pave over, Nature never really goes away. It may go into hiding. And sometimes, in the moments before sunrise, it may amble down the middle of the street.



In the comments below, the Beach Bum mentions that he lived in Chicago for 20 years and never saw a coyote... but, then, he said, he had lived in the City, not in the suburbs.

Well, I also live in the City... albeit in an area with large residential lots. But coyotes apparently don't much care about urban or suburban environments.

The picture above is a copy of photo I first posted here in April 2007. This was taken by a Tribune photographer of a coyote captured in downtown Chicago -- actually in the Loop.

Heads or Tails #68 -- "Fill" or "Phil"

I couldn't participate in last week's Heads or Tails because I was under deadline on a work-related project. You probably filled in the time without me just fine. This week, Barb gives us a choice to write about "fill" or "Phil." I'll take "fill."

If there's one task at which most lawyers seem not to excel, it's filling in forms.

Oh, we make forms for others to fill, and tax lawyers must somehow learn this skill, but when we try to fill a form out ourselves, there always seems to be a problem. For one thing, there's never a box marked, "It depends." How is a lawyer supposed to answer any question without the option of saying, "It depends"?

Technology has only made this more maddening. Now, we have "fillable" forms in Adobe. Many of our court forms in Cook County are set up this way.

But there's seldom enough room in the space provided for the information that is supposed to go there. Sometimes, for variety's sake, the blanks are as wide as the page but only one or two words is required.

Of course, I shouldn't complain about these. Far worse are the forms that (even if they are available on line) can not be filled in with the computer. That means printing out the sheet and rolling it into a typewriter.

You know, back in the day, I was pretty good at rolling a sheet just so in order to line up the type with the line to be completed. Of course, in those days, computers were mostly megalomaniacs that did battle with Captain Kirk in Star Trek reruns, not the masters of our everyday existence that they've now become. And I could see better, too.

So sometimes I am reduced to filling in the blanks on a downloaded form... by hand. It's like downloading a stencil in order to make a cave painting.

(An example of my early work.)

If you've ever had occasion to look at records from the days before typewriters, you've almost certainly been impressed by the legible penmanship of the makers of those documents. The decline and fall of the art of handwriting is on display every day in the real estate tract books maintained by the County of Cook: With the passage of time, beautiful writing becomes mostly legible, and then becomes a barely literate scrawl. Because we don't write any more.

My own handwriting was never more than barely legible to begin with: The poor dear nuns who tried to teach me the Palmer Method ultimately gave up in despair. These were the 60s and the more liberal nuns no longer automatically tried to make left-handers into right-handers. So I remained a sinistral and held my pen all wrong.

I used to be able to print rather neatly. But even that limited skill has deteriorated over time. It's hard to fill in the blanks neatly with a pen. Although -- sometimes -- I can still clearly write "It depends."

Monday, December 08, 2008

Twelve Days of Christmas? More like 12 hours....

Yes, the Holidaze (deliberate misspelling) are in full swing at the Curmudgeon household. Long Suffering Spouse was supposed to start her world famous Christmas baking this weekend -- but had tests and projects to grade and, when she was conscious, worked all weekend on those. I brought home three files to work on -- and actually did work on one of them.

Both of us were bushed from the week before. I did stay awake until nearly 10:00pm on Friday, but only because that was how long it took for Youngest Son to call home for a ride. He'd stayed at school for the basketball games Friday night. I didn't really goof off this weekend... I just simply couldn't stay awake.

And it's only going to get worse.


Because the so-called Twelve Days of Christmas have been compressed into about 12 hours, from dinnertime on Christmas Eve until early Christmas morning. All cards must be sent before that, all gifts must be wrapped and delivered by close of business on 12/24. Any gifts attempted after that will probably be a disaster.

Where did this attitude come from?

And then it occurred to me. It's that stupid song.

On the First Day of Christmas/
My true love gave to me/
A partridge in a pear tree....

Yikes! Talk about the ultimate "You Shouldn't Have." The tree can't stay outside and the bird can't come in. Still, White Elephant gifts are an accepted, if not cherished, part of the Christmas tradition.

But then the poor dope tries to make up for it.

On the Second Day of Christmas/
My true love gave to me/
Two turtle doves....

Again with the birds? Have you got feathers in your head where brain cells should be?

On the Second Day of Christmas/
My true love gave to me/
Three French hens....

And you just know these weren't wrapped in cellophane and stamped USDA approved.

By the time the four calling birds show up on the doorstep, the recipient is engaging counsel for a restraining order. I've come to interpret the five golden rings as an attempt to prevent the victim, er, recipient of these gifts from heading to court.

But the six geese a-layin' would just require a renewal of the litigation.

The point is, this song has taught generations of impressionable kids that nothing good happens after Christmas Day. Everything thereafter is for the birds. Far better to stay inside and watch obscure bowl games... and, if you must celebrate Christmas, do it quickly.

Or am I over-analyzing this?

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Second Effort reaches third Blogiversary!

Go figure.

Not only have I kept this blog open for three years as of today, counting today's trivial pursuit, I've posted 929 times. And, of those 900+ posts, several of them (maybe as many as a dozen, although I'm biased) are pretty darned good. Of course (as some of you haven't been too shy to note) most of them are just too darned long.

They just don't seem so long when I write them.

Anyway, I am grateful to all of you who've happened by... and particularly grateful to those of you who've left comments and linked here. My Sidebar list may not be entirely up to date, but as of today it includes:
  • Captain Picard's Journal

  • Blog, blah, blah

  • Doctor Anonymous

  • Muffin 53; Bee's other site

  • Musings of a Phenomenal Webmistress

  • A Place I call Home

  • Nurse Ratched's Place

  • Crouching Mommy, Hidden Laundry

  • The Geek Inside

  • Sarge Charlie

  • The Bestest Blog of All-Time; The New Bestest Blog

  • Skittles' Place

  • Tuskismom Speaks

  • Fantasy & Sci-Fi Lovin' Blog

  • A Work of Art: Raising Our Exceptional Son

  • Time with Shelby

  • Home Fires... by Lois Lane; Lois' -- er, Kimberly's -- NBC Blog

  • about a nurse

  • Ellee Seymour

  • Soapbox Jury

  • Thermal

  • stuff and nonsense

  • Toadally Talking


  • "Life's A Dance You Learn As You Go..."

  • The Boomer Chronicles

  • A little piece of me

  • The Beach Bum Report

  • Are We There Yet??

  • La La Land

  • Where fiber meets mud

  • The Mind Wobbles

  • Letting each other go

  • Peppermint Energy

  • Home in the Highlands

  • Momma's World

  • Frannycakes

  • All Blogged Up: A Moof's Tale

  • Untwisted Vortex - Living in a Different Land

  • Critique My Blog!

  • Late Bloomer Boomer

  • When I Grow Up

  • It's A Boomer Life

  • Talking to Myself

  • Airhead 55

  • Rather Than Working

  • Cathy's Place

  • wading through my stream of consciousness...

  • The Rising Blogger

  • Liquid Illuzion

  • Maybe I'm Just Confused(Aisby)

  • The Post College Years-Part Two (~*silverneurotic*~)

  • WIXY's Gone Bananas

  • Welcome to the Bobosphere!

  • Down River Drivel

  • Charli and me

  • Cookie's Oven

  • Pheasantly Fascinating

  • Rico's Rants

  • Tales from the Den of Chaos

  • Gimme Patience

  • Lucy Blues

  • Kentucky Baby Boomer Going Like Sixty

  • Shelley's Case

  • Barely Pixilated

  • The Third Half Of Life
  • And now... onto the thousandth post?

    Friday, December 05, 2008

    Avoiding disasters at office Christmas parties

    As today is December 5 (the eve of the Feast of St. Nicholas) and there are only two more Fridays before Christmas, it's a safe bet that many of you will be heading out today for office Christmas, er, Holiday Parties.

    In the interest of preserving the livelihoods of as many of our few readers as possible, Second Effort provides these Christmas Party survival tips:

    1. Keep your pants on. This seems so obvious -- now -- in the clear light of day. But things get murkier than the spiked egg nog at some holiday parties and all of a sudden it seems like a good idea to (a) moon the boss, (b) photocopy your buttocks, or (c) engage in some lusty consultation with a valued colleague in the supply closet. None of these are good ideas.

    Most sensible businesses try and reduce the likelihood of these sorts of disasters by holding their parties in more public venues such as restaurants or taverns. People will generally behave better in public. Even the 'party room' at the nearby tavern is safer for a holiday party than the office... if only because nobody at the tavern has access to a photocopier. This year, however, with the sorry state of the economy, some businesses may be tempted to hold their parties 'in house' again. Don't be the person who causes next year's party to be moved to the "party room" of a health food store.

    2. Don't drink to excess.
    Keeping your pants on will not be enough to save your sorry career if you get sloppy drunk and paw the boss. Or the boss's spouse. And if you lose your lunch, your lack of intestinal fortitude will be recalled and laughed about at every successive holiday party for as long as anybody at that company remembers you. You'll be gone, of course, probably the next day, even if you don't die of shame. Or alcohol poisoning.This does not mean you can't take a drink. In fact, in some companies, you'll be viewed negatively if you don't imbibe.

    But let's face it: You're not at this party because these are the people with whom you want to share the magic of the holiday season. In all likelihood, your attitude towards most of your fellow wage slaves is one of grim toleration. You may pal around with a few -- shared suffering being a good basis for friendship, or something like it -- and you may actually hate, loathe and despise some of your fellows. Drinking may will probably bring these feelings to the surface. These feelings, once revealed, will probably cause you to seek other employment. So don't reveal them.

    If you're in a situation where you're expected to get 'loose' and 'celebrate,' make a point of publicly requesting a drink... a vodka and tonic, for example. Make sure there's a slice of lime thrown in so anyone can see you're participating. Sip it for as long as you can. For the second drink, switch to club soda. Get a new lime. It doesn't look any different, especially as your colleagues sink deeper into their own cups. Offer to make the runs to the bar yourself so no one knows what you're doing. It is important to be vigilant at Christmas parties. Which brings us to Rule No. 3....

    3. No cameras. This is harder and harder to avoid, these days, as every cellphone seems to have some sort of camera included. But take no pictures yourself and do not allow yourself to be photographed.

    Oh, the boss may want one picture of the group. That's the picture that will be brought out next year to show which two were caught in the supply closet... which one was caught photocopying his (or her) buttocks... which one threw up on the visiting district manager.... You may have no choice but to pose for this one. But in this age of Facebook and MySpace and You Tube, getting caught on someone's cellphone camera making doe eyes at the gorgeous new receptionist may be only the beginning of your humiliation. Photographic evidence may be posted on the Internet for your wife... and her lawyers... to see. Actually, all things considered, the best advice for avoiding career ending Christmas Party blunders would be to....

    4. Call in sick. At least this year, when the party is at the office. Next year, after the harassment suits and the divorces, the party will be back (if at all) in a dark party room at a restaurant, where most cellphone cameras are pretty much useless. But remember: You probably won't get away with calling in sick two years in a row. People will get suspicious.

    Thursday, December 04, 2008

    True... and not true

    It's true that the Detroit heavyweights begging for government money drove hybrid cars to Washington this time, bypassing their corporate jets.

    It is not true that they came in Priuses. (Priusi?)

    It's true that former President Bill Clinton had to accept disclosure requirements for his international charitable foundation and had to promise to have his speeches vetted by the government in order for his wife to be nominated as President-elect Obama's incoming Secretary of State.

    It is not true that Hillary lobbied to have Bill placed in a blind trust instead.

    It is true that then-Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin was fooled by a radio deejay pretending to be French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

    But it is not true that a deejay was trying to fool another Republican, Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, into believing he was the President-elect calling. In fact, Mr. Obama was calling, from Chicago, to speak with the Congresswoman.

    Nor is it true that Ros-Lehtinen hung up on Obama once.

    In fact, she hung up on him twice. Obama's Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel called back to assure her that Mr. Obama really wanted to talk to her. She hung up on him, too.

    Eventually, Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the Chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee called to convince Ros-Lehtinen to accept Mr. Obama's call.

    It is not true that when Obama finally got through to the Florida Congresswoman he asked, "Is your refrigerator running?"

    Sorry. Very old joke.

    Prius photo taken from Toyota website. AP photo of Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen obtained this link and edited to fit space available.

    Wednesday, December 03, 2008

    Messages on the train

    I was riding the train when my pocket went off.

    OK, the cellphone in my pocket beeped. I'd received a text message.

    In my life, these are likely to come from only two people, Middle Son or Younger Daughter. I guessed it was Younger Daughter as I fumbled with the buttons. I guessed correctly.
    You are riding the train with your favorite person ever!
    I looked around. My wife had dropped me off at the train and continued on to school. And, no, I didn't see Geena Davis or Diane Lane or Halle Berry either. (Hey, my wife has often said she'd throw me over, at least temporarily, for Patrick Stewart or Sean Connery... so this is fair, isn't it?)

    I texted back.
    How do you know where I am? Where are you?
    Yes, I spell out the words and use appropriate capitalization and punctuation. It takes me a long time... but I'm getting better at it.

    Younger Daughter is not constrained by mere rules of spelling or grammar. So as soon as my phone was returned to my pocket it beeped again.
    Bwahaha i know everything. Isn't that creepy?
    Yes, it is, I thought. And I texted, too.
    Yes it is. However, I'm too tired to get worked up about it now. Have a nice day.
    Of course, Younger Daughter wouldn't drop it. From subsequent texts I learned that she was working at school (which, I'm sure, was the only reason why she was awake so early in the morning) and a high school friend of hers was apparently on my car. She apparently recognized me. This girl immediately texted Younger Daughter about it. (Presumably the text would have gone something like OMG! i am on the train with your dad lol. That's the level at which these texting conversations usually proceed.) This girl would be my 'favorite person ever' because I have often pointed out the strong correlation between Younger Daughter socializing with this girl and Younger Daughter getting into trouble. I never actually saw the girl on the train.

    Anyway, all this gave me an idea. If I can figure out how to do it, I'm going to create and save a text message as a template that I can send to Younger Daughter whenever the spirit moves me:
    I know you're up to no good! Behave yourself.
    Maybe I can make her look over her shoulder sometime.

    Monday, December 01, 2008

    Today is Cyber Monday... and Stuffing End Day... and a Fabulous Gift Offer... well, fabulous for me, anyway....

    Welcome cyber-shoppers! Thanks for taking just a bit more time out of your employer's work day to come and visit me here at Second Effort. I apologize in advance for not being able to add to your collection of promotion codes.

    All across America, employers are seemingly resigned to the loss of productivity that occurs annually, now, on the Monday after the Thanksgiving weekend. Today is the day when people take advantage of their employers' faster-than-home internet connections to buy Christmas gifts online. Employers: Just think of today as a sacrifice you must make for the sake of our economic recovery.

    Today is probably a good day, too, to either finish any leftover turkey stuffing or throw it out. If you fail to heed this good advice you may need another kind of recovery altogether.

    The good news, according to news reports this weekend, was that "Black Friday" sales were better than expected. I don't understand why "Black Friday" is supposed to be a good thing: Nothing seems less likely to usher in a season of peace on Earth and goodwill toward men than fighting for the last parking space at the mall or cutting in line at the checkout.

    * * * * * * * * *

    Shoppers are being warned this year not to buy store gift cards. Should the store go bankrupt and close, the cards may be worth just pennies on the dollar. They may become entirely useless. Still, it's the thought that counts, isn't it?

    Therefore, this year I've decided to offer "Second Effort Gift Cards." These will come in seemingly large denominations -- $100 or $200 or $500 -- so you can impress your unsuspecting friends and relations with your generosity. But, for a limited time only (the principal limitation being how quickly the authorities catch up to me) I'll sell them to you for $10 or $20 or $50.

    How can I afford to do this? Simple! I have no gift shop at which the cards can be used! We bypass the danger of bankruptcy rendering the cards unusable because the cards are unusable to begin with.

    This is efficiency at its finest.

    Or it would be... if I ever set up a Paypal account.

    Ah, well, back to the drawing board....

    * * * * * * * * *

    The Enterprise Christmas Party is in full swing now at Captain Picard's Journal. If you're not yet ready to resume working, er, to resume cyber-shopping, click over and visit the party. Each year Picard lets his readers write their own party entries. Mine ran today.

    Thursday, November 27, 2008

    OK, we can start Christmas now....

    At some point today, depending on what Long Suffering Spouse needs for dinner preparations and when Middle Son and Youngest Son get up and put football on the TV, I will watch "Miracle on 34th Street."

    This Christmas movie starts with the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and, somehow, has become my way of acknowledging the beginning of the Christmas season.

    Of course, my fondness for the movie does not extend to the store. Macy's is a New York store and it may be fine for New Yorkers -- but I'm still aggravated that Macy's foolish corporate parent bought Marshall Field's, a genuine Chicago institution, and a destination for out of town tourists, and made into just another Macy's store. Idiots. (But, if you follow the link, after you get past the carping about the takeover, you'll find a funny story. At least I think so.)

    Anyway, I'm scheduling this post in advance because I know I won't have time to be online today, and maybe not for the rest of the weekend. In the meantime, I just want to wish a Happy Thanksgiving to my bare handful of American readers.

    Next up on the blogging calendar: My Third Blogiversary is coming December 7. I usually don't stick to things this long....

    Wednesday, November 26, 2008

    Picking up the kids -- and their laundry -- for the holiday

    Yesterday was Parent-Teacher Conference Day at Long Suffering Spouse's school. Because of this, my wife had informing me for several weeks, at least, that yesterday it would be my job to pick up our two remaining collegians. They both live at their respective schools but, since the two schools are in the same nearby Chicago suburb, it's not exactly one of the Twelve Labors of Hercules.

    My wife tells me these things well in advance so that there will be no mistaking whose fault it would be if something else got scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.

    The problem with being self-employed is that everyone thinks you work for no one and can therefore make your own schedule. Sometimes this is true. But this also means that when a client has a last-minute crisis, there's no one else to throw into the line.

    Fortunately, all yesterday's crises could be handled by phone or email and were largely confined to the morning. I was thus available for my assigned chauffeuring task.

    We are down to two cars these days, a van and a smaller four door Ford. Long Suffering Spouse insisted I take the van.

    "Just to pick up two kids?" I protested.

    "You'll see," she warned.

    Younger Daughter began texting about noon: When are you coming to get me?

    Younger Daughter admits that she texts a lot. She proudly displays her cell phone keyboard, in fact, to show that the writing on the buttons has been nearly worn off from overuse.

    My plan was to pick up Middle Son and Younger Daughter (their schools are only a mile apart) at the same time, then take them home and be positioned to pick up Youngest Son when he called looking for a ride. So I responded that I had not heard from Middle Son yet. Then I texted him.

    Curmudgeons shouldn't text. It is a frustrating exercise. My thumbs are too big and the keys are too small. But one does what one must to communicate.

    Middle Son didn't surface until nearly 2:00pm. This was fine by me, although Younger Daughter was becoming increasingly agitated. He explained, later, that he had a 1:00pm class and couldn't call until afterward. This doesn't explain, of course, why he couldn't tell either Younger Daughter or me of his intentions before 1:00pm. But we all know he was sleeping until the last possible moment, don't we?

    Finally, I was in the car, a half hour later than promised, with traffic heavier than I expected. But, eventually, I arrived at Middle Son's dorm.

    Middle Son is about 6'4" and has long arms. These were fully extended when I saw him, straining to hold onto a laundry basket into which was stuffed a burgeoning sack that would do Santa proud on Christmas Eve. Middle Son was straining to see over the top of his burden, and he barely made it to the van. And he lifts weights. The wisdom of Long Suffering Spouse's direction was suddenly evident, even to me.

    "It was nice of you," I told my son, "to volunteer to bring home laundry for every kid on your floor."

    "Ha ha, Pops," said Middle Son, making it abundantly clear that he was not amused at all. He apparently doesn't like doing laundry at school. Somehow he had a semester's worth of clothes to wear. "I've been planning this a long time," he said.

    "It looks like you've been planning it since the third grade," I told him.

    After this mountain of laundry, the sack produced by Younger Daughter was something of an anticlimax. It was merely humongous. Of course, she can't lift as much weight as her brother.

    And then she went back for more.

    "You didn't get kicked out of the dorm, did you?" I asked.

    "Da-ad," said Younger Daughter. "I only brought what I absolutely needed for the weekend. And my laundry."

    I can't imagine what they'll be bringing home at Christmas when they both have nearly a month off. It was a struggle to dig down through all their stuff to the cans I was bringing to my wife's school for recycling yesterday, but we did.

    Long Suffering Spouse made it home by about 9:00pm after her last conference. She was exhausted. I was already dozing. Middle Son and Younger Daughter were getting ready to go out....

    Tuesday, November 25, 2008

    Heads or Tails #66 -- anything you can do with your hands

    Today's Heads or Tails is to write about anything you can do with your hands. Huh? What do you think I type with -- my elbows?!?

    Actually, come to think of it, in my case, but for the miracle of spell check (right behind indoor plumbing on my list of the Greatest Inventions of Modern Man) that might not be a bad guess. But enough of this frivolity. Barb has made a serious assignment and I'm sure nearly all the Heads or Tailers will write about their skill at this craft or another.

    Well, not me, brother.

    If I was good with my hands, I might have found honest work. Instead, I became a lawyer.

    Allow me to illustrate with a couple of well-chosen anecdotes from my distant past... and one very recent anecdote....

    In our very progressive junior high, boys still took shop; girls took home ec. It was the late 60s. Things have changed, just a bit, since then.

    Not only was ours a progressive junior high, it was located in a pretty well off suburban school district. Shop class, then, meant access to all sorts of tools I would not see again until I got involved in product liability defense. We were to learn about simple tools first, and then the more involved ones. With these tools, after first demonstrating an understanding of basic safety techniques, the students were permitted -- were expected -- to make elaborate creations. Scale models of the Taj Majhal. End tables you'd be proud to display in your living room. I particularly liked the Mount Rushmore-like carving that one kid made. He substituted his face for Theodore Roosevelt's.

    At the beginning of the semester, my shop teacher was a vigorous man, with a full head of dark hair. By the end of the semester, he was withered and stooped, and nearly bald. There were a few remaining strands of white hair. Most of the rest had been pulled out. I, like my classmates, had started with simple tools -- the hammer and screwdriver. Unlike my classmates, I never progressed beyond them. I labored mightily and brought forth a three-shelf bookshelf, perhaps four feet tall. Half the forests of Oregon were consumed for this purpose. The shop teacher labeled me his "disaster." And rightly so.

    * * * * * *
    Flash forward now to my young married days -- over 20 years ago. Long Suffering Spouse and I were proud of our first home. There was work to be done, but as long as painting was all that was required, I held my own.

    But one day the sink began to leak. Examination confirmed that the J-pipe, underneath the sink, had sprung a leak. Long Suffering Spouse expected me to make the repairs.

    And, oh how I tried.

    I spent the weekend on the project. I changed out the pipe. I did the best I could do.

    But the pipe soon leaked worse than ever.

    Long Suffering Spouse called a plumber. He was not impressed, it turns out, by my use of approximately one ton of plumbing putty around the joints -- although, in my defense, I would say it probably took the water at least 48 hours to seep through it all.

    "Lady," he asked, "who did this?"

    "My husband."

    "Oh," said the plumber, trying to figure out a way to be diplomatic about it. "What does he do for a living?"

    "He's a lawyer."

    "I sure hope he's a better lawyer than he is a plumber, lady."

    * * * * * *
    We flash forward again, now, to just a week or so ago. Oldest Son now has his own apartment and, with the onset of winter, he's looking for ways to conserve heat. He had a hardware question.

    By chance, I answered the phone when he called.

    "Put Mom on the line," he insisted.

    Monday, November 24, 2008

    Monday musings as the snow falls

    Was your teenager a little more obnoxious than usual this weekend?

    Youngest Son was unusually full of himself this weekend to the point that, last night, I finally asked: "What's with you? Did you hear about the amendment to the Nebraska Safe-Haven Law or something?" His blush revealed all; he knows I can't take him to Omaha any more.

    * * * * * *
    Remember when gasoline prices were over $4 a gallon? (In this late June post I mentioned that prices were as high as $4.36 in my part of the Chicago area. They topped out around $4.60. Then, only a few weeks later, as this July 8 post documented, oil prices started to dip.

    Gasoline prices eventually followed. In this September 15 post I cheerfully recorded that the cheapest place in my area had dropped to $3.92... only to note that a day later the price jumped again to $4.09. On rumors of a hurricane.

    Well prices are down to around $2 a gallon now, not yet three months later. The station I use most often is at $2.05 this morning; the national average was at $2.07 last Monday, and averaging less in the Midwest. I heard on the radio stations in this area that have actually dropped below $2.

    Why were prices jacked up so high? Why have they come down so quickly? Don't tell me about the 'unseen hand of the market.' There were unseen hands here, alright, but not just market forces.

    * * * * * *
    I had just finished telling Long Suffering Spouse about all the work that has piled up on my desk. Believe it or not, while I've been blogging, I've also been getting new assignments and actually completing some of them. Others I've put off to the point where I can put them off no longer.

    This would, in most circumstances, be regarded as a good thing. But Long Suffering Spouse merely asked, "I suppose this means you're planning on going into work on Wednesday."

    "You betcha," I replied, too quickly. Long Suffering Spouse gave me the Death Glare. For her part, my wife can not shake the suspicion that my need to go to work increases according to the number of kids at home... and I'll be picking Younger Daughter and Middle Son up tomorrow afternoon. Them and their laundry. I hope there will be room for all of us. And Older Daughter and Oldest Son are bringing their respective Significant Others to dinner on Thanksgiving so Long Suffering Spouse is in the midst of a Panic Clean-Up.

    You may heap your opprobrium on me in the Comments. But I really do have a ton of work to do and I'm going to get to it promptly this morning.

    Friday, November 21, 2008


    Had you stopped by this page earlier today and seen that there were no new posts, you may have thought that I was still recovering from yesterday's magnum opus.

    Suffering, perhaps, from carpal tunnel syndrome or something.

    But no.

    I was as anxious to post new material as you were to read it. (OK, I was more anxious. Much, much more anxious.)

    But when I went to fire up the old computer... I could not get on line.

    I was disconnected.

    And I was alone. My two colleagues with whom I share space here at the Undisclosed Location are out today. Neither our tenant nor his computer-savvy paralegal were here either. We have a secretary who comes in once a week for a couple of hours; she'd already been here this week.

    So I was thrown back on my own resources. Which is different than being thrown on my back. In the first case there's no padding at all; in the latter case, there's far too much.

    I tried the usual things... restarting the program... trying IE instead of Firefox... restarting the computer. I got nothing for my efforts except a growing frustration. I tried the secretary's machine to see if, perhaps, it had access, which would at least confirm that the problem was in my own machine. But, alas, I lacked the password to get in.

    But I remembered that one can sometimes make the genie come out of the bottle again by turning off and then turning on the cable modem box. We seem to have two boxes performing a similar function. Sandwiched between them is another box into which all sorts of telephone-type wires are connected. To be safe, I turned them both off.

    Then I waited.

    I waited some more.

    Then I turned them back on... and kept waiting... really. Finally, I went back to my machine... and got what the little boy shot at. (Think about it; you'll get it.)

    One time, I remembered, the DSL provider shut off our service. Something about an overdue bill.... So I went in search of our suite checkbook and the paid bills. It looked like were up do date. Therefore I could call the DSL provider in a state of high dudgeon.

    My state of self-righteous indignation evaporated whilst I was languishing in phone menu hell. The always helpful, slightly apologetic-sounding machine voice cautioned me that, in the unlikely event I reached a living, breathing human, I would need my account number (which I had) and the answer to my security question (which completely stumped me). Eventually, though, the nice lady who finally took my call was willing to overlook my lack of an answer to the security question and tell me that she could ping my modem and it was working fine.

    This, even though we'd never properly been introduced!

    I tried turning off the modem box and the other box... again... and achieved no detectable improvement.

    Now, in the corner of our storage and coat closet sits an antiquated server cocooned in a web of cords and plugs and wires. Two of our attorneys here, the one who passed away and one of the ones who didn't, were networked at one time, and they were both networked with the machine in the secretarial station. I nudged the mouse and woke up the screen and saw this error message:
    The system has detected an IP address conflict with another system on the network. Network operations may be disrupted as a result. More details are available in the system event log. Consult your network administrator immediately to resolve the conflict.

    There were a couple of problems here. I wouldn't know where to begin looking for the system event log (as if the details would help me in some way) and, as far as I know, we don't have a network administrator. Today we had only me.

    I called Oldest Son. He's in the business; perhaps he could give me some pointers. In the meantime, I'd gotten hold of our part-time secretary. She gave me the password so I could try accessing the Internet from that machine. Her machine was still booting when Oldest Son called me back.

    I explained to him what I'd done. He said restarting the modem should resolve the IP address conflict. It just takes a little time sometimes. The secretary's machine finished booting. I tried launching IE from her machine. Oldest Son chanted some and told me he was sprinkling his desk with magic dust. I think I heard a rattle.

    The Internet came on.

    And it's on my machine too. Oldest Son he'd send a bill.

    And, to think, I meant this to be only a short post....