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....

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Quindlen column triggers another essay on gay "marriage," the Supreme Court and the prophet Ezekiel

Froth and levity are suspended again, but just for the morning.

It is perhaps because, personally, as a writer wannabe, words are important to me. Certainly, after nearly three decades in the law, I fervently believe that words are the bricks with which our civilization is built. I know that words may change in meaning over time. Bricks erode over time, too. But -- please God! -- bricks should be made of stronger stuff than Alka-Seltzer tablets, that fizz away as soon as water hits them. Words shouldn't change meanings to suit the PC fashions of the day. Fashions may change.

This is why I get so frustrated by the advocates of gay "marriage" and their twisting of that word.

The latest example is from Anna Qundlen. The link is to Newsweek, though I read her column this morning in the Chicago Sun-Times. Quindlen is a writer of no small talent and she, more than most, should understand the importance of words.

In her column, Quindlen tries to draw a parallel between opponents of gay "marriage" and Southern segregationists whose last-ditch stand against interracial marriage was overcome by the United States Supreme Court in Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1, 87 S.Ct. 1817 (1967). (Yes, kids, there was a time when Supreme Court opinions could be unanimous, or nearly so; in Loving, Justice Potter Stewart added only a two sentence, one citation concurrence.)

Most of the Court's opinion is taken up in a strict-scrutiny analysis of the Virginia miscegenation statute (miscegenation, Quindlen writes, is "a $10 word for bigotry") under the 14th Amendment. The Court summed up its analysis this way (388 U.S. at 11-12):
The clear and central purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment was to eliminate all official state sources of invidious racial discrimination in the States. [Citations omitted.]

There can be no question but that Virginia's miscegenation statutes rest solely upon distinctions drawn according to race. The statutes proscribe generally accepted conduct if engaged in by members of different races. Over the years, this Court has consistently repudiated ‘(d)istinctions between citizens solely because of their ancestry’ as being ‘odious to a free people whose institutions are founded upon the doctrine of equality.’ [Citation.] At the very least, the Equal Protection Clause demands that racial classifications, especially suspect in criminal statutes, be subjected to the ‘most rigid scrutiny,’ Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214, 216, 65 S.Ct. 193, 194, 89 L.Ed. 194 (1944), and, if they are ever to be upheld, they must be shown to be necessary to the accomplishment of some permissible state objective, independent of the racial discrimination which it was the object of the Fourteenth Amendment to eliminate. * * *

There is patently no legitimate overriding purpose independent of invidious racial discrimination which justifies this classification. The fact that Virginia prohibits only interracial marriages involving white persons demonstrates that the racial classifications must stand on their own justification, as measures designed to maintain White Supremacy. We have consistently denied the constitutionality of measures which restrict the rights of citizens on account of race. There can be no doubt that restricting the freedom to marry solely because of racial classifications violates the central meaning of the Equal Protection Clause.
But the court also offered a due process basis on which to invalidate the Virginia statute. Quindlen's column quotes a passage from this portion of opinion (388 U.S. at 12), "Marriage is one of the ‘basic civil rights of man,’ fundamental to our very existence and survival." But, as a wordsmith of Ms. Quindlen's talent should surely understand, this passage does not aid her argument that gay "marriage" should be deemed a fundamental right.

There is a cultural assumption implicit in the sentence that Quindlen quotes that marriage exists for the procreation of children. It is from marriages that new people come into "existence." Now some may scoff at this, and note that many people come into this world through the efforts of parents who have neglected to marry. At one time, however, this was generally recognized as a severe handicap: Being born 'on the wrong side of the blanket' was an impediment to many careers unless, of course, you were the bastard son of an English King in the Middle Ages... and for at least a time thereafter... in which case you'd be a Duke. (Of course, if that same son had been born as the product of a marriage, he'd be at least a Prince. So even there... some penalty.) Even today, in general, children of unmarried parents fare worse in school and then in life than children from stable, intact nuclear families. It's just that we're no longer supposed to notice these things. I don't know why.

And, similarly, marriage is fundamental to our "survival," because it is from marriages that new generations are supposed to be spawned.

Ms. Quindlen would be among the scoffers, I guess, at what she may consider an antiquated notion, but this is the only fair reading of the sentence that she quotes. This conclusion is reinforced by examining the cases that the Loving court cites for this proposition, about the fundamental nature of the right to marry.

The first case cited by the Loving court here, Skinner v. State of Okl. ex rel. Williamson, 316 U.S. 535, 62 S.Ct. 1110 (1942), is of particular import. Skinner was a unanimous opinion written by Justice William O. Douglas invalidating an Oklahoma statute that called for the sterilization of habitual criminals. Said Justice Douglas in that case (316 U.S. at 541):
We are dealing here with legislation which involves one of the basic civil rights of man. Marriage and procreation are fundamental to the very existence and survival of the race. The power to sterilize, if exercised, may have subtle, farreaching and devastating effects. In evil or reckless hands it can cause races or types which are inimical to the dominant group to wither and disappear. There is no redemption for the individual whom the law touches. Any experiment which the State conducts is to his irreparable injury. He is forever deprived of a basic liberty.
The sentence, "Marriage and procreation are fundamental to the very existence and survival of the race," can not be transmogrified into an endorsement of gay "marriage." It necessarily reflects a cultural understanding that the two terms are, in fact, linked.

The other case cited by the Loving court for marriage as a fundamental right was Maynard v. Hill, 125 U.S. 190, 8 S.Ct. 723 (1888). Actually, this was a poor choice for a citation to show that marriage is a fundamental right, inasmuch as the case concerned a suit by the children of an abandoned father to enforce, after his death, rights to a portion of property he homesteaded in the Washington Territory after he abandoned the family. The Supreme Court found that the children had no claim because their late mother had no claim, their father having divorced their mother pursuant to an act of the Oregon territorial legislature before the homestead rights were fully vested.

You may find it remarkable that there was a time in this country when marriage was considered so important and fundamental a matter of public policy that its dissolution was impossible without special legislation. Courts were only gradually brought into the divorce business and Maynard may yet, apparently, be cited for the proposition that a legislature retains the power to end a marriage unless that power has been expressly removed from it.

That no notice of Mr. Maynard's intent to divorce his wife was ever given the poor woman, left with her two children and without support in Ohio, was not enough to invalidate the divorce. Said the Court (125 U.S. at 209-210):
The facts mentioned as to the neglect of the husband to send to his wife, whom he left in Ohio, any means for her support or that of her children, in disregard of his promise, shows conduct meriting the strongest reprobation, and, if the facts stated had been brought to the attention of congress, that body might and probably would have annulled the act. Be that as it may, the loose morals and shameless conduct of the husband can have no bearing upon the question of the existence or absence of power in the assembly to pass the act.
But we move further, now, into the realm of history, which I enjoy, and farther away from the PC prose of Ms. Quindlen, which so riled me this morning. To return:

When two men decide to set up housekeeping, forsaking all others, to death do them part, they have not been denied marriage. They each could have chosen to marry a woman; they both have decided to do something else. I will not argue that the relationship between these two hypothetical men is more or less precious to them than a marriage. But it is not a marriage. It can not be a marriage.

Now, you may say that this relationship between our two hypothetical men is morally wrong. You say you cannot abide such behavior because it is repugnant to God's law. I am not as certain as some that I know God's will. I do know that not every practice prohibited by the Old Testament is still prohibited and that not every practice countenanced by the Old Testament is still permitted. But for those of you who know better, I would nevertheless suggest you review Ezekiel, ch. 33, verses 7-9:
You, son of man, I have appointed watchman for the house of Israel; when you hear me say anything, you shall warn them for me. If I tell the wicked man that he shall surely die, and you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked man from his way, he (the wicked man) shall die for his guilt, but I will hold you responsible for his death. But if you warn the wicked man, trying to turn him from his way, and he refuses to turn from his way, he shall die for his guilt, but you shall save yourself.
So speak out, if you must, but do so civilly, please. After all, the burden is on the hearer to conform to God's law; you are not required to be persuasive or even shrill in order to be saved.

In the meantime, I think it is unnecessarily cruel to deny our hypothetical men the comfort of each other in their final illnesses or the opportunity of one to obtain insurance for the other. In short, I would favor permitting civil unions that give some or even all of the legal benefits of marriage to gay couples. But it would still not be marriage. Not because I'm a "hater." But because their relationship, however special, is not a marriage. I know this, too, is not enough for some. But it is as far as we should go.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Speaking ill of the living: business development in the modern age

If you can't say anything good about someone,
sit right here by me.

-- Alice Roosevelt Longworth

"How did the hearing go last Thursday?" My inquiry was more than merely casual. My colleague has a new client, a new client that may someday soon give her a lot of business -- more business than she alone could handle. Since she and I have successfully collaborated on other matters, we have discussed the possibility that I might assist in this business as well. Thus, although my inquiry was much more than casual, I tried my best to sound nonchalant. I don't think I actually squeaked when I asked, but my voice probably cracked.

"We won!" my colleague told me. The learned trial judge (judges are always "learned" when they rule your way) agreed that there was not only a gap in the proof submitted by plaintiff's counsel, there was a "yawning chasm." And the best part, my colleague enthused, was that, of four defense firms in the case, she was the only one to advance this interpretation of the relevant authorities.

"How did the clients take the news?" I asked.

"They were there," she said, "watching everything. And they really are looking for additional counsel. Afterward, at lunch, one of them asked me about Sally Simpson (not her real name -- obviously). I've known her for years. We worked together for awhile."

"What did you say?"

"I said she was a competent attorney, but not imaginative. I didn't want to build her up -- not when we're hoping to land this business for us."

"But that's exactly what you did do!" I cried. "You as much as told the client that Simpson was the living reincarnation of Learned Hand. You really have been out of the business of pitching business for awhile, haven't you?"

You see, claims people and corporate counsel are always looking for new defense lawyers. Not to hire them, necessarily, not right away -- but they want them tagged and tracked, like wolves or sharks, so they can be found when required. They will solicit opinions about prospective attorneys from current attorneys. It is a foolish attorney indeed who says anything positive about any possible competitor, with one possible exception, though it must be played just right.

To understand the ordinary response to such an inquiry, one must quickly review the law of defamation. In Illinois, for example, "four categories of statements are considered actionable per se and give rise to a cause of action for defamation without a showing of special damages. They are: (1) words that impute the commission of a criminal offense; (2) words that impute infection with a loathsome communicable disease; (3) words that impute an inability to perform or want of integrity in the discharge of duties of office or employment; or (4) words that prejudice a party, or impute lack of ability, in his or her trade, profession or business." Additionally, these "common law categories" can be enlarged by statute. For example, in Illinois, under §1 of our Slander and Libel Act, 740 ILCS 145/1, "false accusations of fornication and adultery are actionable as a matter of law." Bryson v. News America Publications, Inc., 174 Ill.2d 77, 672 N.E.2d 1207, 1214-1215 (1996).

When called upon to voice an opinion about a probable competitor, the business-savvy attorney will try and invoke as many of these categories as possible. The really smooth ones will try and leave room for "innocent construction." Thus, when a VP of claims or risk management asks one his attorneys about Harry Niblick (totally made up name -- please!), the smooth defense attorney responds, "Doesn't he look good? I guess the rumors weren't true."
VP: "What rumors?"

Defense counsel (DC): "Well, if you haven't heard them, I'm not going to say anything."

VP: "No, tell me."

DC: "No. It's bad enough to bear the burden of syphilis without having gossips go around talking about it. Especially after somebody has beaten a crystal-meth addiction."

VP: "Are you saying that Niblick's a syphilitic crystal-meth addict?"

DC: "Not me! And, besides, everybody drinks a little."

VP: "You're saying he's a drunk on top of all this?"

DC: "Not me. Still, excessive drinking has been found to be an explanation for embezzlement. And people can be forgiven for that."

VP: "What! He embezzles, too?"

DC: "I don't know anything about it. But his partners didn't throw him out. And I'm not one to repeat rumors. Now, shall we order dessert?"
Of course, most attorneys aren't this smooth. They won't bother leaving room for "innocent construction." There's little fear of getting sued because everyone says the same kind of things: "Oh him? He's really remarkable. Back to work again so soon after the lobotomy. Hasn't seemed to affect his intelligence, not that he had any to begin with, but I hear it's calmed his more violent urges. He hasn't beaten his wife for a couple of weeks, or so I'm told. I think he's nicer, anyway, since he started heroin."

Just once, I'd like to be in the room when two business-providers compare notes re: what Attorney Smith said about Attorney Jones and vice versa. (Not that Smith and Jones will invariably hate each other. They may work effectively together; they may even socialize. But they will stab each other in the back in a nanosecond if it means getting or losing a new file. It's not personal, it's business.)

The fact of the matter is that with so many lawyers bad-mouthing their peers to potential clients, the clients have developed a kind of 'filter' or translation system.

When the lawyer says that a colleague is "riddled with clap and supposedly put himself through school selling pornography," the client hears only "possible competitor."

But, if a lawyer says something neutral or even arguably positive, as my colleague recently did, the client may hear "worth investigating further."

There are a couple of times when a lawyer can say something positive about a colleague to a person who controls business.

You can always say something positive about the plaintiff's attorney to a person handing out defense assignments. Indeed, the plaintiff's attorney is someone you should build up, preferably to gargantuan proportions. Not, you understand, that you say anything nice. No, you don't care if your client thinks that the plaintiff's attorney's hobby is kicking dogs for distance -- in fact that's something to try and work into the conversation -- but you also want your client to believe that your opponent is achingly brilliant and holds all the judges in the county in his pocket. After all, there is always the possibility that you might have to settle or you might even lose this piece of hard-won business... and you'd never want the client to wonder whether he or she might have done better with someone else.

You can say something nice about a potential competitor on very rare occasions: If the person in question is visibly older, you may say that you respect her as a mentor, that she's been like a mother hen to so many, that she's been an inspiration for you. In such a case, if you're terribly clever, the client will hear "too expensive."

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Heads or Tails #65 -- sharing an Autumn memory

Participants in today's Heads or Tails are required to share a favorite autumnal memory. Well, Barb, for a Chicago boy like me, that's kind of tough, seeing as how Autumn in Chicago, like our abbreviated Spring, typically lasts only two or three days, and those few days are not necessarily consecutive.

The calendar tells us it's still Autumn, but the snow flurries and 20 degree temperatures suggest something else entirely. Not that we can really complain: Here on the west side of Lake Michigan, we seldom get lake-effect snow. Northwest Indiana and parts of Michigan above were clobbered by several inches of snow yesterday and, presumably, this morning as well.

I say presumably because, as I was driving Youngest Son to school this morning, I could not help but see the massive wall of snow clouds out over the lake.

Yes, I'm pretty far inland, but there are arterial streets in Chicago that point straight downtown. When the air is clear, like it was this morning, you can see the Downtown skyline from many miles away. This morning that skyline was framed against sheer, solid cliffs of gray-blue. The tops of these cliffs were table-top flat, mesas in the sky. The sky above the wall was golden, a reminder that the Sun was above the horizon. But it wasn't above those clouds. And this is not our assignment.

This is:

We were 20-somethings, many of us married, most of the rest of us at least paired off, but all of us as yet unencumbered by children. On Saturday night, therefore, we could go out.

And this was no ordinary Saturday night. It was the Long Night, the night when the clocks 'fall back,' making the night an extra hour longer. We could cavort well into the wee small hours and still have hopes, thanks to that blessed 25 hour day, of making it to church in the morning and doing all the other things that even 20-somethings are obliged to do on weekends.

Ah, youth.

This particular Long Night was one of those rare nights in a Chicago Autumn where the air was clear and dry and the temperature was still warm. Oh, it wasn't beach weather, but we could walk down the street from place to place with only light jackets and we could stand in one place for minutes at a time without shivering. This was to prove important on this Long Night.

On this particular Long Night, we 20-somethings were assembled in the vicinity of the college we'd all attended. Several of us still lived in the neighborhood. We had dinner at one place and drinks at another and someone thought we should take a walk and revel in the night air. We walked into the campus.

On the north side of the street there was a men's dorm. This was a low-rise affair, three stories tall. I think one of the women in our party noticed it first.

One of the second floor rooms was positioned too close to a street light to afford the true privacy that the room's two occupants no doubt earnestly desired. You see, one of those occupants, at that moment, was clearly female. You may guess for yourselves precisely what we all saw.

We all knew better than to stand there gawking. But, somehow, simply walking away seemed... insufficient. Someone began to sing. We all stood under the window and joined in:
Tonight you're mine
You give your love
So sweetly.
Tonight the li-i-ight
Of love is in your eyes,
But will you love me tomorrow?

Is this a lasting
Or just a moment's
Can I belie-e-eve
The magic of your sighs?
Will you still love me tomorrow?

Tonight with words
You say that I'm the only one,
But will my heart
Be broken
When the night
(When the night..)
Meets the mor-
(Meets the mor..)
-Ning sun.

I'd like to know
That your love
Is love I can
Be sure of.
So tell me no-o-w
And I won't ask again.
Will you still love me tomorrow?
Will you still love me tomorrow?
(With all necessary apologies and credits to Gerry Goffin and Carole King.)

Not everyone blogs, you know....

Real Life Adventures comic by Gary Wise and Lance Aldrich. I saw this in this morning's Chicago Sun-Times, but this image was obtained from

More froth and levity.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Froth and levity return today to Second Effort

From the webcomic Zoitz, Stumbled upon at this location. (As always, click to enlarge.)

Older Daughter graduated from college with a degree in English. She's now in nursing school. But guess where she's working in the meantime?

And there's this comic from XKCD, also Stumbled upon:

This has always bugged me, too. But you do know why this is, don't you?

Finally, we come to yesterday's episode of Pearls Before Swine. It appears that my anonymity is slipping. Either that or the author, Mr. Stephan Pastis, has, by sheer coincidence, figured out pretty much exactly what I look like:

In Chicago, Pearls Before Swine appears in the Sun-Times.

Friday, November 14, 2008

A civil rights struggle that is either almost over or which hasn't yet started, depending on your point of view

Third in a series of essays that began with this post on Wednesday.

Fergus M. Bordewich wrote about Lincoln-Douglas Debates in the September 2008 issue of the Smithsonian magazine. (These were debates between Mr. Lincoln and an earlier Democratic presidential candidate from the City of Chicago -- but these debates occurred in 1858, not in 1860, when they were running against each other for the U.S. Senate. Douglas won the contest in 1858.)

The debate then was over slavery and particularly over the expansion of slavery. Douglas and the Democrats were focused on the legality of the practice. Lincoln conceded the legality of slavery, but questioned its morality. Bordewich supplies this excerpt from the debate at Knox College, in Galesburg, to illustrate the point:
"I suppose that the real difference between Judge Douglas and his friends, and the Republicans on the contrary, is that the Judge is not in favor of making any difference between slavery and liberty...and consequently every sentiment he utters discards the idea that there is any wrong in slavery," Lincoln said. "Judge Douglas declares that if any community want slavery, they have a right to have it. He can say that, logically, if he says that there is no wrong in slavery; but if you admit that there is a wrong in it, he cannot logically say that anybody has a right to do wrong."
He quotes Lincoln from the last of the debates, at Alton:
"It should be treated as a wrong, and one of the methods of...treating it as a wrong is to make provision that it shall grow no larger," he declared, his high-pitched voice growing shrill.
Bordewich quotes Allen C. Guelzo, author of Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates That Defined America:
"For Lincoln, slavery is the problem.... For Douglas, it's the controversy about slavery that's the problem. Douglas' goal is not to put an end to slavery, but to put an end to the controversy."
Reading the article, it struck me that there is a great similarity between the arguments made then by the proponents of slavery -- legalistic, based on what passed for science in those days, sometimes couched in apologies (I don't think I'd ever own one, but....) -- and the arguments made now by the proponents of legalized abortion.

In the present day, of course, the battle between 'pro-choicers' and 'pro-lifers' is not sectional, although more of the former are found in cities and more of the latter seem to be of rural origin. The analogy is not perfect.

No historical analogy is.

But, as with slavery, and particularly the territorial expansion of slavery (Dred Scott), the current extent of abortion rights is contingent on the survival of a dubious Supreme Court precedent.

Even lawyers who strongly support abortion rights do not hold up Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973), as a good example of constitutional analysis. And the 'scientific' underpinnings of Roe are increasingly suspect. Years ago Sandra Day O'Connor famously observed that Roe v. Wade was on a collision course with itself. City of Akron v. Akron Center for Reproductive Health, Inc., 462 U.S. 416, 458 (1983) (O'Connor, J., dissenting). That collision is underway every day in neonatal intensive care centers around the country. Democratic litmus testers in Congress haven't demanded fealty to the forced reasoning of Roe v. Wade but to the important principle of stare decisis.

Every rational person will have to admit that at some point in its gestation, a fetus becomes, for nearly all intents and purposes, a human person. At some point, even before its time, that fetus can be torn from its mother's womb and survive independently. At ever earlier points, that fetus can be born and look forward to survival and to eventual robust health, the same as any full-term baby, albeit with the miraculous help of modern medicine.

At even an early stage, does not a "fetus" have eyes? Has it not hands and organs? If it may not be fed with the same food, would it not still be hurt with the same weapons as any other person? Is it not subject to the same diseases? If you prick it, will it not bleed? If you poison it, will it not die?

But -- because in a lawsuit there must be winners and losers -- none of this could be taken into account when Roe was decided. Oh, there was discussion in the original opinion about the increasing interests of the State in the survival of the unborn child, an interest growing each trimester until "viability," that is, when "the fetus... presumably has the capability of meaningful life outside the mother's womb." But the court concluded, after viability, even though the State has a valid interest "in the potentiality of human life," the State's right to "regulate, and even proscribe, abortion" is not unlimited. After "viability," the State can regulate or even ban abortion except "where it is necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for the preservation of the life or health of the mother." (410 U.S. at 164-165.) This is the proverbial exception which swallows the rule. It provides the 'justification' for late term and even 'partial birth' abortions.

The interests of the unborn were swept aside. "[T]he unborn have never been recognized in the law as persons in the whole sense." 410 U.S. at 162. Even though that sentence recognizes that the law has traditionally conferred some rights on unborn persons, at least unborn persons at particular stages of gestation ("quickening"), and even though the preceding sentences of the opinion spelled out some of those instances in which rights had been conferred on the unborn, the Roe court saw no need to strike any balance between the rights of the mother and her unborn child. There was only a contest between a woman and the State.

Roe provides the perfect illustration of why courts should not be the fora where "rights" are first recognized. Lawsuits produce winners and losers. In Roe women allegedly "won" something. I would suggest that the real winners in Roe were irresponsible males who could avoid the consequences of their irresponsibility by a simple, legalized "procedure." The Roe court wanted to cast the State as the "loser." But there's no doubt who the real losers were. The losers were the unborn.

If Roe were overturned tomorrow, the elected representatives of the people in the various states could then consider their constituents' wishes and views. A poisonous, divisive boil would be lanced on the body politic. Abortion virtually on demand would remain legal in New York, California, Oregon, probably Vermont, maybe Massachusetts -- and it would quickly be made virtually illegal in several states -- and variously limited in all of the others as people, through their representatives, struggle to figure out the moral question of when human life begins and when human rights must be protected.

Why would that be so terrible?

Instead, if President-Elect Obama keeps his promise, and if the newly enlarged Democratic majorities perform as expected, Congress will pass, and Obama will sign the Freedom of Choice Act. Like Judge Douglas and that earlier generation of Democrats, the proponents of this bill are seeking an end to the controversy, ignoring the question of whether the practice is ever (or is sometimes) moral. But, though it may well pass, the Freedom of Choice Act will not fulfill this goal. We will intead have a new 'Fugitive Slave Law' to go along with our generation's 'Dred Scott.' One "civil rights" struggle will be over... and a new one will begin.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

On maple trees, vanilla ice cream and gay "marriage"

This continues a series begun here yesterday, with this post.

There is a maple tree in my backyard. No matter how loudly I demand that you call it an oak tree, it will not produce acorns.

If I secure a court decree renaming that maple tree a money tree, its leaves, now littering my backyard, will still not be legal tender.

* * * * * * *
Imagine a world in which all citizens have a right to government-issued vanilla ice cream. In fact, governments on this hypothetical world have come and gone, and nations have risen and fallen, but all leaders at all times, religious and civil both, have encouraged the consumption of vanilla ice cream. Families are believed to be stronger when united by a shared love of vanilla ice cream. "Vanillage" is the word that has long been used to describe this right.

Of course, on this hypothetical world, as in our own, there are some who do not like vanilla ice cream. Some, whether they like vanilla ice cream or not, eschew it, in the service of a Higher Power. Others simply can not abide the stuff. It is in their nature to prefer chocolate ice cream instead.

They demand that "vanillage" be redefined to include the right to chocolate ice cream as well as vanilla. But that, say the shocked majority of vanilla ice cream-loving citizens of our hypothetical world, will debase vanillage. It will change it forever. And what, they ask, of those who prefer strawberry or *shudder* Rocky Road? Must such persons also be accommodated?

The chocolate activists go to court to press their case. They say that their rights have been denied because they are not provided with chocolate ice cream according to their own natural desires. The majority responds that the chocolate lovers have been denied nothing. They have the same rights to vanilla ice cream as anyone else; it is the chocolate lovers who refuse the benefits of that institution and demand something different. How should the wise judges in our hypothetical world rule?

* * * * * * *
It is a fact that the meaning of a word sometimes changes over time. "Fie," I was told in my high school English class, was once the vilest of swear words. Through overuse, its power was lost, and it became a mild oath, suitable for Shakespeare. Later still, it became quaint and utterly useless. (Persons fond of overusing a slightly longer f-word should find this a cautionary tale.)

"Gay" was a word that once -- even in my lifetime -- meant merely "happy." Gay was also a proper name, given to men and women both. There was a girl in my high school class named Gay. Perhaps it was an old family name, going back generations. But I doubt she's passed it on to her son or daughter. Even 35 years ago, the meaning of that word was beginning to change.

I can accept the evolution of language. The publishers of dictionaries depend upon it. But "marriage" is a legal bond between a man and a woman and it always has been. The word has not been "hijacked" by the Religious Right, as gay activists charge. It is gay activists who are attempting to hijack the word "marriage." Over time the meaning of that word may change. But it has not changed yet. A court may decree that the tree in my backyard is an oak, or even a money tree, but it will still be a maple tree. And people will lose respect for any court that pretends otherwise.

People will lose respect for our courts, also, if courts insist on redefining relationships that aren't marriages as marriages. Gay people are not denied the right to "marry." They do not wish to marry because they do not wish to live with and start families with persons of a different gender. They have this right, but they reject it. But that does not mean that chocolate ice cream and vanilla ice cream are the same or that the State must pretend that they are.

Persons wishing to change this state of affairs should not look to the courts, but to their neighbors instead. I would say that, at least in my limited experience, most people favor legal recognition of gay partnerships -- so a gay man can be at his partner's bedside in the hospital, or so that one partner may provide insurance benefits for the other. This is insufficient for some activists. But people will bristle at -- and will resist -- attempts to change the definition of marriage by judicial fiat.

Activists hoping to advance a gay rights agenda would be well advised to take their crusade out of the courts. If this is a civil rights struggle, it is one that does not belong in, and will not be helped even by "successes" in, the courts.

* * * * * * *
Tomorrow, something really controversial.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Courts are no place to win modern battles for civil rights

Watching the election coverage last week, as the giddy anchorpeople were trying to illustrate how far America had come by electing an African-American President, I was struck by how often the networks used images of famous marches to illustrate the civil rights struggles of the early 1960s. Of course, footage of policemen swinging billyclubs and demonstrators getting driven back with firehoses and tear gas makes for far more compelling television than watching lawyers stare at typewriters (or legal pads or computer screens) trying to pick out just the right persuasive word.

But that's not the only reason the marches were used to illustrate the struggle.

It occurs to me that it was the marches -- and the responses to those marches -- that helped as much as anything to change minds -- to wake up minds -- around the country. Eventually, these marches created a political climate in which a majority of congressmen could vote for civil rights and voting rights laws.

Gahndi was a lawyer, too, you know. But he's not remembered for arguing cases. I know contemporaries thought of him as a hypocrite because his "non-violent" demonstrations deliberately courted violent over-reactions from Indian colonial authorities. Dr. King and many of the other leaders of the civil rights struggle in this country adapted similar tactics, and were likewise labeled hypocrites, largely because of the responses that their tactics provoked... as the picture on top of this post illustrates.

Today, however, in America, people are too enamored of the power of courts. For example, nearly every week there's another story in the paper about some poor woman who died because judicial orders of protection proved to be no defense against guns wielded by crazed ex-husbands or boyfriends. I get calls all the time from people with entirely unrealistic expectations about what a court can do.

Part of this over-reliance on courts is caused by cowardly legislators who too often have looked to the courts to make tough decisions on questions that are, or should be, entirely political in nature. But it really doesn't matter who's to blame.

The point is that lawyers can file suits in court to resolve controversies between or among particular adversaries. We can settle tort cases because we know the range of likely outcomes. But when courts get bogged down in political questions (we have to disguise them as 'constitutional' questions in order to deal with them, legally) settlement and compromise can't happen because we don't know the likely outcome. The suit is filed to determine who will win and who must lose.

Lawsuits are a good and useful tool for establishing a more just society, but it's really all we lawyers have to offer. Carpenters need more than hammers, plumbers need more than wrenches. Political questions -- and that's what civil rights struggles are -- must be aired in public. When there are "winners" and "losers" in these battles, we all lose. What we really need to do is build consensus. And consensus must be forged outside the courtroom.

In the next couple of days I want to talk about two civil rights struggles that I think are poisoning public discourse in this country -- largely because these "rights" are judicial creations and not the product of hard-won consensus. I am on the unpopular side, probably, in both cases, and you may want to take a firehose to me when I'm done. Or maybe sooner.

Readers looking for the usual froth and levity will have to wait until next week. Maybe this is a post-election hangover, but I feel I have a piece to speak and I'm going to try and do so here. Civilly.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Heads or Tails #64 -- "wear" or "where"

For a moment there I was worried. With today's Heads or Tails theme, our chief designer, Barb, seemed to be soliciting fashion tips (as in 'what to wear'). Asking the Curmudgeon to give fashion tips is like asking for a beer at the Woman's Christian Temperance Union headquarters: You can ask all you like, but you'll come away empty every time.

Fortunately, Barb has offered an alternative today. We may also discourse on 'where.' As in, I suppose, a location.

There is a location that I'm thinking of on this Armistice Day. Armistice Day was the name by which the 11th day of the 11th month was known in 1918 and for a time thereafter. It commemorated the end of the Great War. That conflict was also known as War to End All Wars....

...until World War II came along.

Today Armistice Day is known, in America, as Veterans Day, in honor of all veterans, in all wars, including our present ones.

But today, on the 90th anniversary of the day the guns fell silent on the Western Front, I am thinking of a place in Europe... and a poem by a Canadian doctor and soldier:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
--- Lt.-Col. John McCrae

Monday, November 10, 2008

More on the glamorous life of the self-employed

You know, I'd feel better about my taxes being used to bail out businesses that were "too big to fail" if my own weren't too small to succeed.

And I sure am glad that our beloved leaders in Congress now think a healthy auto industry is vital to the recovery of the American economy. I'd have liked to been at the meeting where they worked it all out... I'd really have liked to seen the parking lot to in order to count the BMW's and Mercedes and Toyota Priuses and Lexuses (the Japanese apparently don't encourage "Lexi" as a plural) parked there.

In fairness, it must be noted that Mr. Obama owns a Ford Escape Hybrid SUV. I would be curious to know whether the family owns any other cars: Mr. Obama would hardly be the first politician, Republican or Democrat, to own an American car for campaign appearances... and a foreign car for everything else. Still, the fact that he owns an American car is an important symbol. (I doubt many of his Hyde Park neighbors own an American car.)

Here's an idea for a new slogan: Buy American... or bye-bye America.

I'm not talking about protectionism. I'm talking about American consumers waking up to what's best for them in the long run.

I had plenty of time to think all of these things through this morning as I set up for the new week. I was in on Saturday for awhile and decided to be "green" and turn the computer off when I left. That meant 15 or 20 minutes waiting for it to boot this morning.... When it finally did boot, the printer announced that it was out of black ink. That shot another 10 minutes.

Time required to put the ink cartridge in the printer: Two seconds. The other 9:58 was taken up in trying to break through the heavy, oversized plastic and cardboard tomb in which the print cartridge is encased. No wonder these things cost $30 or more a pop: The packaging alone must cost $25.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

A little joke about the ups and downs of life

We all get jokes and chain letters and solicitations from the widows of Nigerian generals in our email and I seldom trouble you with any of mine. I realize, by the time I see them, you've probably seen them too. And, of course, most of the stuff we get wasn't worth sharing in the first place. But I've had two in the last week or so that were worth sharing and, in this post, and the one below, I'll do just that.

First up, a redneck joke:

A redneck family from the hills of Arkansas was visiting the city and they went to a shopping mall for the first time in their lives.

The father and son were strolling around while the wife shopped.

They were amazed by almost everything they saw, but especially by two shiny, silver walls that could move apart and then slide back together again.

The boy asked, "Paw, what's 'at?"

The father (never having seen an elevator) responded, "Son, I dunno. I ain't never seen anything like that in my entire life, I ain't got no idee'r what it is."

While the boy and his father were watching with amazement, a fat old lady in a wheel chair rolled up to the moving walls and pressed a button. The walls opened and the lady rolled between them into a small room. The walls closed and the boy and his father watched the small circular number above the walls light up sequentially.

They continued to watch until it reached the last number and then the numbers began to light in the reverse order.

Then the walls opened up again and a gorgeous, voluptuous 24 year-old blonde woman stepped out.

The father, not taking his eyes off the young woman, said quietly to his son, "Boy... go gitcha momma."

From the mailbag, part two -- the 10 year old blues

Caution, this one is rated PG-13.

A father asked his 10-year old son if he knew about the birds and the bees.

"I don't want to know," cried the boy, bursting into tears.

Confused by this reaction, the father asked the boy what was wrong.

In between his sobs, the boy answered, "Dad, when I was six you gave me the 'there is no Easter Bunny speech.' When I was seven you told me there was no Tooth Fairy. When I was eight, you told me there is no Santa Claus." Fighting for control, the boy blurted out, "Look, Dad, if you're gonna tell me now that grownups really don't get laid, I'll have nothing left to live for."

Friday, November 07, 2008

Math teachers need tutors? No wonder our kids' math education doesn't add up

Yes, I'm off on a math tirade again, but at least I've given you a cartoon to look at (Stumbled upon here).

Of course, the cartoon is funnier if you remember, even dimly, your lessons about imaginary numbers and irrational numbers.

Some primary school teachers in the Washington, D.C. area apparently had so much trouble remembering much simpler concepts (like whether 43 is greater than 23) that their school districts have hired math tutors to tutor the teachers.

So writes Michael Alison Chandler in Thursday's Washington Post. Specifically, Chandler writes:
Arlington County and Alexandria have at least one part-time math specialist in every elementary school, and Fairfax County has more than 70 in elementary or middle schools. Montgomery County has "math content coaches" in about 50 elementary schools; Prince George's County has 20 coaches; and traditional D.C. public schools have 50. Many math specialists in the area work in high-poverty schools and are funded by the federal government. Other positions are paid for locally and subject to budget pressures.
Long Suffering Spouse heard a story along these lines this morning over the radio here in Chicago. I don't know if the report she heard was inspired by Chandler's article or involved schools in the Chicago area. I couldn't find a story online concerning this topic other than Chandler's.

But the issue Chandler writes about is certainly not confined to the Washington, D.C. area: College students training to be teachers have very few math requirements.

Look: If our kids' grammar school teachers don't know basic algebra (and in some cases, apparently, don't grasp even the most basic math concepts) is it any wonder that our grammar school graduates can't place out of high school Algebra I?

I know I sound like the hysterical yuppie parent who frets his kid won't get into Harvard because he didn't secure a "place" in the "right" pre-school.

But this is for real: To get as far as Calculus in high school, kids must either place out of Algebra I as freshmen or be allowed to double up later on, as I was allowed to double up with Geometry and Algebra II as a high school sophomore, more than 35 years ago. It is the vanishingly small number of kids who take high school Calculus from which our dwindling pool of American-born engineers is drawn.

This is the future of our country at stake. We must demand more rigorous math standards in our schools.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Dona Nobis Pacem

It's time once again for Queen Mimi's Blogblast for Peace.
(Yes, you too may still get your own Peace Globe.
Simply follow the link.)

Lord knows, this world could use some peace. But... there's a catch. A hitch. A wrinkle. An obstacle.

For any two people or any two nations to live in peace, both people and both nations must want peace.

Winston Churchill was reviled by many throughout most of his life as a warmonger. The Victorian junior cavalry officer, trained in terms of flashing sabers and galloping horses, was never quite extinguished in his persona. He spoke the language of war. But he could have prevented, and desperately tried to prevent, World War II.

He was frustrated at every turn by Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain and the other appeasers.

These were honest men, at the start, so badly traumatized by the carnage of World War I that they sought peace at all costs and at any costs... and ultimately made war inevitable. They could not believe that any other responsible world leader would want war. Thus, they could not accept that Hitler was openly courting a renewal of the World War. They would not believe the evidence of Mein Kampf. They made excuses for Hitler's repudiation of the Versailles and Locarno Treaties, his reoccupation of the Rhineland, his annexation of Austria, his dismemberment of Czechoslovakia. In the end, the Men of Munich were as irrational as Hitler. They were not irrational in the same way. Hitler had insane visions of a Teutonic world empire. He seems to have held these notions until the Soviets were well within Berlin and he finally took his own life. The Men of Munich clung as desperately to the idea of peace, shedding their honesty and their honor in a futile quest.

But it didn't have to happen. Churchill was there all along, urging collective action through the League of Nations and, thereafter, when the League was exposed as a paper tiger, by other diplomatic means (yes, including British rearmament to counter the growing threat on the Continent). It is a fact of history that the Rhineland reoccupation could have been stopped with only a token show of force. Hitler would have been gone in 1936. The price of peace rose with each outrage thereafter. We know now the price England especially paid for waiting until 1939, when Hitler invaded Poland.

So why the history lesson on a day that is supposed to be devoted to peace?

Because in our world there are those who see our desire for peace, for brotherhood, for tolerance, as weak and decadent. There is much about our culture, particularly here in America, that may well be decadent. But I'll take America, with all its occasional excesses, over (for example) the Taliban any day, thank you.

So do not misinterpret our prayer today for peace: We want it, we cherish it, we value it. But we know that peace can happen only when everyone wants it. Therefore we pray today especially that even those who hate us and would wish us harm will experience a change of heart and that they, too, will join us in praying dona nobis pacem.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The City looked good last night, didn't it?

I've spent too much time already this morning looking online for an aerial view of the Obama victory rally last night in Grant Park. Looking at the TV, though, watching those views showing Chicago's beautiful skyline in the background... it was a marvelous sight.

You have to wonder about Mr. Obama's connections -- and I'm not talking about Tony Rezko. Anyone who could get beautiful 55 degree weather (the temperature was in the low 70's in the afternoon) for a late night outdoor rally in Chicago in November... well, Divine Intervention cannot be ruled out.

Yes, there were some complaints of shots fired in certain neighborhoods, and of some problems caused by over-exuberant partisans downtown, but the Sun-Times this morning dismissed these as minor. Second City Cop hints this morning at a "media blackout" and, surely, more details will emerge. However, it is clear that there was no organized effort by any group or groups to take advantage of the celebration for improper purposes.

And -- once again -- may we please have a moment of silent gratitude for our Founding Fathers who invented the Electoral College? Democrats were grousing in 2004, and cursing in 2000, about the Electoral College, demanding its abolition as an undemocratic relic. Last night, though, we saw it function as it should: A relatively narrow victory by Mr. Obama in the popular vote was converted to a 2-1 margin of electoral votes. The popular vote margin shows no great national mandate, but the margin filtered through the Electoral College shows that the verdict of the People is clear. A clear verdict helps partisans on both sides to move forward. To heal.

The country can use some healing this morning.

I know some are questioning Mr. Obama's readiness to assume the presidency. His résumé is thin. But Herbert Hoover had perhaps the best résumé of any American President since John Quincy Adams. But it didn't work out so well for Mr. Hoover, did it?

Of course, given the perilous economic climate, Mr. Obama has a chance to become a 21st Century Hoover. (God forbid!)

For today, though, allow me to be the hometown booster I often am, and revel in the fact that a Chicago guy is about to be President. I'll be back to explaining why Mr. Obama's Chicago connections scare me soon enough. And for today, and perhaps only for today, I'll also refrain from providing my unsolicited advice for the President-Elect. He probably won't mind.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

I had to wait in line this morning to vote

Turnout is usually very good in my little corner of the City. Even in primary elections we get better than 50% turnout. For the really important elections -- like, say, for alderman -- an 80% turnout might be disappointing.

I always vote early in the morning. Once, during a mayoral election here (this was during the confused interregnum between Daley the Elder and Daley the Younger) a lot of the rapid transit trains running to the South and West Sides during the evening rush hour mysteriously seemed to develop mechanical troubles. Lots and lots of trains. And, oddly enough, these trains were heading toward areas of the City heavily populated by African-Americans when an African-American candidate was on the ballot.

I tell you, strange things can happen in Chicago on Election Day. And often do.

Anyway, if I had ever voted late in the day before then, I never have since.

And this morning was no exception.

But even though we always have a high turnout, I have never before waited in line to vote. Oh, I've had to wait a minute or two after getting my ballot for a booth to open up -- but this morning I waited at least a half hour just to get to the desk where I could sign for my ballot. Others in line older than myself (there are still some) made similar observations.

We may top 100% turnout in our precinct.

No, wait! Did I say that out loud?

Heads or Tails #63 -- gaurd

In today's Election Day special edition of that star-spangled meme, Heads or Tails, our chief patriot, Barb, asks us to discuss "guard." Or to be on guard. Or to guard against something. Or other.

At some point during my law school career I secured a job as a guard at the exit of the undergraduate resident student dining hall.

There was a large entrance to the dining hall on one side of the building. Students entering there would usually find a narrow range of unappetizing entrees in various shades of brown and gray (lettuce included). The big treat, when I was in undergrad, was Steak and Shrimp Night. The shrimp was shrimpy and the steak was likewise small, and possibly equine in origin, as opposed to bovine, but those who expect little can't ask for much. Or something like that.

On the weekends there were even fewer options.

Still, people did try and sneak in. Students might have weekend guests or commuters short of cash might wander one flight up from the student union below trying to cadge a free meal, even if it was not a particularly nutritious one.

This sneaking would be attempted at the exit from the dining room. If the entrance was on the far north end of the west wall of the building, the exit was on the far south side of that same wall. The sneaker would have to pass through a fairly narrow hallway, past the kitchen on one side and the administrative offices of the food service on the other. Complicating this maneuver was a small desk and chair set close to the exit. An old man was stationed there as the guard there during the week. He was far too feeble to catch anyone trying to get by him, but he could fuss sufficiently that Ms. Jefferson or one of the other managers would come out and intercept the interloper.

I have no idea how I became the weekend guard. It may have been because of the miracle of seniority. I had worked in the kitchen there, for a time as an undergraduate, before taking my first legal job. It may have been because, by hiring me, the food service management found a foolproof way to reduce the number of weekend sneakers-in by one.

You see, although I lived at home during law school, and the law school itself was located downtown, I tended, during this time, to stay on the school's north side campus on weekends.

I would tell my parents that was staying at school. They may have feared -- or possibly even hoped -- that I was staying with some girl. Sadly, I was in fact squatting in an unguarded office in the basement of the student union building. I had retained the keys to this office after completion of my undergraduate career. There were a couple of couches, a phone with an outside line; I brought a lamp from home at one point. It was quite convenient and, with the active connivance of the rightful occupants of that office, and the passive connivance of campus security, it remained my base of weekend operations for the three years of my law school career.

And I had to eat somewhere, didn't I?

My tenure as guard was essentially unremarkable. Mostly I flirted with the pretty girls and drank lots of coffee. Yes, this story will have to be punched up considerably when I write the novel. I shall have to invent armed hooligans attempting to seize the burnt toast or chewy bagels and a heroic defense of the hallway against overwhelming odds. Alien invaders perhaps?

Monday, November 03, 2008

The kids who would read this comic probably woud not understand the joke

From the web comic xkcd, Stumbled upon at this location.

And for any of you young people (Chris?) who are struggling to place the cultural reference, may I recommend this Wikipedia entry, or this page on The Fifties Web, or this page on Legends of America.

Now, of course, if someone can please explain the utility of Twitter to me....

Fearless election prediction: Obama will win... and his adoring press will begin to fade

Of course, anyone who's followed my periodic baseball playoff predictions will know not to plunk any money down in Vegas based on this prediction. Indeed, given my track record, my prediction of an Obama victory may provide aid and comfort to the McCain camp.

But I do think Mr. Obama will win because he has become a symbol. He has become a symbol of how far America has come on race. Many people in America, and particularly in the media, are enamored of the concept of a “black president.” As the first black candidate to attract significant support across racial lines, Mr. Obama has been embraced... but the media will soon remember that he is only a man after he is elected.

And when the media starts considering Obama the man, as opposed to Obama the symbol, my hunch is that they will finally begin exploring Mr. Obama's Tony Rezko connection in earnest. Hillary Clinton tried to encourage the media on this topic during the primaries... and got nowhere. This posed picture of then-President and Mrs. Clinton with Tony Rezko was widely circulated as an effective countermeasure.

Senator McCain tried to raise the Rezko angle, too, but also without result. Still, the Rezko angle is still out there, and it is still not fully explored.

Recently, it is suggested, Mr. Rezko has been singing like a canary to Federal prosecutors. A long stretch in the Chicago Metropolitan Correctional Center can apparently do wonders for one’s singing voice. And Mr. Rezko’s performance has been deemed sufficient, apparently, that his sentencing — which was supposed to take place last week — has been postponed.

The first fruits of Mr. Rezko’s cooperation may be found in last week’s indictment of Springfield power broker William Cellini. Cellini was nominally a Republican, but his indictment stems from his fund raising efforts on behalf of Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich. Quoting the U.S. Attorney’s press release announcing the indictment: Cellini is charged with “conspiring with others to force Capri Capital, also a real estate investment firm, and Thomas Rosenberg, a principal and part owner of Capri, to raise or donate substantial political contributions for” Governor Blagojevich.

Blagojevich and Obama have little in common, other than that they’re both Illinois Democrats. That, and Tony Rezko took an active interest in their careers.

It's difficult to explain, to outsiders, just how corrupt Illinois politics can be. Why, only last week, the $200,000 a year director of the Lincoln Library was fired… because of shoplifting charges. Even our scholars are crooked.

In Wednesday's Chicago Sun-Times — a paper which has enthusiastically endorsed Mr. Obama -- the Watchdogs column reported on Obama’s friendship with Dr. Eric Whitaker, who reportedly is in line for a big Washington job in an Obama administration.

Obama and Whitaker met at Harvard. Whitaker was working at Chicago’s Cook County Hospital five years ago when then-State Sen. Obama “gave a ‘glowing’ reference for Whitaker to Tony Rezko, the now-convicted political fixer who helped Gov. Blagojevich find people to run state agencies. Blagojevich hired Whitaker to be the state’s public health director.”

As IDPH director, Dr. Whitaker did some apparently good things: “As state health chief, Whitaker spent millions on programs that used churches to educate minorities about AIDS, breast cancer and preparing for public health emergencies, a program hailed nationwide.”

But there was scandal, too: Whitaker “oversaw the budget of the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board, which approves medical construction projects. Rezko and his associates controlled that board, which they used to solicit kickbacks and payoffs, according to testimony at Rezko’s trial.”

Whitaker is no longer a state employee. “Whitaker left the state payroll a year ago and joined Obama’s wife Michelle as a high-ranking executive at the University of Chicago Medical Center. When he was hired, U. of C. was seeking permission to expand its children’s hospital — one of five expansions the university sought from the state while Whitaker was health director. All were approved by the planning board. Whitaker and the U. of C. said he had nothing to do with those approvals.”

These kinds of amazing coincidences happen all the time in Illinois. And Whitaker has not been charged with any wrongdoing.

Two of Whitaker’s key staff people have gotten unhappy press recently as well. Whitaker’s former chief of staff, Quin Golden, moved to the University of Chicago in January — but she stayed on the state payroll until July. She was asked to be a consultant during the transition. So, while drawing a check from the university, she also received $72,000 from the state “– including $28,000 for the consulting work and $10,441 for unused vacation.”

She’s also the niece of Chicago Congressman Danny Davis.

Then there was Roxanne Jackson, Whitaker’s HR director at IDPH. While pulling down $100,000 a year in this state job, Jackson found time to practice law on the side. She left the state job in October 2004… and declared bankruptcy just a few days later. She didn’t tell the Bankruptcy Court about her state job, only her private law practice.

And while her bankruptcy was still pending, she picked up a new client. Can you guess who?

Why Tony Rezko, of course! Rezko “hired Jackson in early 2005 when Chicago city officials accused Rezko and the late Jabir Herbert Muhammad of owning a phony minority-owned company that ran restaurants at O’Hare Airport.”

Oh, and there’s the millions of dollars in contracts that Jackson, as an attorney, won for private clients... with the aforementioned IDPH.

The thing with Mr. Obama is that he’s come up through this system. He came up very fast. He may not have been in the system long enough to have been tainted.


But some of the people that Mr. Obama will want to bring with him to Washington are likely to be very tainted indeed. After he is elected, Mr. Obama may find that he is receiving uncomfortable scrutiny as a result of some of his Illinois associations.