Thursday, December 31, 2009

The true problem with self-employment - illustrated

(From the comic Pardon My Planet. This image taken from the
Chronicle website, though I read the feature regularly
in the Chicago
Although I am self-employed, every year I am required to pay an unemployment tax -- and, every year, I ask my accountant if I can fire myself because I have become entirely dissatisfied with my performance. Then I ask if I can lay myself off and collect unemployment (after all, I have paid the tax) because business hasn't been as good as I'd like.

And, every year, my accountant says I can't do either. Then he laughs.

Why not? He's charging for his time listening to my lame joke.

Happy New Year to all.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

End of year? Yes. End of decade? Hold on...

The newspapers, for those of you who still remember what those are, are filled this week with reminiscences about the year now drawing to a close. This seems appropriate as we enter the month of January, named for the Roman god Janus, who looks forward and backward.

But the newspapers are also looking back at the past 10 years -- there are all sorts of lists of the top 10 this or that of the last 10 years.

The papers act as if the decade is coming to a close.


It's an understandable mistake, I suppose, since decade comes from a Latin word meaning ten. But I have come to think of decade as meaning a group of consecutive years related by some common theme, whether or not the 'decade' lasts 10 years.

The 1950s were a particularly long decade, beginning with the Berlin Airlift in 1948 and ending on November 22, 1963. I know some people may blanch at the idea of grouping "Camelot" with the Eisenhower years, but the unifying theme of the 1950s was the East versus West struggle. The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 belongs firmly within that period. And even culturally -- can you really argue that the Rat Pack had more in common with the Beatles or the Rolling Stones than with Brubeck? No, I didn't think so.

The unifying theme of the 1960s was the West's struggle with itself. The decade began in Dallas -- and ended on August 9, 1974 when Richard Nixon resigned.

The 1970s were a mercifully short decade, lasting only until January 1981 when the criminal lunatics who stormed and captured the American Embassy in Tehran released their hostages. (Now these same criminals are running Iran and building nuclear weapons. Isn't progress wonderful?)

Anyway, the 1980s began at that moment -- and ended in November 1990, when the Berlin Wall began crumbling.

That was supposed to be the end of history, remember?

Such were the 1990s -- a "decade" that came to a horrifying conclusion with the collapse of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001.

We may not know for some years yet when this decade ends... or ended. Perhaps it will end in 2012... along with the Mayan calendar.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Wheezing and sneezing through the Holidays

Now you see why there's no original artwork here at Second Effort; herewith proof positive of my complete lack of artistic ability. (I may be the only guy who ever flunked the matchbook test. Think about it. If you're old enough, you'll get it eventually.)

This crude drawing was from my attempt, in 2006, to introduce a new creature that seems to visit everyone over the Holidays, good or bad, without exception: Boogaloo Bug.

Well, I don't know if it was Boogaloo that came to my bungalow this weekend but let's put it this way: I feel awful right now. And that's such an improvement over how I did feel that here I am back in the office.

We were invited to a neighbor's house on St. Stephen's Day and I really wanted to go -- but I used up the last of my energy sitting with Middle Son at the local Ford dealer while he purchased a new car. My son wanted me along for reassurance. I don't know why. He was buying a car with no money down, promising to pay back enormous sums of money on the strength of income from a job that he hasn't started yet. I was certainly less than reassuring on this: I couldn't imagine how the heck anyone would let him do this. But... apparently... it has been done.

I spoke briefly with a colleague today who had a pretty good insight into why I might have been felled by this virus.

I had an oral argument in the Appellate Court the week before Christmas. In the state court in Chicago we used to get oral arguments much more frequently than we do now -- so this was a big deal all by itself. This was also a case for a client that could lead to other cases... so, even more so than usual, I wanted to give a good accounting of myself.

I found out early last week that a decision would be issued in that case on Christmas Eve. You'll just have to trust me when I tell you that such rapid turnarounds are exceedingly rare in the Illinois Appellate Court, at least in my experience. I did once have a decision come down nine days after argument -- and it was a devastating loss. Even though I thought this argument went well, I couldn't help but think of that earlier case.

I had another matter pending in the Appellate Court since March, when the briefs were closed. This was my first appeal for my single biggest client and one on which I lavished a great deal of care and attention and stomach lining. I received an order early last week that this case had been taken on the briefs, without argument. I wrote the client that we could expect a decision soon. The next day I received a notice that a decision would be handed down in this case on Christmas Eve as well.

Yes, my colleague told me, you probably worked yourself up into such a state that you were susceptible to any bug that came along. (Even one as badly drawn as that above, I suppose.)

And then, to top it all off, I found I'd lost the case taken on the briefs.

Yes, my colleague's explanation is as likely as any other.

Heads or Tails #120 -- "Rate"

In this, the last Heads or Tails of the entire decade, Barb asks us to talk about "rate." Nothing is nearer and dearer to a lawyer's heart....

My hourly rate is what I theoretically charge clients for the performance of services.

I say theoretical because the stated rate may, in practice, vary from client to client. If I've done work for a person or company before and the bill has been paid promptly and in full I have little difficulty in agreeing to take on additional work from that client at a rate substantially lower than that which I quote to strangers.

For some clients, at the moment of crisis the lawyer is indispensable. Worth every penny charged. These clients are effusive in their praise and gratitude while the legal storm is raging. But then the storm subsides -- and the bill is presented. And then, for some reason, many clients suddenly feel quite differently about their once indispensable comrades. The bill is questioned, nitpicked, negotiated -- or, possibly, ignored altogether. Thus, the sadder but wiser lawyer learns to charge a high rate for his or her services and to get as much paid up front -- as a retainer -- as possible. (I've got the sadder part down... still working on the wiser part.)

I used to work in a firm. When I was an associate (a non-owner employee) my bosses (the partners) expected me to bill a certain number of hours ever day. If you can bill eight hours a day consistently, even in a firm, you're probably a liar. Or, perhaps, an insomniac. Maybe both. Clients balked at paying for proofreading or administrative tasks, such as setting up files or closing them out. Thirty years ago, we used to bill our time for billing. Those happy days ended long, long ago.

Preparing a useful abstract of a deposition for purposes of impeachment at trial might take longer than did the original deposition -- but clients wouldn't pay for that. And there are cases to read and clients to schmooze and other unavoidable interruptions in the regular business day. Time had to be found to supervise junior colleagues or meet on administrative matters. I found that I'd work 10 hours to bill about six, maybe seven. That was in a firm, with others to answer the phone, file the papers and type my dictation.

As a solo, I sometimes work 10 hours and bill two. If I can collect those two hours I at least cover my overhead. If I could bill (and collect!) four hours a day in my practice I'd be doing great. In 11 years, though, it hasn't happened yet.

I read in legal publications about lawyers who have billing rates of $1,000 an hour. I don't know any of these personally. These giants are at the biggest firms. But I'd bet that most of these follow the same rule I do. They may tell the National Law Journal that they charge $1,000 an hour, but for repeat clients with a good payment record, I'd guess most of these would charge a lot less.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

As my mother used to say, "Man proposes, God disposes"

(From the webcomic Basketcase Comix by Kelly Ferguson.)

I wish the disciples of Al Gore would sometimes suspend their arrogant presumption long enough to realize that planning doesn't always make it so.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Closed for the Holiday

It seems I've put this up every year at Christmas since 2006. This is how traditions are born.

My iPod has just about cycled through all its 881 Christmas songs -- I've been determined to get through it all once this season without a reset. (I'll add some new tunes after.) I've even heard the Barking Dogs' version of "Jingle Bells." That's the one, when it comes up in the shuffle at home, sends my wife over to the computer to kill the program immediately.

I'm at the Undisclosed Location this morning, hoping to catch up on time sheets and resolve a lien on a PI case that is otherwise settled. I have my envelopes for the security guards and the cleaning lady. And there's a credit card bill that I have to pay by tomorrow. I'll probably pay it today because I'm not sure I'll be in tomorrow. Our Noche Buena dinner is at noon. That's what Abuela wants; that's what we'll do.

Almost all the Curmudgeon family will be gathered tomorrow at my mother-in-law's. Oldest Son's fiance is hoping to fly out tonight to her parents' home in San Antonio. The National Weather Service forecast suggests she may have some difficulties. We are expected to have every form of precipitation known to man in the next 24 hours or so, culminating in a steady rain on Christmas Eve. The airlines are so worried that they're waiving fees for rescheduling flights: If you want to get out of Chicago, they're telling us, better do so quick. So we'll see if Oldest Son's fiance makes it out. Oldest Son is supposed to join her Friday. That's another one we'll have to see.

We're hoping not to have Older Daughter with us tomorrow.

That sounds wrong, doesn't it?

But she'd be driving up from Indianapolis tomorrow in the terrible weather -- alone. Her husband is an architect -- and also a singer. He's been hired to sing at Christmas Eve services at his church. We're talking money here. Older Daughter doesn't want to sit around her apartment by herself on Christmas Eve. Even if she goes to the services, she can only watch. She has friends and acquaintances among the congregation -- but they'll be with their families. Older Daughter will be alone wherever she is if she stays in Indianapolis. So she wants to join us. But Long Suffering Spouse are trying to persuade her that it is better to wait in a boring (but warm) apartment than in a ditch somewhere along I-65. Safer, too.

After our early dinner Thursday, we'll probably get to the 8:00pm Mass at our parish church. They have a children's Mass at 4:30 or so and the traditional midnight Mass. There was a time when our parish offered midnight Mass at 10:00pm. I could stay awake for that, then. I'm going to have trouble making it through 8:00 Mass now.

In the next couple of days we'll watch movies and play with our gadgets (we're getting a PS3 at our house, but don't tell the kids) and eat too many cookies. And I'll remember my parents. The Ghosts of Christmas Past are never far away.

I hope you'll have a Merry Christmas, too -- and, if Christmas isn't your thing, I hope you'll enjoy the day off anyway. And Happy Winter Solstice, or Festivus, or Kwanzaa... or anything else you prefer.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Correction: Older Daughter, G.R.N. and her graduation misadventure in Champbana

Friday's post was written in advance because, during the time that might otherwise have been devoted to writing said post, I was making arrangements to ferry a representative sample of the Curmudgeon family Downstate to Champaign, Illinois, there to commemorate Older Daughter's graduation from nursing school.

Let's get the factual error out of the way immediately. I mentioned that Older Daughter's mother-in-law also trained as a nurse. Long Suffering Spouse and I and the in-laws and Middle Son, Younger Daughter, and Youngest Son went with out with Older Daughter and her husband following the graduation exercises for pizza at a local establishment. Older Daughter received gifts. The card from the in-laws was addressed to "Older Daughter, G.R.N." (Well, not really to "Older Daughter" -- but you get the gist.)

I had to ask: Why G.R.N.? I thought it was R.N. Is this a comment on her lack of experience (perhaps that she is 'green')?

No, explained my in-law, the "G" stands for "graduate," signifying someone who has completed the requisite schooling... but has not yet taken or passed the licensing boards.

Ah, I said, and thought no more about it.

The evening proceeded as well as these things can. Middle Son put ranch dressing on a piece of pizza, which was slightly nauseating, but otherwise the conversation was pleasant and, later, the drive home was mostly unremarkable. It started to rain around Kankakee... and it got heavier and snowier as we proceeded further north, but we've never yet had a trip to the Champaign-Urbana area without inclement weather at some point during the drive.

Youngest Son noticed the message light flashing when we got home. The message was from an Urbana policeman looking for Older Daughter (her plates are still registered to our home address apparently). It seems Older Daughter had pumped gas at a station in Urbana and had driven off without paying. Even the officer figured it was a mistake; he said so in the voice mail. But he did want a call back.

We called Older Daughter right away and gave her the message and the call back number. She called back, moments later, saying she left a message for the policeman. It was indeed a mistake, she said. She told us she'd put her credit card in the pump and it let her pump. But she was in a hurry and she didn't wait for a receipt. In the very few minutes between our conversations Friday evening, Older Daughter said she called her credit card issuer and found there was no charge for the purchase on her card. Then she started crying.

She apparently continued crying most of the night. Younger Daughter took a call from her at one point; she reported later that Older Daughter seemed almost hysterical. Older Daughter told her mother Saturday morning that she hadn't been able to sleep a wink.

All this for a mistake? Older Daughter has a heightened sense of drama, but this reaction seemed over the top even for her.

Dark thoughts were beginning to play around the edge of my consciousness -- methinks the lady doth protest too much -- darn that Shakespeare anyway! I was running an errand Saturday morning when the Urbana cop called back; Long Suffering Spouse took the call. He'd not received the voice mail that Older Daughter left for him (and he was apparently unsurprised at this). Long Suffering Spouse told the man what we knew -- and gave him Older Daughter's phone number.

We waited a discreet interval before calling Older Daughter.

That's when we found out about the not-sleeping-a-wink bit -- and when we got an explanation that probably explains the over-reaction.

From the gas station, Older Daughter proceeded directly to her school where she turned in the last of the graduation papers... including an Affidavit or certification of some sort that she was on the right side of Johnny Law. Licensing authorities take a dim view of being lied to, and the school authorities had drilled the import of complete disclosure into all the graduates. Older Daughter was terrified that this would be especially the case when the prospective licensee embarked on a life of crime moments before turning in the papers. She saw her future going up in a gasoline-fueled explosion; she might never drop the "G" from G.R.N.

But it all worked out: The cop -- remember? -- had figured it was a mistake right from the start and hadn't even issued a ticket. He congratulated Older Daughter on her graduation. She's made nice with the gas station.

Middle Son had heard none of this. He picked up on his regular social schedule moments after arriving back from Downstate Friday evening; he didn't even hear about the initial phone message. He and I were running errands Saturday afternoon (shortly after he woke up which is why he was also unaware of all the Saturday morning developments). I told the story well, and he was laughing heartily as we filled up the other family car at the gas station.

I got so wrapped up in telling the story, I forgot to ask the self-serve pump for a receipt.

To date, however, the Niles Police have not called.

A word of thanks is owed to the Urbana Police for the very nice way they handled this whole incident. Which was really a non-incident. But it could have been a real embarrassment for Older Daughter. So -- thank you, Urbana PD.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Older Daughter, R.N.

Long Suffering Spouse and I will be in Champaign today to attend 'pinning' ceremonies for Older Daughter as she officially, finally, becomes a nurse.

Older Daughter graduated from the University of Illinois in 2006 with a B.A. in English. I wrote at the time that Older Daughter planned to take a job for a year and decide what to do next. At that time she was flirting with going to law school -- but she had also been talking about going to nursing school. For the sake of any extraterrestrial who might be logging into this blog from the Planet Xzzyglsquat, a degree in English is not usually a steppingstone to nursing school. During the year following, Older Daughter did indeed find a job, in a hospital, in Indianapolis; I wrote about my one and only visit to her place of employment in September 2006. I don't know if it was the job or the encouragement of her boyfriend's mother, now Older Daughter's mother-in-law (herself a nurse), that nudged Older Daughter into nursing.

Whatever the inspiration, Older Daughter decided to follow this path.

And, now, finally, she's finished. Boards are early next year.

Long Suffering Spouse were not certain that Older Daughter would be able to do it. She has foot issues -- a botched surgery* during her undergraduate years has caused no end of problems. She didn't take a lot of science courses en route to her English degree; there's very little that the works of Jane Austen and organic chemistry have in common. But perhaps our greatest reservation was that Older Daughter has always been rather squeamish -- and nurses, sometimes, have to deal with things that are rather, well, icky. That's sometimes as in several times per shift, right MJ?

But Older Daughter has persevered and overcome these challenges. So we'll be in the car most of the day. And it will almost certainly snow. We'll deal with it.

* The word "botched" is used here to describe a less than optimal outcome and does not express a professional opinion about whether the doctor committed malpractice. I told Older Daughter, in fact, that she had no viable case. Some time later, giving into family pressure, I referred her to a prominent, successful attorney that I know in the Champaign area. He referred it back to an attorney in Chicago -- consistent with my theory that there are -- despite the panicky headlines -- only a handful of attorneys truly qualified to handle a medical malpractice case, even in a state like Illinois with nearly 80,000 lawyers. Anyway, the high-powered malpractice attorney told my daughter the same thing I had -- that, even if the case had real merit, my daughter's injury was insufficient to justify the enormous expense involved. (I wrote about this here.)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Maybe I should re-think this whole book contract concept....

It has been my conceit, since I began this blog four years ago, that I've been trolling for a book contract. And why not? Other bloggers get book contracts, I've noticed.

Of course, those bloggers may be better writers. And probably funnier. Maybe even more interesting.

But let's not quibble.

Especially since I'm now re-thinking the whole business plan in light of this article I saw this evening on Yahoo! News. According to Paul J. Weber's linked article, for the Associated Press, the City of Laredo, Texas, a municipality of in excess of 200,000 souls, is losing its one and only remaining bookstore. The nearest bookstore for Laredo residents, a community "surrounded by nothing more than rural ranching towns," Weber writes, will be in San Antonio -- 150 miles away. Even in Texas, even if everything is bigger there, I imagine 150 miles must be reckoned as a significant distance.

Now Laredo may be unique among cities its size in having no bookstores left -- but, Weber also notes, Newark, New Jersey -- a city with a population of "nearly 288,000" -- has only one bookstore.

What good does it do me to get a book contract if no stores are left to stock my magnum opus?

So I guess I'll have to think about what to do instead... maybe I could host a talk show?

Long Suffering Spouse misses Advent calendar updates

Christmastime can be a headache....
(From Stephan Pastis' Pearls Before Swine. Image obtained from
Yahoo! News, but I saw it
in print in this morning's Chicago Sun-Times.)

I don't know how many American families use Advent calendars to count down the days until Christmas. Judging by today's illustration, it may not be just a Catholic thing.

We had multiple children -- so we always had multiple Advent calendars in the Curmudgeon house. This reduced the fights over who could open the little doors on any given calendar on any given day. We also had a December calendar with a little Christmas mouse who was moved from date to date until the truly magic number was reached. The task of moving the mouse was left to the youngest child of the moment. This usually resulted in every day being Christmas, at least for awhile, because the youngest would put the mouse in the slot marked 25 and insist that this made it Christmas.

Long Suffering Spouse still puts up Advent calendars and the mouse calendar too (despite my wife's well documented loathing of real mice). But Youngest Son, now 16, seems uninterested in moving the mouse each day. When my wife called this to my attention I tried to console her by pointing out that -- some day -- if we are fortunate -- we may have grandchildren who will fight over the calendars. And move the mouse.

But Long Suffering Spouse doesn't want to wait that long. She mentioned to Youngest Son just the other night that he was shirking his calendar-related obligations. "Yeah, sure, Mom," said Youngest Son, and got whatever he was looking for in the refrigerator before retreating to his room to resume studying for finals.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

An email from the Assitant Dean in Charge of Setting Up Folding Chairs sets Curmudgeon off

I received an email yesterday from my beloved law school alma mater, specially worded for the holiday season and 'personalized' in the sense that the sender, or rather the very-near-spam program that generated the email, included my name and my class year.

Except, of course, it wasn't my name on the email at all, not the name I use with friends and family, but rather my given first name.

Perhaps it's just an Irish thing, but a lot of people, myself included, are known by our middle names (or, in my case, a diminutive thereof). My parents made this decision before I was held to the font; indeed they'd insisted that the name by which they would call me be expressly stated on the Baptismal certificate. They correctly anticipated that this was the only way the nuns would let me use the name in grade school. And my father, who'd been called Junior in his own time, and who wanted me named for himself, nevertheless wanted to spare me the indignity of that particular handle.

Anyway, anyone who's known me for any length of time knows this and uses my name... and not the name on the diploma or the law license. Of course, the very-near-spam program that sent me this tender holiday email wouldn't have known this.

And I really can't blame the alleged sender of the email, now celebrating his 30th year in the school's administration, for not remembering. Why should he? A lot of people have come and gone in a generation's time. But I remember him.

The venerable Assistant Dean who was the alleged sender of the email was only a couple of years ahead of me in school. He'd gone to work as a divorce lawyer after graduation and rumor had it that he returned to school after losing one or more trials. Divorce trials. Of course the rumor was silly and, I'm certain, entirely unfounded. I don't imagine that a learned judge, upon the conclusion of the proto-Assistant Dean's evidence, determined that his client must remain married. A hundred and thirty years ago, that might have happened -- I've addressed this recently -- but not 30 years ago.

Nevertheless, this individual was not brought in as a scholar to teach new generations of lawyers but as an administrator. He was hired when I was in my last year of school (or possibly the year before) and I had plenty of occasion to observe him in the discharge of his weighty responsibilities. These appeared to consist mainly of hanging around. He wasn't the night watchman -- night watchmen don't have to wear suits -- but, apparently, if a pipe broke, he would have to find a plumber. If someone broke a window, he'd have to summon a glazier. And -- his most prominent and active duty -- if an event was planned (a speech, for example) the Assistant Dean would be the one to set up the folding chairs. Sometimes, depending on when the event ended, he got to take them down, too.

These duties were not so onerous that he was prevented from regularly frequenting the local tavern where most of the law students tried to achieve a state of daily numbness.

It was from a barstool in this tavern that he supervised student activities.

During my third year in law school, I and a friend were co-editors of our student newspaper. It was never entered in any Pulitzer competition. We weren't a daily or even a weekly. We may have published more frequently than once a month, but, without finding the box in my attic where I have kept copies of each issue, I could not say for sure. I don't think we exceeded eight pages more than a few times either.

But I thought it was fun and nearly anything was better than law school. In my opinion.

As with any student group, we depended on volunteers.

Volunteers in school, as in real life, come in two kinds: Those that say they will help -- and those that actually do. I tended to favor the latter -- and did so without apology. A couple of persons belonging in the former category, however, complained about this favoritism, loud and long, apparently, from their barstools at the same watering hole where the Assistant Dean in Charge of Setting Up Folding Chairs spent his idle hours.

I was duly summoned to the Assistant Dean's office -- which, surprisingly, was in the school building itself -- whereupon I was informed of the various charges and specifications made by these discontented staffers. I pointed out that we -- myself and the actual working volunteers -- were writing and putting out the paper while the malcontents were nursing their grudges and their beers in lengthy conferences with the worthy administrator. But the Assistant Dean felt the need to do something. So it was agreed that the malcontents could produce the next issue of the paper on their very own, without interference from yours truly, my co-editor or anyone else deemed among our 'favorites.'

When the time to produce the next issue arrived, the dissidents went to the newspaper office on the undergrad campus instead of to the bar. They did in fact work into the wee small hours typesetting and measuring headlines to fit and laying out the paper and sizing pictures and everything. (These were primitive times, technologically, I know. At this time Adobe was only a building material.)

I waited at school with some trepidation on the following day for the issue to arrive. I had no fears that I would be 'outdone' somehow, but I was worried that I might be embarrassed by the content. The day wore on... but the paper did not appear.

Looking back, I'm not quite sure how she found me -- this was also before cell phones, you understand -- but, at some point the editor of the undergraduate student newspaper got hold of me. "Aren't you supposed to have a paper this week?" she began.

"Yes," I said. I may have explained the fact that we had 'guest editors' for this issue.

"Well," she said, "the paper never got to the printer. It's still sitting in a box in the production room." Our super-genius would-be editors -- the ones who'd persuaded the Assistant Dean in Charge of Setting Up Folding Chairs of their superior knowledge of all things newspaper -- had neglected to take the paper to be printed. This is rather an important step in the production cycle... but, hey, everyone can forget something, right?

So I and my co-editor headed over to the undergraduate campus (he had a car) and we got the paper to the printer, a day late. And the issue was not worth waiting for.

When I got the holiday email yesterday from the Assistant Dean I promptly forwarded it to my co-editor from all those years ago. (My co-editor is a successful tax lawyer in another state.) I forwarded the email with a message, "Nothing like a heartfelt message from the Assistant Dean in Charge of Setting Up Folding Chairs...."

My friend responded, "I kind of remember this guy, but not a whole lot. Did you have a problem with him?"

That's another thing about us Irish. Old grudges never die; they don't even fade away. Thirty years later and I'm still mad about this. But my friend is not Irish.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Census ad "blasphemous?"

That's the charge leveled by Rev. Miguel Rivera, chairman of the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders, according to this December 14 USA Today story by Haya El Nasser.

Not only is the ad "blasphemous," Rivera claims, according to the linked article, it also violates the separation of church and state. I'm at a loss to see how the reference is blasphemous.

The claim that the ad somehow blurs the line between church and state might be more meaty except that El Nasser's article quotes a Commerce Department spokesman as saying that the government neither designed nor paid for the ad. The poster says it is the product of an outfit called; the website of this organization has a page with links to various translations of the poster.

Actually even if government money had been spent on the poster, while I might have strong reservations about the wisdom or necessity of the expenditure, I don't think I'd be all a-flutter on constitutional grounds. To me, citation to the Christmas story is a clever and seasonally appropriate to call attention to the upcoming Census -- the reference is likely to be understood by most people seeing it, even non-Christians. I don't see that the ad somehow endorses either Christianity generally or any sect thereof specifically, as a State Religion. Judging from some of his prior posts, I'd guess that Dave would disagree.

(That, BTW, is a cheap ploy to get at least one comment. I wonder if it'll work.....)

Heads or Tails #118 -- Gone Fishin'

When I saw this prompt on this morning's Heads or Tails I at first thought that Barb was taking the week off. I've always associated the expression "gone fishin'" with taking time off. As it turns out, however, Barb really was giving us "gone fishin'" as a discussion prompt. I thought about being really cute and taking the week off... just having the intro and saying I'd "gone fishin'" -- but the truth is I'm anything but a fisherman....

I've been fishing no more than two or three times in my life -- and this was with a lake practically out my back door from the time I finished sixth grade and all the way through high school.

My folks moved from the South Side of Chicago in 1968, from the parish where Andrew Greeley had actually served as curate at one time (if you're looking in this morning, AndyK), to the place where Christ Lost His Shoes. I'm saving nearly all of those experiences for the book -- but it won't hurt to say that my folks had an acre of land in a small subdivision of acre lots. The developer wasn't a builder -- you had to bring in your own contractor to put up a house -- and there were working farms down the road in almost any direction at that time. Ours was one of the first houses to go up.

The centerpiece of the subdivision was a small lake, created by damming an even smaller stream -- a 'crik' as we said. The developer presumably stripped the topsoil from the area to be inundated; I don't know this for a fact but it's what I would have done to (a) give the lake some dimension and (b) have some topsoil to sell.

The dam itself was an unimpressive bit of concrete that could usually be walked across (and in not that many steps either). I remember catching crayfish at the dam a couple of times. Or probably seeing others do so.

It was here that I tried my hand at fishing... perhaps, now that I think about it, only once.

The first obstacle was baiting the hook. The worm obtained for this purpose had never done me any harm that I could think of and I was decidedly squeamish about puncturing it. That, and the fact that, with my hand-eye coordination, I put more holes in my fingers than in the worm put me off the entire concept almost before I started.

If you were expecting some Hemingway-esque battle between the beardless youth and some gallant sportfish you're already disappointed, I know. Still, I must disappoint you further: The only fish in that lake were bluegill, bullheads and the occasional carp. The picture of a bullhead that I found browsing through Wikipedia this morning does not comport with my recollection of what the beast looked like.

Small, yes. Catfish-like, certainly. But I seem to recall some sort of sharp spines.

I believe I must have caught one of these poor creatures with my mutilated worm. And then it was time to let it go. I believe I threw a fit about actually touching the thing -- perhaps simply because of the spines, perhaps after actually experiencing them with my already bleeding fingers.

I don't know who was with me on this momentous occasion. It may have been my father. If it was, it's best I have forgotten. He'd gone through all the ranks of scouting, was a scoutmaster himself at one point and a member of the Order of the Arrow. I'd never been a Cub Scout. Though raised in the City, my father spent several summers on farms in Indiana with cousins I maybe met once or twice. (Irish families -- who knows what happened?) Anyway, if it was my father who had to release the poor, suffocating fish, he must have been sorely disappointed in me, even more than you are reading this. Neither my father nor the bullhead are available to prompt my recollection on this point.

Friday, December 11, 2009

A busy evening in the Curmudgeon home

Long Suffering Spouse's principal thought it might be nice to have this year's school Open House before Christmas instead of after. For one thing, there would be no need to agonize over a theme for the school decorations, right?

Thus it was decided that the Open House would be Thursday, December 10, from 7:00 to 9:00pm. The sub-zero wind chills were an extra added bonus for the occasion -- and powerful incentive for me to get home before my wife had to leave to go back to school. The walk from the train can be pleasant in nice weather -- it more resembles a doomed expedition in search of the North Pole in weather like this. I am unashamed to beg a ride.

Long Suffering Spouse planned to come home after school and before the Open House to get dinner ready. She knew she'd have to leave at some point to pick me up and also to pick up Youngest Son. As I mentioned just yesterday, I'd been driving him to school because of the ice and snow.

Middle Son announced at some point that he and a friend had scheduled an early evening appointment to view an apartment in the People's Republic of Oak Park but even this did not unduly complicate matters. We have two cars; he could take one.

But then came the crushing complication: Oldest Son advised that he'd also scheduled his first Pre-Cana conference at our parish church for Thursday night. Someone would have to pick him and his fiance up from the train and take them over to the church -- and drive them back to Lincoln Park afterward. (Oldest Son has no car. I had to drive him and his fiance back to Lincoln Park after Thanksgiving dinner, too. At 1:00am. I was thrilled.)

But Oldest Son's appointment would not necessarily create too great a problem. All that had to happen was that I get home before Oldest Son and his fiance. And since their appointment at the church was at 7:30 and my wife had to be at school at 7:00 anyway, I did not see any particular difficulty.

So it came to pass that, yesterday, after a hard morning of blogging, I settled down to actual work. I was unusually productive, churning out letters and -- of vital import to my future happiness -- bills. By 5:30 or so, though still productive, I knew I must pull up stakes and head home.

And I did.

But I was too late.

Oldest Son and his fiance decided to come straight from work without pausing for dinner at any of the numerous establishments provided in Chicago's Loop or adjoining environs for just such a purpose. Thus, as I was riding home on the train, minding my own business, my phone beeped. Youngest Son texted me: "Mom says where the hell are you?" (The kids seem to take unnatural glee when either of us resort to, shall we say, informal language in their presence.)

I texted back: "On the train. Approaching Montrose." Actually when I started, we'd just pulled out of Addison... but I can only push the buttons so fast. Irving Park came and went whilst I was composing this little response.

I was on the point of pushing "Send" when the phone rang. Now Youngest Son was calling. "Where are you?" he demanded. "I was trying to tell you but you called before I could send the text," I said, and then I told him we were approaching Montrose.

(Why do the kids think texting is so much more efficient? I could say where I was in a second or so, but it had taken a couple of minutes at least to tap out that same message.)

Youngest Son told me that Oldest Son and his fiance had already called for a ride. "I can't be more than a train or two behind them," I said, as the train in fact pulled into Montrose.

An acrid stench of burning rubber filled the car as soon as the doors opened. I claim no special expertise in light rail maintenance, but I believe the brakes lock up on the railcars from time to time and smolder. I had to get off one el car recently because the smoke had got thicker every time the doors opened to the point where it was plainly visible, even to me.

It wasn't that bad last night, not at Montrose. It was thicker at Jefferson Park, but a CTA employee got on my car there with some tools. The motorman announced we'd be standing for awhile. I watched the nice CTA lady try and figure out how to put out the fire.

I composed an update for Youngest Son. "The train is on fire but the lady is working to put it out. We are at Jefferson Park." That I was able to compose and send such a lengthy text will give you some sense of the length of time we were standing.

Apparently the nice CTA lady's efforts were not entirely successful. After climbing back up off the track, the lady radioed forward to the operator that she'd have to ride to O'Hare to finish the work. She sat down and the train resumed its homeward course.

"Do you want Mom to come get you at Jefferson Park?" texted Youngest Son.

"No," I texted back immediately. I followed up with a message that we were rolling again.

I finally got to my stop -- and Long Suffering Spouse and Oldest Son and his fiance were all waiting for me. And not very patiently either. Youngest Son was not among them; they'd heard nothing about the train being on fire -- and they were somewhat skeptical.

And then there was the lane closure on Harlem Avenue that snarled traffic in the area... by the time we got home from Wendy's (where Oldest Son and his fiance had decided to get their dinner) it was nearly 7:00. Thus everyone got to eat dinner but Long Suffering Spouse.

I was in the doghouse for sure.

I'm in the office now.

But I'm still in the doghouse.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Programming notes: Curmudgeon crashes a party and whines about Oprah

I make a guest appearance -- sort of -- today at Captain Picard's Journal. I say "sort of" because, well, like the Salahis, I wasn't exactly invited to this year's Enterprise Christmas party. But I went anyway.

If you want to know more (and if you want to find out about how the picture ties into all this), read it for yourself in the Enterprise Christmas Party (Part Three).

And, in another corner of the Blogosphere, Jay Harrison has picked up and adapted my November 20 essay about Oprah Winfrey's pending departure for his BoomSpeak! site. I like Harrison's comment on the BoomSpeak! home page: Oprah's departure "could spike Chicago's abandonment issues to an all-time high."

So slowly, very slowly, I am spreading across the Blogosphere. Like a very lazy rash.

On shoes, cars and cold weather

Chicago largely dodged a bitter winter storm this week that dumped tons of snow on Iowa, Wisconsin, parts of Illinois and then blew into New England. "Blew" being the operative word inasmuch as this storm was accompanied by wicked, whipping winds.

We got lucky because, on Tuesday night, it rained in between snowfalls, washing the first batch away. But, Chicago weather legend Tom Skilling assured us, Chicago got a total of five inches of snow out of the storm, a storm which set records for low barometric pressure -- lower even than the barometric pressure recorded in the storm that sank the Edmund Fitzgerald.

(The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down/
of the big lake they called "Gitche Gumee."/
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead/
when the skies of November turn gloomy....

That'll be in your head all day today, won't it?

Skilling must have been right because it's cold this morning -- 2 degrees Fahrenheit -- and, with the stiff breeze still blowing, the wind chill number may be academic, but the bridge of my nose froze just the same. This is our pattern in Chicago: After it snows, it gets really cold. At least for awhile.

* * * * * * * * * * *
The Curmudgeon household has been forced to adapt to the changing conditions. Youngest Son wisely decided that he probably shouldn't be driving to school in the snow, not right away. That was the good news. The bad news was that yours truly had to get up and drive him.

The worse news is that he and some of his classmates are having informal workouts in anticipation of the coming baseball season at 6:00am. I had lunch Tuesday at 9:30am.

The happy consequence of Youngest Son not driving is that Long Suffering Spouse has had use of a vehicle all week to get to and from school.

We don't live far from the parish school and Long Suffering Spouse has been perfectly content to walk home most days pulling her little cart behind her with papers to be graded. But the little plastic cart doesn't pull so well in the snow. Having a car this week has been a boon for Long Suffering Spouse.

The car shortage in the Curmudgeon household has been exacerbated by the ongoing recession. You may have read about this. It's been in all the newspapers. And it's impacted our household, too: Middle Son's auditing job, which was supposed to start in June got pushed back to August... then it got pushed back to October... and now it's been pushed back to January. Middle Son found work instead selling TVs and other electronics at a major department store in a nearby mall. It's a part-time, Christmas-only job -- although he had to endure three interviews and a drug test before he got the position.

And, though the mall is nearby, it's not so nearby that he doesn't need a car to get back and forth.

The auditing firm may really, truly, finally be ready to welcome Middle Son. With all his downtime at home, he's picked out a car he's itching to buy (an American car, I am pleased to say) and that will alleviate our car shortage if he gets it and while he scrapes together enough cash for a security deposit on a place of his own. He's hoping to have additional confirmation this week.

His mother and I are hoping too.

But I mentioned "shoes" in the title of this essay and not since.

Shoes are my adaptation to this beastly weather. My lawyerly wingtips are not particularly effective against snow, ice and cold and they react rather badly to salt. So when the weather gets like this, I reach for my workboots -- the kind of boots that persons with actual hand-eye coordination wear to real construction jobs.

Granted, these are not particularly stylish -- but I was never in the running for a GQ cover at any time in my life and this is Chicago, in winter, where sartorial considerations may be sacrificed (should be abandoned) in consideration of the grim struggle for survival.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

"Climategate" and A-Roid revelations

(Jack Higgins cartoon obtained from the Chicago Sun-Times website.)

The recent revelations of scientists 'cooking the books' to support their pet theory of human-induced global warming and the selective revelations earlier this year about major league baseball players testing positive for banned substances in 2003 have a common link, in my opinion.

Both stories arise from leaks of information that was not supposed to be revealed. In the cases of Alex (A-Rod... or A-Roid) Rodriguez, David (Big Papi) Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, et al., results from their tests (and the positive test results of 100 or so other MLB players) were supposed to be (a) kept private and (b) destroyed. However, as Michael S. Schmidt explained, in this July 30, 2009 article in the New York Times (genuflection optional), "[F]or reasons that have never been made clear, the results were not destroyed and the first batch of positives has come to be known among fans and people in baseball as 'the list.' The information was later seized by federal agents investigating the distribution of performance-enhancing drugs to professional athletes, and the test results remain the subject of litigation between the baseball players union and the government." The Times got information about particular players from lawyers involved in that litigation who violated their ethical obligations, court orders and (presumably) HIPAA by blabbing.

(I would really like to know if anyone has been called to account for this. Has anyone seen anything on this?)

Climategate, too, has arisen as a result of clandestine snooping, possibly by Russian computer hackers, who lifted emails and other files from the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit. These materials call into question the validity of the conclusions reached by supposedly objective scientists about human-induced climate change. Apparently even some of the scientists sounding the alarm were squeamish about the lack of data supporting their ominous conclusions. Some of these materials address how to rearrange the data most persuasively; others talk about how to silence dissenters. (Read more about it, if you wish, here or here.)

Somehow, though, I'm more willing to forgive the thieves who broke Climategate than I am the gossips who gave us A-Roid.

Is this just a reflection of a political inclination?

I suppose those who believe that man has caused and that, therefore, man can stop climate change -- no matter what the evidence -- will say that my judgment is entirely political.

The climate of our Planet Earth has been changing from the time the planet formed. It will continue to change if mankind ceases to exist tomorrow; it will continue to change if mankind impoverishes itself trying to stop it. We can not more stop climate change than a six year-old can hold back the tide. On the other hand, man surely must influence climate, at least in settled areas -- and maybe, given the complexities of current and wind patterns -- in places not so settled. Maybe pollution from human industry has accelerated thawing at the North Pole. (Who knows? Santa Claus may need swim fins in a few years.)

The politicians and bureaucrats from around the world who have gathered in Copenhagen for the United Nations Climate Change Conference may make decisions that cost billions and trillions and affect lives all over the world... based on lies? Based on incomplete or doctored evidence? Google news results are filled with alarmist stories about how this is the 'hottest year on record' and so forth.

But this is nonsense. Greenland, for example, is not yet as warm as it was when it was settled by Viking colonists.

If there really is a global warming trend, whether (and however) it is influenced by human activity, we need real science, and real scientists, to help us learn how best to cope and respond. We don't need PhD's fishing for huge grants manipulating data. Thus, the revelations about Climategate are so alarming that I am prepared, for now, to overlook the unsavory way in which the materials were made public. On the other hand, I want the lawyers leaking the 2003 steroid list to be disbarred.

If this is inconsistent, I apologize, but that's the way I see it.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Curmudgeon makes an unhappy discovery concerning discovery requests

My blogfriend, Dave, an Atlanta lawyer, was grousing yesterday about a case where his opposite number made the settlement of the case unusually difficult.

I read his post yesterday afternoon as I was starting my late afternoon check of my email. When I opened that up, I lost my temper.

Opposing counsel in one of my cases, on the eve of a status hearing in the Federal court, where we were supposed to set a briefing schedule on dispositive motions we've been jawing about now for months, decided instead that he needed to squeeze just one more round of discovery out of the case. He noticed up three depositions of my client's employees and subpoenaed someone they had contracted with. Accompanying these notices was a three page letter explaining how all this was our fault because of the alleged inadequate testimony of our 30(b)(6) witness.

(Don't know what a 30(b)(6) witness is? Don't worry about it... I'm on a roll....)

Problem was, this guy (our 30(b)(6) witness) had been deposed in August. They'd had the transcript since September. We'd been back in court before the District Judge and the Magistrate Judge both several times since -- and the supposed problems with this testimony were never raised.

But -- worse -- these discovery requests violated express agreements I'd reached (after painstaking negotiations) with counsel concerning discovery: I want to get the dispositive motions set. If the other side wins, the case is over but my client is at least spared the expense of this discovery. If I win, the only issue left is damages... and damages is the basic subject matter of those witnesses counsel now seeks to depose. I'd already told him and both judges that we could revisit damages discovery on the other side of the motions... if necessary. The judges (and this is always important) seemed receptive to this idea.

Oh... and one more thing... discovery was closed.

So... after I lost my temper (it just so happened I was speaking with my wife on the phone when I opened up the email and the various and sundry attachments to same and she got blistered by my bluster) I started going through all the old emails and identifying those when our agreements were formed and finalized. And I dug out the discovery closure order too. Eventually, I started typing.

I got the Motion to Quash done by about 10:00pm.

I texted Middle Son from the train that I was finally on my way home. I cautioned him not to wake up his mother... but could he come and pick me up at the station? "She's not asleep," he texted back, "but I'll come get you. Then you'll get it."

And so I did. Long Suffering Spouse does not like it when I come home so late. But I thought it was necessary yesterday.

It occurs to me that some people are honorable and will abide by their agreements. Some people are forgetful sometimes, not dishonest, and a prompt confirmatory letter or email will be wholly adequate to smooth over rough patches when they inadvertently occur. And then there are some people that have to be dealt with by certified mail, return receipt requested, preferably with a camera crew standing by to record the delivery of each letter. Yesterday evening, as I pulled out note after confirming note, my opponent in this particular case moved into that last category.

Heads or Tails #117 -- "One" or "Won"

This week, Barb has gives us a choice for Heads or Tails: We may write anything (heads) about "one" or something specific (tails) about "won." Well, I haven't won anything lately and I don't want to jinx anything pending by talking about it... so we'll go with... one hit wonders.

This morning's post is prompted by an article I saw online yesterday and in the Chicago Tribune naming Daniel Powter's song, "Bad Day," as the top one-hit wonder of the decade now (mercifully) coming to a close. I note further, from this article in this morning's Tribune, that "Bad Day" was used "used for Season 5 'American Idol' contestants who didn't make the cut."

"American Idol" has been on for five years? Who knew? I have seen commercials for that show... during football games....

Anyway, I'd heard of "Bad Day" because it was also used in a commercial. Sadly (at least for the agency that made the commercial) I can't recall the product that was being shilled therein. Perhaps I was not in the target demographic for the item or service in question.

Anyway, "Bad Day" is merely a launching pad for this discussion... a launching pad into the past because, by about the mid-80s I stopped listening to popular music except for catchy tunes in commercials for products I can't identify.

Back in the late 60s, though, The Neon Philharmonic had a moment in the sun with "Morning Girl." Perhaps recalling the Flying Machine's greatest hit, "Smile a Little Smile for Me" will bring a smile to your face?

In 1970, R. Dean Taylor sang, "Indiana Wants Me." In 2009 it is likely that Indiana will want my grandchildren yet unborn... at least those that may someday be the product of the union between Older Daughter and her Hoosier Husband. I liked Ashton, Gardner & Dyke's "Resurrection Shuffle" when it came out in 1971; I didn't know until a couple of years ago that Ashton, Gardner & Dyke were Brits.

A medley of Aliotta Haynes Jeremiah's 1971 greatest hit, "Lake Shore Drive," will bring a smile to the face of any Chicagoan. I saw a reference to another Chicago group, The Ides of March, in one online compilation of one-hit wonders, but I would dispute this. Yes, "Vehicle" was far and away the best-selling record the band ever made, but I remember buying a follow-up, "L.A. Goodbye." If you own two 45s by a group they can't be a one-hit wonder, right?

Older readers, you may pause now and explain what 45s are to any young whippersnappers in the vicinity.

Anybody feel like sharing one of their own favorite one-hit wonders in the comments?

Monday, December 07, 2009

Second Effort's Fourth Blogiversary!

Four years ago today, on December 7, 2005, I began injecting my own steady stream of verbiage into an indifferent Blogosphere.

Four years and nearly 1200 posts later, the Blogosphere is still indifferent.

Well, not entirely indifferent: I get several visits a day from people looking for the rather wicked cartoon in this post from September 2007. I can tell from referrals on the Sitemeter.

I also get some traffic, nearly every day, from people who are lured here by a January 2007 post, How to argue a motion (Part One). At least I wrote that one. But I've never gotten around to part two. If those visiting this post have found any useful advice in that one, they've not said so. The stats say they don't stay long. (If I re-did the post today, I'd have to update it anyway: Clarence Darrow is now no better than the third most famous lawyer to come out of Illinois.)

After four years, I also have some regular visitors who come here to read what I write almost every weekday... at least when it's not too long....

And it's particularly appropriate that, last week, when I solicited suggestions on how to commemorate this occasion, it was the two readers who've been with me from very near the beginning who made suggestions.

So, Bee, for you, we gotta have cake:

And Captain Picard suggested balloons.

Well, Captain, our budget here is small so I had to had to get a used balloon. I had a small budget but I wanted a really big one. But I got lucky: I got a really good price on this one. It is so large it could have carried a six year old child. The previous owner was anxious to get rid of it for some reason:

And then, I thought, as long as I was thinking big, how about combining the two... cake and balloons? So I broke open the piggy bank, uh, went rummaging amongst the images stored on the Internet and stole -- er -- found these:

I don't think this couple will mind if we just take a small piece of their giant cake.

And then there's this giant cake balloon:

How's this for festive?

My thanks to all of you who visit today and any day.

Friday, December 04, 2009

A Christmas tree (?) for safety-conscious Brits

Doesn't that just look like how a committee might design a Christmas tree?

Simon de Bruxelles' article for the November 27 Times says that various onlookers have compared this odd-looking thing to "a giant traffic cone, a witch’s hat or a cheap special effect from an early episode of Doctor Who." But it is none of these things. It is, instead, a Christmas tree for the shopping area in Poole, Dorset, "designed according to the principles of health and safety, circa 2009."

"Thus," writes de Bruxelles, "it has no trunk so it won’t blow over, no branches to break off and land on someone’s head, no pine needles to poke a passer-by in the eye, no decorations for drunken teenagers to steal and no angel, presumably because it would need a dangerously long ladder to place it at the top."

The town used to have a real tree that cost £500. It had lights strung on it, as did its predecessors in the square for decades before.

This artifact, however, "which is constructed on a metal frame overlaid with what appears to be artificial grass, cost £14,000 and comes with built-in fairy lights and hidden speakers to play Christmas tunes that will put shoppers in the festive mood." Are the tunes evaluated for safety as well?

The Times article quotes a local official who harrumphs that, while the old tree might have cost only £500, it was necessary to spend another £3,500 to make the tree safe with "guy ropes and hoardings to stop it from falling over and hitting somebody." So the good townsfolk of Poole have really only been bilked out of £10,000?

I came across this story via a December 1 posting on Overlawyered.

But it's not just lawyers that are to blame for this, are they?

And we can guffaw all we want at our British cousins -- but this 'extreme safety consciousness' that abandons tradition, good taste, and common sense is gaining traction on our shores as well.

Aw, crap

I received a couple of emails this week about The Beach Bum, a pretty regular visitor here.

The first said he'd gone into the hospital and was in a bad way.

The second, which came in late last night, said he didn't make it.

Now, a lot of us out here are anonymous and we can pretty well say or do whatever we want. We can invent entire lives in the Blogosphere; there's no reason why we can't also invent our own 'deaths.' Maybe somebody is joshing me. Maybe, as was said of Mark Twain once, rumors of BB's death are greatly exaggerated.

But I don't think so. RIP, Beach Bum.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

A timely tip for secretive cyber-shoppers

Grand Avenue comic obtained from Yahoo! News though I saw
it first in print in the Chicago
Sun-Times. (Click to enlarge.)

Presented as a public service by yours truly. Another 'everything I need to know I get from the comics' post.

Programming Note: We are rapidly approaching the fourth anniversary of this blog. Second Effort launched on December 7, 2005. How should such a momentous occasion be commemorated? Does anybody really care?

No, I suppose not....

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

California man seeks to prohibit divorce?

According to the AP's Judy Lin, John Marcotte "wants to put a measure on the ballot next year to ban divorce in California." If that sounds like a comedy bit, it might be: Lin's article notes that Marcotte is a Sacramento web designer -- and also the proprietor of an "Internet comedy site," Marcotte admits to gathering only "dozens" of the 694,354 valid signatures he needs by the March 22 deadline for getting his proposition on the California ballot.

But Marcotte makes the news in California because his proposition tweaks the opponents of gay marriage. If voters want to protect traditional marriage, Marcotte reasons, they should have no trouble banning divorce. Lin quotes Marcotte as explaining, "Since California has decided to protect traditional marriage, I think it would be hypocritical of us not to sacrifice some of our own rights to protect traditional marriage even more."

Perhaps you are not surprised to learn that not all the leading opponents of the gay marriage ban have flocked to Marcotte's banner. Ron Prentice, the executive director of the California Family Council, told Lin that while his supporters would like to see fewer divorces, an outright ban would not be "practical."

Marcotte's 'movement' has its own website, of course (2010 California Marriage Protection Act) and it's pretty humorous.

You can even buy stuff from the site to support Marcotte's cause (and perhaps also his traditional wife and two children). This shirt is for sale in most sizes for $12 ($14 for men's XXL). The shirt "features a bride and groom chained at the wrist with the bonds of love." The site urges you to buy a shirt to "[s]how the heathens in your community that you support marital fidelity in the most extreme way possible."

Har, har, har, right?

The really funny thing, though, is that Marcotte has a good point.

I'm not going to start a similar petition drive in Illinois or anything, but it is a sad fact that roughly one of every two marriages ends in divorce. There are far too many kids growing up in what we used to call "broken homes." Calling these "blended families" doesn't necessarily make things easier for the kids.

As common as divorce is now (Marcotte and others quoted in Lin's article refer to it as a "right"), it was not always thus.

The Anglican Church may have been founded so Henry VIII could divorce Catherine of Aragon, but Anglican divines were just as opposed to divorce for non-royal persons as their despised Papist counterparts. In early America, divorce was available only as an act of the state legislature. I read a study of divorce practices in colonial and early American Virginia (where the Anglican church was long established) that suggested that the legislature would routinely refuse to permit divorces even in the most compelling circumstances. Eventually, over the course of several generations, divorce petitions were referred to chancery courts for fact finding and recommendations and, later still, these courts were granted the power to grant divorces on their own.

Still, as late as Maynard v. Hill, 125 U.S. 190, 8 S.Ct. 723 (1888), we find reference to divorce as a legislative prerogative. The case concerned a suit by the abandoned children of a man trying to enforce, after the absconding father's 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. The fact that Mr. Maynard failed to even gave his wife (left behind in Ohio, with two children and without support) notice of his intent to secure a divorce was not enough to invalidate the divorce. The Supreme Court agreed that the legislature might not have granted the divorce if it had known these facts, but it had the power to act without this knowledge... and it acted.

Lay in a supply of popcorn and turn on Turner Classic Movies this weekend. I doubt you'll be on the couch too long before you hear a reference to someone 'going to Reno.' Even as attitudes toward divorce softened in the 20th Century, divorce was often unavailable, or practically so, in many American jurisdictions, particularly if one party objected. Nevada made money by taking advantage of this, coupling a liberal divorce law with a manageable residency period. The proximity of Nevada to California made Reno references in the movies all that much more numerous.

It's really only recently that "no-fault" divorces have become available generally. These too often follow "no-thought" marriages.

There are circumstances where divorce is absolutely necessary for the safety and sanity of an abused spouse or for the physical or financial protection of children -- but, even if Mr. Marcotte doesn't mean it, he has a point: One can't be simultaneously a staunch supporter of "traditional marriage" and easy, no-fault divorce. I don't think my wife would like the T-shirt, though.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Tiger's mishap provides a cautionary tale

Bee, this one isn't really about sports. Not entirely, anyway.

We begin in the world of sports. The world's greatest golfer, Tiger Woods, got into an auto accident in his own driveway over the long weekend. He was treated and released from a local hospital. The police have some questions, but Tiger's not talking a whole lot. In fact, he decided not to appear at a scheduled golf tournament this week, in California, presumably so he wouldn't have to face the media glare. What makes this decision particularly awkward is that this was his own tournament.

Without facts, the media is recycling rumor and innuendo. It seems that last week, shortly prior to Woods' auto mishap, the National Enquirer ran a story that linked Woods romantically with a former New York "night club hostess." You can get the names and links everywhere else on the Internet; I choose not to supply them. You can even find photos. The woman named by the Enquirer is attractive.

But Tiger is already married -- to a very attractive wife. If the National Enquirer article had been called to the attention of Mrs. Woods, it is reasonable to suppose, as the accompanying Jeff Danziger cartoon speculates, that Tiger's present injuries, whatever they are, may not be solely related to his automobile accident.

It must be pointed out that Mr. Woods' alleged paramour denies that she is even a friend of his; she claims to have met him only twice, both times in connection with her employment. She also denies having sex with celebrities generally. If you haven't followed the details of this story, you may find this an odd assertion to make, but one particularly salacious rumor about this woman was that she collects famous married men like other people collect coins or stamps.

I hope that Mr. Woods is indeed innocent of any extracurricular activity and that the 'other woman's' denials are entirely factual.

But there have been women who have pursued famous men, regardless of their marital status. The generic term is groupie. I recall hearing of one who made plaster casts of rock stars. I'm not talking about life masks either. These casts were made of a body part other than the face. (So far as I know, none of these casts are included in the rock 'n' roll memorabilia displayed at the Hard Rock Cafes around the country. Despite the obvious tie-in. *Ahem.*)

The point is that some women are attracted to famous, powerful or wealthy men. The aforementioned Tiger Woods qualifies on at least two of these three criteria. He probably would have had many opportunities to stray... if he were interested in that sort of thing. And even if he wasn't actively looking, should someone throw herself at him....

There's a reason why Jesus included the phrase, "Lead us not into temptation," when He taught us the Lord's Prayer: Once temptation arrives, we're in deep trouble.

You might not think that preachers would have their own groupies, but I expect they do. (Presumably, though, the women attracted to ministers are different than the ones who seek out rock stars.) I recall reading once that Billy Graham took no chances with groupies. After he was married, he made it a rule to never be alone with a woman not his wife. Someone was assigned to be with him at all times.

Mr. Woods might want to consider adding such a person to his own entourage. It might help avoid driveway accidents in the future.

Heads or Tails #116 -- "proud"

This week, Barb has decreed that Heads or Tails will be about "proud." I know where this is supposed to go, of course, to talk about something we're proud of or someone who makes us proud. But, of course, conformity has never been my strong suit. Thus, I will talk about overused wedding songs.

Overused wedding songs? You may well ask how that fits today's topic.

Well, back in the day when I was getting married and going to my friends' weddings, we didn't have deejays playing music. We had bands. Real wedding bands with singers and fat, bald musicians wearing tuxedos or suits at least, and playing actual musical instruments.

Some were amplified -- my father used to complain that he couldn't stand most weddings because he'd be driven out by the electric bass as soon as the dessert plates were taken away -- and some were good and some were awful. Some of the bands were composed entirely of old guys; some included younger musicians hoping for something better in the future.

But all wedding bands, good or bad, young or old, had one thing in common: They all played "Proud Mary."

Did you see that one coming?

The old-guy bands were particularly amusing: "Here's one for the young people," one of them would say, and the band would start up quickly (Left a good job in the city/ Working for the man every night and day....) to cover up the groan that would assuredly arise from the assembled young people.

I wonder if any song since has been so overdone at weddings. "Macarena" perhaps?

Monday, November 30, 2009

Oh Christmas tree! Curmudgeon tries -- and fails -- mostly -- to simplify his life

There's a Christmas tree lot that sets up every year on a vacant parcel near the el station that I use most mornings and I love the scent of the fresh pines -- but I can't see killing a perfectly good tree just to have that smell in the house for a month or so. We've always had an artificial Christmas tree at the Curmudgeon house.

We'd used the same tree now for a dozen years or more and it was getting to look more real with each passing year: The tree was shedding needles like crazy and its bald spots were getting bigger and more in need of tinsel and garland disguises.

Putting it up has been a big pain. I usually got stuck with putting on the lights. Putting on the lights does not mean just wrapping the strings around the tree boughs; it means untangling the strings, finding out which ones have decided to stop working in whole or in part, figuring out whether bulb replacement will resuscitate said string.... The process takes hours each year and usually results in my completely losing it at least once. Merry #$%*@!! Christmas, indeed.

And as much as I hate putting up the tree, Long Suffering Spouse hates taking it down more. Because she usually does it alone, despite pleas and entreaties to any of her children still in residence on or shortly after the Feast of the Epiphany.

Oh, yes, the kids: Our teenage and 20-something kids want the tree up and they want to tell stories about the ornaments (several of which they made as pre-schoolers), and they want to watch the annual ritual of old Dad losing it over yet another $%*!!@ string of lights that won't work -- or, better, that stops working when it is halfway on the %&@!!# tree. But the kids don't actually want to do things.

So Long Suffering Spouse and I have talked for a couple of years now about simplifying. Maybe we wouldn't put up a tree at all.

The center of our bay window in the Curmudgeon home is usually taken up by a large ficus tree in a pretty large basket. Last year I suggested that we decorate that instead of putting up our usual tree. I even found some red bows to put on the branches. My suggestion was overwhelmingly vetoed by the kids. The bows, however, are still on the branches.

A couple of weeks ago Long Suffering Spouse and I stopped by the neighborhood Walgreens to pick up our prescriptions. It was there that I saw the potential solution to our Christmas tree dilemma:

A Charlie Brown Christmas tree! Just like the tree in the photo, it came with a single, pathetic-looking red ornament and a wood base. And for $10 it seemed like a real bargain.

"You'll never get away with it," Long Suffering Spouse told me.

"I can try," I said.

We took the little tree home and hid it in the garage rafters where the 'regular' Christmas tree also resides in the offseason.

Fast forward now to Black Friday. Long Suffering Spouse and I did not attempt to join the mad throngs of post-midnight shoppers. We even waited a discreet interval before coming downstairs and making the coffee, so as to allow Older Daughter and her husband some more snooze time on the new futon. Everyone stayed up much too late on Thanksgiving night.

By late morning, even Middle Son and Youngest Son had roused themselves from slumber. (Middle Son had to wake up -- he's working retail this Christmas and was due at the mall at noon.) With nearly the whole family assembled (Oldest Son excepted) I announced that it was as good a time as any to take down the tree and start decorating. I got up to head out to the garage.

Of course, no one volunteered to help.

But the protests began as soon as I walked in the door with my little box. I set the tree up in about a minute and a half, and announced that we were ready for the season. Oh no, we're not! cried the kids. You can't be serious!

You don't know how serious I am, I told them.

They didn't believe me.

They were starting to believe me when morning became evening and no moves were made to add to the decor.

It's not a bad little tree, I told them. Maybe it just needs a little love.

But the little tree was getting no love at all from the kids. And, indeed, neither was I. I wasn't really afraid of being murdered in my sleep... but I may have slept more warily than usual Friday night.

The next morning Long Suffering Spouse and I went out. The kids demanded to know where we were going, but we refused to say.

We went to a swimming pool place that sells artificial Christmas trees every season... and we got a new tree. But this one has the lights already installed.

So I didn't simply my life as much as I hoped... but I didn't fail entirely.