Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Heads or Tails #84 -- sea or see

I see this morning that Barb, the creative force behind Heads or Tails, has, with the assistance of Hootin' Annie, effected repairs to the HoT blogroll. My congratulations. You can see the new blogroll if you scroll far enough down on this page.

Hootin' Annie... Hootin' Annie... when I see the name I don't necessarily get... oh, wait. When I say it. Ah. Now, I see it.

Well, anyway, today we are to choose between "see" or "sea" as our topic. Never fear, though: I'll spare you the story of how the blind carpenter's sight was restored. (He picked up his hammer and saw. I guess you can see now that I didn't spare you, did I?)

No, this topic provides another opportunity to complain about how I am again at sea -- and not on a cruise ship either. No, to be 'at sea' in this sense means to be lost and bewildered. But why would you want to see that?

So, instead, I'll sign off quickly and get back to work. As I mentioned yesterday, I'm underwater at present (keeping with the nautical theme before I even knew it had been declared), so I shouldn't be sailing here 'round the the Blogosphere in the first place. Court tomorrow, a meeting, piles of records to review: Posting may be sporadic the rest of the week.

See you later.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Placeholder entry

Like a Florida mortgage, I'm underwater at the moment. Don't these clients understand that I need quality blogging time?

I'll be back... soon... soon-ish... when I cut through this tangled thicket of paper that has accumulated on my desk and as email attachments.

Talk among yourselves in the meantime.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Two sides to AIG bonuses?

Jake DeSantis was, until recently, an executive vice president of the American International Group’s financial products unit. His resignation letter was published in the New York Times (genuflection optional) on March 24. (The link embedded in the preceding sentence will take you to the Op-Ed posting; this copy of Mr. DeSantis' resignation letter is on the Times' DealBook blog. I don't know which link will last longer.)

This Associated Press article, carried on Boston Herald.com, says that DeSantis received $742,000, after the first round of tax withholding (that is, without taking into account a possible 90% tax now being bandied about in Congress) of the now infamous $165,000,000 in bonus money distributed to AIG executives.

An excerpt from the DeSantis letter, addressed to AIG Chairman Edward M. Liddy:
The profitability of the businesses with which I was associated clearly supported my compensation. I never received any pay resulting from the credit default swaps that are now losing so much money. I did, however, like many others here, lose a significant portion of my life savings in the form of deferred compensation invested in the capital of A.I.G.-F.P. because of those losses. In this way I have personally suffered from this controversial activity — directly as well as indirectly with the rest of the taxpayers.
Here, Mr. DeSantis makes a valid point: Not all units of AIG were a financial disaster. Some were making money right along. I can't independently confirm, of course, that Mr. DeSantis was in one of these units -- but I know -- and even congresspeople should have known -- that AIG in its entirety was not a financial black hole.

An additional excerpt:
I and many others in the unit feel betrayed that you failed to stand up for us in the face of untrue and unfair accusations from certain members of Congress last Wednesday and from the press over our retention payments, and that you didn’t defend us against the baseless and reckless comments made by the attorneys general of New York and Connecticut.

My guess is that in October, when you learned of these retention contracts, you realized that the employees of the financial products unit needed some incentive to stay and that the contracts, being both ethical and useful, should be left to stand. That’s probably why A.I.G. management assured us on three occasions during that month that the company would “live up to its commitment” to honor the contract guarantees.

That may be why you decided to accelerate by three months more than a quarter of the amounts due under the contracts. That action signified to us your support, and was hardly something that one would do if he truly found the contracts “distasteful.”

That may also be why you authorized the balance of the payments on March 13.

At no time during the past six months that you have been leading A.I.G. did you ask us to revise, renegotiate or break these contracts — until several hours before your appearance last week before Congress.
Ooops. Although Congress, at the behest of Sen. Dodd (who says, in turn, that he was acting at the behest of the Treasury Secretary, Mr. Geithner) had specifically authorized these payments, given the firestorm stirred up by disclosure of these "bonuses" in the press, Mr. Liddy had to know that the House Committee was going to land on him with a full body slam.

And, if Mr. DeSantis is to be believed, at least in his case, the "bonus" was no bonus at all; it was really his salary. "Like you," he wrote in his resignation letter to Mr. Liddy, "I was asked to work for an annual salary of $1, and I agreed out of a sense of duty to the company and to the public officials who have come to its aid." Well, he agreed out of a sense of duty and with an expectation that his contract would be honored.

Where DeSantis falters is when argues that he no more should be cheated out of his payment "any more than a plumber should be cheated after he has fixed the pipes but a careless electrician causes a fire that burns down the house." Actually, if his account is accurate, the electrician burned down the house before DeSantis was asked to fix the pipes.

But it is a small point. It was a particular unit of AIG that dragged the giant down. The public has been unable to distinguish between the persons responsible and AIG as a whole. Sensationalist press accounts about multi-million dollar executive bonuses and hyperventilating congresspersons have not helped sharpen the distinctions in the public consciousness.

Responsible leaders here would promise to thoroughly investigate why we've come to this pretty pass and to prosecute any criminal violations uncovered to the fullest extent of the law. Unfortunately, according to Roger Simon, when Jay Leno asked President Obama if someone shouldn't be going to jail over getting us in this mess, he said, "Most of the stuff that got us into trouble was perfectly legal."

The President's statement may be premature -- because the investigation sure doesn't look to have begun yet; we're still in the hand-wringing stage. It seems to me that there are quite a number of existing bank fraud and security statutes and regulations that may have been violated in the run up to the financial collapse. But if the President is right, the as-yet-unstarted investigation must determine why "the stuff that got us into trouble" was legal... and whether the laws need revision.

Don't say 'yes' automatically. There is one Higher Law the applies here and everywhere when laws are tinkered with for purposes of reform or otherwise.

And, no, I'm not injecting religion into this already contentious discussion. I'm talking about the Law of Unintended Consequences. I must post separately about this Higher Law soon.

Meanwhile, mention must be made of two other not entirely unrelated stories: After all, phony mortgages were at the root of the assets were being sold and hedged and whatever by AIG and others.

In this March 27 Chicago Tribune story, we learn about a club owner, Darrell Rodgers, who admitted Wednesday to "wire fraud and engaging in a monetary transaction in criminally derived property" in bilking area banks out of at least a million dollars in loans on 28 Chicago-area homes.

On the very day Mr. Rodgers entered his guilty plea, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Chicago announced the indictments of two dozen people in a phony mortgage scam. In "Operation Madhouse," as it was called, cooperating witnesses and FBI agents posed as persons willing to enter into phony mortgage transactions. They allegedly found all sorts of folks willing to help them out.

So, for those ready to grab pitchforks and torches and storm AIG, pardon me if I hold back awhile. I am certain not everyone there should be tainted by the credit default swap debacle. I'd like to see the criminal investigations keep coming... and climb the food chain to see who is really responsible for this mess. My pitchfork will be ready then.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Curmudgeon works the other side of Legal Street

I don't mean to suggest that I've turned to a life of crime.

I am not now, nor have I ever been, a mortgage banker.

No, today I made one of my very rare visits to a criminal courtroom.

Non-lawyers may be surprised to hear that not all lawyers do all things. Many lawyers never go to court at all. My father seldom did. I regularly go to court -- but almost always on civil (that is, not criminal) matters.

My venture to the other side of Legal Street today was prompted by an inquiry from someone in the neighborhood. Her daughter went to grammar school with Younger Daughter and they're still good friends. Younger Daughter's friend was picked up for shoplifting recently. She was charged, under our retail theft statute, with a Class A misdemeanor. That can result in up to 364 days in jail or a fine of $2,500 or both. And there is a civil liability component under the retail theft statute as well.

The girl's mother was distraught. And I was rather stern with my client, or so Younger Daughter told me that my client told her. "You know," my client told Younger Daughter, "I thought I would be talking to your dad, like I've done lots of times, but he was so harsh." This made me feel pretty good. Maybe her parents hadn't gotten through to her about the severity of the situation -- after all, who listens to their parents at 20? -- but perhaps I had. When she got called in at work, though, because her arrest had triggered some flag in a computer, and she was told her continued employment was contingent on the outcome of this case, that definitely made an impression. (How many times can I say it? This Internet thing is a decidedly mixed blessing.)

One of the guys that I share my Undisclosed Location with has a son who used to be a prosecutor; he now does criminal defense work. I called him up to ask if I was in over my head. He told me he was pretty sure I could handle it... and then he told me e..x..a..c..t..l..y what to say and how to say it. I'm holding up my notes right now in front of the screen so you can see them. See?

I usually go to court in Chicago's Loop. Today, though, I was in a 'branch court' attached to a police station on Chicago's West Side. Much of the surrounding area looks like it has been bombed.

But I didn't pick up on that air of despair as I have on those few occasions where I've gone to the main Criminal Courthouse at 26th & California (and then only as prospective juror). If Disneyland is the 'happiest place on Earth,' 26th & Cal is the unhappiest. This place wasn't nearly as awful.

I got to court early. I have internalized only one rule of criminal defense practice, but it is an important one: Find the prosecutor as soon as possible and make nice. Unfortunately, today the prosecutor didn't come out until the judge did, so there was no opportunity to kibitz with her. However, I did schmooze with a younger lawyer who seemed to know the territory. Better still, after he left the State's Attorney's office he'd worked for both a prominent plaintiffs' lawyer and a respected insurance defense firm. It took him only a few years to realize he didn't like all the paperwork that rules my little corner of the legal world. He went back, then, to criminal work, this time for the defense. But, in the meantime, he'd acquired the civil dialect. He spoke my language; we could communicate.

He basically reaffirmed everything that the my colleague's son had told me -- but this guy was telling me in real time, while I was shaking like a leaf.

Yes, I admit to being nervous. I was out of my comfort zone. And when something bad happens in one of my cases, (a) I pretty much know it's going to happen, and why and (b) only money is lost, not liberty.

But the case was called and justice, apparently, was served. I repeated the ritualistic formulas in which I had been instructed, the State's Attorney said something and the judge said something else and, after dismissing my client and her much-relieved mother, I went back and asked my new friend if what I thought had happened had in fact happened. He said it had.

Another splendid victory!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Peering inside someone else's mind... or perhaps seeing clean through the ears

Long Suffering Spouse and I were in the van recently, driving south on Harlem Avenue.

We both spotted the red SUV at about the same moment. The oversized vehicle pulled well past the stop sign on our right and looked, momentarily, as if it was going to turn right in front of us.

I braced for impact. Since I was in the passenger seat, I was going to catch the brunt of the collision. It was Long Suffering Spouse who noticed that the driver of the oversized red vehicle, an overstuffed blond woman, was on the phone.

Somehow the blond woman reconsidered her intended maneuver and pulled in behind us instead. "That's probably what she had in mind all along," I said, exhaling.

"Yeah, right," said Long Suffering Spouse, not meaning it at all, and tightening her grip on the steering wheel.

Harlem is a long street and we were on it for a long way. The red SUV was matching our course and speed. Now that my eyes were open again I could see that it had somehow gotten in front of us.

"What is she doing?" asked Long Suffering Spouse suddenly. "I thought that was a phone, but now it looks like she's looking in a mirror. Is she putting on make-up?"

She wasn't. The overstuffed woman in the oversized SUV had a large economy size PDA, around the size of checkbook. My wife wasn't seeing a mirror; she was seeing a screen. The blond woman had positioned her device on the steering wheel where she might, arguably, also be able to see the street in front of her. It looked like the device might have a QWERTY keyboard... because it sure looked like she was typing. I reported my observations to Long Suffering Spouse.

"What can she possibly be typing?" asked my wife, incredulous.

I've been thinking about it ever since.

She might have been "Tweeting."

Just passed Diversey. Heavy traffic today.

* * * * * * * *

No train at Grand Ave. Yaay!

* * * * * * * *

People are so friendly on Harlem. Someone just waved at me when he passed. Used only one finger, though.
Well, she had slowed down considerably when she hunched over her keyboard. People were passing her, on the right. Unfortunately, we had gotten stuck behind her when her inspiration struck, and we weren't able to get around her for awhile.

It therefore occurred to me that such intense concentration may not have been necessary... not for Tweeting, or Twittering, or whatever. Perhaps she was working on her version of the Great American Novel....
She gasped involuntarily as his strong, calloused hand cupped her creamy, white....
Or maybe not.

Perhaps she was writing her state representative:
Traffic safety is a vital concern for all of us. You must continue to support all measures that promise to rid our streets of the plague of distracted drivers....
With an attitude like this, she might be in the legislature herself someday. Maybe even Congress....

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A new book plays a serious game about the end of the world

My mother-in-law filled her bathtub with water and laid in all sorts of canned goods -- just in case -- as Y2K approached. I fell asleep in front of the TV as usual. Y2K didn't faze me a bit.

But I will admit to a little shiver of fear every time I think about the end of the Mayan calendar. For some reason the Mayans chose to end their calendar -- predicting the end of time? -- on December 21, 2012. The date is just random enough, and just close enough, to be a little unsettling.

This is where Brian D'Amato comes in.

Mr. D'Amato's biography advises that he published his first novel, Dreamland, in 1992. Since then Mr. D'Amato has written a brooding, introspective Serious Novel about the clash and incompatibility of cultures; a monograph on game theory; a scholarly treatise on the customs, practices and ornamentation of the Mayans and other Mesoamerican cultures in the 7th century of the Common Era; an historical novel about Mexico and Central America in the same period; and a gripping, sci-fi tinged techno-thriller.

To acquire this extensive library, you need only buy Mr. D'Amato's new book, In the Courts of the Sun, to be published tomorrow by Dutton. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the multitude of its component parts, In the Courts of the Sun is the first volume of a planned trilogy.

And, oh yes, Mr. D'Amato also supplies the Mayan-themed artwork for the book. Wikipedia tells us that D'Amato has taught art and art history at City University of New York, the Ohio State University, and Yale.

In Mr. D'Amato's book, December 21, 2012 really is the day on which the world will end -- but not if a team of well-funded scientists, engineers and game theorists can change the course of history.

A calendrical savant, Jed DeLanda, becomes part of this team after he correctly interprets a pre-2012 disaster prophecy in a newly discovered Mayan codex. DeLanda is Mayan, as attuned to the suppressed culture of his ancestors as he can be. He also has a talent for playing a game, a game that he learned from his mother, that has helped him amass a small fortune in corn futures. That same game may also prevent the end of the world.

In the Courts of the Sun is a sprawling work; Mr. D'Amato says he spent "fifteen-plus years" of research putting it together -- and it shows. It is not an "airport book" -- you'll need (and I think you may want) to spend more time with this novel.

I was particularly taken in by the astounding detail concerning the life of the Mayans and other Mesoamerican peoples. I asked the book's publicist about the authenticity of these descriptions and I received an email back from Mr. D'Amato. "Where there are disagreements among scholars," D'Amato wrote, "I've tried to make all the research in the book 'According to Pru' -- that is, according to the Mayanist Prudence Rice, at the University of Illinois, who is vetting the books and who has also provided some important corrections and even some ideas for dialogue."

I don't want to make In the Courts of the Sun sound like a history textbook. It most certainly is not. It is a tale told from the points of view of Jed DeLanda (and, no, I won't explain that and, no, "points" is not a typo) and Mr. DeLanda, for all his brilliance, has some very serious issues. He is often crude and irreverent, even blasphemous. If hostility to religion spoils science fiction or techno-thrillers for you, you'll have problems here. I read science fiction constantly. I'm used to the attitude and I'm not threatened by it.

That said, I found myself disappointed when I realized that the entire story would not be told in just this one book -- and that's a high compliment: I want to know how it all ends. (Or, you know, if it all ends.) The second installment of the trilogy is due next year. One hopes the third installment will be published sufficiently prior to December 21, 2012.

Just in case.

A footnote, by way of providing local color: Brian D'Amato is the son of Anthony D'Amato, the Judd and Mary Morris Leighton Professor of Law at Chicago's Northwestern University School of Law.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Coming tomorrow on Second Effort

With any luck at all, and barring an unexpected client crisis, I'll post a review tomorrow morning of the new Brian D'Amato novel, In the Courts of the Sun. (The last link is to Amazon.com; it is from there that the image of the book's cover is taken.)

We'll get the full disclosure stuff out of the way right now: I was given a copy of the book by Ms. Liza Lucas of Goldberg McDuffie Communications in New York in the hope and expectation that I would read and review same. In the Courts of the Sun is to be published March 26 by Dutton.

Heads or Tails #83 -- common

Barb, our uncommonly talented blogmistress of ceremonies, has decreed that the prompt for today's Heads or Tails is "common." We can write about common sense or things that are common -- but I want to ask what do we have in common? What "common ground" do we share? What do we have in common with our neighbors?

There was a time, we are told, in America, when one could walk down the street on a warm evening and hear Jack Benny or Amos 'n' Andy coming from virtually every open window. (And windows were open, too, in those days, because air conditioning was not then common.)

But what brings America together today? In Chicago, on an October Sunday, someone might walk down the street and see the Bears game on the TVs in virtually every living room. But even if the Bears have the late Sunday afternoon "national" spot on Fox, with Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, the game won't be on in West Coast cities which have their own teams playing. And, even where the game is shown, it won't have nearly the 'penetration' that a Bears game would in Chicago. If Monday Night Football were still a national event it would never have been banished from broadcast to cable.

Are there any TV shows we share in common? American Idol gets all sorts of press -- but I've never watched a minute of it. I know I'm not alone on this. I do know people who've seen the show -- but never beyond the first couple of weeks when the 'judges' make brutal fun of disturbed people who can't carry a tune in a bucket.

So... cruelty brings many of us together?

Maybe that's more than a joke: 9/11 may have been the last time that nearly everyone who could find a TV in America was glued to their sets.

Readers of this blog have political beliefs that range across the spectrum, from hard right to way-out left. (I like to think that my own are in the exact center of the road... but I suppose my readers from either end of the spectrum would probably think that its their views that occupy the cherished middle ground.) Some of my readers are grandparents -- some have young families. I suppose we all share access to the Internet... and a willingness to venture into the Blogosphere. We have that much in common.

But what do we -- we who blog and who read blogs -- have in common with our neighbors -- other than a zip code? As an anonymous blogger, I can't very well ask my neighbors if they also blog. With the exception of Older Daughter, I haven't yet run across a blog run by anyone I know in real life -- and Older Daughter's blog went dark when she got back from her semester in Spain... before this blog was even launched.

But I am not just an anonymous blogger; I have a blog in my own name. I did hear from one -- count 'em -- one college classmate when I put up my 'real life' blog. And, from the blank stares I've received when talking about that blog with friends and acquaintances, I am pretty sure that -- the millions of blogs supposedly registered notwithstanding -- very few of my friends or neighbors blog.

My kids all have Facebook accounts. That's different from blogging, particularly from anonymous blogging like I do here. Kids put their lives on line... and their futures on the line... by posting potentially incriminating pictures of themselves and their equally clueless friends. But Facebook can, at its best, be a way for the kids to keep track of their friends; Older Daughter started getting telephone calls within 10 minutes of changing her status on Facebook to "engaged." I would get a Facebook account myself to keep better track of what the kids are up to... but I'm afraid none of them would accept me as their "friend."

I don't think I could handle the rejection.

So even among people who have online presences, bloggers and Facebookers don't necessarily have much in common.

Older Daughter, the ex-blogger, now has a website for her upcoming wedding. She's been after me to look at it; she's updated it recently, she told me; there's all sorts of "fun" stuff on it now, she said. But we don't necessarily hold the same ideas of fun in common.

And we haven't even discussed the Tweeters yet, have we? (This post, by Ken Levine, is one of the funniest I've seen on the Tweeter phenomenon. By the way, what do you call people who tweet? Tweeter twits? Or just twits?)

Yes, making fun of the 'other guy'... we have that in common, I suppose, unless the 'other guy' is thee... or me.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Wheeee! We play Wii at the Curmudgeon home

Older Daughter and her Husband-to-be visited this weekend; they had to see one of the priests at our parish in order for Older Daughter to receive permission to marry in an Episcopal church. (We belong to the Roman Catholic Church, and it was named for and patterned after the greatest bureaucrats of all time: There is a form for everything, and a cubbyhole into which every form may be placed.)

The interview apparently went well; Older Daughter's name was not read out from the pulpit on Sunday morning.

Because their visit was short, Older Daughter and the Husband-to-be did not bring much with them. They did, however, bring H2B's Wii.

They thought we might find it amusing.

That's what they said, anyway.

I immediately suspected a darker purpose. And, of course, this being my blog, I was entirely correct in my suspicions.

Youngest Son assisted H2B in setting up the infernal device. Older Daughter showed me how to strap the game controller to my wrist so I wouldn't accidentally throw it through the TV or into anything else breakable.

The tumblers clicked into place when Older Daughter asked me to play against her in a game of bowling.

The idea is that the player mimics throwing the bowling ball by an appropriate flick of the controller. A sensor positioned atop the TV for this purpose picks up the movement and guides the onscreen ball accordingly.

Older Daughter went first.


Then it was my turn.

It turns out that I can throw gutter balls in my den just as well as I can in a real live bowling alley. I also managed to throw the ball backwards -- something I've never actually done in real life -- causing all the little imaginary people on the screen to leap out of the way. The only consolation was that I didn't have to rent clown shoes.

Long Suffering Spouse, H2B, Older Daughter and Youngest Son laughed until they ached. It is possible, of course that they were laughing with me. (I did, in fact, laugh until tears blurred my vision.) But I'm pretty sure they were laughing at me.

Not wanting her mother to be spared from the humiliation, Older Daughter set Long Suffering Spouse and me up with a driving contest. There is a different controller for this purpose. It resembles a steering wheel in that it is round... but, unlike a steering wheel, only the slightest movement was necessary to send the little on-screen car careening wildly out of control. Several times, apparently, I was proceeding against traffic -- going backwards. I didn't realize this until the kids pointed it out; I was just happy to be on the road. Or the ice floe. Or the mushroom tops. (The driving surfaces varied.) I kept colliding with things, whether driving against or even with traffic, some of these things damaging the car, some of these conferring temporary super powers. I think I beat Long Suffering Spouse in two of three races... meaning I finished 11th and she 12th against a field of ten other imaginary opponents. I think once I actually finished the course before the race was called.

Then they tried to make me play tennis. At this point we must draw the veil of charity over the proceedings.

Finally, Long Suffering Spouse and I were able to excuse ourselves and go to bed. Older Daughter, H2B and Youngest Son remained... driving and bowling and tennising.

Long Suffering Spouse heard Youngest Son come upstairs around 5:00am. "I knew I only had a limited time with the machine," Youngest Son explained later. "I wanted to make the most of it."


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Don't push that button!

The good folks at Gmail are very concerned about sending emails that shouldn't be sent.

Some months ago they announced "mail goggles" -- basically a pop math quiz that can be set to appear whenever you propose to send an email in the middle of the night (sadly, there is no equivalent application for telephones).

They've also come up with a "forgotten attachment detector" -- basically, when the text of your email says 'please see attached' and no file is, in fact, attached, this little feature asks if you might be forgetting something. This is something I've done from time to time: I'm trying to send a document... but I hit send before attaching it. I never used the Gmail option though: I just send another email. Usually with 'oooops' in the subject line. Colleagues or clients will accept this from me because I'm old. They figure they should be grateful that I no longer insist on using semaphore instead. Sometimes I still insist.

The latest geegaw offered for paranoid Gmail users is an "undo send" option. This tool is for those who push send and then realize -- yikes! -- the message has been sent to the wrong person.

These gaffes can be quite serious. Just last year, a Philadelphia lawyer intended to send an email about settlement negotiations in a big case to Sidley, Austin lawyer (and co-counsel) Bradford Berenson; the email was sent instead to New York Times reporter Alex Berenson. The Times (genuflection optional) ran a story about the possible billion dollar settlement -- a story which panned out earlier this year when Eli Lilly announced it would pay "$1.42 billion in a settlement and fines to resolve state and federal allegations that it illegally marketed its anti-psychotic drug Zyprexa."

Of course, even with this new "undo send" feature, an emailer has only five seconds to realize that a blunder has been made and push the button. The email might escape into the ether before the sender fully comprehends the error that has been made.

Better, perhaps, to rely on a consistent practice of checking everything before clicking "send." Better still, I think, to keep lawyers away from email, especially lawyers from big firms who had become accustomed to having underlings doing the typing and the sending.

I wonder if that guy in Philadelphia wants me to teach him semaphore....

Friday, March 20, 2009

Memory leakage on the train

Every night this week, until last night, I stayed late at my desk, completing my time sheets for the day before going home.

I hate time sheets. I know I've mentioned this. But I can't emphasize this fact strongly enough.

And yet... some entries on time sheets can be turned into bills. Bills sometimes turn into actual dollars received. Most every entry is necessary at least as a defensive measure, if only against later charges of malpractice. So time sheets are evil, but they are a necessary evil. And it was a good feeling to get on the train without having to face the prospect of reconstructing today tomorrow... or some time next week.

Last night, though, my streak was broken. I had a late phone call from a prospective client. A late, long telephone call. Very long. This Internet is a decidedly mixed blessing, let me tell you. My caller last evening had found me on the Internet. I don't know if she has a case -- at least, I don't know if she has a legal case. But she had a tale to tell. Sometimes the best help you can give someone is to listen respectfully. She promised to send me all her documents that show she has a case. She may or may not really have documents. She may or may not follow up. If she doesn't... well, I don't think I'll mind so much.

At the end of that call I did not have the heart to tackle the day's time sheets. My eyes were bleary, my head hurt, and my stomach was rumbling. I threw a yellow pad in my briefcase, though, when I headed for the subway.

I could hear a train rumbling toward the station as I went down the stairs. The headlights of the train were visible on the wall as the train rounded the last curve before entering the station. I quickened my pace, making it all the way to the fifth car of the eight car train before the 'door closing' gong sounded. Better still, I found a seat... and all to myself, too.

I opened the briefcase and took out the yellow pad. I started scratching out my time sheets by hand. I could feel the memories of the day flowing out of me as the train rumbled through the tunnels. Happily, I guess, some of them were running down my arm, into my hand, and getting preserved on the yellow pad. When I finally get around to typing these up, a lot of what's written there will seem new to me... as if someone else had written the entries.

I read somewhere recently that something like 80% of electrical power is lost in transit from the power station to the plug in my wall.

That seems like an extraordinarily high number, and I certainly do not vouch for it. I tried to find out what the real number might be; I found a Wikipedia article on electric power transmission. Sadly, I couldn't understand much of it. I am persuaded, however, that some electric power, at least, is lost in transit.

So, too, I think with memory.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Do you really want to give 110%?

This was in my email recently and I thought it was worth sharing. Of course, I had to check the figures first....

NB: The language in today's post is slightly coarser than usual -- but apparently consistent with prime-time TV standards. Sadly.

What constitutes 100% effort? Have you ever wondered about those people who claim they are giving more than 100%? We have all been to meetings where someone has exhorted us to give more than 100%... what are they really asking of us? How can we achieve 100% in life?

Here's a little mathematical formula that might help you answer these questions:



is represented as:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26,


H-A-R-D-W-O-R-K may be represented as 8-1-18-4-23-15-18-11.

8+1+18+4+23+15+18+11 = 98%

Got the pattern?


K-N-O-W-L-E-D-G-E =

11+14+15+23+12+5+4+7+5 = 96%


A-T-T-I-T-U-D-E =

1+20+20+9+20+21+4+5 = 100%.


B-U-L-L-S-H-I-T =

2+21+12+12+19+8+9+20 = 103%


A-S-S-K-I-S-S-I-N-G =

1+19+19+11+9+19+19+9+14+7 = 127%

Thus, we can conclude, with mathematical certainty, that hard work and knowledge will get you close, but it's attitude that will take you to 100%. To get more than 100% you need to engage in bullshit or ass kissing.

The individual who sent me this email advised that he got it from two math teachers who, together, have nearly 70 years of teaching experience. So it must be true, right?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

In which the Curmudgeon reminds his readers why he chose this nom de plume

Historians looking back and trying to figure out why newspapers died in the early 21st Century need only look at today's papers: AIG, getting government billions, is forking millions of these over as "bonuses" to current -- and, apparently, at least in some cases, to former -- executives. The newspapers might have covered many aspects of this story such as:
  • Who is getting these bonuses? (That is, what are their names and job titles?)
  • Why are these bonuses being paid?
  • If these people -- any of these people -- are responsible for AIG's spectacular failure, why haven't they been fired? On the other hand, parts of AIG were -- and still may be -- profitable. Is any bonus money going to the profit makers? (If so, maybe we shouldn't be as upset, right? At least as far as these individuals are concerned?)
  • What is the status of the criminal investigations into the AIG debacle? Aren't there any? If not, why the heck not?
But, instead, what do our papers give us this morning?

One of Oprah's puppies died!

Oh, and also, Congresspeople are shocked, shocked to find out that bonuses are being paid by AIG and they want the money back. Um, ladies and gentlemen, you claim to have bought a large stake in AIG on behalf of the American people. Surely you must have learned about these bonuses when you did your due diligence prior to the acquisition, especially if, as has been claimed, the bonus checks are contractually obligated. (I'll wait until the bitter laughter subsides.)


Cook County Board President Todd Stroger calls for a hiring freeze. Apparently all his relatives now have jobs.


I can't get excited about filling in an NCAA bracket this year. Only four teams from mid-major (non-BCS) conferences got at-large bids (that is, only four mid-major teams into the tournament without winning their conference tournaments) -- but seven teams from the Big East, seven teams from the ACC, and seven more from the Big Ten got in.

The Big 10? Illinois and Penn State played a game this season in which neither team scored 40 points -- and that's with a shot clock. (Without a shot clock that might have been an exciting game... with a shot clock it could only have been an exhibition of thuggery and bricklaying.)

So the big teams get to play cupcakes from small conferences and pad their victory totals... and the mid-majors can't get anyone to play them. In this, at least, the NCAA tournament mirrors the regular season.

I am so rooting for Morehead St. (By the way, what is the capital of the State of Morehead?)


I went to the Cash Station yesterday because I need cash to put on my CTA card. A new sign had been affixed to the machine advising that it now dispensed $20 and $50 bills.

I withdrew $60... thinking I'd get three 20's... but instead I got a $50 bill and a $10 bill.

Now you may be thinking that a big city lawyer like myself lights his cigars with $50 bills. If you think that, you've not paid much attention to this blog.

I can't buy a newspaper with a $50 bill. I can't buy a candy bar. I can't buy anything with it. I'm hoping a check will come today in the mail so I can 'cash' the $50 bill at the teller counter when I make a deposit.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

St. Pat's Day itself... an anticlimax

The South Side Irish Parade was Sunday. The Northwest Side Parade was March 8 (and as nice as the weather was for the South Side parade this year, it was that miserable on the Northwest Side -- cold and rain and flash flood warnings and all).

And then there was the Downtown parade on Saturday.

Younger Daughter was still home on Spring Break and she announced her intentions of heading down for the event. A whole group would be going and they thought they'd get VIP treatment (a couple of kids they know are in the Shannon Rovers).

Now I know a little something about the Chicago St. Patrick's Day parades. (That link will take you to a reminiscence about the 1977 downtown parade.)

So it's safe to say I knew there might be some ethanol involved. And Younger Daughter is not yet 21. So I laid down the law: Public transportation only. No open alcohol consumption (the cops promised a big crackdown on the TV news just the night before). Come straight home after the parade; do not even think about trying to get into a bar somewhere.

Long Suffering Spouse and I watched the parade on TV. We didn't see Younger Daughter. That was fine.

After the parade, I went to pick up Youngest Son from baseball practice. The baseball coach runs particularly long practices on and near St. Patrick's Day. The coach is a gentleman of Polish extraction. "Is it the Irish he doesn't like?" I asked Youngest Son when we were coming home, "Or is it just the drinking?"

"I think it's the drinking," said Youngest Son.

"Well, that's probably a good thing, then," I said.

Driving to and from school, I'd seen a lot of people milling about the streets who'd obviously been downtown for the parade. As I walked in the door, I inquired if Younger Daughter had been heard from yet.

Then I saw the largely empty pint bottle of rum on the dining room table.


Younger Daughter had come home in high spirits, if you know what I mean. She was toting a bag full of stuff she'd either brought with her or picked up along the way. Since the van wasn't in the driveway, maybe she thought no one was at home.

But Long Suffering Spouse was at home, sitting in the living room. Waiting. And watching.

"What's that bottle in your bag?" said Long Suffering Spouse when Younger Daughter came into the room.

"What bottle?" asked Younger Daughter, trying to feign innocence. And, remember kids, if you can fake sincerity, you've got it made....

"That bottle."

"Oh, this?" Younger Daughter pulled out a pennant.


She pulled out her purse.


She went to reach for something else.

"I can see the top of the bottle from here," said Long Suffering Spouse.

The bottle was eventually produced. I eventually came home. It was eventually revealed that most of the bottle's contents had been swilled before heading on the train that morning.

"Oh," I said. "Cuba libres to start the day. How very Irish," I said. "I suppose you took the Coke cans on the train and figured no one would know."

Younger Daughter's eyes grew wide. "We didn't think of that."

"You're giving her ideas," Long Suffering Spouse said. She was not amused.

So, instead, I mostly talked like a pirate for the rest of the day. (You can guess the brand of rum from that sentence, can't you?) Youngest Son also talked like a pirate. We were very loud pirates, too, especially when Younger Daughter seemed about to doze off.


And now, here we are on the Feast of St. Patrick itself. It's a beautiful day in Chicago -- the warmest in years, possibly a record. Still, all the young people are pretty much tuckered out from the weekend, I should think.

A lot of people are wearing green, though.

I am. I have a green shirt and a green tie. It brings out the unhealthy greenish pallor in my cheeks, don't you think?

Heads or Tails #82 -- point

Today's Heads or Tails topic is "point." Gosh, Barb, are you saying that sometimes these essays don't have one?

Actually, it's not just this prompt that makes me ask what's the point of blogging, anyway? In over three years of running this particular blog (I had another one before this one which I deleted) I've done over a thousand posts. In that time, I've gone from no readers at all to a bare handful of regulars. My traffic jumps a bit on Tuesday and Wednesdays (thanks to Heads or Tails) and I'll get a few dozen 'hits' most every day.

A lot come here for particular posts. One of "my" most popular is this one -- but all I did there was lift a cartoon from a web comic, Cyanide and Happiness. I get hits because I used the word "piñata" and, thanks to the logic of search engines, parents planning their kids' birthday parties find it inadvertently. But only for a moment.

Another post that draws a fair amount of search engine hits is "How to argue a motion -- Part One." At least I wrote this one. But it's not as if there's a building public clamor for Part Two.

I did a post about decreased life expectancy among American males (citing an April 3, 2008 news article on LiveScience by Robert Roy Britt). The news article pointed out that the secret to long life seems to be getting born in Iceland. I suggested that American male life expectancy is depressed because American males are depressed -- less than satisfied in their work and their lives generally.

And this was before the economy fell apart.

Nevertheless, that cheery essay has become one that attracts more hits than almost any other. Of course, people who read it immediately sink into despair and never go on line again.

And the post that gets more hits of late than any other? I did a post in February 2008 about getting called for jury duty. I've tried cases to juries... but I've never sat on a jury. Nor was I seated last February. But people search for ways to get out of jury duty -- according to the search arguments I've seen in the stats -- and find that essay. Perhaps a new motto would build traffic: "Second Effort -- Helping people shirk their civic duty since 2005."

On second thought... no.

So, then, what is the point of this essay? What is the point of blogging like this?

Well, in my delusional state, I think that somehow, someday, a book editor or literary agent will accidentally stumble on this page and decide I will be the Next Big Thing in publishing. He or she will find something I've written deliciously droll or, maybe, hysterically funny.

(No doubt it'll be one of my absolutely serious essays, too.)

And the editor or agent won't have to worry that I'll suddenly develop writer's block: There's already a ton of dreck, er, brilliant material already in the Archives.

But just before dangling a juicy contract and generous advance before my greedy, grasping hands, the editor or agent may pause -- may hesitate -- may begin to worry. "Why would people pay for this," he or she will ask, "when for all these years they have had it for free?"

Well, Mr. Imaginary Editor or Ms. Equally Imaginary Literary Agent, take heart. The point of this essay is that all too few people visit this blog... on purpose. The vast, untapped market remains....

Monday, March 16, 2009

Discovery launches; Bellwood native commanding

Shuttle Discovery took off from Florida last night, climbing into low Earth orbit for a rendezvous with the International Space Station.

This time, America's Space Truck is under the command of Air Force Col. Lee Archambault, pictured at left, a native of the near-west Chicago suburb of Bellwood and a graduate of Proviso West High School. The mission has two major goals, first, to deliver Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency to the space station and, second, to deliver and install the "S6 truss" to the station. According to NASA, "The S6 truss will complete the backbone of the station and provide one-fourth of the total power needed to support a crew of six." The truss will support energy-generating solar panels. The STS-119 Mission Summary (which you can access by following the NASA link in the preceding sentence) also advises that the shuttle crew will also "replace a failed unit for a system that converts urine to potable water."

This last task in particular may not seem glamorous, but this 'ultimate recycling' is of vital import if human exploration of space is ever going to really begin.

At this point, for all of our Shuttle launches, we are still playing in Mother Earth's back yard. Once we went to the Moon -- Col. Archambault grew up, he said, carefully following the career of another Bellwood native, Eugene Cernan, one of only a dozen men ever -- so far -- to have walked on the Lunar surface. But that is like a toddler walking to the corner -- and coming straight back. As a species, we've yet to cross a 'busy street.'

And Mother Earth's back yard is getting crowded, too. The space station recently had to be moved to avoid a piece of floating space debris. The Chicago Tribune reports this morning that the station may have to move again in order to avoid a chunk of a disintegrated Russian satellite.

If Col. Archambault's mission seems a little prosaic, the fault does not lie with him or his brave crew. The fault lies with our short-sighted leaders who hold back men and women with the vision and drive to reach for the planets and, some day, for the stars.

The crew and mission patch of STS-119 (click to enlarge):

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Doodling helps you keep your... look -- a birdie!

Do you doodle?

Back in the days when I used a pen more than a keyboard, I doodled all the time. I used to make Styrofoam coffee cups into little works of art while listening to boring deposition testimony.

Back in our law school days, a friend and I would design Rube Goldberg-type devices for torturing our Administrative Law professor. Nowadays, were someone to make those notes, he'd probably be reported to the police. Maybe even arrested. At the time, though, it seemed a fairly harmless way for us to release our frustration at how b...o...r...i...n...g that class was.

I had birds and dogs and alligators and aliens and people and geometric designs all over my notes from the time I started taking notes until... well, I don't hardly take notes anymore.

But maybe I should. Or at least, I should keep doodling. That's the gist of an article that appeared recently on HealthDay: "Researchers in the United Kingdom found that test subjects who doodled while listening to a recorded message had a 29 percent better recall of the message's details than those who didn't doodle. The findings were published in Applied Cognitive Psychology."

It seems that persons engaged in listening to something boring -- an uninspired teacher, a witness being grilled on the finer points of the fine print in a fine old contract -- begin to daydream -- to woolgather -- losing focus on the task at hand. What they hear passes right through their head (in my case you can sometimes hear the whistling as it goes). Surprisingly, however, the person who engages in some "simple task," like doodling, according to study researcher Professor Jackie Andrade, of the School of Psychology at the University of Plymouth, does not lose focus and better retains what he or she hears.

I'm going to have to take up doodling again. Playing Solitaire (or, especially Spider Solitaire) on the computer while listening to boring telephone conversations has not helped me keep my focus. Maybe these are not simple enough tasks for a simpleton like me.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Song titles... as graphs... and more graphs

I stumbled across graphs depicting song titles at Just Whatever. Here are a couple of examples of what I found at that site -- do you recognize the songs?

I thought these were very clever. Then, in the comments, I found out that these were apparently posted originally at Graph Jam, providing "Music & Culture for People Who Love Charts." You can even make and upload your own.

There are thousands of graphs to look at there. I thought this one rang particularly true:

song chart memes
see more Funny Graphs

I realize that this breakdown would not apply to tech savvy people -- like, Chris, for example, or Chris -- but, really, I think this is just about the right mix in my case. How about yours?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Stem cell ban lifted -- a victory for science? Or just a victory for one ideology over another?

They're so smug in the pundit class these days about President Obama's March 9 executive order reversing his predecessor's partial ban on embryonic stem cell research. Roger Simon's column in Thursday's Chicago Sun-Times column is typical:
President Obama did a lot more than lift the ban* on federal stem cell research Monday. He came to the startling conclusion that scientific research should be based on science.

This will be a change. George W. Bush spent the past eight years making sure scientific research was based on conservative ideology, political manipulation and whim.
But haven't we merely substituted one ideology for another? My problem is that I don't know enough about either (1) the executive orders in question or (2) what stem cell research is and what it involves. I haven't been able to find the facts from reading the newspapers -- so I went looking for myself. Here are the results of my search.

In a March 11 post, conservative Catholic blogger Karen Hall wrote that Mr. Obama had not only removed Mr. Bush's 2001 restrictions on stem cell research, he also vacated a later executive order, Executive Order 13435. This assertion is confirmed at §5(b) of Mr. Obama's March 9 order.

Section 1(a) of Executive Order 13425, dated June 20, 2007, provided as follows:
The Secretary of Health and Human Services (Secretary) shall conduct and support research on the isolation, derivation, production, and testing of stem cells that are capable of producing all or almost all of the cell types of the developing body and may result in improved understanding of or treatments for diseases and other adverse health conditions, but are derived without creating a human embryo for research purposes or destroying, discarding, or subjecting to harm a human embryo or fetus.
The 2007 executive order seems to have been prompted by a couple of exciting breakthroughs in stem cell research.

See, the potential utility of stem cells derives from their unspecialized nature. Stem cells can be pushed and prodded into becoming all sorts of different cells, making it possible, at least in theory, for, say, spinal cord nerve cells to be regenerated, allowing a traumatically paralyzed person to walk again.

Adult stem cells, according to this primer from the NIH, "typically generate the cell types of the tissue in which they reside. A blood-forming adult stem cell in the bone marrow, for example, normally gives rise to the many types of blood cells such as red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets." It has long been believed that "a blood-forming cell in the bone marrow — which is called a hematopoietic stem cell — could not give rise to the cells of a very different tissue, such as nerve cells in the brain."

Embryonic stem cells, on the other hand, are "pluripotent." That means that embryonic stem cells have the ability to give rise to all of the various cell types that make up the body. Embryonic stem cells have medical potential because they are pluripotent, not because they are obtained from embryos.

Research into both adult (somatic) and embryonic stem cells has been proceeding for decades now, and progress has not always been uniform or predictable. However, according to NIH, it is now believed that many types of adult tissues contain stem cells, including "brain, bone marrow, peripheral blood, blood vessels, skeletal muscle, skin and liver." And scientists have discovered that some adult stem cells can, under certain conditions, exhibit the property of plasticity -- that is, they too can become "pluripotent." Again, from the NIH primer:
The following list offers examples of adult stem cell plasticity that have been reported during the past few years.
  • Hematopoietic stem cells may differentiate into: three major types of brain cells (neurons, oligodendrocytes, and astrocytes); skeletal muscle cells; cardiac muscle cells; and liver cells.
  • Bone marrow stromal cells may differentiate into: cardiac muscle cells and skeletal muscle cells.
  • Brain stem cells may differentiate into: blood cells and skeletal muscle cells.
Research along these lines may diminish -- and ultimately eliminate -- any need for "embryonic" stem cells.

There have also been exciting developments in embryonic stem cell research.

As the name suggests, embryonic stem cells are obtained from embryos. Human embryos.

But it may not really be necessary to sacrifice human embryos on the altar of Science: This Wikipedia article on embryonic stem cells cites a 2006 letter to the scientific journal Nature by Dr. Robert Lanza of Advanced Cell Technology "stating that his team had found a way to extract embryonic stem cells without destroying the actual embryo." The current edition of the Wikipedia article notes that this method was offered as way to get past Federal restrictions on embryonic cell research and that these restrictions have now been lifted. But -- if Dr. Lanza is correct -- there was no need to lift those restrictions.

And then there was another development, one I wrote about here, just last November. A team of researchers from the University of Wisconsin, led by Dr. James Thomson, found a way to transform "ordinary human skin cells into batches of cells that look and act like embryonic stem cells -- but without using cloning technology and without making embryos." (This link will take you to a November 21, 2007 Reuters news story about the breakthrough; the quote is from that article.) If the article is accurate, then -- again -- why do we need to 'restore' unfettered research into embryonic stem cell research?

I will say, in following links for this post, that I found Dr. Thomson's press release lauding President Obama's recent executive order. His statement includes this sentence: "Human-induced pluripotent stem cells — the transformed adult cells that seem to mimic the qualities of embryonic stem cells — would not have been possible without research on human embryonic stem cells." But if we already have an Indy car, do we really need to restore funding for the Model T? Well, Thomson writes, Mr. Obama's order will remove "a stigma that has discouraged many bright young people from embarking on careers in stem cell research."

Surely no stigma attaches to a scientist ethically trying to find ways to save lives and cure diseases. But, Dr. Thomson, why shouldn't a scientist who presumes to save some lives by sacrificing others be stigmatized?

It may be the case that Mr. Obama's order, even though it rescinds Executive Order 13425, does not throw the full weight of the federal government into embryonic stem cell research at the expense of other kinds of stem cell research -- even those that hold the promise of making embryonic stem cell research obsolete (if it is not obsolete already). What Section 2 of Mr. Obama's Executive Order says is that, "The Secretary of Health and Human Services (Secretary), through the Director of NIH, may support and conduct responsible, scientifically worthy human stem cell research, including human embryonic stem cell research, to the extent permitted by law."

For me, however, the key word in that sentence is the word "responsible." Science conducted in an ethical vacuum is irresponsible. Or do you wish to live on the Island of Dr. Moreau?

Is that reference too obscure for you? Well, how about this one?

Writers have fretted about the need to link science and ethics for many years -- and have often prophesied dire consequences should science be conducted without regard for ethics -- without automatically being branded (or "stigmatized") as right-wing ideologues. Why, then, are policymakers who seek linkage automatically considered right-wing kooks?

I want to see stem cell research advance and flourish. I just want to see the science advance and flourish and produce tangible results without destroying innocent human lives. Why does having that desire make me a knuckle-dragging, reactionary Neanderthal?

Have we really seen a victory for science this week? Or is lifting the partial ban on embryonic stem cell research just another political win for a newly ascendant ideology?

And now I'll ask one final question, one which you may think is unrelated at first: Does public support for meaningful restrictions on abortion go up or down if embryos are no longer needed for stem cell research? I suspect the abortion lobby may need embryonic stem cell research more than the scientists do.

* It was only a partial ban because President Bush did permit government-funded research to go forward with embryonic stem cell lines developed before a certain date. And privately-funded research, or research supported by individual states, was not impacted at all. But who expects columnists to get all hung up on mere facts?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Getting in shape... going downhill?

The Hustle Up the Hancock was in the news again a couple of weeks ago. The Hancock event is a fundraiser for the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago. The idea is that people voluntarily run (or walk or, one might think, crawl) up the stairs of Chicago's iconic John Hancock Building; runners can choose the full 94-floor course or the "half course" -- 52 flights of stairs.

I need a rest just from typing that last sentence.

And I always feel worse after watching the news stories about the climb. At least a couple of Chicago TV stations will have one of their sports reporters participate in the event -- seemingly without breaking a sweat -- and then, to add insult to injury, they interview some of the other runners -- perhaps a 95-year old great-grandmother who just finished the full course in a personal best time.

It seems unreal to me. I plan my commute to work around escalator repairs -- in order to avoid climbing stairs. I'll go to a different station; I'll ride on the front of the train instead of the back. I mean, if I wanted to walk uphill or down, I could always move to San Francisco or something, right? I'm a flatlander.

Of course, sometimes I get fooled and an escalator has gone out during the night and I get stuck climbing... c...l...i...m...b...i...n...g the stairs, legs feeling leading, breathing heavily, seeing spots....

My office is on a floor in the low teens in my little corner of the Loop. I could no more climb up the stairs to my Undisclosed Location than I could fly there.

But, recently, after seeing the news stories about the Hustle Up the Hancock, I thought, you know, maybe I could walk down the stairs.

I know I need to walk more and the weather in Chicago is seldom conducive to taking a lunchtime stroll. Just walking down the stairs on my way to court would probably double what would otherwise be just a block-and-a-half walk. At least it would seem like it to me.

Thus it happened... just a week or so ago... I screwed my courage to the sticking point and, instead of waiting for our unbelievably slow elevators, ventured into the adjacent stairwell.

The door locked behind me.

For fire safety reasons, people have to get into the stairwells. For building security reasons, except on the first floor, most of these doors automatically lock to prevent reentry from the stairwell.

So I didn't worry about the ominous clicking. I forged ahead.

I stepped bravely downward... and twisted something.

No, seriously.

I was cringing by the time I reached the 10th floor....

Limping by the 5th....

Barely holding up under the strain as I opened the lobby door.

I was embarrassed to tell Long Suffering Spouse about what had happened when I got home that evening. I tried to tell her, in hushed tones, outside the hearing of Youngest Son.

But kids -- teenagers in particular -- have an uncanny ability to hear things they're not supposed to hear. Youngest Son burst into the room where we'd been talking and immediately interrupted: "You pulled a muscle going down a flight of stairs?"

It took me a couple of days to heal up enough to make the attempt again. I still had pain... but I made it.

A couple of days later I went down the stairs three times without incident. I proudly whispered my achievement to Long Suffering Spouse -- but, still, somehow, Youngest Son heard it from the other room and came running in.

"Feel the burn," he said. And then he laughed.

Sometimes I really hate kids.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The most unkindest cuts of all

(Yes, Bee, this is also a sports post... sort of... and, before I start, thank you, landgirl, for asking whether Youngest Son made the team....)

Despite his ailments, Youngest Son expressed confidence throughout the week that he'd survive the winnowing and claim a place on the sophomore baseball team.

Last Thursday was a half-day at Youngest Son's school. Parent-teacher conferences were scheduled for the afternoon. Friday was an off day -- the teachers would need some recovery time after dealing with parents, as you might expect.

But the sophomore coach doesn't teach at Youngest Son's school. He teaches somewhere else -- and his school was in session last Thursday and Friday both. So tryouts continued... at 3:00pm or so... on both days.

The sophomores were the last to cut. Youngest Son reported Wednesday evening that he'd never seen such sad faces in his life as the freshmen began cutting down from 80 wannabes into a manageable team. "I didn't notice that last year," he said. "Maybe I didn't want to."

The freshman coach would speak to each kid in turn and deliver the bad news.

It has to be an awful, miserable thing to do. Most of the kids trying out had been the big stars at some point on their house league teams -- they were probably among the best players on their junior high teams. But the talent funnels into high school... a full team can be, and usually is, picked from among the alumni of selective travel teams.

Maybe the differences among players was readily apparent in the tryouts... but who wants to be the one to tell a kid he didn't make it?

The varsity coach also speaks to each kid who tries out for his team. There are a lot fewer kids making the attempt, at that level, but the cuts are harder.

The sophomores were the last to cut. Not only did the hopefuls have to show up on their day off at 3:00pm, they were expected to show up at 6:00am on Saturday for a final look-see. Six o'clock? I asked, incredulous. (It was later pushed back to 7:00am -- still pretty early on a Saturday for 15 and 16 year old kids... and their parents.)

And the worst part? "They've already picked the team," Youngest Son told me on the way home one night in the middle of the week.

"What do you mean?"

Youngest Son said that he'd noticed that the varsity coach -- who does teach at Youngest Son's school -- came to practice that day and filled the sophomore coaches in on who he'd seen -- and who he'd not seen -- in the weight room and in the batting cages over the winter. The freshman coach joined the huddle to answer any questions about which kid did what last season.

"So why are they making everybody come back on their day off? Why are they making kids come in on Saturday morning? Is that when they're going to talk to them?"

"They're not talking to anyone in person. They're going to call. Saturday afternoon." They weren't calling everyone. The coaches were only going to call the kids who didn't make it.

I hate, loathe and despise telephones. And I can't imagine how cutting a kid over the phone would be 'better' than cutting him in person. I suppose it's because you can always hang up if the conversation turns really ugly. But I can't imagine picking up the phone and dialing the number to give that kind of news.

That, however, is just my own (you should pardon the expression) hang-up.

Youngest Son, who'd exuded optimism all week about his prospects, was increasingly tense after coming home Saturday morning. He positioned himself in a chair near the den phone, ostensibly watching the World Baseball Classic on TV.

He jumped every time the phone rang. Older Daughter called at one point, but she quickly hung up when I explained our vigil. And there were the usual, annoying smattering of 'toll free' sales calls.

Youngest Son was texting to a few of his friends. All responded at first. Then one stopped.

Youngest Son told me he knew what that meant.

There was a kid from our neighborhood -- a kid whom I'd coached for years -- who was a long shot to make the team. A really long shot. He'd put in a lot of time over the winter, though, trying to get better -- but there were a number of kids who are simply more gifted... even without effort. I was hoping, somehow, he might make it. But Youngest Son only shook his head. He didn't even try to text him.

We waited. Our phone didn't ring. So Youngest Son made the team.

Still, I think it might have been better done in person.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Attention European readers!

I, too, am now a Beckham fan!

The vapors in Spring Training make fans and coaches dream big dreams... but it seems like this kid may be more than just a phenom... he may be playing second base for the Chicago White Sox... maybe as soon as Opening Day.

What I don't understand is how you Europeans, who tend towards strange games like, ugh, soccer, seem to have been so far ahead of the curve on this guy. From what I can tell, there have been Beckham fans in Europe, and particularly in England, for years.

And this kid was only born in September 1986; he was just drafted out of the University of Georgia last year. How did you catch on to him so early? You must have been following him since T-ball!

And you guys claim not to follow baseball! Sure. Then how do you explain the Dutch beating the Dominican Republic in the WBC? And holding their own against Puerto Rico last night? Huh?

Heads or Tails #81 -- spring memory

In today's Heads or Tails, Barb has me at a true disadvantage. She says we are to write about a "spring memory."

Writing about memories is not the problem. I have lots of memories. They do tend to range from the wildly inaccurate to the wholly fraudulent, but still.... No, the problem isn't memory; the problem is "spring."

We don't have Spring... as a season... in Chicago. We generally go from miserably cold to miserably hot sometime around the beginning of June. There are usually a couple of days -- an afternoon here, a morning there, sometimes an entire day -- on which we enjoy Spring-like conditions. But it's not like we can actually plan for them. So this will have to do....

I'd been home from the hospital for about three weeks; it was the end of March 2007. That's Spring, right? Middle Son was scheduled to pitch in a college game that day and I was determined to go.

I had a variety of issues at that time... none of them pleasant to recall or discuss... but I learned about a new one that day.

It was about 32 degrees out. That's 32 degrees Fahrenheit -- 0 degrees Celsius -- and it wasn't snowing... exactly... but it was sort of misting. The mist was sometimes ice or water. The college kids were going to play in these conditions; Long Suffering Spouse and I dressed like Nanook of the North. Still, we had our lawn chairs in the van -- a nice Summer touch. Not that you could see the lawn chairs when we set up. We were covered in blankets, too.

And still I froze.

I can't remember being more chilled.

Middle Son pitched well, as I recall. But I recall especially that it was cold. When he was finally relieved -- in the seventh inning, I think -- Long Suffering Spouse and I retreated to the car. We could see the game, sort of, through the windshield. We were running the motor then, with the heat blasting. I was still freezing. Al Gore, forgive me.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Zombie child!

Youngest Son had been feeling poorly for awhile now -- like me, he's had a cold for pretty much all of February.

But sophomore baseball tryouts began last Monday and all thoughts of mortal weakness were necessarily banished in pursuit of a place on the team. As responsible parents are wont to do, Long Suffering Spouse and I had been gently suggesting a visit to the doctor for some time now. I even tried logic: You want to be in the best possible shape for tryouts. Get whatever medicine you need; get better; don't let all your hard work this winter be wasted because you were too stubborn to take care of yourself.

I don't know why I bother with this logic stuff anyway. Let's face it: The closer we got to the tryout, the more anxious and hostile Youngest Son became. It's just the way it works: Eighty kids try out for freshman baseball and the numbers are cut to 25 or so. Those 25, maybe a transfer or two (we have a good one this year, Youngest Son tells me), and at least some of the 50+ kids cut last year were trying to squeeze into 18 places on the sophomore team. No "B" team this year.

It's not as if I haven't been through this with Youngest Son's brothers. It's just... well, the wheezing, coughing, and congestion was getting on my nerves.

But it would soon get worse.

Monday, March 2 (Casimir Pulaski Day in Illinois) was pretty darn cold here. Still the sophomore wannabes took infield on the parking lot. Balls can take truly dangerous hops on the lip of a parking lot pothole. And Youngest Son reported that it really started to snow when he was supposed to catch fly balls.

The kids were out in this, and not in parkas either, for a good 90 minutes or two hours. This did not help Youngest Son's cold one little bit. But it didn't stop him from showing up for practice Tuesday. Nothing would.

* * * * * * * *
Long Suffering Spouse and I fell asleep in the den in front of the TV Tuesday night. It happens.

About 1:00am I was awakened by a noise. Imagine, if you can, a scream from someone who can't get any air into or out of his lungs. EEEEHHHHH! EEEEHHHH! Youngest Son staggered into the den making this unearthly noise and Long Suffering Spouse and I both jumped.

"He's not breathing!" one of us shouted. (Both of us?) I screamed that I'd call 911 -- but Long Suffering Spouse said not yet! and she began pounding Youngest Son's back.

Somehow she got him over to the chair I'd just vacated and, eventually, she got him to cough up the obstruction... and everything else. (Gosh, I hope you're not reading this over breakfast!)

The kid had been asleep basically this whole time. Judging from the lights turned on, it looks like he'd made it to the upstairs bathroom, then started searching for us. Only now, now that his airway was clear, did he wake up. He was confused.

Long Suffering Spouse and I were scared to death.

We got him back to bed eventually. We didn't sleep so well thereafter.

* * * * * * * *
Youngest Son went to school Wednesday. Our suggestions about seeing a doctor were again brushed aside.

Long Suffering Spouse figured the kid was dehydrated in addition to everything else and she likened the noise he made to one made by someone with croup. So we poured water into him Wednesday night, after tryouts, and put a humidifier in his room.

He went to bed early... and so did we.

* * * * * * * *
He woke us up at midnight... again staggering into our room like a zombie child and making that same horrible noise. This time Long Suffering Spouse tried the Heimlich maneuver and the obstruction was cleared without all the aftermath of Tuesday evening.

Youngest Son didn't really 'come to' until he was seated in the bathroom, after his mother had done her magic. She'd turned the shower on full bore and he remembers the steam.

We can't keep doing this, we told him. You have to get to the doctor.

But I can't miss school, he pleaded. It's not the love of academics that motivated him... sadly... it was the fact that he couldn't show up for baseball tryouts without first showing up for class.

But he and Long Suffering Spouse compared schedules and figured the least damage to their respective schedules would be done if she took him to the doctor first thing Thursday morning. Ultimately, it worked out for the best: He went to the local immediate care center. The doctor -- a stranger to us -- minimized the whole thing. "No problem," he said, "no danger; the boy is strong."

He was not in our house on Tuesday or Wednesday night.

At least the doctor provided the necessary antibiotics and decongestants and expectorants: The Zombie Child did not return on Thursday night.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

The overdue brief

I wasn't planning on retiring after posting the 1,000th post, although I could understand how the subsequent silence might create that impression....

See, I was expecting to "punch up" a brief that a colleague was supposed to file in the Appellate Court here before the end of February. Originally, my function was to be a sort of 'script doctor' -- adding a cite here or there, refining a bit of analysis if and where necessary.

Then I read the draft.

Or tried to.

It was essentially unreadable. Because she was very busy -- and because I cost too much -- my colleague had originally farmed the brief out to a law student.

I got called in anyway after my colleague saw his initial effort. The kid wanted to debate the finer points of the insurance coverage issue with us... but he couldn't be bothered to prepare the required Index to the Record on Appeal or tie factual assertions to actual pages in the Record. And the best part? When my colleague and I met with this kid -- in January -- to discuss these things, he copped an attitude with us. Just because we have some 60 years of legal experience and 100 or more appellate briefs between us, how dare we presume to give him constructive criticism?

Well, anyway, since I'm still expensive, the plan was that my colleague would work on revising the Statement of Facts (perhaps the most crucial part of any brief) while I'd review the cases and formulate the argument. The law student, meanwhile, was to prepare an index. We told him that we'd get back to him after that. I burned his phone number.

Meanwhile I moved on to other things... waiting for that updated draft... waiting... waiting.... Meanwhile the court had decided that the latest February due date would be the "final" date.

Ordinarily this means no additional extensions -- at least not without a lot of groveling.

And then, finally, I was told I'd get the draft two weekends ago. And I did. But the Statement of Facts was still awful. But now, I thought, I was looking at my colleague's work product, and I worry that I'm too critical. So, tentatively, cautiously, I mentioned in an email that there were no cites to the Record in the Statement of Facts and... just asking... might there be another, later draft in which some of these holes had been filled in?

Well, another draft came attached to the reply and I looked at it... and there were some cites... and they didn't make any sense. And even the Index to the Record was woefully incomplete. And the brief was due in 24 hours.

I asked my colleague to start grovelling. She was on deadline on another brief, but she undertook to file the motion after I told her I going to have to throw everything out and start from scratch. I'd have to at least read the Record... and that was over 2,700 pages.

So I should have been working on the brief the entire last week of February when I was preparing the 1000th post business. But that was one of the things I had to clear off my desk so I could devote my undivided attention to the brief. And since last Saturday, that's all I've been doing. Almost.

And I hope to have the chance to talk about some of that as soon as tomorrow.

In the meantime, the brief is done. And I found out why the "revised" Statement of Facts was so terrible. My colleague had never found the time to get back to it. It was what the law student turned in in the first place....