Monday, August 31, 2009

Coffee wards off Alzheimer's?

I noticed that Jay Harrison, of BoomSpeak! picked up my recent essay on shaving. Here's the link to the (lightly edited) BoomSpeak! version of the post. (Gosh, I hope it brings in new traffic!)

But, of course, loyal readers, you already have seen that post: So let me pull this article from BoomSpeak!

If you check out the link, you'll see its to a piece by Dr. Gabe Merkin in which he reports that University of Florida researchers have published findings that suggest "that the equivalent of five cups of coffee a day reverses memory loss in mice with Alzheimer's disease. The coffee also reduced blood and brain levels of beta-amyloid, the abnormal protein that may cause Alzheimer's disease in mice and people."

Although I've had to cut back my two-to-three pot a day habit in recent years, even at my reduced rate of coffee consumption, these figures suggest that I'll never get senile.

Which would make me feel great if I could remember where my keys are....

The real news in the manned space program is an RFP

In government-speak, an RFP is a request for proposals -- which means some bureaucrat has money to spend and is searching for someone on whom to bestow a contract.

I saw this story on Yahoo! News almost three weeks ago (and the link was still good this evening): The link would take you to a Reuters story by Irene Klotz who wrote "NASA plans to use $50 million of federal economic stimulus funds to seed development of commercial passenger transportation service to space." NASA is already spending $500 million "to help two U.S. firms, Space Exploration Technologies, a privately held company known as SpaceX, and Orbital Sciences Corp, develop rockets and capsules to deliver cargo to the station," Klotz writes.

These are good signs even if, as SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk told Reuters, "Fifty million is [only] what it costs for one seat on the (Russian) Soyuz."

The Old West wasn't privatized in a day, either. True, before the Revolution, settlers poured through the Cumberland Gap and settled Kentucky. No government action was involved in that at all; the British Government actually forbade these settlements at one point -- and several of our own Founding Fathers were hoping to make a killing on land claims from the Crown that were being settled out from under them. But, later, as the new American government staked its claim to the Northwest Territory and, later, the Louisiana Purchase, by building frontier forts, contracts had to be let so that supplies could be provided for the garrisons. Some of the suppliers settled in around the forts, or paved the way for others so to do and private enterprise began to take over from the government.

So, too, it may be with space exploration?

Well, the Space Truck is flying again: STS-128 is docked at the International Space Station, on day two of a planned 13 day mission. This latest launch of Shuttle Discovery probably didn't register on most people. But these flights are beginning to wind down now... and it's time... long past time, really... to take the next step into Space.

It's August 31 and not expected to break 70 today

Not in Chicago, anyway. And, I'm thinking, maybe the polar ice caps aren't retreating. Maybe they're relocating.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

And after all that clicking... the pictures disappoint

Older Daughter received two CDs chock full of wedding pictures at the end of last week and she promptly called Long Suffering Spouse to deliver her verdict on same:


When my son-in-law looked most handsome, Older Daughter had hair in her eyes. In others, when she looked particularly radiant, Older Daughter could not help but notice unbuttoned buttons on her new husband's vest which simply ruined the shots. In still others, the happy couple looks more sweaty than happy.

I have seen none of these, mind you; I report the double hearsay obtained from Long Suffering Spouse. In fairness, I should add that my son-in-law says Older Daughter is being too picky by far. He thinks they're fine.

I understand, of course, that my place is to cluck sympathetically when I hear these complaints directly from Older Daughter.

But -- I can tell you -- I feel VINDICATED!

It isn't the number of shots that one takes that makes a photographer good -- it is how the shots are set up -- "made" is the professional phrase -- that determines whether the photographer is an artist... or not. Of course, once a shot is composed a number of exposures might be made (technology permits this now) when only one or a few may have possible in the past.

Hours of clicking and thousands of shots were unnecessary. And, apparently, unsuccessful.

I know... I know... I'm supposed to feel bad. But, allow me a moment of smugness, won't you? This way, maybe I'll be past this when Older Daughter speaks directly with me.

Or... maybe not.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Cub fans are really different from the rest of us

Regular readers know I'm a White Sox fan -- a tough thing to admit during this current road trip, but there it is -- and they may expect that I'll say something snarky about Cub fans.

Sometimes, though, it is not necessary to say anything.

According to the Chicago Tribune website, from whence the above image was lifted, this was taken on Thursday, August 27, when the Cubs lost to the lowly Washington Nationals, 5-4.

Truth be told, I'd been planning a post like this ever since I stumbled across this image:

But this one is more... subtle... at least to the extent that you might not know where this was taken at first glance. Until you look at it a little bit.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Curmudgeon attempts to master the self-serve scanner -- again

President George H.W. Bush went to an exhibit at a convention put on by the National Grocers Association in early 1992. Oddly enough, as a wealthy, privileged individual, he'd not done his own food shopping in a long, long time. Maybe he'd never done his own grocery shopping. So he was amazed to see a checkout scanner in operation. He made the mistake of saying so. (The link will take you to a 1992 New York Times article. Genuflection optional.)

Of course, this incident was dredged up many times during Bush the Elder's unsuccessful reelection campaign. Bush was mocked as out of touch with middle class reality -- which he surely was -- but probably no more so than many of his wealthy, privileged critics, most of whom didn't do their own grocery shopping either.

But a technology need not be entirely new or unfamiliar to remain baffling.

In my own household, Long Suffering Spouse does most of the shopping. (This post explains why.) But I occasionally accompany her and, sometimes, when exigent circumstances require, I am sent in alone.

One such occasion arose recently when Long Suffering Spouse discovered, while in the middle of preparing the evening meal, that she was out of soy sauce. She showed me the empty bottle, pointing out the characteristic green cap and calling my particular attention to the 'low sodium' legend on the label. She hoped that I could find an exact replacement, but she authorized me to use my discretion to find a substitute if I was wholly satisfied that an exact duplicate could not be found.

After telling me exactly what aisle to head for, Long Suffering Spouse sent me out into the early evening.

I found the aisle, I found the exact duplicate -- I even verified the low sodium label! -- and my self-confidence thus bolstered, I thought I would take on the self-serve checkout line.

I have never yet been able to get through the self-serve checkout without assistance. Sometimes, when Long Suffering Spouse has been with me, she's been able to fix my mistakes. On a couple of occasions, Long Suffering Spouse has stood by in shock and amazement as I so badly fuddled the transaction that she was unable to reverse my steps -- and the attendant had to put things right.

But on this night, having achieved my mission objectives with a minimum of fuss and bother, I felt I might even conquer this ultimate grocery store challenge. Besides, whenever I get in the 10 items or less line, someone in front of me has a full cart, speaks no English, wants to write a check, writes the check before presenting coupons, and then wants to write another check. Either that or someone discovers, upon presenting 10 items, that he or she has only money to pay for nine. Hard decisions take time.

And, besides, there was an open self-serve lane.

Steeling my courage, I ran the bottle over the scanner. It registered. (I don't always get this far -- so I thought I was doing fine.)

But then the machine directed me to put the item down on the belt that would take it away to the bagging area.

Well, I thought, I don't need a bag. Just let me set the darn thing down and figure out how to pay. A button lit up that said "I don't want to bag this item." Aha! I thought, the machine knows what I want to do. I pushed the button and the conveyor belt reversed course, bringing the bottle back to me.

But I still couldn't figure out how to pay. Had I canceled the scan? I wasn't sure. I scanned again.


Now the computer thought I had bought two bottles of soy sauce.

By now a line had formed behind me. I could feel them becoming impatient at my ineptitude.

I began pushing buttons randomly.

And, I think, waving my arms.

I may also have screamed for help.

The attendant eventually took the hint and soon, with her help, I was back on the road with my bottle of soy sauce.

I told Long Suffering Spouse about this adventure. For some reason she thinks I'm pretty near hopeless.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Curmudgeon reviews obsolete techno-terms

A Businessweek article by Carolyn Duffy Marsan was featured on Yahoo! this morning. The 'tease' on the Yahoo! page intrigued me: "12 outdated tech terms you should drop."

I wondered how many of these apparently-now-obsolete terms I ever knew in the first place.

Herewith the list of terms and my best guesses about each (to read what Ms. Marsan has to say about each of these -- that is, to find out what they really mean -- or meant -- click the link in the lede):
  • Intranet -- Like intraumurals? Where an internet that got cut from the varsity can still play?
  • Extranet -- A spare internet?
  • Web Surfing -- This must be obsolete. I use this term all the time.
  • Push Technology -- No comprendo. I read Ms. Duffy's explanation several times now and still don't get what it is. Or was.
  • Application Service Provider (ASP) -- So that's what bit Cleopatra?
  • Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) -- Something Asimov wrote about.
  • Internet Telephony -- How do you tell a phony on the internet?
  • Weblog -- Hey! How can this be "obsolete"? I'm still here, right? (*Sudden realization dawns.*) Oh.
  • Thin Client -- As long as this doesn't refer to their wallets, I don't see why this is relevant.
  • Rboc -- The misspelled name of a shoe company?
  • Long-Distance Call -- Make a cross-country call from the wrong phone and you'll see how wrong it is to consider this obsolete.
  • World Wide Web -- We've expanded beyond?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The eyes have [had] it? -- or -- Sleeping through a test is a bad idea even long after graduation

I have low tension glaucoma. My condition was diagnosed years ago, when I was getting fitted for a new pair of glasses. My eye doctor referred me promptly to an ophthalmologist specializing in the treatment of glaucoma and I've been seeing him since.

Glaucoma, when untreated, robs its victims of their eyesight a little at a time -- the brain and eye compensate for the declining vision for as long as possible until the optic nerve deteriorates to the point where it can no longer provide enough visual information. Vision is lost around the edges with glaucoma; the "visual field" becomes increasingly impaired.

However, if the condition is properly diagnosed and treated, a person's loss of vision can be halted (though not reversed) and stabilized for years at a time.

This is where I've been for many years -- to the point where my long-time doctor is disappointed to see me during my twice yearly appointments. I have posed no challenge -- and I have not been a candidate for eye surgery.

At every other one of these eye appointments, thus once a year, I am required to take a visual field test. Yesterday was the day appointed for this year's test.

This isn't the exact machine I used yesterday, but it looks similar. You can see the two chin rests -- and not for my double chin, wiseacres. One spot is used while the left eye is tested, the other is used while the right eye is tested.

Attached to the side of the machine, on what looks like a telephone cord, you can see a clicker.

The idea is that little dots of light of varying intensity will be flashed inside this box and the patient, whose head is resting on the edge of the box, with one eye covered, will push the clicker whenever -- and wherever -- the light is seen. If one has a 'blind spot,' he or she won't be able to see the lights flashed in that area.

The patient is required to stare at a central square during the test. Somehow the machine knows if the patient's eyeball moves to try and compensate for any blind spot.

(I know this is true, because the machine catches me every time I try to cheat.)

I have typically scheduled these tests for as late in the afternoon as I can because, after this test, my doctor will dilate my pupils to examine the condition of my optic nerves.

It's hard to read with one's eyes fully dilated.

But it's not all bad: As I walk back from the doctor's office to the train, going home, mothers will see me and pull their children close to them. Because with my pupils fully dilated I look even more like a crazed drug addict than usual.

The problem with scheduling the test late in the day, however, is that it is administered in a quiet, dark room....

The lights in the room are turned down....

And my head is resting in the machine...



Oh! Sorry!

Well, you guessed it: I tend to doze off.

Yesterday I did particularly badly at the staying awake part. I was actually dreaming at one point.

Pictured at left is an example of the kind of printout that the visual field machine generates. It's not my field results, of course.

Mine show dark shadings in the lower left hand quadrant on one eye and, if I recall correctly, mostly on the upper right quadrant of the other.

Yesterday, my results were darker than usual.

And, suddenly, my doctor was happy to see me!

Until, that is, he read further in the test results and saw that my test was "of borderline reliability" -- because I was snoozing.

Still, he has hope now that I am in decline. Just to be sure, though, I'll have to do the test over again in a month, this time in the morning, when (he thinks) I'd be more wide awake.

I've always done poorly at video games. But I wonder if I should try to practice on the kids' Playstation to see if I can't sharpen my skills?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Heads or Tails #104 -- "Steam"

Once again, Barb has come up with a timely topic for today's Heads or Tails: We are asked to write about "steam" and there is, even now, steam coming out of my ears. Look closely at your monitor. Can you see it?

(And, no, don't worry: This isn't about politics.)

It's about Middle Son.

He graduated from college this Spring and, unlike so many of his classmates, he had a job -- a good job, apparently -- lined up and waiting for him. He'd interned with this accounting firm during the preceding summer and they'd offered him a full-time gig upon graduation. During the school year, they sent him a couple of updates -- I think they even bought him one of those 'finals care packages' that the schools are always selling... and I am never buying.

In fact, Middle Son was worried that he might have a conflict in June. His college baseball team won its conference championship and qualified for the NCAA tournament. If the team went deep in the tourney, Middle Son (a pitcher, you may remember) might miss his starting date.

I told him not to worry. That would be a good call to make. And things have a way of working out.


Things worked out all right: The team got swept in the first round. And the accounting firm? They called during finals week and pushed back his start date to September 1. The economy -- you may have noticed this too -- hasn't been great.

As of a couple of weeks ago, the start date was September 9.

Then, yesterday, it changed.

Now they asked if it would be OK if he could start on October 23.

In the words of Han Solo, "I've got a bad feeling about this, Chewy." Long Suffering Spouse and I both told him to say 'sure' -- and to feign as much enthusiasm as possible in making that response -- and to start looking around for something else.

Sometimes I hate being a parent.

When a kid is little and he falls down, you can get ice, you can give a hug, you can apply a Band-Aid. Oh, the blood may make you a tad queasy -- or the growing lump on the head -- and when kids get sick and start throwing up in the night, it's all you can do not to gag as well, but we can fake being strong and certain and provide real comfort in all these cases. Usually.

But for a problem like this?

I can't get him a job. Heck, I can't get me a job.

It eats me up. It also makes me so angry that steam comes out of my ears.

But I have court this morning, and must suck it up and march ahead. And so must Middle Son.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Back to School

No, this isn't about the kids.

You may recall that Long Suffering Spouse teaches Spanish at the parish grammar school, the same school that all of our kids attended... some of them entirely during the last century.

We were coming from church yesterday, going to our car, which just happened to be parked behind the adjacent school.

A junior high girl was riding her bike across the parking lot when she spotted Long Suffering Spouse. The girl froze. Her face told me what she was thinking: Of all the horrifying sights that one might see, spotting an actual teacher on the last day of freedom has to be the worst!

(Thirteen year old girls think in italics a lot.)

My wife didn't break stride. She greeted the girl by name and added, "See you tomorrow."

She didn't laugh until we were safely in the car. "If only she knew," said Long Suffering Spouse.

"That you don't want to go back either?" I ventured.


Long Suffering Spouse has been increasingly distressed as the first day of school crept ever closer on the calendar. This year, it was Older Daughter's wedding that deprived her of a summer, she's said many times. By the time we'd finished with the wedding and our Chicago party for the newlyweds it was already August. Last year, it was Long Suffering Spouse's own recovery from surgery.

But it has finally dawned on me that Long Suffering Spouse has never really been eager to head back. It's just that, in the past, we've both been so busy getting everyone else ready to go back to school that I hadn't really noticed.

It's not that Long Suffering Spouse isn't dedicated. On the contrary, she puts so much of herself into the job that she's a zombie by the end of every week. At all waking moments, even on the weekends, her constant companion is a little red bag. That's where she keeps the papers she's grading. Whenever there's a moment -- while waiting to pick someone up in the van -- sitting at a football game (when one of our own isn't on the field) -- while the evening news is on, Long Suffering Spouse will be shuffling papers in and out of that little red bag. She grades everything. She puts it in her paper gradebook, then transfers it online, so the parents can keep track of their little darlings' progress... or lack thereof. She works constantly when school starts... and, not surprisingly, for that reason, she wasn't looking forward to jumping back into the routine.

"It never occurred to me that teachers might not be happy to start school again," I told her.

"When I was a kid? No, I would never have thought so either," she said.

"I thought they lived for the moment when they could torture us again," I said.

But perhaps not.

Friday, August 21, 2009

A Rose by any other name would stink as much?

Yes, Bee, this is a sports post....

Derrick Rose and John Calipari hooked up for a year at the University of Memphis in furtherance of their individual ambitions.

Derrick Rose was required to spend a year on somebody's campus before he could become the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft. After leading Memphis to the NCAA championship game, he realized that ambition, coming back to his hometown Chicago Bulls this season, winning the Rookie of the Year Award.

Memphis Coach John Calipari parlayed Rose's brief Tiger tenure into a more prestigious coaching gig, at the University of Kentucky.

Rose and Calipari got what they wanted. And Memphis, which now has neither Rose nor Calipari, must, in addition, forfeit the team's 38 wins from the 2007-08 season. It has to pay back the money it received for reaching and advancing in the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. It must even give back its Final Four trophy.

And why must this happen?

Well, Shannon Ryan's linked story in the Chicago Tribune reports that an NCAA investigation has determined that someone else... not Rose... took and passed the SAT so that Rose could gain admission to Memphis. (Rose has consistently denied any wrongdoing.)

See, the NCAA persists in requiring athletes to qualify for admission to college just as if they were students. Now, this makes sense at smaller schools and less competitive programs: Like the NCAA commercial says, most college athletes will go pro in something other than their college sport.

But college basketball, at its highest levels, is Big Business. Millions of dollars are on the line, in contracts for talented players, in contracts for successful coaches, in TV and gate and tournament revenues for schools. In fact, when the NBA started drafting kids out of high school -- depriving colleges of the services of tall mercenaries who could carry big TV ratings on their broad shoulders (and still dunk with either hand) -- the colleges persuaded the NBA to raise the draft eligibility age. According to the indispensable Wikipedia, "As of the 2006 NBA Draft, high school players gain eligibility for draft selection one year after their graduating class has finished high school, but only if they also are at least 19 years of age as of the end of the calendar year of the draft."

So the most talented high school players must keep their skills up somewhere... and making a big splash in the NCAA tournament surely helps with draft position and endorsements. But there is that nagging eligibility problem.... You see, not only must a student qualify for admission (admissions directors can be swayed by a beautiful jump shot just like anyone else) but, to satisfy NCAA regulations, a player must show a certain GPA in certain core courses and adequate scores on either the SAT or the ACT.

Rose had tried the ACT three times in Chicago -- and failed -- according to the linked Tribune article. The controversial SAT test was taken in Detroit.


Rose's reputation will be sullied by this scandal, though the stain will be mitigated at least to the extent to which he fulfills the enormous expectations of professional basketball fans. Unless it is shown that Calipari arranged the bogus SAT exam, he'll probably keep his job at Kentucky. Until he loses. And the University of Memphis plans to appeal the sanctions.

It makes you want to scream, doesn't it?

But, wait, there's more.

My boys didn't play competitive basketball after the 8th grade. But Youngest Son has friends who do; some are on the football team with him, others have played baseball with him.

The other night, as the Rose story was breaking, Youngest Son told me that some of his friends are likely to be bumped from the basketball squad at his private high school this year. It seems that the new coach has recruited some talented newcomers. The money has been found for their tuition; they have allegedly met the academic requirements for admission. And these will be installed over the kids who have been in the program right along, cutting playing time, or even roster spots.

Youngest Son says his friends are upset, and he is upset for them.

But, here as in so many ways, high school prepares kids for what lies beyond. Derrick Rose is just a kid who played the game, on and off the court. The real fault lies with the hypocrites who talk about student-athletes... but who recruit slabs of beef.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Curmudgeon gets rather prickly about shaving

I have complained before, indirectly at least, about the gossamer strands of tinfoil that pass for razor blades in this Dark Age.

For the first 30 or so years of my shaving life I used an injector blade, a single blade inserted in a sturdy handle (purple in color -- hey, I got it in the early 70s, what do you expect? -- but otherwise unobjectionable).

Now that I think of it, the fact that it was a purple razor may explain why I began shaving without resort to any cream before or lotion after whilst living in the dorm in college. I was obviously muy macho, at least in my imagination, despite the color of the razor.

Anyway, whatever the original motivation, I've tended to 'dry shave' ever since. Of course, I much prefer shaving after showering... while my face is still wet... so that's not really a dry shave, is it? Also, I find that doing things in this order cuts down substantially on the bleeding. Which is a plus.

The problem is that the injector blades went the way of the dodo a few years back and I've been forced to switch to one of those multiblade razors.

In theory, these are better for the environment than my old injector: Even with four cutting strands, because each strand is so thin, the multiblade uses less metal.

But theory collides headfirst with practice here as so often elsewhere: The injector blade might give a reasonably good job of it for a couple of weeks. The multiblade is pretty much useless after a couple of uses. To try and stretch the life of the multiblade, I've even taken to using shaving cream on occasion. But this requires time... and, given my inability to move quickly in the mornings....

Well, let me put it this way: Some few, lucky people are like solid-state electronics -- instant on. The alarm bell rings and up they springs. (It's not grammatical, but it rhymes.) Me... I'm more like an old tube set. I have to warm up for awhile before I can do much of anything... and by that time... no matter how early I've set the alarm... I'm late.

Shaving cream only slows me down further. I could have sworn I did a post once complaining about the disappearance of injector blades, but I can't find any reference in the Archives. Maybe that was something I did in the course of my first blogging effort. Maybe -- as in so much else in my life -- it was something I intended to do... and never quite did. If anyone out there knows where injector blades may yet be found, please be sure to leave a comment. I still have the purple handle.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Where do I sign up?

(Click to enlarge.)
"Surlybook" sounds like just the sort of anti-social networking site that a Curmudgeon should join, doesn't it?

From Real Life Adventures by Gary Wise and Lance Aldrich. This image is taken from UClick GoComics, but I read it in print this morning in the Chicago Sun-Times.

The absence of a plan has been noticed....

(Oliphant cartoon obtained from Yahoo! Comics. Click to enlarge.)
Neither Mr. Oliphant nor Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn are likely to be reported to the White House as non-believers, but both have questioned, as I did in Monday's post, whether the President really has a health care plan.

Mr. Zorn's linked column decries the efforts of the vocal naysayers who have (so far, at least) seemingly turned the tide of public opinion against health care reform. But even Mr. Zorn is obliged to concede, "There is as yet no one plan for proponents to defend, so every idea remains an attack target."

It is said that every general prepares for the last war. This is why, presumably, no battle plan survives contact with the enemy.

These familiar military aphorisms apparently apply to politicians as well.

Mr. Obama was anxious to avoid the Tablets-From-Mt.-Sinai approach that doomed Hillarycare in the 1990s. So he made a point of convening experts from a wide range of disciplines and secured consensus that reform of our health care system was imperative.

Then he got lazy.

Instead of doing the work of leading the country toward a consensus plan, building on the White House meetings, Mr. Obama delegated the process of writing the actual bill to Democratic True Believers in the House of Representatives, many of whom had been advocating a single-payer (O Canada!) system for years. It is one thing to show some willingness to modify a plan in conformance with political necessity; it is quite another to outsource the making of the plan in the first place and promise to claim ownership of any proposal that survives.

To make matters worse, Mr. Obama insisted on a unrealistically short timetable for adoption of his plan, which wasn't his plan at all, and was -- despite the dog and pony shows at the outset -- no more inclusive than the process was which resulted in Hillarycare.

In his Tribune column this morning, John Kass writes:
Americans wanted some break in ridiculously high health-care costs. They deserved a break. They were primed for it, with Obama promising and promising and news story after story during the campaign buttressing his position, all about how somebody got laid off and contracted a disease, but they couldn't afford the insurance premiums and lost their home.

The sad fact is, that really happens. People have lost their homes. And folks wanted something done.

But Obama's people turned it into a disaster. It got so bad that the White House encouraged Americans to rat their neighbors out on that official White House rat line, which begged Obama-loving Americans to tell the president when health-care opponents put out "disinformation."
The people of this country, I believe, do want something done with health care -- but I don't believe there is as yet any true consensus on what that something should be. The True Believers on the Left do want something very specific. But they aren't leading; they are dictating. They are controlling the Administration's side of the "debate" because of the absence of leadership from the top: Mr. Obama, who signaled a willingness just last weekend to jettison the so-called 'public option,' now has retreated in response to blowback from True Believers. Mending his fences in this way may help Mr. Obama get some sort of bill through the House this year... but what doth it matter if he gains the House but loses the Senate?

Meanwhile the Republicans stagger around in increasing irrelevance, mumbling about "death panels" and "tort reform."

And we elected these people!

Enough is too much already

Add Brett Favre's name to Paris Hilton's -- names you will never see on Second Effort.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Heads or Tails #103 -- "Pale"

In today's Heads or Tails, our taoiseach of topics, Barb, gives us a choice: We may write anything at all (heads) about "pail" or something specific (tails) about "pale," those two words being homonyms. No -- don't worry -- I'm not getting political again. Anyway, I chose "pale."

You've heard the term "beyond the pale?" Usually as in, 'he's really gone beyond the pale?'

You might hear the expression in connection with the shouting match that passes for a debate about health care in this country. (No -- wait! Don't go away! -- I promise I'm not getting political again.)

You probably already know that "beyond the pale" means behavior that is considered to be outside the bounds of morality, good behavior or judgment in civilized company.

But have you wondered about the origin of the phrase?

In the late Middle Ages, "the Pale" was the boundary between 'civilized' Ireland -- controlled by the English -- and 'wild' Ireland, nominally under the suzerainty of the English crown and, more accurately, under the control of traditional chiefs and assimilated English nobility. 'Assimilated' is a twenty-five cent word that means gone troppo... and this was hundreds of years before any Englishman ever saw the tropics.

And, by English, of course, I mostly mean Norman-French. The Irish largely absorbed their Norman conquerors... the English weren't nearly as successful. Not for centuries.

The Pale was a fairly compact area around that fine Viking city -- Dublin.

Anyone who strayed beyond that boundary had literally -- to the English mind -- gone beyond the reach of civilization. Isn't that grand, now?

Monday, August 17, 2009

The truth about the President's health care plan?

The truth is, there is no plan.

There is a thriving marketplace of ideas -- many of which have evolved into tome-length statutory proposals.

For example, the plan that gets the most ink is H.R. 3200, America's Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009. At the moment, this plan contains a "public option."

But there is also H.R. 676, the United States National Health Care Act or the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act. This is the "single payer" bill. (O Canada!)

There is also a bill drafted by the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee (the HELP Committee, get it?) which consists of 615 pages of light afternoon reading. According to news reports, a key difference between the HELP Committee proposal and H.R. 3200 is that the Senate proposal has no "public option."

I could not find, in my quick search this morning, a link to the proposal touted by Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) which calls for not-for-profit health insurance cooperatives instead of a government controlled entity.

While one of these proposals may become law, it will not pass in its present form. Congress is a sausage-grinder. Even if a consensus forms around one plan or another, the details won't be made public until the House-Senate Committee works on a bill reconciling the versions eventually passed by each house.

Thus, there is no plan. There is no up-or-down, take-it-or-leave-it proposal that your Congressperson can say she's for or against.

The President has been perceived as generally in favor of a "public option" in a health care bill and the press has understood this to mean that he supports H.R. 3200 -- but the Obama administration gave clear signals this weekend that it could live without it. Whereupon Howard Dean broke ranks, calling a public option "indispensable." (Meanwhile, in the Senate, Sen. Conrad is telling all and sundry that there aren't the votes for a public option.)

Mr. Obama is correct when he says that bureaucratic interference with doctor-patient relationships, irrational delays, and uncontrolled costs are all features of our largely private health care system right now.

He is, further, correct when he says that reform is needed.

But what, sir, is the plan?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

An apolitical mailbag post today: Curmudgeon attracts foreign correspondents?

I have these dreams, of course, of becoming world famous because some publisher or book editor or literary agent finds this blog... a drop in the teeming ocean the covers the Blogosphere... and somehow anoints me as the Next Big Thing.

In my more rational moments I realize that this is virtually impossible; my chances of winning the lottery are probably much better. I even quoted (in a this 2006 post) author P.N. Elrod -- who was quoting author Rachel Caine: "Posting your novel (or blog) on the 'Net in the hopes that a big-time editor (or agent) will see it is like writing the perfect résumé and then tacking it to the front door of your house, hoping your future boss will walk by."

2006: This was during my stalking-authors-I'd-never-read period on the Internet.

But, anyway, my slumbering dreams of Internet fame were rekindled, just a bit earlier this week, when I got an unusual comment on my July 10 post about my apprehensions of dealing with the photographer at my daughter's wedding.

See, the comment wasn't in English. So I could invent just about any meaning I wanted for it. Here it is:
出会い said...
Now, if there's anything in the above and foregoing that is scurrilous (as the late Mayor Harold Washington used to say) I apologize deeply. I admit that I don't understand a word.

I know blog pages can be read in translation... but most of my posts barely work in English. I can't imagine how they'd read in machine-translated... what? Japanese? Korean? Chinese? In my ignorance I am not even sure of the language in which the comment was written.

The name of the commenter was linked... so I clicked on it... and the web page that loaded had flashing symbols I couldn't read and pictures of six girls... Asian girls, and not in lurid poses either. It looked like you might click on any of the pictures. I did not.

Nevertheless, the thought occurred to me that perhaps this was not a comment from a new fan in Asia... but possibly spam. Maybe even spam for some sort of, um, er, adults-only type site.

Have you ever thought about how inappropriate the term 'adults-only' is? At least in how it's usually used, the term refers to places... websites... magazines... movies... where we can momentarily satisfy our juvenile curiosities, or our carnal cravings... which sure isn't very grown-up when you think about it.

But I digress.

I left the comment in place -- no sense offending a new fan even if I couldn't understand the comment -- and, a couple days later, there was another one:
救援部 said...
Now it's possible,of course, that 救援部 was registering agreement or disagreement with the opinion left by 出会い about my post. But now my doubts were growing.

This time I didn't even click on the linked name. Less than 24 hours later came this comment:
メル友 said...
There was also a web address provided in Western characters. I chose not to copy that here.

Don't bother looking for the comments in situ. I've deleted them all. My fear of carrying spam links trumped my hopes of conquering the vast Asian blog-reading market.

Another opportunity lost to cowardice?

Friday, August 14, 2009

An outrageous new right-wing video? Curmudgeon reports -- you decide

I got something in my email this morning that I thought was worth sharing: You'll have to click on this link to get to the .swf (x-shockwave-flash Object) movie. My technical skills are insufficient to put the movie here on this page.

I was able, however, to pull a screen shot to give you some incentive to click:

Looking at the screen shot, perhaps you're thinking that this little movie originated with some conservative group, maybe even some group affiliated with the likes of Rush Limbaugh.

Start watching the movie and you may become certain of it: There are references to National Health and to the nanny-state's willingness to impose limits on what we can eat.

Spoiler Alert! * * * Spoiler Alert! * * * Spoiler Alert!

Have you watched the movie yet? Because I'm aching to tell you the source of this very inspired piece of political satire... and I want to make certain you've satisfied yourself that this has to be the product of those darned negative Republican crazies... maybe even the product of "birthers."


That little movie was put up by the ACLU.

That's right... the American Civil Liberties Union.

Of course,judging by this link, the clip was put up around five years ago or so. The accompanying text warns:
The government and corporations are aggressively collecting information about your personal life and your habits. They want to track your purchases, your medical records, and even your relationships. The Bush Administration's policies, coupled with invasive new technologies, could eliminate your right to privacy completely. Please help us protect our privacy rights and prevent the Total Surveillance Society.
The screen urges you to become a card-carrying member of the ACLU.

You see, there's more common ground among Americans than our political leaders and our media tastemakers... Left and Right... understand. That's because they're not on that common ground with most of the rest of us. We want to maintain our personal autonomy, our right to remain anonymous -- our privacy. The Bush people attacked that from the standpoint of "homeland security" -- the Obamaniacs are coming at us down the national health road. But our cherished autonomy and freedom winds up in the dumpster either way: This, I'm sure, is one reason why Mr. Obama is having trouble selling the country on his health care plans. The current political parties offer no meaningful alternatives... just different means to arrive at the sorry end depicted in this funny-except-it-might-come-true movie.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Playing the waiting game....

I don't wait well.

"Waiting" is a form of inaction entirely different from "doing nothing."

Bad as I am at waiting, I'm an accomplished grand master of the art of doing nothing.

Waiting is the state of being ready to do something but, for some reason, unable to do it: You are standing on the subway platform at the end of a long day. You are ready to go home... but you must wait for the train. When this happens to me, I get impatient. I fidget. I lean over the edge of the platform trying to catch a glimpse of the headlight of the approaching train. So far, no one's pushed me over.

Doing nothing, on the other hand, happens when, for example, the client calls and says, "We sent out the letter you suggested. We'll let you know if we hear anything back. In the meantime, do nothing."

There's nothing easier than this. Unfortunately, one can not bill a client for doing nothing... so my talent in this regard is not remunerative.

Much of my legal work is done with co-counsel -- we work together -- but separately. The happy time approaches when a bill may be submitted and I inform my co-counsel that she should get her time together as I will mine. I send co-counsel my time and solicit her additions -- I'm ready, now, you see, to send the bill -- but I must wait. That's sheer torture for me.

Recently, I had a project that has hit a rough patch. The question was whether responding to a particular motion would help... or whether it might make our situation worse. I was all for doing nothing -- I play to my strengths whenever I can, as anyone would -- but my co-counsel and the client were all for action. And I was to be the actor.

Once I was browbeaten into acquiescence, I set to work on the response, cranking it out in the course of an afternoon's time. I sent it to all concerned with a request for input and approval so that I might file it the next morning while I was in court.

Then I had to wait.

And wait.

I looked in on my e-mail 10 times or so before leaving the office, and a couple of times more at home that evening.

The next morning (OK, it was this morning), I was back on line again, looking for feedback. Alas.

I got into the office and checked my email 10 times more.


I had to be goaded into taking action, but having risen to the bait, and having prepared a response, I wanted to move the gosh-darn thing off my desk. After all, the matter was extremely time sensitive -- if we were to act, we must act soon. But I had to wait.

When I returned from court this morning... finally... there were responses -- even, if I may boast, generally favorable reviews. I could finally stop waiting... and act.

I much prefer doing nothing.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Religion vs. science? Not necessarily....

Ah, well, readership is down here at Second Effort, but not yet eliminated entirely. So herewith a piece on science, religion AND politics... something to aggravate just about everyone....

The Los Angeles Times ran a piece by Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum on August 11 about Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, and other New Atheists who "want to change [America's] science community in a lasting way. They'd have scientists and defenders of reason be far more confrontational and blunt: No more coddling the faithful, no tolerating nonscientific beliefs. Scientific institutions, in their view, ought to stop putting out politic PR about science and religion being compatible."

They're not?

Granted, Biblical literalists deny evolution and, according to the Times article, "About 46% of Americans in polls agree with this stunning statement: 'God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.'"

But that's not to say that religion and science must be adverse. Fr. Bob Barron, a Chicago-area priest, provides, in one of his Word on Fire commentaries, a pretty effective refutation of the New Atheists' insistence that science and religion are incompatible. It comes in a YouTube review of the recent movie Angels and Demons.

Skip past the first three minutes of this eight minute video -- a plot summary -- and the next minute and a half or so, as he points out the Catholic priests and brothers who are still revered, even by ardent secularists, as scientific pioneers -- and you'll get to the nub of his argument:
The sciences emerged and flourished in the context of the great Christian universities of the West. And this is not accidental. When you have a theological system, like Catholicism, that emphasizes the non-divinity of the world and the intelligibility of the world you have the preconditions for science.

Why? Because if the world is divine, if it is being worshiped as sacred, you're not going to experiment on it, but Christians who hold to creation know the world is not God and therefore can become the object of scientific investigation and experimentation.

Second, if [the world] is created, it is endowed with intelligibility. It's been thought or spoken into being. And therefore scientists can go out confidently to meet the world. They expect to find an intelligible world.
If something is made, it can be understood. Belief in a specific Maker may not be required for understanding -- but neither is such a belief incompatible with understanding (c. 6:15):
The basic principle is this: All truth comes from God. God is One. And, therefore, there can't be a contradiction, finally, between the truth discoverable through Reason and the truth discoverable through Faith, properly articulated. And so the unity of God -- the unity of Creation -- gives rise to this ultimate compatibility between Faith and Science.
Of course, this doesn't satisfy the Creationists or other fundamentalists, Christian and otherwise. I would say to them, however, that dinosaur bones are not put in the ground to test or undermine your faith; they provide an opportunity for your faith to grow beyond what our remote ancestors in the Middle East were capable of understanding.

That does not have to lead us down the path of relativism... but that's a discussion for another day.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Heads or Tails #102 - note(s on quitting smoking)

Today's Heads or Tails topic is "note," and I will resist the temptation to re-tell my Sound of Music Story and instead speak directly to our gracious HoT host, Barb, concerning a subject about which she's recently blogged: Trying to quit smoking.

As it happens, I am a noted expert on the subject... mainly because I quit myself.

Hundreds of times, in fact.

Sometimes I quit multiple times in a single day.

I didn't start out to be a nicotine addict. When I was in high school, all the cool kids (except the really serious jocks) smoked. Even some of the serious jocks would light up after a few illicit beers. And the wide receivers might smoke marijuana.

I was too young to be a Curmudgeon in those days. But I was an iconoclast -- a rebel truly without a cause. And without any James Dean cool whatsoever. So, naturally, I wanted to make sport of the people who smoked. So I started off with cigars. Large, cheap, stinky (as opposed to aromatic) cigars. For a fancy party I'd get a nicer cigar.

No one saw any hip, ironic humor in my antics, by the way. Other kids just thought I was weird.

I switched to cigarettes in college. They were cheaper -- 50¢ in the college bookstore for a pack of Kents, I remember. I soon graduated to Marlboros. Between cigarettes and coffee I could keep myself going for 36 or even 48 hours on occasion, something that came in handy during midterms and finals and, for that matter, every Thursday night when we put out the school paper. I'd work the typesetter.

My habit would vary. Half-a-pack a day seemed optimal, or so I thought, but my usage crept up to a couple of packs a day and my chest would start to hurt. Then I'd cut back to a half-pack... and work up again. And so through undergrad and law school.

Long Suffering Spouse married me anyway, though she disapproved of my habit. Her father was pleased that I still enjoyed cigars -- and I did -- especially because he could no longer have them himself. He managed to obtain some Cubans for me on a trip and lived vicariously through my enjoyment of them.

But Older Daughter came along and Long Suffering Spouse became more adamant against smoking in the house.

In those days I could still smoke in my office. I remember one interior office I had -- just like every office I've had since -- stacks of books and papers at odd angles, files I was working on, files I should be working on, cases I needed to read, cases I wanted to read. Perched atop one of these piles would be a heavy ashtray and an always smoldering butt.

It's a wonder I never caused a fire, but I didn't.

By the time, our second child came along, Long Suffering Spouse was after me to quit and I'd had my first cancer scare (a very large, but happily benign polyp) and, frankly, I was ready to quit.

We had a secretary in the office in those days who smoked Newport Menthols. I never much cared for menthols -- but I would purchase cigarettes for her while I was running to or from court. Of course, I believed that the only way to make a subway train come, in those days, was to light up a smoke. We couldn't smoke on the train at that time, but we were still permitted to puff on the platform. So I would deduct 'carrying charges' from the secretary's smokes. Sometimes she hardly got any at all. (Yes, I was buying most of these packs. Please. I'm cheap, but I'm not evil.)

This was when I was at the height of my quitting frenzy. See, I was no longer buying cigarettes for me... that meant I'd quit, right?

Well, eventually, it worked like this: One day, I didn't smoke. And then I didn't smoke the next day after that. And then came another day when I didn't either.

It's not that the urge has ever left me. Just writing this makes me long for a smoke right now. Sometimes, when I wake up at night, I realize I'd been dreaming of a smoke.

But I've resisted now for more than 20 years... and I've fallen off the wagon for maybe -- maybe -- two cigarettes or three in all that time. Part of it, I suppose, is willpower. Of course, the fact that smokes now cost a heck of a lot more than 50¢ a pack also helps....

Monday, August 10, 2009

A mobile phone too mobile? -- or -- Not a ringing endorsement of the Curmudgeon's problem solving skills

It was a Sunday evening and my cell phone was on. That's unusual. I'm not worried... much... about being targeted by Predator drones homing in on my cell phone signal, but I usually don't keep the darn thing on.

It was even more unusual when the darn thing rang. I looked at the Caller ID before answering. It said Older Daughter was calling. I said, "Hello."

"This is Speedy Pizza in Broad Ripple calling," said the voice on the other end. I was in no mood for prank phone calls from my daughter and I was on the verge of upbraiding her on this point when it occurred to me that the voice I was hearing was not Older Daughter's.

It turned out that Older Daughter and her brand new husband were dining in this fine suburban Indianapolis establishment. Older Daughter's cell phone was left behind when the young couple departed but the restaurant staff quickly surmised that the instrument was not part of the intended tip.

"Dad," you see, comes before "Mom" in the Contacts List on the typical cell phone and the staff was hopeful that I would take steps to advise Older Daughter of the loss and how to reverse it.

Taking steps is what I do, I thought, so I was just the man to provide reassuring utterances to the young lady who called. Thanking her profusely, I disconnected the call and began figuring out what steps to take.

I scrolled down my own Contacts List, finding Older Daughter's name, and was on the point of pushing the call button when it occurred to me that I would only disturb the nice young lady in the pizza parlor. But did I have a phone number for my new son-in-law? I was not certain, but I was certain that Younger Daughter did.

I went in search.

Younger Daughter was in front of the house conversing with a girl from the neighborhood in the early evening quiet. This was the sort of thing they might have done at 12. In fact it was the sort of thing they did at 12. They have conversed in this way ever since, from time to time, and usually about the same subject, too, I'd bet (boys) although the particulars of their conversations may have changed somewhat in the intervening eight years. I probably don't want to know.

Younger Daughter blinked at me in surprise and suspicion when I came out of the front door. "What do you want?"

"Can you call your brother-in-law for me?"

"Why?" Suspicion had triumphed over surprise.

I explained the situation in a few well-chosen words.

"It won't work," said Younger Daughter.

This is a problem with young people these days, always so negative. But Younger Daughter explained that Older Daughter's husband seldom carried his cell phone on his person and, when he did, he seldom switched it on.

Now, ordinarily, as you have already picked up in the course of this essay, I would be heartily in favor of such an attitude. It is my own attitude toward cell phones. But I have a land line at my house that people can call; Older Daughter and her husband do not. It is the way the young people do things these days: Ma Bell will soon be sent to the Home for Obsolete Technologies along with the typewriter salesmen and the buggy whip makers.

I asked Younger Daughter to call anyway. I stood there while she left a message. She pushed the disconnect button and gave me an I-told-you-so look.

Dejected, I went back into the house.

Then I realized I had my son-in-law's email address. I could send him and Older Daughter both an email and that would alert them of the cell phone's fate! Filled with this new resolve I sat down at the computer and typed out a message... and received an almost instantaneous "out of office" response from my new son-in-law. He hadn't taken down the message since he'd returned from his honeymoon.

Still, I'm told, everything eventually worked out alright: Older Daughter figured out, on her own, where she must have left the phone and went back and retrieved it.

But I was almost helpful, wasn't I?

Friday, August 07, 2009

Lincoln, circuit riding, civility... and sanctions

I live and work in a jurisdiction that is very concerned with civility among lawyers. The idea is that we should be able to hit each other over the head with heavy clubs all day and then stroll off together, arm in arm, and enjoy a restorative tonic (and perhaps a cold compress) and pleasant conversation.

After all, we are told -- repeatedly -- it was done in Lincoln's day.

Indeed, when the lawyers of Lincoln's day were out circuit riding, they opposed each other in the courtroom by day, then ate, drank, and even slept together by night.

No, no, nothing like that: There were few beds for weary travelers in the county seats when court was in session and folks had to double up... or more. I was once told that one man would sleep facing north and his bed partner would sleep facing south. I am skeptical. These were narrow beds. Bathing facilities weren't the best in the 1840s and air conditioning was an opium dream. I think, if I had to double up like that, I'd prefer not having to smell my bedmate's feet all night. Despite what my children might tell you, however, I was not practicing law 160 years ago so I really can't say for certain how these arrangements were worked out.

I do know that there weren't sanctions motions in those days. There was no Rule 11 (the Federal Rule) or Rule 137 (the Illinois rule). There was no discovery at all, except, possibly, in the biggest cases, in the biggest cities, and then only when a separate bill was brought in chancery to compel it.

In Illinois, or at least in Chicago and the other areas where I've practiced regularly, the state and federal courts take a very different view on sanctions: In our state courts, only the most egregious, outrageous conduct gets sanctioned. The licensing authorities are more likely to impose punishment on a miscreant than a judge before whom the miscreant appears. Some attribute this reluctance to the fact that we elect judges here -- and then vote whether to retain them in office thereafter -- and who wants to create a dedicated enemy at retention time?

Some of our federal courts, though, seem to impose sanctions -- sometimes quite heavy monetary sanctions -- as a matter of routine. The problem, of course, is that lawyers squabble -- endlessly, if permitted to -- and somebody seized on the bright idea of sanctions as a means of stopping the noise.

I am reminded of the old Bill Cosby routine: Fathers, he said, aren't interested in justice. Fathers are interested in peace and quiet. And woe betide the kid who disturbs Father's peace and quiet after a hard day of work: Sanctions will be imposed with little regard to who started what, or why.

If we were transported back to Lincoln's day, but with our present rules, I would not want to be in the room above the tavern where the lawyers retired after a hard day of firing sanctions motions at each other: The first one to fall asleep would probably never wake up.

Ah, civility.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

As I was saying....

I was in the Undisclosed Location pretty much full time the weekend of July 18-19, although some of the posts that appeared that weekend were set up in advance.

I was here toiling away on an appellate brief that was finally filed... yesterday.

I was not at my productive best that weekend; my billing time was steeply discounted accordingly.

I can't share details of the case on which I was working, of course, but I can say that I was not trial counsel and there was a huge, angry, and complicated record to work through and master. When I was finally able to submerge myself fully in the project, there was room for almost nothing else. Let's put it this way: When I got home last night, Youngest Son asked me for identification.

And when a complete draft was finally done in the wee small hours of the morning one day earlier this week I came to the sickening realization that I would have to cut 4,000 words in order to fit the very-strictly-enforced word count limitations in this court.

The key phrase in the preceding sentence is "I would have to cut 4,000 words."

Cut words? The typical lawyer doesn't cut words -- we tend to add words, to pile on words, to pour them out....

Well, if this isn't your first visit to this site, you already know I'm not atypical.

So cutting wasn't easy.

But it's filed... I think... the printer thinks the Clerk will accept it... though we had issues yesterday with the length and arrangement of the Appendix to the brief as well.

The good news is the brief is done.

The bad news is that the client will get an eye-popping bill shortly.

It will be really bad news for me if the client does not promptly fork over the large amounts demanded by said bill. I've already mentioned that there's been no time to work on anything else these last several weeks, right?

And now, very shortly, my focus will shift again. I have another appellate brief due at the end of this month, though not in the same court (thank God!). The record is at least as lengthy and horribly convoluted and I wasn't trial counsel on this one either so I have to wade in and master it... rather quickly, actually. But this case, though hard-fought, was apparently not as bitter as the case on which I've just filed.

But posting here may be sporadic for awhile. And, also, a blessed relief.