Friday, December 28, 2012

Curmudgeon's blog year in review -- 2012 edition

It is customary at this time of the year to take a look back -- to revisit, and make a list of, some of the year's highlights.

I know why newspapers and magazines do this: They have pages that must be filled even when all the real staff is on vacation. Low-paid interns can cut and paste from already-published stories and fill those big empty spaces.

It doesn't make that much sense for a blogger to do this -- it's still work -- it still takes time -- and, of course, this blog is the product of me and my keyboard: I have no interns on whom I can dump this responsibility.

Nevertheless, in my ever-optimistic, delusional imagination, I see bored literary agents or book editors surfing the web at this time of year looking for fresh new writing that might be teased into a salable book, or at least an e-book.

The list of posts that follows -- all scrupulously linked -- will take you with me on a trip through a thoroughly exhausting year for yours truly.

May we all be blessed with a peaceful 2013.

I had lost a good client in 2011 (I still have one open file with this client, but nothing new in over 18 months). It was, of course, my fault: I did not obtain good results for this client in contested cases. I can (and do) blame the judges who ruled against me -- but, in the final analysis, I was not sufficiently persuasive. A post I did in April, "Curmudgeon on insurance coverage litigation," may be seen as my apologia about (and perhaps my farewell to) this lost business.

As 2012 began, I found myself wrestling with the prospect of being involuntarily retired. In "Curmudgeon not the retiring type" I confessed that my wife thought I was depressed. And I agreed with her: "If depression were a contact sport I'd be a mass of welts and bruises from head to toe."

It was in January that I put up a trio of posts that ultimately inspired the creation of The Blog of Days (I do hope you're visiting there regularly):
At least they were short.

But these silly little posts didn't really turn the tide of my depression. I actually reached out, for the first time in my life, to a group that offers help to attorneys in Chicago.

And who knows? It might have helped if I'd followed through. But what really turned the tide was being pulled out of my own problems and plunged into my family's problems.

My two daughters were at the top of the headline package this year. Both had fertility problems. Very different fertility problems. One couldn't conceive -- and the other could. But read for yourself:
See how it all tied together? Depression, pregnancies, and imaginary giant sewer rats in my mother-in-law's basement... well, maybe the last doesn't tie in quite exactly. And I was moving my office in the midst of all this, too.

You know, there's a reason why people space out major life decisions -- graduating from college, getting married, starting a family -- so much is involved with each of these that everyone can't help but become exhausted. But Younger Daughter had just undertaken to cram all of these milestones into less than six months.

At least I had something to blog about, right? And even with these family crises ongoing, I could still blog about normal things (well, normal for us, anyway), as in this post about Easter dinner at the Curmudgeon home, "You thought ants were bad a picnic?" (The illustration I used with that post got me in trouble. In July I received my first DCMA takedown notice from Blogger -- but I eventually squared things with the copyright holder and blogged about it, too.)

Still in April, I went with Long Suffering Spouse to Indianapolis to keep Older Daughter company after her second implantation. I wrote about it, of course.
It occurs to me sometimes that I am too hard on Older Daughter. (She'd be the first to agree with that.) But if I were to die tomorrow, I'd want her to be the one to find this blog and try and turn it into a manuscript or two. And not just because she's the only one of my five kids who has written a blog or who reads books regularly. Although both of those count in her favor....

I'm complaining about 2012 -- but think about what Older Daughter went through this year. These first two attempts at IVF failed, as would a third just a few weeks ago. No, I didn't even try to be light about it in "Older Daughter gets more bad news." There's nothing lighthearted about the shots, the bloating, the hormones, the indignities -- not unless it actually works out. And every time she'd return to work after a layoff for a failed IVF procedure (she works as an ER nurse in a children's hospital) she'd wind up taking care of some battered infant -- some poor child whose own parents had done it harm -- and she'd want to scream at God, "You let these morons have babies! Why won't you let me?"

I'll wait while you finish crying. I couldn't type right away either.

But Older Daughter's been a trooper. With all the conflicting emotions she must have felt, she loves her little niece; she became the baby's godmother.

But we're getting ahead here, aren't we? We still have to get Younger Daughter married off....
Younger Daughter and Olaf moved in with us after the wedding. It hasn't always been beer and skittles, as I tried to explain in "Long Suffering Spouse starts to chafe."

Part of the problem was that, though Younger Daughter did manage to graduate from college on time despite her delicate condition, Olaf did not. As you'll have noted from at least some of these family way and wedding posts, he'd been suffering from chronic migraines that had prevented his completing his math major in time. It wasn't until after he had already found out he would be a father that he and his family finally got serious about getting his condition under control. I'm not blaming them; after all, they had an HMO -- you don't even know what actual medical treatment is when all you have is an HMO, and it took Olaf and his family a while to understand that we weren't kidding when we assured them that things could be improved.

Although I was flirting with the possibility of repositioning myself as the world's worst lawyer, I took on a new, non-paying client.
If Olaf had continued to follow my good advice, he'd have graduated this month. But he didn't, and he won't.

We got him through the worst of it, though: There's just a single hour course that must still be handled. He'll get it done. In the meantime, Olaf has a job -- a pretty good one -- and, despite not graduating in December he will (I think) go on salary after the first of the year. And then they might be able to start thinking seriously about moving out.


Long Suffering Spouse will be glad when Olaf moves out. But she will miss the baby, whether she says so or not.

I didn't miss the baby in this year-in-review piece. I just thought I'd put her in as we near the end.
Of course, these stories are just about the blessed event itself. In the coming year there will probably be more posts like, "One good thing about grandpa-hood, even if the kid is under my roof" or "Younger Daughter learns some lessons of motherhood -- some of them true." I hope, however, to be observing the continuing progress of this child on a slightly less daily basis.


With all of that, there's been no mention of Youngest Son's struggles in college -- he wants to be a teacher, but he's locked in a seemingly constant struggle with the Education Department at South Janesville College. Nor did I mention his baseball career (he had a start in a playoff game... but there was no Hollywood ending).

I did win an award this year for blogging in real life. I wrote about it in "Nothing like family to puncture your balloon" and "For $1,000, Curmudgeon gets a free lunch." I also got a serious article published in a local bar publication. And a post I haven't mentioned in this retrospective (yes, there have been lots I didn't mention here, smarty) got picked up by the e-zine BoomSpeak.

Who knows? Maybe in Year Eight of Second Effort (I just passed my 7th Blogiversary) I'll become an overnight sensation.

Meanwhile, I'd better get back to the end-of-the-year drudgery here at the Teeny Tiny Law Office.

See you next year.

I hope.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Curmudgeon unloads on Christmas

If there's anything that can bring out my inner Curmudgeon, it's Christmas.

Well, that's not entirely true.

I actually love many things about Christmas -- the lights (other people's displays brighten up the walk home on those dark nights), the songs (you can listen to every musical genre all at once, from opera to pop, from jazz to rap -- although when the iPod shuffles 32 consecutive versions of "Little Drummer Boy" or "White Christmas" that does wear after a time), and the movies (any Santa-scoffer must reconsider after viewing the original Miracle on 34th Street, even if ol' Kris did get the name of John Quincy Adams' Vice President mixed up) -- but you'll notice I've not mentioned trees.

I've complained about Christmas trees here in the past -- but I suppose that what I'm really complaining about is the disruption that Christmas brings to my routine.

The weekend lost to putting up the tree, and the tree itself, are merely symbolic of that disruption. There are other boxes that must be rescued from exile in the garage -- cookie tins and molds and Advent calendars and decorations that must be hung on walls in all the rooms of the house.

And I certainly can't complain about the disruption involving my wife's cookies. First, she does all the work -- even if I may be dragooned into putting the 50lb. bag of flour into or the van at Costco or into the basement at home. Second, I look forward to the cookies -- I even distribute a few tins myself in the hopes of getting business with them. (These cookies can be a powerful inducement.)

But with everything Christmas-y that must be done in December, we still must do all the tasks that we must do in April or July or October. The laundry can't wait until after New Year's. The bills must be paid. Work must be done.

I've learned that men in particular are creatures of routine. I had a law partner once who said that a man chooses his haircut, his shoes, his shirt preference, all by the time he's 18 -- 25 at the latest. And then nothing changes.

That's certainly been my pattern.

When I was a teen and I wanted to ride home on the train with my father after working or goofing off downtown for the day, I didn't need to call his cell phone (which hadn't yet been invented anyway). I just went to a particular car on the 4:42 express train. I could sit down next to him without looking: He not only took the same train every night and sat in the same car; he sat in the same seat.

I can't quite do that on the el -- there are too many other people who will take any seat that's available. But, I have a particular car that I prefer in an eight car train, and a particular seat in that car, and I sit there whenever I can.

Routine is good.

Christmas upsets routine.

Here is a man who needs routine.
Perhaps I've advanced this theory here before: The male's need for routine goes back to the earliest stages of human development. The men would go off to hunt the wooly mammoth or something and they had to be aware of the right time to start the hunt -- the horns of the first half moon after the melting of the snows suggested the migration of the aurochs or something. And maybe our cave-dwelling ancestors did not understand the concept of 'upwind' or 'downwind' but they knew that if they came after the bear this way they could surprise it, but not if they came after it from that way. You might say that the need to develop -- and follow -- routines was more or less bred into the male of the species.

Women, on the other hand, always had to be more flexible. Yes, there'd be the season to pick berries and the season to gather nuts, and that would suggest a routine -- but the cave-women had charge of the cave-kids, too. Kids have never been entirely predictable. And there'd be surprises, as well -- one minute you're chewing deer hide to soften it enough so you can pierce it with your stone awl, and the next minute wolves or saber-tooth tigers are chasing the kids, or a large bear comes back to reclaim the cave that everyone thought he'd abandoned.

Christmas, for the allegedly 'gentler' sex, is just another disruption in the schedule with which they cope. Like their great-great-great (and so on) grandmothers chasing off the bear while the men were out goofing around looking for mastodons, women just cope with Christmas better.

But this year has put even Long Suffering Spouse to the test.

There's all our stuff, of course, but we know where to stash this picture or that one until their Christmas replacements come off the walls. But we have Younger Daughter and Olaf and the Baby-to-be-named-later in residence with us this year. Their stuff from the wedding is still in the basement -- underneath their stuff from the baby shower and the Baptism. And now they have Christmas stuff, too.

Then Older Daughter and her husband Hank and their dog Cork descended upon us -- with all their usual baggage (Cork's travel cage, Hank's suitcase -- which is always left on the living room floor, Older Daughter's hair dryer and her hair curler -- which seems, though I know it can not be so, to simultaneously take up residence in each bathroom in the house) and all of their Christmas stuff besides.

Maybe that's the real reason why we have to put up a tall tree -- so at least the tip of it can be visible above all this stuff.

I had to walk sideways, and serpentine, just to get to the coffeemaker last Friday.

By Christmas, all of this disruption had begun to wear on Long Suffering Spouse as well. It's one thing to have your nut-gathering interrupted by a saber-tooth tiger attack, but at our house it's the modern equivalents of wolves and saber-tooth tigers and bears all at the same time.

My friend Steve called me at the office late yesterday afternoon. "I'm surprised you're at work with everything that must be going on at your house," he said. And when I did not answer immediately he thought a little. "Of course, maybe that's why you're at work, eh?"


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Curmudgeon's holiday blogging plans gang agley

Natalie Dee December 21 webcomic.

Christmas hit our household like a runaway train. If you want to make that allusion more Christmas-y, you can say that Christmas hit our household like the Polar Express careening out of control on the ice in the Tom Hanks movie.

I had a plan. I had hopes of putting up this Natalie Dee webcomic on Saturday morning (when I first saw it, I thought it would make a pretty spiffy transition from my own Apocalypse Maybe Week to the Christmas holiday) and maybe a post on Sunday or Monday about Christmas preparations in the Curmudgeon household and only then putting up my annual "Closed for the Season" Santa Claus cartoon.

It was such a nice plan, too. You would have enjoyed it.

But Long Suffering Spouse finished making all her famous Christmas cookies on Wednesday last and Thursday was Distribution Day and I had all sorts of stuff popping at work.

I've tried to explain this before: My business depends on referrals from other lawyers. So that means I get work when other lawyers are too busy to keep stuff I could do better for them. Sometimes that's because they have too much work of their own. Sometimes it's because it's a holiday and they're busy with other things. Very few people have had too much work of their own of late (something about the economy; you've probably heard about this), which explains why I've been starving here -- but with the arrival of the holidays things can still pick up a little. And they have.

So Long Suffering Spouse wanted me home early on Friday, but I really needed to be here all day. And Saturday morning we had to do our Christmas shopping.

Long Suffering Spouse had done some already, of course, but there were still several nieces and nephews entirely unaccounted for and there was more stuff she needed for some of our kids. My job was to take out cash, the idea being that if we spent cash we'd be more discriminating in our purchases. That was my idea, anyway.

Now I go to a mall about once a year, whether I need to or not. This trip Saturday was my appearance for 2012. But we left fairly early and there was even parking available. My wife directed to me to a spot as distant from the mall entrance as possible. "You'll thank me for this before we're gone today," she prophesied as I shivered across the parking lot. I don't go to the mall often, but I go often enough that I know not to wear a regular winter coat, even if it's freezing outside. It won't be freezing inside, and I don't want to suffer from heat prostration.

We hit the Clinique counter at Macy's as soon as we got in the door. One of our nieces is newly arrived at an age where she's very interested in the acne reducing properties of some of the products offered by this manufacturer. Think of it as platinum zit cream. I actually don't know if it's cream or gel or liquid, but I know it costs like platinum. And there was some question as to whether our girls needed stuff and then my wife thought she definitely needed stuff and I had to be the one to tell her that I thought -- at least I'd heard a rumor -- that Santa Claus might have taken care of some of her imminent makeup needs. "I told them not to buy me anything!" Long Suffering Spouse fumed.

"Who?" I asked, as innocently as possible.

"Your daughters," she said. "They can't afford it."

"I didn't say it was them, or either of them. I just said that I'd heard --"

"I heard you the first time. Now call Older Daughter and see if she has [Product Name]."

If I were a successful writer I'd remember all these product names. All of your bestselling authors drop product names in practically every paragraph. It helps to reenforce the verisimilitude of the story, and provides a sense of time and place -- but only if you have the first inkling about the product in the first place.

Which I don't. I did share a story with you, back in 2006, about my buying makeup for my wife. It was embarrassing. And I haven't learned anything since. (Except that they stopped making the 'creamy peach' color. Which figures. As soon as I figured out what I was supposed to get, they changed it to something else.)

Anyway, I called Older Daughter.

Older Daughter and her husband Hank -- and their dog, Cork -- were up at our house this weekend from Indianapolis. Hank took the bus back to Indy on Christmas Eve. He sings at his church (he gets paid for it) and the choir director had an absolute fit when Hank suggested that maybe, this year, after the year he and his wife have had, maybe they could skip the singing this year and let his wife enjoy the company of her family at Christmas.

Mind you, Older Daughter didn't seem too upset about missing all of our traditional gatherings before she married Hank... but that's another story. And they've had a tough year. An awful year. And the choir director finally agreed that if Hank could procure a substitute he could miss Christmas. And Hank actually did find someone -- but the substitute fell through. So Hank had to be on the bus back to Indy Monday morning.

But Hank was in my house Saturday morning, and his wife, too, but neither of them answered when I called my daughter's phone.

"Call Younger Daughter," Long Suffering Spouse directed and I pushed the necessary buttons. I'm like her own personal voice-activated system. Who needs high tech?

But Younger Daughter didn't answer either.

"Call the house," my wife said, and I called.

When the answering machine picked up I growled, "Where are all of you? Don't you ever answer your phones?" I can tell you this: If I failed to answer my telephone when they were calling me I'd catch holy heck for it.

We waited and fumed. I'm sure it didn't really take as long as it seemed for one of them to realize that they were supposed to do something. One called back and answered my wife's questions and the order was finalized.

"Cash or charge?" asked the nice saleslady as I reached for my wallet, bulging with Christmas greenbacks, all Cash Station fresh.

"Charge," my wife said, waving me off.

"But the whole point of this is to use the cash and then we're done."

"Oh, we'll use it alright. But this will be too much. We'll be out in no time if we pay cash here and we still have lots more to buy."

"But we agreed that this would be our budget...."

"And it will be," my wife said, reassuringly.

"But not if we're charging things." My retail-induced torpor had not yet settled in. I still had some power of reasoning. But it was pointless and I should have saved my strength.

We then got sweaters and shirts and I made my wife buy a new purse -- "they're all too big!" she protested, but I found a nice one that was just about the size of the one she was using (the one she tells me is falling apart). And we went to Lord & Taylor and found a hat that Youngest Son wanted and we went to 16 other places where we didn't find anything at all and the crowds began to get thicker and thicker and the pace of travel within the stores slowed to a zombie-like shuffle.

One of my cousins has a daughter getting married on Saturday and I thought we'd try the wedding registry at Macy's. This proved to be a mistake. When we did get her registry printed out, we found almost nothing on it. The girl's mother -- my cousin -- is an outdoorsy type and apparently this apple did not fall far from the parental tree. In fact, the girl's fiance proposed while they were on a mountain climbing trip in Alaska. They're probably registered at Dick's Sporting Goods, but there wasn't one of these in the mall. There was however a Crate and Barrel. You can get married in Illinois without an extensive registration at Macy's -- the carpetbaggers -- but a much more detailed registration at Crate and Barrel is a condition of receiving a license.

So we stopped at Crate and Barrel too and got the registry -- but it wasn't that extensive and, worse, everything on it seemed to have been bought already.

It was somewhere around this point that I reached my limit. I warned Long Suffering Spouse that I was going to melt down like a toddler at any moment. For one thing, my back was killing me. The zombie shuffle may have caused it. Standing in long lines may have caused it too. I only knew that I needed to sit down.

But the way home wound through Costco and, as it turned out, Target. We had to leave the mall to go to Costco. When we left, three cars were vying for our parking space. I dimly remembered I was supposed to thank my wife, but I wasn't sure why.

We had shirts to buy at Costco -- and diapers and formula -- and there was other stuff, too. By this point I couldn't really say what we bought. I did notice we charged this load, too. But most of my cash had disappeared somewhere along the way and what remained was insufficient for this purpose. And, at this point, I no longer cared.

I don't know what we were looking for at Target. I'm pretty sure we didn't find it.

After Target, Long Suffering Spouse took pity on me and took me home. The girls were out shopping with their husbands. I let Cork out of his travel cage. In gratitude he let me eat my lunch with minimal interference.

Long Suffering Spouse said she was going back out there, back to a different mall this time. I protested. "It's too awful out there," I said. "We're not done," she said. "Give me what's left of your cash."

And she went out. Eventually, she came back. My cash did not.

You might have noticed that Youngest Son has not made an appearance in this account, except as the recipient of a hat. That's because my wife did allow him to go to his end of the world party Friday night. He showed up, somewhat the worse for wear, about 5:30 p.m. on Saturday evening. He kept insisting he was "fine," but I knew better. For one thing, he didn't ask to go out Saturday night.

Oldest Daughter's dog Cork weighs about 70 lbs. these days. But he still thinks he's a puppy and a lap dog. He proved this after Long Suffering Spouse left to return to the retail wars. I tried to nap. Cork clambered up into my lap. I think he was trying to keep me awake. He kept licking my face and nipping at my hands.

Eventually, we both went to sleep. I never got online to do anything here.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
On Sundays, Long Suffering Spouse and I like to go to 7:00 a.m. Mass. On Saturday night both our daughters told my wife they'd join us, but by 6:55 a.m. neither one of them had stirred.

I went downstairs to write the check for the envelope. That of necessity took me into the den, where Hank and Older Daughter were asleep on the futon. I turned off the TV. Older Daughter sat up. "I can come with you," she said.

"I'm leaving now," I said.

"I can go," she said.

"I'll be in the car," I said, "and when your mother comes down, we'll go. If you're there, I'll take you."

Long Suffering Spouse could not have been more than a minute behind me when I came down the stairs. I figured we'd be gone and back and Older Daughter would probably not even remember the conversation. I went to the car and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Older Daughter came out first, still half asleep, but ambulatory now, at least after a fashion.

"Where's your mother?" I asked.

"Haven't seen her," she mumbled.

So I waited some more.

Younger Daughter and Long Suffering Spouse came out together a few minutes later.

If it had been 7:15 Mass we'd have been right on time.

That does happen to us a lot.

But this was one of those times when it absolutely was not my fault.

Another thing I do on Sunday mornings is the laundry. We get back from church and have breakfast, then Long Suffering Spouse goes to the grocery and I do the clothes. It's not a bad arrangement -- it keeps me out of another store.

Long Suffering Spouse left and I got our basket and went to the basement -- only to find the washing machine bulging with someone's wet clothes.

These eventually were determined to belong to Youngest Son. Hard to believe these would still be wet from Friday afternoon -- but I suppose they stayed wet because there was so much crammed into the machine. I got him out of bed to make him put them in the dryer. But my schedule was shot.

I heard a news story on the radio when the alarm went off. I knew immediately I would need to do a post about this on my public blog. On a normal day, even with the laundry, this would have been a two hour task at most. I still might be able to execute my plan for the Second Effort Christmas transition, I thought, as I started.

But the dog did not want me typing. That was one thing. And there were others. I can't remember them all. All I know is that this two hour task lasted pretty near eight -- and my laundry wasn't done until halftime of the Bears game either -- and the Bears were playing a late game, in Arizona.

I suppose there were compensations. Olaf made gløgg on Sunday evening. But I kept telling myself I had to be in court at 9:00 a.m. Monday on the other end of the county. And I did make it there. But I never made it here.

Friday, December 21, 2012

It's a tough day to be a Prophet of Doom

Apocalypse Maybe Week concludes today, one way or the other, here at Second Effort....

Actually, a sharp difference of opinion has already arisen among the doomsday prophets: Some say we've skated past the Mayan deadline since it is, clearly, already December 21 in Mexico and Central America and we're all still here. On the other hand, there are those who are still holding out hope (?) that the Apocalypse might come later today -- it will be on time as long as it gets here before December 22 starts.

That's the problem with these prophesies of doom: They are so imprecise.

We're dealing with that on a smaller scale here in Chicago this morning.

Yesterday, a Killer Blizzard was finally taking aim at Chicago (we'd been nearly 300 days without measurable snow, a new record) and all the TV stations were positively giddy with excitement. You think kids get excited at the first snow? TV newsrooms go positively bonkers, dispatching reporters to hardware stores (to monitor shovel and snow blower sales), and expressway overpasses (to show the traffic hopelessly tangled in the snow), and (of course) the airports (so they can exploit the frustrations of the stranded travelers).

It rained in Chicago yesterday. It rained a lot. The roof in our den appears to have sprung a brand new leak (interestingly, the roof didn't leak in any of old places -- just this one new one). But it did not snow, not for hours after the official 3:00 p.m. start of the Winter Storm Warning.

That's not to say that parts of the Midwest did not get clobbered yesterday. Madison, Wisconsin got a foot and a half of snow. Youngest Son was quite upset to be home in Chicago while South Janesville College was finally seeing its first significant snowfall. ("It didn't snow up there at all last winter," he complained. I'm sure he's exaggerating -- but it was an unusually warm, snow-free winter in Chicago last year. I told him to wait. It will probably snow plenty during his short spring baseball season. He was not amused.)

Finally, just in time for the late evening newscasts, the rain began to turn to snow in the Chicago area. The TV stations were much relieved. What would they have had to talk about if the snow didn't arrive? The stalemate in Washington? Who cares about that?

There's a bare dusting of snow on my lawn this morning. The sidewalk needs no shoveling. And the world hasn't ended, at least not yet.

It's a tough day to be a Prophet of Doom.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Regrets... I have a few

Apocalypse Maybe Week continues here at Second Effort....

When Frank Sinatra sings Paul Anka's stirring "My Way," he tells us

Regrets -- I have a few --
But, then again, too few to mention

And when Francis Albert Sinatra sings it, you can believe that he -- Sinatra -- doesn't have a lot of regrets.

Me, on the other hand, I'm a bundle of regrets. I'm probably made up of mostly regrets and peanut butter.

Have you ever seen the Albert Brooks movie, Defending Your Life? It's one of the few movies I've ever actually watched that features Meryl Streep.

I know, I know. She's got more Academy Awards than most people have IQ points -- what's her current Oscar total? 110? She'll probably get three or four next year, too. But nearly all of her movies are big, soggy, sorry downers. There's enough sadness in the world without paying $11 or whatever a first run movie costs these days to get sad on purpose. (For an eloquent elaboration on this point, may I direct you to Preston Sturges' 1941 classic, Sullivan's Travels?)

Anyway, in Defending Your Life, Brooks and Streep meet for the first time in the Afterlife, in a place called Judgment City. They learn that life on Earth has just been one big test. Can a person learn to master his or her fears? In the movie this is the only way a person realize his or her true potential, unlock more of his or her mental ability, and "move on." The title comes from the fact that new arrivals at Judgment City must undergo a trial during which a person's life is judged. Those found wanting are sent back to Earth -- reincarnated. A highlight of the movie comes when La Streep and Brooks visit the "Past Lives Pavilion" and see the people they have been. (There's a cameo appearance in this scene you have to watch for; trust me, it's perfect.)

When the past lives are reviewed, we see that Streep had been increasingly brave and noble in each successive incarnation -- which is why her 'trial' is more a party than anything -- while poor Mr. Brooks had mostly ended up screaming. Sometimes he was food, sometimes cannon fodder. Streep is a cinch to "move on" -- but Brooks?

Well, let's say I identify with Mr. Brooks' character.

On reflection, I suppose, I'm made up of regrets, peanut butter, and fear.

I'm braver now than ever. It's nearly a half dozen years now since I took sick and had to contemplate the Abyss. Ever since, I've been more willing to say things, and do things, from the courage of my convictions. I no longer always hold back because I'm afraid of how I will 'damage' my relationships, or my job, or my prospects....

I've probably worked my way up all the way to Sniveling Coward.

For me, this is progress. But I am all too painfully aware that it's not enough. I hope that I might have yet a while longer to work on this.

Maybe even have days when I'm not so tired.

Just between us, it's for these reasons I'm kind of hoping the Mayans were wrong. Or that they just ran out of rock....

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

What are you thinking about doing... just in case?

Apocalypse Maybe Week continues here at Second Effort....

I picked up Youngest Son last evening at his frat house at South Janesville College. On the ride home, the boy pitched an idea for how he proposes to spend Friday night.

"Well," he said, "one of the guys on the team lives in Oak Park." (Youngest Son is a baseball player.) "He was going to pick me up and we were going to go to another guy's house up in Johnsburg -- you know, I've been there before -- and some of the other guys are coming, too --"

I cut him off. "So it's an end of the world party," I said. "Either the world will get trashed or you will."


"You can pitch it to your mother if you like, but I wouldn't count on it."

"I sort of figured."

But our discussion got me thinking. I'm pretty sure the world won't end Friday night; after all, as Jesus said, no one knows the date or the hour when the world will end, and He didn't mention any special exemption for the Mayans. On the other hand, Friday night might be as good a time as any....

What would you do?

Remember Y2K? All the computers in the world were supposed to crash at the stroke of midnight on January 1, 2000. People filled up their bathtubs and as many water jugs as they could find.

I was never quite sure why. I don't know about you, but my computer did not run on water; indeed, every computer I've ever owned has been positively allergic to water.

My mother-in-law bought a giant freezer just for Y2K and filled it with all sorts of food. Almost all of it is still in there. I wouldn't want to be the one to try and eat any of it now.

My parents told me that, at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, in October 1962, when the general public was clued in on the possibility that the world might end in a series of nuclear fireballs at any moment, they put me and my brother and sister to bed just like any other night. They were nervous, but they didn't want us to know fear. If the worst happened, we wouldn't have known much anyway... so what would be wrong with a last few minutes of normal?

I kind of like that approach.

I plan to home Friday night as always, probably asleep in my chair way to early in the evening... just like on every other Friday.

If the lights so much as flicker, however, I'll probably scream like a baby....

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Welcome to Apocalypse Maybe Week at Second Effort!

The world may or may not be ending on Friday.

The U.S. Government says the world absolutely will not end this week, so that makes me nervous.

On the other hand, astronomers have identified no rogue planetoid on a collision course with Earth, so that makes me feel better.

On the other, other hand, as Zay N. Smith noted in his QT column Monday, sometimes potentially deadly asteroids aren't detected until they're pretty darn close at hand:
News Item (December 10): Astronomers discover Asteroid 2012 XE54.
Which passed between Earth and the moon two days later.
News Item (December 13): Astronomers discover Asteroid 2012 XB112.
Which passed between Earth and the moon a day later.
News Item (December 14): Astronomers discover Asteroid 2012 XL134.
Which passed between Earth and the moon during the weekend.
So there's still time for something to turn up.

Now, I'm nervous again....

So I'm going to try looking at the bright side of our perhaps-impending doom.

This picture has been making the rounds among my Facebook acquaintances. Hard to tell whose work it is, but it presumably originated offshore (the temperatures are apparently in Celsius):

The first 10 times I saw this I don't think there was anything on the picture about linking up at any safe house....

Here's another one I saw on Facebook that made me laugh:

I'm trying to figure out what I'm supposed to do if Friday is really the last day. I'm reminded of the confused bartender in the movie version of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. After Ford Prefect announces that the world is about to end, the bartender asks:
Barman: Shouldn't we all lie on the floor or put paper bags over our heads?
Ford: If you like.
Barman: Will it help?
Ford: Not at all.
[Ford runs out of the pub]
Barman: Last orders, please!
So while I'm not sure yet what to do or how to do it, maybe we'll find out together here on Second Effort as we (imagine big echo chamber basso profundo here) countdown to the End of the World!

Monday, December 17, 2012

The horror in Connecticut is a call to action

The atrocity in Newtown, Connecticut has been on my mind all weekend, as I'm sure it's been on yours.

I'm furious with the 'gun control' advocates for how they've exploited this tragedy.

No, I can't imagine who needs to have so many weapons in their own house, legal or not, registered or not. I certainly can't imagine why any normal person would feel the need to have a semiautomatic rifle in the house. What threat requires this kind of firepower? Zombies?

But what happened in Newtown, and what happened in Aurora, Colorado and Portland, Oregon, and Columbine, Colorado and at Virginia Tech and at Northern Illinois University and in Arizona to Congresswoman Giffords -- these tragedies have something in common besides guns: The shooters were all crazy people.

No normal person, no matter how angry, grabs an automatic rifle and shoots little children multiple times. Gun control advocates tell us that having guns around will increase crime because people have a lethal outlet when they lose their temper. But the Newtown shooter did not lose his temper. He seems to have planned this horror, just as James Eagan Holmes seems to have meticulously planned his murderous spree in Aurora, Colorado and Cho Seung-Hui seems to have planned his attacks at Virginia Tech.

Why did this happen? Why does it happen again and again?

I have what I think is an answer: We've stopped treating crazy people in this country.

Mental hospitals were bad places, we were told, and perhaps they were. But when the mental hospitals closed, where did people go for help?

In the mid-80s it was believed that pills were in the pipeline to solve any number of psychiatric ills. So closing the nation's mental hospitals didn't necessarily seem irresponsible: People just had to show up for their lithium (or whatever) and then they could function just like anyone else.

And maybe some did. But the pills didn't work for everyone. Some didn't work at all. And persons who needed treatment wound up on the streets -- the explosion of the "Homeless Problem" -- or in prison. And although the treatment had failed the hospitals did not reopen.

We're worried about 'privacy' for persons facing mental illness -- to the point where we seem to have stopped worrying about who might be harmed as a result. But, left entirely to their own devices, the mentally ill are getting into trouble.

Today, according to a 2011 NPR report, "More Americans receive mental health treatment in prisons and jails than in hospitals or treatment centers. In fact, the three largest inpatient psychiatric facilities in the country are jails: Los Angeles County Jail, Rikers Island Jail in New York City and Cook County Jail in Illinois."

And the trend of reducing the availability of help for persons not yet charged with a crime is continuing: We're closing (or have closed) several outpatient mental health clinics here in Chicago.

In 2006, the Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics was warning Americans that
  • Nearly a quarter of both State prisoners and jail inmates who had a mental health problem, compared to a fifth of those without, had served 3 or more prior incarcerations.
  • Female inmates had higher rates of mental health problems than male inmates (State prisons: 73% of females and 55% of males; Federal prisons: 61% of females and 44% of males; local jails: 75% of females and 63% of males).
  • Over 1 in 3 State prisoners, 1 in 4 Federal prisoners, and 1 in 6 jail inmates who had a mental health problem had received treatment since admission.
(But by 2011, the Bureau didn't even mention the mental health of American prisoners. You can link to the 2011 report through this webpage.)

I read a heart-breaking blog post over the weekend -- it's been widely republished -- you may have seen it, too -- written by the mother of a 13 year old boy with mental issues. He's very intelligent, usually charming, but -- too often -- and with no predictable warning, he turns sullen, even violent. As he gets bigger, stronger, older, she gets more afraid. She's been 'counseled' to let him commit a crime -- because that's the only way they can hope to get treatment for his issues.

I don't know who this woman is, but her story could be my own sister's. Her sons, my nephews, both have mental issues, and one has a history of violence. And as soon as the young man with the violence issues turned 18, and he was free to do so, he was able to sign himself out of the place where my sister had sweat blood to get him help. And he signed out.

Holmes in Colorado, Cho Seung-Hui in Virginia, Jared Loughner in Arizona -- all were asked to leave their schools because they were disruptive. They were scaring people.

We treat mental illness in this country by asking the person with issues to kindly go away.

Sometimes they do go -- off into the parks or forest preserves. After the Arizona tragedy I wrote about a couple of places near my home which 'housed' some of these unfortunates. This weekend, when I was out and about on errands I looked at where I'd seen these lean-to's before. They're gone now. Perhaps their denizens are gone as well. They may well have died. It's a hard life living in the forest preserve.

But sometimes they don't go. In well-off families, maybe they are kept as well as the family can -- or in Adam Lanza's case, as well his mother could keep him, at least until he shot her in the head with her own guns. Sometimes instead of going off to the woods where we can ignore them, or to the sidewalks, where we can step around them, they go into schools or malls or theaters with guns. And they call us, as a society, to account.

I'm not advocating locking up every socially awkward, quiet kid (I'd probably have been swept up myself). But we need to start getting help to people who need help -- whose families ask (beg!) for help -- through means other than the criminal justice system. We need to treat people with problems because, if we don't, we can't ever hope to identify those whose problems are endangering others. Maybe we need to reopen a mental hospital or two. Maybe we need to require people to stay there, even when they don't want to. Even if they're not 'nice' places -- because they surely must be nicer than prison or sleeping under a viaduct.

I don't think there's any question: If there was a complete, total, enforceable ban on assault rifles, Mr. Lanza would have had to use different weapons to further his murderous scheme. But wouldn't he still have had that same murderous scheme? With less exotic weapons, perhaps, he might not have been able to kill nearly so many before the police closed in and he killed himself. But are we to seriously argue that it would be somehow 'better' if he'd only killed 15 or 12 or 'only' five?

We could ban assault rifles, handguns, BB guns, forks, knives, spoons and sharpened sticks, and we will still have crazy people attacking innocents unless we seriously confront the way we treat mentally ill people in this country.

President Obama says we can do better than this. And we can. And we can begin by no longer pretending that ignoring the mentally ill is acceptable.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Curmudgeon violating one of his own rules?

For many of you, this is the Christmas Season. It's Christmas for me, too. But, this year, as in several recent years, this is also Ring Season.

Some years back, our children began reaching the age where they would and should, in the ordinary course of things, begin pairing off.

As the reality of this life stage sank in, I formulated a simple rule -- don't become too attached to anyone that any child brings home, not, at least until a ring is proffered. After all, I'm already married -- who the kid marries should be his or her own business, unpolluted by my making unfavorable comparisons between the current candidate and the one who was hanging around the house a couple of Christmases past.

I resolutely did not warm overmuch to Hank, Older Daughter's Boyfriend of many years (and several blog posts) until they decided to wed a few years ago. In fact, he was underfoot for so many years, I admit I was beginning to chafe a bit about whether he'd ever make up his mind to say the hard word.

I didn't have much opportunity to warm to Abby, whom Oldest Son married in 2010. Oldest Son didn't really bring her around a lot. But, then, he was never a homebody. He made this life decision on his own, with neither prompting nor interference from us. Abby is as independent as Oldest Son, but she has been a calming influence on him, and we like them together.

I'll admit to having become fond of Olaf when he was courting Younger Daughter. Last year at this time Long Suffering Spouse and I were speculating that these two might exchange promises during the coming holiday season. Instead -- well, you know what happened if you've been following along this year. Being already fond of the young man made that a whole lot easier for me, at least.

The object of speculation this Ring Season is Middle Son's girlfriend, Margaret. I probably shouldn't have given her a name. When you give animals names, they start to become pets; why should it be that much different here?

Long Suffering Spouse asked Middle Son last night whether Margaret might be joining us for any of the upcoming Christmas festivities. No, he said, she'd be going to her family home in Michigan. He'd be coming to our family functions by himself.

Long Suffering Spouse related this news to me this morning with a grim countenance.

"He'll lose her if he doesn't act soon," she said.

I am inclined to agree; there is a window of opportunity on these things.

I hope Middle Son understands this. I'm trying hard not to develop a rooting interest here -- but, while it may be argued (theoretically) that Middle Son could do better, it is surely true that he could do much, much worse. I like Margaret. They seem good together. Long Suffering Spouse likes Margaret. Older Daughter likes Margaret. Younger Daughter likes Margaret. I'd be thrilled for Margaret and Middle Son both if Middle Son gets off the snide.

But I'm dangerously close to abandoning one of my sounder rules.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Blasts from the past -- Curmudgeon recalls a Christmas concert past

You see, kids, once upon a time, back in the dark, murky past, we didn't have the Internet. Our innermost secrets were actually private -- not shared with the entire world by blog or Facebook or Twitter. Sometimes these innermost thoughts were preserved, however, in a diary.

Letters and diaries enrich our history. In particular, the private musings of public figures have sometimes revealed keen insights into events and personalities. But even the hurried scribblings of inconsequential individuals -- (like thee or me) who lived through major historical events -- can be helpful to historians in understanding how common people felt and thought and dealt with their times.

Of course, nowadays, letters are pretty much obsolete. If anyone still keeps a blotter copy of their handwritten letters sent by post or messenger, please leave a comment; proof of the existence of such a person today might be akin to discovering a Tasmanian Tiger or passenger pigeon in the wild.

I don't know whether people keep diaries anymore. This blog is as close as I come now.  But I did keep a diary once, for awhile, starting in 1990 and lasting, intermittently, for about four years.

This morning it occurred to me to look at what the Curmudgeon-in-formation had to say 22 years ago.

Most of it was raving about my job. I've said here before that Dilbert's pointy-haired boss and one of my old bosses had a lot in common. But that's entirely unfair to Dilbert's pointy-haired boss.

But I also found a story, this morning, about a school Christmas activity, back when Older Daughter was only 6. I've pulled that story from my old diary this morning, changing and deleting names and specific identifications as necessary, but otherwise editing as little as possible.  The diary entry doesn't mention Christmas at all -- but, given the time of year, there was surely a Christmas tie-in.

Step with me now, into the Wayback Machine, and set the controls for December 1990....

* shimmer * shimmer * shimmer * shimmer *

Thursday morning started badly. I was supposed to walk Older Daughter to church. She had volunteered to sing for the first grade Mass that morning and was required, by official note home from school, to be in the church by no later than 8:05 a.m. or be barred from participation.

I had a 9:00 a.m. deposition downtown and I was therefore blessed with a little extra time that morning -- time enough to take Older Daughter to school, certainly. I could walk her to the church, nod courteously to all the other good fathers and mothers dropping off their respective offspring for choir duty, and continue on the two further blocks to the train station, good father merit badge for the day well earned.

I was ready in plenty of time. Older Daughter was not.

In fact, it was already 8:00 and Long Suffering Spouse and I were screaming our respective lungs out at her: Finish getting dressed, eat something, go to the bathroom (she honestly has to be reminded about this, as her bladder does not apparently wake up for at least an hour after the rest of her). Finally, we had gotten to the stage where we could yell at her about putting on her coat.

It was too late to walk. Not if we were bound by this seemingly inflexible 8:05 deadline.

So we drove.

Now there's no place, on a school morning, to park by the church. The parking lot doubles as the school playground. If there are places you can park, I don't know about them. So I thought I would drive Older Daughter to the church, drop her off, and continue back home. I still had plenty of time to do that and walk to the train.

But I neglected to consult my child about my plans. And I didn't calculate the angle of the Sun.

As soon as I turned the corner onto the street heading toward church, I knew I was in serious trouble. The Sun was just high enough in the sky, and my windshield just dirty enough, to make seeing anything like cars or people, especially short people, such as children, virtually impossible. I was close to panic.

Somehow, though, I got Older Daughter to the church entrance without injuring anyone. The dashboard clock still read 8:04. I opened the door and wished her a good day and then she began to cry. "I can't go in by myself," she said. So around the block we went, parking this time on a sidestreet (only slightly illegally) and marching the roughly two blocks from there, behind the school to the church. We were considerably later than 8:05.

Amazingly, though, there were only two other people in the church who appeared part of Older Daughter's class. There was one other little girl and her mother. Even the music teacher was not there. Thus, I suppose, it was just as well that I went in with her. I know if I had been Older Daughter, in that situation, dropped off and walking in alone, only to find myself virtually alone, or maybe completely alone (the other girl's mom did say they'd only been waiting a few minutes) I might have panicked.

Anyway, the music teacher breezed in a few minutes later and I was finally able to leave. I got home by 8:20. Long Suffering Spouse was at the door, also close to panic. (Panic plays a major role in our lives, apparently.) She thought the car had broken down again.

But I was only ten minutes late for the deposition.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

I'm not going to go running out and get measured for a holster --

-- but neither am I going to put on sackcloth and ashes and join the wailings and lamentations of our local pols, all devastated by the 7th Circuit's action yesterday in Moore v. Madigan, Nos. 12-1269, 12-1788, which you can read for yourself by clicking through the opinions page of the 7th Circuit's website.

Here's the deal: Illinois was the only state that did not allow some form of concealed carry (except for policemen, basically). Downstate legislators have been lobbying for relaxed gun laws for years -- but, then, they live in hunting and fishing country and the laws Chicago legislators wanted would make 'criminals' of otherwise law-abiding hunters.

In Chicago, though, we only hunt each other, particularly in certain neighborhoods on the South and West Sides of the city. In hopes of stemming the carnage, we had an outright ban on handgun ownership -- or we did have one until McDonald v. City of Chicago, 130 S.Ct. 3020 (2010). Having been forced to concede gun ownership in the home, the Chicago-dominated Democratic legislature came up with a law that basically prohibited anyone from carrying a weapon anywhere but in their own living room (a gun might be OK in the house but not in the garage or on the porch).

And the death toll continued to climb. In Chicago, anyone who has wanted a gun has one -- except honest citizens.

Photo of Sen. Trotter obtained from the Chicago Defender.
The hypocrisy gets to me after awhile. Just last week, a South Side State Senator, Donne Trotter, was arrested trying to board while trying to board a flight to Washington, D.C. A handgun had been found in his carry-on. Trotter was charged with a felony and locked up overnight.

Sen. Trotter had been a relatively obscure legislator (with strong connections to the Stroger family and) with a good chance to win significant Democratic Party backing to replace Jesse Jackson, Jr. in Congress (which explains his recent, ill-fated attempt to fly out to Washington).

He claimed he needed the gun for his part-time gig as a security guard with a politically connected firm, All Points Security, and maybe he did. Only All Points isn't entirely certain that Sen. Trotter works for the company.

But here's the point: Sen. Trotter is a gun control advocate, as all good Chicago Democrats must be. His attitude seems to be 'one law for the people, another for him and others with connections' (and, as a consequence, no law at all for the gangs). You know... at some point this kind of foolishness will so corrode respect for the law that society will break down altogether.

Instead, let me suggest as follows: Anyone can obtain a gun and carry a gun so long as one obtains a permit. The permit should be made freely available upon reasonable conditions -- no one under 18; no criminal history, or at least no criminal history in the last 10 years; no mental health hospitalizations; some restrictions on where weapons may be taken (I wouldn't want them in courthouses or schools); and some proof of training in the responsible use of a firearm. It's funny when folks who don't know how to use their smart phones try to use them anyway -- but it would not be nearly so humorous if someone tries to use a gun who does not know how. Mark Brown had a reasonable suggestion in this morning's Sun-Times -- require police reports to be made of lost or stolen guns within 72 hours. I can see where that might cut down on straw purchases by seemingly 'clean' persons for the benefit of gangbangers or other criminals.

If a group of thugs is taking my measure as I'm walking down the street one night, as they try and guess my ability to resist from my size and bulk, it might be nice if they also have to take into account at least the possibility that I might be packing. It might be the factor that tips them into looking elsewhere for their sport.

Gun control advocates fear that crime may go up because of yesterday's court decision. I say it just might level the playing field a bit -- and give honest folks a chance. What we've done before hasn't worked... it really is time to try something else.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Mr. Christian and Ms. Greig and their stupid radio bit -- what's missing in this terribly sad story?

Photo obtained from the Daily Mail website.

It's probably not true that Guglielmo Marconi made the first on-air prank phone call to Alexander Graham Bell, but stupid prank calls have been part of the DJ's standard toolkit for many, many decades.

(You youngsters out there should listen to the Wolfman's telephone calls in the soundtrack next time American Graffiti is on cable. Prank calls weren't new in '62.)

So there was nothing odd or strange or malicious when a couple of Aussie DJs decided to prank call a London hospital to check up on the Duchess of Cambridge. The DJs were surprised their call got past the operator (they were doing rather bad impersonations of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles) but somehow they got through to a nurse on the floor.

That poor nurse, Jacintha Saldanha, apparently killed herself after she found out she'd been pranked.

Well, the DJs were taken off the air, and now fired, and the radio station canceled its Christmas party and has decided to donate all advertising revenues for the rest of the year to the nurse's family.

Here's my problem: Everything about this story seems so incredibly out of proportion, including in particular the nurse's apparent suicide. Why? What would drive someone to end their life because of a stupid radio bit?

And it was a stupid bit.

Personally, I think all such prank calls are stupid.

But lethal? I have a problem here.

British and Australian authorities think there may be another problem here, too. Supposedly the radio station and the hospital disagree over whether the hospital was informed, prior to the broadcast, that the hospital had been had.

The time difference alone made it impossible for the call to have been made live. After the call was recorded, the Australian station supposedly made five attempts to inform the management at London's King Edward VII Hospital about the prank call "to seek permission from Mrs. Saldanha and the other duped nurse to play the call." But the hospital not only denies granting permission, it claims that neither senior management or the company the hospital uses to field media inquiries heard anything from the station.

Somebody's fibbing. But why would anyone die because of it? Somehow I think there must be something more to this story than has been reported.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Curmudgeon on the idiocy of modern 'education' part 2,374

The pastor was on a bit of a roll early Sunday morning.

The retired nun who was supposed to pitch the Archdiocesan Retirement Fund for Religious at the 7:00 a.m. Mass hadn't shown up for some reason, and Fr. Ed (no, not his real name) was left to make the pitch himself.

Fr. Ed is about to be involuntarily retired himself; he's closer to 80 than 70 (though he's recently taken to fibbing about his age) and, though he's got 20 years on me at least, I can only envy his energy level.

But he didn't talk about himself; instead he talked about the nuns who taught him in his North Side grade school many years ago. He was effusive in his praise. He focused on their teaching of history -- clearly a favorite subject of his to this day -- and I'd recount this part of the homily in further detail (it drew scattered applause at one point) but I still fret about my anonymity.

Suffice to say that in praising the good sisters of his youth, he inadvertently panned the teaching of history at present by contrasting how much he and his peers knew about local history compared to what today's kids know.

Regulars here will know that my Long Suffering Spouse is a Spanish teacher, but this year she was asked to take one intermediate grade history class.

Only we don't even call it "history" any more. It's been dumbed down to "social studies."

So my wife took the jibe personally. "He doesn't know what we're up against," my wife fumed as we got into the car after Mass.

The teachers are expected to read to the children from the textbook in class (they won't read on their own -- and, if they do, they don't understand what they read). And while short-term comprehension is desirable, long term retention is absolutely not the goal.

The principal, it seems, does not want to bother the little darlings with learning "facts." Facts can be looked up on "devices." Instead, today's 21st Century kids have to be taught to "analyze." This is what passes for modern educational thinking. (And ours is good school!)

"How in the heck does one 'analyze' when one does not know facts?" I asked.

"That's my argument," my wife responded, "but we're told that kids don't have to know anything because that's available on their screens."

Facts might as well be buried below miles of granite, for all the good they'll do today's kids if this is really the way teachers are supposed to teach.

I can't remember everything; neither can you. When I can't remember something, I can look it up. But I had to know it in the first place -- once upon a time -- to remember that I don't know it now. I have a second screen going at home all the time these days, or multiple tabs open at the office; I'm always Googling something, or looking in Lexis or Wikipedia (or, at home, IMDb).

This will come as a newsflash to some of you, perhaps, but not everything one reads on the Internet is entirely accurate; for example, although it's usually reliable, Wikipedia has been famously pranked from time to time. Without a framework -- a skeleton -- of understanding, how is even the screen-equipped modern student supposed to evaluate anything he or she has looked up?

Educators are so incredibly stupid. The word 'story' is right there in the word hiSTORY. What 'educators' worry about as dry, dull facts are the details that make the stories of the past come alive. You don't 'force' kids to 'memorize' and 'regurgitate' boring 'names, dates and places,' you teach them one gripping yarn after another, and those 'names' are the characters that populate the stories, the 'places' are the locations, and the 'dates' just help us keep straight which story happened first.

"But that's not what they want us to do!" Long Suffering Spouse lamented.

Well, why in tarnation not?

Friday, December 07, 2012

It's my 7th blogiversary!

Second Effort first appeared on this date in 2005. Pearl Harbor Day. I did not exactly launch a sneak attack on the Blogosphere, however; I'd blogged once before... but I kind of let it lapse. At this point I can't even remember what the first blog was called. But now you know why this blog is called what it's called.

I first started blogging because Older Daughter was in Europe -- in Spain, allegedly, although her boyfriend (now her husband) was in France -- and she had a blog so that those of us stuck back home could live vicariously through her adventures.

And she had some. Spanish night life starts late and ends so late for most of us it's early the next day already. She was exposed (*ahem*) to rampant public urination. There may have been something about attending a play where all the actors were costumed, or not (i.e., in the altogether) as well. It's hard to remember. Her blog was long ago discontinued, before I abandoned my first one, in fact.

Older Daughter attended school for a semester in Bilbao, in the Basque region of Spain. My wife's father's ancestors were Basque (although, if you believe the article cited in this 2007 post, all of us of English, Irish, Scottish or Welsh descent are more Basque than anything else). Anyway, the Basques in Spain have a separatist movement and from time to time the lads like to blow something up just to keep in practice. I don't think Older Daughter blogged about it, but I distinctly recall her telling her mother once that the local terrorists had blown up a station on the train line she used to take to school. "But it was in the other direction," she said, "so it didn't really mess up my commute." This did not give my wife a warm, fuzzy feeling.

Older Daughter had to go to Europe to find out that not everyone uses dollars. I don't know why. I've been a member of the National Geographic Society since 1971 (like George Bailey, I've only been able to go to places within the pages of the magazine). If reading about different cultures and currencies was too difficult for her, I could have taken her to the bank.

But, no, she had to go to Europe. And she was so angry when she got her first tuition bill. She'd calculated, to the penny, what she'd need for the trip, and we didn't have a lot to spare (we had more then than we do now, but we didn't know, or fully appreciate, that). I don't remember the exact numbers. But, for example, what something she had budgeted for $2,000 was actually €2,000. And in those days a euro was worth a lot more than a dollar. "What is the matter with these people?" she fumed. "Why can't they use dollars like everyone else?"

I've learned a lot since I started blogging. I've learned some HTML and, just maybe, something about writing, too.

The one thing I haven't learned is how to attract a big audience. At least, not to this blog. I started a blog in real life -- and, this year, won a prize for my work on that site. According to Google, I've had more than twice as many page views at my 'real life' site than this one.

Also earlier this year I started The Blog of Days. Despite the catchy name, it's also starting to find an audience -- 178 page views on December 5, for example, and over 12,000 in total, according to Google. (Sitemeter says BoD has attacked just under 5,000 total visitors, and only 58, on average, in the past week. Naturally, I believe Google must be more accurate.)

But, despite these other ventures, both of which have benefited, I believe, from my struggles here, this one remains closest to my heart. I'm grateful for the handful of readers who have stopped by, especially those who have been so generous with their comments over the years. Although, could you maybe direct a comment or two over to the nice folks at the MacArthur Foundation? They never seem to get around to giving me a Genius Grant.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Younger Daughter learns some lessons of motherhood -- some of them true

With a daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter living under our roof, I get to see things I must have lived through with my own five kids -- but from a decidedly different perspective.

Lately, I've been watching Younger Daughter try and figure out how to do anything other than feed or change her baby -- she's still churning out thank you notes from the wedding, much less the baby shower and the Baptism. She did get birth announcements made, but by the time the last of these are sent the baby will probably be dating. And I probably won't like him one little bit either.

Still, there's progress. The baby is sleeping more at night now (which is a vast improvement over not at all) and I can tell that Younger Daughter is starting to construct a routine, which can only be done by at least intuiting some rules to live by.

Some of these she's told me; others I have tried to puzzle out for myself.

The baby likes to sleep on her stomach. Maybe we should let her. Younger Daughter, like all her four siblings, slept on her stomach. When our kids were little, this was the Received Wisdom that we young parents followed slavishly. Somewhere around the time Youngest Son started kindergarten, however, around 15 years ago, the Received Wisdom was recalled and replaced.

The new dogma was that babies must sleep on their backs and Younger Daughter and her husband were duly indoctrinated. They tried to get the baby to sleep on her back. She didn't.

After an extraordinarily long week (there's a reason why most people have their babies when they're young -- we're increasingly less capable of handling colicky babies as we get older) my Long Suffering Spouse gently suggested to her daughter that, maybe, just maybe, she might try letting the child sleep on her tummy.

Younger Daughter was aghast. She'd taken the new Received Wisdom to heart: Sleeping on your stomach can be fatal, she told her mother, who backed off.

We hid behind our closed bedroom door at night, listening to the kid scream.

Younger Daughter poured out her sorrows to her daughter's pediatrician. The doctor listened gravely. "As your doctor, I can't tell you this," she said finally, "but some children sleep better on their stomachs." She got very quiet. She looked around to make sure no one else might overhear. "Mine did."

Younger Daughter decided to chance the Certain Doom that she'd been warned about and allowed the baby to sleep on her stomach. The baby slept six hours straight on the first night -- eight hours the next.

Olaf, Younger Daughter's husband, was grateful. "I could kiss that pediatrician!" he enthused recently.

The pediatrician?

Mommy can go to the bathroom sometimes. This one is clearly false. Long Suffering Spouse told me so. She said she didn't go to the bathroom for roughly a dozen years, at least not by herself. It's only possible for Younger Daughter because there are two sedentary grandparents in the house in the evenings, and the baby can be dropped atop either one of us before we can scramble from our chairs and look busy somewhere.

Actually, since my wife usually is busy in her chair, grading papers and such, the baby has been deposited on me.

Where is the baby's father you ask? A lot of nights, by 8:00pm, if he's not doing homework (he still has to finish a couple of classes for his degree) he's asleep. He has to be up at 4:30am to get to work before 6:00. That's whether the baby wakes him up or not. When they were insisting on trying to keep the kid on her back at night, Olaf would wander around the house, or his wife and daughter would wander around the house, looking for places to sleep where the other would not be unduly disturbed.

That's nice, isn't it?

We woke up every single time they did it.

And Younger Daughter has learned an important lesson about diaper changing, too.

Are you familiar with the term "zerbert?" I know we've used the term at our house, but I wasn't sure if this was merely a word coined under our roof or whether it is used generally. I looked it up. I discovered "zerbert" was first used on the Cosby Show in the 1980s, and that would be about right, because we were having our kids then and the Cosby Show was one of the few programs we ever watched. Wiktionary defines "zerbert" as "[t]he sound that occurs where someone places the mouth against skin and blows, imitative of the sound of flatulence."

Anyway, Younger Daughter explained to me just the other night a lesson she's learned about diaper changing. "Never," she said, "never, ever give a constipated baby a zerbert while you're changing her diaper."

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

I wasn't worried about the Mayan Prophecy of Doom. Until Now.

Oh sure, I've kidded about it. Made jokes. In 2010, I put up a post lamenting a news report that the Mayan calendar may have been mistranslated because, counting on the end of the world to occur as scheduled, my credit cards were on pace to max out at the end of 2012.

But, while I joked about the possible total destruction of the world on December 21 -- whistling past the graveyard, I think it can be called -- I never really, truly worried that it might be so.

Until now.

Now, I'm just a teensy bit worried.


The U.S. Government has officially weighed in on the issue. According to, "The world will not end on December 21, 2012, or any day in 2012."

You see what this means, don't you?

If the world doesn't end two weeks from Friday, it will mean that, this time, the government was right!

Now, seriously, what seems more likely? A phantom planet showing up and smacking our poor little Earth -- or the U.S. government getting something 100% absolutely right?

You're getting a teensy bit nervous too, now, aren't you?

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Curmudgeon essay picked up by BoomSpeak

I link to Jay Harrison's BoomSpeak e-zine in my Sidebar. Perhaps you've noticed. You may not have noticed that Mr. Harrison sometimes picks up essays appearing here and republishes them at his site.

Most recently, Mr. Harrison reprinted my September 17 essay, "I'm not deaf, darn it, but my hearing has changed," at his site (sub nomine "Not Deaf, But My Hearing Has Changed").

I think this marks the first time that one of my essays has appeared on BoomSpeak under the 'health' tab. And Mr. Harrison seems to have run the original piece in full. Usually he edits, sometimes quite a bit.

For some reason, he seems to think that too many of my posts here are too long.

Can you imagine?

(And keep your agreement to yourselves, thank you.)

Anyway, Baby Boomers in particular may enjoy the variety of articles collected and posted by Mr. Harrison at the BoomSpeak site. Go over and visit -- but be sure to come back, hear?

Monday, December 03, 2012

More advice to the Republicans about the "Fiscal Cliff" that they surely won't follow

The Republicans are looking as insensitive and out-of-touch as ever.

A feeble few dared to suggest that maybe, just maybe, as the nation hurtles headlong toward the Fiscal Cliff, it might be appropriate to revisit the no-new-taxes-pledge. Then Grover Norquist coughed. The tax pledge is forever, he said, and the hell with circumstances. The handful of wobbly Republicans quickly got back into line with their more rigidly disciplined colleagues.

The new line is that Democrats won't approve anything that doesn't raise marginal income tax rates on 'the richest Americans' while Republicans insist (here's a shocker) that the deficit can only be trimmed by cutting spending. The Democrats are supposedly willing to go over the cliff without a raise in rates.

But over the weekend I thought I heard Speaker Boehner say revenues were on the table. While the Republicans won't negotiate rates, they'd be willing to raise revenues by closing 'loopholes.'

You know what?

Rates are a phony issue anyway.

If the top income tax rates go up from 35% (where they are now) to 39.6% (as proposed) there will still be millionaires who pay no taxes at all. Warren Buffett's effective tax rate may still be less than his secretary's. Rich people can -- and will continue to be able to -- afford to buy ways around any tax hike Washington can dream up. And Washington has dreamed up some doozies: The top income tax rate in 1944 was 94%. It went to 91% in 1946 -- and stayed there until 1964... when it 'dropped' to 77%.

If the Republicans had any brains -- and that's admittedly a big if -- they'd come out and say, Mr. President, the heck with Grover Norquist or the Koch Brothers, we agree with you: The richest Americans should have to pay more. No one has benefited more from this country than the wealthiest among us. But raising rates won't accomplish what you think it will. Why should bazillionaires get the same mortgage deduction that middle class folks and small business owners do? Let's look at how the really rich get out of paying taxes and close down those loopholes.

But don't hold your breath waiting for this to happen.

Arguably Related: Unsolicited advice to the Grand Old Party

Saturday, December 01, 2012

About those Hostess executive bonuses....

You've heard about the Hostess bankruptcy, of course, and how Twinkies immediately disappeared from shelves across the country.

Hostess supposedly decided to liquidate after bakers went on strike. Management warned the unions that Hostess would go out of business and everyone would lose their jobs if the strike continued -- and the unions stayed out anyway. Imagine: The unions deemed the risk of everyone losing their jobs to be preferable than continuing to work for current Hostess management.

Most recently it was proposed that the current Hostess management be showered with bonuses totaling $1.8 million. Bonuses! Now, it's one thing to ask -- all you need is brass -- but the request was granted.

Actually, Bankruptcy Judge Robert D. Drain's written order seems just a tad defensive about the decision to grant the request:
The Debtors' implementation of the Senior Management Incentive Plan is (1) not designed primarily for retentive effect and (2) is justified by the facts and circumstances in that it is narrowly tailored to incentivize remaining senior management employees who are vital to the successful implementation of the Winddown Plan and the maximization of value for the benefit of all parties in interest, including those with accrued administrative expense claims.... Without limiting the foregoing, (1) the Senior Management Incentive Plan was not developed by the managers but by independent consultants for the Debtors and by the Debtors’ DIP Lenders, whose collateral will be paying for it and who have no incentive to pay any more than makes sense as a business matter; (2) it is not a guaranteed bonus; as set forth in the unchallenged evidentiary record of the Final Hearing, (a) the participants in the Plan will receive their payments only if the metrics for such payments are 100% achieved, and (b) such metrics are difficult to achieve; (3) and it is fair and equitable in light of (a) the treatment of all employees who will remain working for the Debtors during the Winddown Plan, (b) the market for such services and the cost of replacing the managers (including the statutory fee and personnel costs of a chapter 7 trustee), (c) the fact that the
managers will be performing tasks that, due to attrition, were previously performed not only as part of their original jobs but also by others, and (d) no one has, except in the most conclusory manner and without the introduction of any evidence offered at either of the Hearings, asserted that any of the managers who are eligible for the Plan will not perform their assigned jobs diligently and capably for the clear net benefit of the estate. The Court obviously cannot stop people from complaining, politicking or engaging in demagoguery about the grant of this relief (and, in fact, one of the factors to consider when presented with such a request for relief is the effect of such complaints, politicking and demagoguery on the Debtors’ estates), but the evidentiary record is clear, for anyone who actually wants to examine it, that the Debtors are entitled to be granted this aspect of their Motion under the strict standard established by 11 U.S.C. § 503(c), for the reasons stated by the Court in its bench ruling at the Final Hearing.
Lawyers, of course, are rotten businessmen, and I'm certainly no exception. Because I don't understand Big Business, I have trouble imagining why bonuses would be necessary.

I mean, wouldn't people working for a bankrupt company be grateful that they still had jobs -- if only for awhile -- and not need bonuses in order to keep them showing up for work?

Sure, they might be making copies of their résumé on the company photocopier, but as many have noticed, jobs are kind of hard to come by in this economy.

And would Hostess's competitors really be sitting around licking their corporate chops to acquire executive talent from a company that's gone broke? I can imagine the conversation now. Sure, we're profitable now, but Smith here helped drive Hostess right into the ground. Imagine what she could do for us!

I rather wish Judge Drain had told the Hostess execs they should shut up and be grateful that they still have work -- after they've put all their employees on the street -- and hope that whoever buys the company doesn't blame the execs for the company's downfall and keeps them on. He wouldn't have had to sound the least bit defensive then. But, then, that's not how things are done in Big Business.

Which is why we had the Great Recession. And why we're going over the Fiscal Cliff in a couple of weeks. We deserve it.