Friday, May 31, 2013

Frivolous Friday -- very abbreviated edition

Obtained from FAIL Blog.

Where was this idea when I really needed it?

Obtained from the webcomic SMBC.

Ah, statistics. The cartoonist could have put almost anything after that "and/or" and not changed the pie chart one bit. He could have put meteor strikes, for example. Or, if he insisted on stampedes, he could have used elephants or creditors or angry birds. But, no, Mr. Weiner chose clowns. Why do so many people hate clowns?

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Curmudgeon 'briefly' explains his recent absence

I have been engaged for at least two weeks now (it might be three when I put my time together) working on an appellate brief. I haven't had one of those for awhile.

And this is a good case -- a big case -- the kind of case that, should it come to pass that I am associated with the winning side, will almost certainly result in more business.

In law -- in everything, sadly -- you're perceived to be only as good as your last result.

That's a load of road apples, of course, but it's all too true.

Anyway, it's a big case, nearly 70 volumes of appellate record, a trial record over a week long (not counting the in limine motions and other flurry of last-minute motions that preceded this big case, as happens in most big cases). I was not trial counsel. So I've read everything new and fresh -- and for the first time.

There are horrible injuries in this case, horrible enough that the jury's verdict of over $25 million is not being challenged by the losers as excessive (except in one small particular, amounting to less than one million of the total). There is not really a question of liability; the defendants who argued against liability at trial put on a 'sudden stop' defense, the kind of silly defense that juries see through every day in the First Municipal District in soft tissue, low-impact rear-end cases. (In our case the collision was on the Interstate and involved a very big truck... and a pretty small car.) But the problem is that the jury found four entities jointly responsible and only one of them -- the one which is at least arguably the most remotely connected to the accident -- has the wherewithal to satisfy the judgment. And that entity is (unsurprisingly) fighting like the dickens to persuade the reviewing court that the jury's verdict was wrong.

But that's not the challenge for the appellate lawyer; that's just the set-up. The challenge is that this accident took place over a decade ago. The case has been in court ever since (including a trip to the Appellate Court on a forum non conveniens issue. There's over 10 years of stuff that must be adequately reviewed and condensed and summarized in only 50 pages. Oh, and we also have to rebut the other sides' arguments in those same 50 pages.

We could ask for a waiver of the page limitation, of course. But you can imagine how excited the Appellate Court will be about that. Each appellate justice in Cook County must account for roughly a disposition a day to keep up with the workload. True, most cases will not be this complicated. Many, perhaps. But some are definitely more complicated.

So I'm working on the brief at home yesterday, and I started from a spot where I'd gotten snagged the day before: I'd done my research and still hadn't come up with a clear idea of how to refute the other side's contention on this point. If I thought it would get me nominated for the ABA's Blawg 100, I'd explain the issue a little more. But it won't. Suffice it, then, to say that, with a fresh approach in the morning I saw a way through the problem. I looked up a couple of more cases relied upon by the other side and decided that the other side had really goofed in citing one of them: It made my point for me. I wrote. By noon I had about a page and a half of new material, but I think it was good.

Just not good enough.

My co-counsel really wanted me to have a largely completed draft brief by today, when she meets with the trial attorneys to discuss our progress. They were mad at her, she told me, when she asked for another 35 days to prepare this brief. She got me involved because, even with 35 extra days, because of the press of other matters, she would be unlikely to get this project done by herself.

I have to tell you: Appellate lawyers here almost always ask for one extension. It is routinely granted. It is almost never controversial. I once had a case where my opponent asked for seven extensions (each time asking for 35 more days). On big cases like this one, two or three extensions are not unusual. Indeed, the process of getting the record together and getting the opening briefs on file took opposing counsel in this case about a year (according to the rules, they were expected to get this done within 98 days of filing the Notice of Appeal).

I am probably out of practice. My workload has dwindled, as readers know, and perhaps I take longer now to write because (unfortunately) I have more time to write. Parkinson's Law: Work expands to fill the time allotted for its completion.

I've tried to prevent rust by writing more blog stuff. I managed to do over an entire year's worth of posts on The Blog of Days (a streak broken only this week) and keep up this blog and keep up my posting on my two 'public' blogs as well. But it's not the same kind of writing as in an appellate brief. And, besides, no one ever seems to practice with the same intensity as one needs for a game. Drill and routine may help the soldier facing battle, but it will not be the same.

So my co-counsel was disappointed with me, I think. She'd hoped I'd have more done. Well, I'd hoped to have more done, too.

But, though we know what we want to do here, it takes longer to execute properly.

She was going to add 15 or so pages from her post-trial response to my draft brief in the hopes that it would look more like a 'working brief' for her concerned trial counsel at their meeting today. She was just going to slap it on at the end.

"They've waited so long," she told me yesterday. "They're hungry."

If this brief carries the day (after the other side attempts to interest the Illinois Supreme Court in taking the case -- an exercise that has no greater than a 1 to 4% chance of success, but will delay matters as long as another six months) the trial attorneys in this case stand to make millions.

The trial attorneys have agreed to pay my co-counsel mere thousands, but even this payment is contingent on the trial attorneys getting their millions. My co-counsel has agreed to give me a third of what she gets. (Her extra third comes from the inarguable fact that the trial attorneys came to her with this business, not to me.) If we win, but only if we win, the few crumbs that make their way to my level (roughly just a week's worth of statutory interest on the judgment) will nevertheless be my biggest single fee in years and years. It will actually amount to more than I grossed from the practice of law in all of 2012. (This is why I have $50,000 in credit card debt.) But I don't get a penny, not a sou, if we lose, because my co-counsel won't get a dime.

Yes, I suppose I am taking my time on this. I want to do a great job, not just a good one.

The trial attorneys may be hungry, as my co-counsel says. But I'm starving.

Monday, May 20, 2013

The letter I can't send to my client

I have this insurance company client that hired me to represent its insureds in a number of cases over the past year. That's the good news.

The bad news? Where to begin?

First, I had to register with some third party -- a subsidiary of a major legal publisher and research company whose name rhymes with "Hexes" (I first wrote about this in the second half of this post) -- that, in the name of cost containment, interposes itself between me and my new insurance company client, requiring standardized billing, that it reviews first before passing it along to the client. And I'm expected to pay for the delay -- my $275 annual fee is again due.

This company I'm dealing with is not the only one to get euchred by this third party interloper; I've heard similar complaints from some of my old ex-partners. It's apparently an industry-wide scam.

And getting the bill approved is not just a matter of delay.

Oh, no, there is scrutiny, too.

Not on anything useful or substantive; rather, the bill will be rejected if two activities are combined in a single time entry. There must be two entries in that case. I once had a bill rejected because I put mileage and parking together on the same expense entry. Well, it was for the same court appearance, wasn't it?

But, fine, I am adaptable. I can live with anyone's rules as long as I understand them.

But, now, after bills are allegedly "approved," comes major, major delay.

I wrote a 'what gives?' email -- polite, conversational -- but pointing out that, in one case, my bill was "approved" in January. The end of May is nearly upon us. Several other bills are at least 60 days post "approval." I included a chart, complete with invoice numbers and dates to my contact. "Is there something else I need to do?" I asked.

My contact referred the matter to a subordinate who promptly emailed me that he was looking into it.

Ten more days went by.

I emailed the subordinate.

A few days later the subordinate responded that there was a "glitch" in the accounting system and they were looking into it.

That was a week ago. Messrs. MasterCard and Visa won't take those kinds of excuses from me... but I am obliged to take it from clients. Therefore, I did not, and could not, write this letter, though I badly wanted to....
Dear Mr. ------

Thank you for your email advising of the 'glitch' in your accounting system.

I don't believe it for a second.

In my experience, when corporate bills are allegedly approved and not thereafter paid, it's usually because someone has his or her fat fingers in the till. I'm not accusing you personally. But, with each passing day that these checks are not cut, it is increasingly likely that they are not cut because someone in your organization has diverted the funds with which these bills were supposed to be paid.

You have computers. You have this very sophisticated (you think) third party bill approval system that assigns invoice numbers. Your company pays, and I suspect it pays dearly, for this service. If there's a 'glitch' in your accounting system, you should be looking at your accountants or your own IT people, and maybe both because these 'glitches' are probably where money is being diverted from your vendors to someone else's pocket.

I am unwilling to play victim any longer.

Please cut my checks. I enclose a pen in case you don't have one available.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Mother's Day weekend with the Curmudgeon clan -- Part III (the case of the baseball tickets)

Bee, I promise, this is not really a sports post.

My friend Steve is in a Chicago White Sox season ticket plan with three other guys. The seats are in the outfield, but right down in front, so you can see everything that happens. They're good seats.

But Steve and his comrades split the tickets up before the beginning of the season, before all their respective schedules are set. Steve in particular has encountered problems with his schedule before because of the frequent travel he does on behalf of the charity he works for now that he's "retired."

One such conflict arose this past weekend. I'm not sure where he needed to go, but he did, and he offered me the tickets for Saturday night's game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Orange County, California. There was only one condition: "See that they're used," he said. "I only ask that there be fannies in the seats. Then I don't feel bad."

That's not an unreasonable request, I agreed. "But I can't go," I told him. "Older Daughter is coming in; we have to pick up Youngest Son. It's just too complicated."

"Well, maybe one of the kids will want them," Steve suggested.


"So ask. But get back to me, please. If no one at your house can use them I have to try and place them somewhere else."

This was last Wednesday, I think.

I thought of Olaf and Younger Daughter. Maybe they could get friends and go. Olaf graduated; he can have a night out now and again. It's a good thing.

And Younger Daughter thought so too when I mentioned it.

"I'll ask around," she said.

"So ask," I said. "But get back to me, please. I promised Uncle Steve I'd get back to him." (Steve is not actually related by blood or marriage. But the kids all call him Uncle. His wife, though also unrelated to them, is Aunt Charlotte.)

"Don't worry," she said.

I should have worried.

The first thing Younger Daughter did was ask her sister if she and Hank might want to go. But Hank has to sing in Indianapolis on Sundays -- still, he was interested, Older Daughter said. "We could head home straight from the park," Hank allegedly told her. "It's on the way." But they would have had to leave the dog in Indy -- the little bunnies might have survived! -- but, alas, as I mentioned previously, Cork had worn out his welcome at the home of Hank's parents (and they have their own golden retriever).

Then Older Daughter suggested that, if they could stay until the end of the game Saturday night if they went to the ballpark, they could stay in Chicago until the end of the game at our house. Hank was not buying.

All this is easy to relate, but it took time.

It was Friday already and Younger Daughter hadn't found a home for the tickets. In the meantime, she had her own colonoscopy to deal with. Olaf's asked some of his friends, she told me, but she hadn't heard anything yet. What about Youngest Son, she asked. We'd be picking him up on Saturday. Maybe he could get a group together for the night game. "So ask," I said. "But get back to me, please. This is not a nice thing we're doing here stringing along Uncle Steve like this."

Youngest Son texted back that he was interested, but he wasn't sure if he could get a group.

In the aftermath of her procedure, Younger Daughter was losing interest in going also. She was knocked down a peg by the whole process and wasn't feeling at all well.

And the next thing I knew it was Saturday morning. I asked again who was taking the tickets. I knew by now Older Daughter and Hank weren't going: We had the bunny-eating dog. But Younger Daughter wasn't sure whether she and her husband might yet go; it depended on how she felt. And she was waiting to hear from some people she'd asked.

"Look," I said, as I stormed out the door for South Janesville College, "I don't care who you get. I'm not going. Your mother is not going. But find some bodies for the seats, pick up the tickets from Uncle Steve, and remember to say thank you. Get this settled before I get home."

And when I got back home, all was settled and done -- and that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I wound up at the Sox game Saturday night, along with Long Suffering Spouse and Youngest Son. (No, I didn't understand what happened either. Still don't.) Youngest Son who was apparently already sick by Saturday night -- he'd really be out of it on Sunday, much to the amusement of his brothers, when they came calling. "I haven't been to the ball game in a couple of years," said Long Suffering Spouse, and that was nice, I guess. She might have enjoyed the game more, though, if it weren't 48̊ at game time -- 46̊, according to the outfield scoreboard, before the game was through. And if the wind weren't howling the whole game.

Oh, and it might have helped if the White Sox had won.

But you can't have everything.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Mother's Day weekend with the Curmudgeon clan -- Part II (CSI: Curmudgeon-style)

Regular readers will recall that Older Daughter and her husband Hank are the proud owners of a golden retriever. I call him Cork.

In yesterday's installment I noted that my poor wife was less than thrilled that Cork was coming. She was even less thrilled when Older Daughter and Hank neglected to bring the dog's cage.

At our house the beast has slept each night in a rather large cage. It's a pain, presumably, to lug it to and from the car and to fold and unfold it upon arrival and departure. Still, it's a piece of home for the dog -- the kids used in their own house, and for the same purpose -- and it's worked well for us.

Lately, though, Hank and Older Daughter have discontinued use of the cage in their own home (Cork may have grown out of the rug-eating phase that cost them a chunk of their security deposit at their last apartment). They proposed that the dog sleep upstairs with the rest of the family. On recent visits, Hank and Older Daughter have decided against using the futon we bought for such visits and have camped out upstairs in the room that Youngest Son used to share with Middle Son. The room is equipped with a bunk bed. No, I don't ask questions.

Anyway, Long Suffering Spouse vetoed this idea -- she didn't relish tripping over the dog at night if she should have to make a comfort stop. The kids were miffed; they stayed downstairs with the dog on Friday night. I know I didn't mind.

Now, Cork, I hasten to add, is a lovely dog. He's bulked up a bit since his puppy days (he's around 2 now) and he probably weighs in at about 85 lbs. He still thinks he's a lap dog, of course. And, for all his shedding and slobbering, he really is very gentle with the Baby to Be Named Later. At one point on Saturday, he laid on the floor next to the baby as she played with toys and grabbed fist-fulls of fur from his side, all without so much as a whimper of protest.

Of course, by then, he was on his best behavior.

He had to be, because of what he'd done earlier in the day.

The Curmudgeon home comes with a fenced-in backyard, accessible from a sliding glass door in the den. There's very little that grows in our backyard, and very little of what does grow there is worth worrying about. So we ordinarily have no problems in letting Cork roam free in the backyard where he can sniff and dig and break off sticks to his heart's content. (He's neatly pruned a couple of bushes for us, inadvertently perhaps: He's killed a couple of others.)

And Cork was in the backyard for a fairly long time on Saturday morning. The weather wasn't terrible and the rest of us were able to eat our breakfasts without undue canine interference.

I was in the living room with Long Suffering Spouse, Older Daughter, Younger Daughter and the baby. Hank and Olaf were in the den, flipping between sports channels on TV. But then, out of the corner of his eye, Olaf spotted some extracurricular motion in the backyard. No, it wasn't Cork -- he's hard to miss -- it was something by the hose stretched out in the middle of the yard, something small. Is that a mouse? Olaf thought to himself.

Long Suffering Spouse, at the opposite end of the house, was instantly alert. If there's anything she hates, it's mice. As on Saturday morning, one need only think about a mouse in order to command her full attention. "Mouse? What mouse?" she demanded. "Where?"

"I don't know what it is," Olaf said. "It's very small, like a mouse, but it's not moving very fast at all. It's barely moving."

Hank had gone to the window by this point. "Maybe it's sick," he offered.

"Well, you better keep Cork away from it, whatever it is," commanded Older Daughter.

The young men went into the backyard, one to investigate the little creature, the other to try and round up the dog.

Soon, though, we had a report.

"It's a baby rabbit," Olaf advised us. Hank nodded solemnly. Cork, newly returned around the house, bounded around in case anyone had dropped any breakfast.

"It's still alive."

"Did Cork get it?"

"It doesn't look like it's been bitten."

Now Younger Daughter was out in the backyard with a box and Older Daughter was looking up rabbit rescue locations.

It turns out, however, that little baby, still-nursing rabbits (like this one) are notoriously hard to rescue. They have an annoying tendency to die instead. The rabbit rescue sites said the best thing that can be done is to return the little creature to its nest.

Now I've telescoped a really overlong exchange into this still-overlong explanation for the sake of moving the narrative along. The question now, however, was where was the nest? The kids combed the backyard (it's not that big, folks) for several minutes, but to no avail. Then Long Suffering Spouse took charge.

Rabbits, it's true, aren't mice. They're not even rodents. But my wife's critter-radar, if not infallible for rabbits as it certainly is for mice, is pretty darn good. She wasn't out in the yard for a minute before I was summoned.

"See," she told me, pointing a row of dug-up plants alongside the backyard toolshed, "that's where it was." Gray fur on the ground corroborated her hypothesis (I don't know how the rest of them missed it).

Pretty clearly, too, it was Cork who was responsible.

The ruined nest was empty, suggesting that Cork had probably eaten the other kits whole. Why he spared this one, at least temporarily, is not hard to figure: He wasn't through playing with it yet.

Dogs are wonderful, loyal companions. Even Cork. But they are related to wolves, you know. They make unconvincing vegans.

The baby rabbit was put back by the nest in the slim hopes that its mother might rescue it. Cork was restricted from the backyard during the remainder of the visit. When he was let out again, it was under supervision -- and, immediately, like the cliched criminal, he immediately returned to the scene of the crime. We shooed him away before he could do any further damage.

It probably didn't do the baby rabbit any good. It was gone the next day anyway.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Mother's Day weekend with the Curmudgeon clan -- Part I

Long Suffering Spouse and I made it to 7:00 a.m. Mass as usual yesterday.

As usual, we weren't there until 7:10.

What was unusual is that we were joined by Younger Daughter, Olaf and the Baby to Be Named Later. They made it by 7:15 or so, comfortably ahead of the drop-dead deadline the nuns used to tell us about. If you didn't make it to Mass before the beginning of the Offertory, the nuns told us, you had not fulfilled your Sunday obligation. It was only later that I made the connection between the passing of the basket and the deadline. But I wasn't always this cynical.

I'm sure Younger Daughter wanted to go to Mass to make her mother happy. And, this year, she and her mother could both step up at the end of Mass for a special blessing -- and they did. But I knew the real reason why they were there: The baby's gums had her awake before 6:00 a.m.

Youngest Son wasn't at Mass. I'd picked him up the day before. I was at his South Janesville College (that's what I call it) frat house only an hour or two later than I'd hoped. With all that extra time, much of Youngest Son's packing actually was done. In the time honored tradition of college students everywhere, he planned on coming home and going to sleep for about a week. There was a detour, however, which I'll explain in a future installment.

Long Suffering Spouse usually comes with me when we pick up the boy from school. On Saturday, she did not.

Older Daughter decided to visit Friday and Saturday. She and Hank and Cork the dog all arrived in time for dinner Friday evening.

I had tried to talk Older Daughter out of bringing the dog.

"But Mom loves the dog," Older Daughter protested. "Oh, yes, she does," I agreed -- remembering Long Suffering Spouse's exact words... Oh no, she's going to bring the dog, isn't she? He'll get hair everywhere, and we have to pick up everything. And he'll slobber all over the baby stuff. Oh, I like the dog, but can't they leave that it somewhere just this once?

As it turned out, they couldn't leave the dog with their in-laws as they've had to do on occasions when they've visited someone other than us: It seems that the last time Cork was at the in-laws' house, he destroyed their swimming pool cover skittering across it. The new pool cover was being delivered Saturday. The in-laws wanted it to remain intact for more than a day.

I should have been in better shape for this weekend's ordeal. After all, I took Friday off to babysit. Older Daughter had to see a GI-doc for a problem and she went to the same doctor who removed the better part of my colon six years hence. When she recounted the family history of colon cancer in our family (in which cancer does not just run, it fairly gallops), the doctor insisted she have a colonoscopy. That was Friday's entertainment.

Long Suffering Spouse was not happy about the test, either. "She's too young," she said. I wasn't much older than that when I had my first problem, I reminded her.

As it turned out, Younger Daughter did have one small polyp -- in an area of the colon where I eventually grew them by the bushel -- and if you thought Long Suffering Spouse was unhappy before the test, you should have seen her after. "I went through this with you," she told me, "but I never thought I'd have to go through this with my own children."

I wouldn't have guessed Younger Daughter would have a problem. If I had to make a guess, Oldest Son would be my most likely candidate. He drinks coffee by the gallon, just like I used to do; he works in a sedentary job, like I've done my whole life (he's a computer consultant, but it still involves sitting); and he eats junk food at odd hours, just like I used to before I got married. He's married now nearly three years, but Abby works long hours, too. Neither of them cook. Of course, he steadfastly refuses to be tested -- but I made a pitch to Abby this weekend. He may be in for a surprise. I hope so.

And Long Suffering Spouse had a miserable week at work, too.

No, it was good that Long Suffering Spouse did not make the road trip with me to South Janesville College. She wound up at the store instead with her daughters -- Younger Daughter was still pretty rocky from her test, but she did the best she could.

Hank and Older Daughter had to be back in Indianapolis for Sunday services -- Hank sings, you'll remember; that's his side job -- and if Long Suffering Spouse had come with me she'd have spent virtually no time at all with Older Daughter.

"Does that mean they'll be gone when I get back?" Youngest Son asked me as we started the homeward journey early Saturday afternoon. There was a hopeful note in his voice, which should not be taken as any sort of dislike of his sister. It's just that she had noted pictures of Youngest Son and a girl on Facebook in various poses at each other's respective spring formals (fraternities and sororities do these things, I'm told) and, in prior conversations, she had vowed to wheedle out of him information sufficient for her to decide whether this was a serious relationship.

Who wants to come home to an inquisition?

Hank and Older Daughter finally left Saturday night. Long Suffering Spouse and I weren't there. That's one of the tales I'll spin out of this vortex of activity this week. The other involves Cork, the dog.

But, for now, we'll conclude in the vestibule of the church after Mass. One of the ladies of the parish, an acquaintance of Abuela's, was among the many selling carnations to support the Parish Pro-Life Committee. Long Suffering Spouse directed me to buy a bouquet that she promptly gave to Younger Daughter. "So," said the lady to my wife, "what is your family doing for you this Mother's Day?"

"They're all coming to visit," said Long Suffering Spouse, muttering "I think" under her breath, just loud enough for me to hear. (At this point, we'd heard nothing from either Oldest Son or Middle Son about any possible visits.)

"And they'll want you to feed them, of course," said the lady. It was not a question.

"As usual," agreed Long Suffering Spouse.

Mother's Day always falls on a Sunday, of course, and whoever is coming over, whenever they come, the laundry still must be done, the grass cut, and week's groceries procured. Long Suffering Spouse headed out to the store while I started the washer and the lawnmower. While I was finishing up the lawn, Long Suffering Spouse was unpacking the groceries and trying to pack Younger Daughter for a trip to her in-laws. When I came in, Long Suffering Spouse was wrapping a present for Younger Daughter's mother-in-law. "I must be doing something wrong," she said. "I had to go with her to the store to get this; now I have to wrap it, too." I looked at the mountain of stuff that had been prepared for the journey to the land of the in-laws (it was a family party with all the great-aunts and uncles in attendance) and I went outside to see how Olaf was doing packing the U-Haul trailer. "What U-Haul trailer?" he asked. "We have to fit this in the car somehow." And, somehow, they did....

Friday, May 10, 2013

Password protected -- for our amusement

How many passwords do you have to juggle? Six? Ten?

Simple passwords are too "weak" -- and a lot of sites will insist that you bulk up... passwords must have at least one capital letter, two numbers, a specialty character and anything else that we can think of to screw up your ability to recollect whatever we finally allow you to have. And don't think you can use the password from your most restrictive site as your password everywhere. That would be too easy. At least one of your sites will reject it as having too many characters... passwords must be between 8 and 14 characters long, except on Tuesdays in spring, when passwords must be between 6 and 12 characters long, or Thursdays after the Full Moon in any month having an 'm' in it....

Then there are the sites that make you change your password every 90 days -- because the Russian hackers are always watching you in particular (what makes you so special, anyway?) -- and don't even think of using the password you used to use, either. (The Russians almost got that one, you know.)

But, given the proliferation of passwords, the worst are sites that limit you to one or two tries -- and then make you wait... and wait... for an email. When you get the email, you can reset your password. Too bad you remembered that password in the meantime. Too bad, that is, for you.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

W visas? What are they smoking in Washington these days?

I first heard about "W visas" on NPR this morning. Noodling around the Intertubes, I found this April 1 report on Slate attempting to explain the concept.

In a nutshell (and this truly is nuts) the idea is that employers who heretofore have relied on illegal immigrants as a substantial component of their workforce -- in the meat-packing industry, say -- will instead use workers who enter the country on these W visas. Unlike many other visa programs, this W visa will be geared specifically to the unskilled laborer, the guy who will supposedly take only 'jobs no American wants.'

This would be a great deal for the immigrant worker (we're not supposed to say 'guest workers') who would be in this country legally, with the opportunity to seek permanent resident status when the visa expires, and thus on a path to citizenship.

This would be a great idea -- if it weren't so obviously stupid.

Look: The statement that there are jobs that Americans won't take is a lame, transparently fraudulent lie. The truth is that restaurant chains and big box stores and meat packers don't want to hire Americans. They don't want to have to pay minimum wage. Thus, they hire illegals -- often through intermediaries, pretending to 'contract out' for certain services. However they hire them, our big businesses pay the illegals next to nothing -- and thereby squeeze out maximum profits. Why not? No one goes to jail for hiring illegals.

Does any sane person think that the MBA's who have perpetrated this fraud for decades are going to hire people with W visas and pay normal wages and benefits?

No, they're going to continue to hire illegals as long as they can find them, from wherever they can get them. And desperately poor people from Mexico and Central America are going to continue lining up for these jobs because $5 an hour or even $3 an hour is better than $1.50 a day back home. Every now and again, a bunch of poor slobs who wanted nothing more than to better their lives and the lives of their children will be rounded up and deported, just like now, while the greedy, selfish bastards who exploit them replace them without a backward glance -- or the least fear of meaningful legal sanction.

And if you think that immigration "reform" will result in meaningful penalties against the big businesses that benefit from illegal immigration, you're just as high as the lunatics in Washington.

The Right wants secure borders; the Left wants fair wages and an end to exploitation of immigrants. But they don't need "reform." They just need to enforce some of the laws they already have on the books: Put some MBA's in jail. Have a few Fortune 500 CEOs do the 'perp walk' on the evening news. It's already a crime to hire illegal workers and pay them less than minimum wage. Enforce these laws!

This would dry up demand for illegals -- illegal immigration would slow (maybe only the drug runners would have incentive to cross the border after this) -- and opportunities would open up for our kids to get jobs again. The busboy at your neighborhood restaurant might again be your neighbor's teenage son.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

I bet most kids today would flunk this test

Chuckle Bros. comic by Brian and Ron Boychuk, obtained from GoComics.

Oh, sure, we old folks think this comic funny because, after all, who can't copy words when the words are written out right in front of you?

The answer, I'm sorry to say, is today's kids. I'm going by what I see from my wife's junior high classes, so perhaps your kids' or grandkids' school is different. But I don't think so. My wife teaches at a private (Catholic) grade school where the students are from middle class backgrounds. According to their standardized test scores, just like the children of fictional Lake Wobegon, the kids at my wife's school are all (or almost all) above average.

And today's kids seem incapable of copying a word when it's written right in front of them.  My wife has showed me test paper after test paper proving this.


Part of it, I believe, is that teaching methods seem to have changed: When we were kids, we were expected to copy stuff off the board. Accuracy was compulsory; sloppiness was a punishable offense. We were forced to do this time and again in the primary grades, and the teacher actually looked at what we copied. Neatness counted. And graded us very harshly if we didn't copy correctly.  Thus, we learned -- we were required to learn -- how to do this.

Today, rote copying (and -- oh, my gosh, memorizing) are looked on as primitive, wrong, even abusive.  Today's kids didn't learn how to copy accurately in the primary grades; and, thus, they can't do so when they reach junior high.

I don't know why this is the current trend; it seems awfully stupid to me.

Imagine an astronaut in a crisis scenario, trying to copy down critical instructions relayed by Mission Control. "Roger that, Houston," the astronaut would say, but the mushy jumble of characters on his or her note pad might not really match up with the information sent up from the ground.

Apollo 13 would have had a very different ending.

Oh, no, the 'modern' educator may say, in a patronizing tone, today's children have technology (when it works) and spell check will correct their spelling (but only if they get reasonably close to the correct spelling -- and spell check can't help a kid know when and how to use 'there' or 'their' or 'your' or 'you're'). And, as near as I can tell, 'modern' teachers say that kids today don't have to memorize anything because they can always look it up on their ever-present 'devices.' (But how do you 'look up' what you never knew? How do you even know you should be looking for it?)

As Blog of Days readers already know, this is Teacher Appreciation Week. It's an especially appropriate time to think about teachers and teaching -- especially good teachers and good teaching.  In that spirit, share this post with a teacher in your life. Am I being unfair to 'modern' teachers? Am I being unfair to today's kids? What do you think? What do the teachers in your life think?

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Olaf graduates -- finally -- and Curmudgeon must begin thinking about his next great acting job

Olaf finally got his degree Saturday. "I don't have the diploma yet," he'd say if he saw this -- but his name was in the program and he walked across the stage with everyone else.

Well... maybe more staggered than walked.

Younger Daughter thought it would be good to celebrate the night before the graduation ceremony.

When I heard she was planning a party, I asked her where she planned to hold the event. My real question, of course, was "if the party's at my house, am I invited?"

In the event, Younger Daughter had a couple of friends meet them at the house, then they repaired to a gin mill on the Near North Side where many others gathered. Ethanol was consumed in copious quantities.

Olaf gets up at 4:30 a.m. for work and, although he doesn't always work Fridays, last Friday he did have to go in.

So he was dog tired before they headed out. And Younger Daughter's not sleeping soundly these days because the Granddaughter To Be Named Later is cutting her two front teeth (gosh, I hope we don't have to wait until Christmas for them) so she was dog tired before they went out.


I don't know what time they got home (Long Suffering Spouse and I got the baby down and went to sleep ourselves) but I do know that Olaf was sick as a dog on Saturday morning. Younger Daughter was worse.

The plan had been for them to drive down as a family to the graduation -- there's a whole 'nother set of grandparents, you know, and they were looking forward to holding the baby while their son walked across the stage -- but this plan had to be abandoned because of the glacial pace at which the kids were able to move.

Eventually, though, Olaf went in his car, with the new baby seat so the family could head out to his parents for a celebratory barbecue. The old car seat was put into my van so I could take Younger Daughter and the baby if ever they got ready.

I was beginning to wonder if that contingency might not occur -- but, eventually, Younger Daughter rallied sufficiently. She and the baby were there when her husband's name was called. The other grandparents got their carrying time. Everyone looks fine in the pictures. The baby didn't complain about her teeth either.

Long Suffering Spouse and I had a sense of accomplishment as we ushered them out of the house, finally. Not because we got them moving when they were in such a state, of course, but because Olaf had finally -- despite all the obstacles that his health and his teachers combined to throw in his path -- completed his degree. And, Friday, before they went out, Olaf happened to mention that his boss did mention that salary discussions might soon be in order.

Once Olaf gets on salary they ought to be able to put together a security deposit on an apartment -- maybe even, if interest rates hold, a down payment on a house somewhere. They may actually move out someday.

And that's when I'll have to do the best acting job of my career. Long Suffering Spouse -- whatever she may say now -- will be tremendously sad when they go. I will have to pretend to be unreservedly happy. Only you here can know any different.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Lego finds robots -- and redemption

You never know when that next wave of nostalgia will crash over you. Today it happened as I was reading an article in this month's Smithsonian, "How Lego Is Constructing the Next Generation of Engineers."

Remember Lego?

I loved Lego as a child. My parents would get me boxes of just plain bricks like this one (in addition to this standard 2 x 4 size, there were several other sizes too, 1 x 2, 2 x 2, 2 x 3, 2 x 8, 1 x 6....) but, with just these little rectangles I could build anything.

And I did. I built buildings to accompany the train setup, I built cities, I built ray-guns (I had a pretty good phaser design, if I do say so myself), I built control panels -- buttons on buttons -- to operate spaceships that would take me all around the Galaxy -- without ever leaving my parents' house.

I didn't play with Lego as often as the years went by, but (like the boy in Toy Story) I had occasional relapses for many years. Eventually, though, I went away to school and my mother gave my Lego collection (by then quite massive) to my aunt so that my 14-years-younger cousin could play with them. I thought I'd get them back for my own children, but that's not how it worked out: The whole box got sold in a garage sale at some point; I was not informed until well after the fact.

Still, by that time, I was married and looking forward to my own children and the chance to play with their Legos. We did fine with the Duplo blocks (Duplo being the giant Lego blocks that are made for little hands) and we built up quite a collection of these (which we absolutely refused to share so that my grandchildren will have them). But when the time came for my kids to graduate from Duplo to Lego, Lego wasn't the same.

Lego was very different.

When I was a kid, the idea behind Lego was that you could build anything you want. When my kids were little, the Lego philosophy had degenerated to 'you can build anything we want.'

There may always have been Lego models; I don't think so, though. I think somebody built the Empire State Building (I remember a huge Lego Empire State Building in the toy department at Marshall Fields one Christmas) or the Statue of Liberty from Legos without instructions. But, even if there were models, the big sellers were the boxes of bricks.

And those boxes of bricks didn't exist when my kids were little. I looked everywhere for them. There were only models. We have a green Lego Statue of Liberty in the dining room still, a little dusty, and with a few of the pieces missing after being jostled from time to time down through the years. My wife bought it for Oldest Son. I hated it. He loved it -- until he was done with it.

After he built it, what else was there to do with it? Admire it? For how long?

So we didn't get Lego Millennium Falcons or any of the other models.

Now I must admit to a certain prejudice against models. My father tried to interest me in model making -- a standard hobby for boys in the 20th Century -- and my father continued making lots of models, even later in life (a lot of them ones I hadn't already ruined). He had the fine motor skills and patience necessary to build models. He had hopes of capping off his model making career by building a ship in a bottle. He never quite got to it.

When I tried to make a model airplane, on the other hand, the wings wound up on the same side of the fuselage, or at least out of alignment, and I usually glued my fingers together. I was a disaster. If I was supposed to break off a plastic strut here, I inevitably broke it off there. There was no model so simple I couldn't screw it up. I learned to hate model making. (You lose a little skin off your fingers each time you pull the glue off.)

So my feelings about model making generally may have colored my feelings toward Lego models in particular. But, if so, I was not alone. As the Smithsonian article relates, Lego sales were in decline during the late 20th Century. By the early 2000s, Lego was on the verge of being bought out by Mattel.

I wasn't following Lego's decline; my kids were largely grown by this point and their Lego window had closed. But, if I had known of Lego's near demise, I might have smiled a smile of secret satisfaction.

And then Lego found robots. And schools, even middle schools, found Legos to teach basic engineering principles by having robot competitions. The latest entry in Lego's robot reboot is Mindstorms EV3:
Mindstorms EV3 is a jumble of parts (nearly 600 separate elements) that can be plugged together many ways. The toy, which clocks in at $350 and will be in stores this fall, comes with 3-D interactive building instructions for 17 different bots that walk, talk and stalk. And, this being Lego, enterprising kids are encouraged to hack away and turn the components into whatever they can dream up.
Well, it's not exactly a box of bricks from which one can make anything yet... but it sure sounds like a giant step in the right direction. And, this time, the blocks can move.

It gives me something to look for at Christmastime when the grandkids start coming along in more quantity....

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Law Day: Respect the laws... or repeal them

May 1 is Law Day in the U.S.A. Whatever the paranoid Cold War origins of the observance (it was intended as a red-white-and-blue substitute for that Commie-tainted workers' holiday, May Day) it is a good opportunity for all of us to pause and reflect on how important, how vital our legal system is as the guardian of our American freedoms.

It is also an opportunity to stop and think about laws themselves -- and what they should be.

America breaks down irrevocably if, as a society, we lose respect for the law. In specific instances this has already happened.

It happened nearly 100 years ago when Prohibition was imposed. Many otherwise law-abiding people simply refused to obey this one: Speakeasies... and gangsters... flourished. People who publicly favored Prohibition did not obey the law either: Liquor flowed freely at the Harding White House. Many in the upper classes thought that Prohibition provided a good dose of discipline for the working class, but the 'better sort' did not need that discipline -- or to stop drinking. Eventually, Prohibition had to be abandoned.

The so-called "War on Drugs" hasn't yet been abandoned, although cracks are finally beginning to appear in places like Colorado. But for decades now, draconian penalties against everything from pot smoking to heroin use haven't halted drug usage -- and the children of middle and upper class families seem always to fare better when picked up on drug charges than poor or working class kids. One judge's nomination for the United States Supreme Court was derailed when it was revealed that he regularly smoked marijuana with students while a member of the Harvard Law School faculty. Both Barack Obama and George W. Bush acknowledged drug use that -- had they been caught and prosecuted -- would have effectively ended their political careers before they began. (Bill Clinton admitted smoking marijuana as well -- but denied that he inhaled. Mmm hmm.)

We now pass laws we don't intend to -- or can not -- enforce. My favorite example (probably because it impacted me directly at the time) was raising the drinking age to 21. (It was 19 in Illinois, 18 in many of the surrounding states.) I recall one legislator insisting that this wasn't meant to keep college kids from drinking; rather, it was to keep booze out of high schools. But... wait... most college kids don't turn 21 until they are juniors or seniors. Maybe the honorable gentleman had a bit of a load on when he made these remarks; maybe his remarks were symptomatic of the institutional hypocrisy that threatens to undermine respect for the law.

In my lifetime, attitudes have hardened against drunk drivers. The problem is that drunk drivers don't just kill themselves, they too often take innocent lives with them. Or, worse, they survive -- and wipe out whole families. So we pass increasingly harsh laws against drunk driving, lowering the blood alcohol content levels at which a driver is considered legally drunk and increasing fines and imposing longer, and often mandatory jail terms on persons convicted. We want to get drunks off the road, right? But people with money -- and people who have responsible jobs and families often have money -- and may be sympathetic to boot, especially if they didn't hurt anyone before they were pinched -- aren't convicted. Charges are thrown out on this technicality or that one, or plea deals to lesser charges are accepted -- and too many people who should have gotten help to control their alcohol problems go scot-free... until they T-bone the homecoming queen and her date on prom night. But anyone who suggests scaling penalties in a more reasonable way is committing political suicide -- one can't be seen as 'soft' on drunk driving.

Laws against cellphone usage while driving are taking the worst from the Prohibition and drunk driving playbooks: We pass absolute laws against cellphone usage in cars, but we have no intention of enforcing these laws. Stand on any street corner and watch the cars pass by. Even in cites or states with an absolute ban, it is rare to see someone drive by who is not on the phone. Clearly, many otherwise law-abiding people don't think the bans apply to them. Texting is worse than talking, but stupid people think that keeping the phone in their lap will keep them from being seen -- as they compose texts and weave all over the roadway. But outright bans and increasingly harsh penalties will not end this behavior.

Those terrible commercials one sees everywhere -- a severely injured person explaining his last text, shattered parents recalling their daughter's last text -- are more likely to build consensus over time than any number of laws. In the meantime... why not simplify the law and allow police the opportunity to charge erratic drivers with 'distracted driving' whether they talking are on their phone, texting, or entirely caught up in singing the new Taylor Swift song that's come on the radio?

We must work to repeal (or modify) laws that are widely ignored. Leaving laws on the books that we don't mean to follow, or that we enforce sporadically or selectively, undermines the rule of law in this country.

There may be no stauncher opponent of abortion in government than Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan. Yet Ryan recently said that pro-lifers should not lobby for more anti-abortion laws. He has, apparently, come to realize that merely passing an anti-abortion law, or even an anti-abortion constitutional amendment, will not deter determined women from seeking abortions. The goal should not be to make abortion illegal, he said, but rather to make it unthinkable. Change attitudes first, then worry about the law.

You may disagree with Rep. Ryan's objective, but he's got the right approach: Change minds, build consensus, then pass laws. In the long run, that approach furthers the rule of law far more than passing laws to make statements or score political points or show 'toughness' to the voters.