Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Paper still has a place in the world

I like my tablet and I've reached a rapprochement with my smart phone. I've been blogging, off and on, for almost a decade (this is, after all, my Second Effort). So I'm not totally tech-averse. I'm not a doctrinaire Luddite, whatever my kids may tell you.

Still, my desk at the Undisclosed Location is choked with paper. Stacked high. I still find I read better on paper than I do on the screen. I read newspapers. I read books. No one steals a newspaper or book from you on the el going home; iPhone users have to be aware of "Apple pickers."

Perhaps that explains why I really laughed out loud when I saw this commercial online this morning. Perhaps no explanation is really needed.

Irrational exuberance in getting from Point A to Point B

A major problem with a real winter like this one -- over and above survival, I mean -- is that we who are experiencing it first-hand are taking pride in accomplishing the things we'd do every single day regardless of the weather. Like showing up to work, I mean.

Take this morning, for example. We had a half foot of lake effect snow that slammed us last night, just as Polar Vortex II was settling over the Chicago area. (The sequels are never as good as the originals, are they? This morning it was a comparatively balmy 2̊ F, not the nearly -20̊ like we had on January 6.)

And we had a full foot of snow on the night of January 4-5, to go along with the foot we picked up for New Year's, so six inches of partly cloudy looks like nothing at all.

The difference is that, on the 5th, before the real cold set in, we had pretty much all day to shovel. This morning, we were shoveling in the cold.

But, anyway, here I am at the Undisclosed Location; the proof is before you on your screen.

And I feel like I've done my day's work already.

I don't think I'm the only one who feels like this.

Indeed, I've seen a number of reports from people who are lamenting the harshness of this winter and pining for spring. In my mind, I want to shout at all of them, Get a grip! It's still January, people! (The Blizzard of '67 was at the end of January, you'll recall. And Snowpocalypse hit on Groundhog's Day 2011.) But the rest of me kind of agrees with my whiny neighbors.

Scientists, of course, are blaming all this on global warming.

And -- my documented skepticism about the degree to which humans impact climate change except on a local level notwithstanding -- I'm inclined to agree with them.

We've had well over 40" of snow in Chicago this year so far. That's already above our normal average of 38" for the entire Fall, Winter and Spring season from October to May. Yes, it can snow in Chicago in May; a trace of snow has been recorded here as late as June. (That was in 1910, however. It's only 'recent' if you figure it as an event occurring after the Cubs last won the World Series....)

Last year at this time, according to the news last night, we'd had less than an inch and a half of snow officially (February and March did their best to pick up the slack, as I recall). On the other hand, although a trace fell in October 2012, there was no snow of an inch or more in Chicago for over 319 days last year.

A body could get used to that. I did get used to that and, judging by the wailing and gnashing of teeth hereabouts, a lot of folks did, too.

Our weather this winter is not unprecedented; it's well within the range of normal in my lifetime. But because it hasn't happened recently, for many people it's as if this is all new.

It isn't.

Global warming?


I don't mean that global warming is causing it to snow or not snow. I can't prove that one way or the other. But all this talk of global warming has made wimps of us all. I can prove that, just by my smug satisfaction at merely making it into the office....

Monday, January 13, 2014

Updated for your convenience

The good news about my blogging for over eight years now is that, no matter how long you've been reading Second Effort, you probably haven't seen everything I've put on offer. (While that may actually be a good thing, we'll defer taking up that question to a different day.) Anyway, if click over here and there's nothing new, there's no reason to go away mad or stop your subscription or delete your bookmark. Pick a month and a year in the archives and, hopefully, you'll soon find something not entirely stale which you'd not read previously and which you might actually enjoy.

For the last couple of years, I've always kept a list of posts up in the Sidebar that visitors might find interesting. (I'm ever hopeful.) Until this morning, I had a list of Christmas-themed posts.

It is, of course, time to take down the Christmas decorations. It's really too soon to put up my list of baseball posts. I could put my football posts back up, I suppose (it is NFL playoff season), but instead I made this list -- a potpourri, as it were -- of essays on work and family and some larger topics. I hope one or more of these may be to your liking. Meanwhile, I have to get some actual work done today.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Three Kings have come and gone and we still haven't sent out any Christmas cards

The 12 Days of Christmas are over. It was Greek Christmas this past Tuesday. By any standard you can articulate, the Christmas season has come and gone.

Not only did we not take a family Christmas picture this year, we didn't even send out one card. I didn't open anyone else's Christmas card myself either; a couple were opened by others and called to my attention, but I don't like to look at other people's Christmas cards until I've sent my own. So this year I just didn't look.

*Sigh* We'll just have to do better next year.

Part of it, I suppose, is that with the baby in the house, we spend a more of our evenings defending our territory than in any productive pursuit.

That grandbaby is a one-toddler engine of destruction. Of course, Long Suffering Spouse and I didn't move to our present house until Youngest Son was already three. We never child-proofed the "new" house (Youngest Son will turn 21 next month) because we didn't have to. And in those days we didn't have cords for charging phones and tablets either. We had a desktop computer, but that was just one thing to defend.

One of our five kids took pinking shears to a bedspread at some point, and another liked to raid the bathroom cabinet and make mountains out of bath powder. In the hallway. But these things took place at the old house.

The Baby to Be Named Later has discovered bathrooms herself and, in particular, toilet paper. Unrolling toilet paper is one of her favorite things in the whole world. And she's figured out that no one can hear her when she does it. Except when she squeals with unrestrained delight at her achievement, of course.

By then it's too late.

And the baby knows that smartphones and tablets show Elmo and Big Bird videos. All she has to do is ask (she thinks) and, whenever she sees a smartphone or tablet, she does ask. Loudly. Insistently.

This has caused some modifications in our usual behavior.

In other houses it might seem strange to see a 20-year old wrapped in a blanket and surreptitiously glancing down and fingering something within. (It might seem a little creepy, too, come to think of it.) But at our house the other night, for example, Youngest Son was just trying to text constantly like any other self-respecting college student -- without his niece realizing that he was on a phone.

I have DVDs on one shelf in the den and CDs on another. The baby thinks these are great for rearranging. She has liberated us from the stifling concept of storing things in mere alphabetical order.

Well, sure, you say, put things up. Put them out of the baby's reach.

But this is a big baby and she's got a big reach. And you can't put everything up. We have blocked some shelves. We've blocked some cabinets and locked others -- but some are left unlocked because the baby has to play with something, right?

I mean, if we closed off all the kitchen cabinets -- denying her access to the pots and pans and plastic storage containers -- she might be stuck playing with her million and one toys. Why, that would be barbarous!

So, unless your foot is no longer than about five inches, walking anywhere in the house can be interesting. I've had five kids; I've been pretty good at negotiating the minefield. Of course I was more agile when I was younger.

And then there's eating.

We've never been a sit-at-the-dining-room table sort of family, or even a sit-at-the-kitchen-table sort of family (at least, we haven't since our own kids were little). Even way back then, I generally did not eat with the family because I got home so late from work. (The kids grew up never knowing that their father was a picky eater. Long Suffering Spouse was -- and is -- a genius. And Oldest Son's finicky palate? That's conclusive proof of nature over nurture. My wife should win the Nobel Prize for that one alone.)

Anyway, as school and jobs and outside interests took over, the kids ate at odd hours, too.

So, in these later days, we are accustomed to eating whenever, and generally in front of the TV in the den.

This has provided a goldmine of opportunity for the Baby to Be Named Later. She's noticed, when we babysit her aunt and uncle's dogs, that the animals beg for table scraps. She's now the most insistent beggar there is. I can be eating tuna fish casserole and minding my own business when all of a sudden someone is demanding my peas, please. I always ask Younger Daughter whether I should comply with these demands, and to what extent, and I do pretty much as she says. She's the mom, after all. But, when she says no, you'd think I had a tablet in my lap and was refusing to watch The Elmo Song for the nine millionth time.

Once I made the mistake of trying to eat dinner while reading on a tablet.

Never, ever again.

I suppose this sounds like a litany of complaints. In print, on your screen, it may seem like a grouchy old guy carping and not affectionate at all.

But that's not my intent.

Last night Younger Daughter and Olaf had to make an emergency grocery run. Younger Daughter was apologetic about it -- indeed, she could have gone and returned in the time she spent apologizing. But there was nothing to apologize for.

Younger Daughter and Olaf had attended to the Level 1 Hazmat cleanup of the baby, and changed her clothes (she's still teething, you know) and, although she was worried that Vesuvius might erupt again, it really wasn't going to make any difference... even if the there was another toxic spill I was pretty sure we could contain the damage until the baby's parents returned. Just as long as they finally got going.

Eventually, Younger Daughter corralled the kid and brought her into the den. I was in my recliner. I'd just finished eating (I can wolf it down when I have to). Younger Daughter plopped the kid on my lap and the baby simply snuggled in for the whole 45 minutes or so that her parents were gone. She didn't try to escape more than a couple of times, and then only half-heartedly. Long Suffering Spouse, nodding off in her chair, tossed me one of the baby's blankets and the child was content. As Long Suffering Spouse faded out, the baby settled in.

"She's very comfortable with us," Long Suffering Spouse observed.

"She is," I agreed as I started Play With Me Sesame on the TV's On-Demand menu. (Sure it's cheating, but, hey, we're grandparents. We need that little extra edge.)

"Maybe there's something to be said for multi-generational households," my wife said sleepily.

"I would never have guessed it a few years ago," I said.

Cookie Monster sang C is for Cookie, That's Good Enough for Me.

The baby squealed with happiness.

But this post was about how we didn't send out Christmas cards this year. Well, things have been kind of busy. With a 15-month old toddler in the house, even if I'm only the grandpa, how could it be otherwise?

Thursday, January 09, 2014

No self-esteem problems here

This is the English language business card of Chinese multimillionaire Chen Guangbiao, who recently tried (and failed) to buy the New York Times.

Chen is not a man afflicted with the sin of false modesty, not where his business card touts him as China's most influential person and most prominent philanthropist -- and a moral leader besides. And so forth and so on....

The Yahoo! News article, by Mike Krumboltz, from which I grabbed the accompanying image, cites a Business Insider report estimating Chen's wealth at $740 million.

With that kind of money, Krumboltz writes, Chen can print any kind of business card he likes. Actually, the last time I printed up business cards (black and white, no picture), it cost about $70. I suppose cards like these would cost a little more -- but not millions. Therefore, you too can probably afford a business card just as loud and proud as Chen Guangbiao's.

But could you ever imagine giving it to anyone?

Me neither.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Curmudgeon swirling in the Polar Vortex with mixed opinions

The Chicago Public Schools are closed again today, for a second day in a row, because of the killer cold snap that's gripping the Midwest and much of the rest of the country besides.

All the Archdiocesan grammar schools were closed in Cook and Lake Counties yesterday, and most of the high schools as well. Local colleges and universities canceled classes. Most local museums were closed. The Lincoln Park Zoo was open, but planned to close early; Brookfield Zoo was closed entirely. (The polar bears and American bison can stand these temperatures, a zoo official explained, but most of the rest of the animals could not.) Most local officials were encouraging people to stay home yesterday. Except for those angling for face time on the local newscasts, many public servants stayed home yesterday, too.

Long Suffering Spouse was supposed to start school yesterday -- but, as noted, school was closed. No 8th grader was more giddy than my bride at the prospect of extending Christmas break another day.

"It's a mistake," I harrumphed.

"Why?" my wife asked.

"They're all closing down for the wrong reason," I said. We haven't had this kind of really cold weather here in Chicago for a long time -- but it is not unprecedented. As I told the kids, Long Suffering Spouse and I had been out at the bar on January 10, 1982, when the temperature sank to -26̊ F. The radio was on at the bar, as I recall, and when the announcer recited the temperature all of us stupid enough to be out started cheering like we'd accomplished some great feat. Of course, I was 32 years younger then. I continued explaining things to my wife. "If they're going to close everything just because it's too cold, they'll have to do it again tomorrow."

"Why? The temperature is supposed to get above zero on Tuesday."

"But it won't start there. It'll be ten below again, at least, when the kids are supposed to be going to school. If it's too cold for them to venture out today, why will tomorrow morning be different?"

Sure enough, darn near everything that was closed yesterday is closed again this morning. They'd kind of painted themselves into a corner on this.

And it's not the dumbest idea to close down in these extreme conditions, especially in the modern world when we can do (or allegedly do) so much from home. Road salt doesn't work so well when the temperature gets down below 10̊ F. Brave, but ignorant souls who started to drive to work this morning spun out in sufficient numbers on bridges and ramps to thoroughly clog our expressway system despite the reduced volume of cars.

But not everything was closed, even yesterday. I had court yesterday morning. Courts were open. (The Cook County Sheriff decided it was too cold to bring prisoners to court, but that wouldn't affect the operation of the civil courts where I practice.)

I was supposed to be out in the suburbs yesterday so I had to drive. I gave the family van a long time to warm up before forcing it into action. It still wasn't very pleased with me. The thermometer inside the car said the temperature outside was as cold as -18̊ -- and never warmer than -14̊ F. Still, the Tollway was passable. Even with the strong breezes yesterday there were at least ruts of pavement showing in every lane. Of course, one did have to get to the Tollway. The ramps were treacherous. And every stop sign, every stop light on the way to and from the Tollway was an adventure: The van wanted to fishtail every time I started or stopped, but I kept it largely under control.

Perhaps surprisingly, everyone who was supposed to be at court on my matters yesterday was present and accounted for. Like the much younger Curmudgeon in the bar in 1982, I felt like I'd accomplished something, just by getting there too.

The reason that driving was (and remains) so challenging (and, in particular, the reason that I am so concerned about the melting properties of road salt) was that, in addition to the cold, we were still digging out from two feet of snow that fell in the Chicago area since Tuesday afternoon. The first foot fell Tuesday and Wednesday; the other foot dropped Saturday evening and Sunday.

If I'd been made philosopher king for the day, I might have canceled everything on Monday -- but Monday only -- because of the snow clean-up. A foot of snow, particularly if it comes at rush hour, can shut Chicago down. The clean-up of this latest snowfall, even though it fell on the weekend, would understandably take longer because of the extreme cold that followed the snow, and it has, as the drivers spinning out this morning can attest.

But this business of shutting down schools and some businesses and government offices but not the courts and a lot of other businesses is just plain aggravating. I finished my business in court yesterday and went home for lunch; I didn't bother trying to go downtown after that. I figured I could work from home. I retrieved my phone calls and even connected -- eventually -- with most of the people who'd called and emailed me during the day.

But I missed the one call I really needed to get. He called around 4:00 p.m. I probably last checked my office voice mail about five minutes before he called. I was still working my cell phone, though, returning the calls I'd already retrieved. At 5:00 p.m., I was, I thought, the good man, at rest at last from his labors. It was around this time, also, that the call finally came for my wife advising (as I knew would have to be the case, given the pretext offered Monday) that school would not be open tomorrow either. Again, she was giddy. I'm happy for her -- but the courts are open again today, too.

I was not a happy camper weighed down by my Zero King this morning. But I made it to court on time this morning and, thereafter, to the Undisclosed Location. I spoke -- too late! -- with the man who called at 4:00 p.m. I'll be screwing around the rest of the day trying to straighten that out. But the Holidaze, two feet of snow and temperatures of nearly 20 below can undermine even well-formed plans.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

You may not be what you eat, but you think what you drink!

Reid Wilson reports, in the December 31 Washington Post, that what you like to drink says a lot about who you'll vote for, and how regularly you'll go to the polls. The article, entitled What your favorite drink says about your politics, in one chart," provides a fascinating graphic which I have borrowed for the occasion and reproduce above. (Reid's article credits the graphic to Jennifer Dube, National Media Research Planning and Placement LLC.)

Both Democratic and Republican wine drinkers are more likely to turn out at the polls than consumers of stronger spirits (perhaps because it's easier to get out of bed on Election Day if you've had nothing stronger than a glass of wine the night before).

What caught my attention, though, was that the brands I favor fall on both sides of the Great Divide, and bunch up right in the middle besides: I really do have a thirst for bipartisanism. How about you?