Thursday, November 18, 2021

You know what? This guy makes a lot of sense

Not me, certainly. I refer to the creator of the above Facebook meme (I believe that's a correct usage of the technical term).

We are, as of this morning, five weeks out from Christmas.

Granted, those five weeks will pass by in a flash -- an eyeblink -- a heartbeat -- unless, of course, you're six years old. In which case, these weeks will seem to drag interminably.

It always amazes me that former six-year olds get to high school and claim to be baffled when the physics teacher instructs that time is relative. Somehow they most always forget their own personal experience of relativity. (They will be forced to learn the truth of the teacher's words later on, too, such as when they stop off at a tavern on the way home from work: Inside only a few happy minutes will seem to have gone by, while, outside, dinner plans will be ruined -- but that's outside the scope of our discussion today.)

Unless you work in retail, the Christmas season can not and should not start until after Thanksgiving.

The creator of the above Facebook meme refers to the "war" on Christmas.

There are grumblings and rumblings about this "war" every year. But the battlefield has certainly changed in my lifetime.

When I was young, the perceived problem was that Christmas had become too commercial. That was the central complaint in the 1947 classic, Miracle on 34th Street. (One further necessary digression: Miracle on 34th Street is perhaps the greatest movie ever made about lawyers, if you think about it -- in what other movie are all the lawyers good guys?)

Commercialism was still on the front lines of the War on Christmas in 1965, when A Charlie Brown Christmas first aired.

Now, though, commercial establishments are themselves the front lines of the "War on Christmas," because some people take umbrage when store clerks say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." Aren't we making Christmas less commercial when we use the generic "Happy Holidays" greeting?

Christmas is originally a religious holiday, obviously (we'll leave aside, for the moment, the discussion over whether the early Church coopted the Roman feast of Saturnalia or decided to celebrate the birth of Jesus on the proclaimed birth date of Sol Invictus), but, over the years, Christmas has acquired an enormous, even overwhelming, secular overlay -- Ebeneezer Scrooge (and his many spectral visitors), Christmas trees (pagan in origin, popularized by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert), Santa Claus (popularized by Clement Clarke Moore, Thomas Nast, and whoever drew the artwork for Coca-Cola), Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (originally a promotion for Montgomery Wards), chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Frosty the Snowman.... So many non-Christian stories and customs have been piled onto Christmas that it can be arguably compatible with the traditions of persons of any faith or none at all. Anyone who aspires to peace on earth and good will toward humanity can celebrate it, regardless of whether they believe the message was delivered by angels we have heard on high.

But, however you want to celebrate the holiday season, just hold off until after Thanksgiving, OK?

Monday, November 8, 2021

Apparent complicity: The fatal flaw in streaming

Today's Dustin comic (by Steve Kelley and Jeff Parker) illustrates a dilemma that may be familiar to many readers: trying to figure out what program to stream.

The old joke was that, when we were kids, there were five channels (2, 5, 7, 9, and 11) and there was nothing on. (Channel 26 came later -- remember the bullfights? In an apparent nod to American sensibilities, they always cut away before the bull was dispatched. Still later came Channels 32 and 44, the latter with White Sox games, Harry Caray and Jimmy Piersall, and Falstaff beer commercials.)

Anyway, once upon a time, there were five channels, with nothing on. But at least it was free. Then came cable, with 500 channels, and still nothing on. And we had to pay for the privilege. And now we have streaming... 50 different streaming platforms, some free, some for-a-fee, 5,000 channels, and it's harder than ever to find something to watch. The Office and Friends are more popular now than ever as the Ed Kudlicks of the world often settle for the TV equivalent of comfort food.

But the extravagant number of choices alone is not the only thing that makes choosing a program so difficult: When we choose to stream a Hallmark Holiday movie, or the Tiger King, or the Honey Boo Boo Reunion Tour (if that's not a thing yet, I'm sure it will be) we are in a real sense endorsing the content.

Statistics are kept. Numbers are crunched. And you, the viewer, are branded.

And it's worse than tuning into a rerun of Gilligan's Island on a UHF nostalgia channel. Yes, estimates are made of who has watched that show, and perhaps, if the channel was accessed via cable, a record is made of your particular visit to that station for that purpose. That record may or may not be entirely anonymous.

However, should you happen to turn on your cable or broadcast TV again, your last visit to Gilligan's Island will not be displayed for anyone watching with you to see: "Because you watched Gilligan's Island" -- and the streaming home screen will offer all sorts of allegedly similar video offerings. I know it's meant to be helpful, allowing you to make new choices more quickly. But you are labeled just the same.

I suppose we will get used to it in time. Just as we got used to the pharamacy knowing when our medication refills were coming due. Or how we got used to Amazon knowing when we probably need razor blades or books we are likely to read or movies we are likely to buy. But it's creepy nonetheless.

Besides, whether you flip over to Green Acres on UHF late at night or not, it will still be broadcast. Until someome takes it out of the programming rotation. But when you select that same show from a streaming platform, not only will the next person who looks at your TV know what you did, you are in some personal sense complicit in keeping that particular show available. You have voted for it. You have endorsed it. It adds a degree of difficulty, and an extra burden of responsibility, to making that streaming choice. Which, whether you realize it or not, or whether, in the comic above, Ed Kudlick realizes it or not, makes the choice of a program to watch that much more difficult.

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

We can't blame this on 'supply train disruptions' but it's happening anyway

The warnings are everywhere, even in this morning's edition of Curtis, by Ray Billingsley: Supply chain disruptions are threatining the giddy consumer excesses of the forthcoming Christmas holiday.

Also in USA Today: "Christmas trees, sweaters, gifts in shipping mess: How supply chain issues will affect holiday shopping." So, too, on Bloomberg.com: "Christmas at Risk as Supply Chain ‘Disaster’ Only Gets Worse."

Untold numbers of ugly Christmas sweaters, plastic geegaws for the kiddies, and coffee mugs with pithy slogans that would make great stocking stuffers or office grab bag gifts -- all these and so much more are marooned off our Pacific coast, trapped in wallowing container ships, escalating our holiday anxieties. And it may not just be the stranded ships. Thanks to COVID-19 realignments, there aren't as many truckers or warehouse workers or order takers or anyone else willing to get what you want to get for Christmas to a store (or front porch) near you. Apparently you are best advised to grab whatever you can get right now, paying full price if necessary, because, this year, unless you get what we got now, there won't be anything to get when you'd otherwise be ready to get it.

So "they" say.

But we need not wade into the thorny dispute over whether immediate Christmas shopping, even before the neighborhood squirrels have finished gnawing all the Halloween pumpkins, is really and truly necessary. Time will tell whether supply chain hysteria was or was not warranted.

One thing we know for sure: There is and can be no supply chain disruption involving Christmas music. Christmas music will be readily available when Advent starts, at the end of this month. Mariah Carey, Elmo and Patsy, and Dominick the Christmas Donkey can wait in the wings a while longer yet; we will certainly be able to find them when the time comes.

Nevertheless, despite the fact that no supply chain issue threatens its ultimate availability, Robert Feder reports that WLIT will start playing Christmas music today. This afternoon, in fact. Starting at 4:05 p.m.

Did it really need to be this way?

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Today's Blue Origin flight successful; this Shatner picture is now funny

This morning's suborbital Blue Origin flight, carrying 90-year old William Shatner, a/k/a James Tiberius Kirk, to the edge of space was a success (linking to CNN coverage), and all hands have returned to terra firma whole and intact.

Accordingly, now I can enjoy (and share) this picture:

(Photo obtained from Captain Kirk: The Man, the Myth, the Legend via Facebook.)

Thursday, October 7, 2021

October 8: The 150th Anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire

This is an edited reprint of a post that I first ran here on October 7, 2014. Not only is this the 150th anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire, I just put up a review of a new book by a college classmate on page one that suggests that Chicago was burned by a band of Confederate die-hards. So, naturally, this post does not address that theory -- but it does provide a number of other anecdotes that the reader may enjoy. Links have been updated or removed where necessary. A lot of the original links are no longer active, seven years down the road.

Currier & Ives lithograph obtained from the Chicago Historical Society

You probably remember that October 8 is the anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire.

State and Madison after the Fire
School children are probably not required to memorize the gruesome statistics of the fire anymore, but they are readily accessible on Wikipedia: The fire destroyed an area about four miles long, averaging averaging 3/4 of a mile in width. Roughly 17,500 buildings were destroyed; property damage was estimated at $222 million. One in every three Chicago residents -- roughly 100,000 of the City's total 300,000 population -- was made homeless by the fire. There were 120 bodies recovered after the fire, but authorities estimated the actual death toll at up to 300.

Most folks don't remember this, but the Chicago fire destroyed the records of two Illinois counties -- Cook, of course, but also DuPage. In 1871 Naperville and Wheaton were literally up in arms over which town should be the seat of DuPage County and the county records were removed to Chicago for safekeeping.

Ooops.

And yet -- believe it or not -- the Great Chicago Fire was, in many ways, the smallest of three major fires in the Midwest on October 8, 1871. Over on the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, a number of cities, including such widely scattered burgs as Holland, Manistee, and Port Huron, were damaged or lost entirely in a series of fires collectively referred to as the Great Michigan Fire. There were not as many lives lost in the Michigan fires, but more land and timber was damaged in these fires.

Mass grave at Peshtigo. © Deana C. Hipke.
There may have been 300 people killed in the Great Chicago Fire, but the mass grave shown in this picture, in a picturesque cemetery next to the converted church that serves as the Peshtigo Fire Museum, is the final resting place of roughly 350 unidentified victims of the Peshtigo Fire.

At least 1,200 people died in the Peshtigo Fire, some 800 in the town of Peshtigo alone (roughly half the population of the town); the total death toll may have been as high as 2,500. Whole families were wiped out; in many cases there was no one left, after the fire, to remember who'd been lost.

The firestorm was so intense that the flames jumped right across Green Bay, damaging large portions of the Door Peninsula. It also spread into the nearby Upper Peninsula of Michigan, ultimately damaging an area twice the size of Rhode Island.

One area that was not involved in the Peshtigo Fire, though it was in the path of the flames, was the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help, in New Franken, Wisconsin.

Many believe that the Virgin Mary appeared at this site on October 9, 1859 to Adele Brise, a young Belgian woman. A church and school were built there because the Virgin told Brise to teach religion to children. In 2014, when this post originally appeared, the website of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay recounted:
When the Peshtigo Fire spread across Green Bay on Oct. 8, 1871, area residents walked around the chapel grounds all night praying the rosary and carrying a statue of Mary. Everything outside that five-acre area was burned.

Every year on Oct. 8 people reenact the procession at the Shrine.
A church was also saved from disaster in Chicago, too, but that story is somewhat less impressive.

Fr. Arnold Damen, S.J. founded Holy Family Church in 1860 and St. Ignatius College in 1870 (the immediate ancestor of both St. Ignatius College Prep, which is still at the original site, and Loyola University Chicago) in what was then the middle of nowhere. But that isolated location was uncomfortably close to the infamous O'Leary barn when the Great Chicago Fire broke out, only about 3/4 mile away. Cecil Admams picks up the story in a Chicago Reader Straight Dope column from 2009 (emphasis in original):
When the Great Fire began, the wind was blowing out of the southeast. Holy Family and Saint Ignatius were directly west, and arguably would have escaped the flames had conditions remained unchanged, but Father Damen was taking no chances. In the version of the story I initially heard, he stood on the front porch of Saint Ignatius and prayed to the Almighty to spare his life's work. This was embroidery. In reality his prayer was offered up in Brooklyn, where he was preaching at the time. No matter; the Lord could hear him there just as well. Father Damen vowed that if his prayers were answered, he would keep seven vigil lights burning before an image of the Virgin.

The wind shifted. Formerly it had been driving the fire toward the outskirts of town; now it began to blow out of the southwest, pushing the fire northeast. You see the implications of this. The church and school were saved. Instead, the conflagration burned down the rest of Chicago.
But, Adams adds, the City Council did not hold a grduge: Damen Avenue was eventually renamed in Fr. Damen's honor.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

How are YOU celebrating World Space Week?

According to the United Nations, World Space Week runs this year, and every year, from October 4-10.

Why? Because on October 4, 1957, the old Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1. Then, on October 10, 1967, the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (sounds like something the UN might draft, doesn't it?) entered into force. (Yes, in case you're wondering, the United States has ratified this treaty.)

So... how are you celebrating this year?

For one of my favorite comic strips, Tim Rickard's Brewster Rockit: Space Guy!, pretty much every week is Space Week. But this week Mr. Rickard is recycling a plot first served up in Douglas Adams' The Restaurant at the End of the Universe and melding it with the sneering news coverage of billionaires venturing into space:

You may not immediately recall what happened to Ship B of the Golgafrincham Ark Fleet and its millions of telephone sanitizers, hairdressers, "tired TV producers, insurance salesmen, personnel officers, security guards, public relations executives, [and] management consultants" -- fully a third of the planet's population -- traveling in suspended animation. (They crash-landed on Earth two million years in the past, leaving the indigenous, evolving hominind population terminally depressed and bound for extinction.)

You likewise may not recall the sad fate of Golgafrincham. (Having conned all the useless members of their society off the planet with wildly varying stories about the planet being doomed -- my favorite was that an enormous mutant star goat was going to eat the planet -- the "other two-thirds stayed firmly at home and lived full, rich and happy lives until they were all suddenly wiped out by a virulent disease contracted from a dirty telephone.")

But even without catching the literary reference, most readers will probably smirk right along with the idea that billionaires should be banned from space or, if allowed to go at all, given one-way tickets only. Har har. And let's change the rules about who qualifies for official astronaut wings so that the person who bankrolled Blue Origin, Amazon's obscenely rich Jeff Bezos, can be denied his wings for putting his life at risk riding just past the internationally recognized boundary of outer space on his own rocket. Even though that meant that, once again, Wally Funk was denied official recognition.

In the first modern Age of Exploration, the analogs of the Bezoses and Bransons and Musks of today did not venture out in their wood and canvas ships in search of trade, gold, or glory. Oh, no, they limited their personal risk by staying home, directing affairs from London coffee houses and, in the course thereof, inventing the insurance business to limit their financial risks as well.

Who else -- besides governments -- could afford any sort of space exploration except for these flamboyant, egotistical billionaires? Hate on the uber-rich all you want, but governments have done a lousy job of space exploration because (surprise, surprise) they made it political: Richard Nixon couldn't wait to cancel the Apollo Program at the first possible opportunity precisely because it was perceived as the signature achievement of the Kennedy Administration. And the pattern hasn't changed any time the White House has changed hands: The new administration will announce its own grand plan -- and cancel those wasteful plans promulgated by its predecessor. It's a wonder the Space Shuttle ever launched or the International Space Station ever got built. But, by now, it must be no suprise to even the dullest among us that next year will mark the 50th anniversary of humankind's last trip to the Moon.

Compare that, if you will, to the development of aviation in the 50 years following Kitty Hawk. Governments contributed substantially to the development of aviation in that first half-century (see, World War I and World War II) but governments did not completely control it. As the governmental death-grip on spaceflight has lessened in recent years, even only slightly, the pace of development has finally quickened. And is becoming ever more rapid.

Which brings us back again to Wally Funk. This summer Funk became the oldest person ever to fly in space (at 82, she was five years older than was John Glenn, when he made his second trip to Earth orbit, in 1998, aboard the space shuttle Discovery).

If all goes as planned, Wally Funk's record will fall this coming Tuesday, October 12, when William Shatner, 90, better known as James Tiberius Kirk, will boldly go to space in a sub-orbital flight aboard another Blue Origin capsule.

Which leads to the funniest take I have seen about Shatner's upcoming flight. This is from an often funny, if sometimes juvenile, Facebook site called Captain Kirk, The Man, the Myth, the Legend:

OK... so I'm a nerd. But, if you got this far, maybe you are, too. In which case, live long and prosper, and enjoy the rest of World Space Week.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

All PDFs are not created equal... at least not for e-filing

You might have read, or been told, somewhere along the line that PDFs are the universal file format. Everyone has at least Adobe Reader (to the point where we giggle smuggly at websites that offer users to download the "Free Adobe Reader" program -- can we still say program instead of app?) and every device can open a .pdf file.

When e-filing started to menace the legal world, more than a decade ago, the concept was that all documents would have to be converted to PDFs. And even before that: I kinda, sorta recall turning in a 3.5" floppy disk with a brief I filed in the 7th Circuit back in 2003. I had to have help doing that from the good folks at Kinko's. I remember the employee in the clerk's office figuratively patting me on the head. "At least you tried," he said.

It wasn't too long after that when I went out and bought Adobe Acrobat. And at some point, relatively early on, I figured out that WordPerfect would print a file to PDF. Between Adobe and WordPerfect I eventually got pretty good at creating and efiling my documents (not that there weren't hiccups on the way). And there was one time that I scanned a lengthy Memorandum Opinion and Order into a .pdf file never noticing that, while trying to scan the two sided-pages, I somehow got them all jumbled. I used the Record copy in preparing my brief... but included the .pdf I had on hand in the Appendix, never noticing the problem... until I started printing out the court's paper copies. Kinko's again. Now FedEx Kinko's, but you know what I mean.

But, for the most part, I've struggled along, lurching awkwardly into the 21st Century.

Not too long ago, the Illinois Courts website started putting up Appellate and Supreme Court opinions and orders in .pdf files that my venerable copy of Acrobat would no longer open. That's not right -- universal standards should surely be backward compatible -- but Adobe Reader provided a free and easy workaround, so I didn't complain. Much. Where anyone could hear me, anyway. I probably should upgrade my copy of Adobe -- but when was the last time you saw Adobe Acrobat on the shelf in the store? (Noooooo... everything is a subscription download these days... but I'll spare you that rant, for now.)

The latest problem began just a few months ago. I needed to file a motion in an appeal in which I'd already appeared -- just a half dozen or so pages including the motion, supporting affidavit, proposed order, and proof of service -- nothing I hadn't done, without incident, dozens of times before. And the "envelope" was rejected -- not by the Clerk, mind you, but by Odyssey. Today, they called it a "submission failure." I didn't save all the emails from my initial encounters with this phenomenon, but I believe the terminology then was similar, if not identical.

Experienced and stubborn fellow that I am, I probably re-submitted my envelope a dozen or so times, always getting the same result, albeit at a steadily increasing pulse rate.

Eventually, I printed out my papers, handscanned each page into a new .pdf file, and submitted that. This, finally, went through.

But what had changed? I went looking for answers online. This is what the Odyssey site is saying today (click to enlarge):

"Enhancements"? That's an Orwellian use of a word; in the real world, an "enhancement" means something got better, not worse. WordPerfect may no longer be the leading word processing program; obviously, thanks to the monopolistic oppression of Microsoft, it hasn't been the industry leader for many years. But it is an infinitely superior program, IMO, to Word. (Indeed, Word has one---and only one---actual advantage over WordPerfect, namely, the Track Changes feature.) For an attorney, the chief advantage of WordPerfect is its flexible formatting: WordPerfect lets you set up a page or paragraph the way you want; Word lets you format any way that Mr. Gates wants -- and he evidently has a limited imagination. And woe betide you if you try and change or modify the least little aspect. I get it... people can get used to anything. They conform. They think they're doing things "right." But they are only doing things the Microsoft way.

Here's the link to the "Online Help Article" referred to in the screengrab above. Among the "common reasons" for submission failure is use of "PDF Producers other than Adobe Acrobat or Microsoft Word." Some "universal" standard, eh?

With a brief due date looming, I'd begun dreading another filing attempt. But reading the article gave me hope. This passage in particular suggested a way out: "When your document fails submission, you will need to recreate the file before resubmitting. The most common method of doing so is to print the document and scan it back into your computer."

I wasn't going to hand scan each page of a brief... but I could create a new PDF by 'printing' my unacceptable WordPerfect-generated copy of my brief to a new PDF. And I could do that with and from Adobe Acrobat -- supposedly one of the last remaining acceptable PDF-creators in Odyssey-land.

That's what I thought. But, of course, this morning... "Submission Failed."

A call to the Odyssey help line got me over the finish line. And for anyone else who uses a real word processor, you, too, may find this helpful.

The problem was that I had printed my brief from Adobe Acrobat to Adobe PDF. Despite the plain language of the Odyssey help article, this was ineffective.

Microsoft gets its oar in no matter what: There's a print option in Acrobat for "Microsoft Print to PDF." That's what I used... and that's what worked. It took a file that was a cozy 4.6 MB in size as originally created (and only 1.5 MB when reprinted to Adobe PDF) and huffed and puffed it into an elephantine 16.5 MB. But that was still within the Odyssey file size limits... and the filing went through.

And, as near as I can tell, the reprinting via "Microsoft Print to PDF" didn't screw anything up. Of course, my required paper copies are being run off at FedEx Kinko's this evening... so I guess I'll find out for sure tomorrow. But, in the meantime, there's an apparent workaround for this latest "enhancement."

O brave new world, that has such enhancements in it....

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

More on the distinction between mental health and behavioral health

The Supreme Court's hiring of the Executive Director of the McHenry County Mental Health Board to be the first Statewide Behavioral Health Administrator is covered in a post this morning on Page One.

In the course of reporting that announcement, I got sidetracked on the distinction, if any, between "mental health" and "behavioral health." One of the things I saw, which was frequently cited in the course of my clicking through the Ether, was this 2009 Psychology Today article, by Elena Premack Sandler, "Behavioral Health Versus Mental Health."

At the risk of probing the outer limits of "fair use" I offer this lengthy excerpt from Sandler's article which may be helpful for the reader who, like me, is struggling to grasp whatever difference there may be between the terms:

Three things I like about the term behavioral health:
  1. It's inclusive. Behavioral health includes not only ways of promoting well-being by preventing or intervening in mental illness such as depression or anxiety, but also has as an aim of preventing or intervening in substance abuse or other addictions.

  2. Perhaps the term "behavioral health" is less stigmatized than "mental health," so a kinder, gentler name opens doors that might otherwise remain closed for folks.

  3. Behavior is an aspect of identity that can be changed, so "behavioral health" might be a more hopeful concept for those who experience mental illness or addiction and who may have felt that these diseases were permanent parts of their lives.


Three things I don't like about the term behavioral health:
  1. The frame of behavioral health places the onus on the individual to change, rather than examining and working to change external, environmental factors that influence an individual's well-being., such as poverty, discrimination, or abuse.

  2. In a related vein, behavioral health doesn't seem to imply that there are root causes for what we see as behavior. Within the field of suicide prevention, for example, we don't just want to prevent the behaviors that lead to suicide, but the underlying causes of those behaviors.

  3. Finally, "behavioral health" seems like a concept that was created by someone who works for an insurance company, rather than someone who has struggled with mental health issues.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Friday, August 13, 2021

I don't think I'll be applying for this position....

I get lots of emails every day, some of which I actually want to see. I've been added to any number of political emailing lists because of the judicial elections stuff I write about here (and, mostly, on page one). Somewhere along the line I started getting emails from Daybook, which purports to list political jobs, not just in Cook County, but across the country and, as seen above, around the world.

The timing of this listing seems less than optimal.

But, no, it's not something that has sat and lingered -- I checked. When I clicked on the link in the email I found out that the job was just posted yesterday:

Somebody should tell those nice folks at the American Embassy in Kabul to turn on CNN or something.

Thursday, August 5, 2021

In which the experienced lawyer provides excuses for not being headhunted

I closed my downtown office early in 2019 and started working from home. Thirteen and one-half months later, the rest of you did this also, albeit involuntarily.

When I closed the downtown office I had a plan – a hope, anyway – at least an aspiration: Free from as much of my monthly overhead as humanly (and contractually) possible, I would be (as I put it then) more “nimble,” better “able to pivot,” and “more readily able” to “respond to any opportunities that may arise.” I would wind down my ‘retail’ practice and try to find some different work – in a bar association, perhaps, or some trade or professional group – some setting where my interest in writing, and my 41 years of litigation experience, concentrated in insurance defense and coverage, might be put to good use.

Instead, 2020 happened.

But, OK, 2020 is over, finally, and most businesses are finally starting to emerge from the shadow of last year’s COVID-19 shutdowns. I don’t think even the now-resurgent Delta variant, or the Delta Plus variant, or even the new Lambda variant is going to shut us down completely again and, besides, I have my own genuine, unforged vaccination card and a variety of face masks that I can wear... somewhere.

But where?

I’ve been on LinkedIn now for close to a decade. I have well over 500 connections, several of whom I’ve actually met. LinkedIn is quite useful for finding out about first-time judicial candidates and some of my kids have told me that they have received contacts from headhunters, finding them through their LinkedIn profiles.

Oddly enough, despite 41 years of experience, I have never found it necessary to fend off headhunters on LinkedIn.

Part of that may have been my own fault. It turns out there’s a setting on LinkedIn where you can discreetly signal your availability for a career change. (Like scent-marking by leopards or ring-tailed lemurs, only more sanitary.) You can even post your CV. I did both of these a few months back... but still no headhunters.

It seems, however, that my, um, experience level isn’t the only problem. There’s a language barrier, too.

I’ve officially been a solo practitioner now for 18 years. The vast majority of my time, before that, was spent in a small firm. As a result, I never learned to speak more than a few words of Corporate. I found the job descriptions in want ads incomprehensible long before LinkedIn came along.

Initially, I didn’t understand this to be a serious problem. But the dangers of my linguistic limitations were made clear to me a few years back when I took a deposition in an insurance coverage case.

Now you ordinarily don’t need or want depositions in coverage cases; that, for me, has always been one of the attractions of that sort of work. But, in this case, after reading the depositions of the eyewitnesses in the underlying case, it became apparent that I would need to ask some questions that had hitherto not been asked.

One of the witnesses was a 20-something with a marketing degree from DePaul. I don’t think he was yet working when he was deposed in the underlying case. So I had no idea what was coming.

While mine was a limited scope deposition, I asked, as I always ask, basic foundation questions. I do this simply to get a “feel” for how the witness handles non-controversial answers, so I can see whether, or how, the witness’s demeanor may change when we move to more contested areas of questioning. Easy stuff – usually – name, age, address, highest level of education, by whom are you employed, what do you do for them.... Every lawyer who has ever taken a deposition does something similar.

Except, in this case, a half hour into the testimony, I still hadn’t penetrated the mystery of what this young man was doing to earn his daily bread. I thought it had something to do with wine and retail stores, but that was all I could figure out. My every attempt at clarification failed utterly. It was too late to call Berlitz. I was drowning in a sea of jargon, but I had to move on.

Fast forward, then, to a few months ago when I tried to tell LinkedIn what sorts of jobs I might be looking for. I waded through the possibilities. I was disappointed that there was no specific category for Eminence Grise. Eventually, I thought that “Researcher” looked promising. Not this kind of Researcher, of course:

But I have picked up some research skills over the years. Not only have I used Westlaw and Lexis, I have even used books. Books in libraries. You can’t write appellate briefs without knowing something about research. So that seemed reasonable.

The other seemingly attractive possibility was “Consultant.” Actually, over the years, I have been asked to consult on cases for other lawyers, sometimes even getting paid for it. And the term “Consultant” implies a certain discreet distance from the stomach-churning battles of day-to-day, retail practice. As a “Consultant” maybe I could employ my experience in setting policy and general direction, perhaps in an educational context. Or so I thought.

From that day to this LinkedIn has sent me at least two emails every day, one with job listings for “Researcher,” the other with listings for “Consultant.”

“Consultant,” I now know, often means “salesman.” In fact, if the emails I’m receiving are any indication, consultant almost always means salesman. The terms are paired together so frequently that they are becoming redundant. Someone should notify the Oxford English Dictionary.

The daily LinkedIn emails have suggested still a third reason why I’ve not been contacted by headhunters, despite my ‘signaling’ availability. In addition to my, er, experience level, and my lack of fluency in Corporate, it seems headhunting firms must be terribly understaffed at the moment. This ad, for example, seeking a “Senior Sales Consultant,” turned out to be for a job as a headhunter. A brief excerpt:

We differ from other firms, by working on localized, specialized, and targeted searches for selective clients, partnering with them to headhunt the best passive talent in the industry.

I wonder whether cold-calling may be involved: Reaching out to find “passive talent” sounds suspiciously like calling people who haven’t lit the available-signal on their LinkedIn profiles....

Headhunting firms may also be looking for new headhunters by soliciting for “Researchers,” too. At least if the ad I recently received for a “User Experience Researcher” is indicative.

From the title, I thought this might be a solicitation for the person that you might talk to if you agreed to stay on the line and answer a brief survey after placing your order for a new refrigerator, or, perhaps, a sandwich (every industry seems to be doing this of late). But I was wrong again. Reading the description, I learned that this staffing (i.e., headhunting) firm was telling applicants:

You will work in the Research & Insights Team to conduct strategic and tactical research to help shape the vision for what the future of selling should be.

I’m going to have forget about looking for work as a researcher. I don’t have the first clue about the difference between “strategic” and “tactical” research.

But it’s an ill wind that blows no good.

I may have found out what that marketing major was doing back when I attempted to depose him.

One of the ads I got recently (for a “Consultant” position) was really for a liquor salesman:

As a Sales Consultant, you will cultivate and grow account relationships to maximize the sales of supplier Wine brands through effective planning, selling execution and communication resulting in the achievement of company and supplier objectives.

If you share our passion for exceeding customer expectations and being on a winning team – and have a car to drive to our customers’ locations – then come join our fun, family-based culture.

I’m not at all certain how one can be passionate about customer expectations; I’ve had clients that drove me crazy but I’m pretty sure that’s not the same thing. Even with my lack of corporate business experience, I’m pretty sure that C-suite jobs don’t generally require applicants to have their own cars to drive to sales calls. Their own yachts, maybe, or airplanes. But not cars. And the successful applicant would be well advised not to have too much “fun” sampling the wares on offer.

Anyway, a lot of the jargon in that ad reminded me of what I think that DePaul marketing major was trying to explain to me back in that coverage case. So I may have learned something from this experience. But I haven’t turned my new-found knowledge into gainful employment... yet.

Monday, August 2, 2021

"I want to create trading algorithms that make money purely on speed, providing no improvement in resource allocation but still extracting wealth"

(From SMBC, by Zach Weinersmith. The original has an embedded post-punchline comment: "It's the only way to be sure.")

This comic would be funnier, of course, if it weren't so obviously true.

Of course, there's also a certain... irony?... hypocrisy?... in a lawyer lamenting the pursuit of wealth acquired without creating anything tangible. On the other hand... lawyers can help develop sane, human laws that may be able to direct our financial institutions into more productive (or at least less destructive) channels.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Congratulations to Blue Origin and Wally Funk and Jeff Bezos: New Shepard goes up, and comes down again, without a hitch

Logic students have a name for what is depicted in this cartoon, false dilemma or false dichotomy or something like that. Who cares? It's amusing. It's funny. It's just not true.

If only it were true. If only we could push a button -- or if Bezos or Musk or Buffett or Gates could just write a check -- and end child hunger.

Gazillionaire Jeff Bezos launched himself into space this morning, and returned safely, with his brother, the 18-year old son of a fabulously rich Dutchman, and an 82-year old woman (Wally Funk) who was part of a plan to shame NASA into taking women into space years before Sally Ride rode.

From a technology standpoint, today's Blue Origin launch is kind of primitive: Not only was the flight suborbital, the New Shepard capsule was of the Spam-in-a-can variety that our captured German rocketeers wanted to foist on the original Mercury astronauts (albeit with safeguards that couldn't have been imagined in the 1960s). The four persons launched this morning had no control over any aspect of their flight; they had no controls on their craft at all. The real Alan Shepard and his colleagues used their star power to acquire the power to navigate in their capsules -- which ultimately proved vital to the success of several subsequent manned flights. Go watch The Right Stuff again.

But Jeff Bezos, as you've perhaps read elsewhere, has a sense of history. Naming the suborbital craft New Shepard. Launching on Moon Day -- today is the anniversary of Neil Armstrong's one step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind. Bringing Wally Funk along -- the historic and cultural significance of including a "Mercury 13" aspirant -- who finally gets her astronaut wings today, as the oldest person ever to go to space.

There will be those that criticize today's venture as a stunt, which it was, but it was an inspirational stunt and a true and courageous bet: Bezos did not send up some recycled NASA astronauts; he was daring enough to go himself. Because today's flight says volumes about how safe and reliable spaceflight can be -- where the billionaire funding the venture feels secure enough to put himself on top of the rocket.

Bezos is and will remain a controversial figure, just as is Elon Musk, his main competitor in the corporate space race.

Most of the rest of us will spend years recovering, if we ever do recover, from the financial disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thanks to his other company, Amazon, Bezos emerged from COVID-19 richer than ever -- even after the world's most costly divorce. And there is the scandal and shame of Amazon employees who have to take government food assistance or insurance subsidies because Amazon doesn't pay enough to live without these benefits. I hope he pays his Blue Origin employees better. I'll bet he does.

Yes, there are grounds on which to roundly criticize Jeff Bezos. In many ways he is a perfect symbol of corporate profits run amuck. He exemplifies the truly appalling wealth gap between himself and his least well paid employees.

And he'll probably wear his astronaut pin everywhere now. Maybe even in the shower. He could well be insufferable.

But stow those criticisms for tomorrow. Today is a day to celebrate the achievements of Bezos and his Blue Origin team. It was a textbook flight. It was, in the understated lexicon of the NASA pioneers, nominal.

I know there are those -- the artist who drew this cartoon, for one, and most of the people who shared it on Facebook, where I saw it -- who will question why anyone goes to space when we have so many problems to solve here. But remember the old days, when you would have to leave your house for work? Were all your problems at home solved first? Maybe you made your bed... but was the living room painted? Was the grass even cut? Why would you leave and do something else when there was still so much to do at home?

Why? Because you had to -- that's why. And we, as a species, have to explore the Universe God gave us. And, today, Jeff Bezos joins Elon Musk as one of those leading the way for all of us. Congratulations, Blue Origin.

Monday, July 12, 2021

COVID trends: Riding for a fall this fall?

It hasn't gone away, you know.

The 'rona is still out there, causing mischief.

Gosh, that makes me sound like a scare-monger, and that's not my intent.

But six rescue workers at the terrible Surfside, Florida condo collapse recently tested positive for COVID-19. They're gone, now, from the site. It was unclear, according to the linked New York Times story, written by Jesus Jiménez, whether any of the six had previously been vaccinated.

That same Times story says that 65% of all Florida residents aged 18 and up have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, while 56% are fully vaccinated.

Despite it being a much "bluer" state, the Illinois figures seem pretty comparable: More than 72% of all Illinois "adults" have received at least one vaccine dose, while 57% of all Illinois "adults" are fully vaccinated, according to a July 9 announcement from the Illinois Department of Public Health. (Adults is the word IDPH uses, as opposed to persons 18+ or 21+ so I can't say authoritatively, from this, that our comparisons are exact. They must be pretty close, though.)

According to a Times database cited in Jiménez's article, new COVID cases in Florida have risen 55% in the last two weeks.

What would you expect from one of those crazy Red states, right?

Except... in a June 25 report, the IDPH reported 1,744 new COVID-19 cases in Illinois during the preceding week. Two weeks later, in the July 9 weekly update previously linked, IDPH reports 2,945 new or suspected cases... which works out to a nearly 69% increase in a comparable two-week span.

The City of Chicago doesn't report its figures the same way. As of today, however, the City's COVID Dashboard reports a 21% increase in the average number of new COVID cases over last week -- 41 as opposed to 34. So a small number, but increasing nonetheless.

The number of vaccinations is declining in Chicago on a week to week basis -- with 56.5% of all Chicago residents having at least one vaccine dose -- and only 50.5% fully vaccinated. (Why do the City totals continue to lag behind the State? I thought most of the Fox News-viewing Republicans were located outside the City of Chicago.)

On the other hand, Illinois is reporting, as of July 9, "The preliminary seven-day statewide positivity for cases as a percent of total test from July 2-8, 2021 is 1.5%. The preliminary seven-day statewide test positivity from July 2-8, 2021 is 1.7%." That compares favorably with the 5.5% national positive test rate reported by the Mayo Clinic.

That same Mayo Clinic site---as of today---does not show Illinois as a COVID hot spot, not compared with Florida, or Missouri, or Arkansas, or Louisiana. Even Iowa is worse off than we are in Illinois, on a number of COVID cases per 100,000 residents basis, according to the Mayo Clinic site.

But for how long?

We're starting to see---and enjoy---in-person events again. In my corner of the City, some people still wear masks. (I don't... but I almost always have a mask with me, just in case I wind up in a crowd or among strangers from whom I can not keep a distance... and I am fully vaccinated, thank you.) In suburban areas, according to my kids, very few seem to be wearing masks anywhere.

And yet... there are specific indications here, not just in Florida, and not just in IDPH press releases, that COVID cases are continuing to pop up. Last Friday the Chief Judge's Office announced another case, this one afflicting an employee of the Adult Probation Department in the Skokie Courthouse.

I know this is not how it is supposed to be... and I can't prove it, certainly... but my hunch, based on lifelong experience, is that, these days, the vast majority of those people still wearing masks are almost certainly vaccinated. Which would mean that a lot of unvaccinated persons are not.

Which, in turn, would presumably mean that things will get worse again... soon?

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Ten steps to save Baseball

Ken Levine is mostly a playwright these days, but he has written books, movie screenplays, and for any number of TV shows including some of the best known TV shows of all time, such as M*A*S*H, Cheers, Frazier, and The Simpsons. A former Top 40 DJ, Levine has also worked as a TV director and, more relevant to this post, as an MLB announcer, broadcasting games for the Baltimore Orioles, Seattle Mariners, and San Diego Padres.

White Sox announcer Jason Benetti mentioned Levine and specifically Levine's baseball-themed "Dancin' Homer" episode (written with David Isaacs) during a recent broadcast.

In addition to his many other accomplishments, Levine writes a hugely popular blog. He sometimes jeopardizes his vast national and international readership by indulging in an occassional post about baseball, such as this June 3 post, "How I would fix Major League Baseball."

This post started off as a comment to that one -- a comment that, when concluded, exceeded the limits allowed by Blogger for such things. At some point, Blogger reasons, if you have so much to say, you should get your own blog. Which I already have.

Unfortunately, as a stand-alone article, my prior comment didn't make that much sense. (I would appreciate your not going for the obvious response to that sentence. Instead, read on for 10 steps to save baseball.)

A lot of these 10 steps boil down to this: Make the game shorter. But where's the clickbait in having only one step? And there are, as you will see, more than one way to shorten the game.

Some of these steps are negative -- don't do this or don't do that -- mainly because a lot of well-intentioned people, like the aforementioned Mr. Levine, have made suggestions that would make baseball into some other sport altogether. I only want to "change the game" for the better -- not "change the game" into something baseball fans might no longer recognize. Herewith, then, 10 steps to save Baseball:

  1. Don't ban the shift! The reason teams shift is because they know where the batter will hit the ball. So batters should adapt and not hit the ball as expected. I know the skill has been lost, especially with power hitters, but a bunt down the third base line by a left-handed power hitter would be a double every time. Hit 'em where they ain't. Otherwise, stop moaning about it.

  2. No clocks in baseball! Actually this might be better phrased as "no more clocks in baseball." When the bases are unoccupied, a pitcher has 12 seconds, from the time he receives the ball back from the catcher, to throw his next pitch. See, Rule 5.07(c) of the Official Baseball Rules, 2021 edition. You've never heard of that one, have you? Neither, apparently, have most umpires. But every time the pitcher violates the rule, the ump is supposed to call a ball.

    The first time this is called, the offending pitcher would lose his mind and his manager's head would explode. But if the umps rigorously enforced this rule it would speed up the game right there.

  3. Make the umpires accountable for the pace of the game. They already are, according to the rule book, but you'd never know it to watch. Or, watching, you might think MLB umpires get paid by the hour.

    In his post, Mr. Levine suggests firing Angel Hernandez. A lot of fans have umpires they love to hate. I don't know if the players or owners would like it if I were Commissioner, but I am dead certain sure that the umpires would hate it. Because I would fire umpires who let games drag on too long. You want a playoff assignment or to call a World Series? Get your games finsihed in three hours or less -- or get another job.

    Some of you reading this may think that an unfair and unreasonable demand. But I say it can be done, by the umpires, starting today, and without changing a single rule. How?

  4. Stop the staring contests. I blame this one on TV. When TV coverage became more sophisticated, cameras could zoom in on the faces of the pitcher and the batter, and we could see all the grimacing and glaring and way too much of the scratching and spitting. Then the pitcher would step off the rubber and then the batter would step out of the box and the announcers would fill the dead air with riffs on the 'drama' of the moment. At one point... the 1970s perhaps... this staged drama was interesting. It has long since lost any appeal it might have had. And while this slow-motion dance routine is going on... and on... the ump just stands there like a mannequin.

    The umpire has the power to tell the batter to get in the box and get ready to swing. He can call a strike on a batter for not stepping in. He can call more than one if a player is not appropriately responsive to the demand he get back in and hit. A player can call 'time' all he wants -- but the ump does not need to grant it. See, Rules 5.04(b)(2)-(4). We've already mentioned the 12-second rule. When there are runners on base, a pitcher can also be called for a balk if, in the umpire's view, the pitcher takes to long to pitch. See, Rule 6.02(a)(8). The umpire is anything but a helpless bystander.

  5. Call strikes in the whole strike zone. Take a look at this:
    This illustration of the strike zone is taken straight from the rule book. The written definition is as "that area over home plate the upper limit of which is a horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants, and the lower level is a line at the hollow beneath the kneecap. The Strike Zone shall be determined from the batter’s stance as the batter is prepared to swing at a pitched ball."

    I've had it up to here with a ball at the belt-buckle being described as a "high strike." No wonder we have so many uppercut-swinging behemoths these days -- but when they strike out enough times in a row they'll figure out that they'd better start looking somewhere else than shins to kneecaps.

    Yes, I know that strikeouts slow the pace of play. But walks are worse. Baseball has too long preferred players who can hit the ball far (chicks dig the long ball... remember?) over players who can hit the ball often. With a rulebook strike zone, though, making contact will again be important and pace of play will improve. (And... don't tell the stat heads... but, if in April, when it's barely above freezing, I for one will not complain if the strike zone goes from the nose to the toes. But, then, I also have a suggestion about playing games in April when it's barely above freezing... keep reading on.)

  6. Baseball has to invest in its future. Mr. Levine and I are prototypical baseball fans these days. We are both of, well, a certain age. If baseball is to survive the eventual passing of us Baby Boomers, it is going to have to figure out how to attract younger fans. Faster games will help, I am certain, but there are other things we must do besides.

    Play more day games, for example. Even with faster games, kids may not be able to watch night games. A lot of kids on the East Coast have only heard rumors of Mike Trout. This is a shame.

  7. Kids have to be able to actually watch games. I'm not saying games have to go back on free, broadcast TV. I'm not even sure that, these days, most kids live in households that actually can get the local broadcast stations.

    But teams are looking to set up their own networks. They should be able to, and required to, stream them, free, gratis, and for nothing in their home markets. They won't make money that way with carriage fees to cable, sattelite, or other streaming services, or at least not as much, but they will control the airtime and get all the commercial revenue from their own networks. Maybe the teams could make more in other ways -- probably this is so. But not every household can pay $200 a month for cable/satellite/streaming packages and kids who grow up without baseball in their daily lives will not suddenly mutate into fans as adults.

  8. Kids have to be able to attend games in person. I understand that there's no going back to 50-cent or one dollar bleacher tickets, even adjusted for inflation, such as existed when I was a kid. Players aren't going back to selling life insurance or automobiles during the off-season either.

    But a family needs to be able to go to a game without putting a second mortgage on the house. Mom or Dad should be able to buy a beer in the park for less than the price of a case outside.

    But it's not entirely about the money. That's owner-thinking. Attendance has to be made affordable in order to hook that next generation of fans.

    Even with access on TV, or some sort of screen, kids need to experience the big league game in person. There's no grass greener than at the ballpark. The sky is bluer, the lights are brighter, and the noise is something that you don't just hear with your ears, but feel in your bones. These kids may some day grow up able to afford full price -- but they won't come out unless they fall for the game as kids. They need to have a memorable---and memorably good---experience.

  9. All future MLB stadiums must have retractable roofs. I can understand blowing up the old Metrodome in Minneapolis. I can't understand MLB allowing the Twins to build a replacement stadium that did not have a roof. It's not that Minneapolis doesn't have beautiful weather in the summertime. It just doesn't have 81 good days. A couple of years ago, the White Sox got snowed out of an entire early season series in Minnesota.

    The weather in Chicago can be gorgeous in the Summer. And cold, damp, and misearable early in the season and (sometimes this is relevant, you know) late in the season as well. A retractable roof, open to the elements on nice days, and closed otherwise, would give teams (and fans) a high degree of confidence in getting their 81 games played on time and on schedule, with no rain delays. And teams could hope for as many bodies in the seats in April as in August because conditions at the park would be optimal for baseball at either time. Maybe teams could even set aside a few dates to get their future fans in for reasonable amounts....

  10. No work stoppage in 2022. All the signs and portents are ominous. The current collective bargaining agreement will expire December 1 and players and owners seem headed for yet another strike. Baseball has lost ground to football, it is losing ground to basketball, and if it keeps losing fans and market share owners and players alike are going to wind up derailing the gravy train. Permanently.

    If only MLB had a Commissioner. Someone who could step in and bang heads together and make owners and players see their mutual advantage in going forward together. Alas....

But we still have this year. If only we could get rid of the dumb man-on-second rule for extra innings....

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Even though the mask mandate has been lifted, sort of, go ahead and wear a mask if you want to

Governor Pritzker's latest Executive Order is not a blanket abandonment of the mask mandate.

Masks must still be worn in schools and day care settings and "on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation and in transportation hubs such as airports and train and bus stations" as well as "in congregate facilities such as correctional facilities and homeless shelters" and "healthcare settings."

For any non-lawyers in the audience, here is how you say "if you're fully vaccinated you don't always have to wear a mask anymore" in Classic Legalese:

Any individual who is not fully vaccinated and who is over age two and able to medically tolerate a face covering (a mask or cloth face covering) shall be required to cover their nose and mouth with a face covering when in a public place and unable to maintain a six-foot social distance. This requirement applies whether in an indoor space, such as a store, or in a public outdoor space where maintaining a six-foot social distance is not always possible.

But, though you can now go maskless, there will still be restrictions on where you can go maskless.

Stores are not required to stop insisting that customers wear masks. Yesterday's Executive Order expressly provides that "Nothing in this Executive Order prevents [covered businesses] from undertaking stricter or additional public health measures; to the contrary, businesses are encouraged to prioritize the health and safety of their workers and customers, and may continue to require face coverings and social distancing, even for those who are fully vaccinated."

So your local grocery, or local law office, can continue to insist that visitors wear masks.

And there is absolutely nothing in this new Order that prevents or discourages individuals from choosing to wear masks wherever and whenever they want.

My wife started making face masks right at the beginning of April 2020, when the CDC first tentatively suggested that -- maybe -- and they're weren't too sure about it, either -- face masks might provide some protection against the spread of the COVID-19 virus. She made masks for us, for our five kids, their respective spouses, and all of our grandchildren who were two years old or older, and she kept on making them throughout the year, in a variety of colors, patterns, and styles.

Our initial deliveries were front-porch or screendoor dropoffs -- covert operations, necessary to avoid detection. Our granddaughters prefer unicorns, rainbows, and sea horses. We all have Bears masks and most of us (there are a couple of dissenters in the family, but we're working on them) have White Sox masks. My wife just finished making me some gray and black masks -- more formal, I thought, for business use.

Because I do intend to use them, and keep on using them, for some time, even if Costco or the Jewel or the Circuit Court of Cook County says I may do without.

I will do this not because I'm afraid exactly -- even though I freely admit to being a practicing coward -- but because I think it a prudent thing to do. For now. Maybe forever on buses, trains, and planes: Because if the mask helps prevent acquisition of the COVID-19 virus it may also spare me from colds and flus and other maladies which, until now, have been an annual winter burden.

And I am not "doubting the science." First of all, there is no such thing as "the science." Scientific knowledge changes more frequently than the weather in Chicago, and sometimes less predictably. And while there may be a consensus on this principle, or that one, at any given moment, consensus is not the be-all and end-all either. After all, at one time there was an absolute scientific consensus that evolution was impossible or that plate tectonics were a fantasy.

Good science is grounded in observation, and I have observed in my own little corner of the world that I just had the healthiest winter I've had in years. The conclusion drawn from this observation appears to be corroborated by media reports that flu cases were down dramatically this winter, and other reports that makers of cough and cold remedies did not have their usual robust sales this past winter.

Nor do I claim to "know more" than the scientists. In today's hyper-politicized America, the Trumpians are shouting that the liberals must now be claiming to "know more" than the scientists because they do not burn their masks as soon as the CDC says it may be safe to put them down. The current braying represents a sarcastic inversion of the recent charges against the Trumpians that they were claiming to "know more" than the scientists when they refused to wear masks or downplayed the seriousness of the virus or whatever.

I will resist the temptation to observe that the present mask-relaxation trend seems less about science and more about peruading the unvaccinated to go ahead and get their shots -- look, the argument seems to be, if you will just get your shots, you too can go without a mask.... Which would be a heck of a lot better argument if the people who still need to get their shots were people who were compliant with the mask regulations in the first place.

And I am not doubting the efficacy of the vaccines by continuing to use a mask when and where I choose. I don't doubt the science. Which means I don't doubt that, as the best available science indicates, unless and until true herd immunity is reached, the virus will continue to mutate and spread and can "break through" even against the vaccinated.

The COVID-19 virus is weird in so many ways. Many people have gotten it without knowing it. Many have gotten it and suffered minimal ill-effects. Many others -- some 586,000 or so of our fellow Americans -- have gotten it and died. And even if that number is exaggerated, or inflated, or whatever the doubters say, the virus is still real and really dangerous. Even if it's not always dangerous: I know someone in the neighborhood who has been in the hospital with COVID-19 since the end of March. She's been on a ventilator and in a medically-induced coma for much of the time. She's showing improvement lately, and we can only hope for her and her family -- none of whom became seriously ill -- that this encouraging trend will continue.

But, in the meantime, I'll continue to keep my masks handy. And I'm OK if you choose to do so, too.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

I read this this morning without wearing a mask

I am getting so brave.

(Doonesbury Comic obtained from GoComics.com.)

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Looking forward to "getting back to normal" -- but maybe not all at once

I'm see that I'm almost a month late getting to my friend Bonnie McGrath's most recent column on Chicago Now, "Everyone's looking forward to 'getting back to normal' but me," which isn't surprising, I know: A day late and [only] a dollar short would be a victory for me....

I sympathize with much of Bonnie's kind-of-squeamish attitude about the world's halting, uneven return to normalcy.

I've had my shots---no, not at Loretto Hospital, thank you---and my side effects were minimal, even less on the second shot than on the first. (I was feeling pretty smug about that, too, until my kids informed me that really old people are less likely to have troublesome side effects with the vaccine than younger people. Thanks, kids.)

But, like Bonnie, there are some aspects of my former life I am not so anxious to resume.

I'll not be dining out anytime soon. Or going to a movie. Even though I think watching a movie is best done in a theater.

And I'm likewise in no hurry to start taking the train again. I was never a fan of being wedged in a CTA Blue Line car like a sardine. I really didn't like it during the evening rush on hot summer days. I'm tall enough that no one's backpack actually poked me in the eye. But I got punched in the gut with them many times.

I'm told it's much less crowded now.

Still, I'll wait. And when I do go back on the train, I'll be wearing a mask.

I'm in no hurry to ditch wearing a mask in crowds of strangers.

Like a lot of you, I'm sure, my wife and I cut back on our grocery visits during the past year. Lately, though, while we're still going half as often, both our local Jewel and Costco seem twice as crowded. My wife invariably notices people in the stores who aren't properly wearing their masks. He's old enough to know better, she'll hiss, gesturing surreptitiously at someone whose beak has protruded over his mask. I try not to look. I prefer to think we're all still compliant.

Bonnie mentioned that she serves on a number of boards, and she's happy to keep attending them virtually. One of the boards I serve on is having a meeting next month live and in person. And the host suggested we might decide, close to the meeting date, to dispense with the wearing of masks. A couple of board members balked. I suggested that anyone who wants to wear a mask absolutely should, and no one should say them nay. I think that should be the rule for all of us. In any setting. For as long as any of us wants.

But, unlike Bonnie, I'm looking forward to attending meetings in person.

Zoom meetings are better than audio-only telephone conferences, but there is no substitute for seeing a person in person. One can read a room much better, and more accurately, than a screen full of faces.

For the same reason, I'm anxious to get back to court. Zoom hearings are fine for routine matters, and I know some practitioners who are thrilled to be able to log out of a hearing in Bridgeview and into a hearing in Markham without leaving their kitchen, but, in my opinion, anything serious should really be done with all persons present. Even if we all wear masks.

Bonnie mentioned that she's resumed service as an arbitrator. I got called recently to serve as an arbitrator in Rolling Meadows. I was unreasonably happy to be setting foot in a courthouse again. I think the Deputy Sheriffs were a little concerned.

This past Sunday I was able to attend Mass in person (with masks, definitely) and thereafter able to go to the White Sox game (ditto). I liked being among people again -- but I also liked keeping my distance from those not in my "bubble." Some of this may be a natural function of age---even I have to admit that I am no longer likely to be offered the juvenile lead in any plays---but I think it also, at least in part, a function of my own squeamishness about fully jumping into a pre-pandemic "normalcy."

We'll all have to find a new balance point as Covid (hopefully) ends and we get our lives back. Bonnie's approach and mine may differ somewhat, but not in fundamentals.

There was one sentence, though, in her post that alarmed me---and I quote---"I love cable news running all day as my basic connection to life."

Oh, no! You don't have to subscribe to every position espoused by Glenn Greewald, Bari Weiss, or Matt Taibbi to see the dangers inherent in cable news -- any cable news.

We have been isolated in our houses for a year. Our society was becoming increasingly atomized before that; it is far more so now. How we atomized-individuals reconnect and recombine when we return to the real world will determine whether we will continue to have a civil society. And cable news divides us, forces us into 'silos', and fans our worst instincts.

I submit that the real real world is found on our walks around the neighborhood. Bonnie likes trying to guess the color of her neighbors' walls, the make and model of their fixtures, and what kind of food they have on their tables. My wife likes seeing what kind of flowers people have planted. There's a house in my neighborhood that has a giant RV that takes up almost all the fenced-in backyard. I've seen it parked in the street sometimes, but I've never seen how it gets from the street back into the yard. I wish they'd send out notices when they're going to move the darn thing.

The real world is found in those neighbors we see, even though we now avoid them on our walks, often with a good-natured shrug or wave, not the talking heads on TV. Our "basic connection to life"---in my opinion---are the people who are really in our lives, not just on our screens. One terrible thing about Covid is that so many of the truly important people in our lives were too long reduced to mere images on screens. But we're getting them back in our living rooms now, or at least in our yards. Even if we're not entirely ready for everyone else.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Bizarre Internet "Rape Day" rumor frightens kids

There was a movie back in 2013, called The Purge, set in a fictional, near-future America where crime has been largely stamped out -- except on a national holiday, also called the Purge, where all crime is legal for 12 hours.

The movie must have done well enough. It has so far spawned three sequels, with a fourth scheduled for release this Summer, according to IMDb.com. A television show, based on the same detestable concept, ran for a couple of seasons on cable.

Clearly, the idea of all crime being made "legal" for a limited period of time is so obviously ridiculous that no one would ever take it seriously, right?

Wrong.

I won't name the teacher or the school, but I heard from a junior high teacher yesterday whose homeroom was greatly agitated about "National Rape Day," supposedly set for this Friday, April 24. On that one day, according to the frightened students, rape would be "legal."

The teacher tried to explain that there is no such "holiday," that rape is never legal, and will not be made legal on Friday.

But the students were unconvinced. There were warnings all over TikTok, they said, so it must be true.

And the students were not entirely wrong -- there were warnings all over TikTok.

Internet watchdog Snopes.com put up a post about this subject on April 19. The post, by Dan Evon, links to a single Tik Tok video from @la.tania.ftn2 that was viewed 1.5 million times between its posting on April 17 and the April 19 publication of the Snopes.com post. An excerpt from that TikTok post, as quoted by Snopes.com:

I just saw a video on tiktok and i had to make a video myself … because I need to make sure that you guys are aware that there’s a video going around Tiktok of disgusting men … and they literally came up with a date to go around and rape women and children.

Except... Snopes.com can't find the video that supposedly prompted this reaction. According to Snopes.com's post, TikTok can't find such a post either. USA Today published a "fact check," by Devon Link, on April 19 (updated on April 20) that likewise came up empty in a search for the video that allegedly precipited the many warning videos:

Millions of social media users have viewed or shared reactions to the perceived threat on TikTok, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. However, neither USA TODAY nor TikTok could find any evidence of the threat users were responding to.

And, yet, according to the USA Today fact check, there were more than 31.1 million views and more than a thousand videos using the #april24 hashtag. Quoting further from the USA Today post, "According to CrowdTangle, there have more than 1,000 Facebook posts and nearly 50 Instagram posts about 'National Rape Day' in the week before this fact check published."

USA Today tried to reach out to the TikTok 'creators' who spread these warnings. None responded. While some of the creators claim to have seen the video announcing the 'holiday,' none, according to USA Today, shared that link, or stitched it, or dueted it. I don't know what those last two terms mean -- but it does certainly seem reasonable to conclude that the threat was largely, if not entirely, made up.

Snopes.com unearthed archived pages on Urban Dictionary which suggested that someone had proposed a National Rape Day as early as 2018. But it didn't go viral until the condemnations of an apparently non-existent video began circulating.

So there is no "National Rape Day" Friday or any other day, ever. But April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Wikipedia says the month has been observed since at least 2001. President Obama proclaimed April as National Sexual Awareness Month in April 2010.

The Internet has many uses, and the ability to rapidly---almost instantly---share information can be one of the most beneficial.

But only if the information is accurate.

And figuring out what is, or is apparently, accurate information is increasingly difficult for all of us. Especially where information, and misinformation, is surging through channels of which we may not even be aware.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals proscribes use of Garamond

Look, I get it: If you had to read briefs for a living, you'd want the parties to use typefaces that were as easy on the eyes as possible. Lord knows, lawyers' prose can be sludgy and kludgy and frequently is; if it at least looks good, however, it might be easier to wade through.

So, non-lawyers, restrain your snickers about persnickety judges in snobby D.C.

Besides, the D.C. Circuit judges are not alone on this. Take a look at pp. 170-177 of the 7th Circuit Practitioner's Handbook for Appeals (excerpt from Ch. XXIII: "You can improve your chances by making your briefs typographically superior"). The Illinois Courts area a bit more laid back---probably the difference between having life tenure and having to face retention elections, even if only once a decade---but Supreme Court Rule 341(a) still specifies that briefs must be double-spaced, in 12 pt. type or larger. Condensed type is verboten, and particular margins are specified.

But the D.C. Court's March 16 announcement is remarkable because the Court has singled out Garamond as a font to be avoided:

Certain typefaces can be easier to read, such as Century and Times New Roman. The Court encourages the use of these typefaces. Briefs that use Garamond as the typeface can be more difficult to read and the use of this typeface is discouraged.

Somebody over there really doesn't like Garamond....

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Perils in the wearing of the green for St. Patrick's Day (or red for St. Joseph)

I wear green for St. Patrick's Day, of course. Even if it does bring out the sickly green pallor of my skin.... On Friday I'll wear red for St. Joseph, too. Even if it does bring out the red of my bloodshot eyes. Christmas, when the wearing of red AND green is encouraged, is a nightmare for me and everyone around me....

Friday, March 12, 2021

Order today to ensure delivery by the Ides of March

Select "Rush Delivery" at checkout.

Returning to the office soon? Makes a great passive-aggressive, and mildly threatening, welcome back gift for your supervisor's desk.

Friday, February 12, 2021

When you think about it... this is exactly what a cat pretending to be a lawyer would say....

I saw this on Facebook this morning and felt compelled to share.