Saturday, December 30, 2006

Technology Overload

Yesterday I found out I was getting a DVD with multiple thousands of documents scanned on it. When I bought my current office computer about four years ago, I skimped on two things. The RAM (do they still call it that?) is 256k. That has worked out OK since all I do on the computer is create and edit documents, get and send Emails and surf and research on line. Until yesterday, not getting the, then fairly new, option of a DVD player/burner wasn't a problem.

When I was buying the player/burner, I realized I was out of USB ports on the tower; so, I had to buy a hub.

Surrounding me on the desk, floor and credenza are the DVD device, its various wires,cables, the USB hub with its spagetti and styrofoam, plastic and cardboard detrious from both electronic pieces. I forgot the twist ties.

Various parts of both devices are plugged into each other, the walls and other devices. Having not thought through the process, I am at an impass. I am out of electricity. I have four outlets in the office. One is useless because I covered it with book shelves. Another is useless because it is on an exterior wall and not near anything electrical. Two are now full up, one of which has a powerstrip plugged into it. Until I go get another powerstip, technology is on hold. Rather than do a paragraph or two on the charms of dial telephones and mimeograph machines, I'm off to Target.

Friday, December 29, 2006

There's A Fine Line

between done and over-done.

I usually cook dinner, such as it is. It can range from a sandwich to a real meal. A couple of weeks ago I decided I was going to make potato pancakes. The problem was my only exposure to the process was many many years ago, not really watching my mother make them.

When I asked friends about it they mostly said it was kind of like making hash browns. Did you know if you type the words potato pancakes into Google it returns "about 1,380,00 English pages" for the two words "(in .20 seconds)"? The first result is It has 12 pages containing 395 recipes. They boil down to the following. Finely grate potatoes. Press liquid out of them. Lightly beat eggs. Add salt and pepper to egg mixture "to taste." (As an aside, what kind of instruction is that? You can't taste it till you're done.) Add flour to mixture. Combine with potatoes. Mix well. Plop a spoon-full into oil in pan. Fry till done. This recipe also results in latkes. Who'd of known?

Tasting at the end uncovered the fact that they were a bit under-done and needed a bit more frying. Add sour cream and applesauce. Pretty good.

Last weekend, I decided to make home fries, without the aid of Google. I cubed potatoes. Added salt and pepper. Threw them in oil in a pan. I tossed the cubes as they spit oil at me. Given my lack of cooking skill, after tasting a cube which turned out to be under-done, I kept frying, just past the point I should have. Lucky for me, I fried two small potatoes and picked out and ate the cubes that I hadn't over done. Not cost effective but serviceable cooking.

You're looking for the moral of this story aren't you? Well, under-do what you're doing. It's correctable. When I'm in lawyer mode, there's a temptation to ask that one last question. I'm much better off when I don't do it. When I'm playing golf, I'm better if I don't over swing. When I'm writing a post, going for that irresistible turn of phrase that takes it over the top is not a good idea.

My motto for 2007 - under-do.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Help Wanted

I read the ingredients listed on food packages. Not because I am concerned about health or have an allergy to peanuts. Because they are there and, at that particular moment, I have nothing else to read.

Rarely, I'll not read at night for an hour or so before bed. But usually, I have three or four books in line for reading.

Lately, I've been on a jag. Reading to exclusion of doing things that I should be doing. To the exclusion of doing anything else. I realized that I only have one book waiting in line.

I went to my local used book store late last week. I walked out without getting anything. I went on Amazon yesterday. I couldn't find anything that I had not read and actually wanted to read. This just doesn't happen.

So, your help is wanted. Give me titles. Give me authors. Skip the overly-serious. I do serious for a living. I've read the masters both classic and modern. Think Richard Russo. John Irving. Enlighten me. Entertain me. If you have a book that made you stop and re-read sentences or paragraphs to savor them, I want to know.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Rainy Night In Georgia

Under a drizzling sky in Atlanta, I hope you, your family and your friends enjoy a very merry Christmas and rewarding blogging in the New Year.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

There's A Sucker Born...

My political views are informed (skewed?) usually by two competing mindsets.

I grew up in a conservative household. We went to church where there was a God of Fire who pointed you to a Saviour who, despite your basic cussedness, could redeem you. I took away the thought that people were basically bad and needed rules to follow and some one or thing to enforce the rules. Mix in my parents' Depression era, big government backround influencing me and you have government as your rule giver and enforcer to protect us from ourselves.

Then I read Heinlein, Rand, and others, discovering the charm of the rugged individualist. In the books, unfettered by messy reality, the individualist prevailed against the collective. We were all good. Rules and Rulers should be kept to a minimum.

Yesterday morning I had to drive south of Atlanta to McDonough in Henry County, Georgia for a hearing on a motion. Nice little town with a square on which the Courthouse sat. Gridlocked traffic for a mile around the square evidenced McDonough's inclusion in Metro Atlanta's problems.

In Georgia courts, motions are heard by the Judge on periodic "non-jury trial calendars." Anything and everything that doesn't involve a jury appears on these cattle-call mornings. As a result of my attendance at these events over the years, I am fully qualified to practice all kinds of law that I wouldn't touch on my worst day. Divorce, restraining orders, arraignments for non-payment of child support. I once saw a guy banished from all counties in Georgia but one (a fascinating Georgia practice for discussion in another post).

Yesterday, though my case was in the second position, I wasn't excused until about an hour and a half into the session. While there, I saw five hearings on motions to "Confirm Settlement." In Georgia in some cases, when a person gets a structured settlement (payout over time) of a judgment, the settlement has to be approved by a judge. Any change to the settlement later also has to be approved. These people had "sold" their income streams under the settlements to an investor. Kind of like taking an annuity when you win the lottery and selling it, after another discount for a lump sum later.

But here's the twist.

The amounts they were getting for their annuities ranged from a high of 75% to a low of 20% of the current, already discounted, present value. Without laying out all the math, this is a terrible deal. The people doing it were stupid. They needed someone to beat up the side of their head and knock some sense into them.

Instead, in turn, they marched up to the podium in front of the Judge with the lawyer who represented the investor buying the annuity. The lawyer asked them "questions." Did you read the agreement. Of course they did. Did you understand the agreement. Ditto. Did you consult with a lawyer or understand that you have a right to consult with a lawyer and decided not to. Why yes, I did. Is that your signature on the agreement. Yep.

The Judge then asked them two questions. What is your educational backround? It ranged from GED to college degree. Do you have any mental problems? None admitted to any.

The Judge then signed the Consent Order and wished them luck. Yes, to each he said "good luck."

So, am I P.T. Barnum, with a smile pointing them to the "egress" and wishing them luck like the Judge? Or Heinlein, Rand or anyone of a bunch of current talk show hosts? Or, do I lobby for laws to protect the idiots? If so, what kind of laws?

I got in my car, shaking my head, and drove back to the City.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Big Lie

Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents raided Swift & Co. plants in six states, arresting a bit over 1,200 people this week after a ten month investigation.

The Company was aware of the impending raids and sought an injunction against them saying they would cause "substantial and irreparable injury." It said that the raid would remove up to 40% of its 13,000 workers.

After the raid Swift & Co. president Sam Rovit said that the Company has never knowingly hired illegal workers.

My considered legal opinion: Liar Liar, Pants on Fire.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

FOX IS Fair and Balanced - It Reports, We Decide

Last night FOX News, during Brit Humes' segment, reported two stories that caught my eye.

FOX reported that President Bush will not speak to the Nation before Christmas as previously thought. He will rather wait until the first of the year to unveil his plans in Iraq so as to give him more time for more input. Coupled with this announcement, it was reported that there may be a 20,000 troop increase in Baghdad.

Straight forward reporting. Fair in my eyes. Took about 2 or 3 minutes.

Before, during and after this segment, FOX teased a story about a shocking announcement by Angelina Jolie. When the segment finally aired, I learned that Jolie has met Jennifer Aniston! Moreover, Jolie would like to have a "long sit-down" with Aniston to talk about Brad Pitt!!! (There are three exclamation points used to reflect the tone of FOX's revelation.)

Again straight forward, albeit hard hitting reportage. Quite fair to all three of the stars. Again, not counting the teaser time, it took 2 or 3 minutes.

Those folks at Fox live up to their tag lines!!!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The More Things Change...

"Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a colony of aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us, instead of our Anglifying them." Ben Franklin, 1751, as quoted in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, December 11, 2006.

Cherokee County, Georgia is about 35 miles North of the City of Atlanta. It is one of the newest bedroom communities in Metro Atlanta and suffers all the woes associated with that status. Schools, roads, sewers are needed. Long time residents clash with the city refugees building McMansions on what was pasture land when their taxes rise to pay for new infrastructure.

Over the past month the old and new guards have put aside their differences to focus on what is really important, attacking the "damn Mexicans." (In North Georgia all Hispanic people, if referred to derogatorily, are Mexicans. Guatemalan just doesn't roll off the tongue. And they all look alike you know.) The County Commission has enacted two ordinances. First, it is now a crime for a landlord to rent to anyone who hasn't proved that they are a citizen or have resident alien status. Second, the County cannot spend any money to communicate to anyone in a foreign language unless the communication is mandated by state or federal law or is regarding a major government function: education, courts and health care. Both measures are largely symbolic given facts on the ground. Most rental units in the County are in its two cities, Canton and Woodstock, neither of which is bound by the County ordinance. Most government communication in foreign languages is the result of state or federal laws or involves education, courts or health care.

Cherokee's message to Mexicans by passage of the ordinances seems to be "you're welcome to plant and harvest our fields. Framing, drywalling and landscaping McMansions is OK too. You can maintain what you build. But make sure you're out of town by sundown. Oh, while you're here, keep your mouth shut. None of that jibber-jabber allowed among the polite folk in the County."

There's of course nothing new here as demonstrated by the quote of one of our Founding Fathers at the top of the post. African slaves, Irish potato famine refugees, Chinese railroad laborers, Okies, southern migrants in northern factories during World War II. They are all "Mexicans" to those that get somewhere first.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Jane, You Ignorant Slut

Dueling political commentators got their start before Saturday Night Live. Dan Ackroyd (or was it Chevy Chase?) and Jane Curtin parodied James Kilpatrick and Shana Alexander who took rightist and leftist views on a news topic in a 60 Minutes segment called "Point/Counterpoint" which began in 1970. As I recall the feature, it was pretty civilized.

Firing Line, hosted by William F. Buckley, Jr., began a year earlier. It more closely resembled a traditional debate. More than civilized, it was the definition of urbane. The show was best watched with an open copy of the Oxford English Dictionary on the coffee table given Mr. Buckley's vocabulary.

Civility gave way to free-for-all with Crossfire on CNN in 1982. Original conservative host Pat Buchanan yelled at, interupted and talked over liberal host Tom Braden, who returned the invective.

With the advent of cable and its 24 hour appetite, talking heads from remote locations vie with the hosts on all the channels to see who can be the most abusive and derisive. FOX News' Hannity and Colmes, is typical of the breed. On occassion, by accident, a fact is spoken or an objective opinion is aired.

I think it all started going wrong about midnight on a Saturday in the 70's with the use of the modifier ignorant slut. Someone in a news department realized you could entertain viewers with adjectives. News and discourse became by-products.

To steal a phrase, I have a modest proposal. News talk shows should declare a modifier free week. No adjectives. No perjorative language. The speaker gets to finish what he or she is saying. Questioners must ask a real question rather than pontificating their viewpoint. The person answering a question must actually answer it, rather than using it as an invitation to say whatever it is that they want to say. All shows would be on tape delay. An objectivity censor in the engineering booth would bleep all offenses. A month or so of this might be necessary for the players to get the rules down. Early on, the entertainment would be in trying to read people's lips during the bleeps.

Or, we could get the old Not Ready For Prime Time Players to host the news talk shows. They'd show 'em how to do it right.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Borrower Beware

If you carry a balance on your credit card account from month to month, you might be interested in this new way banks have devised to separate you from your money:

I have friend who is a lawyer for a federal agency that deals with banks. He said that Bank of America has changed the way it calculates the "average daily balance" upon which it charges you interest.

The old less expensive way was, in simple terms, to add the daily balances each day in the billing period and divide by the number of days in the period. You paid interest on the result.

BOA now averages two billing periods rather than one. This change means you will pay more interest. An example:

On the first day of your billing period you buy $1,000.00 worth of stuff on credit. When the bill comes you pay $500.00 of the $1,000.00 you owe. Under the old calculation, you would pay interest the next month on the $500.00 balance in the new billing period (500 x 30 = 15,000/30 = 500). But now, BOA goes back sixty days. You pay interest not on the $500.00 you averaged as a balance in the new month, but on the average balance for two months which is $1,250 (1,000 x 30 + 500 x 30 = 75,000/60 = 1,250). If your card has an interest rate of 10%, this works out to $7.50 more in interest over the two month period. BOA is charging you interest on money you have already paid back to it.

According to my friend the fed, as long as the bank "discloses" this (the mice type you don't read) it is legal.

Special for Moral Turpitude

MT - Here it is with poor quality. But here none-the-less. For the rest of you, the Atlanta-Journal Constitution has an item on Sundays that talks about the Web. It highlighted a blog called By the Seat of My Skirt this week. Check it out, it's link is to the right under Recommended.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Can You Go Home Again?

I remember lying on the floor next to our Christmas tree when I was five or six. The main ornament for the tree was a collection of colored balls. Red, green, gold, blue, silver. Though I don't remember the specifics of the daydream, the balls were planets which I visited. Whatever the daydream, it was vivid, intensely pleasing.

The next year, I laid down next to the tree, beckoning the experience. At the time, I am sure I remembered the specifics of the daydream; but, I could not conjure the vividness, the pleasure. It was one of my earliest disappointing experiences.

I grew up Lutheran. Each Christmas season we went to Wednesday Advent services. At the end of the services, the main lights in the church were turned off and the congregation sang Abide With Me a cappella. I anticipated that moment all week. I heard the song recently. Though the feeling returned, it was not as intense. Again disappointment.

Thomas Wolfe wrote Look Homeward Angel. I read it in college and was taken by his language, the story and the characters. Some years later, I re-read it. It obviously hadn't changed; but, the book did not deliver the anticipated transportment. I brought a different viewpoint to it and could not recreate my first experience.

Can you duplicate specific pleasure? From my experience, no. But, we try to. We all take pictures when on vacation and pull them out to reminisce. We sit with family and friends - "Do you remember when….?" Should we? Why not. As long as we don't close ourselves to new experience, remembering past pleasure for its own sake seems, well, pleasurable. I just have to remember not to judge the recollection against the original and find it wanting.