Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Phickle Thoughts

Like I've said before, I'm not writing about work on this blog. That's just silly, since only bad can come of it. I know that there are some people out there who want to hear about my job, but sorry, I just can't risk talking about it on here.

That being said, I love my job!

I've been there for about 6 weeks. I actually have my own clients and my own caseload. I've been to court a couple of times already. I've got two more cases this week. My experience has been growing by leaps and bounds, and it's just going to keep on keeping on.

I'm doing all sorts of consumer and housing issues, and eventually I might branch into family law and elder law as well. I'm not going to get any more specific about any individual cases, but there have been some wonderful fact patterns that have walked through the door, and I'm really excited to continue working for my clients.

Unfortunately, I dare not say any more. But for those who are wondering, work is great.

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I'm trying to start a reading group for a new book I recently purchased: Thomas Pynchon's Against the Day. For those who don't know, Pynchon is one of the greatest living writers, an American with an amazing ability for alliteration (hehe). No, I don't know if he uses alliteration all that often, but he writes the most colorful, brilliant prose I've ever come across. He's sublime and hilarious and imaginative and seditious and I'm running out of adjectives. I've previously read his book V. and I'm currently working on The Crying of Lot 49, (a short little novel) as a primer for Against the Day.

If anyone is interested in reading a good book, I'd recommend Pynchon. They're not the easiest read, but the payoff is huge. Grisham's fine from time to time, but Pynchon is where it's at.

And if there is anyone out there interested in reading Against the Day (and specifically anyone in the D.C. area), let me know, and you can hook up with our reading group, or at very least have someone to talk about the book with.

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Any good movies out there right now?

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If for some reason or other you're thinking about/obligated to get me a Christmas gift, classic movies would be wonderful. Also nifty little toys for my desk - like those clacky ball things - are nice. Or Boggle. I like Boggle. I can't think of anything else though. So basically, if you're planning/obligated to get me anything, think of it yourself. That'll make it better anyways.

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I appreciate the humor in the fact that blogger's spell check doesn't recognize the word 'blog', but at this point it's just starting to get annoying. Seriously Blogger, get on that.

And while your head is spinning
Hold tight, it's just beginning

Monday, November 27, 2006

Ghetto Opera

Once upon a time I studied abroad in the beautiful city of Rome. While in Rome I became friends with this gal, Louise. This weekend she was in D.C. and stopped by for a visit. This gave me opportunity for ruminating on the time I spent with Louise abroad. In particular, one story came to mind. Here it be:

While we were in Italy Louise was intent on getting our group to an opera. She searched through the Roman equivalent of the City Pages to find one that looked good, but that we'd still be able to afford, given that we were students. After a long search she found what looked to be a wonderful performance of Madame Butterfly.

The same evening as the opera our group had an opportunity to attend a Mass said by the Pope in Saint Peter's basilica. We couldn't pass it up, but that meant we'd have to hurry to get from the Vatican to the other side of town, where the opera was playing. Fortunately the dress code was about the same for both events (we all dressed up of course). Or so we thought...

We took public transportation to the other side of town, and got off at the right stop. The area was... how you say, suffering from a slight economic depression. It seemed a strange part of town for a nice opera, but it we were in too much of a rush to really take too much notice. When we got to the doors of the opera we peeked our heads in, and were immediately met by an usher. We quickly asked if we were too late, and the usher looked at us like we were absolutely insane. Only after she escorted us to our seats did we figure out why she seemed so baffled.

We were dressed for a full-scale professional opera, and we were trying to carry ourselves as classy opera aficionados. Turns out the Roman City Pages contain listings not just for professional operas, but also for the operas being performed by local high schools.

Yeah, we were seated in a local high school auditorium, with the hinged desktops that flip up over the chair, and gum under the seats. The walls were brick, and covered in banners that I could only assume said things like "Be a Star!" and "It is cool to stay in school!" (They must have been the Italian equivalent). At one intermission I even walked to the bathroom, and to get there I had to pass through the cafeteria where they had a "concession stand" set up for the opera. All it consisted of was a card table and boxes of M&M's, and Licorice, with the kindly grandmother sitting behind the table with her little cash-drawer.

Besides being in a language we couldn't understand, the opera was exactly the quality you'd expect from a high school theater department. We left at the second intermission. And we never did make it to a real opera.

The End.

The phantom of the opera is there, inside your mind

Monday, November 13, 2006

Question: or Brought To You By the Letters...

Here's a simple, and probably very silly, question:

Are there any letters that you just arbitrarily hate? (Or at least that you have a strong dislike for?) How about any numbers? Colors?

If so, what are they? And remember: these have to be arbitrary, purposeless hates.

So, for example, I couldn't say I hate pink because, well, I've got good reason for hating pink (besides being ugly, it's kind of a fakey, insincere color that somehow gets affiliated with love). I can, however, say that I really just don't care for the letter J. It's not quite a hate, but I just... I really don't like it.

See, that was easy. Now it's your turn.

Sweeping the clouds away

Friday, November 10, 2006

Careful Where You Put the Emphasis When You Say the Word Analysis

I've been spending a lot of time thinking about politics lately. That might have something to do with the recent election. I've kind of been analyzing what I think happened on Tuesday, and the biggest conclusion I've come to is this: I really like analyzing politics.

That probably makes me a geek. And if that doesn't, this story certainly does:

I was re-arranging my office at work the other day, getting myself set-up for my new job. I was trying to plug in the computer, and as I was reaching under the desk to push the plug into the outlet my hand slipped off the safe part of the plug and touched the metal tines. Let me tell you, getting electrocuted hurts. This is where the "geek" part of the story comes in: , immediately following the gigantic "OUCH!" that ran through my head, my first thought was, "I wonder if I got super powers!?!"

I didn't.

Unless you count my powers of political analysis. I am super at that. Or not. But I do think a lot of people see eye-to-eye with me politically. And more essentially I think most people agree with my overall political view, though we may differ from issue to issue. And those differences might be big (e.g. pro-life vs. pro-choice), but even within those differences there are very often some substantial points of agreement (e.g. it is important to prevent the pregnancies which lead to abortion, it is important to do everything we can to provide for pregnant and new mothers, etc.).

So here goes my quick analysis of last Tuesday's election:

The Republicans are clearly worse off. They've lost congress, they're no longer able to simply rubber-stamp Bush's policies, and they're really going to have to work hard to re-take Congress. The Democrats, on the other hand, aren't necessarily better off. This election wasn't a sign that our country is ready for a sweeping change to Democratic governance, but rather it was a market correction of sorts, where the public realized that they no longer wanted Bush to operate without a strong check from Congress. This election was about balance.

What's especially interesting to note is that I think in the long run, if the Republicans play their cards right, this election will turn out better for them - or at least for a particular brand of them: the "values republicans." The ones who run on pro-choice platforms, anti-gay marriage platforms, no embryonic stem-cell research platforms, etc. Because Republicans have been largely ineffective over the last 6 years at addressing any of those platforms the centrists who elected them weren't willing to give them another shot. Instead the centrists had big issues with Bush, issues they would have overlooked if their values were actually being advanced politically.

What's especially fascinating is that many of the Democrats who won were Democrats who embraced - or at least were more moderate on - those centrist values. Moreover, Republicans are starting to see new blood coming into their party - new blood like Michael Steele, who embraces those social values but also agreed with Biden's (D) plan for Iraq, disagreed with Bush on No Child Left Behind, and wanted to see the minimum wage raised. For centrists, Michael Steele is pretty much a dream come true; he's got both the social values and liberal policies that appeal to centrists. Most people want to see the minimum wage increased, but they also want most abortions to be illegal. Most people want us to devote plentiful resources to education, but they also want to make sure our scientific research is ethical (i.e. no embryonic stem cells when just-as-good alternatives exist).

In my mind then, which ever party does a better job infusing themselves with those types of leaders, then that party will rule the country. What's good for Republicans is that they just had a massive bloodletting, and a lot of the old guard has been eliminated, and it looks like new people will be filling into prominent leadership roles, to take the party in that direction. What's interesting for the Democrats is that they have some of those same people in leadership roles already (Harry Reid, new Senate majority leader), and a lot of those people were just elected, but they've also got a bunch of the old New England-Liberals still running the party (for example, Nancy Pelosi (yes, I know she's from CA, but she fits the New England mold), House Majority leader). If the Democrats really want to keep their power, they're going to have to be responsive to the centrist public that has given them a chance, and not to the more extreme liberal base.

Ok then, that's my analysis. In summary: for Democrats things went good, but there's no reason to expect it in the future. For Republicans things went bad, but there's plenty of opportunity out there for them to become even stronger.

Oh, and I'm seriously considering starting an all political blog, as sort of a grass roots way for expanding my political views, providing a stronger voice for centrists like myself, and developing my policy ideas. But I need a good name for it. Anyone have any thoughts?

Oh, and big points for getting the song:

Here's something for your firstborn
George Bush Junior sing along

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Adventures in Metro-ing

For a seasoned vet, riding the metro is a science. You know what train you're going to catch. You know how much money you have on your Metro pass. You even know exactly where to stand on the platform so that when you arrive at your stop you're perfectly situated to step out of the train and onto the escalator nearest to your exit. Heck, it gets to be so routine you can practically sleep right through it. Which is exactly what I managed to do last Friday. I fell asleep on the train and didn't wake up until we'd gone past my stop. Not only was it too late for me to get off the train, but I woke up with a crick in my neck, drool on my chin, and a look from the guy sitting next to me that told me that either I was snoring or I'd just ripped one. Like I said, I'm an old pro when it comes to Metro.

That wasn't even the most adventurous part of my travels that day. For starters, I was met at every turn by highschool students from the DECA Conference for the South-Mid-and-North Atlantic regions. What is DECA you ask? As I was informed, DECA is an association of marketing students. Apparently the acronym DECA no longer actually stands for anything, and there didn't seem to be anyone attending the conference who knew what it originally meant. Now, I've never taken any classes on marketing or anything, but wouldn't it make good sense to use a name that actually has a connection to the organization? And who was the marketing genius that came up with the South-Mid-and-North Atlantic Regional Conference? Why not just call it the Atlantic Regional Conference? Maybe there's something going on here that I don't understand. Maybe DECA is an elitist orginziation that's only meant for students who are really good at marketing. Maybe it's so selective that the people planning the events have to obfuscate the meaning of the organization as a litmus test for membership; you can only join if you can decipher exactly what it is they're talking about.

Anyways, these idiot marketing geniuses are having their little conference in the Crystal City Marriott, just a block or two from my apartment building. They came in Thursday night, and ever since the metro has been infested with these highschool pests. The regular Metro rider knows that there are several rules and customs to riding the system. Breaking these rules is not something you do lightly, especially in the morning, when your typical commuter is still waking up, and generally in a foul mood. You really don't want to experience the business end of "rail rage" (like road rage, only with fewer cars and more shoving-onto-the-tracks).

The following are people who run the risk of the commuter's ire: people who stand on the "walk" side of the escalator; people who speak very loudly; people who block the doors on the train; people who try getting on the train before others get off; people who stop at the bottom of the escalator; people who play their music loud enough so that others can hear it; people who eat and drink on the train; people who are generally oblivious to others on the train. I could go on.

The point here is this: stupid highschool kids attending a conference are quite possibly the worst thing that could happen to a Metro vet. Not only do they break each of the aforemetioned rules, en masse, they are also constantly finding new and creative ways to aggravate your average commuter. Why must they select a new cellphone ringer at 8 a.m.? At full volume? Why must they keep trying on each other's shoes? Why must they walk the wrong direction on the escalator? Why must they dare each other to lick the handrail? Why must they link arms and make a human chain the length of the platform? Why must they stand three feet away from me and play with the flash on their cameras?

After I was finally able to get to the bottom of the escalator, push my way through the crowd that had stopped right at the bottom, avoid the drink being spilled on the ground, shield my eyes from the flashing cameras to see that my train had arrived, duck under the human chain, squeeze through the group blocking the door, and find a dry spot on the handrail, that was when my train ride got really interesting. After a stop or two a seat opened up, and like an experienced commuter I moved to the middle of the train to take it, making room for the hordes of people coming in at the next stop.

Unfortunately, when I sat down I unwittingly filled a seat that no one wants to fill: the seat next to the crazy guy.

Now, I don't mean "friendly old coot who started up a weird conversation" crazy. And I don't mean "what's that funky smell?" crazy. And I don't even mean "dude with 3-inch-fingernails sharpened to a point and wearing raven black lipstick, reading from a worn-out-copy of The Yellow Pages" crazy (I've actually experienced all three). No, I mean full-fledged "unshaven man dressed all in white sweats and shouting about government conspiracy and explosives, and also what's that funky smell?" crazy.

He wasn't talking when I sat down, but he quickly started whispering furiously, "they lied they lied to the American public they lied to the American people when they denied that the buses were running on radon gas, and not natural gas, no, it's not natural gas it's radon gas radon gas the buses are running on radon gas."

His voice slowly got louder and louder, "radon gas is highly explosive [author's note: it's not] and they lied to the American people the government lied when they said it was natural gas it's not it's highly explosive radon gas the American people were lied to by their own government."

About two stops later he was in a full yell, and the whole car could easily hear him, "The government was lying, it's radon gas in the buses, they won't even let you smoke because they know they could explode because it's radon gas not natural gas natural gas is inert but radon is explosive but they put it in the buses and then they lied to the American public."

He kept furiously repeating himself, his stream of consciousness clearly locked on replay. By this time we'd reached the Pentagon stop, and when the conductor's voice announced our arrival the crazy man stopped for just a second before he burst into his own rendition of Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall" substituting words like "Pentagon" and "military" for the original "classroom" and "teachers". It was awkward, though he didn't have a bad voice. Once we got moving towards the next stop he again paused for a brief second before resuming - at a full shout - his previous tirade.

I was completely unsure of what to do in the situation. We were on a very full train, and so if I got up and moved away from the man I would be breaking all sorts of Metro taboos. And besides, then someone else would probably feel obligated to take the spot next to Loony McBatshit, and that's something I wouldn't even wish on a DECA student. So I decided to bite the bullet and stay in my spot, despite the insanity, volume, and stench of the man sitting next to me.

I was completely relieved when we arrived at my stop a short while later. As I got off the train I began to ponder if there was anything I could have done in that situation to help quiet the man down, and thereby relieve some of the discomfort felt by all of us commuters. I didn't want to make him angry, and there was no way to predict how he would have responded to any direct intervention, but it occurred to me that perhaps the best way to silence a crazy person is to make them feel as uncomfortable as you feel when they're shouting their lunacies. See, crazy people are obviously comfortable shouting bizarre conspiracy theories in public. That's what makes them nuts; they lack that sense of inhibition that makes them feel uncomfortable in those situations. So the best way to get them to be quiet is to re-instill that inhibition. You have to make them feel as uncomfortable as you feel.

And the best way to do that is to out-crazy the crazy. If he's yelling about government conspiracy you've gotta one-up him. You've gotta start shouting about how deceased world leaders are plotting to get back at the film stars who defamed them in various Hollywood productions. When they're spouting lines about extra terrestrials you've gotta come in with talk about the occult. And if they're claiming to be or know God, well, then it's time to bring out the big guns. You've gotta come up with the most insane thing ever: shouting, at the top of your lungs, the most mundane, boring, every-day material you can come up with.

When the guy sitting next to you blares "I was talking with Jesus the other day man, and he said that you've gotta use crayons if you want to get to Heaven, but they gotta be Crayola man, Word of God, they can't be Roseart or anything, nah man, gotta be Crayola, Jesus told me man, he gave me the Grace. Crayola man. Jesus man, that's what he said." well then you just blast right back, "On Thursday I had a bowl of Cornflakes, and then I rinsed out my bowl and put it into the dishwasher but then my dishwasher broke, and so I went to the hardware store to get the piece I needed, and on the way there I had to wait at 4 red lights, but then I finally caught a green light, and then the next one I thought I could make it through the yellow, but at the last second I decided not to try, but that was good because that was my turn anyways, and then I found the piece I needed and it cost fourteen dollars and thirty-seven cents, and was surprised because the tax on hardware is two percent less than it is on other items, but maybe it was just this particular kind of hardware because I think if you're buying tools those are still taxed at the same rate."

Because let's face it, we expect crazy people to yell about conspiracies and aliens and God. But if they were shouting narrative about their ordinary life? Man, that would freak me out.

Just a stranger on a bus
Trying to make his way home

Thursday, November 02, 2006

I'm a Winner!

I'm not really going to post about my work on this blog, since there are huge confidentiality implications, and all sorts of bad stuff can happen when you post about work (see, for example: getting dooced). But I'll just post this one quick note:

Today, 3 weeks and 1 day after I started at my firm, I won not just my first court case, but also my second.

They were both really easy, and other than helping my clients follow basic procedures I didn't do anything too significant (I never had to make a single argument in either case), but my sheer presence made a difference. So really, I didn't win them so much as the legal system won them for me. All the same, it's wonderful to know that these two clients and their families are going to sleep easier tonight.

Now don't tell me I've nothing to do