29 April 2009

The Electrons Speak: Code 3; Vain, Vain; Silvery Alerts; Good & Pushy

The electrons have been flowing freely at No. 3 Equity Court and at No. 3 Equity Court (Mobile), but they’ve primarily been devoted to correspondence, posts or articles for other forums, or passionate if incomprehensible drivel. And so, after a considerable delay, I offer the following:

Code 3

This weekend, I saw for the first time Son Tim (paramedic extraordinaire at my old rescue company, MCRS, Co. 20) driving a rig with lights & siren. While we “veterans” can teach current people nothing about patient care, we continue to whisper wise counsel respecting safety issues. Dad cannot make any comment, for Dad is thoroughly proud of the progress Tim has made. Purely as an Old Guy, however, I can comment: His performance was quite workmanlike going through traffic, holding back enough to let people hear the siren and see the lights, and let things develop in front of the rig without putting his crew in a position where someone else’s stupidity could unilaterally kill them.

In any hazardous occupation, if you work for a responsible employer and with responsible people, you will be meeting about safety, talking about safety, and training, training, training constantly. To anyone outside the business, it looks anal. To the newest people there, it looks anal. To the old ones, it’s barely sufficient.


Miniaturization has NOT lightened some lawyers’ physical loads, including mine. Smaller laptops are fine. They are still heavier than no laptop, which is what I carried when I started. Add to that other electronics, thicker files (I think due to the fact that with computers and printers we all generate more paper documents), wires for communication and power, planner “systems,” and other bric-a-brac, and you have a load that the old style “portfolio” won’t hold. So now we have aluminum cases, canvas retro-safari bags (Land’s End and Duluth Trading), catalog cases (Naugahide - poor naugas - and leather), back-to-Harvard-book-bag-backpacks, and finally big bags with wheels and telescoping handles for those who admit that the load finally has gotten too damn heavy.

I’ve only used wheeled conveyances for trial loads previously. For a trial, you’ve one or two (or more) document boxes, plus your briefcase, your books, and whatever charms and fetishes you must have to ensure a favorable outcome. (Bert, get your head out of the gutter and look the damn word up before you make a comment.)

But the common load gets heavy. But I’m a guy. But the load . . . And the existing briefcase didn’t have sufficient volume. But, Vishnu on a rotisserie, wheels?

OK, I bought a manly sort of briefcase. With wheels. And the damn thing is loaded and heavy. But funny thing, I can’t bring myself to use the wheels. It has a comfortable shoulder strap, and perhaps I stagger a bit like the old frontier peddler with his pack full of necessaries (pins and fine tools and such), but it’s a workable compromise.

Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity

Me, me, me - The Silver Alert

I have heard various legislators talk about their achievements this year. They’ve had some good ideas. To hear them tell it, they knew that small wounds need to be clean, so they thought of putting small squares of gauze on adhesive tape, and calling them band-aids, and were distressed about engine wear, and decided oil would make a good lubricant.

One of the little happy sounding things that they did in the West Virginia Legislature this year is run with a proposal by the “senior lobby,” which was to devise a “Silver Alert” system. The idea is that when an old person, particularly one with dementia, Alzheimers or the like, wanders off or is lost, there is a special method to alert the community and quickly find that lost person.

Well, now, of course, this sounds like a good idea. You take a need, you devise a fix, it helps a group that everybody likes (Grandma & Grampa) and piss on whether it’s well thought out or efficient, it’s a PR win-win. So now we are headed toward a Balkanized rainbow of alert systems where every interest group will have its very own way of responding to its version of an emergency need. Wonderful. Just wonderful. And it’s all the rage. Other states (such as Virginia) have their own special “Grey Alert” system for old folks. There are lots of statewide plus competing national “Amber Alert” systems for missing children. A few of these sorts of things may be non-profit scams, but most likely are well-intended - just not efficiently thought out. It doesn’t take a separate system for every kind of emergency. We have existing people who already know how to respond to emergency needs, and some existing communication systems. To provide efficient communications for a “Community Alert” will require communications work. But let’s do it ONCE and do it right. There are events for which citizen information is extremely important and some events for which a citizen’s response may be helpful. Quickly looking for a lost person certainly is an example of the latter. If such a person is moving, the search area expands exponentially. (PiR², remember?) Storm damage, location of escapees, flood conditions, other weather warnings, public utility failures and outage information, all this is information critical to or at least helpful to the public. (The Onion quotes a FEMA proposal for a nationwide phone tree today.)

We Americans live in a competitive, adversarial system of allocating resources. As such, we are wasting lots of those resources with needless lobbying/PR and by duplicating efficient centralized services with scattered services which work less well because they work less often.

Getting Push Back

When you are in law school, a really good academic achievement and something that is de rigeur for your resume is to make “law review.” The law review is a scholarly publication put together by law students who edit articles by faculty and academicians from all over and a few of whom write notes/articles of their own. I am proud to say that I was a member of the Law Review at the West Virginia University College of Law – for, um, about 24 hours. When you first work law review, in your second year of school, you are assigned what is commonly known as “dog work,” such as cite checking and the like. This is work guaranteed to numb the mind, although beyond doubt those who stay the course in law review can make a strong case for its value. When I found out that it was (1) unpaid (2) dog work and that (3) I would be doing it rather than doing work on actual cases for Al Lemley at Furbee Amos in Fairmont and getting paid damn good money for the time, I told the then-editor, Lloyd Jackson (now an ultra-prominent politician, entrepreneur and lawyer from Lincoln County) thanks but no thanks, and he was able to take it like a man, without an excess of tears and wailing. (OK, the actual response was, “Whatever.”) I go on this detour to introduce Alfred Lemley, and why I valued him so. Al (now retired) was a lawyer’s lawyer, a man’s man, and a curmudgeon’s curmudgeon.) He was scary as hell to a mere student. He was gruff. He grumped. He was a master trial lawyer. He could be kind, funny, threatening, easy, and it was all genuine. I began work at Furbee Amos the day after my first year’s exams were over, and it took me two days to figure how to work with Alfred. It was sink or swim. If you did work for Alfred, say wrote a brief, he would ask, “Is this ready to file?,” or “Is this your best work?” There was only one acceptable response: “Dammit, Alfred, I wouldn’t have brought it in if it weren’t.” In other words, you got pushed, you had to push back. This was not a macho thing, a “dozens” thing, rather it was a way to induce and recognize intensity and interest and commitment. After that exchange, Al would grumble, “Well, OK, let’s look at it,” read it, and we’d discuss whatever it was. He would criticize the work (properly), discuss the underlying issues, alternative approaches (and hopefully, I’d seen those and had a reason to reject them), and he always took the time to slow down a bit and make sure I got whatever learning was available there.

And I remember these sessions and must say that Alfred is one of the key people who taught me and mentored me in law and scholarship, and I love the guy dearly.

Long intro, huh? Well, there are some folks in my life who are brilliant minds who for whatever reason have not learned to push back. Invariably, they are younger. I cannot pretend to do what Alfred did. But I do find myself goading them, trying to teach in my own poor way, and feeling fulfilled when they push back. There are several young lawyers in that crowd, and others. Most recently, my great friend & beloved pastor gave me a delightful push back that I have savored all week. LaJ is heading up the church’s “CROP Walk” effort, which is a one kilometer community walk to raise money for world and local hunger projects. My curmudgeonly view is that walking is unconnected to raising money, and what you should do is have those who know how & who to call get on the phones and flush out the money. This is the method that Herschel Rose, Jr., a legendary trial lawyer, used to raise money for the United Way: “Roger? You gave $200 last year. You won that Smith case, so you’re doing pretty well. This year, you’re good for $300. Send it in.” “Ok, Herschel.” Click. I do the same sort of thing fundraising, “I don’t have time for bullshit, neither do you, this is for the Boy Scouts, send me $150, I don’t care whether you go to the dinner or not, but I want the damn check.” Well, you can’t use these approaches with the public generally, but among a core of contributors, you flush out dependable money.

Well, for CROP, LaJ made a very good presentation about local poverty and then Pastor Josh acknowledged my stance and proceeded to give from the pulpit a logical and persuasive case for both the fundraising aspect of this sort of “demonstration,” and the symbolic significance, “We walk because they [the hungry] walk.” He reasons [and I’m very much paraphrasing and if he or others give me better language, I’ll post it] that it raises the conscience of the community and also turns the thoughts of the participants inward.

How do you judge? For the short term, define the goal, “Raise $5,500 [or whatever amount.]” Check the till when you’re done. Compare numbers. But the lasting effects, building a year-to-year dependable fundraising project that people get used to contributing to and expect and plan to contribute to are far harder to track. Tracking attitudes or, dare I say, tracking peoples’ hearts and understanding of the reality of crushing live-in-chicken-coop poverty is likely impossible to gauge.

And so - push back. Without that, without intellectual, moral and courageous discourse, we’ll just get our mental meat from McOpinion’s, get a shake at The Spin-Your-Ass-Silly Zone, do the Celebrity Stare and feel proud of our membership in the WalMart Coffee Club.

Thank God for the Marketplace of Ideas, a place you take your energy and commitment in with you. If there were no haggling, no disagreement, no discourse, it wouldn’t be a marketplace, and its products would be low quality junk and severely overpriced.

The wolf eats a sheep here and there. Mediocrity kills them all.

Pippa passes.



Anonymous said...

A 1K isn't even a mile. If La put together a 5k, she'd probably get the local runners community to come out.

Roger D. Curry said...

Oops. 10km. I have trouble with decimals.

Anonymous said...

Ok - now THAT makes sense!

Blank Field said...

totems and fetishes... I know them well, because I are edumacated.

And now to find a honest attorney in West Virginia to sue yer ass for defenestration of character!!

Amber alert for kids

Silver/gray alert for old folks

brown alert for lost Puerto Ricans

black alert for lost rappers

green alert for hyper inflation

red alert for a significant other being menstrual