29 November 2009

Tchotkes, Fandangles and Thoughts


(Tchotkes: Knick-knacks, trinkets (Yiddish); Pronunciation: \ˈ'chääch-kə, ˈ'tsääts-\ )

When I arrived at No. 3 this afternoon, I found on my desk a certificate which had come in the mail from the “Pro Bono Referral Project,” the agency which attempts to find lawyers who will do pro bono (free) legal work for poor people. Pro bono work is required under the rules and doing it willingly is at the very least a moral obligation of members of the bar. I do not presume to comment upon how much cheerful service goes into pro bono work as a general practice in the bar of West Virginia, although the reporting system doesn't record anywhere near all of the work that is done. In any event, the certificate that came was for “Good Service” or something of the sort. I’m a big believer in certificates and such. When I was president of the local Boy Scout council, I used certificates, patches and the like liberally. All a certificate takes is a pack of REAL GOOD paper, the high-cotton content, heavy-weight kind in some sort of off color, a decent color printer, and a $7 frame from WalMart. (Giving a certificate without a frame says, Hey, thanks, but not enough to spend seven bucks.) This creates a “thing” in the physical world which a person can hold and look at and say, hey, somebody appreciates me. Naturally, it’s important that certificates be hand-signed by more than one person, to show that it is a consensus, not a mere unilateral solo gesture, and always signed in an ink color that shows it wasn’t copied. For motivation, “thank you”s cannot be overdone.

Businesses use tschotkes for a different purpose, usually to promote name recognition. That is particularly good for unusual services such as chimney sweeps.

While I have used and do use them, I must say that certificates don’t really impress me on the receiving end. (That’s not to say I don’t appreciate the Pro Bono Project’s gesture, it just isn’t something that punches any of my buttons.) I don’t have an “I Like Me Wall.” Many people do, and there’s not a thing in the world wrong with that, they show demonstrable achievements and events. I’m just not into that for deeply held personal reasons. I’ve no idea where my diplomas are (and don’t really care), have no idea where photos taken at “events” are (ditto) . . . well, you get the picture.

But last week, I did get “certificate” of a sort that I will keep and treasure. It will never see a frame or a wall or even anyone else’s eyes. It’s an email with pictures attached from a woman and child I represented in a pro bono case. At the end of the case, they escaped an unspeakable domestic situation with a man who later committed murder. They relocated. (Dang, I forget where they went - seems to me it’s somewhere between Key West, Florida, and Adak, Alaska.) Her email? THAT’S tschotke.


This is the first Sunday of Advent, the Christian celebration culminating in Christmas. Pastor Josh, not one for mindless adherence to the lectionary, is using parts of Handel’s Messiah as jumping off places for sermons for the four Sundays of Advent. Today, he used the first few verses of Isaiah Chapter 40, the familiar passage which begins “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill made low; the crooked shall be made straight and the rough places plain . . .” We as a nation have strong Judeo-Christian roots, and much of our literature and thought, including political thought, references such Scripture. Unbeknownst to Josh, I’m betting, is that our beloved Senator Robert C. Byrd (himself a noted Constitutional scholar and Biblical scholar) often recites Isaiah 40 when talking about public works, particularly as it applies to the construction of infrastructure in West Virginia. In many of these hills, construction of so simple a thing as a four lane highway is so scandalously expensive that those from areas of more forgiving terrain have difficulty picturing the obstacles.

And speaking of the Messiah, permit me to offer a mildly irreverent address for a video of the silent monks doing the Hallelujah Chorus. Why do I not insert a link,you ask? Because, I answer, I've attempted it several times and it's either put in the address or . . . well, I put in the address, let's leave it at that, just for now, OK?


Self-Righteous or Merely Dumb? You Decide

Recently, I noted the lack of character that posting anonymously displays. One of the (anonymous) blogs most blowsy about the little faux Fairmont Scandal of the Week recently added a phone feature that people could give the "writer" (term used loosely) information (1) only if that person gave the (still anonymous) writer his/her name and (2) with interesting consequences if the informant said anything the (still anonymous) writer didn't like. Oh, let me use Moron #35's own words:

"I will not answer any call when I don't know who is calling. However, you can always leave me messages with any information that you think may be of interest to this blog. If you wish for me to call you back, a number or e-mail must be left and will be kept confidential, unless you trash me or this blog."

A Good Judge

Last week, Judge Daniel McCarthy of Clarksburg died. He had been retired for several years. He presided in several cases as a Senior Status Judge and did a lot of mediations in hard cases, and always let the litigants be heard. He was a kind, decent and honorable person.

Pippa passes.


23 November 2009

Carefully Handling the 10-Foot Pole

“Ever Try Arguing With A Woman?”

No, no, no, don’t blame me, I'm not the one who said it. If noticing and appreciating gender differences is sexist, hey, I’m guilty and I’m glad. But subjectively at least, I’ve not strayed into any disrespectful country. Also, if I were to evaluate opposing counsethat way, I'd be getting my ass kicked regularly. No, the tag line of this post is the tag line on a billboard displayed all over this region advertising a lawyer who happens to be female. The lawyer involved is attractive according to conventional standards and is featured in a really large photo. I submit that subjective observation is relevant because the physical appearance is part of the overall impression that the billboard is supposed to present, part of the shtick.

There are a couple of problems with a hire-me-I’m-a-woman ad. (I’m not including bad grammar. There is only so much room on a billboard and so much time for someone driving by to absorb the message.) First, if it is directed at people who want the lawyer to “argue like a woman,” you are pitching to stupid people. They want a role-player who will dance a set-piece Kabuki and pull off some magic by being following a script that may not be the best course for the case. Second, women lawyers who “argue like a woman” rather than argue like a lawyer faile to use their own individual abilities to best represent their clients and give them good advice. Individual strengths determine successful practice and, indeed, what kinds of cases lawyers should and shouldn't do. One good friend is a woman lawyer who never argues; never raises her voice; she just diligently presses and when she finds the key weakness, administers the coup. Lawyers who follow some antique formula are easy pickin’s for their opponents. One can only hope that this particular lawyer is smarter at law than at advertising. (Indeed, her reputation is that of a workmanlike lawyer.) (No apology, that is a term in our language.)

Hmmm - I wonder if I should advertise something like, “You Need a Man’s Man to Handle Your Case.” Well, two problems there, too. My friends who know me would laugh and everyone else would sue me for false advertising. (Over coffee, we’ve come up with MUCH more inappropriate macho mottos and suggestions which propriety and a desire to sleep without firearms in my hands has prevented me from spreading forth here.)

Other lawyer ads are more subtle but nevertheless misleading, and lawyers are smart enough to mislead within the rules. Oh, some blast through the line: “Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight!” Others? There is the aw-shucks approach that fronts for a legal-assistant heavy paper mill that rarely tries cases. There are firms that suggest specialties without using the word. One really good firm in the past year led us to believe that they were the only firm in this part of the state set up to do complicated medical malpractice cases. Now, these guys are really good trial lawyers. However, there are maybe 3 to 6 firms around here that could do those cases, depending on how picky you are. On the other hand, lots and lots of people advertise for med mal with the (mistaken) belief that they can get a good case, make a modest strike without working too hard, and escape. That isn’t good law practice, nor even ethical. A couple of former military individual lawyers have touted those experiences in advertising. Those experiences show perseverence, but there have been some stunning exceptions to positive correlations of good lawyering.

Oh, defense firms and business firms advertise and market too, just in different ways. They are politically connected better, as a rule, and realize that silly things like rallies and email campaigns get politicos presence but not presents. They work the phones better and do personal interaction better. Oh, they also dress a hell of a lot better, or at least more conventionally. For instance, I cannot think of a single thing I own that is monogrammed. (I like it that way, too.)

Direct Social Isolation, Geographic and Intentional

I take inappropriate, feckless pride in detachment from popular culture. Some familiar icons (Britney, Miley, Brad, who knows who else) richly deserve MY disinterest. Whether they merit your interest is solely your business. And yet, in this part of Mother West Virginia, there is geographic disconnection, too. What prompts that is Doreen Lewis’s blog (link yonder) where she talks about hearing an in-person talk by Dr. Wayne Dyer. There are those here geographically who have traveled in the traditional sense far more than I (also speculatively, but I’m working on that) and of course many friends from more populous places have greater exposure to physical cultural events.

And so, what is the value of the “real world” encounters at a presentation, lecture or seminar over the transmitted or stored electronic equivalent, or the same information in written form. And, for those rare cynics, no, this is not an apologia for some pure Castallian model of life - it is a genuine question. Any takers?

Random Observations:

If the exclamation point did not exist, would it be possible to advertise used cars for sale?

The fact of global warming is scientifically established to overwhelming probability. The only way to get to certainty about the range of adverse predicted effects is in retrospect, at which time it most probably would be too late to remediate them. It's a lot easier to add heat to the system than it is to remove it.

8% of the people on Earth have an automobile.

Brethren in Scouting - Boy Scouts of America: A Centennial History, by Chuck Wills - available at Amazon - I like it. I'm reading Scouting for Boys by B-P, and the resemblance of his work with our experience is striking.

Pippa passes.


18 November 2009

Olympic Self-Righteous Team Trials; Only Schmucks Need Apply

When my prior blog began to stray from self-deprecating personal tales and droll social observations into the more concrete and more particularly the political realm, I would not and could not continue publishing those new things anonymously. There are two reasons. In order of importance (to me), they are:

1 - Only immoral & craven cowards publish things anonymously.

2 - Anonymous opinions are worth nothing because there is no way to assess the author’s motive to exaggerate, minimize or outright lie.

That’s what I thought then, and my opinion hasn’t changed.

[This does not reflect on life in the Shelf Community and the relative anonymity found there, because it is a closed village which does not reach out to any public. Such of us as do go public do so flying our own flags. There is also a good bit of off-the-net contact amongst the Villagers.]

A. Conan Doyle spoke through Sherlock Holmes about his total lack of interest in anything which was irrelevant to him, such as the Copernican model of the solar system (Sun in the middle). I don’t fully support that logic, because the human mind is capable of making astounding direct connections and even analogous connections.

Although my interest in popular culture is miniscule, my attention to national, state and local political, legal and government affairs is intense, and so I cruise daily lots of state and national newspapers or their websites. One of these is the Charleston Gazette, the morning paper in the state capital. The primary attraction (to me) of the Gazette is that it has published a couple of my op-eds in the past two years. In today’s issue, there was a story about a member of the Fairmont State University Board of Governors getting into an argument with an assistant football coach over how much playing time his son got in last weekend’s game. Descriptions of this sort of thing are subject to the whim of the writer. One person’s “scream” is another’s “yell” is anothers “he talked loudly.” So we have no way to know any of the nuances of what actually happened. What we do know is that there was no physical contact, no physical threats and no violent verbal threats. The Gazette says it’s a big deal, but when you distill the mash, you just get that the guy was pissed off. But: That BOG member, Andy Kniceley, is the publisher of the Times-West Virginian, the daily paper in Fairmont.

Let me note at the outset that my relations with the Fourth Estate are uneven. I have never commented on a case prior to a verdict and said very little after a verdict. Andy and I have never become buds, and I have yet to talk with him about this. But what first struck me was that this was a “prominent person under the microscope thing,” and that it’s also payback time from whoever dislikes Andy. People who run newspapers collect more enemies than bikers with open helmets collect bugs in their teeth. Remember, though, that public perception and character aren’t always in tune. I’ve known genuinely beloved public people who were jerks; and genuinely despised public people who were kind and decent. Public perception simply doesn’t have a lot to do with actual character, Ronald Reagan excepted. Payback is personal, not just.

And then as I read the Gazette article, I got to the following paragraph:

“Separate reports by two Fairmont police officers were anonymously sent to the Gazette on Tuesday.”

The person or persons who sent documents anonymously have neither nerve nor honor. The reporter went on to say that s/he had been unable to contact Kniceley or other BOG members. (Ever notice how the press implies that their "targets" are hiding if they don't instantly answer the phone?) The Fairmont Police said that the “incident” is “under investigation,” and FSU issued a mealy-mouthed “We understand this is under investigation” statement. (Nice going, PR Department of my alma mater. Hint: It takes a touch of courage, but “This is silly” is an acceptable response when the inquiry is, well, silly. Or how about, "We have a genuine drug problem in Fairmont and you're asking about THIS shit?") The reporter laughing up his/her sleeve as s/he wrote the story as well as the editor who ran it (and prominently, at that) are cursed with an overabundance of self-rightousness. I carry a small rock in my pocket, and call it “the first stone,” for obvious reasons. They’ve already chucked theirs.

Barney Fife could “investigate” this in 30 minutes. (The officers who have been assigned this pathetic “case” are professionals and nice guys who are caught in the middle - if it were Joe Lunchbucket, nobody would care when they kissed off the case; with someone prominent, they will be accused of favortism if they treat the guy like a normal person.) What should an “investigation” conclude? Well, if every allegation is Gospel truth, but the incident had occurred at the Tinkerbell Ballerina Academy with the Junior Assistant Dance Intern (“You just let her do three ******* pirouettes!?!?!?), we would be and should be concerned. But consider the context. The person Andy was addressing was the offensive line coach of a college football team. I doubt he had an attack of the vapors and fainted. And so, after our 30 minute “investigation,” our response should be “Yo, dude: Chill.” Case closed.

Anything else is idiocy which distracts us from important things going on in Fairmont and in Mother West Virginia.

By the way, I’ll give you odds that the end of the story is that the differences will be settled the way "manly men" do it in West Virginia - They’ll sit down together for a pepperoni roll, call each other assholes half-heartedly and decide that they’re each OK guys after all.

Addenda - 19 November 2009

1 - The Times-West Virginian published an apology by Andy Kniceley today. It showed a lot of class.

2 - Almost without exception, comments shown as "anonymous" here are signed, light & humorous, and/or from Shelf Villagers with their writing style tracks knowingly all over them. However, the irony of Comment #2 below was so delicious that I published it anyway.

3 - In the past 2 days, I've toured the anonymous blogosphere more than ever. Some of the writing is wretched and some pretty good. Unfortunately, none of it carries a shred of credibility, owing to the absence of guts by the authors. This is hardly in the spirit of Thomas Paine or Patrick Henry. They knew damn well that they were putting a lot on the line by honesty in writing.

4 - I have deleted the link to the Community.

Pippa passes.


06 November 2009

Announcement; Personal Puffery; Temporarily Deflated Observations

Public Presentation, George Washington Gavel

The Gavel that George Washington used in the ceremony for the laying of the cornerstone for the U.S. Capitol will be presented to the public on Tuesday, 17 November 2009, at 3:00 PM, in the Division I Courtroom, Marion County Courthouse (Third Floor), Fairmont, West Virginia.

The Courthouse is a “Beaux Arts” structure (photo here somewhere) which dates to 1900, and the Courtroom has been restored to near-original condition. It’s the nicest courtroom in West Virginia and rivals anything you’ve seen on TV, including the Courtroom in To Kill a Mockingbird. Judge Fred Fox is always happy to show it off to the public.

The gavel is in the care of Potomac Lodge #5, AF&AM, of the District of Columbia. The presentation in Fairmont is being conducted by Fairmont Lodge #9. There are only two occasions that any Masonic work is conducted publicly, portions of cornerstone placements and funerals. The Capitol ceremony was a Masonic one, and at the time President Washington was Grand Master of the American lodges.

A tiled lodge for Masons will be held at the Temple on Speedway that evening, dinner at 6, lodge at 7.

Publication Drivel?

The State Journal, the business newspaper for West Virginia, is wrapping up four weekly columns I’ve written on the process of producing a national health care plan. They are not available on the paper’s website, but are similar to my post of 11 September 2009 entitled "My President Can Beat Up Your President: Choosing A Rational Path to Health Care.”

Wednesday's (4 November 2009) Charleston Gazette published an op-ed by me on the PEIA (West Virginia Public Employee Insurance Agency) consideration of a premium surcharge for obese people. http://www.wvgazette.com/Opinion/OpEdCommentaries/200911040954 I am informed that the reaction in state government & gadfly circles is about even - half "right on," half "hang the bastard." I can live with either one.

I have a new t-shirt: "If you can read this, you're in range."

The War on Drugs

Large drug dealers no longer count currency, as that is too inefficient. Now, they WEIGH money. $1 Million in 100's weighs 37.4 pounds.


One of the current books I’m (re)reading is Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse. Recently, I reread Siddhartha. I wonder - Would either book sell if written today? Opinions? Rosary? Jim?

Pippa passes.