OFFICE FOLLIES

I’ve worked in offices my entire adult life. In fact, I’ve never had a real job outside an office. In particular, I’ve worked in law offices. This is, of course, because I’m a lawyer. Even before I became a lawyer, I worked in law offices, first as an errand runner and then as a law clerk. All offices have cultures, rules and oddities all their own. I’ve thought about writing a book and maybe I will but not now. A book requires names and details, and I’m sure most of the folks with whom I worked would prefer anonymity. Plus, I like a lot of them, and I don’t want to be sued. As far as the ones I don’t like, why give them unwarranted fame? If I ever do write a book, here are some things I’ll discuss:

RULES ARE RULES

The bigger the office, the more numerous the rules. I had it explained to me that “We have these rules because they are important. We give them a lot of thought. We don’t treat them lightly.” Okay.

When I first started working, everyone wore coats and ties. Even women. Their ties were these odd, floppy neck pieces that looked like poorly tied ascots or cravats. Suits were the order of the day, too. Sport coats were a little too reckless. These were the rules. Over the years, times changed and ties became optional in most offices. My office was different. We didn’t have Casual Friday. Nevertheless, I stopped wearing a tie. This was a bad move. Why? Here’s another rule: Don’t stand out. If you stand out, people play attention to you. The more attention, the more likely they are to find something you’re doing wrong. At least that’s what happened with me.

Office rules are rarely written down. This creates flexibility in enforcement. For example, during a performance evaluation, one of my superiors said “You have a reputation for going to lunch.” This was bad, so I stopped. After that, I ate at my desk or in the office kitchen/lunch room. This made me look busy and too important to be bothered with socializing.

At my next evaluation, I was told that I needed to socialize more. Specifically, I was told to get out in the town during lunch and “be seen.” Being seen was important. It might have even been a rule. So, one of my colleagues and I started taking walks at lunch. We were seen by lots of people every day. I then developed a reputation for walking at lunch. This was bad. And so on and so on….

When I first became an attorney, my employer gave us office etiquette advice. These weren’t rules as much as suggestions. Don’t wear any weird ties or flamboyant socks. No saucy lace hose for the ladies (or men, I guess). Don’t discuss client confidences in public. There was even advice on how to act in an elevator (move to the back when people enter, don’t smoke, no loud talking, etc.).

For the past ten years, I’ve worked in a small office. We don’t have rules, mostly because no one wants the job of enforcing them. We work in sort of organized chaos. I recently told one of my partners “One day I’m going to walk in on a Monday morning and say ‘Today is the day we all get our heads out of our asses!'” Of course, I won’t do that. First, that’s exactly where my head is most of the time. Second, that would put me in charge, and I don’t like rules any more than anyone else.

RETREAT, RETREAT!

Big law offices like to have retreats. A retreat is where the partners are forced to travel somewhere for a weekend to discuss the state of the law firm and future plans.You do things like make personal marketing plans, discuss branding and drinking excessively.

My old firm liked the French Lick Resort in French Lick, Indiana. If you’ve been to French Lick in recent years, I understand that it has experienced a bit of a Renaissance with casino gambling. When we went to French Lick, it was primarily known as the home of Larry Bird and Pluto Water. I assume you know Larry Bird. Pluto Water was a popular laxative about 100 years ago before the benefits of fiber were well-known. One of my partners described the resort as a “really elegant Motel 6.” Another said it was “the Place to Be…in 1925.”

frenchlick

My favorite place in French Lick back in the ’90’s.

We’d spend the weekend in French Lick (or the “Lick,” as I called it), more or less intoxicated the whole time.Once, my room was so decrepit that the title floor in the bathroom came loose and stuck to my feet. It’s quite terrifying to wake up from a semi-blackout in a bed full of tile.

Once, we had our retreat at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville. This hotel is really nice, but it’s also a sprawling complex which combines Las Vegas sprawl with labyrinth-like architecture. You’d leave your room with no assurance you’d ever find it again. Despite the nicer locale, I still lost the will to live within a few hours of my arrival.

Your author at a law firm retreat in 1999. The sticker on my shirt says "I'M SO HAPPY!" I wasn't really.

Your author at a law firm retreat in 1999. The sticker on my shirt says “I’M SO HAPPY!” I wasn’t really.

I finally concluded that the purpose of our retreats was twofold: (1) Other firms did it, so it had to be a good idea; and (2) Much like when your mother forced to play with a kid you hated, there was a belief that bringing everyone together would foster collegiality rather than contempt. I usually left with new names to add the list of folks I didn’t care much for.

THE NAME GAME

It’s fun to nickname people in an office but only if you never tell them about the names. Here are some of my favorites (I won’t include the ones that aren’t fit for a PG-13 crowd) :

The Egg Man (He tried to buy human eggs in the office)

Chief Speakforyourself (Someone once called our office The Island of Misfit Toys to which he responded “Speak for yourself!” (which, by the way, is what the speaker was doing)

45 (See below)

The Marm (looked like a school marm)

Queen Victoria (Hey, he looked like her)

The Generalissimo (This is a long story. It would be an entire blog post)

Porter Waggoner (The guy came to work with a fancy pompadour)

Catdog (Two lawyers so inextricably linked that we could not tell where one ended and the other began)

45 was typical of how you could get a nickname. We were at our retreat in Nashville, and a group of us younger partners were sitting in the floor outside the hospitality suite bemoaning our status. One of our senior partners staggered out of the suite and asked “You boys seen 45?” “Huh?” one of us asked. He said “Room 45? You seen 45?”

Okay, the Opryland Hotel has 3,000 or so rooms. There could be 200 room numbers including the number 45. Yet, he was insistent. “45? Room 45? Where is it?” Finally, someone said “Yeah, upstairs.” That seemed to satisfy him. From then on, he was 45.

Another favorite involved a guy named Dale Josey. I use his name here for two reasons. One, I have nothing bad to say about him. In fact, I didn’t even know him. He worked in our firm’s marketing department doing something important, I’m sure. Second, the story requires use of his name. Why? Because we called him the Outlaw Josey Dale. That still brings a smile to my face.

A TIME TO PRAY

I have nothing against prayer. In fact, I do it myself. I worked in an office where it was quite popular, so popular that there was a morning prayer group. They’d pray about things. Usually, someone in the office was ill, so that would be a good subject. All in all, it was rather benign. Oh sure, there was the time that someone distributed literature which conclusively proved that the Pope was the beast of Revelation. That aside, the group seemed like a fairly affable bunch.

One of our senior partners like to pray, too. I once visited his office to discuss a personal matter with him. Before I finished, he reached for dog-eared Bible which was copiously marked with Post-it notes. It was kind of what I imagine Mark David Chapman’s copy of The Catcher in the Rye looking like. He started flipping through and said: “Can I pray for you?” What am I supposed to say? “Sure” was all I could muster. So, he did. Right there. I wasn’t sure of the protocol, so I just closed my eyes and said my own silent prayer–one in which I beseeched God to stop the other praying. It probably says more about me than it does him, but the whole scene made me uncomfortable. When it was over, I felt like I had been stripped naked.

I found out that I wasn’t alone. Others had been prayed over, too. It wasn’t like he thought I was especially evil or anything.

SCANDALOUS BEHAVIOR

At some point, all office workers are exposed to scandal, sometimes even their own. Discretion prevents me from offering many details here. Let’s just say that if you suspect two (or more) co-workers of engaging in inappropriate sexual congress, you are correct. In fact, by the time you suspect this behavior, it will have been going on for quite a while, maybe even years. Your suspects are almost always married but never to each other, of course. Just accept their shenanigans and move on. Judge if you must, but understand there are others in the office doing the same thing, and you don’t even know about them. Don’t you feel left out?

Sometimes, things get stolen in the office. The first thing you do is blame the cleaning people. After all, they are a sketchy group with free rein in the office. Only God knows what they do when you’re not working. If you don’t want them stealing from you, then stay at work, you lazy bastard.

Here’s the truth: The thieves are almost invariably someone who works in the office. We had a lady who had been arrested a dozen times for various forms of theft. We didn’t do background checks in those days. She came in and stole from us, too. Quit blaming the cleaning people.

Later, a purse was stolen in the middle of a work day. First, we blamed the cleaning crew. Next, we changed the security codes for the office. It never dawned on anyone that it almost certainly was someone working in the office, since we didn’t really have  problem with drifters roaming the halls. Oh, well, we all felt safer knowing that it was now slightly more difficult for the thief to enter the office.

NO REST FOR THE WICKED

I could write a whole book about office restrooms, maybe not a book but at least a lengthy pamphlet. Even in an office of well-dressed, educated people, the sights, smells and sounds of a public restroom rival your worst nightmares of any poorly maintained highway rest area. I’ll spare most, but not all, of those details. For example, there was the man who steadfastly refused to flush the toilet after making a major transaction. I assumed it was a statement of some kind, a protest against injustice. “This will teach those sons of bitches,” I imagined him fuming as he left the stall. His fiber-rich diet was no mere healthy choice. It was a weapon used to battle The Man.

One lawyer couldn’t hit the urinal. These were the big, trough-like urinals that stick about a foot out from the wall. You could sit on the damn things. Still, he missed it. He would zip up and nonchalantly walk away, unconcernedly shuffling through a pool of urine. The worst was to be beside him at the other urinal. I feared being soaked from the knees down. Fortunately, the privacy divider took most of the offending spray. Most of it.

The strangest–and certainly most disturbing–event concerned what became known as “The Device.” One morning I sauntered into the handicapped stall as I did on occasion. I normally eschew such activity at work, but nature has her own ways. When I entered, I saw it–a white plastic bag emblazoned with the name of local medical clinic. I should have run screaming, but curiosity got the best of me. I just had to look. Using my right foot, I pulled open the top of the bag and saw The Device. It was an orange cylindrical container with a tapered spout on the side. Below is my crude rendering of this dubious medical aid:

dEVIE

The top was sealed and it was packed in ice. Yes, ice. Whatever it contained required ice. What the hell was it and what was in it? I consulted my closest friend in the office, but I wasn’t able to show him because he was out of the office. (For you young people: This was in the ancient days when we didn’t carry cameras or even phones with us at all times). I didn’t dare ask anyone else. What if it belonged the person I asked? I would then have to hear about his hideous health condition which required this contraption. I could only conclude that it was some kind of sampling device to take specimens of God knows what. Based upon my description, my colleague speculated that is what some kind of crude colonic irrigation aid. If you know what this is, let me know. On second thought, don’t. Perhaps it’s best left a mystery.

I HAVE MET THE ENEMY

Offices are full of many different types of people, but they all have one thing in common–each thinks that he or she is the only “normal” person in the office. That’s always been true with me. Everyone else is a weirdo or social misfit of some sort. This is especially true in the law office. Let’s be honest–most lawyers were not “cool” when they were young. One of my partners once confided in me that she had been “kind of a nerd” when she was young. Really?

The sad truth is that each office has a culture, and you contribute to it. Maybe you’re like me and question everything. If so, you’re one of the reasons that they have rules. You have to be kept in line. Maybe you like to make rules. If so, there’s a place for you at the top, assuming you don’t get stabbed in the back on your way up the ladder.

I’ll post other office musings as time goes on. There’s really a lot of material here. Maybe a book is the way to go after all.

©www.thetrivialtroll.com 2015

A Lawyer’s Guide to Turning Down Work

I’m a lawyer.  I really am.  I have been for 26 plus years.  I’ve always been able to attract clients and must have done a competent job for most of them since I’ve had a lot of repeat business.  This doesn’t make me an expert on business development, as we call it.  Honestly, I’m not sure how best to go about that.  Moreover, the legal world is chock full of advice on building your practice, marketing and generating new business.  It’s doubtful that I have much to add to that vast sea of information, or misinformation, as the case may be.

I once worked in a law firm that was concerned to the point of obsession about generating new business.  “Origination” was the term they used.  If one “originated” enough business, he or she became a “rainmaker,” the most valuable of all lawyers, regardless of legal acumen or lack thereof.  The rules regarding origination credit were Byzantine and ever-changing.  For example, you might think you deserved credit for a new client, only to find out that aged partner had represented an employee of the company on a DUI many years ago.  Thus, he was entitled to the credit.  After all, he had planted the seed decades ago.  As one of my partners once noted:  “The Origination rules aren’t written down.  That’s understandable since they change every day.”

Although I have created my share of personal marketing plans, I claim no expertise.  I’ve thought both outside and inside the box.  I’ve been proactive.  I’ve networked.  I’ve schmoozed and small-talked.  I’ve even found time to practice quite a bit of law.  None of this sets me apart from other lawyers.

The one area where I believe I have something to contribute is in turning down business or knowing when existing business is turning sour.  For a long time, I wasn’t good at this, much to my chagrin.  Now, though, I know the red flags that warn me to stay far away from a potential client or to at least understand my situation.  I’ll share a few of those with you.

1. PRIDE GOETH BEFORE A FALL

At least that’s what it says somewhere in the Bible. It doesn’t really apply here, but I like saying it. Any the who, it goes without saying that we don’t want to represent folks who will refuse to pay us.  Now, this is different from a client who suddenly can’t pay.  I’ve represent several clients–individuals and companies–who sunk into dire finances during my representation of them.  This is a professional risk.  It’s happened to some of my favorite clients.

The ones I’m talking about are the ones who won’t pay.  Here’s a bad sign:  You are the third lawyer they’ve hired on a particular matter.  This is a person who doesn’t play well with others.  Just as important, this person has had bad relationships with other lawyers.  Why?  It probably has something to do with money.  Ask this potential client if he owes the other lawyers money.  If the answer is “yes,” run!  A client that will stiff one lawyer will do it to you.  At least ask for an upfront deposit against your fees.  If they aren’t willing to invest in their case, you shouldn’t either.

Related to this is the client who doesn’t want to discuss your bills.  Oh, he or she paid you regularly for a while, then slowed a bit and finally stopped paying.  You ask about it and are told that the client will be caught up soon.  Don’t worry.  When you hear that, worry. A lot.

Lawyers are an odd breed.  We don’t like to push our clients about bills.  Perhaps we are embarrassed by the amounts we bill.  Maybe it’s just an uncomfortable topic.  Regardless, when you don’t confront, it gets worse.  It’s Business 101 that the older a bill gets, the less likely it is to ever get paid.

The question, of course, is: When is enough enough?  There’s no way to state of rule of thumb here.  Large law firms are able to carry large receivables for a long time.  Small firms like mine can’t.  Here is an exchange which should end your representation immediately (I’ve had some variation of this multiple times):

Lawyer:  Carl, we need to talk about your bills.  We haven’t been paid in six months, and we need to get this caught up.

Client:  I know.  I know.  We have cash flow problems, but we’re working on it.  I don’t know when we’ll be able to get caught up, but we’re good for it.

Lawyer:  I appreciate that, but we can’t commit substantial time and expense without some assurance of getting paid. 

Client:  What do you mean?  Are just going to quit on me?

Lawyer:  I don’t want to do that, but I’ll have to if we can’t get paid.

Client:  You’ve insulted me.  If you don’t want to work on the case, that’s fine…..

See what we have here?  You–a business person–have addressed the most basic need of your business–income.  Your client is insulted by the prospect of having to pay you.  You must run from this client with all haste.  If you don’t, don’t expect to ever get paid again.

2. DON’T REPRESENT CATS

Of course, it’s well-known that there are no cat herds.  Cats don’t do that.  They just scatter about.  Some of your clients are like that.  They aren’t dogs.  They don’t have a leader.  They are cats, scurrying about with no one in charge.  These are not good clients.

The Cat Client comes in various forms–corporations, families, virtually any collective of people.  No one is in charge.  The point person, your “client contact,” as we call it, seems to be the boss until real decisions have to be made.  Then, no one is in charge.  In a corporation, you may hear from the President, the CFO, the in-house attorney or the janitor.  They all have differing views on the goals to be achieved.  If you need a question answered quickly, good luck.

I’ve represented several churches in my career.  Each was a fine organization headed by fine people, but no one was in charge.  The minister works for the church at the pleasure of the Elders or whatever group is supposed to be in charge.  That group has no leader.  They make decisions as a collective.  Getting direction is almost impossible.  You’ll end up frustrated, and so will they.

Families are even more difficult.  Most families are like mine and have no structure whatsoever.  No one is in charge, and they like it like that.

Here’s what you do.  At the first sign of cat-like behavior, set some ground rules.   A contact person is a good start.  Get a list of folks who need to be updated on your case.  You might have to paper or email them into submission, but it’s worth it.  Better to keep too many in the loop than not enough.

3. IT’S ABOUT THE MONEY

This isn’t about the money. It’s the principle.” These words send a chill up the spine of all experienced attorneys. It is, after all, about the money–at least most of the time.  The sooner your client comes to that realization, the better off you both will be.

Unless it’s a criminal case or, possibly, a divorce, it’s all about the money. If you sue someone, you want money. If you’ve been sued, you don’t want to pay money. In fact, you may not even want to pay your own lawyer.

Let’s say your client is in a $500 dispute. A good lawyer (or even a bad one who wants to get paid) explains that the client will pay the lawyer far more than $500. If the client responds that he or she would rather pay the lawyer, you must pause, tamp down your greed and repeat your cautionary warning. Slowly and clearly.

If your client persists, go forward but be realistic. At some point, your client will realize that it is, in fact, about the money after all.  When they owe you more than they do the adversary or more than they can possibly recover, they’ll know it’s about the money.  At that point, you may well be the adversary.

4. THEY DON’T REALLY WANT A LAWYER

Given the general public’s disdain for the legal profession, it isn’t surprising that a lot of people–maybe most–don’t want to hire a lawyer.  This is especially true of trial lawyers.  There is a subtle but important difference between needing one and wanting one.

Good clients want to hire you.  They want your advice and expertise.  Some folks–thankfully a small percentage–hire you only because they must.  They do not recognize you as having any specialized knowledge or skill.  Indeed, these clients are prevented from doing your job only because of their dearth of education and lack of professional credentials.  Nevertheless, they know how to do your job better than you do.

They’ll plot strategy for you.  They know the best witnesses.  They even know the questions you should ask during depositions and trials.  During trial, they will hand you helpful notes such as “Ask him if he’s lying!” They will disagree with you about the law.  You will calmly explain a basic concept such as the abolition of Debtor’s Prison, and they will contend that it is unfair.  You will explain that a certain position is not legally sound, and your client will disagree based upon nothing more than his or her idea of what the law should be.

This client will not be pleased with your work.  Monday Morning Quarterbacks rarely are.  If you are prepared for this, by all means go forth.  Such clients are best represented once.  The good news is that their displeasure with you likely means that they will move on to new lawyer anyway (See Item No. 1 above).

I suppose other professions deal with similar issues.  Perhaps cancer patients demand that their oncologists provide certain medications or ask to assist in surgery.  In that case, I’m sure the doctor will continue to prescribe what is best.  Lawyers must do the same.  Keep advising even if your advice is ignored.  Besides, isn’t it just a wee bit satisfying to get to say “I told you so!”?

5. BE A CRIMINAL LAWYER, NOT A LAWYER CRIMINAL

Criminals are entitled to lawyers just like everyone else.  That’s one of the great things about America.  Even if you are guilty, the government still has to prove its case against you.

Where a lawyer gets off base is when he or she becomes the criminal.  Hey, if your client breaks the law, it’s your job to help.  By that, I mean help defend your client, not help your client break the law.  It’s real simple:  If your client is doing something illegal, strongly advise against it, and don’t participate in it.

It’s bad when your client goes to prison.  It’s worse when you go, too.

6.  YOU WANT A WHAT?

Sometimes, people aren’t looking for a lawyer.  They want a “bulldog” or “pit bull.”  Someone once told me that he was looking for “Someone who will get down in the gutter and fight to the death.  Win at all costs!”  Beware of folks like this.  Why?

First, if your self-image is that of an animal or you imagine yourself wallowing in the gutter, you may need therapy.  Second, this type of talk is often code for:  “I want an unethical and, if necessary, dishonest lawyer.”  Third, they want you to engage in all manner of harassing shenanigans that will likely make their fees grow exponentially.  Then, you run into Item Nos. 1 and 3 above.

The best lawyers I’ve known are polite and professional. They zealously represent their client like human beings, not animals.  They don’t harangue their opponents or needlessly fight about every detail.

If you need a lawyer, I’m your man.  If you need a dog, go to the Humane Society.

7.  DEVELOP A NUT ALLERGY

I can’t emphasize this enough.  It is, after all, the most important point of all.  Nuts need and want lawyers just like regular people.  In fact, many nuts require legal representation far more than normal people.  This is because they are frequently embroiled in controversies in which only nutty people are involved.  Identifying nuts, however, is most difficult.

Here’s one sign:  There’s a conspiracy.  A large group of people (often the Government) have conspired against your client.  These conspiracies can involve the judiciary and all other levels of government.  Remember:  If there really is a conspiracy–which does happen sometimes, it will usually be pretty easy to crack.  If it is hidden under layers of impenetrable silence, consider this very real possibility:  It isn’t true.

Another sign:  Vast amounts of paper.  I have had cases involving hundreds of thousands of documents.  Believe it or not, that’s not uncommon.  What is uncommon is a client who presents you with piles of irrelevant paper.  Often, these papers are carried around in their pockets or cars.  You don’t know what they mean.  Neither does your client. But they are important.

A final sign:  The case no one will take.  This is a potential client who describes to you an impossibly lucrative case which no lawyer will take.  These cases involve millions of dollars.  There’s usually a conspiracy and a mountain of irrelevant paperwork associated with the case.  Here are few real life examples that I’ve either heard about or experienced myself:

  • The DeGroot Patents:  These are a series of 19th Century land patents from the Commonwealth of Kentucky under which someone claims vast mineral resources.  You are likely to find that they are junior patents, inferior to the entire rest of the world’s claims.
  • Forced Homosexuality:  This was a guy who sued Eastern Airlines (and many others) for being involved in a nationwide conspiracy to force him into homosexuality.
  • Nigerians:  These folks really need lawyers, usually to help transfer funds stolen from some government enterprise.  If you fall for this one, you deserve it.

Often, you won’t know your client is a nut until deep into the representation.  Be patient.  They will rarely see things your way.  Remember that if they ever come back around.

I guess you noticed that I didn’t really say you should turn down all of this type of work.  Times are tough in the legal profession, and none of us are as choosy as we’d like to be.  That said, if you do turn down this type of work, you won’t be sorry.  After all, sometimes, it really is the principle of the thing.

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2013

Bad Interviews: A Guide For Aspiring Lawyers

For many years, I worked at a large law firm in Kentucky.  For 10 years, I was on the hiring committee, which was known by the much haughtier “Professional Personnel Committee.”  It was a thankless position which drew criticism from people who wanted to hire their relatives and children of their friends.  I don’t know how many people I interviewed, but it has to be several hundred.

Most of the folks I interviewed were law students, some looking for summer work and others for full-time employment.  I saw a little bit of everything over those years.  I learned that you can’t really learn much about someone in a twenty or thirty minute interview.  We hired people who seemed perfectly okay, only to find out they were social misfits or wholly unpleasant people.  Fortunately, many such people had risen to important positions in our firm over the years, so there was always a place for them.

The truth is that it’s hard to wow people during an interview.  This is especially true if that person is interviewing numerous people on the same day.  Hopefully, your resume’ is impressive and you have at least rudimentary social skills.  After that, it’s a crap shoot.

While wowing the interviewer may be difficult, repulsing the your prospective employer is not.  That’s what this post is about.  Below, I offer you several basic ways to ensure that your interview goes well–or not.  One caveat:  This is just from my perspective.  Some things that annoy me might be downright charming to someone else.  Hopefully, you can find some freak like that who is hiring.

DON’T DRESS LIKE AN IDIOT

This is directed primarily to men, because they are the ones who don’t know how to dress themselves.  Young men, in particular, struggle.  I don’t know why, but it’s true.

Dressing for a professional interview is pretty simple.  A nice suit, tie, shirt and shoes.  How can you go wrong?

Well, how about getting clothes that fit?  I interviewed a very nice and impressive young man whose shirt sleeves were too long.  They almost covered his hands.  It was probably his dad’s shirt.  We hired him anyway.  He worked for us all summer with his damn hands half-covered by his shirt.  By the way, he did a good job, but the shirts just wrecked it.

Years ago, silks ties weren’t that easy to find.  Now, you can buy them at Walmart.  Just get a silk tie.  Oh, and learn to tie it.  Maybe your dad can help you.  If not, give a vagrant a couple of bucks and see if he can help.  Just don’t screw it up.  Interviewers will never tell you this, but if the knot in your tie is a disaster, they won’t stop staring at it.  It’s like having a face tattoo.  Here’s a bad one:

ESPN football analyst Merril Hoge is well-known for his outrageous knots.

ESPN football analyst Merril Hoge is well-known for his outrageous knots.

Hoge is an excellent analyst, but I wouldn’t hire him.  By the way, I met him one time in an airport.  Nice fellow.  Fortunately, he wasn’t wearing a tie.

Ronald Reagan is best known as the patron saint of all things conservative.  I, on the other hand, admired his neckwear:

Reagan tied a hell of a knot.

President Reagan tied a hell of a knot.

It’s simple:  Reagan “Yes.”  Hoge “No.”

What about shoes?  Wingtips and cap toes never fail you.  Loafers can work, too, as long as they’re not too weird.  Fancy tassels and weird two-toned colors are off-putting.  It goes without saying that you should wear socks. Actually, it doesn’t go without saying.  I interviewed a guy who didn’t have on socks.  NEXT!

Here are some shoes that will do you in before the interview starts:

I don't know what you call these, but I don't like them.

I don’t know what you call these, but I don’t like them.

A guy wore these to an interview with me.  I couldn’t quit looking at them, thinking “What the hell is wrong with this guy?  You can’t wear those with a suit!”  Later, when our committee met to discuss the interviews, everyone LOVED this guy.  I just said, “Hey, did you see his shoes?  There’s a problem here.”  Oh, how they scoffed at me!  So, I was out-voted, and we hired him for the summer.  It was a disaster, of course.  The guy couldn’t follow rules and was just generally annoying.  The shoes told the story.

One final thought on clothes:  Just wear something normal.  If you have the urge to make a statement with your attire, resist it.  You may fancy bolo ties and cravats in your personal life.  Good for you, but I don’t want to see that.  Don’t be, as a colleague of mine once said, a “glitzy bastard.”

Here’s how I deal with this in my life.  My wife picks out my clothes.  Try that, except use your own wife or girlfriend.

DON’T ACT WEIRD

This is a tough one, because you may be weird.  If you’re in law school, the chances are pretty good that your are.  You have to tamp that down for your interview.

I interviewed a young man who had quite the impressive resume’.  He was an outstanding student with an impressive work history.  After we exchanged pleasantries, here is how the interview started:

HIM I was just in the bathroom and noticed that I have this big zit on my face.

He was correct.  He then explained that his face breaks out when he’s nervous.  I couldn’t focus on anything else.  I was checking his face to see if there would further eruptions.

Then, there was the guy who held his tie between his index and middle fingers and flipped it up and down when he talked.  Finally, he looked down at his tie and said:  “I keep doing that, don’t I?”

A young lady had to take a break during our interview for a snack.  It was okay with me, but it did make the interview drag a bit.  She answered my questions between handfuls of chips.

I could list a dozen more similar tales, but I won’t.  The bottom line is that you may have to hide your true self during the interview.  I used to tell interviewees:  “If you spend a lot of time wearing Spock ears and playing Dungeons & Dragons, just keep that to yourself.”

NO ONE LIKES A POMPOUS ASS

Although being a pompous ass may well go hand in hand with being a lawyer, most people don’t like pompous asses.  Here are just a few things NOT to say in your interview:

  • I’m a perfectionist. [Oh, good.  We all want some over-achieving jackass around us all day].
  • Your firm has a great reputation. [This means nothing to me.  My firm had a reputation at one point of being a miserable sweat shop.  We knew that.]
  • I’m interested in International Law. [Good for you.  Go find an International Law Firm].
  • I enjoy working hard.  [No one enjoys that.  If you do, I don’t want to be around you.]
  • I’m a self-starter [Really?  As opposed to a sloth who has to be kicked to get moving?]

The simple truth is that you aren’t that impressive.  Yes, a work ethic and baseline intelligence are necessary, but if you’ve made good grades you likely meet those requirements.  Remember:  Your goal is to come across as reasonably normal.  You can’t really impress a pompous ass like me anyway.

Oh, don’t carry a brief case.  That just makes me want to beat you over the head with it.

FACIAL HAIR

Again, this applies to men only (usually).  Take it easy on the odd facial hair.  Here is a photo of one of my sons:

My son's facial hair is a non-starter for an interview.

My son’s facial hair is a non-starter for an interview.

I love my son, but if I were interviewing for a new son, he wouldn’t get a call back.

The basic beard or mustache is fine.  Mutton chops are not.  The same goes for the classic Fu Manchu.  The soul patch is definitely out, too.

Here’s my advice:  Just shave before your interview.  That way, you take out any possibility of your taste in facial hair being a problem.  For women, it’s even more important.

GET A HAIRCUT, HIPPY!

Closely related to facial hair is head hair.  GROOM YOURSELF APPROPRIATELY.

Back in the 1990’s slicked back hair was all the rage for the aspiring young professional male.  Thank God that was short-lived or we’d be kowtowing to an army of Jerry Lewises now.  If you think you should be the one to bring back that look, think again. Then wash your hair.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is unkempt hair.  Hey, you might be a hipster or gadfly of some sort.  Your hair may be your calling card.  That’s your choice, of course, but  I won’t overlook it.  Check your hair in a mirror.  Is there a part in it?  If not, start comb it until a part develops.  That’s a good start.

It’s also good time to check out your hair care products:  gels, sprays and the like.  While I don’t like unruly hair, don’t go too far.  If your hair looks like it could deflect a hockey puck or is in danger dripping on your impressive resume’, back off a tad.

Hair color is important.  I’m not suggesting for a moment that you change your natural hair color, but, if you do, go with a natural color.  I don’t mean just any color found in nature, such as violet, orange or bright red.  I mean a color of human hair.  I grew up in a small town where women had an affinity for blonde hair–really blonde.  I know that it is easy go way over the line with it.  Like any healthy man, I appreciate a nice blonde look, but don’t over do it.  Ric Flair is not the look we want.

Ric Flair has nice, but the hair needs work.

Ric Flair has a nice suit, but the hair needs work.

If you do go blonde, steer clear of Stripper Curls:

This isn't the image you want to impress upon your prospective employer--or IS IT?

This isn’t the image you want to impress upon your prospective employer–or IS IT?

If this is all too overwhelming for you, just shave your head.  A word of caution to women:  That’s usually not a good look for you.  Use your judgment.

RANDOM ODDITIES

In closing, here are few more deal-killers, all based upon my real life experiences:

  • The only men who wear white dress shoes are pimps.  If you are interviewing for a pimping position, that’s fine.  Otherwise, it’s a no go.
  • Asking questions is fine.  Asking a hundred isn’t.  You’ll know you’ve overdone it when the interviewer says “SHUT THE HELL UP!”
  • Eye contact is good.  Staring isn’t.  I don’t need you to look into my soul.  I won’t hesitate to ask “What the [expletive deleted] are you looking at?”
  • Your controversial political or religious views are probably fascinating to some people.  I’m not one of them.
  • Pinky rings on men and dozens of bracelets on women:  These are distracting, and I don’t like them.
  • If you sweat profusely, just stop it for the interview.  It’s only decent.
  • Talking is a plus.  Mutes struggle to make an impression.
  • Zip up your pants.
  • And your skirt.
  • I have an Eastern Kentucky accent.  Unless you have one, too, don’t make mine a point of emphasis.

Good luck out there.  The good news is that most people don’t like doing interviews and barely pay attention anyway.  Of course, I’m not one of those people.  The better news is that I’ve retired from interviewing.  Aren’t you glad?

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2013

The Stuff Of Dreams

I’m a dreamer. Literally. I don’t mean dreams of success or other flights of fancy, either. I mean real dreams, the kind you have when you’re asleep. Being a tad slothful, I’ve never studied dreams or tried to analyze their deeper meaning. When I was in college, I knew a girl who analyzed dreams, but I never paid much attention.

If you’ve read this blog, you know that I am a recurring theme. My stories are about me. My opinions are mine, of course. I even believe that others are interested in my take on things. This post is slightly different. While the dreams are mine, I’m now interested in what others think. What do these dreams mean? With that in mind, I now share a number of my recurring dreams:

1. THE BAD DRIVER/CAR

In this dream, I am a passenger in a car with someone who can’t drive worth a damn. My most recent version had me as a passenger with Lyndsay Lohan driving. She was smoking marijuana and weaving in and out of traffic on a six-lane highway. She wouldn’t stay in the proper lanes, either, and was constantly dodging on-coming traffic. I was terrified and screaming at her to slow down. She didn’t. This dream ended as the always do with a terrific accident. I was unhurt, but rattled. Then, I woke up.

This is a typical variant of this one. Sometimes, the driver is out of control driving downhill. Often, the car runs off a cliff. There is always an accident at the end, and I’m unharmed. I wake up immediately.

Another variation is that I’m driving, but the car has mechanical problems. The most common problems are either I can’t get the car in gear and it rolls backwards or there are no brakes. I careen around the highway–again, terrified–until the inevitable accident ends the dream. Do I see myself as out of control? Do I believe others have my fate in their hands? Do I see myself as immortal?

Perhaps unrelated, I also dream often about not being able to get my car out of reverse. Is this some latent concern that I am not going forward in life? Does it portend future transmission problems?

2. SCHOOL DAYS

In this dream, I am in school again, usually college but sometimes high school. I am approaching finals and haven’t attended class. I’m completely lost. In a panic, I desperately try to determine my class schedule, but I can’t. I am going to fail all my classes. Oddly, the dream always ends before I actually take my finals, but failure is unavoidable. I’m frantic and depressed.

I’ve had some variation of this dream hundreds of times. Sometimes, I’m aimlessly wandering the hallways looking for my classroom. I never find it. I never have any books and don’t even know my class schedule.

What can this mean? Do I secretly regret that I wasn’t a more dedicated student? Do I want to relive my youth? Do I fear commitment? Could this in any way mean I am gay?

3. WORK ABUSE

I work in a small law firm with four other lawyers, and we get along famously. It sounds trite, but we are like family. In almost eight years together we’ve never had a serious disagreement about anything. We’ve been fairly successful and like coming to work. Why, then, do I frequently dream that I am mercilessly abused at work?

This dream revolves around one of my partners–a female who shall remain nameless–berating me over some minor issue. Most recently, I dreamed that our firm had purchased a new coffee maker that leaked. My partner poked my chest with her finger and screamed: “THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT BECAUSE YOU THINK YOU ARE AN EXPERT ON COFFEE!!” Nothing of this sort has ever happened in our office. Truthfully, I do have quite a bit of expertise on coffee, arguably more than anyone in my office; however, this has never been a source of contention among us.

In this dream, I’ll be yelled at and called names–maybe even told to leave the firm. It’s always very contentious–the exact opposite of my real life job. I always wake up before there is any resolution of the dispute.

For many years, I had a job that I did not enjoy–at least not often. Perhaps this is post-traumatic stress, and I’m reliving unhappy times in my dream life. Am I expressing some kind of hidden hate for my co-workers? Am I seeing into their souls that they secretly hate me? Do I fear women?

4. GUN PLAY

I’m being shot at. With guns. Real guns. It’s almost always a gun battle where I’m hunkered down exchanging gun fire with someone. One time, it was with Baseball Hall of Famer Willie Mays. The Say Hey Kid had me pinned down behind my car, and he was peppering it with bullets.

This dream has no context other than a gun fight. I never know how or why it starts. I’m just in the middle of it. Once, my wife was shooting at me (I’m pretty sure that was just a dream). Another time, it was my own mother. Regardless, they just shoot at me relentlessly.

This dream always ends with my being shot but not fatally. It’s usually in the arm. That wakes me up. Then, I know “it was all just a dream.”

What the hell is this one about? Do people want to see me dead? Why would Willie Mays try to drop me? Maybe they don’t want me dead. After all, they only shoot me in the arm. Then again, all that reckless gun fire has to be intended to do me great harm. Why? Do I harbor a belief deep in my psyche that I am a bad person worthy of being gunned down?

5. THE HOUSE

This may be the weirdest one. It’s about a house. It’s a large house. Sometimes, the house is yellow. Sometimes, it is red brick. There is an alley separating it from my yard. I’m in The House and can’t get out. People are in The House looking for me, and I’m hiding from them. I’m usually in the bathroom or a closet. I don’t know why they are looking for me, but I’m scared. I’m always alone in The House and trying to find a way out. The good news–I guess–is that they never find me. The bad news is that I never get out. At least, no one shoots at me.

This dream rattles me more than any of the others. I always wake up wide awake. There’s great relief when I realize I am in my own bed and not The House. To my knowledge, I’ve never seen a house that looks like The House. If I did, I’d probably freak out.

What is The House? Does it symbolize something in my subconscious? Do I feel trapped in my life, unable to escape? Am I a closet paranoid, fearing that others are out to get me? Am I concealing some secret shame that I fear other will discover much like I fear they will find me in The House?

So, they are–my five most common recurring dreams. I have other dreams, like the one where I’m eating something really crappy. Since my wife is not a great cook, I understand that one. For a brief time I look Ambien and had dreams that were so vivid they freaked me out, but that was only for about six months. These five are the windows to be psyche.

Freud believed that all dreams were manifestation of wish-fulfillment based upon “day residue” or events that happen during the day. I don’t know about that. If I’m wishing for this stuff, I’m more messed up than I thought. Some think they’re all about sex. If that’s the case, it’s just as well that I don’t understand them.

If you have any kind of psychology background or if you’ve been in therapy for a while, feel free to offer your interpretation. I don’t intend to seek professional help. I’d rather just open it up to amateur speculation. Bear in my, though, that if any of this means I’m dangerously unstable or psychotic, you might want to take the edge of your analysis.

Now that I’ve gotten this off my chest, I may sleep better, at least. Maybe I’ll even get out of that damn house and get to class on time. Of course, I’ll need to be careful about getting a ride. Hopefully, I won’t get shot before I get there. If I do, someone at work will yell at me. Whew.

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2013

My Flagging Patriotism

flag

I make no secret that I love being an American.  I’ve always been an American, and I’ve always loved my life, at least most of  the time.  I might also like being Swiss or a Liechtensteiner, but I’ll never know.  I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t like being a Somalian.

Because I love being an American, I suspect that makes me patriotic.  I certainly have pulled for us in all the wars.  But, when I hear really patriotic people talk, I think I’m a wild-eyed anarchist.  The flag–the American Flag–more than anything else makes feel like that.

Being a bit of a gadfly, I’m leery of blind loyalty to anyone or anything.  Any time people speak of patriotism, I  think of the famous quote that we’ll know fascism when it reaches American because it will be “wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.”  Some say that Sinclair Lewis said this.  It certainly sounds like something he would have said.

Nothing swells Americans with pride like our flag.  Old Glory.  The Stars and Stripes.  Unlike some countries whose flags have wild colors and sayings on them, it’s simply designed.  Fifty stars and thirteen stripes.  Red, white and blue.  We don’t have animals or people on our flag.  It’s not all busy and confusing.  I’ve always like the flag, but I don’t worship it.  I really liked the one the Air Force draped on my Dad’s casket.  My fellow Americans, however, are obsessed with the flag.

Prior to the American Civil War, the flag wasn’t so much a symbol of patriotism as it was a marker used to identify federal territories or possessions.  During the Civil War, it became a symbol of the union just as the Confederate flag was a symbol of rebellion.  Since then, the flag has taken on more significance.

Nowadays, the flag is venerated.  Rick Monday was a fairly good baseball player in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  He was a good outfielder, hit with some power and had good speed.  He’s known for two things.  One, he was the very first pick in Major League Baseball’s first amateur draft.  Second, he saved the flag.  During a game at Dodger Stadium in 1976, Monday was playing in the outfield for the Chicago Cubs.  Two “fans” ran on the field, threw down a flag and prepared to burn it.  Monday ran by and scooped it up with one hand just before it was lit.  He got a standing ovation.  Mention Rick Monday to a baseball fan of a certain age, and he or she will remember that moment.   

2006-04-24-rick-monday
Rick Monday’s greatest play.

We have songs about the flag.  “Stars and Stripes Forever” and “It’s a Grand Old Flag” are two of them.  My father was fond of march music, so I I’ve heard Stars and Stripes Forever many, many times.  It’s pretty catchy.

We like the flag so much that we have laws about it.  The Flag Acts of 1777, 1794 and 1818 tell us what the flag should look like.  We have a United States Flag Code which has rules about displaying and caring for the flag.  You can read it at 4 U.S.C. Section 1, et seq.  (I’m a lawyer, and that’s a citation to a statute).  Before you go scrambling to the United States Code to turn in your neighbor, there are no criminal penalties for breaking these rules.  Think of them as rules of etiquette for the flag.  Here are just a few of the rules:

  • Don’t dip the flag
  • Don’t display it upside down (except to show distress)
  • Don’t wad it up
  • Don’t make clothes out of it
  • Don’t draw pictures on it
  • Don’t walk on it
  • Don’t let it touch the ground
  • Burn it when it’s worn out
palin

This is okay, because Mrs. Palin’s bikini is not an actual flag. It’s not okay that she’s wearing a bikini, though.

flynt

First Amendment fanatic Larry Flynt. Wearing an actual flag as a diaper is not okay, but it’s not a crime.  Maybe it should be. 

These are a just a few of the highlights.  There are a bunch of rules.  Only an anal-retentive Boy Scout could keep track of all of them.  Just be glad there are no criminal penalties. By the way, I was a Boy Scout–maybe it was a Cub Scout–for a couple of weeks.  What did I learn?  How to fold the flag, of course.

The bottom line is that we don’t like people being disrespectful to the flag.  People in foreign countries like to burn the flag–our flag.  You can tell they think that infuriates us, and it does.  Some of these folks will hit it with shoes.  That’s definitely a no-no.

Although the flag is iconic, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution allows us to desecrate it.  Like Mr. Flynt, we can wear it as a diaper if we so choose; however, I don’t suggest that, because it will make you unpopular in many circles.

Remember, though, it’s not a crime.  We Kentuckians have made it a crime under state law, Kentucky Revised Statute Section 525.110.  That statute is unconstitutional, of course, but we don’t care.   It’s still a law, even if we can’t enforce it.  We’re well-known in Kentucky for passing laws that can’t be enforced and for periodically embarking on Quixotic battles to display the Ten Commandments.  It’s part of our culture.

Of course, Americans have a Pledge of Allegiance.  Man oh man, the Pledge of Allegiance gets people worked up.  We’re supposed to pledge allegiance to the flag, by God, or so the argument goes.  No one ever explains why we should do this, but we should.  Some–like your author and The United States Supreme Court–believe that Americans shouldn’t have to pledge allegiance to God, country, flags, politicians or anything else.  We’re Americans.  We have the right to be apathetic or downright hostile about everything.

I often see posts on social media lamenting that schools don’t recite the Pledge of Allegiance.  This isn’t true.  My children attended public schools where the Pledge was recited.  Now, the school can’t force you to recite it.  That’s okay, at least with me.

If you’re going to get all worked up about the Pledge of Allegiance, consider:

  • The original text of the Pledge:
    • I pledge allegiance to my flag and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.
  • It was written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, a Christian socialist.  That’s right, a socialist.
  • It was written as part of the 400 year celebration of Columbus’s arrival in America.
  • One of the purposes of it was to sell flags to schools, because there was a belief that patriotism was at a low point.
  • Bellamy wanted to include equality and fraternity for all, but he knew that schools wouldn’t support equal rights for women and African-Americans.
  • About 30 years later, “my flag” was replaced with “the flag of the United States of America.”  The thought was that immigrants needed to be clear about which flag they loved.
  • In 1954, the now familiar “under God” was added.  This was during the Cold War when godless Communism was all the rage.
  • A minister named George Docherty suggested to President Eisenhower that God be added to the pledge.  Reverend Docherty likened the Pledge to something “Moscovite children” might recite.
  • Legally, you can’t be forced to recite it.
  • Schools can recite the Pledge, but student participation is voluntary.  If you think schools are not allowed to recite the Pledge, you are wrong.
  • The vast majority of states require that time be set aside for recitation of the Pledge. So, if you think the country is going to hell because we don’t do it, again, you’re wrong.  Here in Kentucky, we have Kentucky Revised Statute Section 158.175 which sets aside time for it.
  • Groups like Socialists and Fascists love to have people pledge allegiance to the state.

This being America, we don’t force anyone–even children–to pledge allegiance to the flag.  Maybe you think we should, but such things as freedom of speech and of religion stand in the way.  It’s okay.  Those are good things, too.  Think about it like this:  If you’re one who thinks we should be forced to say the Pledge, imagine how you’d react if President Obama said that.  See?

We’re not the only country with a flag.  Other countries have flags, too.  All of them do, I guess, but we don’t care much for those.  Most of them are goofy looking with odd sayings and pictures on them.

andorra flag

Andorra has the typical weird flag combining a haughty crest with cows and odd foreign gibberish.

Some other flags just took no thought at all.  France, for example:

france

The French flag can be easily adapted in the event of surrender.

We want people to fight for the flag, too.  Personally, I wouldn’t do that, especially if I had time to think about it.  I’d probably let you have the flag if it were that important to you.  That’s not the same as fighting for one’s country, although I wouldn’t want to do that, either.

When we Americans get mad at foreign countries, we don’t take to the streets and burn their flags.  To us, that seems over the line.  Oh, we’ll invade your country, kill you by the thousands and overthrow your government, but we’ll be good to your flag.  That’s only decent.

All our states have flags.  Here is the flag of my state, Kentucky:

kyflag

It states the fairly obvious maxim of “United we stand.  Divided we fall.”  I suppose the cartoon on it symbolizes country and city folk coming together.  We also call ourselves a “commonwealth.”  No one knows what that means, but we’re just a plain old state like everyone else.  Kentucky has its own Pledge of Allegiance:

“I pledge allegiance to the Kentucky flag, and to the Sovereign State for which it stands, one Commonwealth, blessed with diversity, natural wealth, beauty, and grace from on High.

Notice that it doesn’t mention “God.”  I think people would be outraged about this if they knew we had our own pledge.  “On High” could be God, Jesus, Buddha or a bundle of sticks.

I’ve been told that this is Alabama’s flag:

alaflag

Weird, huh?  It’s kind of like they’ve just Xed themselves out.  Then again, it’s easy to draw.

State flags aren’t as controversial.  I’ve never heard anyone accused of desecrating one, and I’ve never seen angry foreign mobs burning one.  If someone did, we’d probably get mad, but it would quickly pass.

Everyone knows the famous photo of the flag being raised at Iwo Jima.  It wouldn’t have had the same impact if they had raised the Kentucky state flag by mistake.

Some of our states are fond of the Confederate flag, the Old Stars and Bars.  Only in America could you fly the flag of a rebellion that cost hundreds of thousands of lives and almost destroyed your country.  Of course, a lot of folks are offended by that.  That’s also very American.  Do what you want, but others have a right to get pissed off about it.

Whether you’re conservative or liberal, you might be thinking:  “Hey, does this nut have some kind of problem with flags?”  No.  I’ve never desecrated a flag (at least not on purpose).  I don’t advocate such things, either, but I probably don’t love the flag.  And I certainly don’t insist that you love it or pledge some kind of oath to it.  Just don’t wear it as a diaper, unless you really want to.

©thetrivaltroll.wordpress.com 2013

Gunning For Answers

The gun control debate rages again, this time in the harsh light of the Newtown, Connecticut school on December 14, 2012. This shooting is the latest in a troubling series of such acts dating back to the 1997 Heath High School shooting in Paducah, Kentucky.

We have the predictable responses from those who want strict gun control to those who want none. After a week of silence, the venerable National Rifle Association weighed in with its views. As might be expected, the NRA does not view this as a gun control issue. It is, rather, a question of defending the public against homicidal gun owners whose minds have been warped by violent video games and the desire for media attention. To those at the other end of the spectrum it’s all about the guns.

As a lawyer, I prided myself on my ability to digest large volumes of information and distill it into easily understood concepts. In this instance, I’ve opted for a shallow understanding of the issues and flippant set of suggestions. Each, however, is based upon very real suggestions offered by each camp. Understand that I am not making light of the violence which brings these issues to the front now. Rather, it is my analysis of taking these suggestions to their logical (sort of) conclusion.

BAN GUNS

Few people actually advocate banning all guns or even handguns, but a few people do. Others do so by implication pointing to countries such as Japan as a model for gun control. Let’s just dispense with this one. The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution prevents it. End of story.

BAN ASSAULT WEAPONS

If by “assault” we mean “shooting humans,” we have a problem: THEY’RE ALL ASSAULT WEAPONS! Okay, not all of them, but most of them. Handguns, in particular, are made for human game. I know that some folks hunt with handguns. Not many. Gaston Glock designed the popular line of Glock handguns for shooting people. They are an engineering marvel. Lightweight, easily assembled, simple to use and low maintenance. Law enforcement loves them–and for good reason–they are great guns, but they are intended for human targets. That’s the purpose of handguns. Try hunting with a snub nosed .38. Unless you are planning execution-style kills, it won’t be much use in the wild. Stick it in a human’s ribs, though, and it’s damn effective.

If you only own a gun for self-defense, it’s an assault weapon. You only intend to use it to kill another human. If you like target practice, maybe it’s not–unless you use the popular targets that look like–you guessed it!–humans. In that case, you’re practicing for human-shooting should you ever have the opportunity. “Assault” weapon makes as much sense as “stabbing” sword.

PRAY MORE

There is a small (I hope), but vocal, contingent who see murderous attacks at our schools as a result of the lack of prayer in school. They ignore the fact that the Heath High School shooting in Kentucky, which has the dubious distinction of starting all this slaughter, took place in a prayer group. What was God’s point with that one?

I’ve heard that we prayed in school when I was a kid. I don’t remember any organized prayer, but I prayed. I prayed for each day to end, to never go back, etc. As far as invoking God’s hand as part of our curriculum, maybe we did. I just don’t remember it. Clearly, it made a strong impression on me.

Let’s just leave God out of this one. He gets blamed for too much stuff anyway.

BAN SOME STUFF

This stuff includes items which technically aren’t guns. They are gun accessories. Large capacity magazines, types of ammo, body armor and other items are all on the table. This has some merit, but coming up with a comprehensive list is daunting. At the end of the day, there will be still be guns. Lots of them. By some counts, there are 270 million guns in American. That’s 9 for every 10 people. They can all be used for killing people and most are designed to do exactly that. Banning their accessories is like telling people they can’t eat with forks anymore. It may be inconvenient, but they’ll still eat.

VIOLENCE VS. VIOLENCE

This is the NRA’s position or, as NRA President Wayne LaPierre said: “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” This isn’t exactly true. A grenade, flamethrower, pack of pit bulls, truck and knife in the back are a number of other ways to stop a bad guy, too. Even another bad guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun. Of course, this only creates the problem of how to stop a really bad guy who can stop other bad guys.

Don’t count me among the folks who think the NRA is a cabal of evil thugs. In fact, I am a former NRA member. Former? I enjoyed reading Guns & Ammo Magazine, but I finally tired of the NRA’s lobbying efforts. Understand that this isn’t because I’m against gun ownership. I just thought they went too far on many occasions. That said, I know lots of fine folks who belong to the NRA.

Even the NRA’s staunchest allies know that the NRA’s position will always be more guns, not less. In other words, confront violence with violence. Some may consider this the same philosophy that seeks world peace through killing all one’s enemies. Nevertheless, it is a mistake to attempt to marginalize the NRA. It has a place at the table. In fact, its political power means that it may well own the table.

The NRA sees four causes of school shootings: 1. Lack of security at schools. 2. Violent video games 3. The media; and 4. Crazy people. The crazies are inspired by video games to seek fame through the media by attacking schools because the schools lack security. There is probably some validity to each of these points. The NRA hasn’t specified exactly what should be done but promises to enlist a vast cadre of law enforcement, military and concerned people to come up with something. We’ll see.

So, with all these ideas swirling about, what is the answer? I’m certainly not qualified to come up with a plan, but then again no one else is, either. With that in mind, here is my modest proposal:

REDISTRIBUTION

Nothing sends Americans scurrying to the local gun store like the word “redistribution.” They imagine hunkering down with their personal arsenals to fight off jackbooted government thugs. These thugs will be roaming house to house to take away our hard-earned stuff and giving it all to people on welfare. I’m a free market guy and would never suggest such socialism.

No, I’m talking about redistribution of our weapons. With 270 million guns floating around, there’s no excuse for people not being armed. The problem–as with wealth–isn’t that there isn’t enough of it. It’s a matter of disproportionate distribution. For example, my father owned 12 guns. That means that there were 10 or 11 people without guns. He was in the gun 1%.

Here’s what we do. Gather up all the guns and distribute them among the public. Make sure everyone has his or her own. Even better, just by my typing this, gun sales will increase, and there will be even more guns to hand out. What if we’re still short? We’ll invoke Obamacare and create a Gun Mandate. If you don’t go buy one, we’ll tax your ass to death.

Once we’re all armed, the playing field will be level. Someone pulls a gun, and it’s the OK Corral. Let’s throw lead. Every man, woman and child will pack iron. Child? If these kids can learn how to use an iPad, a pistol is snap. Plus, real guns will pull them away from the dangers of video games. This is a win-win-win.

TRACKING THE CRAZIES

The NRA suggest that a national database of the mentally ill is needed. No, it’s not because they want a more comprehensive mailing list. They want to keep track of dangerous people. Predictably, this has been met with hoots of derision. Some believe that violating numerous federal laws and constitutionally protected privacy rights is too high a price to pay to protect the Second Amendment. Of course, the NRA disagrees. Hell, they’d trample the Third Amendment and quarter soldiers in our homes if meant we could keep our guns. But, the database (of “Loony Log,” as I call it) could work:

  • According to the National Institutes of Health, there is a dizzying array of mental illnesses and an almost uncountable number of related medications. Here’s the deal: If you take one of these, you’re on the list.
  • We can use Obamacare to help us tag other dangerous mental defectives. If you have seen a psychiatrist, psychologist, clinical social worker, clergyman or school guidance counselor, you’re on the list.
  • ADD, ADHD, schizophrenia, depression, bi-polar disorder, borderline personality disorder, autism, moodiness, PMS, anxiety, angst and prickliness all qualify. You’re on the list.
  • If you’re over 65 years old, there’s a good chance you’re not firing on all cylinders. You’re on the list.
  • If you dress funny, look weird or are just odd, you’re on the list.
  • If you’re not on the list, this means you are in a tiny minority. Clearly, there is something bad wrong with you. You’re on the list.

Once we’ve compiled the list, a crack team of retired police officers, soldiers, militia men and security guards will constantly monitor the list to track your every move. You may ask: Will this affect my ability to acquire a gun? Are you insane in addition to your mental illness? There’s nothing in the Second Amendment stripping the rights of crazy people. Strap down, my nutty friend.

MORE IS BETTER

This is my own idea, and I’ll confess that it’s a bit radical. It is a long-held belief that an armed citizenry keeps the government in check. If they come after us, we’ll fight them off with our guns. The problem–and it’s a really big one–is that they control the military. Now, I know many folks are quite skilled with guns, but this is a question of firepower. No army on Earth can even seriously oppose our military. I’m confident that a disorganized band of the mentally ill randomly firing handguns will fare poorly.

Better weaponry will allow us to even the odds in a civil war. An added bonus will be curbing crime through superior firepower. Imagine the second thoughts which will be caused by the prospect of facing down not only a general public armed to the teeth with guns but also of a grenade or flamethrower being whipped out. If your neighbor builds an unsightly fence on your property line, a little napalm will take care of it. We’ll bring all this foolishness to an end through the threat of mutual destruction.

If a good guy with a gun will stop a bad guy with one, a good guy with a LAW rocket will stop 20 of them. Of course, bad guys might have the same weapons. But, remember–most of these freaks are loners. They won’t be as organized as we are. Think scorched Earth.

CONCLUSION

My little diatribe above is all tongue in cheek, of course, but it were printed as an op-ed piece, I am sure that many folks would agree with parts of it. Honestly, is it any crazier than some of the ideas being floated now? If there is a point to any of this it is that these simple answers can create as many problems as they solve.

What is the real answer? Complex problems often require complex answers. Americans like simple answers. Ban guns. Arm school teachers. Pray. These public gun attacks (or “sprees,” as the press says) continue to occur even as crime rates, including violent crime, decline. It is a political, social and even moral issue. Unfortunately, we live in a time when compromise in any of those areas seems impossible.

I own guns and grew up around them. They don’t scare me nor do they give me any particular comfort. I know people who have been shot, including two family members. I also know people who have shot people. Sadly, I know far too many people who have taken their own lives with guns. I know they can easily and legally get into the hands of people who will wreak havoc with them. THAT is serious issue which should be addressed with all the urgency of the response to 9/11. We’re a bright people. We can explore answers that don’t require stripping rights or just admitting defeat.

The NRA, the anti-gun lobby, politicians and the public have common ground here. No one wants to read about mass killings at schools, malls, churches or anywhere else. Addressing that concern would seem to be in everyone’s interest.

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2012

The All-Purpose Facebook Privacy Protection Disclaimer

Evidently, people on Facebook are concerned about their privacy and protecting their posts about their kids, dogs, meals, prayer requests, political rants and family photos.  One can hardly blame them.  I know I don’t want the world seeing this photo of me should I foolishly decide to run for political office:

I fear that my gangsta past will come back to haunt me.

One can even dig deep into my past to find embarrassing photos like this one:

Honestly, I know a lot of people who would vote for this guy.

As a result, many folks are now protecting their rights by expressly reserving their privacy with this post:

Anyone reading this can copy this text and paste it on their Facebook Wall. This will place them under protection of copyright laws. By the present communiqué, I notify Facebook that it is strictly forbidden to disclose, copy, distribute, disseminate, or take any other action against me on the basis of this profile and/or its contents. The aforementioned prohibited actions also apply to employees, students, agents and/or any staff under Facebook’s direction or control. The content of this profile is private and confidential information. The violation of my privacy is punished by law (UCC 1 1-308 1-103 and the Rome Statute)

As a lawyer, this fascinates.  Yes, it’s true.  I’m a lawyer.  I graduated from law school, passed the bar exam–all of that.  As a service to my Facebook friends, I decided to use my finely honed lawyering skills to break down this disclaimer and explain exactly what is being said here, as only a real lawyer can explain:

Anyone reading this can copy this text and paste it on their Facebook Wall.  I certainly agree with this statement, assuming you possess rudimentary pointing and clicking skills.

This will place them under protection of copyright laws.  Who is “them?”  That confuses me. “They” must be the cutters and pasters.  I also don’t see any copyright protection in this statement.  If you want copyright protection, say so or use this nifty symbol: ©.  You can also claim a trademark with this: ™.  The bad part is that these only protect the rights you actually have. They don’t create rights.  For example, if I quote from Moby Dick on my Facebook wall (as I might do to show how brainy I am), I don’t have any copyright protection just because I claim I do.

By the present communiqué, I notify Facebook that it is strictly forbidden to disclose, copy, distribute, disseminate, or take any other action against me on the basis of this profile and/or its contentsWho the hell uses the word “communique?”  Did James Bond write this?  Also, what action do we fear that Facebook will take “against” us?  A drone strike?  I know of no police powers granted to Facebook.  Perhaps we fear that Facebook will show our posts to someone.  Here’s a suggestion:  Don’t post anything that you don’t want people to see. 

The aforementioned prohibited actions also apply to employees, students, agents and/or any staff under Facebook’s direction or control.  I’m not sure what the prohibited actions are, but they must be the actions “against me” that Facebook may take.  I’m also curious about the students under Facebook’s direction or control.  This brings to mind a cadre of brain-washed college kids spending their days reading Facebook posts and then informing Mark Zuckerberg of all the juiciest details.  If these people exist, I fully understand the desire to limit their powers.  Oh, “aforementioned” is an excellent lawyerly word.

The content of this profile is private and confidential information.  Now, this is problematic.  You see, when you sign up for Facebook, you agree to all the Terms of Service, which are quite detailed.  You probably didn’t read them.  I know I didn’t.  It’s doubtful that our posts are considered private or confidential.  This explains the Privacy Settings on our accounts.  I suggest that you don’t post confidential information.  For example, I don’t recommend posting nude photos of yourself, unless you are a reasonably attractive woman.  In that case, post them now using this disclaimer as protection.  Also, please send me a link to your profile, so that I may see if your protection was effective.

The violation of my privacy is punished by law (UCC 1 1-308 1-103 and the Rome Statute):  This is my favorite part.  The UCC is the Uniform Commercial Code, a set of uniform statutes regulating commercial transactions.  Every state has adopted the UCC at least to some extent.  Its application to Facebook is a legal mystery.  Here is what Article 1-308 says:

1-308. Performance or Acceptance Under Reservation of Rights.

(a) A party that with explicit reservation of rights performs or promises performance or assents to performance in a manner demanded or offered by the other party does not thereby prejudice the rights reserved. Such words as “without prejudice,” “under protest,” or the like are sufficient.

This statute is often cited by conspiracy theorists or other folks on the fringe as giving one the right to do anything “under protest.”  For example, some folks will sign their tax returns and cite this section, believing that they haven’t really agreed to pay their taxes or that they have somehow reserved the right to challenge the IRS’s taxing authority.  I won’t bore you with all the legal niceties, but the UCC only applies to certain commercial transactions.  I took classes in law school about the UCC and remember a good deal about it. The UCC just won’t help you here.

Article 1-103 is even less applicable:

1-103. Supplementary General Principles of Law Applicable.

Unless displaced by the particular provisions of this Act, the principles of law and equity, including the law merchant and the law relative to capacity to contract, principal and agent, estoppel, fraud, misrepresentation, duress, coercion, mistake, Bankruptcy, or other validating or invalidating cause shall supplement its provisions.

I don’t even know what to say about this one. All it says is that the UCC doesn’t replace any other law unless it specifically says so.  If that gives you any comfort, so be it.

The Rome Statute:  The only Rome Statute of which I am aware involves the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court to prosecute Crimes Against Humanity, genocide and the like.  If someone of the ilk of Slobodan Milosevic hacks your account, you may have something here, but it’s doubtful.  Although Facebook taking action against you might be offensive, you may have a hard time convincing the International Criminal Court that it rises to the level of a war crime.

Sadly, my conclusion is that this disclaimer, for all its flowery language and copious statutory citations, provides no real protection against use of your photos and posts.  Read the Facebook Terms of Service or the Facebook Data Policy. Those will give you some guidance on your agreement with the evil Zuckerberg.

So, if you’re wanting to post inflammatory status updates like advocating erotic literature for children or threatening to kill someone, you may not have the protection you think you do.  It would be wise to think before posting, especially if you are, say, in the job market.  An even better idea may be to just delete your account entirely.

I’m sure some other lawyer will read this and disagree. I might even get sued.  Nevertheless, I stand by my analysis.

Of course, all is not lost.  I am, after all, a lawyer.  I’ve composed my own disclaimer which you are free to cut and paste:

Under the authority of the International Court of The Hague, I hereby expressly and forever reserve my privacy rights as granted under the Declaration of Independence, Magna Carta, Hammurabi’s Code and any and all other applicable law whether foreign or domestic. By posting on Facebook, I do not waive any and all such rights which are hereby expressly reserved unto me, my heirs, successors, agents, legatees, grantees, lessees, designees, devisees, divorcees and/or assigns.  Nothing contained herein or therein shall be construed as such a waiver and any and all persons whomsoever, whether living or dead, reading this disclaimer are hereby forever estopped from so claiming.  Should any such person or entity attempt to violate any or all such rights, those persons or entities shall be subject to garnishment of their wages and seizure of their chattels.  I furthermore claim copyright, trademark, service mark and any and all other intellectual property rights in and to any and all posts on my Facebook wall, regardless of origin, authorship or preexisting claims to ownership.  Facebook is hereby strictly forbidden from challenging or taking exception to any of the statements made in this disclaimer.

Now that I think about it, you’re NOT free to cut and paste this.  See that little copyright symbol at the bottom?  I told you:  I’m a lawyer.

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2012