Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Advice I Am Hesitant to Share On Buying Suits - Particularly, St. John

I know wearing suits is uncool and all that nowadays, but in law, at least, we have to wear suits at times.  To court, to depositions, to meet clients, etc.  Suits give the air of being professional and good at what you do and whatnot.  So, at least in law -- as in other professions, I'm sure -- suits are somewhat of a necessity.

I don't wear suits to work every day, mainly because I'm lucky enough to work in a firm full of men who don't get what is appropriate female attire.  (They all get stuck with suits and ties every day, while I get to be a bit more creative.)  I always wear a jacket or blazer, but I mix up the suits with skirts/blazers or dresses/blazers or just short sleeved dresses when it's really hot out.  I never wear anything sleeveless at work, I always wear close toed heels, and I never, ever show up at work without pantyhose.  (I know, GASP, right?  But to me, it is totally unprofessional to show up at work or court or a deposition with bare legs, yet I see it all the time.  To me it looks cheap.  But, whatever, to each their own.  I do my thing, other people can do theirs.  But really, a formal suit without hose?  Bizarre looking.)  While I may wear knee high boots and tights with a skirt suit to my office in the winter, I wouldn't dream of doing it to appear in court, and the same goes for more creative suit colors.  (I have suits in all colors of the rainbow, which I'll wear in to the office or for deps, but never to court.  Court is black, gray, brown, or navy.  That's it.)

Suits are expensive.  You're generally talking at least $200-300, if not more.  For most people starting out in any profession, that's a lot of money for an outfit you can wear one day a week.  For women, it's worse.  While men can interchange the tie and shirt and wear the same suit all week long, women do not have that luxury.  Women need at least five suits to interchange throughout the week, if they need to wear suits five days a week.  This is a problem, right?  How in the heck do you pay for and find the suits you need when you are a new college grad or newly entered into a field where you have to wear a suit every day quickly and cheaply?  Obviously you can go to places like Marshall's or TJ Maxx and maybe find some stuff, but I am about to impart on you the best place to go.

EBay!

Seriously.  And here is my secret:  I have about 20 St. John suits.  This was the brand that Angelina Jolie promoted for awhile, and their suits retail for around $1500-2000 each.  Tres Expensive.  Do you think I paid retail for them?  Of course not!  I paid $300 or less for each.  (This was over the course of about six years.)  And I bought them all, used, on eBay.  Yes, I know, everyone thinks St. John is for old women.  Well, it isn't.  Have you tried on one of their suits?  Let me tell you, I don't look like an old woman in one of them!  They are, quite honestly, the most fabulous suits ever.  They don't wrinkle and they look great all day long.  They are really sharp on.  It's a shame they don't look so good on the hangers.  Because they are knit, they show off your curves and cling to your body.  And I can't even begin to describe how many compliments I have gotten from random people on the street on my used St. John suits that I wear with pride.

Used clothes, yuck, is what you are thinking!  For regular clothes, maybe.  But for suits?  How often do most people wear suits?  For interviewing?  Once a week?  Who cares if someone has worn it?  When you get it in the mail, you take it straight to the dry cleaners, and when you get it back it looks like new.  (For the St. Johns, make sure your drycleaner knows to cover the buttons with foil.  The buttons really make the suits and if they get ruined, you are hosed.)  Who cares who wore it before then?  I don't.  All I know is that I got me a $2000 suit for $300!

So, if you want an expensive suit for cheaper, hit eBay.  (However, do not think you will get a recent Chanel suit for anything less than like $1000.  Be realistic.)  I'm focusing on St. John suits, because they are not faked (there is a lot of faked stuff on eBay).   At least from my experience St. John is not faked since it is not targeted by the youth audience. Also St. John suits are made in the USA, in southern California, so buy them with pride, even if used.  Here are my tips for buying St. John suits on eBay:

1.  Know your size.  Go to a retail store and try on some St. John suits to figure out your size.  Get the santana knit suits.  They stretch.  You can also measure any suits, skirts, or jackets you have to figure out what measurements you need and go from there.  Most good sellers on eBay will provide all measurements.  Don't forget about sleeve length!  Like, I can wear a St. John skirt in a 6, but their 6 jackets are too short in the sleeves for me; I need an 8.  You can also block up or down a size in St. John.  Like, the size 6 jacket that is too short in the sleeves for me I can make the sleeves longer, but it is an extra step.  You have to take it in to a recommended drycleaner or someone else recommended by St John to get it done.  It's just an extra step.  But if you find the suit of your dreams that's a tad small or big for a good price, it is worth it, and it doesn't cost much to block up or down.

2.  Beware of buying separates.  You can, at times buy a St. John skirt in black and a St. John jacket in black and have them both match.  But occasionally, the blacks will not match exactly, which is what you need for a suit.  You are better off buying the full suit, sold together.  Sometimes sellers will break the pieces up in an attempt to make more money.  I suggest you avoid these sellers, because to get what you want you have to win multiple auctions, which makes it more difficult for you to establish your final bidding price.  When it is all together, it is much easier to decide what you want to pay for the suit, rather than winning the skirt and absolutely having to win the jacket because it matches, no matter what some crazy third person might be bidding. 

3.   Beware of dated designs and colors.  Be aware of what is in style for suits now.  There are a ton of outdated St. John suits on eBay for cheap.  Don't get overexcited because it is St. John for $100.  Look at it and determine if it is what you will wear and what you can wear to work.

That's about it -- size, dated, outfits.  But you can get tons of other branded suits on eBay also for super cheap.  If you find a suit brand that fits you well, hit eBay.  I'm telling you, used suits are not like regular used clothes.  No one wears suits until they are worn out.  I've gotten a ton of great J. Crew, Banana Republic, and Ann Taylor suits off eBay for like $50 each.  You really just have to know either your size or measurements of a suit (or jacket//pants/skirt) that fits you how you like and you are golden to buy online.  I actually almost prefer eBay these days since the sellers almost always provide the measurements, so I can tell if it will fit me or not.  None of the major retailers do that at this point, so sometimes I'm left guessing on what size I need.

At any rate, I'm offering this advice, but please don't bid against me.  I think I need another black St. John suit.

The Golf Outing

Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later.

About a month ago, one of the (male) partners at my firm decided that it would be a good idea for the attorneys to get together and bond. We do this from time to time, in the form of dinners or trips to Las Vegas.  Both of these I can do wholeheartedly!  Food!  Drinks!  Gambling!  Go team!  However, this time he decided that it would be in the form of golf.  On a Friday.  Followed by dinner, for those who don't want to golf.

Sigh.

I used to golf regularly.  When I was 23-26, my boyfriend at that time was an avid golfer.  So, through him, I learned golf.  And I liked golf.  And to be fair, I got decent enough at it that I didn't embarrass myself on the course.  I wasn't great or anything, nor am I gifted at the game, but I could sort of hold my own off the women's tees.  As in -- I could hit the ball more than 20 feet and I didn't hold up the groups behind us.  I found that not holding up the groups behind you is the key to knowing when you are getting decent at golf.  In fact, my boyfriend (at the time) became rather proud of my golf skills.  And I truly like golf.  I'm one of the few who actually watches it on TV and gets enthralled and into it.   

Well, that boyfriend and I broke up eventually, as happens.  And I moved to Los Angeles, and then I moved back to Chicago, and all the shit in between, and I sort of forgot to practice my golfing.  Most women don't golf, so I found it hard, in between boyfriends, to find someone to golf with.  Driving ranges are good and all, but nothing beats actually hitting the golf course.  And although I do many things on my own, like movies, shopping, and dinner, I prefer to golf with someone I know.  In case I utterly embarrass myself, I don't want to be with a threesome who is going "why the hell did we let this woman tag along with us?"  Because I've never been that confident in my golfing skills, and it's nice to be with someone who laughs when you whiff the ball, rather than gets pissed off about it.  At any rate, golf is a sport that has to be practiced and played regularly to stay consistent.  You can't just jump back into it when you haven't played in years.  As is my case.

Based on various work obligations, I was unable to attend the golf portion of the outing.  Nor, frankly, did I want to, even if I didn't have those obligations.  The guys I work with are competitive as hell, and this wasn't advertised as a scramble.  Who would want me in their foursome?  Answer:  no one.  And I knew that since I haven't golfed or swung a club in at least three years that I would not in any sense play even remotely decently if I played.  Although a couple of the guys tried to persuade me to go, I couldn't help but feel that it was an effort to try to get one of the female attorneys to join the outing, and speaking most modestly, I am one of the coolest female attorneys of the bunch.  I mean, I drink beer and I have no kids to worry about, and I like to have fun. 

So, they wanted at least one of us to attend.  But the truth is, none of the female attorneys opted to go on the golf portion of this attorney bonding outing.  Some (like me) had work reasons for opting out.  Others simply felt that this was a boys outing.  Did any of the guys really want one of us there?  Or did they want one of us to show up simply to show that it truly was an attorneys outing, despite that all of the female attorneys opted out?  At least part of the reason, as explained to me by one of our female associates was that she simply felt uncomfortable intruding on the boys golf outing.  (Not that she was interested in going anyway.  I, unfortunately did not have much advice from her, since I also had no interest in it, and wouldn't have gone even if I didn't have obligations keeping me at work on Friday rather than on the links.)

One of the other female attorneys today put it to me like this:  If I (as a partner in this firm) sent around an e-mail and said that we are doing an attorney bonding outing at a spa where we could all get manicures and pedicures and massages and whatnot, how many of the guys would attend?  I kind of liked her reasoning there, although, to be fair, I hate spas and all that bullshit.  But it is a good example of the female versus the male and what might be interesting to them.  Because frankly, none of the female attorneys at my firm were particularly interested in wasting in afternoon on golf.  And this outing (which is coming out of my overhead, whether I go or not) was not decided on by the partnership as something that we should spend money on this year. 

I only mention this because my firm did not have a Christmas party last year, nor have we held any firm sponsored events for our staff in the past year, nor are any planned for this summer.  Due to the cost.  It's still up in the air as far as a Christmas party this year, although I'm pretty sure we will have one, albeit not quite as extravagent as in the past.  I think it is highly important to morale of the staff (sorry to use such a crappy term, but by staff I mean all of our secretaries, paralegals, receptionists, and law clerks), to hold events where we can all hang out and have dinner and drinks or a good time together outside of work.  I think that is very important, because I understand getting burnt out and tired of it all, and having some of these little perks helps out.  I actually hadn't even realized until I though about it how much we have cut down on these little perks, because we used to do a ton of stuff for the staff.  Now, not so much.  And it's not because people here are greedy, it's in part due to the economy and not bringing in as much as we used to back in the glory days.  Yet the majority of the male attorneys in my office are taking the majority of the day off on Friday to go golfing, (oh, and I'll be in the office working) while their secretaries sit at their desks and hang out waiting for them to need them.

And still, there is pushback when we want to hold "menial "events (like lunches and drinks) for the staff, but a golfing event for the male attorneys is fine?  Because it is for the male attorneys.  All I can say is, I can't wait until I'm not low partner on totem pole, because I have something to say about that!  But first...I have to finish my buy in.  It's unbelievable how much the promotion to partner can cost you financially.     

Why Are People Who Make $200,000 a Year Grouped in With the Millionaires?

And yet another article on one of my favorite topics, tax cuts for the “wealthy.” Here is this author’s suggestion:
Congress should maintain the cuts for individuals earning $200,000 or less, and families earning $250,000 or less. And it should restore the Clinton-era tax rates to the very rich.
I’m still confused as to how an individual making $200,000 a year or a family making $250,000 can be considered the “very rich.” This is absurd. Yet every article I read about this topic refers exclusively to the multi-millionaires, and all of their tax breaks and excesses. Let me tell you, an individual making $200,000 does not have the benefit of all of these tax breaks and excesses. And somehow, in every article I read, no one makes the distinction between the very rich and the pretty well off who make up the starting point of this tax bracket. No one particularly stops to think that most people making $200,000 consider themselves to be part of the middle class, as opposed to the very wealthy.

I understand that $200,000 may fall into the “wealthiest 2%” as the tax brackets are defined. Fine. But don’t act like these are the people who are out “stealing from the middle class” and stashing their money into bank accounts in the Cayman Islands. In a city like New York, San Francisco, or even Chicago, this income does not bring one anywhere close to living the life of luxury with a closet full of Chanel or a yacht, particularly if you are also investing for retirement, paying back student loans, paying a mortgage and ridiculous property taxes, and saving money for emergencies.

He also says:

When it comes to creating jobs, the last people who need more money in their hands are the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans.
While this may be true for someone who makes $2 million a year or more, this isn’t true for me. I could definitely use more money in my hands. Why shouldn’t I? I work for it, don’t I? I haven’t been laying on my ass since I was 22 years old and a fresh faced young college graduate. No, I’ve been working a full time job. Who are the people making $200,000 a year? They are lawyers, doctors, accountants, and other professions which either require a lot of school (and student loans) or a lot of experience on the job. They aren’t the lazy; they aren’t people living off a trust fund. They get up and go to work every day in the same way that someone who makes $30,000 a year does. Yet, somehow everyone seems to believe that they deserve to be punished along with anyone who has managed to demand an income in the millions.

And apparently I’m doing something wrong here:

Turns out that when they were given all of those tax cuts, the top two percent of the population used them to speculate in exotic derivatives, to drive up the prices of high-end real estate, pay exorbitant prices to the designers of $4,000 blouses and $2,000 shoes.
Right. That’s what I was out doing. To be sure, I have a few Louis Vuitton purses in my closet, but those were each one time a year expenses to reward myself for a year of hard work. (Merry Christmas to me.) The majority of the money I make has gone to rent or mortgage, savings (retirement and otherwise), life insurance, and disability insurance. I buy clothes, but believe me, I’m not out blowing $4,000 on a blouse or $2,000 on a pair of shoes. I wish. I think the most I’ve ever spent on a pair of shoes is $300 or $400, and that is a rarity. You know why some people are “rich”? Because they aren’t out blowing every dollar they earn on things they don’t need.

In fact, throughout the article, he refers to McCain’s seven homes, and Wall Street types with private jets. This strikes me as nothing more than an effort to rile people up. Let me tell you something: individuals who make $200,000 a year do not have seven homes or private jets. They don’t live much differently from “the middle class” at all.

He then (of course) discusses the inheritance tax:

By definition the sons and daughters of multi-millionares -- the Paris Hiltons of the world -- are the only people who would benefit by eliminating or cutting the inheritance tax since it only affects muti-millionaires.

It is just plain wrong for our government cut back on food programs for children to give Paris Hilton more money to buy another pair of $1,300 Manolo Blahnik shoes.
Again, let’s be clear. There is a huge, colossal difference between the Paris Hiltons of the world and someone who has managed to accumulate $3 or $4 million over the course of a lifetime to leave to their children. Yet these folks at the lower end get thrown in with people who die and leave hundreds of millions of dollars. Am I the only one who sees a difference? If my parents work hard all of their lives and manage to save and accumulate an estate worth a few million, why should that be exorbitantly taxed when it has already been taxed when they earned it?

In short, the mass generalizations applied to the arguments in favor of letting the tax cuts expire just kill me. Let’s call a spade a spade. $200,000 earners are not the “very rich.” Someone has to be at the lower end of the group who is lucky enough to get their taxes raised – and believe me, those people are not the evil doers they are made out to be in the media. They are very likely the savers who will also be lucky enough to have their estates taxed when they die.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The President on The View

Well, President Obama is going to appear on The View on Thursday.

The View.

The article explains that this is the first time a sitting President has appeared on a daytime talk show. I don’t know how I feel about this. I’ll go on record and say that I don’t care for Presidents and Vice Presidents appearing on talk shows like Leno and Letterman, even though that is now standard practice. While I understand that it is an effort to reach portions of the population who may not be interested in politics, there is something about appearing on those types of shows that seems to bring down the prestige of the office. It’s too casual, too low brow. While it may be nice to see the lighter side of the President’s personality, why can’t he show that during official speeches here and there? Why does it have to be on a talk show? The President isn’t, after all, a rock star, an actor or actress, a comedian, or any other type of entertainment personality who usually appears on talk shows. Nor, in my opinion, should the President be viewed as a celebrity.

Something about The View has always rubbed me the wrong way. When it first came out, I thought I might like it since I always liked Barbara Walters. But I watched it a couple of times, and found that it was generally a bunch of women talking over each other and either giggling or fighting. Then there was the whole Rosie O’Donnell/Elizabeth Hasselbeck debacle. And it always seems like I’m hearing about controversy about The View in some shape or form. In all, the show just is not really my cup of tea. Plus, I’m at work when its on.

It’s easy to see why Obama might want to go on a daytime talk show like The View, given that its viewership is pretty high, and a lot of women in this country watch the show, and as Joe Biden pointed out the other day, it’s time to start campaigning and talking about all that has been accomplished. I assume that’s what Obama intends to do on Thursday. But isn’t it going to seem a little strange to see President Obama sitting on the couch in between Whoopi Goldberg, Elizabeth Hasselbeck, Joy Behar, Barbara Walters, and Sherri Shephard?

Friday, July 23, 2010

And About Those Congressional Expense Accounts

AOL published information on what Congress members spent in the last six months of 2009 and the first 3 months of 2010 from their MRAs -- Member Representative Allowances. (Which appear to not have any specified limit.)  This is all taxpayer money, and most budgets range from $1.3 million to $1.9 million per year.  Per Congressman/woman.  And the numbers AOL published represent nine months. 

It's pretty unreal when you look at it.  It's further unreal when you have worked in the private sector or at any job where you had to submit expenses which had to be approved.  Who is in charge of approving some of this, and why is it being approved?

$2.6 million on food and beverages, including:

$604,000 spent on bottled water.  Is tap water not good enough?  At my law firm, we drink filtered tap water.  If we want bottled water, we buy it ourselves.  It doesn't get expensed, unless you are at the airport after an entire day of depositions and are about to pass out from dehydration.

$9,450 on Coca Cola products?  $84,794 on coffee?  Seriously?  No one has a vending machine or a coffeemaker in their offices?  At my office, we have a vending machine if anyone wants pop (and you pay for it yourself), and we have a coffeemaker, which is "free," but if you want Starbucks you are on your own.  Why in the hell are taxpayers paying for Congresspeople's coffee and drinks?  This is absurd. 

$209,673 spent on food for Congressional pages. I'm sorry, but unless they are being required to work clearly through lunch or dinner timeframes, this should not be expensed.  And if they are being required to work through lunch or dinner, is it really necessary and why?

$124,000 spent on catering for just three House offices.  We don't know who.

$11 million spent on newspapers and other resources.  Apparently no one in Congress has figured out that you can get the majority of this information free on the Internet, at least currently.  What a waste.

$12.7 million in travel.  Given the huge number of vacations Congress gets, do they really need to be going home so much?  If they aren't going home, where else are they going and why? 

In summary, I'm not quite sure why all of us taxpayers should be required to tighten our belts and deal with issues in the economy when Congressional members clearly haven't been doing the same.  We've certainly tightened things up at my law firm.  In my mind, I'm trying to calculate the number of people and divide this up, but the fact is, when you look at the entire number it looks crazy.  A billion dollars in expenses for nine months for 535 people?  $1.8 million per person for nine months?  This makes no sense at all.  Why is it so expensive to be in Congress?  It shouldn't be.  I understand they have offices and employees and such, that's fine.  But no reasonable person should spend $1.8 million in nine months, nor should they even think about spending that much on bullshit like water and coffee and extensive trips when taxpayers are footing the bill.

I'm going to keep my eye on what else AOL finds, because it sounds like they are going to try and break things down further.... 

Two Strange Events, and One Bright Light

Some of the things I see in Chicago surprise even me.

Event #1

Yesterday I drove to work.  Normally I don't drive because parking costs are exorbitant downtown, but my foot has been kind of achy, it's hotter than hell here, and I didn't feel like walking the three blocks to the el.  So, I drove.  As I was driving east on Division in the right lane, heading toward Wells Street, where I planned to make a right to get to the Loop, I encountered a man in a motorized chair driving in the right lane, in the street, going around five miles per hour.  I support the handicapped and all that, but I couldn't help but wonder why he wasn't on the sidewalk.  The cars in front of me passed by him, but as it happened I didn't have time to pass before hitting the intersection.  At the intersection, there were police.  They had blocked off Division Street eastbound just past Wells Street.  (So, no one could go straight on Division -- you had to go either right or left.)  This was a result of the "suspicious package" that ended up containing a dead opossum that was left outside the Planned Parenthood at LaSalle and Division.  As luck would have it, I encountered this bullshit right after it happened. 

Back to the man in the motorized chair.  As I mentioned, the police had the eastbound direction of Division blocked off.  They were even blocking off the sidewalk on that block, so no cars or pedestrians could go that way.  Now picture this:  the eastbound light turned red, motorized chair guy is in front of me in the right lane.  I just want to turn right.  Both of us -- since there is a red light -- should remain where we are until the light turns green.  But motorized chair guy has other ideas.  Despite the red light, he starts easing out onto Wells Street.  He's basically in the right lane of Wells Street, but he is pointing east, as if he is going to cross Division.  (Does this make sense?)  Meanwhile, cars are trying to go south on Wells.  But he's in the street.  He starts waving them to keep going, as if he's the guy in charge of the situation or a traffic cop, rather than a person on a motorized wheelchair who is practically in the middle of the street, and blocking the entire intersection.  The police officer who was attempting to manage the situation and direct the traffic started to point and yell at him to back up out of the street.  He ignored her and just kept on waving the southbound on Wells traffic through, all the while blocking the right lane on Wells.

It was bizarre.  Luckily, the light turned green shortly thereafter and I made my way downtown.

Event #2

Tonight I left work a little early and stopped off at Dominick's.  (I also drove today, again due to the heat and my heel.  Oh, and I'm lazy.)  I only needed to pick up a few things, mainly a loaf of bread, so I thought I would be in and out.  Much to my surprise, there were huge lines, even in the self check out.  Rather than have to make small talk with and deal with a cashier, I opted to wait in the self checkout line.  While waiting behind about six people, a woman walked up carrying only a tallboy of beer and asked someone up front of me (I couldn't tell who) if she could cut since she only had the tallboy.  (Note:  not many people in the line had more than a few items.)  The Dominick's worker spotted her, and told her to get to the back of the line.  She did not get in the back of the line, and I didn't see what happened to her.  I didn't think much of it initially.  For purposes of ease, I will refer to her henceforth as Tallboy Lady.  (You didn't really think this was her last appearance in this story, did you?)

So I start moving up in the line, until I'm about two people away from checking out.  I notice that there is a man and a woman in one of the self checkout stands who has been attempting to check out since I got in line, and were requiring a great deal of help from the employee. Tallboy Lady reappears a few minutes later, and is with a man.  She walks back and forth past the self checkout section (the line was blocking the aisle, so to get to the liquor section, it was necessary to walk through us.)  She hovers around the woman who is giving out free samples of wine for a few minutes, gets some wine, then walks back over to the self checkout area and starts screaming loudly about "her man" "her husband" "you bald bitch" and a bunch of other things I couldn't make out.  Initially, I didn't know what was going on.  I thought she was fighting with the guy she was with.  But, no.  She went on "you have low self esteem" and "he's the best thing that happened to you and that's not saying much" and "you bitch I'll kick your ass."  You get the idea.  I finally figured out that she was yelling this at the female part of the long checkout couple.  I assume the male part was the husband.

So, Tallboy Lady is screaming and yelling in the middle of the self checkout at Dominick's.  An employee tells her to leave the store.  She keeps yelling.  Everyone is staring.  Female part of long checkout couple ignores her.  I felt kind of bad for her.  Male part of long checkout couple doesn't even seem aware that any of this is going on.  (Seriously, if he is the husband and that is his girlfriend, I'm assuming he's no longer with Tallboy Lady (particularly since she's with another man), so why would he not stick up for the girlfriend?  What a loser.)  Tallboy Lady keeps screaming.  Finally, employee gets her out of the store.

Again, bizarre.  It was quite a scene.

One Bright Light

There is a man who works at Dominick's who is just so pleasant and happy that for some reason it always brightens my day when I see him.  I believe he is mentally handicapped/challenged or whatever the politically correct word of the day is.  His job is to corral the carts in the parking lot and bring them inside.  He also helps you unload your groceries when you have a full cart.  He is super friendly and always smiling.  When he is in the parking lot, he yells hello to everyone as they get out of their car, or goodbye as they leave, and sometimes "you are always welcome to come back!"  He also does this if he happens to be near the entrance of the store, after bringing the carts in, but then he sometimes also says "Enjoy your shopping!"  I wish more people had his attitude, because he just radiates positiveness.  Next time I see him I'm going to ask him his name, because I'd like to know so I can greet him with as much joy as he always greets me when I arrive for my weekly trip to Dominick's.           
    

How Many Female Characters Are There Right Now on Television With Hard Science Degrees?

My earlier post questioning whether there are any female lead characters on television who are engineers has been on my mind all afternoon. So I wondered – are there? I decided to expand the career options into any sort of “hard” science degree, and to generally use the definition of that provided by the Patent and Trademark Office as required background to sit for the Patent Bar Exam. Those degrees are listed at page 6 of this document, but generally speaking include most types of engineering, computer science, physics, botany, biology, and chemistry.

I obviously don’t have time to research every television show of all time, so I am going to focus on the top 25 rated television shows as of this date, for the week ending July 18, 2010. These are the top 25 broadcast shows (I used both lists at the link), and these are the top 25 cable shows. I generally used Wikipedia’s descriptions of the lead and secondary characters, but for a few I did a little extra Googling. (For the heck of it, I figured I would also throw in secondary characters.) With respect to some characters, I couldn’t find their degrees and backgrounds, however their character job descriptions don't generally lead one to believe that they have a hard science background.

My initial reaction is that there are lot of reality shows and a lot of cop shows at the top of the ratings at the moment.

And without further ado, here are the current female characters who have hard science degrees:

Rachel – Big Brother – Chemistry Graduate Student/VIP cocktail waitress

Sara Winkle – The Big Bang Theory – Experimental Physicist

Abby Sciuto – NCIS – Possible Ph.D in Chemistry

Sara Sidle Grissom – CSI – Physics degree

Calleigh Duquesne – CSI: Miami – Physics degree

Penelope Garcia – Criminal Minds – dropped out of college, but computer expert on the show so I'm tossing her in. 

No engineers at all. Three physics backgrounds. One possible Ph.d in Chemistry, and a reality television show participant who alleges that she is a graduate student in Chemistry.

Kind of sad, huh?  No wonder more girls aren't going into the sciences.

Women and Engineering: Lack of Exposure?

Huffington Post has an interesting article today called: "Why Women Are Shunning Science Careers."

I remember being a freshman engineering student back in 1992.  At that time, my particular undergraduate program had the highest rate of freshman female engineering students of any school in the country.  The percentage?  18%.  There was even a class called "Women in Engineering."  The class consisted of a group of about 20 of us (obviously there were multiple classes) who sat around in a circle and talked about ourselves and the challenges we faced and would face as women in the field of engineering.  Speakers came in occasionally and talked to us about their careers.  It was the typical kind of feel good, emotional drivel that many women are wont to have.  After all, men don't sit around in a circle singing Kum Ba Ya and talking about their emotions and how hurt and isolated they felt.  Men just get on with it.  For that reason, it wasn't a class I particularly liked.   

At any rate, the rest of my classes in undergrad were dominated by men.  I remember one of my Chemistry recitations had about 30 students, which consisted of 28 men, me, and one other woman.  That never really bothered me.  I mean, I noticed it -- but I wasn't bothered.  I didn't care as long as I did well.  What was odd is that my advanced math and science classes in high school were pretty fairly evenly distributed between men and women.  Then, suddenly, college started and the women were gone for the most part from Physics, Chemistry, and Calculus.  (The freshman engineering weedout program.)  I greatly enjoyed my engineering classes, but then again, I like math and science and problem solving, which is the basis for almost every class.  I took classes in different fields of engineering as my electives, rather than take blow off classes like bowling or aerobics. 

I don't think there is any easy answer for why women don't flock to engineering careers, which pay very well, although everyone seems to like to try and find an answer.  If it's truly due to the clash between family responsibilities and career, that still doesn't explain why 18-22 year olds are not choosing those careers years before any of that would even be an issue.  And really, why would it be any different than any other career?  Women are going to face those types of prioritization issues in any career.  Is it stereotypes, socialization, discrimination?  I personally don't feel that it's the latter anymore, but the prior two could have something to do with it.   

Let's consider how engineers are perceived in the media -- televisions shows and movies.  Wait -- have you ever even seen a female engineer on a television show or in a movie?  I'm really not sure I have, the more I think about it.  Maybe you get a computer genius here and there, like Penelope Garcia on Criminal Minds or a mathematician like Amita on Numb3rs, or a forensic anthropologist like Bones.  Come to think of it, I'm not even sure I've seen a male engineer on television or in the movies in a leading role.  I suppose Apollo 13 had aeronautical engineers.  I have to admit that I never really thought about it until right this moment, but are there any television shows or movies that have a lead character who is an engineer? 

The female careers shoved at us from popular books and television and movie screens are the chefs, models, artists, actresses, reporters, teachers, writers, fashion designers or buyers, publicists, publishers, editors, politicians, radio personalities, "managers" (always vague what they are managing), attorneys, doctors, forensics, with an occasional FBI or CIA agent or cop thrown into the mix.  The argument that I hear most often is that the writers and brains behind the books, TV shows, and movies aren't science people, so that's why you don't see more science type fields given exposure, unless it is integral to the show.  Could it simply be that teenagers who are making decisions on what to be when they grow up are not exposed to careers like engineering, so they bypass them without even realizing it?  (As an aside, isn't it somewhat absurd that you have to decide what you want to be for the rest of your life when you are 18 years old, and have no idea of the many different career options available?)  Even if they do know about engineering, it's easy to see how that could look rather boring compared to some of the above mentioned careers, particularly when said careers are glamorized through the television and movies.  

My parents were the ones who encouraged me to go into engineering. They knew I was good at math and science and could probably handle it, so off I went. Without them, I probably wouldn't have even known what engineering was, much less majored in it.  I certainly didn't have any female engineer role models or anything like that.  I don't regret going into it at all, because I wouldn't be where I am now without that degree - going into patent law essentially required it.  It also doesn't hurt that companies like and want to hire female engineers.  By virtue of your sex alone you stand out from the pack of resumes and job seekers, and that doesn't hurt either.  And the fact is, you can do so many things with an engineering degree, things I'm still finding out about.  It's a degree that gives so many options, so the question is, why don't we see more women doing it?  Like many, I guess I will just continue to wonder.          

Biden Says The Heavy Lifting Is Over

I struggled with what to title this, because I don't want to sound like I'm overreacting.  Further, the only web sites I can find any information about these statements lean right, so I'm taking it with a bit of a grain of salt.  (I frankly do not trust the media at all anymore, even before the whole USDA debacle.  They -- like opposing counsel in my cases -- seem to regularly take things out of context or use headlines that do not have any reflection at all on what was actually said.)  So, I try to avoid that by either listening to comments myself or checking a few different sources.  Occasionally I'm sure I'll get something wrong.

At any rate, The Hill is reporting on statements made by V.P. Biden last night:
The "heavy lifting is over" when it comes to the Obama administration's legislative priorities this year, Vice President Joe Biden said Thursday evening.
Biden said now that Wall Street reform is finished and signed into law, the administration could go out and make its political case for its accomplishment.

“Now that the heavy lifting is over, we can go out and make our case,” Biden said at a fundraiser in North Carolina, according to a pool report.
So, let me get this straight:  climate change, the Gulf Oil spill, immigration, jobs, unemployment benefits (which will be an issue again in November), and the Bush tax cuts expiration (which will be an issue by the end of the year) are no longer important since the massive Wall Street reform bill has passed?  Now the administration can simply go out and talk about how much its accomplished - before anything has even happened?  Now, for the rest of the year everyone should focus on campaigning?  Are you kidding me?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Legislation Says Government Must Stop Paying Dead People

As reported by the Huffington Post today, in an article called "Obama to Sign Legislation to Combat Wasteful Spending":
President Barack Obama on Thursday signed legislation intended to slash by $50 billion the taxpayer money improperly paid to dead people, fugitives and those in jail who shouldn't be getting benefits.
Isn't it a little ridiculous that we need a law to make sure payments aren't being made to dead people, fugitives, and prisoners?  Or that such payments were made last year to these people to the tune of $110 billion dollars?  Is there really that little oversight as it is in governmental agencies?  Seriously, what the hell is going on in the government? 

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Since When Can Sookie Kick Some Ass?

I've previously written about my utter hatred for Sookie on True Blood.  I'm sorry to say that my hatred has only grown through the first four episodes of Season 3.  (I haven't watched the latest episode yet.)  In last week’s episode of True Blood, which was called 9 Crimes, Sookie told Alcide’s sister Janice (who was giving her a Sandy from Grease bad girl makeover) that “I want to look like I can kick some serious ass. Which I can!”

This is confusing to me. When has Sookie ever shown that she can kick some serious ass? This is the entire problem with the characterization of Sookie. We get told over and over again how wonderful she is, how tough she is, and now that she can kick ass, but the show never backs up the dialogue with actions or proof of any of it. In fact, the storylines to this point actually refute that she can kick ass.

Let’s review:

Season 1: Sookie is attacked by the Rattrays and is saved by Bill. Sookie is attacked by Malcom, Diane, and Liam and is saved by Bill. Sookie is attacked by Jerry and is saved by Bill. Sookie is attacked by Longshadow and is saved by Bill. Sookie is attacked by Rene and is saved by Bill and Sam. (To be fair, on the last one she did hit Rene with the shovel, but only after Rene was distracted by Bill and Sam.)

Season 2: Sookie is attacked by the Maryann creature and is saved by Bill. Sookie is captured and held hostage in the basement of the Fellowship of the Sun church, then later is attacked by Gabe and is saved by Godric. After Luke attempts to blow up Godric’s nest, Eric protects Sookie. Sookie is attacked by Maryann and is saved by Sam and Bill.

Season 3: Sookie is saved from werewolves by both Eric and Alcide.

So, tell me when exactly has Sookie shown that she is capable of kicking any ass? Huge portions of her storylines have been based upon her getting attacked by someone or something, and then being rescued by – usually – Bill. She has never shown any capability of kicking ass. Generally, she runs away.

And now in Season 3, she is inexplicably running all over the place with the intent of saving Bill from the werewolves. Werewolves who she has already proven herself unable to defeat by herself.  And dude, Sookie, in case you've forgotten:  Bill is a Vampire!  He can probably take care of himself.  She is also continuing to try to find and save Bill even though hespecifically told her he didn’t want to be found. Like most women, Sookie completely ignored what he was telling her, and jumped to the conclusion that he must be under duress or some other mind fantasy.

I don’t know why I continue to watch this show, since this character infuriates me so much. In a way, the characterization reminds me of Lana Lang’s characterization in Smallville. We got a lot of talk about the greatness, but the character’s actions never lived up to the hype. I know everyone thinks Anna Paquin is wonderful and all, but how about actually giving this character some depth through actions and a decent storyline?

More Tough Times for Liberal Arts Grads

Another article on how tough it is for recent college graduates to find a job, this time from the trusty Huffington Post.  The statistics look alarming:
But the job market is not so kind as to warmly receive the surplus of well-heeled graduates. The Economic Policy Institute puts the current unemployment rate for college graduates aged 16 to 24 at nine percent -- the highest number in 25 years. This leaves America's young people in the lurch, constantly searching for work of any kind, being forced to move back in with their parents and holding out hope that things will improve.

The article profiles ten recent or soon to be college graduates, including short videos from each of them discussing their employment difficulties.  Now get ready for a real surprise.  Of these ten job seekers profiled, not a single one is a math, technology (of any kind), science (of any kind), or engineering major.  They run the gamut from English to political science, to public relations, to journalism, to Spanish majors.  (There is one lone accounting major who has been looking for a job since 2004.  I'm not quite sure what to think of him, since the economy was in decent shape six years ago.  There's got to be more to his story.  Let's leave him out of the discussion.) 

Each of the majors profiled are difficult majors to get well paying jobs in when things are good, so it's not surprising that things are difficult now.  At least one of the profiled eschews jobs that are "beneath her."  Sigh.  I've gone on about this before, so I won't rehash prior arguments.  However, I feel like whenever I see articles on recent college grads having difficulty finding jobs, they are always in these difficult to employ in the best of times majors.  I've always been a realist when it comes to education and paying for education.  It makes little sense to me to pay four years of tuition to go into an area that isn't going to result in a job that is up to your pay standards.  (If you want to major in English, go for it, but don't expect to come out of college making a huge salary, or even in some cases, a living wage.) 

Is this high number of unemployed college graduates a result of the economy or simply a result of lack of demand for these types of liberal arts majors?  Are the math, engineering, science, and technology majors having as difficult a time as these folks?  It's hard to say, because I have yet to see one profiled or interviewed.  I would also be curious to know if whether the percentage of students graduating with technical degrees has decreased, while the percentage of students graduating with liberal arts degrees has increased, because that could also have an effect on the increased percentages of graduates with difficulty finding work.  At any rate, apparently the sky is falling.   

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Yes, I'm Actually Working At This Hour

Ugh, just so much to do.  And I hop over here to my escape from time to time, and it's nice, so please excuse my grammatical and other errors in my posts, since I pound them out and move on.  That's why I started this blog, so I could vent and bitch and get it all out of my system.  But, I had my iTunes going, and this song came on, and I realized it was one of my all time favorites.  It's just so nice and relaxing and just...beautiful and nice.  They don't make songs like this anymore.  And aren't we all pretenders, in some sense?  Anyway, here it is, before I get to bed:

William Galston Has Sound Advice

William Galston stated the following:
You need only do three things in this country to avoid poverty - finish high school, marry before having a child, and marry after the age of 20. Only 8 percent of the families who do this are poor; 79 percent of those who fail to do this are poor.
I read this in a book, and I thought it was Freakonomics, but couldn't find it in there on a quick skim through, so I have no idea what book in my bookshelf it came from.  Whatever the book, these three things have always stuck with me, because I think it is so true.

I remembered this quote when reading My Milk Glass Heart's comments on what her father expected of her following my Teachers post below:  don't get arrested, don't get pregnant, and get good grades.  My parents expected the same of me.  Looking back now, none of these requirements are the signs of an overcontrolling parent.  They are pretty much common sense.  That led to me remembering Mr. Galston's three things to avoid poverty.  (And a small glimpse into the connections my mind makes.  So, of course I have to discuss it right this minute.  On my blog.)

It seems so easy, doesn't it?  Finish high school?  Don't get pregnant unless you are married?  Don't get married until after 20?  Done, done, and done.  (Matter of fact, still not married!)  And I'm not in poverty.  So I fit the rule, as do all of my friends.  I have no personal experience with teen pregnancy.  There were a few girls who I graduated high school with who were pregnant our senior year, but I wasn't close with any of them, and now it's just bizarre to me to see their photos on Facebook of their senior year age child graduating from high school when I still don't have children.  My sisters also managed to get past the age of 20 before getting pregnant (one still has no kids, my other sister had her first at 30), and shockingly, my brother also managed to wait to have children until he got married at 22.  We all did it.  They also all made it through high school and into at least some college.  As I mentioned before, I have one sister who is an attorney like me, so she and I are the ones who made it the farthest formal educationwise.  But, with or despite formal education (which doesn't particularly matter for some people), all of us kids have done just fine for ourselves. 

My only real experience with teenage mothers is from television.  (I guess maybe I live in a bubble.)  But when I see 16 and 17 year olds having babies on television (in 16 & Pregnant, Teen Mom, or any of those types of candid reality shows), I get nothing but depressed.  I remember being 16 or 17 years old.  I had no worries other than trying to outdo M (my main academic rival, who ended up being Valedictorian, but I got the more prized Most Likely to Succeed vote) on tests or how I could get my dad to allow me to stay out past midnight with my boyfriend.  (Generally that answer was a big fat no, because "nothing good happens after midnight."  I've also found this bit of advice to be true, even into my 30s.)  Babies are so much work.  I just get sad for these girls because while their entire life isn't shot, they've made it so much harder upon themselves.  You can't go away to college and live in the dorms when you have a baby, or pick up and move across the country for a new job, or go out and party all carefree.  Babies are just so much work.  So, it's easy to see why having one too early can lead to poverty.  It's also easy to see how not graduating from high school can lead to poverty.  It's also easy to see how getting married too soon can lead to poverty, since marriage can often lead to babies too early.

So, I like Galston's advice.  I think we should plaster it all over the walls at every high school in the country.                   

Monday, July 19, 2010

And...The Jersey Shore Crew Is Refusing to Work

TMZ is reporting that the cast of Jersey Shore is "on strike."  Apparently (at least according to TMZ), they are angry because they thought the $10,000 per episode pay only applied to the Miami portion of Season 2, and not to the Jersey Shore portion of Season 2, which MTV may release as Season 3.  So, they want a new contract to shoot the new Jersey Shore scenes.

I think I've got that right, anyway.  I (obviously) haven't seen the contract they signed, but if I had to guess, it probably covered number of episodes versus what MTV would label those episodes as, be it Season 2 or Season 3.  So, if they signed a contract for 12 episodes (Wikipedia's vast knowledge of the number of episodes for what was supposed to be Season 2), and they filmed 6 in Miami, then technically, they are probably bound to film another 6 in the Jersey Shore or wherever MTV would like them to go, for whatever the agreed upon price is.  If, on the other hand, they agreed to film some undetermined number of episodes for Season 2 for $10,000 a pop, and there was no agreement regarding Season 3, they might have a leg.  Then again, this all also depends on how you define an "episode" in the contract.  Says me in my vast knowledge and without seeing the contract and having never seen a reality TV show contract. 

I'll admit to watching the first season of Jersey Shore.  I was introduced to it by a coworker (who dragged me into her office and made me watch the clip where The Situation introduces himself), and ended up getting hooked on the hilarity.  They are all quite ridiculous, but it was entertaining because they were just goofy kids having fun.  And they said such stupid things, and Snooki couldn't even figure out the duck phone.  At this point, to be quite honest, I'm a little tired of all of them.  I'm not sure why any of them had to appear on David Letterman.  The success of the show -- and as happens for many -- has left them all overexposed and annoying.  I've always been of the opinion that, much like The Real World, they should get a new cast each season.  It's not going to be much fun to watch quasi-celebrities who are only famous because of the show navigate the bar scene and get wasted in a hot tub.  After all, people will treat them differently based on who they are, which will take away from the entire point of the show.  (Well, assuming there was a point.  But, dammit, it was funny to see Snooki get shot down by guy after guy.  Will that happen now?  No, probably not, because said random guy would like to get on television.)

Possibly MTV is looking for another The Hills, which has ended its run.  But you can't tell me there aren't thousands of people out there who would be as good or better on Jersey Shore.  Everyone is expendable in show business.  There is always someone else waiting in the wings to take the place of a person who doesn't want to toe the line.  So, I guess that's why I find it so surprising that these kids who MTV plucked out of obscurity and paid to drink and have fun for six or eight weeks last summer (their "job" at the t-shirt shop was a total joke) are now acting like they are the cast of Friends and are demanding higher pay to -- wait for it -- get drunk and have fun for six or eight weeks of filming.  Hell, I wish someone would pay me $120,000 to get drunk and have fun for a couple of months.  That would be fantastic. 

If they think they can make more money by making "appearances," then by all means, go do it.  This whole "appearances" thing always cracks me up -- do people actually go to a club just because some reality TV show is going to be there?  If so, why?  What's the point?  I could see if, like, Robert Downey Jr. was showing up, but Snooki?  J-Wow?  Really?  Anyway, though, without the show, the "appearances" will dwindle.  You can't have the "appearances" without the show.  Which also makes it surprising to me that they are giving MTV such a hard time.  I would think that the hottest time to be making "appearances" is during the show's run and immediately thereafter.  (Or, perhaps that's why they don't want to be filming over the next four weeks or however long, since the Miami portion is airing starting July 29.)  On the other hand, if you sign a contract, you sign a contract, and demand will likely (unfortunately) be high for them once they are available, which may mean more money for "appearances."

The long and short of it is, I don't feel that most of them deserve more than $10,000 per episode.  What they've been given is a pretty good salary, although not a salary that will set a person up for life.  But why should they get a salary that sets a person up for life when...well, to be blunt, none of them seem particularly intelligent, talented, or any of the other qualities that usually accompany a salary that sets a person up for life?  I can understand why they want more money.  We all want more money for the work we do.  And MTV has certainly made a lot of money off this crew.  (I could actually see paying some of the "break out 'stars'" of the show like The Situation, Pauly D, Snooki, and J-Wow a little more, but the others are actually pretty boring, so if those four stand with the rest, they are dumb.  The Situation needs to take that sweet new contract MTV is offering.)  As a note of reference, the Friends actors didn't "stand together" on contract negotiations until Season 3.  It will be interesting to see how this pans out.  As an old person, I certainly hope they are saving some of this money, because this is certainly not a gravy train that is going to last forever, even if MTV does give in.  (What, maybe five years, at best?)       

Although...if MTV drops them, some other network may grab one of them and next thing you know we'll have Snooki of Love or Ronnie and Sammy or something absurd like that.   

I can't even believe I just put this much thought into Jersey Shore.  Jeez.

Please Don't Take Me Out to the Ballgame

Last night I went to the Cubs game at Wrigley Field.  I don't go to many baseball games, mainly because baseball is about as exciting to me as watching paint dry.  But, every couple of years or so my friends or coworkers have an extra ticket, and it sounds like fun at the time, so I go.  And then I'm miserable and vow that I'm just not going to do it again.  I was in great company, Wrigley Field is always a treat, and it was fun to see my friends, but God is baseball boring.

Now, football I like, particularly NFL.  In football, at least every play doesn't seem exactly the same, the players move in unison down the field, there's potential for a sack, a fumble, a turnover, a defensive touchdown, a huge play.  Obviously in baseball every play isn't exactly the same, but it seems like that to me as a spectator.  All of the players, with the possible exception of three on base, are always in the same spot on the field.  The pitcher always sends the ball the same way.  Maybe he mixes up the pitches, but I can't tell.  The batter always swings or does not swing.  Maybe the batter makes contact.  Pop ups that go to the outfield are almost always caught.  Occasionally you get a homerun (in fact, there were three last night) or a foul ball that goes into the stands, but even that doesn't do a whole lot for me.  My friend K, who like most other men knows the stats and scores of every sport going back 30 years, tried to explain to me that baseball does involve strategy, but it is more like a chess game, where each player plays a part.  It's a quieter strategy than is evident in football.  He explained that a good left handed pitcher is the holy grail, since most batters are right handed, and that the shortstop is the most difficult position, and other factual tidbits.  I think part of the problem is that from the stands it's hard for me to decipher what the pitch did, due to the speed, or even to particularly appreciate what the batter does with it.  At least in football I can watch the ball, watch the pass or the throw, see the opening, groan when the QB misses the opening or gets intercepted. It's just easier to follow the details, be it on television or in the stands.  I don't know - maybe I just have to accept that I'm not a baseball person.  I'm happy the Cubs won and all, but I won't be going back for at least two more years.

And with that......26 days until NFL preseason...and Sundays in front of the old DirectTV NFL Sunday Ticket!   

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Michelle Obama Deserves to Be Paid

Once again, we have a highly educated first lady in office. Michelle Obama has a Bachelor’s degree from Princeton, a J.D. from Harvard, and a long career as an attorney in private practice, working for the Chicago city government, and for the University of Chicago. Arguably, she is more qualified for the office of President than her husband; yet it was she who had to quit her job to help him campaign, despite showing signs of ambivalence about the run for the Presidency early on.

Interestingly enough, there are no official duties tied to the office of First Lady. Yet oddly, the First Lady is given a staff and an office at the White House. Why does a person with no official duties need an office and a staff? Because the duties are implied. And despite that the First Lady is not an elected official, and despite that she did not campaign for this position, and despite that she may have no real interest in politics, and despite that she is only where she is based on the man who happens to be her husband, and despite that she may not be thrilled about being a glorified figurehead who is constantly scrutinized, she is expected to do certain things.

As First Lady, Michelle Obama is expected to advocate, hold receptions, visit various businesses, government offices, other establishments, states, and foreign countries, meet with staff members, receive the White House Christmas tree, and host tea parties for the wives of other elected officials. She regularly gives speeches on different topics both in foreign countries and here in the United States. She has to attend state events with her husband. Recently, Michelle visited the Gulf of Mexico coast. She has now undertaken an effort to prevent childhood obesity. Her official web page closes with the following:

As First Lady, Mrs. Obama looks forward to continuing her work on the issues close to her heart — supporting military families, helping working women balance career and family, encouraging national service, promoting the arts and arts education, and fostering healthy eating and healthy living for children and families across the country.
Emphasis added by me, because for all of this, Michelle Obama does not get paid for her work. Making the job official, and describing official duties would require some form of compensation.

Occasionally I see online polls asking the question: “Do you think Michelle Obama is fulfilling her duties as First Lady?” or even “Is Michelle Obama doing a good job as First Lady?” Both questions are flawed because there are no duties and there is no job, only expectations based on what First Ladies have done in the past. It could be strongly argued that Michelle Obama doesn’t have to do anything as First Lady – after all, without defined duties, who is to insist that she do anything? Why should she be expected to fly all over the country, advocate for anything, or dress in a certain way simply because the man she married was elected President? In fact, I would love to see a First Lady refuse to partake in this, and continue on with her own career rather than pander to her husband’s, or even to just stay home in the White House and raise the children and not get involved in anything political.

Why should the First Lady have to work what is essentially a full time job for no pay? Had Hilary Clinton won the 2008 election, would Bill Clinton have stepped into the role of “First Man” and worked a full time job for no pay? Somehow, I doubt it. Bill would’ve found some way to get paid for his efforts. It’s even more frustrating when the current First Lady – much like Hilary Clinton – had a career in her own right prior to moving to the White House.

Maybe Michelle Obama is fine with this; and maybe Hilary Clinton was also fine with it. But I find it hard to believe that these two career driven and successful women receive great satisfaction out of working for free (and doing all of these things is work) when they could be spending time with their children or pursuing their own interests. Arguably, at least some of the efforts of the First Lady align with her own interests, but do all of them? Would Michelle Obama choose to do all of these things, if given the choice? Michelle Obama doesn’t strike me as the type who enjoys a tea party in the Rose Garden. (Lord, I would hate doing that.) And there is something to be said for earning a paycheck for your efforts.

Maybe back before equality and careers and women’s rights the role of the First Lady could be considered a prestigious one, and women were fine doing all of these things for no pay and in support of their husband. Nowadays, it seems antiquated and – dare I say – almost pathetic that simply because a man chose to pursue a particular career path that his wife is expected to follow that path along with him, and to spend four or eight years working for free. It’s doubly pathetic when said wife is very qualified in her own right for many paying jobs, yet even workers at McDonald’s get paid more than she does. It’s triply pathetic that we the citizens expect her to do all of this without pay. For all of the scrutiny she receives – and Michelle Obama is scrutinized for everything she wears and everything she says and everything she does in the same way that the President is – in a job that she didn’t choose, is it all really worth nothing in terms of dollars and cents? Nothing? Fair is fair – if the First Lady is held to certain expectations, she should be paid for complying with those expectations.

This Is It

I finally watched This is It.  This was a movie I actually wanted to see in the theatre, but I never got around to it.  (The last movie I saw in a movie theatre was The Dark Knight, if that tells you anything.  I used to go to the movies at least once a week when I was in my 20s.  Now I never go.  I just don't want to spend the $10 for what I'm sure will be a big disappointment; too many movies start out well and then unravel in the last 30 minutes.  Or at this point, it feels like I've seen it all before.)

But don't get me wrong, I still watch movies.  I just watch them On Demand or on cable.  So, I had DVR'd This is It a few weeks ago, and finally got around to watching it today, since it was hotter than shit here in Chicago and I really kind of wanted to enjoy the air conditioning.  Now, I was a huge Michael Jackson fan back when I was a kid.  I saw him in concert when I was ten, I had a "Michael Jackson jacket" in black, and my Thriller record was one of my prized possessions.  I still remember when the Thriller video premiered on MTV and what a huge, massive deal it was.  Those were the days.

So, I was a huge fan.  Here was a guy who had a lot of talent.  (Although, to be honest, the crotch grabbing I really hated.)  I don't know what to think about all the child molestation charges against him and all of the drama.  Part of me feels that he was just stunted and stuck in his Jackson 5 days and lived the life of a child, and while he may have acted weird, probably didn't do anything inappropriate, but who knows.  At any rate, he was never convicted of anything, so that is good enough for me.  When he died, I was shocked.  I couldn't believe that Michael Jackson was dead.  It just seems so unreal, because he was such a huge part of my childhood.  I listened to his music over and over again in the days that followed.  I suspect I will have a similar reaction when Madonna dies.

At any rate, the movie.  I enjoyed it a lot, although it is hard to watch at times because he looked so damn freaky.  Why did he do that to his face?  Ugh.  But he still had it.  Anyone who said that he wasn't ready for that tour was damn crazy, because he was dancing and singing up a storm during those rehearsals.  And his singing voice was still great.  And what a perfectionist.  You really see what talent he had.  I have to admit, I cried a little bit -- and I never cry at movies.  I cried during the Smooth Criminal scenes, because that's always been one of my favorite songs, and what he had planned for that song was so freaking cool.  But I think, most of all I cried because he never got to put on that concert, and I think we all missed what would have been a truly spectacular concert.  And watching it all -- all these rehearsals where everyone is working so hard -- and knowing that it is never going to happen is really kind of depressing.              

Friday, July 16, 2010

Speaking of Which...Eminem

I got into a fight with my mom over the weekend about Eminem. 

Yes, Eminem.  She found his new CD in my sister's car (note:  my sister is also an attorney), and she was very upset.  She told me "I can't believe my daughter who has a law degree spends money on this trash!"

I was quiet for a second, then I had to tell her the truth.  Although I don't have the new CD, I have all of his other CDs (in full) in my iTunes. 

She Was Horrified.  "He is trash, he beats his wife, he took a gun into a bar...."  and on.

I agree he's not terribly upstanding.  But I know that he donates a lot of money to the school district where his daughter goes to school (because I have friends who teach there), and let's be real -- he's a white guy who broke into the rap world with much success, so I give him some credit there.  And I like some of his songs quite a bit.

My mom didn't buy any of my arguments.  God, she was so shocked.  She was so horrified.

The conversation ended because I just cut it off and said "let's not discuss this, okay?"  And she agreed.  But wow, I had no idea my mom was so against Eminem.  Learn something new everyday, I guess. 

I've Been Out Tonight...And

Normally I don't hop on my computer after a night of beers and such with the co-workers/friends.  Since I go out with many of my co-workers so often, I believe they are officially on the friend list now.  But, one of our clerks was out tonight, and seeing him reminded me that I told him I would give him all of my bar exam cheat sheets and study materials, if I still had them saved on my computer.  (He is taking the bar at the end of the month.  Why is he out?  Apparently he's been cooped up studying all week and wanted to see us.  I can buy that.)  I felt so horrible seeing him, because I've been telling him I would look and see if I had the stuff for the past month.  I honestly just forgot about it until I actually saw him.  I apparently should've written it in marker on my hand to remind myself.  I forget everything unless it is written down. 

So, I got home from the bar (about fifteen minutes ago), looked, saw that I had an entire "Bar Exam" folder still on my laptop which was divided into folders based on topic (damn, I was insanely organized back then), which included outlines, cheat sheets, summaries, etc., and saved it all to a thumb drive, which I will have my secretary burn to a CD tomorrow, to leave on my chair for him to pick up. 

I'm so nice, aren't I?  But I want D to pass.  He is a good guy.  I have to say, my cheat sheets were the bomb.  Being able to look at an entire area of law and the elements on four or five sheets of paper are invaluable when it comes to the memorization that is required for the bar exam.  I'm honestly shocked that I still have this crap, because when I told him I'd give it to him, I didn't really think I still had it.  (I've gotten new laptops since the bar, so I figured it all got deleted along the way, and filed under stuff I will not need anymore.)  I think I was possibly so proud of the formatting and content of my cheat sheets that I kept them.  That's kind of pathetic, eh?  But if it helps D pass the bar, I'm happy to share.  Although, I have warned him that they are all six years out of date.  Maybe he can update them, or possibly he can pass without any update at all.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Look Who Came Back From The Dead...

I just got home from work, went outside to water my flowers, and look at what greeted me:





Maybe the gerber daisies don't hate me as much as I thought...(although to be fair, this one isn't looking very good, and the leaves need a little TLC also...)

Bad Reasons to Be a Lawyer

Well, interest in law school has increased, despite the bad market.  And it is a terrible market for new attorneys right now.  While some of the bigger firms have started hiring again, the numbers aren't as high as they used to be, nor are the salaries.  I just have this to say about going into law: make sure you are doing it for the right reasons.  If you are going to law school for any of the following reasons, don’t waste your tuition money:

1. You just graduated from college, can’t find a job in your field, and think it would be a good way to spend a few years until the economy recovers. (So, are you killing time, or are you really interested in being a lawyer?  Make sure you really want to be a lawyer before you waste the money.)
 
2. Your life dream is to be like Nancy Grace or Judge Judy or Insert the Name of a Celebrity Lawyer. (I’m not saying it’s wrong to aim high – or low, as in the case of Nancy Grace – but to be fair, both of them put in a lot of time and work practicing the law before they got to where they are, and most famous celebrity lawyers have done the same.  You don't graduate from law school and the next day become a famous attorney.  You do it through a lot of hard work, successful wins, and long hours.)

3. You think you will make a lot of money. (You might, but you might not. There are a limited number of $150,000 starting salary positions. As many of my classmates found out, it is more likely you will start at around $50,000 or $60,000. How does that $180,000 in student loans look against those numbers? Here’s some information on average pay for lawyers. You can’t go into this profession entirely for the money. Make sure you really want to be doing it, because you could end up doing workman’s compensation law or insurance defense because those were the only jobs available.)

4. Everyone always told you that you should be an attorney because you are such a good arguer or debater. (In the real world, oral argument is only a small portion of practicing the law. I do litigation 100% of the time, and have to do an official oral argument (district or appellate) maybe ten or twelve times a year.  (Official meaning argument on an actual motion or brief, not including status hearings and things of that nature.)  The number is small not only because arguments get split up amongst my team members, but because most cases settle, so we don't even get that far.  Also, most decisions are made off the briefs, so writing skills are much more important than oral skills.  The Judge has usually made up his or her mind by the time you get up to argue.  I think Judges only let us do oral argument because most lawyers like to do it.) 

5. You like to pontificate on the law. (Contrary to popular belief, this is not what being a lawyer is about.  The law pretty much is what it is and you are stuck with it.  Very rarely will you get a case dealing with a new or unexplored issue of the law. You don't get to make new law.  Maybe you get lucky and can sneak in a new interpretation, but generally lawyering involves taking the law as it is and applying it to the facts of the case.  You can be creative while doing this, but it is not nearly as exciting as having deep conversations over a glass of sherry while discussing the ramifications of the latest Supreme Court decision.)

6. You think getting a Juris Doctor means people have to call you Doctor. (They don’t.)

7. You hate people and think you can just bury yourself amongst musty law books for your entire career. (First off, nearly everyone uses Lexis or Westlaw for on-line legal research. Second, you will have to deal with clients, opposing counsel (who can be assholes), Judges, mediators, experts, witnesses, and a variety of other people on a day to day basis, depending on your area of expertise. And you have to be somewhat friendly to these people.  Usually.)

8. You think it must be easy to be a lawyer since someone you know made it through law school and they are an idiot. (Grades matter, and law school is a ton of work. While someone has to end up at the bottom of the class, for the most part your classmates won’t be idiots, and you will need to spend a lot of time studying, reading, and writing.  Idiots get through it because law school involves a lot of memorization.)

9. You think law school will help you find your passion. (Figure out your passion before you shell out the tuition money.)

10. You think you will get to mingle with the bigwigs, Judges, and other important people. (If you can find the time to do this after working a 70 hour week, then more power to you. Realistically, the last people you will want to see at the end of the day are Judges and other lawyers, and all of this takes connections. Which requires time and energy. Which takes away from practicing law. Etc….)

How Much Are Teachers Worth?

I came across this article in today’s Chicago Tribune, titled “Chicago Area Teachers Top State in Earning Six Figure Salaries.” In the article, the following was discussed:
About 4 percent of teachers statewide earned $100,000 or more -- 5,457 teachers -- but the vast majority worked in the Chicago suburbs, with heavy concentrations in north Cook, DuPage and Lake counties. In all, 32 Chicago-area districts paid at least 20 percent of their teachers six figures -- five times the state average.
And this:

Teacher salaries are based on a pay scale that gives pay hikes for acquiring more years of experience, college credits and degrees. It's not unusual for teachers to get double-digit raises in one year when they can combine hikes for both education and experience. It's also common to boost pay by coaching sports teams.
Surprise, surprise. Teachers who acquire advanced degrees and work longer make more money, as do teachers who take on added work such as coaching sports teams. This shouldn’t be surprising to anyone. The article’s slant is fairly negative on the teacher pay issue, until:

National Education Association official Bill Raabe said more teachers should be making $100,000.

"If we're really going to attract people into the profession and do the kind of work we expect, we're going to have to pay them,'' said Raabe, the union's director of collective bargaining and member advocacy.
I agree with Mr. Raabe. The $100,000+ salaries are not starting salaries. My mom was a high school teacher in Michigan for over 30 years, and while she didn’t make $100,000, she came pretty close toward the end of her career. (She just retired and informed me that walking out of the building for the last time was the happiest day she’s had in a long time.) She made that money, in part because she got a Master’s degree and an Ed Specialist’s degree, and because she had been working for many years. She also chaperoned dances and was advisor on many student clubs. She spent hours after and before school tutoring students who were having trouble.  And I'll tell you, she worked hard, and came home exhausted every single day.

What does this country want?  Do you want intelligent kids going into teaching and good, educated teachers?  Or do you want to pay teachers a pittance?  Because the fact is, you can't have both.  On the one hand, there are complaints about the state of education and quality of teachers.  On the other hand, there are complaints about teachers making too much money.  (For the record, I don't think getting paid $100,000 after busting your ass for 20 years is particularly horrifying.)  What is fair pay for a teacher? Teaching doesn’t end when the bell rings. You have lessons to plan, papers to grade, parents to call, classrooms to decorate, after school tutoring, and many other tasks. You have to deal with kids who have no respect for authority.  You have to deal with parents questioning everything you do and blaming you when their kid doesn't feel like opening a book.  If teaching pay is limited – no matter how many degrees you get or how many years of experience you accrue – what kind of people will be attracted to this profession?  If we want better teachers, doesn't it make sense to offer some incentive?  How many will be motivated to get a Master’s degree in their field if it makes no difference in terms of pay? Isn’t it kind of nice that high school students have the benefit of teachers with advanced degrees?

Take me, for example. I was very good at math and science, but I never even considered teaching. (Well, in part because my mom strongly advised me against it.) I ended up getting an engineering degree.  If you want good teachers, you have to provide some incentive for kids to go into teaching over other higher earning professions, and money provides a lot of incentive. Granted there are people who do it for the love of it and to help people, but let's be realistic.  At the end of the day, teachers also have families to support and bills to pay.  It's a pipe dream for any to hope that you will get intelligent, good teachers continually entering the profession when they could be making more money doing something else.  After all, it takes a certain kind of person to choose to be a glorified babysitter of 150 or more kids on a day to day basis.  I'll tell you what, I couldn't do it.  Isn't that worth something?  Teaching can be a stressful job, and teachers have to put up with a lot of crap on a day to day basis. My mom has told me horror stories of what kids in her school and classes have done, on the pressure to pass kids who shouldn’t be passed, and of parents screaming at her and questioning their kid’s grade.  If you want better teachers and you want intelligent kids to go into teaching, you can't expect to pay them peanuts.  

Why do we put such a low value on teachers in this country? Why should someone in Congress make so much more than a teacher? Why should other governmental type officials who have been working for 20 or 30 years make so much more than a teacher who has been doing it the same length of time? Why should it be a scandal that a teacher with multiple degrees who has been teaching for 20+ years makes $100,000? It shouldn’t be. I know I complain about raising taxes, but I would not complain if my taxes were raised to increase teacher salaries, or for that matter, to increase police salaries. Both of these groups are seriously underpaid for what they contribute to society, in my humble opinion.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Don't Download Music Illegally! A (Weak) Warning.

I've apparently got a lot on my mind lately.  Maybe venting it all out is the way to get out of my funk.  I think my head can only hold so much, so letting some of it out, in the form of this blog, might just be the way to free up some space to deal with the minutia at work.

On July 9, Judge Nancy Gertner ruled that the $675,000 jury verdict against a Boston University doctoral student for illegally downloading 30 songs was excessive and violated the constitution, and she reduced the penalty to $67,500.  From $22,500 per song to $2,250 per song.  Her opinion (all 64 pages of it) is here.  I bolded the fact that he is a doctoral student, because I think that's important.  He isn't some fifteen year old goofball who is playing around on the Internet.  This is a guy who had a Bachelor's degree, a Master's degree, and was working on the utmost of the utmost, the Doctorate. 

As an attorney, I have a huge problem with a Judge overturning a jury's verdict simply because the Judge thinks it's too high.  It's happened to attorneys at my firm, and it is immensely frustrating.  The whole point of having a jury trial is to let the jury decide.  That failed to happen here, to the dismay of many trial attorneys across the country.  (I'll just speak on behalf of all of them.) 

The defendant in this case downloaded and distributed thousands of songs.  For purposes of simplicity in the lawsuit, the RIAA focused on only thirty of those songs.  The defendant admitted to copyright infringement; the only thing for the jury to decide (a jury of his peers, which is how the law goes) was damages.  How much should he pay the RIAA for his copyright infringement?  Now, in copyright law, you can choose either statutory damages (of which there is a range of dollar amount that you can receive per copyrighted work infringed) or actual damages.  The RIAA went for statutory damages, probably for simplicity's sake.  It's much harder to prove actual damages, because you have to consider whether or not the downloaders would have actually paid for the work.  Statutory damages can range from $750 to $150,000 per copyrighted work (i.e. a song), depending on whether or not the infringement is willful -- which in layman's terms means that you knew what you were doing was illegal, yet you did it anyway.

Now, keep in mind that the jury could have awarded as low as $750 per infringed song.  They also could have awarded $150,000 per song.  Yet they didn't do either of those things.  They awarded $22,500 per infringed song, which is near the low end of what is allowed.  The Court's opinion discusses how this defendant knew what he was doing, lied under oath, and tried to put the blame on other people before he finally copped to what he had done.  And the jury came to their conclusion.  Yet, the defendant has argued that it is unconstitutional, punitive, etc.  Here's the thing:  breaking the law is supposed to result in punishment.  He knew what he was doing (he started out on Napster, and when that was taken down due to copyright infringement issues, moved on to Kazaa and other file sharing sources), yet he continued to do it, with thousands of songs.  He's frankly very lucky that the RIAA focused only on 30 songs rather than the thousands that he downloaded.

But, of course, even with the reduced verdict he is still pleading poverty.  And I think the Judge did the wrong thing in this case, and focused too much on his financial situation.  It's like if you don't put a quarter in the parking meter, and then get a $25 ticket, but go into court and offer to pay the quarter.  The law doesn't work that way.  If you ignore it - willfully - you have to pay. 

I don't disagree that the Copyright Act, and the statutory damages provisions has some issues.  For example, it is for each infringing work.  I had a client who had one copyrighted item that was distributed all over the Internet by a party.  However, because it was technically one infringing work under the law, under statutory damages she was limited to $750 to $150,000 in damages.  That's it, because it was one work.  And this person destroyed her market.  So, there are some problems there.  But this is a case where there were 30 works, arguably thousands, and the jury actually dealt him a verdict on the low side.  They could've charged him with $150,000 per song.   

As an attorney who has dealt with copyright issues in the past, I don't begrudge the right of the RIAA to go after people (even students and kids) who distribute music.  I tell everyone I know, just get iTunes or download your songs off Amazon or Walmart or some legal source.  For God's sakes, it's like $1 a song.  Doesn't the musician who recorded the song deserve something from you?  Do you want your musicians to keep making music?  Then pay them something.  Let this guy be a lesson.  The RIAA is clearly trying to make people realize that copyright infringement is theft - which it is - and if you do it, you will pay.  Obviously the Judge disagreed on what was "fair" to pay.  I respectfully dissent.          

Random Thoughts on a Tuesday

1.  I am so burnt out.  I go through these phases at work sometimes where everything feels like such a chore, particularly things that I have to do over and over again in every lawsuit.  Although each case is factually different, in patent litigation nothing procedurally ever changes.  Complaint, Answer, Scheduling Conference, Claim Construction, Markman Hearing, Claim Charts, Invalidity Charts, Interrogatories, Documents, Reviewing Documents, Privilege Log, Subpoenas, Depositions, Expert Reports, Expert Depositions, Dispositive Motions, Pre Trial Order.  Usually settlement falls in there somewhere and the process comes to a halt at some point.  But it's the same issues, same defenses, sometimes a reexamination request and motion to stay, but rarely does anything unique get tossed into the mix.  It just gets tedious at times.  I don't have any vacation planned in the near future, so I'm not quite sure what to do to get myself out of this funk.  Usually it passes.  It doesn't help that it's been hot and humid here for the past week. 

2.  On the upside, no ants and no drainflies.  Better news, the drain flies were not coming from anywhere in my house.  (All I can say is Thank God they didn't lay eggs in one of my drains!)  I spotted one tonight, but I have no clue how they are getting in my house.  That will be the next task.

3.  One of my neighbor's friends got mugged -- hit over the head and her purse stolen -- on July 2 right down the street from where I live.  I'm disturbed by this because my neighborhood is pretty safe when it comes to  violent attacks, at least as safe as you can be in a city.  We get burglaries and things like that, but no one usually gets hurt.  Why do people do things like this to other people?  I would just like to pass this message on to anyone who is thinking of mugging me:  "I will gladly give you my purse; just please don't hit me in the head." 

4.  I caught on some DVRing over the weekend and late last night.  The Glades is a new show on A&E, and it's House Where House is a Police Officer But Not as Clever as House.  It was all right, but I'll watch another episode or two before I make final judgment.  You're Cut Off was unbelievably annoying and full of shouting and screaming.  Not enjoyable to watch.  True Blood is moving along as slow as molasses.  Nothing ever happens until the last five minutes.  And Chad Ochocinco has a dating show on VH1.  I watched it, because I find something kind of cute about the way he changed his last name to 8 5 in Spanish.  (Not eighty five, eight five.)  Ha!  Unfortunately, his show is not nearly as trashy as most of the VH1 love shows, so I'm not sure I'll be tuning in on a long term basis.  I mean, if you are going to do a dating reality show, at least make it trashy.  It's no fun to see girls who don't drink or make fools of themselves all in the name of love.    

5.  I still haven't gotten my Chicago "Scam" City Sticker for my car!  I keep forgetting about it...and the city never mailed me my renewal form, so I need to figure out a way to do it online without my renewal information. 

6.  Thanks to My Milk Glass Heart for the shout out!  You've reminded me that I need to start linking up to more of the blogs I read -- and also stop reading so many law related blogs!