Thursday, January 27, 2011

Trial is not like on TV

God. That's about all I have to say. I'm exhausted. For the past eight days we have been working 16 to 20 hour days. It's the minutiae that will drive you insane. What exhibits do we need out of the 400 we marked? What if the witness fights? We need copies of the exhibits for each jury member, the witness, the Judge, and the court reporter. Copying all of that on one copier in a hotel war room takes longer than you might think. Our secretaries and paralegals stayed up all night and went straight to court this morning to drop them off. Then I sent them back to the hotel to sleep. I was up until around three, and only went to bed because I had to get some sleep to be able to function in court today. This is not the glamorous life of a trial attorney, let me tell you. I will continue this for another week or so.

Then I will go home and get back to posting more!

P.S. The wife of opposing side's lead counsel told me she "heard I did a great job yesterday." I examined an adverse witness. (I'm an extra attorney, not lead or second chair on this case.). That's not a compliment you get every day in this business, so I'm kind of happy!

P.P.S. The iPad keyboard is not great for blogging fast.


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, January 17, 2011

Harry's Law Could've Used A Little Research in Patent Law

Awhile back I blogged about Harry's Law, the new show by David E. Kelley, which premiered tonight.  The show is about a patent attorney played by Kathy Bates who after being "one of the best patent lawyers in the country" for 32 years gets fired and opens up her own law firm, where she begins practicing criminal law.

I won't rehash my prior post, but my primary concern going in was that she was going to shift seamlessly from patent law to criminal law, even though these areas of law couldn't be more different.  The show wasn't completely clear what type of patent attorney she was -- patent prosecution or litigation -- but it appeared to be litigation, since she seemed to have some courtroom experience.  The "patent attorney" angle seemed to be nothing more than an effort to label patent law "dull" and move on to other things.  I say that because of the total and utter lack of any type of research about what a patent litigator does.

For example, in the opening scene, we are presented with Kathy Bates in her office, which is littered with papers and law books.  What was missing from the desk were patents.  Walk into any patent litigators office, and I guarantee you will find at least one, if not many more than one, patents on their desk.  There are patents from whatever lawsuits they are working on, as well as patents that have been asserted to show that the patent in suit is invalid.  Would it have been so hard to put one patent on her desk?  Sometimes the little details can add to the credibility of a show.

Kathy Bates then declares patent law "boring as a big bowl of steaming dogshit," which forces her to "lead a dull life with dull partners" and claims that she would rather "look into a mirror and watch her teeth rot than do one more case involving patent law."  Of course, she gets fired (and still I wonder how she wasn't a partner in the firm after 32 years of practice).  Then a young man named Malcolm falls on her as he is attempting suicide by jumping off a building.  After she gets out of the hospital, she gets hit by a car.  The driver of that car, whose name I didn't catch, was an attorney who was an "associate against her on a big patent case" where he argued the class consolidation motion.  A class consolidation motion in patent law?  Really?  How would that even work?  In patent law, you have a patent owner and an infringer.  I can't even imagine how the infringers could be a class, because that makes no sense.  I mean, seriously.  All they had to have him say was "I argued the claim construction motion" or "I argued the summary judgment motion."  Why have the dialogue be nothing that has anything to do with patent law, when it is supposedly a patent case?  So lazy on the part of the writers. 

Fast forward and of course Malcolm comes to her newly established law/shoe store, and she agrees to represent him on drug charges.  While she tells him that she is a patent attorney, not a criminal attorney, this doesn't stop her from agreeing.  Oh, and the associate who hit her with the car took a leave of absence from his biglaw job and went to work for her so he could "pick her brain."  So, apparently we have two patent attorneys now working in criminal law.  Great.  Then it was time for another amazing gaffe.  The local thug, Damian, stops by to force her to pay him for protection of her store, and she says she's "a lawyer who is used to working with PIs, DAs, and police."  Really?  In patent law?  Because you will never work with a DA or the police in patent law unless an ex-client goes crazy, and even working with a PI will be few and far between unless you are trying to hunt down a witness.  Patent law is civil law, which generally don't involve the DA or the police.  You can tell David E. Kelley is used to criminal law cases.  She then -- even after five seconds earlier she acknowledged that she was not a criminal lawyer -- told Damian that she would represent him for free when he got arrested.  Good luck, buddy.   

Within days she is trying Malcolm's case in criminal court.  I'm willing to suspend some disbelief on the timing, since that is what legal television dramas do, but it seemed utterly absurd.  In the courtroom, she appeared to be unfamiliar with the both the Rules of Evidence and speaking in a courtroom at trial, which she should have some familiarity with if she was a patent litigator for 32 years.  Her cross examination was out of line, and the show treated it as such, but it seemed so dumb in the context of her experience.  (Although she claimed she was still familiarizing herself with the Criminal Rules of Evidence, things like what's admissible don't vary considerably.)  The courtroom scenes are typical David E. Kelley speeches and improper arguments, and I'm not going to go into the details.  Somewhat surprisingly, she lost the case, but the Judge only gave Malcolm probation rather than jail time, in large part due to her inadmissible speeches in the courtroom.

At the end of the episode, Damian's friends come in and tell her they've invented something, and they want a patent.  So, I guess we'll see how that goes going forward.  I don't have much hope given the lack of attention to detail on such basic stuff in patent law. 

All in all, and even aside from the sloppy patent law issues, I wasn't very impressed with the show.  I like Kathy Bates and will probably give it another chance, but it is abundantly evident that David E. Kelley hasn't practiced law in a very long time.      

Ricky Gervais Is Unoriginal and Not Funny

At what point did “insult comedy” become the norm in awards show? Last night I watched the Golden Globes for the first time in years, and instead of laughing at the celebrities like I usually do, I actually felt sorry for some of them. Yes, Ricky Gervais went that far. Worse, his jokes were retreads of insults we’ve been hearing for years, and ultimately weren’t even very funny.

For example:

He made a joke about gay Scientologist actors. Which South Park did in 2005.

He made a joke about the Sex and the City actresses being old…which, yes, they are. So?

He made a joke about Hugh Hefner’s new fiancĂ© and the age difference. He also mimicked a blowjob in the opening monologue. Real creative.

He made a joke about Robert Downey Jr.’s time in Betty Ford and jail…when he has been sober for nearly ten years.

He made a joke about Tim Allen’s career being terrible in comparison to Tom Hanks’…yet the entire reason Tim Allen was there was…Toy Story 3. While I won’t argue that Tom Hanks has had an amazing career, Tim Allen was everywhere back in the mid to late 90s, and with the Toy Story franchise, hasn’t done too badly for himself.

He made some Mel Gibson/Scarlett Johanssen jew joke…that made no sense.

He called Bruce Willis “Ashton Kutcher’s father”…when Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher have been married for over six years.

He insulted seeing a Cher show, since “it isn’t 1975”…yet Cher has a 90% sold out show going on at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas for the past two years, which has to date grossed over $88 million.

He pulled out the very old and tired Steve Carrell ungrateful for The Office joke.

Maybe I would feel differently if any of these jokes had been funny. I didn’t laugh once. Even worse, none felt remotely original or timely, and some didn’t even make sense. I’m not someone who likes celebrities who take themselves too seriously or can’t take a joke, but some of his jokes made me feel uncomfortable, and I was just an innocent bystander sitting at home on my couch. Is this really the best he could come up with?  This whole trend of insulting people in the form of comedy is really disappointing.  (See also, the Sprint commercial where the guy calls his neighbor's house an eyesore, and his sweater ho horrendous.  At least the commercial is funny.)  I say that as someone who finds Kathy Griffin hilarious.  But, there is a time and a place for it. 

I refuse to believe that a host can’t be entertaining and funny without insulting everyone in the audience. While what he said may have been proper at a roast or at his own standup show, this was not a roast – it was The Golden Globes, which while a joke, is still an awards show that attracts a lot of very famous people who are a captive audience and can't even roll their eyes at a bad joke without the media jumping all over them for being a "poor sport."  Let’s hope James Franco and Anne Hathaway can do a better job at the Academy Awards.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Random Thoughts on January 14

1.  My trial got delayed again.  Ugh.  This is the third time.  I'm beginning to suspect that the Judge doesn't want us to try this case.  And the Judge apparently doesn't perceive that we have deposits on hotel rooms, war rooms, office equipment and all kinds of things that we are going to lose and/or have to extend or be penalized for because we have been delayed.  This is incredibly frustrating.  I wish he would just give us a solid date, rather than a "it is likely your trial will start on ..."  On the plus side, this gives us additional time to fight about jury instructions with the opposing side.  Fun, fun. 

2.  My iPhone touch screen has been acting up, and since it is over two years old, I think it is about time I upgrade to the iPhone 4.  So, I am currently backing up and making sure all of my apps are in iTunes to make the transition to a new phone as seamless as possible.  Yeah, like that'll happen.  I wish AT&T could just transfer it all over for me, but apparently they can't.

3.  I didn't intend to download the Angry Birds game onto my iPad because I thought it looked kind of stupid, but during everything with my niece I desperately needed something else to take my mind off things, so I gave in and downloaded it since I've been hearing so much about it.  Oh my God, this game is addicting.  I rather like it due to the physics calculations involved to figure out where to hit the structures.  This really gets right at the science geek in me.  I've even been dreaming about Angry Birds lately.  This is why I don't generally play video games such as this -- I have an addictive personality and I do get hooked and want to play until I am done.

4.  We have had four close relative deaths at my firm in the past month.  I think that's enough, right?  Can it stop now, please?  We are all tired of having to attend wakes and funerals on behalf of people we care about.  Yes, my firm is like an extended, somewhat dysfunctional family.  I can't imagine working anywhere else.   

5.  I officially hate every single moment that Sammi from Jersey Shore is on my television screen.  She sucked the life out of season 2, and is well on her way to doing the same in season 3.  I think these kids just need to move on to other endeavors.  It's not nearly as much fun watching them interact with people at the Jersey Shore when they are all semi-celebrities.

6.  Huffington Post is such a rag.  I generally read it every day, but the emphasis on Sarah Palin borders on obnoxious.  Here's a clue:  no one on the conservative or Republican side of things gives her nearly the airtime or notice that liberal news sites like Huff Post do.  Compare the Fox News site with the Huff Po site on any given day.  When there are six or seven headlines between the Huff Post Front Page and Politics section about something Sarah Palin -- who is a media personality, no one with any power -- said, you are really pandering to the lowest denominator.  Also, their Entertainment section is pathetic.  The headlines generally read either "Pregnant!" "So and so In a Bikini!" or "Married!"  It's really a joke that President Obama encouraged college students to read this "news" site.  Also, their iPad app is horrible.

7.  I realized today that the Obamacare bill that requires all of us citizens to buy healthcare insurance as of 2014 does not require illegal (undocumented) immigrants to do so.  Isn't part of the uninsured/healthcare problem that there are a lot of illegal immigrants using our emergency rooms for free?  Shouldn't any sort of healthcare reform at least attempt to address that issue?  Why should citizens risk being fined for not having healthcare insurance, yet illegal immigrants get off free?  This makes no sense to me.  But then again, I'm still not sure anyone in Congress has read this bill.  Maybe we should've done this reform in stages as opposed to a massive 2,000 page bill.  I don't know yet that I agree with the Republicans attempt to repeal the entire thing, but I might be leaning that way. 

8.  What the hell happened to Michael Keaton?  He was Mr. Mom and Batman.  Why haven't I seen him in anything lately?

9.  How do people find the time to protest things?  Do they take time off work to do so?  These questions always enter my mind when I read about a protest at the White House or anywhere else.  I've never had time to protest anything, because I work.  Also, I guess there hasn't been anything I felt so passionate about that I thought it would be worth my time to protest.  Does protesting ever really accomplish anything?  Other than a few news stories, I'm not sure it does.

10.  I used two spaces after each period in this post.  Just occurred to me.  I cannot stop this wrong habit.               

You're Doing it Wrong! Spaces After Periods.

I'm feeling a little discombobulated after reading this article on Slate.  In fact, I feel as though my entire world has been turned upside down.  It's nothing big in the grand scheme of things -- just something I always though I was doing right, because that is how I learned it back in typing class in the 8th grade.  Back then we used actual typewriters to learn how to type, and my teacher would tell us all to keep our heads facing forward and holler out "J" "S" "T" and every other letter, and we would have to type them without looking.  After we memorized the letters, we learned how to type complete sentences.  And that is where I learned to use two spaces after a period.

Apparently, that is all wrong:
Yet when he sits down to type, Julian Assange reverts to an antiquated habit that would not have been out of place in the secretarial pools of the 1950s: He uses two spaces after every period. Which—for the record—is totally, completely, utterly, and inarguably wrong.

This is shocking news to me.  No one has ever told me this, and no teacher (or anyone else) has corrected me on this.  I always use two spaces after a period.  In fact, that last sentence and every other sentence in every blog post on here?  Two spaces after the period.  Every brief, motion, e-mail, letter, and everything else that I have typed since I learned how to type has included two spaces after each period.  (I believe maybe once or twice in an effort to fit into page limitations I may have used one space, but it felt wrong and dirty.) 

I'm not sure this is something I can change at this point in my life.  I'm simply too much in the habit of two spaces after a period.  Also, I'm not sure it's something I want to expend the effort to change.  Now, I type without even thinking about it.  If I try to only use one space after a period, I will have to think about it.  One space.  That's it.  Stop right there!  Ugh.  It's very disconcerting to find out that you've been doing something completely, utterly, and inarguably wrong for 23 years.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer, and Revising the Past

It’s been probably twenty years since I read Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but still it is probably one of my favorite books of all time. In fact, when I was a kid I had the biggest crush ever on both Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. (Oh, to be Becky Thatcher down in that cave with Tom…) I believe this may have stemmed from a school play when I was in around the second grade where the cutest boy in the entire school played Tom Sawyer, and the second cutest boy played Huckleberry Finn. As eighth graders, they were too old for me, and I simply played a townsperson, but still. I was hooked. It didn’t phase me one bit that both Tom and Huck were fictional characters, and I decided at some point that I would gladly accept either one as my boyfriend. I’m not sure how old I was when I first read the books Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but my guess is somewhere around age 10 or so. Even at 10 I was smart enough to realize that they were published in 1876 and 1885, and thus did not necessarily reflect the views of current society.

Apparently I was much smarter than the average kid, because now they are revising both books to remove all references to the “n” word and replace it with "slave."  The “n” word is a word that I don’t believe I have ever said out loud, despite reading it in these books as a kid. I knew it was a “bad” and derogatory word. I don’t know how exactly I knew, but I did. What I don’t understand is how people can be so politically correct to not be able to read or discuss these books due simply to the presence of a word that was acceptable when it was written. Look, slavery happened. Horrible racism happened.  It’s part of our history. Are we going to ignore it and pretend like it never happened or learn from it?

What’s the next offensive thing that will have to be removed because we are too politically correct to recognize that it happened? Oh, right all the references in Adventures of Tom Sawyer to “injun Joe” are going to be rewritten as “Indian Joe” and “half-breed” will be “half-blood.” I guess I can’t listen to Cher’s song “Half Breed” anymore either. And what about To Kill a Mockingbird? The “n” word shows up there. It also shows up in Of Mice and Men and Native Son. What about the words “Negro” or “colored,” which also are no longer acceptable? Do those have to be wiped clean from the many old books they appear in also? On a somewhat similar note, I’ve been reading The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes during my commute this week, and there is constant use of the word “ejaculated” where today we would probably use “exclaimed.” Watson is “ejaculating” all over the place in that book. Will other words like that, which are now more identifiable in a dirty way have to be sanitized? I wouldn’t be surprised.

What’s more difficult to understand is why Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn need to be revised, yet rap lyrics and comedians can say the “n” word as often as they’d like, and it appears in movies with some frequency as well. Are people too dense to understand that these books were written in the 1800s? Is it too difficult to explain to students the time and context in which the books were written? Who is really complaining about this…black people or people of other races who are so afraid of appearing racist they will do everything possible to erase all evidence of racism, both past and present?

At any rate, I don’t like this whole revision idea. It’s a slippery slope.

Finally, Some Investigation onto Cook County Spending

I miss the days of real investigative journalism, rather than off the cuff assumptions and a rush to be the first to break the news.  On the heels of the state income tax increase here in Illinois, CBS2 released this article, detailing an investigation into our County Treasurer, Maria Pappas.  It is a completely awesome article, and I hope they continue to investigate her and some of these other elected officials, who seem to have nothing better to do than take advantage of the system.

The gist of it is that a man who appears to only work as her driver, carting her to yoga classes and other places, waiting around for her, and running her personal errands, makes $94,000 a year on the taxpayer dime.  Strangely, his job description is as a Project Leader, which responsibilities of "consulting with county officials 'in the design, development and implementation of varied and highly sophisticated computer software applications to enhance business operations.'"  Needless to say, his responsibilities do not match this job description.  The article states:
So what was he doing after picking Pappas up at her home one morning last month at about 10:45 a.m., then taking her to the East Bank Club for a yoga class, and waiting nearby for more than an hour and a half in a Dodge Caravan the Treasurers office leases for $13,680 a year?


“[He's] going to stay with me 24/7, no matter what,” Pappas said.
How is this allowed?  I can understand if she needs security at times, but why does the County Treasurer need a personal driver at all times, 24/7?  To take her to yoga?  Are you kidding me?  For God's sakes, she's not the President of the United States.  And why is he listed as a Project Leader instead of a "driver"?  This is exactly the kind of waste that I'm sure is going on everywhere in Cook County.   

Pappas also employs a woman to clean her offices each night to the tune of $57,000 per year.  Her job description is Administrative Analyst, with responsibilities of "performs detailed investigation and analysis of operational systems and procedures, program and organization structures and polices to ascertain fiscal, technical, administrative or other problems which need further attention."  Again, the job description has no match to the actual responsibilities performed.

Why the mismatch?  If there is nothing to hide here, why is it so hidden?  Pappas said this:
“All the job descriptions in the county are improper,” Pappas said, “And there is no position for janitor. That’s sort of how the county’s antiquated system works.”
This may not be so true:
But we checked the phone-book sized county budget and it turns out there are listings for janitorial positions in the budget of the Cook County Sheriff, who’s department is responsible for providing staff to clean the county building. And they do clean Pappas’ office, but apparently not good enough to please Pappas.
“I am a neat freak,” Pappas admitted, “I want it immaculate. You’re right.” She said Kawa is the best person to do the job and, “I’m not getting rid of her.”

This is exactly the kind of thing that makes me boiling mad, given the tax increases.  This sense of entitlement.  When our governmental workers are taking advantage of the "free money" from the taxpayers in the idea that everything should be exactly to their liking.  Welcome to the real world.  Sometimes you don't get everything you want, and you shouldn't get it at the expense of the taxpayers.  Is the staff to clean the county building really that bad?  If so, who else is complaining?  Did she or someone from her department address the issue?

Okay, maybe she isn't all bad:
Pappas has cut her payroll by 50% since she was first elected in 1998 and she says she plans on meeting the challenge to reduce her budget by another 16% as requested by the Cook County Board President.

But think about how much more her payroll could probably be cut, and what other cuts might be available to make.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Illinois, Home of Out of Control Spending

At 1 a.m. this morning, the Senate in Illinois passed a bill to increase the personal income tax by 67% and the business income tax by 47%.  The article linked discusses some of the problems in Illinois right now:
In trying to sell the tax package, supporters sought to portray a sense of urgency, saying the failure to act to fill a $15 billion budget deficit, including a looming $8 billion in overdue bills, would lead to the state teetering into insolvency, its bond rating reduced to junk status.

Billions of dollars in overdue bills.  How does this happen?  While I don't know anything about governmental budgets, it would seem to me that money coming in has to be greater than or equal to money going out.  So, why is there such disparity?  Why are thousands of corporations across the country able to maintain a budget and the state of Illinois is not?  While the bill does purport to limit spending, there is no explanation as to whether these are actual cuts, or just an arbitrary figure:
In addition, the measure would attempt to limit spending in each of the next four budget years — $36.8 billion in the 2012 budget year, $37.5 billion in 2013, $38.3 billion in 2014 and $39 billion in 2015. The state’s auditor general would determine if lawmakers and the governor exceed those spending limits. If the limits are exceeded, the higher income tax rates would revert to current levels.
I haven't heard anything about spending cuts.  If there are in fact billions of dollars worth of overdue bills, are these even necessary bills, and is there any excess or ways to decrease those bills going forward?  Shouldn't someone be looking at that?  The answer is not to simply increase the revenue stream.  Something needs to happen on both sides of the table.   

Allegedly, the tax increase is only temporary:
Under the bill that went to Quinn, the current 3 percent personal income tax rate would go to 5 percent until 2015, when it would drop to 3.75 percent. To gain more support among lawmakers, the plan would further lower the tax rate in 2025 to 3.25 percent.

Sorry, but I don't buy it.  In my (vast) experience, the more money you throw into the government around here, the more money that gets spent.  Once they get used to having this revenue stream, it will be very difficult to make them cut it off.

Obviously this turn of events does not make me happy, but the business tax increase is even more troubling.  Is this really the answer when we are trying to create jobs?  Let's see how many businesses decide to leave Illinois over this.  It really seems like a debacle. 

Monday, January 10, 2011

What Do You Spend Your Money On?

So, where does the money go?

I got to thinking after my taxes post about how I spend my money, because I don't feel like I live like a "rich person."  Let's break it down for the year, as best as I can, and these are approximations:

401K:  $16,500
Mortgage/Property Tax:  $36,000
Electric/Gas/Internet/Phone/Cable/Water:  $5,000
Life Insurance/Short Term Disability Insurance:  $7,200
Stock Investments:  $3,000
Condo Assessments:  $2,000
529 Accounts for Nieces:  $3,000
Home Insurance/Car Insurance:  $3,000  (this may be high; I can't remember what I pay)
Loan Repayment for $50K partnership loan:  $2,000
Clothing/Shoes/Beauty Products/Dry Cleaning:  $12,000  (this may be a little high for this year)
Gifts:  $2,000 (mom, grandma, nieces, nephews, it adds up)
Entertainment:  $12,000  (I don't know?  If I include party foods, booze, going out, trips, yeah)
Groceries:  $3,000 (I guess?  A little over $200 a month on groceries, yeah)
Cigarettes:  $3,500  (EEK, but look at what I am contributing to the state of Illinois)
Charity stuff:  $10,000

Um...huh.  I never thought I lived that high on the hog, but this is $120,200.  Some of these may be high estimates, since I don't keep a budget, and I don't feel I've spent that much on clothes and entertainment this year, but it adds up.  If I look at it on a monthly basis...going out to dinner, drinks, etc., Tory Burch shoes, whatever...it adds up.  I never really thought about it because I can afford it.

So, at any rate, this is about 1/4 of my income, and matches my draw.  I'm not in bad shape or anything.  It's just kind of interesting to see it all laid out.  So where does or will the rest of it go?

Investments:  $100,000 (Retirement type stuff that I won't touch, but isn't age 65 investments)
Car:  $40,000 (was going to be a BMW 328i, but we'll see)
House:  $60,000 (remodel two bathrooms, some new furniture, other remodel projects like carpet)
Savings:  $100,000 (I like to keep ready cash on hand in case of emergency, and I like a big cushion; but $25,000 or $50,000 of this might go toward the principal on my condo.  We'll see.)

Maybe I do live high on the hog.  I don't really know anymore.

Goddamn You Snooki! You Ruined My Future BMW.

I hadn't really intended to watch Jersey Shore again this season, but I caught the new season premiere in the hotel room last week one late night, since MTV has been showing it over and over again.

The very interesting part to me about the premiere episode was all of the kids showing up in their new, Jersey Shore money, rides.  (Except maybe Pauly D., who I seem to remember might have had the Caddy in the first season.)  Both Snooki and Ronnie were driving BMWs.  I had planned on and wanted to get a 328i, but now Snooki has one.  Can I get the same car as Snooki?  Is there something kind of wrong about  me buying the same car that she bought?  This has thrown my entire world into a tailspin.  I really wanted that stupid little BMW, but now Snooki has it.  She's ruined it for me.  If she has it, what does that say about me if I have it?  Ronnie had the 5 series, I'm not sure which particular model.  I had judged the 5 series as too expensive to buy right now.  But fricking Ronnie from Jersey Shore has one.  God, I went to college and worked really hard in order to buy my BMW, and buying the BMW was going to be a really, really big deal for me, and I have to watch these boneheads who bought their BMWs through drama, booze, and ridiculousness.   

Now I absolutely have to rethink everything.  I could go for a Mercedes.  But dammit, I wanted that 328i.  Ugh!  Well, I suppose I could not get black, and that would make it different.  Right?  Right?  At best I can hope that the fifteen minutes on these people is somewhat ending, although I heard the ratings for the season premiere were the highest of any MTV show ever, so maybe they've got another few years of it.  At least I have my education, right?  Right?  Ha ha.  God, the whole reality television world is so amazing.  I want to hate, but somehow I kind of feel like "Good for them."  If MTV is making a lot of money, so should they.  But man, is it ever disturbing to see these people making a lot of money solely based on getting drunk and acting like fools.  Oh well, at least I'll be able to have a job forever. 

But why, why, why did Snooki have to buy the car I want?     

It's Trial Time!

I'm not as cool as Vinnie and Pauly D. with their "T-shirt time!" mantra, but it is indeed "Trial Time!" for me.  I'm heading out on Thursday for an out of town trial and will be there for probably a couple of weeks.  Our awesome Judge informed us last week that our trial will be starting late due to a criminal trial that is going to run over, so as of now, we have no idea what day the trial is starting, so we are just heading out as planned and will wait it out.  Since I was out of the office for all of last week, there is a ton of work backed up (I never realized how very needed I was on this case), so the next couple days before I leave are full of work to do, and we will be working from our "war room" set up in the hotel at the trial location at the end of the week and throughout the weekend.  The set up for a trial is amazing -- we are bringing printers, computers, all kinds of files and documents, setting up our network there, etc.  Opposing counsel suggested putting things off until February, and we were like, "Uh, no, we have about $20,000 worth of deposits at hotels and flights and such.  We are going now." 

I'm very excited about this because although I am a litigation attorney who has been practicing for slightly over six years, this is my first trial.  Can you believe it?  The fact is that most cases settle before trial.  I think the stats are something like 95% of cases settle.  I've been really close to trial a few times, and have gone through all the pretrial stuff like jury instructions, trial briefs, exhibit lists, witness outlines, demonstratives, etc., but then the case settled, sometimes on the eve of trial.  That really kills you inside because you've already done all of the trial work, so you just want to go because who knows when the next trial opportunity will arise.  This one is not going to settle.  We are going, even though our Judge does not want to deal with us and is practically begging us to settle.  Oh well, it is what it is. 

I get to examine two witnesses, so that is also extremely exciting (and very nerve wracking!) for me.  Seriously, I don't know what the hell I'm doing, so at least the jurors may get a laugh out of me when I try to mark exhibits and such with shaking hands.  Trial is way different than arguing in front of a panel of judges, which I am quite used to by now.  But, I know the facts and I know the case, so with that I don't think I can screw up too badly.  Knowing the facts is three quarters of the battle.  And I'm fine with speaking in public, so...we'll see.  I don't suspect I'll be as slick as Sam Waterston on Law and Order, but I'll do my best.

My secretary (who is not as dumb as she appears) finagled her way onto the trial team and will be coming with us.  She essentially went over my head to the lead partner and asked him if she could come.  She never asked me, and I didn't offer her up because I really didn't think we needed another secretary to go.  At best, she will be exposed for her total incompetence, but I think what is really going to end up happening is she will be getting food for us and running other gopher type errands that anyone with even half a brain could do.  But, whatever.  The more, the merrier, I guess.  Who knows?  Maybe she will completely surprise me.

I'm very excited about this, in part at least because it gives me something to totally focus on for the next two to three weeks.  When at trial, you are immersed, so the timing really couldn't be better.  I'll try to update around here after Thursday, but we'll see how it goes.  Hopefully the hotel has wireless access.  They should, right?  Don't most hotels have wireless nowadays?  At worst, I can sneak down to the war room late at night and update my blog, or shield my laptop screen when I am working in there.  Ha ha. 

Death and God

When I was a kid, we went to church (or Sunday School) every Sunday.  In the summers we attended Vacation Bible School, and even went on camping trips with our church.  However, my parents were never overtly religious.  We just did those things, and it was part of life.  After I graduated from college and left home, I stopped going to church completely.  It isn't that I don't like church, because there are many things about it that I do enjoy.  It just was never a priority for me, particularly since I don't like getting up early on Sunday mornings.  I'm also a natural skeptic, and a lot of things about the Bible are kind of absurd when you really stop and think about it.  Yet despite all of that, I do believe in God.  At least I think I do.  I really don't like things that can't be explained, and the whole God and religion thing is one of them.

I've gotten into arguments with my mom over the years about this, mostly after I finished reading books like The Jesus Papers: Exposing the Greatest Cover-Up in History (Plus), Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don't Know About Them), and The God Delusion.  I mean, if Jesus existed today he would be mocked and ridiculed.  I can understand why people hundreds of years ago were so into religion.  Times were hard, people died left and right of diseases that weren't understood, and religion offers hope.  But now we can explain a lot of those things.  We know about viruses and diseases and what causes them.  Yet we still cling to the hope that religion offers.  After all, without hope and the thought that our loved ones are in a wonderful place up in Heaven waiting for us, what do we really have when death occurs?  The thought that are loved ones are just gone?  That we will never see them again?  

What happens when you die?  What if there is nothing?  Imagine for a moment that there is nothing.  Do you know you are in nothing?  Or is everything just over?  You close your eyes and boom!  Gone.  Stopped.  And what if there is something?  Has my dad been watching me all these years?  If so, let's hope he was only watching when the things I'm proud of happened, and not so much the drunken nights out.

At my niece's funeral, the reverend discussed that we have to look for the good in this tragedy.  Good?  Really?  Good that a two week old baby died?  Good that her heart didn't form properly for some unexplainable reason?  How is there any good in that?  I certainly can't think of any good.  And the skeptic in me said, that's absurd.  If there is a God, why does he let such terrible things happen?  That part of it all never really made sense to me.  I know free will, and blah, blah, but this has nothing to do with free will, and my sister did everything right during her pregnancy.  This just happened, and it happens to a lot of people.  Why do things like this happen?  Why did my niece never get a chance at life when she had such a great family waiting for her, a family who desperately wanted her?  If you are a believer in religion, the answer is that "God has a plan" or something along those lines.  Maybe that makes people feel better.  Right now it doesn't make me feel better because I'm very selfish and I want my niece here with all of us.               

At any rate, I don't know what I believe entirely.  Is it the Big Bang or is it God?  I don't know, and I'm not going to pretend like I know.  However, I have to say that it does make me feel a little better to think about my niece up in Heaven with my dad, her grandpa, since my dad died long before he had any grandkids.  So, maybe she's with him, and with H's dog who had to be put to sleep last week due to old age complications (what a week, right?), and with our old dog from my childhood, and they are all having a grand old time.  I'd like to think that, anyway, that I'll see them both again.  My sister, who is very logical, told me that there is nothing we can do about this tragedy, and that we all have to move on and not dwell on it.  She's doing okay, given the circumstances, although this is obviously something she and her husband will never get over completely.  Nor will any of us.  We will always wonder about this little girl.  Who would she have looked like?  What would she have done?  What if?  So, I'm trying not to dwell and to just move on, and my little Heaven fantasy is part of that right now.  But really, I still can't make heads or tails of any of this, and I still feel like this is all just a bad dream.

Life Goes On...So Do Taxes

Well, life has to go on, even when really bad things happen.  After a week of crying and being generally unable to eat or sleep, I was thrilled to go back to work this morning to at least be able to focus my mind on something else.  And work is busy, busy, busy, so there is plenty else to focus on.

Back in December I promised to disclose my tax withholdings for 2010, since the constant refrain I hear is that people like me in the top 2% don't pay our "fair share."

So, here it is, directly from my final paycheck of 2010:

Federal Income Tax:  $ 222,142.71
Medicare Tax:           $ 10,065.99
IL State Income Tax: $ 20,286.19
Social Security Tax:   $  6,621.60

Mindboggling, isn't it?  I never dreamed in a million years that I'd get a paystub that looked like this.  Please note that I did not make a million dollars last year, or anywhere close to it.  I'm not a millionaire or a billionaire, I don't drive a Ferrari, nor do I have hidden bank accounts in the Cayman Islands or a closet full of Chanel or a billionaire grandparent.  I'm just a regular person who went to college and grad school and ended up doing pretty well for myself.  I also made sacrifices along the way, in that I focused on my career as opposed to getting married and/or having children.  Nothing comes without a price.  And yet, for some reason, a lot of people seem to think that what I am paying in taxes  isn't enough.  I should pay more.   

Are they serious?  I paid more in taxes than most people make in a year.  Hell, I paid more in taxes than most people make in four years.  Should I simply be grateful that I have done so well for myself and accept that the government considers itself entitled to such a huge amount of my money that I earned?  Am I greedy if I don't want the government to continue to stick its hand in my wallet?  I have to be honest here:  seeing these numbers completely depressed me.  I should have had the opposite reaction, right?  Shouldn't I be thrilled that I've done so well for myself?  Instead, I found myself wondering how much the government is going to take next year, and thinking about the things I could've done with that money.  Somewhere there is a tipping point where the stress of the job + the hours worked is not worth the salary, particularly when such a huge chunk of it is going to someone else, and when a huge percentage of people in this country are paying no taxes at all.  Why in the hell do I have to subsidize so many other people?  Why am I considered the bad guy when I complain about this?  Why am I expected to simply sit back and take it when the very reason I make this much money is because I worked my ass off for it?   

Now, I don't mind paying taxes.  I really don't.  We all have to pay taxes; it is part of life.  Taxes keep our government running, somewhat.  What I do mind is hearing that I am a greedy fat cat who is not paying my "fair share."  How much exactly would be my "fair share"?  I would absolutely love to know the answer to this question.  The national debt is approximately $45,000 per person in this country.  Thus, I am not only paying my share of the national debt, but also paying the share of nearly four other people.  How many people's share of the national debt should I have to take on?  How on earth can this be considered "fair" to anyone?  You'd think some of the people squawking about "fair share" out there might stop and think and thank the people who are paying so much into the government rather than ranting and raving about how "the rich" should pay "more, more, more!"  And I'm the greedy one?           

Monday, January 3, 2011

My Niece Has Died

I can't believe I just had to type those words.

She had a very rough night last night, and the infection spread throughout her organs.  This morning she was taken off life support, and died soon thereafter, on her two week birthday.

I'm devastated, shocked, angry.  I don't know how my sister and her husband will get through this.  Even the thought of attending a funeral for a newborn is enough to make me want to throw up.  I can't believe they had to leave the hospital without her, when this all started on a simple check-up with her pediatrician.  One week ago she was at home, eating, happy.  Now she's dead.  I can't even bear to look at her newborn picture, because I can't stop crying, and when I think about her cute little Christmas dress my sister had her in, and that my sister is going to have to go home and stare at the little pink room that they decorated and the piles of new baby clothes people had sent her, that the baby never got to wear.  My heart is absolutely breaking right now. 

All I can think is why?  Why her?  Why did this have to happen?  Why couldn't the doctors save her?  Why doesn't she get to grow up?  Why?

This kind of thing happens all the time, so I'm not sure why I thought my family would be immune.  There are blogs upon blogs written by mothers talking about their children with heart defects and other disabilities, many of whom end up dying.  A healthy baby is indeed a blessing. 

At any rate, I will likely not be blogging for at least the next week or so, because I will be with my sister and family.  Most of what I blog about around here seems kind of meaningless given what has just happened.  But, I will be back at some point.  Life has to go on.  

Sunday, January 2, 2011

If Money Can Fix Your Problem, You Don't Have a Problem

The title is one of my mom's favorite sayings.  I never thought much about it, because to be honest, we've never had many problems in my family that money couldn't fix.  Until now. 

My niece was born on December 20, and all seemed well, so she went home like any normal baby.  She is cute as a button, and we were all so happy.  On the 29th, my sister took her to the doctor for a check up, where he detected a heart murmur.  Within hours my sister found herself at Mott's Children's Hospital at the University of Michigan, and was told that the baby needed open heart surgery because her aorta was too narrow, and she was suffering from congestive heart failure.  (The baby was eating fine, and there really weren't any outside signs that she was this desperately ill.)  To add to that, the baby has a hole in her heart and tachycardia, but the big issue was the aorta, and the lack of oxygen getting to her extremities.  The doctors advised my sister at that time that they intended to do the surgery either Friday the 31st or early the following week; they had to get the baby stabilized before they could do the surgery.  In the meantime, the baby was hooked up to oxygen, tubes, medication, a venilator, and all kinds of medical equipment.  This was bad, but all around we decided to stay optimistic, since she was at one of the top pediatric hospitals in the country, and surrounded by expert cardiac doctors.  We had to assume they knew what they were doing.

Things took a turn for the worse on Friday when the doctors discovered that she had a perforated bowel.  This led to surgery on New Year's Eve, resulting in the removal of her large intestine and a small part of her small intestine.  This led to a really bad infection throughout Saturday, and loads of antibiotics.  Luckily by today the infection had improved a lot, although she is nowhere near being out of the woods, as she is having some internal bleeding and may have had a seizure yesterday.   

All of this also means that she won't be able to have the heart surgery she desperately needs for a few weeks, until she has stabilized from the bowel surgery she just had, and recovered from the next bowel surgery she needs, which the doctor hopes to do in the next few days.  She is on 8 different kinds of medication to aid in her recovery from the surgery, as well as to keep her heart doing what it should be doing for the short term.  The good news for now is that it seems to be working, and her extremities are no longer purple due to lack of blood circulation.  The bad news is that her kidneys appear to be having some difficulties, but it may only be because the machine is doing a lot of the work for them.  The last thing we need is for more of her organs to decide to quit.  On the bright side, she has her own room and her own nurse dedicated to taking care of her.  That's how serious her problems are right now.

Things could go either way for her.  My sister and her husband are holding it together, but I don't know how.  My mom has lost her mind.  You don't expect something like this to happen when a new baby is born.  We've never had anything like this happen in our family.  I read on the Internet that heart defects are fairly common, but the baby's are very bad.  If the baby survives, she is going to be in the hospital for a long time, and even then we don't know what other kinds of complications this is going to bring to her life, including developmentally and mentally.  (Although surprisingly you can live a pretty normal life without a large intestine, which is something I never realized.  Apparently the small intestine is the one you really need, and she still has double the amount she needs there, so there's a bright spot.) 

My heart is just breaking for her.  She's so tiny and sweet, and to have all of these problems right out of the gate is just devastating.  Every time my phone rings my stomach drops, as I expect it to be my mom or my sister telling me she passed away.  The doctors have told my sister that if she makes it through the next week her chances are very good to make it through everything.  So, only time will tell.  I haven't been able to go see her yet because I've had a terrible cold for the past week, and my sister told me the hospital wouldn't let me anywhere near the baby with this cold.  So, I will probably head over there sometime this week or next weekend.             

She will be two weeks old tomorrow.

The point of this post is really to say this:  be thankful every day for your health, and if you have a baby or a child who is healthy give them a huge, huge hug and thank your lucky stars that they didn't have to go through all of this.  Never take your health for granted.  And don't sweat the small problems, those that can be fixed with money.  Health can't be fixed with money.  We could pour all the money in the world into this hospital and it isn't going to make a bit of difference for the baby's outcome.  She's either going to be able to make it, or she isn't, and there is absolutely nothing any of us can do about it.  It's really frustrating to feel so powerless.          

And oh yeah, Happy New Year.  It's starting out pretty great for my family...