Thursday, September 29, 2011

Occupy Wall Street's Grievances Are Not With Wall Street

I vaguely heard something on the news about a group of protestors near Wall Street who were getting pepper sprayed, and police violence, and whatnot. Oh, here’s an update on their situation. They are at Zuccotti Park (near Wall Street) and are planning to stay there “for the long haul” and have organized a “winterization committee” to prepare for the winter. It’s like the mother of all sit-ins, and they have already been there for twelve days, with surprisingly little media attention. It appears they have basically set up camp:
Zuccotti Park is festooned with placards and anti-Wall Street slogans. People sleep wrapped in blankets or sleeping bags, some on donated mattresses. There is a makeshift kitchen and library and celebrities from filmmaker Michael Moore to actress Susan Sarandon have stopped by to show support.
(Of course Michael Moore and Susan Sarandon showed up.)  After hearing about this, I began to wonder what exactly they are protesting. The organization is called Occupy Wall Street. Here is their unofficial web site, and here is another web site linked from there. Neither states who or what they are really protesting. There is the usual chatter about the 1% getting it all and the 99% getting nothing (which seems a little extreme to me), but other than that there are no stated goals, demands, purpose, or anything else. In fact, apparently when they got the bright idea to gather, they did it without any formal message in mind, and have struggled to define the message. After a little more Googling and digging around, I finally found their official list of Grievances:

OUR GRIEVANCES

1.Campaign Finance Reform
All votes are no longer equal in our Democracy. Money must be put outside of politics, or politicians will continue to pander to those who contribute the most to their campaigns, rather than their own constituencies. Specifically, we abhor the decision by the Supreme Court in Citizens United v. FEC. Corporations are NOT people.

2.True Shared Sacrifice
While corporate profits have been skyrocketing and the wealthy have been getting wealthier, the average worker’s income has dramatically dropped. While the cost of living has exponentially increased, wages have not followed. It has been shown time and time again that tax cuts for the wealthy are NOT effective. Taxes on those who practice greed should be raised.

3.Equality in Justice
This great nation was founded on liberty, but also, on equality. When the balance of justice is swayed in favor of those with wealth, the very fabric of this nation is torn apart. The decision of a judge should not be based upon the race, creed, or wealth of an individual, but rather, the content of the case.

4.The End of the Revolving Door
The Obama administration was supposed to bring change and hope to our country, but instead, brought us into despair and insecurity. Those working in his administration are the very people whom we are fighting against. Those who enter Washington should not be representatives of the elites, but representatives of the people. One cannot simply enter an administration, reap its benefits, and simply exit.
Doesn’t it seem like they should be protesting Congress (who makes the laws relating to campaign finance reform, taxes, and equality) or the Supreme Court (who interprets the laws relating to campaign finance reform and equality) or the White House (point four is a direct complaint against Obama) rather than Wall Street? All of the grievances listed relate to things that nobody on Wall Street is in a position to change. Did this occur to any of them? What really do they hope to accomplish? While they may be getting some attention, it may not be the best kind of attention, because the lack of leadership and a defined message, as well as the failure to protest the right people makes it much too easy to write them all off as a bunch of morons. I would think the 2012 elections might be a great time for them to push their grievances. Aren’t there any candidates who agree with their positions? The change they seek simply isn’t going to happen through Wall Street. It has to happen through the Federal government.  Presidential or Congressional candidates might be a better option here.

Through my brief research on this, I also found out that Occupy Chicago has been going on for an entire week. I read the Tribune and Sun Times every day (not cover to cover, of course), and I haven’t heard or seen anything about this. It’s up to around sixty people hanging out in front of the Chicago Federal Reserve – who also can’t do anything about the Grievances they are protesting. Hell, they might as well go sit in Grant Park. According to their Twitter Feed, the police have told them no personal property on the sidewalk, so they are considering renting a U-Haul. It all sounds pretty awesome to me.

I suppose if people want to hang out in the cold protesting in front of the wrong organization for months and into the winter, that’s their prerogative. I just don’t see how they hope to accomplish anything. Additionally, I have some questions about this:

1. Where are they going to the bathroom? I’m going to assume it isn’t at a Starbucks, Macy’s, McDonald's, or any other big greedy corporation.

2. Where are they showering? Is it bad form to leave a protest to go home and clean up each day, or are you beholden to stay there? I really have no idea.

3. How are they eating? Again, I’m going to assume they aren’t frequenting the big greedy corporations like Jimmy John’s, Potbelly, McDonald’s, and the like. It seems you can donate to the cause, so maybe people have, so they are buying food with that money. But from where? Not the big greedy grocery stores, right?

4. I suppose it’s safe to assume that none of them have jobs? From the articles I’ve read, the majority of the protestors sound to be either college students (who are skipping class?) or recent college graduates who can’t find work. I’m sure hanging out in Zuccotti Park or in front of the Chicago Federal Reserve is a great way to find a job.

5. Why didn’t they do this starting in May to ensure warmer weather for the “long haul”? It gets freezing cold in Chicago and New York, so to the extent that anyone is still doing this in December, they are not going to have fun.

I think there is something to be said for the nostalgia of the sit-ins and protests of the 1960s and 1970s, but all of this seems incredibly poorly organized and a little sad. Maybe it will get there; maybe it won’t. It seems to me that the larger the crowd gets, the more difficult it will be to control and to come up with a unified theory or plan, which is what they really need. The tea party sprang out of a unified group of people with similar goals; the same could happen here, if they play their cards right. However, my bet is that within a month they will no longer be sitting in Zuccotti Park or in front of the Chicago Federal Reserve or anywhere else in the country they are currently gathering in any large numbers. They could stand around and picket and protest forever, but is it really going to do any good?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Shopping Is No Longer Fun Due To Constant Harassment

I really don’t enjoy shopping for clothing at brick and mortar stores anymore. I love the end result of shopping – new clothes and shoes in my closet – but I don’t like the process of getting them into my closet. I feel like shopping used to be fun, but it no longer is for me much of the time. It is an annoyance, in large part due to the sales clerks.

Take a store like Macy’s on State Street. First you have to make your way through the perfume and cosmetics area, where clerks are standing around shoving perfume samples at you and trying to spray you with perfume. (And that’s after you bypass the environmentalists or other charitable panhandlers standing outside the doors who want money.) Then, once you get up to level 3, there is a constant barrage of salespeople trying to help you and start a fitting room for you.

The whole “starting a fitting room” deal is overrated. At times it is nice when you have an armload of clothing or are on a powershopping binge. But generally, if I’m holding one or two items of clothing, the pressure to “get a fitting room started” seems strange. Half the time I’m looking for something to go with the items in my hand, so I don’t want them to go away just yet. The clerks always look at me like a crazy person when I turn down the request, which I don’t understand. The few times I’ve done it at Macy’s, it’s turned into a wild goose chase to track down my clothing. I can’t find the clerk who started the fitting room for me and can’t find my clothing at all. Then I have to remember which of the six women hovering in the area took off with my clothing and in which direction she went. Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s not. Who was it that helped me? I think she was wearing a red shirt. In which of the three fitting rooms in the general vicinity of where I was did she place my clothing? (Macy’s has fitting rooms everywhere.) Where is she? Inevitably, I end up thinking that I should’ve just held on to the clothing because by the time I track it down I could’ve been finished trying it on.

What’s worse, though, is that there is no sign of communication between the clerks of who they have already approached. It becomes more and more annoying to me when clerk after clerk approaches me within a five minute span asking me if I need help or need a fitting room started. For God’s sakes, I’m holding one shirt, wandered into your area 30 seconds ago, and am intently looking through a rack of clothes. Do I look like I need help? I’m doing fine! I often want to wear a bright red sticker (or something) that says “If I need your help, I will find you” or “I already turned down help.” I understand that some people want help, but usually I don’t. Generally, I just want to shop and be left alone, and to not have to talk to a clerk. The last thing I want to do is be rude to anyone, but at times it almost borders on harassment due to the number of clerks that approach asking the same questions. Of course, when I actually need help, there is usually no one around to help me.

Likewise, when I am ready to pay, there is no clerk to be found at any register in the general area. Ever. It’s like there is a beacon they are all drawn to, far away from whatever department I am in, the second I decide I am ready to pay and get the hell out of there. I’ve wandered across the entire floor at that Macy’s just trying to pay before. (And it is a huge, huge Macy’s.)

Smaller boutiques and stores have the same issues (minus the register problem, usually), but add to that the staredown you get from three clerks hovering around the register when you are the only person in the store. It’s so uncomfortable. And if you pull something out of the rack to look at it, the next thing you know one of them magically appears next to you with some other item of clothing cooing “This would look great with that!” Hell, lady, I haven’t even figured out if I like it yet! Or “Let me show you our new arrivals!” Hell lady, I haven’t been in this store in a month, so I’d like to see the old arrivals also, and I think I can make it to the other side of the store on my own without your guidance. These are also the clerks that are constantly bringing you items of clothing you aren’t interested in. Look, sometimes I do want help and then I’m happy to have them bring me clothing. When I’m in that kind of mood, I make it clear. In fact, I say “Bring anything. I’ll try anything.” Other times, I’m either not in the mood for it or in a hurry and don’t need blouses and sweaters shoved over the top of the fitting room door at me.

The solution to some of these issues is to go to TJ Maxx, Marshall’s, Filene’s, Nordstrom Rack or those types of stores, where there are no clerks wandering around. But there you are digging through racks of clothing, and I definitely have to be in the right mood to do that nowadays.

I buy a lot online now, but unfortunately trying on clothing can be a necessity. Many people buy stuff online in different sizes and ship back the one that doesn’t fit, but that seems like even more of a hassle to me, and some stores make you pay return shipping so you end up paying more. (I’m looking at you Neiman Marcus.) When I find a brand of clothing that fits me consistently, I go back to it because then I can solely buy online and 90% of the time everything fits. But that can lead to a rut…which leads to the necessity of braving the brick and mortar stores from time to time...who often don't even have the item in stock at the store...and offter to order it online for you.  Which defeats the entire purpose of going to the store and putting up with the harassment.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Random Thoughts on September 23

1.  I'm going out with one of my old friends tomorrow night, and it's crazy how much I am looking forward to seeing her.  She and I hung out constantly when I was in law school, and then we had a falling out for reasons I don't really remember and am still confused about, and because of that we lost touch.  We hadn't talked in years (I think at least five years, maybe six), and then I ran into her on the street recently.  What are the odds of that in a city the size of Chicago?  Anyway, we were both like "What the hell happened?  Let's go out!"  Isn't it weird how that can happen?  So, we are reconnecting and going out tomorrow night and I couldn't be more excited.  I've missed her so much.

2.  My secretary has vastly improved.  This could all turn out well, although it is making me realize I should've talked to her way sooner.  Score -1 for me in that department.  I hate managing people and am not good at it.

3.  The Chicago Tribune informed me today that despite the housing market and the serious drop in property values, I should expect a bigger property tax bill when they come in October because the city needs more money.  Awesome. 

4.  I constantly get requests from my undergrad school to come and talk to the female engineers about what I do, so I'm finally going to do it in October.  This is also exciting, and I think it will be fun, because even though I am bitter sometimes, I do like what I do, and am very thankful to end up where I am.  I haven't forgotten that the reason I became a patent attorney was because of an alum who had become a patent attorney who came and talked to all of us at a Society of Women Engineers event during my freshman year there, nearly twenty years ago.  Maybe I'll have the same impact on another girl.  Also, maybe I can find out who that woman was, because I would love to send her a note and tell her how much of an impact her talk had on me.  She was maybe in her thirties then, so she is probably still practicing somewhere.  SWE must have records on their speakers, even going back that far, right?  I'm going to investigate when I go out there.

5.    I finally caught up to Game of Thrones on my DVR and OH MY GOD I love this show!  I'm now reading the books and am partway through the second book.  It's been awhile since I've loved a show this much. 

6.  The season finale of True Blood was so awful and corny.  I hope Tara is dead, dead, dead, but I have a feeling they will bring her back to life somehow next season.  Maybe they should've just followed the books, because although this season started out well, it devolved into total soap opera Lifetime movie corniness, in my opinion. 

And Introducing...The Final Bathroom

All right, here is the basement bathroom!  I think this one is actually my favorite, because I am such a slave to slate.


Doesn't it look awesome?  I love how the slate turned out.  Slate can be kind of a crapshoot since it is stone, and every piece looks different, but the coloring on these is fabulous -- not too yellow.  And they did a great job laying the tile.  The walls are painted Winterwood by Benjamin Moore, which goes absolutely perfectly with the tile.  I could not have picked a better paint color, and am so impressed with myself.  (Ha ha.)  The toilet is the same as the other two bathrooms, the dual flush Toto.  All fixtures are chrome in this one.



Tearing out and redoing the floor of the shower cost the most, but it was worth it.  (The hideousness of the previous shower floor cannot be described.)  The slate is all from the same family of tiles, but different sizes on the floor, shower walls, and shower base. 



Check out my sweet glass sink and big old faucet set off center.  (Both semi-big splurges, but I think they work really well in here.)  The vanity is a dark cherry that matches the frame of the mirror, and the countertop is quartz, the same as in my master bathroom.



And the lights!  I also put a can light in over the shower, which I didn't specifically photograph because...it's a can light.  If you've seen one, you've seen them all.  You can actually see it in the first photograph above.  Also, and this was a big deal, I now have a fan in this bathroom.  Although the original builder laid out all the ductwork for a fan, there was no fan.  I was pleased to know that the ductwork was already there, so it made it much easier for my contractor, but how bizarre to set it all up and then not take the final step of installing the fan.   

Anyway, the big bathroom remodel of 2011 is now happily completed.  The rest of my house is coming together also, and I'll post pictures once I get stuff semi-finalized.  Tomorrow morning I get my two chairs and ottoman from Ethan Allen, as well as my new television set for the basement from Best Buy delivered.  So, now all I am waiting on are my couch and chair pillows from Ethan Allen and my couch from Pottery Barn for the basement.  Oh, and I still need new rugs for the main floor.  It'll get there..... 

The America Invents Act Isn't So Great for Inventors

Since I'm a patent attorney, I guess I'm obligated to write about the massive change that occurred in our patent system last Friday, when President Obama signed into law the America Invents Act.  Maybe you heard about it; maybe you didn't.  To be honest, I'm not sure how I feel about it yet, and only time will tell how it truly affects inventors and patents going forward.  All I know is that the folks in Congress don't seem to know anything about how the patent system works or what it is about.  They seem to believe that if the big companies are in favor of something that it must be the right way to go.  He who has the most money can speak the loudest, right?

My initial thought is that the America Invents Act doesn't do a whole lot for the guy inventing something out of his garage.  The guy who has little money to pay patent prosecution attorneys to help him get a patent issued, or to pay patent litigation attorneys, assuming he was able to pay the $5,000-15,000 (or higher) to get a patent issued, and assuming someone else is using his invention. 

This push for patent reform arose somewhat out of patent infringement lawsuits by so-called "patent trolls" and has been a long time debated in the patent community.  Non-practicing entity is the nicer word for "patent troll."  These are patent owners (many times the inventor) who don't practice the invention, but file lawsuits against companies they assert are practicing the invention.  The Constitution doesn't require that the patent owner actually use or practice the invention.  Patent rights create the right to exclude others from using the invention, so whether or not the patent owner is doing anything with the patent, they have the right to sue others for using the invention. 

Big companies have been overwhelmed with lawsuits from NPEs in recent years, and got pissed off about it.  To them (even though many of them also sue on patents they aren't practicing), it wasn't right that they should be sued for practicing an invention that the patent owner wasn't even practicing.  The whole NPE thing has become a business.  Right or wrong, I don't know.  But it is what it is, and as I said, the owner isn't required to use the patent, so all of this is above board. 

There are also individual inventors who get caught up in this mix.  What if you come up with some great invention relating to cell phones or televisions, and you can't get any of the major manufacturers of those projects to license your invention?  (Big companies have a huge upper hand over the little guy who approaches them with an idea.  They know most of them cannot afford the cost of litigation.)  Maybe you scrape together the fees for a good patent attorney to help you get your patent issued, but then what do you do?  Do you start a new cell phone or television company?  Where do you get the money for that?  There are a lot of barriers to entry for the individual inventor, specifically in some of the high technology fields, so yes, the inventor sometimes teams up with investors to enforce his patent because litigation against a big company is far from cheap.  (Could you afford around $2 million in legal and expert fees to enforce your patent?  Is it any surprise that an individual inventor might need a little financial backing to go up against a big company who can afford the legal fees?)  I don't see a problem with that. The big companies have a huge problem with that -- hence, the America Invents Act.  Surprisingly enough, though, there are some smart people out there who do come up with good inventions that are later practiced by large companies, even though they don't want to admit it.
 
To be fair, it could have been much worse.  Much of the goal of this legislation is to hinder NPEs from getting and enforcing their patents, at least in my opinion.  The biggest change -- and in my opinion an unconstitutional change -- is fundamentally changing our patent system from a first to invent system to a first to file system.  Patents are all about a "race to the patent office."  Now, the first person to file wins.  It used to be that an inventor could "swear back" behind a filing date on a patent, to show that they came up with the invention first.  No more.  First to file wins the day.  While this brings us in line with most of the rest of the world, who have first to file systems, it is not what the founders intended, and indeed, the Constitution talks about "inventions" not "filings."  Who has the resources or even realization to file a patent application quickly?  Big corporations, not a guy inventing stuff out of his garage.

Another big provision affecting individual inventors who want to enforce their patents deals with joinder.  Many times, patent owners will sue a number of entities who are infringing the same patent all in the same lawsuit.  (For example, if you have a patent relating to cell phones, you sue Motorola, Samsung, HTC, Nokia, etc. all in the same lawsuit.)  That is no longer allowed.  The patent owner has to file against each defendant separately, which means paying the $350 filing fee for each defendant.  It may not seem like much, but it can add up when a number of companies are infringing a patent.  This may also cause problems when it comes to construing the claims of the patent (in English, determining what the words of the patent mean, which always turns into a catfight) when there are multiple lawsuits and judges across the country all doing this at the same time, and ultimately different defendants pushing different claim constructions. 

From the patent owner perspective, ultimately you deal with each defendant separately with regards to discovery and infringement, but this requirements adds a lot of administrative details that have to now be separately dealt with for each lawsuit -- i.e. setting the case schedule and agreeing to a protective order.  Ultimately, I think this provision may provide results that the big companies weren't intending, in that it will end up costing them more money to litigate.  For example, many times defendants will team up and hire a technical expert to deal with invalidity issues, or to file a summary judgment motion on invalidity or inequitable conduct defenses.  Many defendants "free ride" the more ambitious defendants.  That will no longer be possible.  They will also lose their "joint defense privilege" should they decide to talk about things with defendants in other lawsuits.  I'll say this:  in seven years, I've never had a defendant request to be separated from the others for trial or any other reason in litigation, and to be fair, if they had, they probably would have won because under the rules as they were, the joinder probably wasn't kosher.  But no one ever complained until recently.  So now we have a specific rule eliminating joinder. 

There are other new provisions dealing with the right to basically challenge a patent within nine months of it being issued (essentially telling the Patent Office that they are idiots right out of the gate), and other things that will cost an individual inventor more money to get their patent issued, that I don't feel like getting into right now.

But overall....I have a sinking feeling in my stomach that this is not going to bode well for individual inventors who aren't associated with a big company.  It makes me sad.  This is not what our country is about.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Celebrate: National Unmarried and Single Americans Week

Apparently it’s National Unmarried and Single Americans Week.  It’s also National Child Passenger Safety Week.  Weird, huh?  Who comes up with these celebratory weeks?  Every week is something more and more random.  Anyway, I suppose I should be celebrating because I’m both unmarried and single!  Double the celebration, right?  Time to raise the roof and rub it in to my married and dating friends’ faces.  Boo Ya!

I’m always bitching about how you are constantly overcharged when you are “uncoupled.”  For example, a couple weeks ago I skipped my neighborhood’s block party because the cost was:  $15 for singles, $20 for couples, and $30 for families.  Let’s do the math.  A couple gets to go for $10 apiece, a family of three for $10 apiece, a family of four for $7.50 apiece, a family of five for $6 apiece…etc.  Now, this was a block party with a big old red, blue, and yellow moonwalk puffy thing for the kids, food, and other block party stuff.  Would I as a single person eat $15 worth of food?  (No.  Unless it was pizza.)  Do I get to play on the moonwalk?  (I doubt it.)  Do I want my face painted?  (No.)  Does the $15 include booze?  (No.)  The people who get the most out of these block parties are the families and people with kids.  There are plenty of “kid” activities.  So why do they get off so cheap and I have to carry the load?  Eh, anyway, I didn’t go.  I wasn’t all torn up about it, and really didn’t want to go anyway, but when I saw the usual “singles get screwed” pricing, that solidified my decision.

Anyway,  I came across a couple of articles regarding National Unmarried and Single Americans week – one that was worth quoting here, and the other that left me scratching my head.  The first is from the New York Times blog, and discusses more of the biases against the singles of the world – one I hadn’t even thought about regarding the FMLA:
Bella DePaulo, a visiting professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has a term for discrimination against single people, which she calls one of the last accepted prejudices. It is the title of her new book, “Singlism: What It Is, Why It Matters and How to Stop It.”
As an example, Dr. DePaulo cites the Family and Medical Leave Act. Because she is single and has no children, nobody in her life can take time off under the law to care for her if she becomes ill. Nor does it require that she be given time off to care for a sibling, nephew or close friend.
This is disturbing.  What if something happens to me?  What if something happens to one of my siblings?  My siblings and nieces and nephews ARE my family.  I think they need to change the name of the FMLA to the Spouses and Children Medical Leave Act, because that is who it is for.  I’ll just add this one to the list of ways I'm discrimianted against, along with my social security that will go to waste if I die before I’m old enough to receive it.  However, the bonus to this article is that it also tells us how we are better than the marrieds, which is a rare and wonderful discussion:
[S]ingle people often contribute more to the community — because once people marry, they tend to put their energy and focus into their partners and their own families at the expense of friendships, community ties and extended families.
“It’s the unmarried, with or without kids, who are more likely to take care of other people,” Dr. Gerstel said. “It’s not having children that isolates people. It’s marriage.”
The unmarried also tend to be more connected with siblings, nieces and nephews. And while married people have high rates of volunteerism when it comes to taking part in their children’s activities, unmarried people often are more connected to the community as a whole. About 1 in 5 unmarried people take part in volunteer work like teaching, coaching other people’s children, raising money for charities and distributing or serving food.
Unmarried people are more likely to visit with neighbors. And never-married women are more likely than married women to sign petitions and go to political gatherings, according to Dr. Gerstel.
Hurray for us!  But then there is this article from the Huffington Post, which is frankly…bizarre.  It’s by Page Gardner, who is the founder of Women’s Voices, Women Vote (which I’ve never heard of until today.)  While it starts out with some interesting statistics on the unmarried, it rapidly devolves into the usual liberal rhetoric, culminating with this:
Finally, many state governments have failed to encourage or make it easy for unmarried women to participate in our democracy. Right now close to 40 percent of unmarried women are not registered to vote and even though unmarried women make up 25 percent of the voting- eligible population, they only make up 23 percent of the electorate. Why the gap? Some of it is because these women think politics have no relevance to their lives, but too many unmarried women also encounter structural obstacles - they don't know if they are qualified to register, don't know where or how to register, or when the deadlines are -that keep them from registering.
I don’t understand this.  It is a structural obstacle that an unmarried woman doesn’t know if she is qualified to register?  It is a structural obstacle if an unmarried woman doesn’t know where or how to register or when the deadlines are?  Are unmarried women that much dumber than the rest of the population?  In the weeks leading up to election time, I regularly see people sitting at tables outside the trains and the Targets and the Dominick’s asking people if they want to register to vote.  I also got a form in the mail when I moved, telling me to register to vote.  I also got asked when I renewed my driver’s license.  I also have access to this really awesome invention called Google.  Also, around election time MTV Rock the Vote is all over the place, along with other commercials.  I also hear commercials on the radio about registering to vote.  In fact, I don’t know how it could be easier to register to vote or find out if you are eligible unless someone came to your house and did it for you, and who is going to pay for that? 

Here’s another one:
But instead of making it easier, many states are imposing new voter identification requirements that make the process unfairly complicated. The most common new requirement, that citizens obtain and display an unexpired government-issued photo identification before being allowed to vote, was advanced in 35 states in 2011 and passed in 11 others.

Those bastards.  You need a government issued photo identification to get on a plane in this country, to drive a car, buy liquor, buy cigarettes, sometimes to pay by credit card, to cash a check, and countless other things, but I can see why it is such a structural obstacle to require someone to have some form of photo identification to vote.

To be honest, if someone can’t figure out how to register to vote, I’m not sure they should be voting at all.    

Monday, September 12, 2011

Funding of the American Jobs Act

Well, who didn't see this coming?
President Obama would fund his $447 billion plan to create jobs largely by raising taxes on wealthier families, White House aides said Monday after the president again called on Congress to support the package.

During a Rose Garden appearance, Obama pledged to send Congress the American Jobs Act on Monday evening when the legislative body resumes its session. Aides revealed for the first time that the plan will include limits on itemized deductions for individuals who earn more than $200,000 a year and families that earn more than $250,000.

Eliminating those deductions will bring in an additional $400 billion in revenue, said Jack Lew, director of the Office of Management and Budget.
Hmm...so, apparently it isn't all paid for, is it?  Let me look into my crystal ball:  the Republicans will oppose this because they want to cut spending rather than increase taxes, and President Obama will use that refusal as a major theme for his reelection campaign, and blame the state of the economy on the Republicans in Congress.  Sound about right?  I just want to know why we can't cut spending?  You don't go to your boss and ask for a raise when you get into debt -- you cut your spending and live on ramen noodles and shop at Goodwill.  Why is the government so different?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Obligatory September 11 Post

I'm posting it a little early, since tomorrow I will be busy watching football.

Yet I remember 9/11/01 as if it were yesterday.  Amazing, that.

I was in my first year of law school, only a few weeks into the semester, and still new to Chicago.  I was living in Old Town, in a one bedroom highrise on LaSalle, just north of Division.  On that day, I had Contracts at 9 a.m.  It was an attendance based class, so you had to show up.  While I was getting read for class every morning, I watched the Today show.  (I no longer watch Today.  It is out of control with the crazy.)  That day was no different.  My only television was in my living room, so as I was going in and out of the bathroom and my bedroom, I would stop and watch the television for a few seconds, and it was loud enough that I could kind of hear it. 

When the first plane struck the tower, from what I can remember, there was confusion.  When I saw what they were showing on the television, at first I thought they were showing some retrospect of when Bin Laden put the bomb there during the Clinton administration.  I didn't know why they would do that, but that was my first thought.  And then they were saying that a plane had crashed into the Twin Towers.  It was all really surreal, and I stopped and thought, is this happening?  Even the newscasters were confused.  What do I do? 

I left my apartment, got on the 156 bus, and went to class.  This was before the second plane hit, and before anyone knew how serious this was or what was going on.  All I sort of knew was that I didn't want to miss my class.  And again, it was surreal at that point.  I saw it on the news, but it seemed odd to say out loud.  "A plane crashed into the World Trade Center."  For all we knew it was an accident.  I found out how odd it sounded to say outloud when I saw one of my classmates (now my good friend N) on the bus, and told her what I saw on television.  (She hadn't watched TV or listened to the news that morning, so she was in the dark.)  She said "What are you talking about?"  And no one else on the bus knew what I was talking about either, so I almost felt like I dreamed it.

But when we got to school and N and I walked into Contracts class, and in large letters on the blackboard was "Class is Cancelled for the Day.  Go Home." and all of the televisions in the class were tuned on to CNN.  A number of students were sitting in their seats, pounding away at their laptops, somewhat listening to the news.  By then the second plane had hit, and maybe even the Pentagon plane as well, I don't remember.  I walked into the classroom and didn't really know what to do.  Everyone was looking at each other, confused, shocked, stunned.  I sat down in my seat and watched the news for a few minutes.  And it hit me.

I'm only a few blocks away from the Sears Tower.  I have to get out of here.  What if the Sears Tower is next?  You have to remember, at that point in time, all we knew was that planes were hitting everywhere, and if anywhere might be a target, it would be the Sears Tower.  It was chaos and confusion. 

So, I left, as did the many thousands of people in the Loop.  I went to the bus stop for about twenty minutes, which was packed with people, and bus after bus went by, full.  So, I thought I would try the train, to get somewhere near where I lived.  That, too, was packed.  Absurdly packed, even worse than after a Cubs game.  Then I decided to walk.  It's not that far, but it's far enough.  Luckily I had on comfortable shoes and hadn't chosen to carry my laptop to class.  I'd walked home from school before, but not with a crowd like this.  The sidewalks were packed with people like me who had given up on public transportation or taxis, and were simply walking home to River North, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Lakeview, and beyond.  Everyone was pouring out of the Loop, in fear that we might be next.

I made it home, turned on CNN, and didn't turn it off for two days.  We didn't have class the next day, and I couldn't leave my television.  Horrifying, all of it.  I lost one of my coworkers from my consulting days, who was working in the WTC that morning, and was one of the most brilliant people I've ever met.  I'd just visited him and his girlfriend in New York not long before that.  He was one of the most ambitious, intelligent people I've ever met.  He would've gone far.  We lost a shining star in him, and probably a lot of others I don't personally know.  I tried to call him that morning, but couldn't get through.  And I knew.  I just knew.

Never forget.

Another Rant About Heels

Maybe it's not "another."  I'm not sure if I've bitched about this before or not, but it really gets my goat.

I truly don't understand why all of the premier designers don't release at least a few pairs of cute shoes (equivalent to their super high heeled shoes) each season with a 2-3" heel height, preferably with a fatter heel.  (I always get stuck in the tar between the sidewalk squares in my Louboutins.  Such. A. Pain.)  I'd love to buy the Christian Louboutin Mistica, but it's sold out everywhere.  (Should that be a clue?  People want reasonable height, thicker heel, cute shoes!  I have to get on the wait list.)  It has a shorter, fatter heel, and is just  a standard black heel.  Everyone -- from Jimmy Choo, to Gucci, to Prada, to Louboutin, to everyone else always releases all of these amazing shoes that are super cool...but they have about a 4" heel.  That's great and all, unless you want to wear them to work all day.  And I'm too old to do 4" heels.  I just can't do it anymore.  Yes, I said it.  I wish I could be Victoria Beckman and pull it off, but I don't want to bother with it.

So, here I am yet again, looking for a solid black heel for fall.  I've worn the hell out of my patent Tory Burch heels that I bought last fall, and it's time for a new pair.  So, through my fuming and browsing of all the 4" heels, I found these:

They are Prada.  I ordered them online and took a chance with the 38.5.  I usually wear an 8 in "normal" shoes, but in the higher designer brands I usually take an 8.5, so since I've never bought any Prada shoes before, I figured I'd go with the bigger.  They fit perfect, and they are really cute.  Plus, this is a shoe I can wear all day long, for 12, 15, 18, whatever hours.  See that cute little low, thick heel?  Yes!  Prada has some other lower heeled shoes, but you know...they are never as fancy or quite as cute as the super high heeled ones.  And there isn't much in the 2-3" range.

But, the Prada Buckle Pump should work for me.  It is 1.75".  I wish it was about 2.25" or 2.5", but oh well.  The 2-3" range is very difficult.  The designers seem to think that you either want low (below 2") or super high (4" and up).  How about medium high?

Things I Learned During My Remodel Project

I've never done any sort of remodeling before this, since I always rented until I bought this place.  I can't say that it's been terribly stressful or inconvenient, but it has been enlightening.  There are things I wish I would've thought through more or done differently, though.  So, here are some things I learned:

1.  When you are doing a bathroom and want to put your toilet paper roll holder on the side of the vanity, measure to make sure you are going to have the clearance for it.  This did not even occur to me.  My old vanity had an inset toilet paper holder roll, which I could've gotten...except I wanted the vanity with the drawers on one side.  This means you can't have the inset.  Which means the two toilet paper roll holders I bought for the sides of my upstairs bathrooms vanities are useless to me.  I had to buy the standing ones to put in the corner, which isn't a big deal, and I think I like having the drawers better than the toilet paper holder, but still, wasn't something that even occurred to me.

2.  If you have moldings around your stairs, and you plan to recarpet them, carpet before you paint the moldings.  I learned this one today.  The pad and the way I wanted them to lay the carpet on the basement stairs differed from what was there before, and left a gap in places of brown wood along the sides.  My moldings are white.  This will need to be touched up.

3.   You will always run into some problem that will cost you more money.  For me, it was only one.  My master bathroom bathtub was built over a joist.  The previous bathtub apparently had a false bottom in it to lift it up to deal with the joist.  We didn't realize this until the old tub was torn out and they went to put the new tub in, and had to build it up about two inches.  It wasn't a big deal, but cost me an extra day of work.  The bonus, though, is that my tub in there almost looks like a big, deep soaker tub when it is not.

4.  The guys who paint and the guys who install carpet do not speak English.  Usually they will have one guy (the "boss") who speaks decent English.  This is really frustrating at times, because you tell them something and they have no idea what you are saying.  This is also how I ended up with the wrong color wall in the basement.  I had no such problems with the electrician, plumber, or tiler.  Although, I guess it probably depends who you hire.

5.  It costs a lot more to install stone tile, because not only do they have to lay it out and pattern it out (because each stone is different), but they have to seal it.  You also have to seal it once a year.

6.  Test paint colors on more than one wall, because the light hits differently everywhere.  My paint looked dark enough on one wall, but on another wall it looks nearly white.  I should've tested it on that wall.  Also take into account how light the paint you are comparing it against is.  My walls were stark, stark white, so my light gray looked very dark compared to it.  However, now that the light gray is up, it is very pale.  Yet, when I look in the hall closet and compare it (yes, I skimped and did not paint the inside of that closet), it looks dark compared to what was there.  I didn't realize how truly white my walls were.  Anything and everything would've looked dark against that shade.

7.  I should've shopped around more for prices on carpet.  I am just too tired of it all at this point and wanted it installed as soon as possible.

All in all, I'm happy with how it went, even though it has gone on forever.  The carpet was installed today and it looks great.  I'm particularly happy with my upstairs bedrooms choice.  (I went with berber upstairs and in the basement.  I like berber.)  My basement bathroom is supposed to be done on Monday.  (All that is left is to put in the sink, faucet, and shower head/faucet.)  It looks AMAZING!  The slate looks so good.  It might be my favorite.  I'll post pictures once it's done, and I'll post pictures once I get my furniture in.  I'm getting my bedroom set, entertainment unit and desk unit for the basement on Thursday from Pottery Barn.  I'm still waiting for my Ethan Allen chairs and couch for the main floor, and waiting for my Pottery Barn couch for the basement.  I also just ordered a chaise from Crate and Barrel for the basement, and a media stand thingamajig for my bedroom, which is all in stock, and should be here over the next two weeks.  Now, on to rugs.  The problem with rugs is that online it's hard to judge the color, and I really care about the color.  I'm going to hit a showroom this week or next weekend, because I need my rugs for the main floor, which is all hardwood.

Also, I'm likely going to spend most of next Saturday on my hands and knees cleaning the wood floor on my main floor.  I've let it go due to the dust from the construction, and it looks terrible.  I could hire someone, but I think I'll just do it myself.

The Somewhat Resolution of the Secretary Debacle

Well, it was somewhat anti-climatic, I'll forewarn you now.

We were supposed to have the discussion in the late afternoon the Friday before Labor Day.  Unfortunately, my secretary screwed up a court filing for me and spent three hours going back and forth with the court out in the Northern District of California to fix the problem, so that took us up until five o'clock, and we all decided to do it on Tuesday morning.  Really, could the timing have been better for another screw up?  The thing she screwed up was something she should have come to me and checked with me about, but she didn't.  I forgot that in the N.D. Cal. when you file a motion you not only select the hearing date, but you select the due date for the other side to respond, then the software calculates the reply date.  So, we had noticed up the motion to be heard toward the end of October, and rather than checking with me as she was filing (for once I wasn't standing over her shoulder watching the process - my mistake), she calculated fourteen days from the hearing date, rather than the service date.  Which. Makes. No. Sense.  Yes, the court will hear us argue, then two weeks later the other side will submit their response brief.  Ugh.  There was also some other nonsense that went on that morning that I don't feel like getting into.

So, at the end of the day on Friday, she came into my office and shut the door.  She was still very confused about why I had been "dragged into" this discussion about her raise.  I explained to her that if she is having a review, I am the person to ask how she is doing, since she works for me.  It's hard for me to even relay how simply lacking in common sense she is.  She asked for a raise when she got a new attorney assigned to her, which isn't unfathomable.  Since we don't do that in the middle of the year, she was told that she'd have a review in six months to see how she was doing, and if she was doing fine, she might buck the system and get a raise in September rather than in December.  She and I talked for a good half hour, and I tried to calm her down about everything, and simply told her that there were some areas I wanted to see improvement that we were going to discuss on Tuesday.  She took it well (she and I get along fine), and asked me if she was going to be fired.  I assured her that she was not (yet), and that I only wanted to see her succeed and that was what this was all about, and I was planning on formally talking to her anyway about some of these issues. 

Tuesday morning the office manager, another associate she works for, and I gathered with her in a conference room.  We had a list of twelve areas for improvement.  (It was, to be fair, a little long.  But they were all things that needed to be addressed.)  We walked through each of them, gave her examples, and she told us her position on some things.  I think I've mentioned that she had something really awful happen in her personal life about two and a half years ago, which is still somewhat ongoing, (it's nothing to do with her health or anything like that), and it is something that we all have great sympathy for her.  It's something you never imagine could happen to someone you know.  At any rate, we have cut her a lot of slack because of this with regards to her work, and in part, this is why some of these issues with her haven't been formally brought up.  She was on the list of people to be laid off right around the time that this happened, but due to it happening, we chose not to lay her off.  (She doesn't know this.)  She also admitted that she basically slacked off for two years both in dealing with that and trying to finish up her degree. 

All in all, it was a good conversation.  We were all very forthright.  She also relayed to us some of the issues she has with us, which was also good.  Toward the end she got a little more defensive, but who can blame her?  I mean, we basically criticized her for about an hour, which is not comfortable at all.  She did aggressively disagree with me that she spends too much time on personal calls, at which point I said "I can hear you from my office!"  But, I made my point.  She also -- to my chagrin -- relied still a little too much on this personal issue, which is still ongoing and could be ongoing for years.  It's not that I don't have huge sympathy for her because I do.  The problem is that I deserve to have a secretary who at least most of the time can commit herself to the job.  We all have shitty days, and that's fine.  I get that.  But at some point the blame on this has to stop.  It's very difficult because I do not want to be bitchy about it because I can't imagine what she's gone through, but at the same time, she has to do her job to a semi-acceptable level, and that hasn't been happening.  And to be fair, in the past two weeks since she found out that I was reviewing her, her performance has improved tremendously.  She may be improving in the common sense department. 

So, we left it at we'll see where she is in a few months.  Already I'm seeing improvements, so she is making an effort and that means a lot to me.  She's fine at general administrative stuff, though.  It's when any sort of problem solving or logical thinking is involved that she runs into problems.  Or if you ask her to do something she hasn't done before, even if it is relatively simple in my mind (like go to Judge X's web site and see when he holds motion calls), that she gets very confused.  I'm just not sure this is the right job for her, but we'll see. 

Anyway, anticlimatic.  There were no blow ups, no tears, and it all went professionally well.  Which is good.  We'll see how she does.  It has been incredibly uncomfortable since the meeting, though.  She's acting very formal around me, which is fine, I guess, but it's weird.           

Friday, September 9, 2011

Where is the American Jobs Act?

Last night President Obama called upon Congress to "pass the American Jobs Act."  So, I went online this morning to read the "American Jobs Act."

Here's the problem:  There is no bill to read.  There is nothing for Congress to pass, at least that I can find.  There are a bunch of ideas, yes, but Congress can't pass a bunch of ideas.  Congress needs a bill.  The President also talked about how the American Jobs Act is paid for already.  No it isn't.  He is relying on Congress to come up with the $400 billion or so he needs for this legislation.  Given the happenings of the past six months, do you think they are capable of doing that?

What we got from the President is more words and more platitudes -- nothing we haven't already heard.  Why not give the speech after the bill is ready so we can all read it?  And why is the President writing legislation anyway?  Isn't that Congress' job?  Does our Constitution mean anything anymore?  Apparently not.

Speaking of which, what does Congress have the right to do?
The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

To borrow Money on the credit of the United States;

To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;

To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States;

To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures;

To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current Coin of the United States;

To establish Post Offices and post Roads;

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;

To constitute Tribunals inferior to the supreme Court;

To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offences against the Law of Nations;

To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;

To provide and maintain a Navy;

To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;

To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings;--And

To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.
That "provide for...the general Welfare" clause sure has gotten a lot of action, hasn't it?  It's almost funny how far astray we've ended up.
And seriously -- President Obama is still using the Warren Buffet secretary story?  I think he needs a new anecdote.  I would like him next time to tell the nation how much Warren Buffet paid in taxes and how much his secretary paid, just to keep it all in perspective.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

My Fantasy Football Team 2011

Well, the draft did not go well for me. I don't really know why. So much pressure, and hassling if you try to take a minute to pick. My coworkers are jerks! I had eighth pick in a snake draft. I took some chances. I'm super weak at the wide receiver position, and semi week at running back. My league has weird scoring, though, so assuming Vick stays healthy I can rack up a ton a points with him. (Crazy scoring for rushing yards and rushing TDs from QBs.) Also, with the TE scoring I can get a lot with Gates, also assuming he stays healthy. We'll see. Here's my team:

QB: Michael Vick, Sam Bradford
RB: Ahmad Bradshaw (solid for me last year), Knoshown (?) Moreno (MacGhee may ruin this pick), Michael Bush
WR: Chad Ochocinco (with Brady, maybe), Hines Ward (probably a dumb pick), Mike Sims-Walker (with Bradford, maybe), Devin Hester (my lone Bear)
TE: Antonio Gates, Zach Miller
K: Mason Crosby, Olindo Mare (had to get him again because I like saying his name)
DEF: Eagles, Rams

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