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Archive for November, 2012

The thing about voting for ruin and death is that you’ll get it.

The sad part is that it will be a surprise to some of those who chose it.

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“Revenge is a confession of pain.”Latin proverb

“Revenge is an act of passion; vengeance of justice. Injuries are revenged; crimes are avenged.”  –Samuel Johnson

“Revenge is sweeter than life itself. So think fools. [Lat., At vindicta bonum vita jucundius ipsa nempe hoc indocti.]” – Decimus Junius Juvenal

“Revenge is always the weak pleasure of a little and narrow mind. [Lat., Semper et infirmi est animi exiguique voluptas Ultio.]”Decimus Junius Jivenal

“By taking revenge, a man is but even with his enemy; but in passing over it, he is superior.”Unknown

Just when I think that he can’t debase the office any further, President Obama manages to get another stain on the image of the Presidency.  In a speech to followers in New Hampshire, the President stated “No, no, no — don’t boo, vote. Vote! Voting is the best revenge.”

Since then, I have watched the Obama faithful attempt to spin this into another erudite utterance from the 21st Century’s First “Smart Like Spock” President, including this claim that it was actually a brilliant allusion that the doddering idiot Mitt Romney was just too thick to understand.   Having observed the President for four long years now, I find this claim dubious at best, if only because I have a tough time swallowing the idea that a man with such strong anti-colonialist tendencies is such an astute student of English poets. (Although something in the back of my head says “Maybe, but drawing a mental parallel between “lying” and “voting” doesn’t seem like such a leap for him.”)

Instead, I find it more in keeping with the kind of imagery that he has generally used throughout his career…imagery that invokes violent images, and that reveals a base contempt not just for his opponents, but what it means to be American. 

Admittedly, he has occasionally hit the right note in his rhetoric, and this has been enough to influence those who were not already paying attention, or those who chose to see only what they wanted to.  For those people, words like these offered inspiration, and the illusion that the President was a figure of reconciliation in a country with some divisions.  Words like :

But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized – at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do – it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.”>”But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized – at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do – it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.”

I can admit that this was the speech that would have DEFINED other Presidents.  The problem is that it was spoken by someone who had already “damaged his witness” with things said in moments when he didn’t believe that everyone would hear him, or when he was not scripted, and spoke from the heart.  They were spoken by a man who had already expressed his disappointment with people who embraced the First and Second Amendments, and were thus “Bitter clingers, clinging to their guns and their religion”.  They were words spoken by a man who spoke of “getting in people’s faces”, and “bringing a gun to a knife fight”.  They were the words spoken by a man who refused to listen to other ideas, because “Elections have consequences” and ” I won”. 

The great miracle of American politics has always been the acceptance of the decision of the electorate by those who would lead them.  Power is a the strongest combination aphrodisiac and narcotic that there is, and it takes a strong man to walk away from it, with the greatest portion of that strength being the knowledge and complete belief that the Republic can only continue if the choice its people makes is accepted with humility, and the good grace to turn the reins over and walk away if told to do so by the voters.  This trait seems to be lacking more and more in the President’s party, and if his rhetoric is any indication, in him himself.  From Gore v. Bush, to the constant admonitions about people “voting against their interests” because the reject the notion that they have to be represented by identities rooted in sex organs, skin colors, ethnicities, and income status, to a rhetorically violent demonization of their opponents, the Democrats seem to be willing to divide, and play the part of Janus, with the words of derision flowing freely from one mouth, and a song of reconciliation flowing from the other.  And the more they talk, the more they reveal.

It really doesn’t matter if the President was trying to use a literary device, or if he really was nursing a grudge against a campaign that offers something he can’t.  Revenge is a word that has no place in American politics, because it fosters a division in the country’s soul that cannot be overcome by competent leadership alone.  This is something understood by another President that Mr. Obama would love to be compared with.

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Of course, the assassination of Lincoln put the government on a much different course, and as a result, after a brief respite, the blessing of liberty were denied to the people for whom so much blood was shed to bring to them for nearly another 100 years.  That is something for the President to consider as he faces the prospect of a resounding loss on Tuesday next.

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I spent Friday afternoon in the auditorium of the Washington State Historical Museum in downtown Tacoma in a CLE (Continuing Legal Education) course on Electronic Records Management.  It wasn’t just an academic exercise. 

The course had three components.  The first was on “the cloud” and its ramifications not just for data storage, but for the way that we do business over all.  It was less about the practicality and uses tied specifically to how attorneys practice law, and more about the importance of having a plan on how it should be used, a serious examination of the question if the collaborative capabilities it presents are something that we can use in our profession to increase efficiency and efficacy, understanding how the service provider works, how long the information should be preserved, and whether or not the limitations and strictures of how the cloud is operated can be reconciled with the requirements of our profession.  The sheer amount of uncertainty regarding many of these issues is one of the reasons why I’m not gung-ho on this idea and ready to buy into it just yet, as much as I like the idea of being able to log in from anywhere, read any file our office maintains, and use our software without having to have it loaded on whatever device I might be using. 

The second portion dealt with some of the emerging social media case-law.  It is an area with many worthy questions, but few concrete answers yet.  It an area of life where technology has made a lot of things possible that previously weren’t.  Questions include what data can and should be able to be subpoenaed from social media outlets in discovery, as well as the more obvious admissibility and authentication issues.  It isn’t as simple as you might think at first blush, and branches out to cover other electronic media such as emails and text messages.  Probably one of the most alarming moments came when the presenter reminded us that under Washington law, there are a number of questions that a prospective employer can’t ask of a potential employee in an interview.  This is something that isn’t considered especially controversial by those in the profession, for obvious reasons.  But, he pointed out that much of this information can be discovered by nosing around in someone’s Facebook profile, if it isn’t limited or locked down.  Suddenly, with a few keystrokes, you can find out that the young woman you were interviewing is part of a fertility support group and is trying to get pregnant, or the applicant’s religion, or that they are politically vocal, and have a viewpoint that opposes yours.  Now discrimination on the basis of any of these facts is generally illegal, which is why they can’t ask, but now they can tell anyway, and the only way to avoid this is avoid exercising the right of freely associating with others across this medium.  There was also some discussion about how a Facebook posting with comments can meet the criteria of a public meeting, and how that creates unique governmental challenges for those charged with preserving such information.  The other major shock was how the NLRB has actually intervened in some social media/employment cases on behalf of non-union employees, ruling that employer’ actions against employees for violating social media policies, even those drawn up at great expense by law firms who carefully consider the limitations and prohibitions written into these policies, have been held to violate these workers’ rights.  I imagine that the law will be interesting as it develops over the next few decades, but I think for better or worse, it will have a noticeable impact on the notion of privacy that many people have.

The final segment was a Q and A session with the presenters, and some records management professionals.  In many ways, I found this to be the most alarming portion of the entire afternoon.  Of particular interest was a story relayed about how one lawyer had really been dragged in to cloud management of their practice by a client, who was convinced that it would be more efficient, and refused to pay for the attorney to do it their own way.  While he clearly told a tale which he believed had a happy ending (in the end, the attorney liked it, and wanted to do it with all of their clients), I looked around and realized that many of my peers did not recognize the obvious ethical issues raised by the story he told.   Then he went on to say that the implications of cloud computing would change the culture.  He pointed out that there is an entire generation which has lived its life in online social media, and how it was unavoidable that they would end up have very different notions of privacy than we would, and how that fact was probably going to end up having the biggest impact on law as we move forward.  I admit, I’m not comfortable with the notion, but this is in part due to the inherent impermanence of electronic data.  I don’t like the idea of a society that is so reliant on technology that knowledge can be lost with a blackout, EMP, or other interruption.  And yet this is the world we are already moving to occupy.   We can carry an entire library in a small tablet, but without power, you have nothing but an attractive paperweight.  But there is also the lack of hard documentation.   I can’t help but wonder what future generations will think of us, as there will be no paper records as there have been in the past.  No reams of correspondence between average people.   Fewer newspapers.  No habit of written journals.  Heck, even more and more textbooks are electronic in nature.  And being part of a profession that requires records and redundancies, I find that I think about this more and more.  Especially when, like after a storm, our internet connection became annoyingly intermittent.

Something to think about when the center of our center of economic commerce knocked out for two days last week due to weather.

 

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A friend of the family is in town this week from Michigan to attend a conference on the growing crisis of the lack of critical thinking in public schools.   The topic came up at breakfast this morning, and I realized that it is a mutli-pronged problem.  The example that our friend cited comes from her own experience teaching, where she can stand in front of her own class, and make a statement on the topic, only to be greeted with the inquiry “What page of the book is that on?” 

Arguably, this is not a new condition in public schools.  My own father, who was a science teacher for 27 years, noted from his own experience that critical thinking took a serious hit in the disciplines of math and science when it became too easy to get the answers.  In his opinion, pocket calculators were a prime example of how this had happened, because the goal became about simply answering the question, and little or no thought was placed in the process of arriving at the answer.  For my own part, at that stage in my academic career, I fell prey to the same kind of thinking, but largely because math and I weren’t friends at the time, and while I loved some of the concepts of science, the math underlying much of it was a frightful bore to me.  As a result, I had no interest in showing my work, because that would require me to actually work through the process and THINK about what I was doing and why. Later in life, when I had been employed by a retail bank for a few years, and gotten accustomed to working large figures in my head in a rapid fashion, I think he was somewhat relieved by the fact that even though we weren’t close companions, at least math and I had made peace with each other.  Although he never really let go of his despair over the state of critical thinking in education, largely because he witnessed the increasing institutionalization of it, I do think that he could see evidence that despite the worsening of this state of affairs, people could still overcome this institutionalized flaw in our system if they were willing to make the effort, and if necessity stepped in to become a brutal teacher.  At this point, I miss ribbing him about his own blind spots, but I wonder more about what happened to his slide rule.  I really need to ask my Mother sometime.

Of course, this kind of “easy answer without ever working through the analysis” has now branched out into so much of knowledge, and it probably is the single greatest downside to living in the information age.  The sheer amount of knowledge available to each and every person today is nothing short of astonishing, and the ease with which it can be obtained is breathtaking.  If you had told me even 10 years ago that I would be able to do a web search with my phone for detailed information on virtually any topic imaginable, and be able to get thousands of links back in a fraction of the time that it took to get 20 with my desktop computer then, I might have accepted it without ever comprehending what that meant.  This is a genuinely unprecedented development in human history.  I can remember when getting basic facts on an unfamiliar topic of event meant going to encyclopedias, or to the library, to comb through various tomes on any given subject.  Now, in a few keystrokes, I can obtain information on topics that might not have even been covered in the most exhaustive encyclopedias, but instead might have only been found in a handful of journals or trade publications.  However, the drawback of this ease is that people seem to spend far less time evaluating the quality of the information available.  Facts are conflated with opinion, conclusions are accepted without the application of logic or serious questioning.   And ease is only part of the problem.  Standardized testing has led to a condition where understanding is not considered a core component of intelligence any longer.  And this is revealed in almost any conversation you might care to have today.

“Science is the only reasonable basis on which to make law and policy.”

“Why is that?”

“Because it is based on facts that are immutable and unchanging.”

“Really? ”

“Absolutely.  What’s the matter with you?  Are you stupid or something?”

“No.  But if science is based on immutable and unchanging “fact”, perhaps you could explain to me why it is that we no longer think that all matter is made up of just four elements, or some combination thereof, or why it is that Lamarckism is no longer considered the basis of evolution, or that phlogiston is no longer an accepted scientific concept?”

At this point in the conversation, I’m confronted with one of three reactions.  A blank stare (sadly this is the most common one), a sheepish look, because the speaker just realized that the very history of their “unchanging” bedrock torpedoed the idea of its stability and unchanging nature, or anger, because they don’t like being confronted with the idea that their “truth” is fluid, and they don’t like the fact that others are aware of this.

Still, the area where this self-inflicted handicap hurts society the most is in the area of politics.  I was reminded of this again this week, when a Facebook friend, who went to the same junior high and high school I did (albeit four years before I did) posted a status on his wall about how Romney and Ryan don’t dare cut FEMA now, and gloating about how the tongue has the power to destroy.  Clearly, the last week’s political meme about how Romney “just doesn’t care” and his statements about how he would cut FEMA are proof had reached their saturation point.  This was based on some statements made by Romney in the aftermath of Katrina, which had been revisited in the pages of Esquire, and then used in a sloppy hatchet piece by the New York Times [no link, because they don’t deserve the traffic], in which even it was forced to admit, reluctantly, at the end, that Romney had never actually said any such thing.  I commented to point this out, offered proof in the form of a link to a story explaining this, and then pointed out that the sequester that is looming in DC does contain a significant cut to FEMA.  The responses were tepid, and didn’t offer contrary facts.  And then one of my former teachers weighed in.  While many of his remarks were disappointing, they were also revealing, and illustrate the underlying point of this piece better than any other example I’ve encountered recently.

Teacher:   THEY ALL HAVE PRIORITIES WHICH ARE NOT BEST FOR THIS COUNTRY. THEY ALL HAVE THEIR HANDS IN THE POCKETS OF THE LOBBYISTS. THAT IS HOW THEY GET THEIR MONEY TO GET REELECTED. WE NEED TERM LIMITS.

Me:  >>>THEY ALL HAVE PRIORITIES WHICH ARE NOT BEST FOR THIS COUNTRY.<<<

That would be a feature, not a bug. Not to be a pedant about it, but the Federalist Papers do a fairly good job explaining this. That’s one of the reasons for a bicameral legislature. However, because we tinkered with the blueprint, one of the checks and balances no longer exists, because the States, which were always intended to be co-sovereigns, no longer have their intended voice in Congress. Now you have one house that represents small groups of the populace, and a house that represents larger groups of the populace. Hence the avalanche of usurpation of authority by the federal government, unfunded mandates, runaway spending…you get the point.

>>> THEY ALL HAVE THEIR HANDS IN THE POCKETS OF THE LOBBYISTS.<<<
Are you a member of AARP? The NEA? The MEA? The UAW? The NRA? Then you are part of the lobbyist “problem”, which again, is a feature, not a bug.

>>>THAT IS HOW THEY GET THEIR MONEY TO GET REELECTED.<<<
That, and soft money contributions, and illegal foreign credit card donations to the President’s campaign that aren’t widely reported on, and $50,000 a plate dinners, and online contributions tied to promotions like winning a dinner with the President and his wife, and….

>>>WE NEED TERM LIMITS.<<<

We have them. They are called elections. What we need is an electorate that is informed and engaged enough to actually retire our elected officials when keeping the job becomes more important than actually representing thems what sent ’em. But between being against spending (except for that which our own districts benefit from) and idiotic tropes about Big Bird, Binders, and American Idol episodes, we tend to get the government we work for. The best reform we could enact is real criminal and financial penalties for self dealing with government contracts, which would land Nancy Pelosi and Maxine Waters inmate numbers, and for trading on information gained in the course of their representation, which would be insider trading and a severe financial crime for anyone else who did it. In the long-term, it isn’t really a fix, because being people with access to power and money, they will always find a way to profit from what they know and what they do, but given the fact that Charlie Rangle keeps getting re-elected with his blatant failure to disclose assets and evade taxes WHEN HE SITS ON THE COMMITTEE THAT WRITES THE TAX CODE, I’m not encouraged that this could happen. It does, however, illustrate my point about why people who “don’t have the country’s best interests at heart keep getting re-elected.” He, and others like him keep promising the goodies to their constituents, and because he delivers, he keeps going back.

First, and foremost, term limits would be an admission that “We the People” are not worthy of the responsibility our forefathers entrusted us with. That might actually be true, but if it is, then all we can expect is the continued decline into tyranny, or idiocracy, neither of which appeals to me.

The conversation continued, before finally petering out, but I found it instructive in how the easy answer has ascended to a position of more reverence than one that requires having the knowledge, and applying it.  Knowing how this works, it becomes clearer why the default answer is deference to the “experts” or “professionals”, but as I was pointing out in my prior post, this is how we have gotten to the point where this also fosters the idea that as individuals, and as groups, we simply cannot “do” something with the same efficacy as these same “experts” or “professionals”, and therefore, we need to cede without further consideration, even more of the authority invested in us, and accept the conditions that these “experts” and “professionals” create for us. 

I am optimistic that more and more people are waking up to the fact that as a society, we have believed these lies for far too long, and that more and more people are refusing to accept the easy answer, but I also worry that the degree of institutionalization of this method means that it simply may not matter.  I see it with my son’s education currently.  He doesn’t bring home his textbooks, nor do his classmates.  The books stay at school.  They read the lessons, and answer questions.  The readings contain all the answers.  Ironically, the only class where I can see that he actually has to think about processes and apply them with the knowledge he has gained is his math class.  And I don’t have to see that the end result of this is a dependency upon authority…one that fails all too often.  We witnessed this dependency and failure in Hurricane Katrina, where people depended on authority, to their detriment.  Horrors took place in the city, and in the designated gathering places, because people depended on authorities, who were either completely unprepared for the scale of dependency they were faced with, or because they abdicated in the hour of need (think Superdome Rapes and Police Officers leaving the city during the hurricane.)  And then the extraordinary dependency after, which meant that enormous resources were sent to the region, and somehow squandered and frittered away, and as a result, much of it is not rebuilt or “back to normal” today, largely because of the idea that it was up to the “authorities” and “professionals” to do that.  Compare and contrast that experience to the neighboring state of Mississippi.  It too suffered catastrophic losses, both in terms of property and lives.  Yet it wasn’t a fixture of the evening news for days on end.  Blacks suffered there too, as did all other residents.  But if New Orleans suffered because Bush supposedly didn’t care about black people, did the rest of the Gulf Coast suffer because the media and the “experts” and the “professionals” didn’t care about Southerners?  Or did they rebuild and move on because they didn’t expect that other would lead the way, and provide the means and the resources to do so?

The saddest lesson of Katrina is being played out again in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.  The idea that the Federal Government can and should be directing the bulk of the relief, with other monolithic “first responders” carrying out the remainder of the relief is again proving to be silly.  Much ado was made over the President’s 90 minute stop in New Jersey, hugging of one of the victims, pledge to cut through the bureaucracy and red tape, and to not leave anyone behind.    This, of course, begs the question, “Why, after the experience of Katrina, would there still be bureaucracy and red tape to deal with in the first place?”  I leave it to you, the reader, to study and contemplate on that answer, along with the question why a Federal Agency and one charity among so many qualified ones, would be the first place people would look to for assistance and relief, and why they would surrender their authority to them in the face of such destruction.  It’s a question that I’m confident many residents of Staten Island are asking themselves this weekend, as they shiver in the cold and dark, as they remain in their homes or what is left of them, to prevent looting of their remaining possessions.

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