25 October 2011

Still underemployed

Still stumbling along, seriously underemployed. Not making my overhead this month, and believe me, my overhead is pretty low already. Spending time when I can in free seminars and panels covering my preferred areas of practice.

Interviewed for a professional position at a prestigious local university back in August. Never heard back, and only learned that they selected another candidate when I logged into the school's job search site. Really? I expect that from a law firm or legal recruiter or fast-food restaurant chain, but chrissakes, not for this level of work.

You know how you look at a short document or a page of a newspaper for so long that you no longer really see what you're reading, the words become meaningless, and you start seeing the complementary colors of the text? I'm like that with my resumé at this point.

22 October 2011

Chickenhawk Romney wants the Iraq war to last forever

Mitt Romney, born in 1947 but who did not serve in Vietnam, doesn't want the Iraq war to end (MSNBC). How many of his 5 sons, born between 1971 and 1981, have served or are currently serving in the armed forces?

Survey says: zero. Remember? While other men of my generation served in Desert Shield and Desert Storm[1], Mitt Romney's sons were serving their country by serving their dad's political campaigns (CBS, 2007).

Shame on Romney. He couldn't care less how long we pour lives and treasure into Iraq because his horse in the race is interest in the private equity firms that own the brands that the Pentagon contracts with to operate the war. His bank account, not his family, is affected; and less war means less money to him. Unlike the 99%, to whom more war means more personal loss. You want war, you go risk your own sons. It's really pretty simple.

[1] Not to mention a high-school and college friend of mine who served in Desert Storm to pay for his university degree, spent the rest of the 1990s marrying and starting a family and serving his community as a police officer, and then got sent back to Iraq for the current war. One could say that he served twice so that one of Romney's sons wouldn't have to; but I wouldn't say that to the toddlers he left behind for his second tour in the desert.

20 October 2011

Brooklyn needs a new Rosa Parks

The B110 bus, which runs between [New York City neighborhoods] Williamsburg and Borough Park, has been run by Private Transportation Corporation since 1973, under a franchise with the city. [...] Even though a private operator runs the bus, it was awarded the route through a public and competitive bidding process.
But women sit in the back while men sit in the front. The only females allowed in the front are very young girls who happen to be traveling with a male caregiver. And not because the rule is merely an unspoken tradition:
Guidelines, posted in the front and the back, said that "when boarding a crowded bus with standing passengers in the front, women should board the back door after paying the driver in the front" and that "when the bus is crowded, passengers should stand in their designated areas."
Because this bus is part of the public transit system (it is run under some kind of franchise arrangement with MTA), this gender segregation is a civil rights problem.[1] Kudos to Mayor Bloomberg for calling the operators out on it:
[T]he mayor said that segregating men and women was "obviously not permitted" on public buses. "Private people: you can have a private bus," he added. "Go rent a bus, and do what you want on it" (NYT via MSNBC).
To paraphrase a departed Philadelphia local who was no hero of mine, this is America. When riding the bus, you can sit wherever you damn well please.

It's a slippery slope. One day it's a community saying that it offends their religion for women and men to sit together on the bus because it's immodest, and the next day it's a community calling little girls "sluts" for going to school and vandalizing the facility.

It's also a constitutional problem for this bus to operate with its MTA-looking number. If your god requires your congregation to gender-segregate itself in public, that's fine. Who am I to challenge what your god has told you? Just don't look to the government for financial help or recourse though the courts to facilitate and enforce that segregation. This informal -- and really, it's not very informal -- gender segregation on quasi-private buses should be nipped in the bud.

[1] Though at least nobody's being denied service or having their fares confiscated because the bus operator doesn't think they conform to the gender sticker on their transit pass.

19 October 2011

I am not surprised these two links came across my desk at about the same time this morning

Within 5 minutes of each other, these 2 links came across my screen this morning:

A very large (no pun intended) majority of American workers are overweight or obese or have a chronic health problem (WSJ).

"Ranch Dressing And Other Delights," a podcast episode discussing a few of the most horrifying entries at Allrecipes.com, includes links to American culinary masterpieces like Taco in a Bag, mayo-and-ketchup-based Pink Dippin' Sauce, and an E-Z casserole made with two types of canned corn, macaroni, a half-cup of butter, and a half-pound of processed cheese (The F Plus).

Correlation is not causation, but I think I'm going to have celery for lunch today anyway.

17 October 2011

Back to work and bills after a weekend conference

Plowing through my to-do list after a 3-day conference, including following up with a potential client I should have naggedfollowed up with last week to see if they'll hire me (maybe they don't want to since I'm in only my second year of practice), signing up a client interview for later this week, and sending some free-information-but-not-legal-advice to an art student with a couple of copyright and invasion of privacy queries.

I met a bunch of art students at a meeting recently. One of the student's classmates came up to me after the meeting and told me that he planned to go to law school so that he could finance his art projects on his attorney's salary. I asked him to think about how he would create his art when he's starting from a position of $150,000 in law school loan debt but no job (i.e., plenty of time but no money to make his art with), or $150,000 in law school loans and a job where he's billing 2,000 hours per year (i.e., plenty of money if he keeps his lifestyle reasonable, but no time to make his art in).

And then I told him, simply, not to go to law school.

Anyway, speaking of scratch, I'm about halfway to making my overhead costs this month. But, hey, everybody! How's that new iPhone working for you?

Tnx to readers far and not-so-far afield

Quick note to say thanks to Cup O' Joel, Pine View Farm, and Delaware Liberal for their kind links to my "uncertainty" post last week: "uncertainty" means different things to different people, and declining to hire more staff because of "uncertainty" about future economic and legal conditions is nonsense when your company makes a billion dollars in profits every quarter.

13 October 2011

So that's why my mobile device has been flaky lately

Looks like one for the RISKS Digest, to me:
Sporadic outages of BlackBerry messaging and email service spread to the U.S. and Canada on Wednesday, as problems stretched into the third day for Europe, Asia, Latin America and Africa. [...] Unlike other cellphone makers, [Research in Motion] handles email and messaging traffic to and from its phones. When it encounters a problem, millions of subscribers are affected at once. There are about 70 million BlackBerry users around the world.
(MSNBC.) I heard about the overseas outages the other day and was kinda hoping against hope that it wouldn't reach North America.

12 October 2011

Regulatory uncertainty versus food insecurity

The trope is that big businesses aren't creating jobs because of "uncertainty." Would someone please explain to me the nature of this uncertainty? GE paid no federal taxes in 2010 and its profits have regularly exceeded $1 billion per quarter. Private equity wizards, Tea Party financiers, and terror profiteers Charles and David Koch are (each or both, but at this level it hardly makes a difference) worth $25 billion -- which sounds like a number you'd make up to exaggerate for comedic effect, you know?

What is the uncertainty here? You hire someone and pay them $28,000 a year, or $120,000 a year? That will have an almost literally negligible effect on GE's profits. What am I missing in the math? GE makes over $1 billion extra every quarter; they'd pay the hypothetical new hire some $7,000 or $30,000 out of that. The Kochs add some new, highly capitalized business or a family of brands to their equity portfolio, and they've spent, what, a few hundred million dollars out of their $25 billion.

I guess "regulatory uncertainty" is the phrase spoken trippingly on the tongue as well. But really? The argument is that businesses won't hire now because they don't know if the rules will change in the future, making their permanent employees more expensive. But OSHA is notoriously understaffed and underfunded and has been for years and multiple administrations. It's not as if some new rules or increased enforcement will happen any time soon to wreck your factory's productivity. As for the energy sector (oil drilling, fracking, and so on), how many actual jobs are we talking here, versus, for example, Exxon's $10 billion in quarterly profits?

Why do people repeat the "uncertainty" line without making the people who claim uncertainty explain it?

I'll tell you what uncertainty is. It's not knowing whether you can pay the rent or put food on the table next month. And states are cutting TANF left and right. TANF -- thank you, President Clinton -- is difficult to get in the first place, offers no childcare to moms while requiring them to go to work, and discriminates against non-married, non-nuclear families.

I said it yesterday and I'll say it again. It's no wonder that there's a tent city at City Hall, and I don't see why anybody there would hurry up to leave. There's nothing left to lose, and the critics are free to hire them so that they move into a higher tax bracket.

11 October 2011

Philly's new tent city

Quite the tent city has sprung up in Dilworth Plaza. There's even a family-size tent for nursing mothers and their babies and toddlers. I feel a little regret that I'm not in a position to take part in Occupy Philly and that I can't yank my daughter from school and go on a camping trip to City Hall. But I need to keep hustling for work; and if I want to be available to help any participants who need legal representation, I should try to stay away from the protests. The occupation is on a different scale from taking my daughter to a march or demonstration for a few hours, too.

Though I did walk her through a few days ago, to let her see what the big deal was. And on Friday morning I checked in with one of my contacts from the anti-Iraq War protests in 2003.

Interesting to see how the protestors are taking care of themselves. They have a food tent, a "FAQ" table, and other areas where people can gather and share news and help. They are clearly there for the long haul, incoming rain this week and forthcoming winter weather be damned.

But what else are they going to do? It's not as if they're facing the end of their 2-week vacations and have to go back to work -- if they have work, they're cashiers, baristas, or crafting artists, or they're doing something else irregular and seriously underpaid despite having obtained the bachelor's degree that should have put them into a middle-class lifestyle, or at least kept them in a reasonable working-class lifestyle. They have nothing better to do and nothing to lose, because they were replaceable cogs at their jobs anyway.

Of course, the critics who want them to pack up and go get a job are perfectly free to hire them.

But actually, what I'm hearing when I walk by is a lot of supportive honking from the traffic passing them at 15th and Market Streets.

06 October 2011

Philadelphia Film Festival's 20th Anniversary Film Festival

One of the city's innumerable film festivals is coming up soon. Convince me that I should make it the same full-contact sport that I used to. Or at least convince me which dozen films I should go see.

Oooh, wait -- a new Coriolanus with The Tree of Life's Jessica Chastain and a lot of explosions, starring and directed by Voldemort? Holy cow, I'm not sure how you can go wrong with that, except by not going to see it.

And something called Sleeping Beauty from Australia that bears some suspicious resemblance to Story of O, at least from the trailer. . . . Oh, and from the official website's synopsis, as well.

OK, so tell me which ten other films I should go see. But please don't suggest Barton Fink; I prefer Miller's Crossing.

05 October 2011

(3/3) Hurricane season is (nearly) dead; long live snowstorm season

The previous two posts discussed some preliminary thoughts about how to prepare for the zombie apocalypseregular, if infrequent, services outages that happen in the mid-Atlantic due to weather. I've been promising to talk about how to start preparing if you're dirt poor. Here's how.

First, decide what kind of preparation level you want your household to be at. Pick a number of days, which is mostly personal preference. My magic number is 14; maybe yours is 30 or 60, or over 700. (Maybe your state National Guard will order you to evacuate after a certain number of weeks anyway.) Or maybe your number is zero -- in which case you want cash and your important documents, on paper or scanned into a flash drive, in a ziploc bag ready to go. Consider including a map in the bag, and some important phone numbers and addresses, so you're not dependent on your phone or mobile device after the battery goes and there's no way to re-charge it.

Second, figure out how much food, water, and toiletries you need per day. There are so many guides and websites available to help with this aspect of emergency preparedness that I hesitate to link to anything. The U.S. National Hurricane Center offers a printer-friendly checklist; FEMA's instructions include suggestions for storage and maintenance. Googling "disaster supply kit" will yield all kinds of solutions, from free information to pre-packed "deluxe" backpacks.

You can always compile your own kit for less money, and with a more complete kit, than what you'll pay for a pre-packed kit.

Third, decide what you'll stock up on: extra prescription medicines, toiletries, water, and food for [insert chosen time period here]; plus a flashlight or two, a radio, and batteries to power them if they're not shake- or crank-powered. (Most of the lists emphasize first aid kits, but don't you have one already? Make it your household storage rule to replenish the band-aids, bactine, and antihistamines all the time, and you're set.) If you are uptight like me, the current supply of toiletries that you have on hand right now would already last you for several days, if not weeks or even months. Bar soap, for instance, is cheapest when I buy it in large packs that happen to last for six months in my household; and a single tube of toothpaste lasts longer than my "chosen time period" of two weeks. But I don't have my spare toiletries packed together in a kit; I keep them where they belong, in my bathroom drawers and linen closet -- because why bother? Why pack all this stuff into a bin that I have to dig through just because the power went out?

Storing an earthquake kit and stocking a storm cellar are different. But my emergency preparedness scenario -- regular, if infrequent, utilities and services outages, and the exceedingly low risk of a situation where I need to abandon my home -- don't contemplate severe or complete destruction of my dwelling.

As for food, you can spend a lot of money or you can spend only a little. You can stock up two weeks' worth of nutritious food for just a few dollars; you'll simply have to tolerate eating very simple food. We're not talking elegant meals here. We're talking filling your stomach cheaply. To spend a lot of money, buy military MREs. You can find them online for about $80 per dozen, and two of them will give you enough calories and nutrients for a sedentary day in clement weather. To spend only a little money, stock up on canned food (for carbohydrates and protein) and dried fruit (for vitamins and fiber). Ask at your supermarket if you can get a bulk discount for buying a case of pork and beans or canned pasta. Get some dried beans for sprouting if you like, for extra Vitamin C. I keep on hand some instant lunch products, the type of factory-made near-food in a one-use, disposable container that I don't otherwise eat, for variety, but I buy them only when they're on sale.

Dig your budget. Prioritize building up your pantry, saving up for a crank radio, and finding cheap candles (N.B., holiday candles are really cheap the day after the holiday). Add a single emergency preparedness item to your grocery list every week. Then can by can, package by package, and bottle by bottle, you'll eventually have an emergency supply of food. And when the emergency comes -- remembering that we get a good week's notice of incoming hurricanes here -- you won't have to run around the city looking for batteries.

What did I leave out? Is my privilege showing? Why isn't basic emergency preparedness realistic for some people, and are you one of those people? Please comment. Thanks!

04 October 2011

(2/3) Hurricane season is (nearly) dead; long live snowstorm season

So there are a few issues that need unpacking from yesterday's post. The big question is how to put together your magical one week's worth of emergency supplies if you're dirt poor. But before I answer that, I have to unpack another question: what kind of emergency are we talking about here?

There are weather emergencies, there are civil unrest emergencies, and there are "PGW blew up my gas main" emergencies, all of which result in problems ranging from short-term loss of utilities, to the urgent need to leave and abandon your home. Civil unrest, while very popular on Wall Street these days, is still really unlikely in this country. Protests, demonstrations, and parades happen all the time, but they don't generally result in catastrophic situations that compel people to evacuate their homes. And when they do, really there's very little risk that the incident will happen in your neighborhood, on your block. Cities are big; a lot of people live in them; individual risk is low. So myself, I don't have a bug-out bag sitting by the front door. You need a big bag to carry the standard 72 hours' worth of food and stuff, and I have a small home. But to keep my peace of mind, I have all my important documents sealed up in a big ziploc bag in a very convenient place in case I need to skedaddle. I don't live in the wilderness, so I don't see how I would benefit myself by packing a tent and survival supplies. And anyway, if the situation is so far gone that I can't walk out of the city with a sack lunch, my documents, and cash to take care of my needs, then I think a 72-hour pack won't be sufficient -- we're talking bunker, not bug-out. Takeaway: Can you prepare for it? Yes. What should you do? Plan an escape route by foot and have cash and important documents ready to go.

"PGW blew up my house" situations are similarly really unlikely. Worse, though, unlike civil unrest problems, you may not get any warning at all. And if you're not home when it happens, then oops! All those important documents you have stashed in one safe place for quick retrieval when you have to skedaddle? Confetti. So this is where a safe deposit box comes in. However! I'm not saying you should put your original documents in the box. Nope, put copies in the box. Because what if your bank is closed when the shit hits the fan and you need to motor? Keep the originals handy, then use the copies from the box if you need to replace them because your home blew up. Takeaway: Can you prepare for it? Yes. What should you do? Keep your title and insurance documents organized, and keep up-to-date copies in a safe, offsite location.

So finally, how to deal with weather emergencies. First step is to consider the likely scenario. In town, a very short-term utilities outage. In the sticks, maybe a seriously long outage. I live in town, and to be extreme I plan for a week's outage. I don't have much space, so I'm not interested in turning my house into a pantry. And services to the city are restored quickly, so the supermarkets will be re-stocked in pretty short order, even if they're cleared as if they've been attacked by a plague of hurricane-panicked locusts.

In the sticks, you have some possibilities to keep in mind. If you have space, maybe you should plan for a month or even two without power. But consider: if your neighborhood is so far gone that they can't restore your utilities after a few days or a week (slow link), maybe you'd prefer to evacuate after a period of time and live temporarily with relatives or friends. So consider keeping a supply of what you'd need for whatever that period of time is for your household. A week? Two? A month or six months? Up to you.

Which is basically what I do in the city anyway. I keep enough on hand for one easy week or two rougher weeks. If the situation is so dire that, after two weeks, my utilities aren't restored and my supermarkets and city services aren't back on line, I've got more to worry about than whether I'm running out of candles.

Next: Wait! I never answered the question about how to prepare if I'm dirt poor!

What's in your bug-out bag? How many weeks -- or days -- can you comfortably stay at home? How will you survive the zombie apocalypse? Please comment. Thanks!

Concludes Wednesday.

03 October 2011

The "problem" of multiple, simultaneous incarnations

An MSNBC article covers a weekend conference where theologians discussed how to reconcile the concept of a god with the probable existence of intelligent, alien life. If there are some "125 billion galaxies with hundreds of billions of stars in each," then it seems much more likely than not that there are other civilizations out there with creatures who have free will and thus need some kind of intervention. So did the Christian god incarnate to all of them?
[B]ased on the best guesses of how many civilizations we might expect to exist in the universe, and how long planets and civilizations are expected to survive, God's incarnations would have had to be in about 250 places simultaneously at any given time, assuming each incarnation took about 30 years, [Protestant theologian Dr. Christian] Weidemann [of Ruhr-Universität Bochum] calculated.

[ ... ]

If God truly became corporeal and took human form when Jesus Christ was born, this wouldn't have been possible, Weidemann said.
Eh? I thought the Christian god was omnipotent and omnipresent. What would stop him from incarnating simultaneously in multiple locations?

Am I missing something? Granted, I've been out of the church for a long time and was never a student of theology. When Jesus walked the earth, was god no longer anywhere at all but 100% housed in the body of Jesus? That has never been my understanding of the story. But then, I was raised Catholic; so I don't have the foundational problem of being required to accept the bible as the literal telling of god's revealed truth. (That is, I can look at both the Genesis story and the objective truth that the round planet we live on is billions of years old, and reconcile them by saying, "Oh, now that was a nice symbolic way for god to explain to us our relationship with him," without my brain being blown by a fundamentalist's need to stick to a young-earth creationist timeline.) Seriously, though, if god was not also outside of Jesus's body while Jesus was out and about, then who was Jesus talking to when he prayed to his father? When he taught his followers how to pray, it began, "Our Father, who art in heaven," not, "Our Father, who art usually in heaven, but who art not in heaven at the moment because thou art totally, completely, and universally standing before us."

Clearly, I quit my C.C.D. classes too young. What did I miss? Why can't god incarnate on 250 separate planets at the same time? Please comment. Thanks!

(1/3) Hurricane season is (nearly) dead; long live snowstorm season

One thing that just floored me during the Hurricane Irene scare -- for "scare" it was here in Philadelphia, an inland port city at the confluence of two rivers, not truly a coastal city -- I say, one thing that floored me was the fear, if not complete panic, and lack of preparedness I saw among some of my friends and neighbors. Here in the mid-Atlantic, we get a blizzard or a severe snowstorm at least once every winter. We get a hurricane or a severe rainstorm every summer. (And evidently we get earthquakes every once in a blue moon, as well.) Trees topple; creeks flood; transformers short out; houses blow up. In a word, your utilities are going to go out on a regular, if infrequent, basis. If you're in the city, you're likely to get your gas, water, and electric service back pretty quickly; the time you wait probably increases at a rate that correlates directly to how far out in the sticks you live. But since we live in the future, where severe weather events can be predicted with some amazing certainty even a week in advance; and since we have FEMA, mostly predictably; and since just about everybody has friends or family who can help them out in a pinch, you probably don't have to keep a year's supply of emergency rations, toiletries, and fuel in your dwelling.

But you should probably keep a week's worth of supplies on hand, and rotate the supplies so they don't get stale, infested with bugs, or depleted. Because, in the mid-Atlantic, your power will go out from time to time.

That said, why did so many of my friends and family go nuts in the last days leading up to Hurricane Irene, driving all over the Delaware Valley looking for batteries? Why did they not have fresh batteries -- or a hand-crank radio, even better -- on hand and ready to go? Candles, matches, blammo. Remember, in the summer the nights are short. Eat dinner early while it's still light out; keep a flashlight by the bed so you can find the toilet at 2:00 a.m. You're set, because even if your power does go out, it'll likely be back by the time you wake up.

Note that I'm not criticizing people in New England who were devastated, seriously unexpectedly, by the post-Irene flooding. I'm addressing pre-Irene, chicken-with-its-head-cut-off behavior in the mid-Atlantic.

Next time: the answer to the obvious retort, "Because I'm poor, that's why."

What's in your emergency supply kit? Do you have a bug-out bag, an evacuation plan, and so on? Do you buy the argument that climate change, anthropogenic or not, will likely lead to more frequent events of extreme weather? Please comment. Thanks!

Continues Tuesday.