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The Squirrel's Nest Below are the 10 most recent journal entries recorded in the "Fearless Leader of Squirrel Commandos" journal:

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June 18th, 2008
09:34 am

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Whoo boy.
I went in for an annual checkup the other day. I generally avoid such things, because I'm a bit of a hypochondriac. I hate wasting my doctor's time, because I've been seeing him for ten years, and he's a bit of a friend. But I'm on a cocktail of anti-depressants, and he wanted to make sure I wasn't dropping dead before renewing them.

Mostly, I turned out in good health. I am, however, very fat (for me). Ideal weight for my height is something like 145-155, and I weigh 180. (I don't have a lot of faith in the weight charts, but in my case, it's a big fat gut, so I know that it's fat and not good.) The doc also ran blood tests (partially because of the gap between this and my last test and partially because I'll be Jack Benny's age this year) The blood work came back yesterday. The doc asked me to call him, so I called him this morning. It turns out that my cholesterol is high (180), which doesn't shock me, since I'm fatter than I've ever been sober, but what did shock me was that my thyroid was borderline low.

When the doc went through the symptoms of thyroid problems, I got very happy. See, I've been having low energy and trouble concentrating for a while. I figured it was depression - I need far more money than I've been making. Since the symptoms he described are that plus weight gain, I'm all happy - if it is my thyroid, it's not mostly in my head. Wahoo!

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09:34 am

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Elizabeth's amazing. There's some question about whether she's really bright or whether children in general are amazing. Most of my wonder is probably due to children in general. Humans learn so much so fast - as a first-time parent, my experience is with things like dogs and cats. Elizabeth's rapid acquisition of language is something I've never seen before.

The fact is, however, that Elizabeth's likely to be not just smart, but hella smart. IQ is a highly heritable trait and her mother and I are both rather smart, in our own ways.

Cut because it's egotisticalCollapse )

Most of the intelligence tests I've seen seem to divide intelligence into two main streams: the verbal and the mathematical. There's a lot of overlap between the two arenas - and I might suggest that there's a third, which cannot be expressed in a lot of situations. It seems to me that there's a kind of physical intelligence - a sub-intellectual knowledge of where your body is and what it can do. Certainly, world-class athletes have a kind of genius - watch tape of Michael Jordan sometime.

The interesting thing is that mathematical intelligence seems to be more innate. If you look at prodigies, they're mathematical and musical, with the occasional games and visual arts thrown in. There don't seem to be prodigies in the Humanities. And, perfect scores on the SAT are far more common in the math section than the verbal. Perhaps it's because of the purity of math and music - they don't need a context to explain them.

I don't mean to suggest that being smart equates to knowledge or some kind of intrinsic worth. Intelligence, to me, is raw, nekkid talent. Knowledge is the skill of applied intelligence. As Spider Robinson said, skills are what you get if you water your talent bush enough. We are all woefully ignorant, and it's an act of colossal arrogance to assume that an expertise in one area of knowledge equates to expertise in all other areas. (In my experience, this is a failing to which physicians are particularly prone. I believe that if I were to take up a life of crime, I could live quite comfortably by conning physicians. More on this later.)

I think that when someone admits ignorance or can evaluate the source of their knowledge that they show real intelligence. Intelligence moves beyond facts and gets at the reasons for the facts. Which is why I think physicians are handicapped. As a general rule, a person with a M.D. is a bright person - they have to be. Unfortunately, they've been told they're bright so often and do a job where they are discouraged from showing ignorance. They're also in an environment where people defer to their judgment a great deal. I think you can't strop a razor on chiffon. It's only when our conclusions are challenged that we can really think through them. (I've been lucky to have several friends who constantly challenge my assertions. On several occasions, I've had to back off ideas that I was rather proud of because I couldn't prove it to them.)

Elizabeth is likely to be bright, then, for two chief reasons. First, because of heredity, and second, because of the fact that both Emily and I have families that prize intelligence and value the learning process. I believe that neither Em nor I will ever tell Betsy that something's not worth knowing - we almost always look things up. The internet, of course, makes this attitude easier.

The concern I have is that quite often, education in this country consists of regurgitating obvious answers to obvious questions. I know that killed me - I found studying in elementary and high school to be so dull that I didn't do it, which hurt me in classes where that's absolutely necessary. Math and languages, mostly. While memory softens and shapes facts, I do believe that when I dealt with real questions, I did better. When I was faced with things that were learned by rote, I did worse.

So, I'm looking to guide Elizabeth into a program where people recognize that the questions are sometimes more important than the answers.

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May 30th, 2008
04:31 pm

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Writer's Block: Improvised Parenting!!?!
Let's say you're a hobgoblin for 24 hours. What sort of havoc would you wreak? Or: If a baby of unknown origins suddenly fell into your care, would you keep it? What would you name it?


Well, let's assume that all the obvious things fail and we can't find its parents. So, she'd be Alison Margaret Read or he'd be Owen Scott Read.

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May 27th, 2008
10:36 am

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Ow. And nostalgia. And ow.
Sometimes it's hard to believe that I'm almost 40. Sometimes it's not.

Right now, it's not. My back hurts. A lot, and in that old-man creaky way that lets me know I have to be careful about what I do. The easiest way to show how uncomfortable I am is to explain that I've taken a Vicodin and it's not taking all the hurt away. (Which makes me unconcerned about my inner addict.)

The reason I overused my back is that my mother's moving out of the duplex she's occupied since 1970. While she's hiring movers, I needed to remove a lot of books that I left there in 1997. Since I put them in the attic, I had to move them down three stories. Culling them and moving them took the better part of two days.

My books are a source of conflict between Emily and I. I'm a book person - she isn't. She does have a point, though. I do collect books - I noticed that I have a lot of books that I got and kept because I liked the author. So, I'm culling those, but I'm still going to end up with thousands of books.

My brother flew into town to help - not so much with the moving, but more to cull his own belongings. It was interesting to see our different attitudes about our archives. I tend to keep trophies and mementos of my happy times - no matter if it makes me morose about what might have been. My brother is able to cut things from his past, no matter if it's a triumph or not. One of the things I regret about my past is that I disappeared from 1993 to 1997. That's when Vito would have been really fun to know - he struggled somewhat with his identity in college, but he really grew into a great person.

I think this is a function of the mindset that addicts share. Most of us seem to focus on our failings. I know I do. I have to keep things that remind me of success because I often think of myself as a failure. I doubt that I am, but knowing and feeling are two different things.

My brother, on the other hand, seems to be capable of valuing himself for what he is at any given moment. He's got a lot less of his identity tied up in past achievements. He threw out things that I'd have kept.

Which brings me to my pride in him. My brother and I are very similar, but also very different. He's much more well-rounded than I am, much more focused, and much more social. It's fairly predictable - when we take the same test, I outscore him verbally, but he posts high scores close to each other. Oddly enough, that means it's often a coin flip as to who gets a better score. The most recent example is the LSAT - we took the test four years apart, and got identical scores. But, I bet that I aced the reading comp and took a hit on the logic, while his scores were almost identical.

Vito (his nickname from an old joke) is able to attract and befriend some wonderful people. He's also split-your-sides funny and much more athletically talented. We both ran Cross-Country in High School - his best time is about a minute faster than mine, and he was the best runner on a city championship team. He plays basketball and exercises - I'm getting fatter by the day. Our college transcripts also show the difference in abilities - he didn't get any grades below B, while I have grades from D to A+. Vito's won awards for music, chess, academics, and running, while mine are in Latin and academics, with some acknowledgment of my running (I have ribbons, but no awards or trophies.)

I'm so proud of him. I used to be proud and jealous. But as I've worked on recovery, my pride in him actually makes me feel better about myself. One could say he's more successful than I am - he went to a better law school, lives in New York, makes a ton more money than I do, has more friends - but it's different. I wouldn't like his life. I don't like New York, wouldn't want to do his job, and am happy with my duplex, garden, and baby. I wish I had more money, but he works harder than I'd want to. I can appreciate his success and his choices and accept that I'm just different.

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08:57 am

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The Garden, 2008
For the last three years, I've been working on a garden. Every year, it gets a little more elaborate. I'm not sure if that's a requirement of gardening (some other people I know don't do that), but it's a requirement for me. The story I tell is one of Bailey White's. She always wanted a wildflower garden, intending that she'd eventually waft down its paths while holding a limp book of poetry and wearing a white dress. It took her five years to get the garden right. And when it was all done, she spent a single afternoon wafting about. The problem was that in the five years she'd worked, she came to enjoy the work more than the product.

That's me. I'm constantly thinking about what I could do better. I'm happiest when I'm putting in new things, either plants or landscaping. I plant a lot of annuals because I like planting things.

Anyway, this year's iteration has a lot more flavour than last years. Emily wasn't really thrilled by last years, because everything was very, very little. Emily likes tall flowers. I also did more with coloring - I have a whole bed of pink things this year.

And, I've been incorporating tributes in my garden. I have a whole area of Poppies - some of which are Flanders Poppies I bought at the Imperial War Museum in London - because my paternal Grandfather's nickname was Poppy. I have Skippy violas because that was my Grandmother's nickname. I have Rosario irises for my maternal Grandfather, Rosario. This year, I added Queen Elizabeth rosebushes and Emily gladioli. There are a few other people I'd like to commemorate, but that's for next year.

So, here are the pictures of things as they're getting going this year. Keep in mind that this is SE Wisconsin, and right now, it's 40 degrees, for no apparent reason.

Cut 'cause they're picturesCollapse )

I've also done a lot of work in front, but that's another entry.

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May 15th, 2008
04:23 pm

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Politics
I put the Obama '08 sticker on my car today.

I've been holding off not because I don't support him - Salon quoted me as saying I was a drooling fanboy Salon, February 19, 2008 - but because I've been terrified that the Democrats were going to once again nominate a terrible candidate and while I'm willing to have a losing presidential candidate's bumper sticker, a presidential aspirant's sticker is just too much.

I decided a while ago that Hillary's a bad candidate. I'm pretty sure that she'd be a good president (of course, she couldn't possibly be worse than the incumbent), but she'd never get the chance. Any Republican would slaughter her. The reason is that she makes all the damn mistakes that cost us the White House. She says her health plan covers everyone and later has to admit it doesn't. She puts on a bad southern accent and has to apologize. She blunders and then has to react.

Not to mention her baggage. Lots of people hate, hate, hate Hillary. I believe that no matter how wonderful she seems to my fellow Democrats, she wouldn't win one more vote in a general election than she can count on right now. That's a recipe for yet another defeat.

I'm not one of those people who believe that the Dems need to take the nation's temperature and then find a candidate who's "electable" - we've done that twice, and it got us GW and GW II, Electric Boogaloo. But we need to be aware that winning the Democratic base is not winning the election. We need to give people a reason to vote for our candidate. Our candidate needs to lead and inspire. We need to give people a better reason than "the Republicans suck." We've tried that strategy before - 1984, 1988, 2000, 2004. It's a shitty strategy.

We need to think about what makes a successful Democratic Presidential Candidate. Not a successful Democratic Senator, a successful Presidential Candidate. And I believe it's this: Successful nominees are willing to take risks that people won't like them. This is the successful presidential playbook. Every time we run someone who makes stupid mistakes ("I invented the Internet, anyone?) and then falls all over themselves apologizing, then we lose. Bad, hard, and long.

Look, GW's probably the worst president ever. He's worse than Nixon. The only other serious contender is James Buchanan, who arguably committed treason, and he's from 1856. The worst president in a century and a half, and we couldn't beat him. 2000 and 2004 might possibly have been stolen, but they shouldn't even have been close. They were close because we ran bad candidates, and even though GW's a terrible president, he's a decent Republican candidate.

Hil's knock on Obama is that he's all pretty rhetoric and no policy. Well, Chief, I gotta tell you that policy is not what wins elections. What wins is good, solid, pretty rhetoric. In 1952, Adlai Stevenson lost to Dwight Eisenhower. Stevenson got the eggheads, and Eisenhower got everyone else. But it's more than that - rhetoric should make policy. Everyone understands what "all we have to fear is fear itself" means. Everyone got what "Ich bin ein Berliner" was supposed to mean (okay, it translates to "I am a donut," but that's not what it meant).

When the Democrats lose, it's because they forgot that an electable Democrat isn't a soft-shell Republican, it's someone who stands for something other than "we're better than the alternative." The Democratic Party should stand for change. That's become a cliche in this election, but it's true. Democrats should stand up and say - "Things need to change. We need to extend liberty. We need to encourage people to create jobs. We need to find a way to fix health care. We're not talking about little fixes - we need to change the terms of the debate." This, my friends, is what the Democrats traditionally stand for.

The Republicans have been claiming the banner of change for too long. They're not the party of change, not the party of pushing out. They're the party of pulling in, of looking back. Look at every Republican since Reagan. They're all about reclaiming, and rejecting, and reestablishing. There's nothing inherently wrong with that. I happen to think that the past isn't necessarily better than the present. But, we need to remember that conservatism is the feeling that things don't need to change, and a lot of things shouldn't have been changed.

It goes beyond electability. I want to have a reason to believe. I want to feel inspired. I want my candidate to say "I said what I said. If you think it means something different, then tough." I want a person who'll say "You want a tax cut? Fine. Create some jobs, like you always said you do. Wanna make record profits? Fine. Then you have to pay record taxes. You think raising the minimum wage is bad? Fine. Try living on it. You want to fight terrorism? Then fight terrorism, not re-wage Vietnam and pretend you're fighting terrorism. And, goddammit, just because it's harder to do something - find actual terrorists and kill them, or get a search warrant, or comply with the law, or build an education system that works - doesn't mean that we should take the easy way out."

And Barak does that. Win or lose, he's out there challenging. He's on the offense. When he pisses people off, he rarely apologizes, and when he does, it's not the silly apologies we've heard in the past. He's standing for something more than Kerry or Gore (the '00 version. I like the current version) ever did. I like that Obama recognizes that there's a certain percentage of voters he'll never win. Let's face it, the Republicans could run Satan, and the Christian Right wouldn't vote for a Democrat. Fuck 'em. Let 'em get all bent out of shape.

For the last eight years, Dems seem to have forgotten that they're not running for Miss Congeniality - they're running for a job where a certain percentage of people will hate their guts no matter what they do. They're not going to be King of the Carnival, they're going to be President of the United States, and that job means pissing people off. If you stand in the middle of the road, you're gonna get run over.

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February 12th, 2008
10:36 am

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My Valentine Postbox - not an excuse...
my valentine postboxCollapse )

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January 7th, 2008
09:52 pm

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Today I am a lawyer.
Well, not exactly today, but over the last couple of weeks.

I've been working a bit. Not enough that I'm raking it in hand over fist, but enough that I can start thinking of myself as a lawyer and not an unemployed ex-student. Most of my cases come to me from the office of the Public Defender - I do a lot of probation/parole/extended supervision revocations. I've gotten a few cases from a lawyer I know who kicks appeals my way, and the others from personal contact of one kind or another.

Mostly, I lose the PD cases and I'm 2-0-1 on the private clients.

I did have a win with the PD, a pretty decisive one, and I might win the hearing tomorrow. I do have one ass of a client, a rocket scientist who is convinced that he cannot have his extended supervision (call it parole) revoked simply because he (1) failed to report to his agent for 10 months, (2) drove a car when he's prohibited from doing so, and (3) when pulled over for going 75 in a 55 (see (2) above) gave not one, but two, false names to the cops. Said genius was unhappy with me for informing him that (1) the DOC was going to revoke his ES, and (2) nothing prohibited them from recommending more than the 15% he felt their manual recommended. (Basically, the DOC has established guidelines, and while there's case law to support the assertion that they have to follow their guidelines, there is a procedure for recommending more than the guidelines say. Wonder of wonders, in this dude's case, they followed the procedure for recommending an over-the-guideline term of reincarceration.)

I had a major win last week, in that a client of mine messed up the conditions of his house arrest, but I managed to convince the judge that the consequences of his error were so immense (and it was a semi-legitimate mistake on his part and he didn't mean any harm and was home the whole time) that the appropriate response was to reduce his sentence. I still can't really believe I won that one.

In more important and interesting news, Elizabeth has begun walking. She officially started on the 30th, losing her dear old Dad a $5 bet with her dear old Mom. Once she broke the barrier, she's been becoming more and more confident, to the point where she walked a good eight feet today. She also achieved her first official word - "Chip" - which has been followed by "Mama" and some noise which isn't quite "Kitty" or "Cat," but some bizarre combination of the two, but which she uses consistently when pointing to one of the cats, as well as some noise that's either "shoe" or "sock." We're not counting her constant repetition of "Da-Da," because she uses it to mean "Daddy," "Duck," and "Doggie," all of which are among her favorite things and so are the targets of her pointing finger on a regular basis.

She also knows "nose," "ear," "tummy," "head," and can follow along to "If you're happy and you know it." She knows that shoes and socks go on her feet and tries to put them on herself, although she's unclear on how the hole relates to her foot. We've even caught her singing.

It amazes me how she can surpass the things we've taught her intentionally. She knows how a computer mouse works - she can work the scroll wheel and buttons, although she doesn't know how they interact with the screen. She's also able to recognize ducks she hasn't been told are ducks and calls everything she thinks might be edible a chip. It's amazing to hear her voice - I keep thinking about her like she's one of the cats and so am a little shocked when I hear this tiny voice say recognizable words.

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November 15th, 2007
07:53 pm

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It would be totally awesome if we could just dispense with the clients.
I have about fifteen current clients. I could have more, but I'm a stay-at-home dad, and there's just so much you can do with a one-year-old crawling around the house. Only two of them, though, are private - the rest are assignments from the Office of the Public Defender.

One of them is charged with a minor crime - let's call it jaywalking. And, let's say the circumstances of this alleged crime involve him jaywalking on a very minor thoroughfare very late at night. The State has no problem proving his guilt. (Let's say that he jaywalked in front of a police officer with 20/20 vision.) However, given the facts, it's reasonable that the State should be willing to enter into a deferred prosecution agreement (or DPA). In a DPA, the State drops the case in return for a promise from the Defendant that the Defendant will do some things and not commit any other crimes.

The other day, we went to pre-trial on the jaywalking and I talked to the ADA. She suggested that a DPA would be a reasonable option and suggested that my client agree to, let's say, wear shoes. I said that such a restriction would be okay, since he wears shoes anyway. She also suggested another condition. Let's call it that they'd ask that he agree to wear socks, and I was less excited about that, since my client isn't fond of socks. We carried on with the pre-trial and when we left, I explained the situation to my client.

Later that afternoon, he called me and told me that he wasn't interested in any deal that required him to wear shoes. He was only willing to agree to a DPA where he agreed that he wouldn't jaywalk anymore.

Oy.

I spent 24 minutes on the phone trying to explain to him that we're not in an equal bargaining position here and that resisting the inclusion of something he's doing anyway is straight out of the "Dumbest Moves Possible" playbook. The DA doesn't have to give us the DPA. They can convict him on the jaywalking and he now can't jaywalk AND has a criminal conviction. Offering them his version of the deal has no upside for the DA. Sure, they don't want to go to trial on this, but that's because they'd rather spend the time putting dangerous people in jail. If we're idiots about it, then they'll be quite happy convicting him. Not to mention that he has to pay me (I'm sure he's going to be happy to see the argument we had on his bill).

I'm ethically bound, of course, to do what he wants, not what's in his best interest. Normally, this wouldn't be a problem, but there's a limit to what this guy can afford to pay me, and we're fairly close to it. If we cross it, I have a feeling that he'll pay me what he thinks he should owe me and then keep promising more.

They did teach me what to do when the client insists on being stupid, but it doesn't mean I enjoy it.

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October 31st, 2007
03:22 pm

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Boston peeps ahoy
Does anyone have a copy of a Boston newspaper announcing the World Series win? I forgot to get a paper.

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