Thursday, December 31, 2009

Stephen King's Under the Dome

I am currently reading Stephen King's latest book, Under the Dome. I'm about two or three hundred pages into this 1100+ page book. Normally one would expect a book review only after completion of a book, but I feel like writing one now. Part of the reason for that is I'm really enjoying the book and when I'm really enjoying a book, deep in the midst of it, that is when the enjoyment is best. An ending, even a really good one, means the story ends. I want this one to continue.

In a way, it reminds me of his earlier book The Stand - not because there are any similarities in story - I don't think there are - but because it is a community survival situation, and I find such situations fascinating. What happens when normal society is destroyed and how do people deal with it? I must admit I didn't think the ending of The Stand was that great, though it was ok. But despite that, it is still one of my favorite books - maybe in part because it is so long, you can be immersed in the world and the characters for many hours, allowing much time to savor it all. Under the Dome seems poised to give me a similar immersion experience. I write about it now because I'm in the moment of that experience.

The basic premise of Under the Dome is simple - a small town is suddenly, and without explanation, encased in what is essentially a dome-shaped force field that cuts it completely off from the outside world. Maybe there will be an explanation later - though I'm hoping there really isn't one - some mysteries are best left unexplained - your imagination will generally trump anything a writer can come up with. There are exceptions to this - Lost, the ultimate TV mystery show, has explained much and it has done so in a very interesting, sometimes twisted way, that is enjoyable in its own right. (As an aside, Stephen King is a big fan of Lost). But back to the Dome...

Once things are cut off, you get small town life with a massive twist. You see how things start to break down, how people deal with it, and it is almost like you are watching a somewhat twisted social science experiment, one with very interesting characters.

I won't spoil anything in the book - I recommend it highly, if you like this sort of tale. I actually haven't read much of King's work - just The Stand, The Dark Tower Series (also excellent), and maybe one or two other books. I also read his book on writing called, appropriately enough, On Writing, and found it excellent. I aspire to be a writer someday - maybe I'll eventually get around to it. I suppose getting back to writing on this blog is a start. I have been away too long - I miss writing. It seems like a chore, but now that I'm back doing it, I find I have a lot to say and I've already written more posts in a day than I have in months. Practice practice practice. That's what makes for a good writer. (Amongst other things).

And so I have resumed my regular schedule - at least one post a day on a list of regular topics (see my post about my regular blogging schedule for the topics - today, for instance, is entertainment, so I'm writing about a book). Beyond that, I'll write on other topics that suit my fancy, whenever I feel like it.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

I love Paizo's Pathfinder Rules

Several months ago, at Gen Con, Paizo came out with it's Pathfinder Core Rulebook. Put simply, this is like 3.75 Edition of Dungeons and Dragons. They did a rules overhaul that still keeps the heart and soul of what 3.5E is, and is very easily compatible with 3.5E.

I have now had the chance to read the rules (including some sections several times) and I am in the process of creating my very first Pathfinder character for my very first Pathfinder game.

One of the players in the Monday evening game I run out of my house will be running a new Pathfinder campaign. He will be apparently doing some sort of homebrew - the details will be forthcoming. It will be the first time I've not run on Mondays, which will be a nice break. I don't generally run on the Friday game I play out of town (about an hour away).

We will probably do a 25 point buy, which I think is about equivalent to 32 point for 3.5E. With it you can get some decent stats, but nothing ridiculous, though they call it epic or heroic, I really don't see how it is much fun to play with totally average stats. (But that is a subject for another post).

Each of the base classes in Pathfinder have gotten a little boost - nothing much - but enough to give a little something at every level, and enough so that there is plenty of variation possible even staying just with one base class up to level 20. Of course, 3.5E had that too, in the sense that it was very viable to just stick to one class, but there were many prestige classes that allowed you to do just about any character concept better. There is less need for that in Pathfinder, which is a good thing.

I like some of the little tweaks - the Fighter stands out to me. Fighters get better with armor, so they can have higher dex bonuses even with the heavier armor as they level. They also get save bonuses versus fear - that has always been a problem with fighters. They don't have good Will Saves generally, and so where there are fear effects, the tough front-line fighters all run away, leaving the weakling wizards behind. That really doesn't make much sense - fighters need to be able to control fear to be on the front lines, so save bonuses for fear was a really nice touch.

The variants for wizards and sorcerers are also nice, with bloodlines giving a speciality for sorcerers and with specialty wizards getting new goodies as well. But I don't really want to get into all of the details on that. Suffice it to say, there is rich new content to provide all sorts of interesting variations on old themes (and entirely new themes as well) and I really love the rules.

It feels like D&D is alive again - 4th Edition for a while felt like the game was dead, in the sense that there would be nothing new on the horizon for my game. But now there is Pathfinder and Paizo and the game lives. I am very much looking forward to the other Pathfinder material that is in the pipeline. I will write more about how it plays once I've gotten into the new game. (The new game will alternate at appropriate stopping points with the 3.5E "Rise of the Runelords" game that I'm running - that one is into volume 5 now, so they are approaching the end!)

Thank you Paizo!

Non-use of Given Names

I have a pet peeve about parents who name kids one thing and then never actually use the name. It is one thing for someone later in life to aquire a certain nickname that is used some of the time. That is not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the parents who give a kid a first name and a middle name and then never use the first name or the middle name. Almost as bad are those parents who give a first and middle name and then use the middle name only from birth.

Why the hell bother giving a kid a name you never have any intention of using? If you are going to call a kid "Mack" from birth, write that on his birth certificate so everyone can see what his name is! If you are going to use a kid's middle name from birth as if it were a first name, why the hell don't you just make it the kid's first name to begin with?

And while I'm ranting about names, I also want to rant about people who recycle names in families, naming kids after grandparents, or even parents, so you get lots of juniors or just get the same names repeated over and over and over. Every child deserves his or her OWN name, not some recycled name. That is just so... boring - and also confusing when you look at a family tree.

So please - pick an original name for your child - but hopefully not something that makes the kid sound like a freak - and when you choose the name - use it! Thus ends my rant for this evening.

Russia to Set up Asteroid Defense Mission

I just read that Russia is developing a spacecraft to deflect the Apophis asteroid from a possible collision with Earth in the coming decades. (Fans of Stargate SG:1 might also recognize the alternate threat that a different Apophis may represent...)

I think this is cool, though it is also sad that it took backwards Russia to first start doing something about this threat. The chances of the asteroid hitting may be only 1 in 30,000 or even less, but even a 1 in 30,000 chance to have life wiped out on Earth (at least our life) seems rather too high to me. Far less likely threats seem to cause action - like fear of terrorist attacks. Like the recent failed attempt to blow up a plane in Detroit (of some interest to me since the Northwest flight from Amsterdam to Detroit is one often used by my family) - this attack has caused all sorts of overreactions, as is typical. There are tens of thousands of flights every day, and one happens on one day out of the whole year and people go crazy.

The additional security measures announced were enough to make me vow never to fly again.

But back to the Asteroid. This is a real threat, something that can wipe out life on Earth - maybe not every cell, but certainly all of us. If not this asteroid, than some other, perhaps one we have not yet detected. Despite this, we are doing nothing - we don't even have a comprehensive program to map all of the NEA (Near Earth Asteroids). It would cost a pittance, but Congress apparently has other priorities - like lining the pockets of Congress and the powerful people they represent. Maybe they figure they'll all be dead and it won't matter, or maybe they are too fat with cash and short-sighted to care. You'd think they'd want to at least protect their legacies - it is hard to have one when the Earth is a burnt-out cinder. At least with the right-wing religious wackos, they have a reason not to build such a defense system - they all WANT the world to end. So either the powers that be are all right-wing religious wackos or they are just stupid. Except they aren't stupid. So I wonder what the problem is. Any suggestions anyone?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Television, Baby Einstein and Parenting

If you're not a parent, you may not have heard of it - Baby Einstein. They make videos of puppets and drawing and animals and other simply visual things, all set to classical music. The idea is that it will somehow stimulate a baby's mind and make the baby into a genius, a "baby Einstein." This probably grew out of the general notion some people had that just playing classical music for a baby, starting in utero, somehow would enhance intelligence.

I'm sure some parents believe this. I'm sure some used to do so and are disappointed when it didn't work. I have several of the DVDs. I could make the disclaimer that my wife bought them, but I didn't exactly try and stop her. I did tell her that any "enhancement" was nonsense. I don't think she really thought otherwise. One thing that the videos are good for is occupying a baby, particularly when that baby is eating. They are good "baby entertainment." But I doubt they have any positive effects. I've heard it is bad for a baby to watch TV at all. But for good or ill, both of my children watch TV. I suppose I might as well be used to it. I watch TV - I'd be some kind of huge hypocrite if I stopped them from doing so.

Maybe I can steer them toward quality shows - like Battlestar Galactica, or The Wire - or other greats. I think that's probably what would disappoint me more than anything - not that they watch too much TV, but that they watch crappy TV. One could hardly fault anyone for sitting down and watching a Battlestar Galactica marathon - but a Two and a Half Men marathon? I may need therapy.

My daughter watched baby Einstein - then Little Einsteins (on Disney Channel), and on to other Disney shows. She likes them. But now, due to the wonder of on-demand TV, she can watch reruns of ancient cartoons - Tom and Jerry - a cartoon from the 1940s and 1950s. A cartoon I grew up on. I still remember so many of them. She now watches them over and over and loves them. My son loves them, too. He laughs so hard when that poor cat gets beat up by that little mouse. Which reminds me of what annoyed me about that cartoon. The poor cat never gets a break. The mouse always gets the better of him. And it isn't just about the strong being beaten by the weak - because whenever there is a dog on the show, the stronger dog also beats up the cat. So pretty much it is all about abusing poor Tom. Just once I'd like to see it end with Jerry losing and Tom in triumph. Maybe there was such a cartoon, but I don't remember it (and haven't seen it in those on demand).

My daughter is now a sophisticated TV watcher. Thankfully, one thing she hardly sees is commercials - between DVDs, and watching stuff on channels like Disney, there are few opportunities for the ad agencies to get their claws into her. It is funny that when she does see commercials, she says "I want that" to ALL of them - she said it to a car tire commercial - I had to laugh at that. She says it, but doesn't actually press the issue - I wonder if she is even serious about it. Maybe she hasn't figured out how we can get stuff for her yet. Then again, maybe growing up with sophisticated commercials will help her build immunity to them. It certainly will take a lot to impress her. At least I hope that is the case.

Talking about TV now makes me think of horror movies, and my daughter's enjoyment of those. More on that later.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Fascinating Account of Life in Ann Arbor Jail

This is an ongoing account of what life was like for a man who was in the Washtenaw County Jail in Ann Arbor, Michigan. For those that don't know it, Ann Arbor is an extremely liberal town (and is where I am originally from, though I don't live there now). It got me thinking that if this is the sort of treatment you get in a liberal jail, just how horrible must it be in the facilities run by the sadistic right-wing. Then again, given what happened with the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment, maybe the liberalness of the community is irrelevant.

I look forward to future chapters.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Life Goes On

My life has not really changed much over the past few months - I've just had less time and energy to post here and so have given my time over to other things. Our nanny is working out - which is great. My son is approaching two years old (in three months) and he's starting his "terrible twos" - he gets into everything and can be very insistent on getting things. He's still mostly non-verbal - he points and whines. My daughter did the same up until just past two years old. Then she started talking up a storm and hasn't stopped since.

Speaking of my daughter, she's several months into 4 years old now and she occasionally listens to us, but usually not. She ended the terrible twos (which is really like the terrible almost-two-to-well-past-threes), but given her lack of listening, it isn't necessarily that much better. She at least can be reasoned with - sometimes. She knows her abcs and can read a few words, spell her name, and so forth. She's just about ready for Kindergarten, I think, except for maybe her attention span. It will be fun and scary when she starts school. I've already called the school to see what we need to do. There is a registration process and paperwork you have to do -it just seems strange to me because I don't remember ever having to do anything but show up when I went to school. But of course, that's the child's perspective - my parents would have dealt with that stuff. Approaching school from a parent's point of view will be a new thing. It will be strange, too, given that my job sometimes involves teachers - at a time when they definitely would not want to be seeing me.

So getting to my job - I've been at my current job for well over a year and I must say, despite some various issues unique to the times, I really love it and I hope to be doing it for the next few decades of my life. This is a job I would gladly do through retirement. I feel really lucky in that regard. Work is still work and I enjoy my time with my family or just doing fun things (i.e. gaming) but I enjoy my work, and that is a rare thing. I suppose that is partly why the compensation isn't what it would be in other lawyer jobs - can't have both a great job and good pay. But it is adequate.

And to gaming - I still play in two different games - one at home, one away. I have gotten the Pathfinder Core Book, and I really like it. I will probably post separately about it, if I get time. Thanksgiving may provide me an opportunity. Or maybe I'll do it tonight.

As my energy and time return, I'll post more here. I know I will - I have plenty to say. I hope someone will read it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Prosecutorial Immunity

The Supreme Court hears oral argument today on a case about whether prosecutors have absolute immunity from suit for misconduct. The misconduct in this case was criminal - the prosecutors and police actively framed two black teenagers they knew were innocent.

I suspect that the court will grant the prosecutors immunity. And I think that is bullshit. If prosecutors are so worried about getting sued for framing defendants, there is an easy solution - DON'T FRAME DEFENDANTS.

As far as I'm concerned, those police and prosecutors should be in prison for life, no parole, for what they did. As it is, I'm sure none of them will do a single day in jail and they'll probably get this immunity too. There is no justice in our system.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Obama Wins Nobel Peace Prize - The Right Wing Will Go Apeshit

I was, of course, shocked, to wake up to the news that Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize. Like many, I was looking for the punchline - was this an April Fool's joke? But no, it is real.

My next thought was, the right-wing nutjobs are going to go apeshit over this. For that reason alone I wish this prize did not happen. The right-wing noise machine is annoying enough on a good day. Oh well, at least I'll get it filtered through Jon Stewart.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Roman Polanksi Raped a Child - Time to move on

As Kate Harding points out, Roman Polanski Raped a Child. But so what? After all, we should be looking forward, not backward. Any attempt to prosecute is just making criminal what is really a political matter (political protest of silly age-of-consent laws).

Time to move on.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Outsourcing Daycare

Gotta love the Onion for looking for a way to leverage the power of outsourcing for my largest expense. If only I were paying only 300 a week for child care.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Dungeons and Dragons Self-Defense

Who needs a gun when you have a sword? Brutal. And with the dismemberment, the sword-wielder must have rolled a "20".

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Public Option is Dead

It was clear from Obama's speech this week that the public option is dead. He is not pushing it. He is not selling it. Democrats are saying they won't even vote for a bill with it in it - I heard Senator Nelson on NPR (a Democrat) saying he would only consider voting for it as part of the bullshit "trigger" option put forward by Olympia Snowe.

So it is dead. To me, there is no reform without a public healthcare system (and the bullshit "co-ops" don't count - those are just another way for private insurance companies to get our money).

Once again, corporate interests and the Republican noise machine dominate. We are fucked. And fuck Obama for not even trying. He gave up on the public option without a fight. Democrats in Congress have also given up without a fight. Progressives yet again must just sit down and shut up and be ignored while the conservative agenda moves full speed ahead.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Revenge is Sweet

My four-year-old daughter likes to take toys away from my 18 month old son. She pulls on him, pushes him down, pushes him out of the way when he's snuggling with mom or dad so she can snuggle, and so forth.

Then this past weekend, my daughter was washing her hands in the bathroom after using it, and I was standing across the room from the door when my son opened up one of my daughter's dresser drawers, grabbed a bunch of her clothes, and then ran into the bathroom. I got there just in time to grab one end of the clothes as my son dumped all of them right into the toilet.

Revenge is sweet when you're a toddler. It is somewhat bitter when you are a parent who just put those same clothes, clean, in the drawer after doing laundry. I guess she deserved it. He is a very patient, sweet little boy and she pushes him hard. We now keep the bathroom door closed all the time. Not that he can't open it, but probably he couldn't with a handful of clothes, and it gives us more time to catch him if he tries to dump anything else into the toilet. Like a phone. (He did that a week ago - into the bathtub when my daughter was in the bath). Ah, the joys of parenthood.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Nanny Saga

As I posted about before, we got a nanny to watch our two children, ages 1 and 4. Well, this has turned out to be quite a drama.

The nanny started just over two weeks ago. We had made plenty of preparations. We had her come over and just spend time with us and with the kids so they would get to know her (as would we). Her first week, my mother-in-law was still here (she came for three months this summer) and so she was also here to help out and help the kids make the adjustment. The nanny repeatedly said how committed she was and she did fine with the children.

Then came the first warning sign that things would not be going so smoothly. I sent her a text message asking essentially if she was all set for her first full day - this was like on the Friday before. I did not get a response. Then later I saw there was a posting on Facebook (she has a facebook page and I had recently gotten one - she added me to it a few months ago - we were curious to know more about her given that we were going to be inviting her into our home to take care of what is most important to us - our children.) The facebook posting answered the message - apparently her phone was not working and she was getting a new one. In it, she also asked about when to start and things like that. I didn't think much of it - we had already made clear to her that the hours would be 8 to 6, repeatedly.

So then comes Monday morning. I get out of the shower and get dressed and then get my cell phone and see that there are new messages on there from like 7:22 am. It is the nanny, asking when she needs to come. Mind you, she never sent any text messages before that nor did she try to call us at our home phone number or even on my cell before then. I texted her back quickly to tell her that it was always 8 to 6, and she says she's coming. She gets here a little bit late. But not before sending a bunch of text messages about how she had asked me for the time and essentially blaming me for her being late. She continued this even after she got here, in that when I asked her about the calendar we had given her, she replied in an irritated tone that she didn't have it with her because she had to leave her apartment in a hurry.

Well, whatever. I did not really get into that with her. I did not want to make a big deal out of what could be a simple miscommunication, but it did bother me the attitude she displayed about it. I mean, if she really had doubts about when to come, she had our numbers, she could have called or sent a text message long before 7:22 am on the morning she was supposed to come. Still, I said basically nothing about it when she got here and I went off to work.

The rest of the week flew by - she seemed to be doing ok. That Friday, both I and my wife were home for at least part of the day. Apparently this caused some issues with the kids, as they were more unruly than when we were not home. We had wanted her to come that day so we could have another day when we could see how she was with the kids. I left around 4. Apparently the kids were particularly difficult after that. I didn't realize this was a problem until the next Monday, when yet another warning sign appeared.

This next Monday was the first day she would be home all day with the kids alone. As I was holding my daughter in the morning, I listened to the nanny on the phone talking to my wife before I left. She told my wife that she was very upset on Friday because of how difficult the kids were at the end and that she would just "have to see how things would go" that day. This was news to us. We had told her from the beginning that our daughter could be difficult and that she would have to be assertive with her - and she had repeatedly assured us that she had watched lots of kids and did not think there would be a problem. On the phone that morning, she told my wife that she had never seen kids act like they did. Well, they were just kids being kids - it is not like 1 year olds and (then) 3 year olds just quietly do what they are told.

Hearing this whole conversation really upset me. It sounded basically like she was contemplating quitting. We had stopped day care and we had no backup for child care on such short notice. Since we both work and don't have a lot of wiggle room on days off, that was a big issue. I was, frankly, quite mad. But I didn't say anything. I did go to work and started looking again for another nanny, a process I didn't look forward to given how long we'd already spent on it and how much time we had spent getting the current nanny ready (and money, too).

I was about ready to just find someone and tell the current nanny to go as soon as I did, but I calmed down by the end of the day. I figured I should just give it some time, let her get used to things, and maybe it would be fine. My wife called during the day to see how things were going. The nanny told her that it was much better and that maybe it helped that we weren't home. She repeatedly assured my wife she was not quitting and would be staying. She asked to be paid that week (I paid her already for her first week). She said her rent was due, and she had originally thought she would get a check for the first two weeks at the end of the month. I had done the first week first to figure out the payroll stuff and also to sync her pay (every two weeks) with my own paycheck. So I wrote her a check in advance of her second, full two-week paycheck, and gave that to her on Thursday (my wife was home Friday, so she didn't need to be here).

So then this week completes - her second week, her first week alone. She never seemed particularly thrilled to be here, but then maybe she just wasn't a morning person. She was usually a little late in the mornings, but not so late that I said anything. She certainly left on time. (But then I'm sure that's true of almost anyone with a job). Now I started to feel bad about starting to look for another nanny, mostly because now there would be people contacted who I'd now have to tell there was no position to interview for. Then came Saturday.

My wife was out shopping in the morning, when she called me. We have to find a new nanny. Apparently the nanny called her, and through tears, told her that she had to move back home because her mother had cancer. I really didn't know what to make of that. She had never mentioned anything about it before. She said she just found out and was in the hospital. She said that there would be surgery the next Friday. Honestly, my first reaction was that I did not believe her. Given what she said Monday, and her asking to be paid that week, it seemed a little too big a coincidence. She told my wife she wasn't sure she could even be here the next week (this week now). So I spent a sleepless Saturday night worrying just what we'd do for the next week for child care. I was thankful I had at least started the process of looking for another nanny, but we probably wouldn't even meet or interview anyone until the following weekend.

This was particularly annoying because Sunday was my daughter's birthday - her fourth. And so instead of looking forward to that, I was up half the night, unable to sleep. Fortunately, the birthday itself went well - my daughter had a blast, my parents came up, two of her four regular babysitters came over, and it was fun for everyone.

Meanwhile, we heard nothing from our nanny - she did not answer her phone or texts. Finally, she send messages that were somewhat strange - saying she could come this week but that she'd be driving back and forth and could she be paid on Monday - that I couldn't quite figure out. Oh, then she said she was turning her phone off again. Well, given what had happened, I did not want to count on that for the week. We had already made arrangements for either my mother to come that week or for a babysitter who had another week before school started to come. That fell through, but then as luck would have it, one of the babysitters who came had a friend who lived nearby and who was available. She had worked in day care with her and had known her since elementary school. We liked that - while we did not know her, we really like this babysitter and knew her well (2 years now) and so at least felt like we'd not have a complete stranger over.

So our babysitter went and got her friend and she spent four or five hours here Sunday with the kids, getting to know us and our home, and we made arrangements for her to watch our kids this week. We also moved ahead with our plans to interview people this week.

Finally, later that night, our nanny called and my wife talked to her. She told her that we would not need her this week. My wife said that she did not seem thrilled when she found that out. For me, I was not at all sympathetic. I felt like we were being left in the lurch - and given that she gave no warning and at first said she wasn't sure she could even be here this week, I did not think she had cause to complain that we had already made other arrangements.

I was still suspicious. Maybe her mother was sick, but even so, she could just be using it as an excuse. She said she was moving out of Lansing that Friday.

Then another warning sign - that night, she removed me from her facebook page. What had struck me as odd before that was that there was apparently no indication that her mother was sick or that she was even moving on her page - and she had been updating it. Now, she did not put all that much in the way of personal details on there, but she would say when she was moving or going out of town or whatever on there. But there was nothing. And now I could not see what there was. That set off big alarm bells in my head - what was she hiding? I suppose she could just have been mad we weren't having her here this week, but really, how could she expect otherwise when she's leaving for good this week one way or the other?

So the nanny came over one last time last night to give back the key we gave her and for me to give her the last of the money owed her and her last pay stub. My wife talked with her a while. The nanny told her about her mother and also that her step-father and brother got in a car accident that same weekend on the way to the hospital. No one hurt, but the car was wrecked. Ok - whatever. I did not comment. But then my wife asked her about facebook. The nanny said that she had a stalker who somehow was stalking her in Lansing on facebook. She did not explain how, given that her address or any information like that was not on her page. She said her mother made her delete her facebook page. Or maybe later she said just that she was "not updating it" - but I heard her say delete. Of course, I later checked and it was still there, with like 541 friends still on it (I couldn't see the page itself). Which means that she did not delete the page, she just removed my name from it. She had spun quite a tale of this stalker, including him following her home along dirt roads and such. She claimed he was arrested and that he was stalking four different women. I didn't ask for details.

Since she did not delete her page, and in fact, had simply removed me from it, I later knew for sure she was lying. And if she was lying about that, I wondered what else she was lying about. I wondered what she was hiding - did she just find another job and delete me so I wouldn't see she was still in Lansing? Really, in the end, it does not matter. I admit I'm curious what the truth actually is and I wonder if there is any way I can find out. It worries me that someone willing to lie this blatently, to our face, was watching our kids. I think she was actually fine with the kids when she was here, but I think she has maturity issues. She seemed eager to blame others for her own shortcomings - at least that was my impression.

I don't know what we'll do going forward. Maybe our sitter's friend will work out. Maybe we'll find someone else. I'm worried about that, but less worried now that we have at least someone for now. Obviously I'm still worried enough I'm up at 5:30 in the morning writing about it.

Damn, having kids is hard.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Some things just defy parody

I still have difficulty believing that this site is actually for real.

I mean, a site for "young men who have dedicated themselves to helping each other overcome pornography and/or masturbation" in a "'Knights of the Round Table' environment." After reading that, it took me several minutes before I could stop laughing long enough to read any further. I don't even need to say what immediately came to mind that made me laugh so hard - all together now: _ _ _ _ _ _ -- _ _ _ _. Unreal!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

What an exhausting month - Nanny starts soon - Musings on my children

This past month has been a long one. I think I've been the busiest I've ever been at work for the past few weeks. This is good in that it is never boring, though I do worry about things falling through the cracks. I did a trial (admin) this past week - that was just a day, but it wa a long day and it required plenty of prep. And that was just one small part of the week. I am getting the hang of that, though. I've now handled five hearings like that on my own, as well as at least that many with someone else, and I am starting to have fun with it.

Next monday, in two days, our nanny starts. My wife is nervous about that, but I think it will be fine. It is just something new. It is very expensive, but then so was day care (this is just more expensive). The paperwork, the taxes, payroll stuff, is annoying. I still haven't gotten it all set up - the last step, doing an actual payroll, I can't just try out before I have something real to run, so I am going to have to figure out the last steps with the first paycheck. I'm sure it will be fine - it isn't rocket science, but I want to get it right.

My daughter turns 4 this month, which is a big milestone. She's grown so much and can do so much now. She can do her alphabet. She can spell her name (and other things). She can type on the computer, use a mouse, even play Diablo II, though for her, that consists mostly of buying and drinking potions and running around town summoning birds to chase her around (with her druid). She says she's too afraid to go out where the monsters are, but she likes when I'm in the game with her and hang around town with her. It amazes me just how much of the functionality she figured out on her own. I never showed her how to do half of the stuff she does in the game - I didn't even know her druid could summon birds - but she figured it out. I guess she isn't a baby anymore.

My son is a year and a half this month. He's also grown so much. Grandma has been here helping us out since the end of May, but she leaves in a week (and thus the nanny starts). He's the reason we have a nanny. We got a final round of checks with a specalist and determined that he is not allergic to anything and that his health problems were just caused by serial sickness at day care, something that some kids get and just can't handle well. So he can't go back to day care. And if he's home, financially, we have to have our daughter home, too. I can't say that upsets me, though. My daughter loves her friends in day care, but she'll start kindergarten in a year and have friends there, and I just can't stomach her hearing any more Jesus brainwashing at her day care. I figured when she was really little, none of it would have stuck, but when she started coming home talking about certain stuff (and I even heard her say a stupid prayer over a meal once), that was enough for me. So for my son's physical health and both of my children's mental health, I'm glad to have them at home. It will also be much more convenient - it was quite a major operation to get them both up, dressed, and packed into the car, and into day care each morning, and then it was another major operation to get them both home.

Once grandma leaves, it will fall to me most evenings to get them both fed and bathed and into bed. (Right now, grandma pretty much has my son attached at the hip, which means I usually only have to take care of my daughter's baths, etc in the evenings). I admit I've been taking good advantage of that in that I play with my daughter a lot in the evenings right now. I do feel sometimes like I need to spend more time with my son, but he is usually in bed much earlier for the night, between 7 and 8 ideally. And my daughter can be so demanding of attention. It will be ... interesting ... to deal with them together without grandma. My daughter can be a bit rough with him. But they can also play well together when she isn't, well, acting her age.

I also find I get up early in the morning to just have a little time to myself.

I am both excited and worried about my daughter starting school next year. She seems so little still, and yet she's grown so much. She will have another year on her before then, which I'm sure will make a big difference. I already called the school district to see what I needed to do. There are a bunch of forms you need to fill out - I never realized there was all this preparation. I guess all of it was done for me long before I was aware of such things. I just thought you showed up at school and they knew you were coming. But of course, they could only do that if someone told them. So I was told that I can call again next February for information about a parent orientation. I want to go check out the elementary school, but I guess I can wait until then. I hope my daughter will do well in school. I was a total nerd, but at least I learned well.

I hope she gets good friends. She is probably going to be popular, as those things are measured, in that she is outgoing, she likes talking to everyone, and she is a very pretty girl. I worry, though, if that is going to be a good thing being popular. Perhaps that is because I was the polar opposite when I was in school. I guess as a parent you can always find new things to worry about.

I know I haven't been writing as much lately - I actually have plenty of things to say, I just have been lazy and taking advantage of being able to do other things, as I know I only have a week left to do so. Ironically, I think having less time to play around like that will make me spend more of it writing.

Now to enjoy the quiet time.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Obama is a Pussy

Some may have a problem with the subject line. To tell the truth, it is not something I would say--I prefer to call Democrats spineless. But those words were what greeted me when I answered the phone this morning. My wife is not shy about expressing her opinion in a rather frank (and some would say un-PC) manner. Her full quote was "We're screwed--Obama is a pussy." The full context is that he won't fight the GOP hard and dirty and get done what needs to get done, particularly with healthcare, but really, with everything else.

It is hard to argue with her now. I have been gravely disappointed at the things Obama has done - either not fighting hard enough or just adopting wholesale Bush-era illegal policies. And who can forget his "look forward, not back" - a rather novel way to avoid prosecuting ANY crime. So now I'm just sad about it all. And playing Diablo II.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Familial Outlier?

Almost everyone in my family is fat. Except my immediate family. Which I find somehow strange, but probably shouldn't. Let me explain.

They weren't always fat. Growing up, my mother and her three sisters were thin. My mother's youngest sister then wasn't thin (as I remember - I can't claimed to have looked back at all of her old pictures), but she wasn't fat - and then the other three sisters were still very thin.

My cousins were thin. All of them. My sister is the oldest cousin (as my mother is the oldest sister). Then there are two other cousins older than me, then there is me and one other cousin-we are the same age-then there are four cousins younger than me. My parents (and sister and nieces) came to visit last weekend. My mother brought with her some pictures. She had just visited my aunt in the hospital and had seen much of the family there too. (My aunt, sadly, has cancer, and the prognosis ranges from having a few weeks or maybe months, but certainly she will not have that much longer to live). I had not seen most of my relatives in many years. I can't recall when I saw most of them in person last. But what was immediately apparent was that they were all now fat. Very fat. All of my aunts. All of my cousins (at least the four in the pictures). Extremely so. And I wonder why that is. I mean, yes, I know there is genetics and that some people just are that way. But none of them were before - even well into adulthood. My dad made some comment about it and about lifestyle when my mother pulled the pictures out. I didn't say anything. Maybe it is genetics and lifestyle - after all, all of them are related.

But I'm related to them, too. And I'm not fat. I'm not rail thin, either. And I don't exercise and I eat like crap most of the time, though admittedly I also don't eat a lot and don't tend to eat junk food. I just don't like most of it. It makes me feel sick to eat chips or candy, generally. My mother also is still thin. As is my sister. But then my sister is very active - a real athlete - she just did a Tae Kwon Do tournament and won like seven gold medals (note to anyone who wants to be mean to me: my sister will beat you up). My mother also likes to get out and walk, but I don't know that any of my other relatives are any different (though none of them are anywhere near the athlete that my sister is - as far as I know).

So maybe it is genetics - after all, the only thin people in the "relative pool" are all closely related - my mother, my sister, and me. (My dad isn't exactly thin, but he isn't fat and he's not genetically related to everyone else I'm talking about here except for me and my sister). Now, there is another part of the equation - my uncles. But then I'm not sure about them. I think two of the three of them were thin - I know one still is. And the third, I just don't know, but I don't recall him being fat - he was in the military.

Anyway, this just strikes me as odd. I know people change as they get older, but for so many people to have so radical a change - I mean, it looks like my relatives have doubled or even tripled their weights since adulthood, and I don't think that is common. I wonder why it happened in a clinical sort of curiosity. I wonder if it is more common than I think it is.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Wasting time with Diablo II

I've been wasting time the past few days with a very old computer game, Diablo II. I played it in its heyday, but then haven't for years. Then they announced Diablo III was coming, and I thought, what the heck, I already have II, why not try it again. I even have my daughter playing it, sort of - she likes to just click the mouse and occasionally, she'll click in the right place to kill some monsters. She loves it.

At first, it was a shock to play it again - it looks so primitive after playing so many newer games, like Fallout 3. But once I got into it, I forgot that and just really enjoy the gameplay.

There are probably more productive things I could do with my time, but what the hell - I'm having fun and it is as good as free. With two computers, I can play while my daughter also plays (in the same game, no less, online!) and now I'm trying to get my sister to play, too. She's down in Florida and has never tried it, but she likes games.

All of this just goes to show that even without flashy graphics, you can have a deeply absorbing game that holds up even almost a decade later. Sort of like X-Com UFO Defense. Another classic.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Health Insurance Companies are EVIL

Reading this I can only come to one conclusion: Health Insurance Companies are evil. You are penalized with denial of insurance for the rest of your life for the selfless act of donating a kidney. What assholes. We need public health insurance. NOW.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Plea Bargain of an Innocent

Reading this article at Simple Justice, I got thinking about something that really bothers me.

Often, given the risks of trial and the way the deck is stacked against criminal defendants (beyond a reasonable doubt my ass...) an innocent person will plead guilty to a lesser offense simply to get a shorter sentence (and to end the uncertainty). As part of any guilty plea, generally the defendant is required to admit to doing the conduct, under oath, in court.

I was wondering how one can reconcile this with laws against perjury and against facilitiation of perjury (for a lawyer). If you know your client is innocent, but think he or she will still be convicted, or at least might be, how can you let them allocute to guilt under oath? How can the innocent person, in good consicence, commit perjury just for the sake of the plea?

If I were that innocent person, I would honestly tell the court that I was innocent, but that I was pleading guilty to a lesser charge because of the risks of not doing so being too great. If the court would not allow me to do that and plead guilty, then I would take that up to appeal and argue that it is a violation of due process to only allow plea bargains for reduced charges to guilty people while denying them to innocent people. Maybe I am just crazy, but it seems crazy to me that innocent people should get a worse outcome than guilty people under our system (of course, one could argue that innocent people will always get a worse outcome since they have so much taken away by the system, and all when they did nothing wrong).

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Thank you, Larry

Larry (aka Barefoot Bum) has closed his blog for good. Thankfully, he left his archives up, so we can all enjoy reading them still. I just wanted to thank him for the posts he has put up over the years, and even for his occasional odd comment here. I have always enjoyed his writing. Even if it is all useless bullshit (his words - I'm certainly not saying it was), it was at least enjoyable useless bullshit.

I also want to thank Larry for offering an explanation today. I was quite curious why he closed his blog. Upon reading it, I find that he decision to stop his blog is quite reasonable and makes perfect sense. I fear he may be right, that humanity is doomed to be done in by its own collective indifference to making things truly better. Yet I cannot quite be that cynical yet. Maybe I just am naive, but I still have hope - after all, many institutional things have gotten better with time, even if it did take far too many centuries for them to happen. Many of the people I admire would have been summarily executed for their views in a rather horrible fashion by local authorities, or by the local church (or both) just a few centuries ago. Still, I can't exactly say I'm holding my breath that things will get all that much better in my lifetime. And maybe they will even get worse. But I still have hope.

In any case, thanks again, Larry. I hope your remaining years do bring you happiness. I'm sure there are far better things you can do with your time than argue with f*ckt*rds.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Cleaning Up

Today was a cleaning day for me. I cleaned my carpets with a wet carpet cleaner. This is cheaper than paying someone else to do it. I consider it somewhat of a waste of time since the carpet does not stay clean long with a one year old and a three year old loose. I guess you can't let things get too bad, but what will stains hurt?

It just kind of sucks to do all this work to clean the carpet only to see it covered with spills and stains within a few weeks. But oh well. I guess I'll just enjoy the clean carpet for however long it lasts.

I also did some other cleaning today. I cleaned up this blog. Specifically, I reduced the number of post labels. When I first started blogging, I would add a ton of labels to each post, figuring that would help someone searching on various key words. I've since figured out that you can search on post content anyway, so you don't need labels for that purpose. It is actually better to have fewer labels. I noticed this most starkly when I added the label list on the lefthand side of the page and saw just how many useless, used-once labels there were. Today, I went through and cleaned them up, getting rid of every label I think I'd never use again. Maybe sometime I'll go through and consolidate even more, but for now, I think it is fairly cleaned up. And this clean up won't be covered with toddler-made stains in a few weeks.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

An Interesting Dungeons and Dragons Blog (4E)

I just stumbled across this blog, which is an interesting read. It is about 4E Dungeons and Dragons, which I don't (and won't) play (as I've mentioned before), but it is still fun to read, regardless. So I thought I'd share. Particularly interesting are the series of articles analyzing 4E modules (and the rules) bit by bit.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Your Social Security Number is Not Safe

Here's yet another reason your SSN is not safe: using statistical analysis and math, it is apparently pretty easy to guess if someone knows your date of birth and your place of birth.

It is sad that it is illegal to use your SSN for any sort of identification purposes, yet, despite that, it is basically universally used for it anyway.

Truly, what we need is an ID system based on biometric data. Though I wonder how that would work for online transactions, where it would be easy enough to send fake parameters instead of your own.

I already knew there were reasons not to share things like your birthday and even place of birth - which is why I generally counsel not to use your real birthday for things online unless you are legally required to. I certainly never do. So here's one more reason not to.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Seeing what Sticks

I don't know how many times I heard a professor say this in law school, nor how many times I've heard it elsewhere when talking about what legal arguments to raise. The story, as it usually goes, is this. A lawyer talks about some case they had where they raised what he or she thought was the two or three best legal arguments, then she throws in two or more arguments that really seem to have no chance, "just because" and then the judge rules for her based on one of the arguments that was a throw away. The moral the lawyer learns from this is "throw everything against the wall and see what sticks" because "you never know what obscure legal argument the court may adopt."

I have my doubts about this strategy. It seems more like ass covering than actual good lawyering to me. If some obscure argument wins while the "strong" arguments don't, my first thought is that the lawyer really did not have a clue what the best arguments were. Sure, maybe the judge is just an idiot, which also happens, but then, if the judge is an idiot who won't follow the law, there isn't too much you can do about that but appeal to an appellate tribunal that will follow the law (as the intermediate appellate courts generally do - at least, much better than a circuit court).

The best approach is to only raise those issues you are strong on, and leave out the weak ones. They just waste the court's time (and yours), they reduce your credibility with the court, and they may annoy the court if they are so weak as to be almost frivolous to raise. I know they would annoy me if I were a judge (and I have been in the position where I had to think like one).

Obviously, it is important to really know which issues are strongest (and which are bullshit) - and if you are insecure about that, you are probably not qualified to represent your client and ought to either refer the client to someone else or seek a mentor to help you out (and of course, none of that gets charged to the client - the client pays for legal services, not your education).

But "throwing everything at the wall" and hoping something sticks is certainly not good lawyering. I think it tends to resemble what you get when a person, not a lawyer, tries to represent themself. They often just cite one irrelevant legal issue after another, and sometimes, perhaps by chance, one of them actually has merit. That is to be expected from a non-lawyer. I don't think it is acceptable from an actual member of the bar. But hey, I've only been a lawyer a short while, so what do I know?

Sunday, July 5, 2009

More fun with finding a Nanny

As I mentioned last week, I am currently in the process of trying to find a nanny. Well, now I'm more in the process of trying to figure out all of the legal hoops I have to jump through to set up having an employee. It is not something I've ever done before, so I am starting from scratch.

At first, I was a bit annoyed at all of the various forms and things you have to keep track of and take care of. It seemed awfully burdensome to have to do all of this crap just so I can write a check to someone else every two weeks. I can understand better why some small employers get all flustered and upset at government and want to vote Republican (as if that would make any difference). But really, this stuff protects all workers, including me - and that I appreciate very much, since I am also someone else's employee, as is my wife.

So while it is terribly annoying and will cost us quite a bit of extra money, I know why we need it - too many employers are bastards and even with these protections, far too many workers get screwed over. Still, it is hard for us to afford. It costs hundreds of dollars upfront to get software and services set up for doing payroll. That will pay off in the end because it will automate things. I shudder to think of trying to calculate that stuff by hand each paycheck. And this does impact the nanny too, in that, we will have less money to pay her.

There are additional taxes of about 11-12 % on top of what we'll pay to the nanny in salary (and of course, she'll have money taken out on her end as well). This is to pay for SS and Medicare deductions and State and Federal Unemployment Insurance. Thankfully, we don't have to buy Workers Compensation Insurance. I have no idea how much that would cost (but I assume it isn't cheap) - it is only required if you have more than three employees, and we'll only have one.

Some things have been pretty easy. Getting a Federal Employee ID was easy. You can get that online and it is basically instant. You can then use that for setting up everything else. Michigan requires filing a new business form for tax purposes. 518, I think it is. I filled that out and will send it in Monday. You have to fill out I-9 forms (to prove the employee is allowed to work) and W-4 and MI-W4 for withholding. I remember filling these out for every job I ever had, so I guess I should not be surprised.

I went out and got binders to put all of the various supplements on Federal and State employment taxes. I got another binder to put all of the information for the nanny, including, eventually, copies of each pay stub. I'm going to have to file quarterly taxes for her, state and federal, in addition to an annual return. All in all, there is a whole lot of work on my end for this. I've already spent many hours looking this stuff up and getting stuff ready. I hope it will be relatively automated and easy once things are set up, but no matter what, I will be spending extra time on this on an ongoing basis.

I suppose on the upside, if I ever do form my own small business (like if I hang a shingle) I'll already have some experience relevant to that. Still, I'd think a real business would hire someone to handle HR matters who was an expert at it and so I really wouldn't need to know about that stuff anyway. Of course, hanging a shingle, I'd be a rather small business and the less overhead the better. Not that I'm planning on doing this any time soon, if ever. I like my job. But it is an interesting thought.

My big worry now is that I'm going to miss something important. I'm pretty sure I have all of the basics covered. I'm a little worried about getting the particulars right for the taxes, but I am fairly confident the tax software will handle it - that's what it is for, and it keeps updated as the law or rates change over time.

I never would have thought I'd be doing something like this when I decided to take the plunge and reproduce. Ah, the joys of parenthood.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Hello, Senator Franken

It is about frickin' time that Franken got seated in the Senate. The courtroom crap was bullshit - it really was nothing more than a delaying action by Republicans.

But that hasn't stopped the true kool-aid drinkers from declaring (with the help of the Wall Street Journal) that Franken "stole" the election. Uh, no. They conveniently ignore the fact that the majority of judges who considered the election were GOP, and on top of that, the judicial determinations were unanimous. It wasn't like Bush v Gore, where there was a rather blatent attempt to stop the counting and where the verdict was split along party lines on the court. Not that that necessarily means anything legally, but it certainly could be evidence of politics over law. No such thing happened in Minnesota. Instead, we see the national GOP increasingly detached from reality. I was worried about 2010 - I am less worried now as I watch the GOP continue to self-destruct.

The only question is, will they self-destruct faster and more efficiently than the Democrats, who usually are pretty good at caving in and getting nothing done.

In any case, well done, Senator Franken. This makes me wish I had talked to him when I had the opportunity. I was sitting in Minnesota's main airport for a layover and happened to spy Al Franken sitting there with me, waiting for a different flight. He sat right across from me for about an hour. He was quietly reading a paper most of the time. He didn't talk to anyone. This was before he officially was in the Senate race, but it was obvious he would be in it. I wanted to say hello and that I'd vote for him if I had lived in MN, but I never did. I figured he did not want to be bothered, and in any case, I'm generally introverted, so I don't seek out conversation with strangers at airports, generally.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Fox's 24 - My review of Season 7

I just finished watching this season's 24 on Fox. All things considered, I enjoyed this season. I haven't gotten to see all previous seasons. I saw 1 and 2, and I saw a few other seasons in there somewhere, though I'm not sure which they were. Some of them were really good. I'd rate this last one as good, too.

Before I get into what I liked, I just want to make perfectly clear. 24 is right-wing torture porn. The deranged right seems to think Jack Bauer is a real person and that his torture techniques really save lives. I want to ask those same people if they think "Alf" is a real "person." After all, Alf is also on TV.

This season, they did something interesting with that. They did an exploration of the whole notion of ends justifying the means. And they did it in a way that was dramatically consistent. Because Jack doesn't change his ways. Jack is Jack. It would be totally out of character for him NOT to be a right-wing torture porn poster boy. So the way they explore the notion is through other characters.

NOTE: Spoilers ahead.

The first character they explore this with is an FBI agent who in a way becomes Jack's protogee. She is a straight-arrow at the start, but as she watches Jack do what he does, she gradually starts to do some of the things he does. He has to really push her to do it at first, and she feels sick about it, but she does it, and apparently sees it get results. (Of course, this is contrary to the real-world experience of torture, which generally is useless at anything but getting the tortured person to tell you what you want to hear). But she never quite crosses the line that Jack has crossed. She feels badly about it and stops... until the end. More on that in a moment.

Jack's friend Tony is back from the dead in this. He seems to be on Jack's side the whole day, until it turns out at the end, he seems to be working for the big bad guys. He goes so far as to launch a biological warfare attack in a subway that would kill thousands, all to get in with the big honcho. But in the end, Jack finds out that he has no interest in anything except killing the Honcho for his having killed Tony's wife several seasons earlier. Tony is the ultimate ends-justify-the-means character. He fully believes that it was ok to sacrifice thousands to get to this guy. He is motivated by revenge, and yet really, he is just an even more extreme version of Jack - willing to break the law and kill people to get a "greater good" - taking out the man behind so many of the bad things on earlier seasons of 24.

At the end, Jack stops Tony from killing the Honcho. He is taken into custody and you see the Honcho "lawyer up." (Despite the fact that he was caught in the middle of a shootout with the FBI, meaning he'd rot in prison for the rest of his life, the show makes it seem like he'll get off somehow). The FBI agent has one last talk with Jack. He tells her he regrets nothing, but that also he has lost a lot. He asks her to consider that. I wish I had the exact conversation, but I can't recall it now.

Then Jack goes off to die. The FBI agent takes the Honcho and is going to question him. And when it seems like he is not going to cooperate, she pulls a gun on another agent (played by Jeanine Garofoalo - quite humorous that she is in this, btw, given her political views - which the character does stay true to, in that her agent refuses to violate the law) - anyway, Jack's understudy pulls a gun and then handcuffs the other agent and goes into the room - and that's the last you see of her in the show. It is clear she's gone over the line, the same as Jack. She's sacrficing her career, everything. She's gone to the dark side. Watching it, you get the sense that the cycle is just continuing - that Jack's immorality is spreading like a rot. That what spread to Tony has now infected her. At least that is the sense I got. Maybe that is just my take on it. I'm sure the right-wing zealots who worship Jack won't see it that way. They'll try and make some distinction between her and Jack and Tony. But really, I think the writers are cleverer than that. Tony really is just what Jack is heading toward becoming. Jack, in a way, senses this, and in the end, as he is about to die from the bioweapon, he asks for a Muslim Cleric who he ran into earlier in the day take what are essentially his last words. I'm sure the right-wing nuts went crazy about that - Jack going Muslim! Not that it was particularly muslim what he did, but there is certainly symbolism in it. Jack seems to be asking forgiveness for all the bad he has done.

So while I enjoyed the show as it was going - despite all the usual plot holes and ridiculousness, in the end, what I really enjoyed most was the comparison you see between the three different characters - Jack, the FBI woman, and Tony - and how they all were different versions of the same thing. It showed that once you crossed that line that Jack and Tony had crossed, it leads down a bad road - Jack makes some errors on that road that he finally sees are wrong - jumping to conclusions too quickly about an apparent muslim extremeist. Tony is clearly in the wrong. And then you see the basically decent (to begin with) FBI agent make more and more compromises with morality and the law until she finally crosses the line, where there is no going back, and she goes totally rogue. You know that can't end well for her.

What I get from that is that ultimately, that line into illegality can never be crossed - once you do, you are no different than Tony. You are part of the problem or will ultimately get there. Maybe that's just my wishful thinking, but I saw that in the show and I really liked that.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Apparently I am Spam

I just got a warning message that my blog has been flagged as a SPAM blog that will be deleted unless I verify it. What utter nonsense. While I can appreciate the need to police such things, it should be apparent to any actual human being that my blog is NOT a SPAM blog. That it was labeled as such without anyone actually verifying this first is terribly annoying.

In essence, blogspot has now spammed me - an automated program has now run and wasted my time in this verification process. And make no mistake, doing this is SPAM, no better than any other automated junk that gets done across the internet.

I do hope this gets cleared up quickly. I suppose since I am doing this for free, I ought not to complain, but it is still annoying.

UPDATE - My Blog has now apparently been confirmed as "real" - I guess it is good it took them less than a day to do so.

Health Care Should NOT Be For Profit

As my blog description of me says, I am libertarian leaning. That means I have my doubts about centrally planned economies - I don't think they work. I value competition, where there truly is some. But some things simply can't be for profit - they can't really work that way. One of those things is health care and health insurance.

Health care simply can't be for profit. Health insurance, in particular, simply cannot be for profit. Because the way you make a profit, ultimatley, is by turning down health care for someone. Not just someone, but lots of people. And to me, that is immoral. No one deserves to have their health sacrificed simply because they don't have enough money.

If you have a burning building with a bunch of people inside, you don't just rescue the people from the building who have money. You rescue EVERYONE. That is the moral thing to do. What, you might say, of those people who stupidly went into the building when they knew it was on fire? Ask a fireman about that - they get rescued too. Because again, it is the moral thing to do.

It is not like people are going to want to deliberately sabotage their health just so they can get medical procedures. Generally speaking, many people, if not most, would rather not go see a doctor if they can avoid it. I sure as hell don't like to go to the doctor. I only go when I'm really sick and I don't think I'll get better on my own. Sure, there are hypocondriacs, but then, such people are probably cheap, because it doesn't cost much to have a doctor look at you and tell you nothing is wrong.

The benefit of insurance, and the reason it works, is that it is about sharing risk across a large population, such that individuals who suffer great losses don't go under, while at the same time, premiums are, on average, affordable. This stops working if insurance companies are allowed to cull from their coverage anyone who really would take a loss, leaving only people in the pool who never need benefits. The only reason to do this is to make a profit. If you don't have a profit incentive, then you might as well just get as many people on coverage as possible, because almost all of the money goes to the people insured instead of into some CEO's pocket.

The bigger the pool of people, the better. The best pool is one that has the entire population in it. Then everyone contributes and everyone benefits and is covered. Yes, this means even young, healthy people have to pay a premium (through their taxes), but then, that is something they will benefit from when they themselves are old and utilizing the premiums paid by the succeeding generations of young people.

Another reason health simply can't be for profit is because when it comes to actually choosing health care, people generally don't have a choice. If you find out you have cancer, you have no choice but to get expensive treatments. You also may not have any time to "shop around" - nor do you really have the expertise to do so. If you need a kidney removed, you only get one shot at having that done. Either they do it right or they won't, and you won't know in advance if you are getting your money's worth. You simply cannot make dispassionate market choices when your health is in immediate peril. And even if you could, it would be very hard to discern if you are truly getting the best treatment. It is not like you are ordering a steak.

So to sum up, there are three basic reasons health care simply can't be for profit.

1. Shared risk really only works where everyone is in the same risk pool and everyone benefits.

2. There are perverse incentives to play with the money in the risk pool when the goal is profit instead of simply making sure everyone is covered.

3. People really can't shop around for health care, even if they wanted to. They simply don't have the expertise and may be under great duress when the time comes to pick services.

Finally, most of the reasons cited to avoid a single-payer, public plan are bogus.

1. The notion that you won't have any choice is crap. As it is, for every private plan I've been on, I've not had much, if any, choice. So it is not like a private plan is any better. If everyone is on the public plan, there would be a vast improvement in choices as you would no longer be limited to whatever small circle of doctors is on your plan - because EVERY doctor would be on your plan.

2. The notion that you would have long wait times for service is also crap. You have to wait under private plans. Even for a simple office visit, you can wait hours past your regularly scheduled appointment time. And procedures can have you waiting weeks or months. My wife just had a suspicious result in one of her checkups. She is a bit of a hypcondriac, which makes that worse. But even though there was potentially a serious problem, she was forced to wait almost two weeks for the followup because no other appointments were available. And now she has to wait two more weeks for the results. So private health insurance sounds an awful lot like what is anecdotally complained about in nations with public health plans.

It does make sense for other types of insurance to be more on a profit model. Insurance that covers optional activities or is based upon your choices, that is ok. Like insurance that varies based on where you build your house. If you try to build in a flood plane, it makes sense that you would have to pay a lot of extra money for that. Or if you want to get a fast, dangerous car, then you pay a premium on the insurance for that care. Or if you want to get life insurance when you chose dangerous recreational activities, like sky-diving. There, the risks set the price, and you can avoid the price by avoiding the risk.

The time has come for us to have a single payer health care system that covers everyone and pools everyone together. I wouldn't outlaw private plans - if someone wants to get something over and above that, and someone else is willing to supply it, that's fine by me. I think the private insurers are all up in arms because they know that once the monopoly of crappy private plans is broken they lose their obscene profits (and in many, if not most places, it IS a monopoly - even where there is more than one plan, you are still stuck with whatever your employer provides) .

I still think many things should just be left to the free market (and I mean TRULY free market (free, but regulated), not the government-sponsored monopolies that make up much of our "capitalist" system). But health care is not one of those things.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Legal Advocacy: The Importance of Credibility

It cannot be stressed enough just how important credibility is when you are a lawyer. I'm not talking about the credibility of witnesses, though that is obviously also an issue of great importance - either bolstering or attacking it, depending on the circumstances. I'm talking about the credibility of the lawyer - both with the judge and the jury (if relevant). I'd say it is most important with the judge or judges (like for an appellate panel).

If you read any (good) treatise on good legal advocacy, this is stressed heavily. But what does it mean?

A layperson may not realize that it is often one of the parties who actually writes a judge's order. You may go to a hearing to argue a motion or an oral argument in circuit court on appeal from an administrative matter and, at the close of the hearing, if you win, you will be asked to write the order that the judge will sign. Often those are basic "you win for the reasons stated in the record" kind of orders, but sometimes, it is a more complex issue. Thus, what you really want is to write your own order and submit it with your motion with the intention that the judge will sign it. And no judge is going to sign your order unless she or he finds you credible in your advocacy.

A total scorched earth approach, questioning and nitpicking every single small point does not lend itself to credibility. Then you look like you are simply arguing for the sake of arguing and opposing for the sake of opposing, and aren't willing to cede any ground, even that ground which you truly should. That makes you appear unreasonable. And if the other side doesn't do the same, then they seem reasonable in comparison. Which order do you think a judge is more likely to sign-the one written by the most or least reasonable party in the suit?

You gain credibility by conceding points where the law truly says the other party should win. You also gain credibility where you concede points that the other side should probably win, but only after a bit of a fight, because that fight wastes everyones time and energy. One thing judges do not like is to have their time wasted. You gain credibily by an unbiased presentation of the facts. Certainly where there is a factual dispute, you advocate for the position you think the evidence supports, but where there are independently verifiable facts, particularly where you are dealing with a written record, citing to it in a misleading way can only destroy your credibility once the judge reads the record and sees that it doesn't match your claims. Better for the judge to conclude that about the other party - then whenever an issue comes up, the judge will turn to YOU for the answer, because the other party simply won't be trusted to give an accurate answer (for instance, if at oral argument, the judge forgets about a particular detail in the record and wonders what happened - or even for something that is outside of the record, like what has happened since the record was taken).

If you gain a reputation for an unbiased representation of the facts, even where it may hurt your client. you gain a reputation for credibility that will serve you well.

I've thought about this in the context of online discussions, where certain ideological groups never cede a single inch or grant any validity to any of the points in contention. Sure, there are idiots who "troll" and don't really have any valid points to make, but it seems like people are shoved into that category all too quickly simply for not being a synchophant, and you get no-debate echo chambers instead of any rational discussion. I wonder if any of those bloggers would still act like that if they had real legal experience where they had to build credibility with a neutral arbiter like a judge instead of having dictatorial control over their own little fiefdom of the internet.

But back to the issue at hand. You need credibility to be an effective advocate. Credibility on the facts and on the law. You have to make sure you are accurate. You have to make sure you communicate it clearly to the judge. And you have to be reasonable. Clients may love it when you are unreasonable and take the scorched earth approach, but it will annoy the hell out of judges (well, unless you are a prosecutor - then the judge can be an extension of the prosecution. Ok, that isn't quite fair - there are lots of biases judges can have).

Credibility is something hard earned and easily and quickly lost. Mislead a judge once, leading to that judge to sign an order that is contrary to the law (or the facts) - and that judge is then reversed on appeal - that judge will remember you. And the next time, even if you are right, the judge certainly isn't going to take your word for it. And ultimately, it is your clients who will suffer.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

NPR and Torture: Why I'm Never Contributing to NPR

My car radio is tuned to NPR. The station also does classical music during the day, but then, during the hours I drive, it is pure NPR programming. Over the past eight years, I've found myself, quite often, screaming at the radio in frustration as torture is discussed and it is labeled with the Orwellian "enhanced interrogation techniques" or "harsh interrogation techniques." I've yelled, "No, it is TORTURE, call Torture, TORTURE!" Sadly, the radio never responds to my tirades.

Now, I see the formal explanation of why this is. NPR's Ombudsman has written a blog entry about NPR's avoidance of the word "torture" to describe torture. It is, to say the least, tortured logic. What is most telling is the admission in there that to NOT use torture is do adopt the government's position - all of this said while they explain how they cannot "take sides." Yet not using the word IS taking a side - that of the government. Unfortunatley, the side that is not taken is the truth.

This is utter bullshit. Glenn Greenwald, as linked above, takes NPR to task on this. I am very much looking forward to NPR's (likely bullshit) response. There really is only one right answer here. NPR should report the truth. It should not matter which "side" is hurt by it or which side uses the language. Objective reporting requires reporting the truth. Anything else is propeganda. Not using the word "torture" to describe torture is propeganda.

Over the years, I've heard many an NPR pledge drive. I did once contribute to NPR, though my labor, not through money, though it was 16 hours of labor, not a small investment. When it has come to money, I have not pledged, though I have always intended to - likely when I am no longer paying for child care. But no more. This Orwellian nonsense has killed any incentive I would have had to give them any of my hard-earned cash. Instead, I am going to call them on pledge weeks and tell them what I'm saying now - until they stop with the propeganda and actually accurately report torture as torture, I will NEVER give them a dime. And it isn't just on the torture issue, but all issues where they play these language games, adopting the Orwellian language, usually of the right-wing, to describe things. Real reporters report facts and don't care which side those facts hurt. NPR is nothing more than a propeganda organ for the right-wing so long as they adopt right-wing language over truth. (Same goes for any left-wing Orwellian language, though there is far less of that).

So NPR had better clean up its act, or no money from me. Somehow, I'm not expecting anything to change. Glenn is going to be either rationalized away or ignored. The rot in the MSM is too deep for anything to matter now. I expect the MSM ship is going to sink to the bottom and be replaced by something else - the inanity of the cable news is likely unfixable, given the way the MSM is structured and financed. But at least my voice is out there, for what it is worth.

Finding a Nanny versus Day Care

I am currently going through the process of looking for a nanny. We had thought about getting one before, but I never really seriously considered it because of the complications involved and the increased cost. Day care is very expensive to begin with. A nanny, we figured, would cost even more, though we never knew quite how much. (Though we did figure if we had three kids in day care, a nanny would likely be cheaper).

The complications include payroll deduction of taxes, which I have no idea how to do. That one will probably ultimately be easy, once I get a program of some sort to handle it. Maybe something like Quickbooks from Intuit. I use Quicken for my finances (and TurboTax for my taxes) and I've been happy with those products, so I'm going to explore whether I can use something like that for payroll deduction.

Another concern is the lack of backups. With day care, if one of the people who watches our kids in a given room (there are different rooms for different age groups), the day care handles covering it with someone else. On the other hand, if we have a nanny and she is sick or unavailable, we are stuck - one of us will have to stay home. That means using up precious vacation or sick days, which neither of us has in abundance. Then again, with day care, when one of the kids was sick, they'd send him or her home, and we'd have to take a day off of work for that. Thinking about that further, we probably would be staying home more often with day care than with a nanny.

Which brings me to one of the main reasons we are looking at leaving day care, at least for our son. He was getting sick all the time in day care. For about three months, he was sick basically continuously, mostly with serial colds, but also with something nastier at one point. He also was not eating well. So he basically gained no weight for three months, which is really bad. His doctor had concerns that something very serious might be wrong with him so he had to take all sorts of blood tests and we had a really bad several months of worry. Our old babysitter saved us.

In April, she came home from her first year at college and so was available to watch our son at home. We pulled him out of day care and he stayed home with her. It was amazing how much better he got after that. He stopped being sick, he gained a ton of weight, and is doing wonderful now. That alone makes it very hard to send him back to day care when the summer ends and our babysitter goes back to school.

Another reason I really don't want my kids in our current day care is that it is run by a church and they include "chapel" activities for the kids, increasing as they get older. It didn't really bother me when my daughter was younger because she really was too young to even vaguely be brainwashed into that garbage. I think even the church recognizes that because they don't really start with it until kids get older, probably between 2 1/2 and 3. My daughter is now almost four, though, and so she has had some of that. Partly for that reason, we also pulled her down to just one day a week, a day that is not a chapel day. What really clinched that for me was when she started spouting some god talk - nothing much, but enough for me to decide that I would no longer subject her to the child abuse that is religion.

So now we need to find a nanny for both of them for when the summer ends. My mother-in-law is here now, helping out, and we are also having babysitter help while she is here for the summer, but that ends in August.

We heard about a site online where you can find nannies, babysitters, and people looking for both. It cost money to subscribe to it, but really, not all that much money, and given what actual agencies and such charge to find nannies, it is a pittance. Much like any such search, it is hit and miss. We've met a few people that we really did not like, and few that we have. The main problem is finding someone we like who also is available for the time we'd need her, who is affordable, and who can make a committment to it for at least until my son starts kindergarten, which is in four years. I'd rather not have to go through this whole process more than once, if I can avoid it.

One woman we talked to a bit had excellent qualificaitons and we really liked her, but we really could not afford her - she wanted $650 to $700 a week. For comparison, day care for two kids cost us $341 a month (down from $379 - the price before our daughter was potty trained). We really can't afford anything more than the cost of day care, though we can't get a nanny for that little, given it is 50 hours a week. Which would make us stuck, except that my parents may help us out to cover whatever extra cost there will be. One might wonder why they don't just offer to help watch their grandkids. Well...

Our primary problem has always been a lack of family nearby who can help us out with childcare. My parents actually aren't that far away - but they really aren't close either - over an hour drive - and they are not exactly young. My mother will be 72 this year, my father 67. Both are semi-retired. Both have little inclination to help out in that regard except in the direst of emergencies - like when we had to go to the hospital one time. Since they don't help directly that often, what they do is they send financial help. Not usually alot, but enough that it is helpful. But a nanny would be a lot. Probably they are willing to do that because of their own concerns about their grandson's health. It is not like they have all that much money - they, like us, are solidly middle class, with sensible finances. But we don't have a lot of extra money. The economy isn't exactly great now - we are both on reduced income now because of it, and we never had that much to save each month.

Looking forward, my daughter will start kindergarten next year. If she were in day care, that would save us a lot of money. If we have a nanny, we'll still probably be paying the same - that would mean us paying that extra money for the next four years, until our son enters kindergarten. (I won't even contemplate a third child right now - I can't imagine how we could manage it, but I guess we'll see in the next few years).

In the end, regardless of the cost, if we can somehow do it, I think it will be worth it. I really don't want the religious crap being poured into either of their brains. I'd rather innoculate them against it by teaching them critical thinking skills. Starting over with another day care just isn't an option we'd consider. Firstly, the day care we have now is actually the cheapest one we found. It is also very very close to our house. And it actually is a lot better than a lot of the other day cares we looked at when we first started looking for one.

Having a nanny would also yield other benefits. The kids would probably eat better. The house might not be quite as trashed, as there would be someone here to pick up a bit, something two working parents seldom have time to do, and there would not be the mad rush to get two kids ready to go to day care in the morning, nor would there be the mad rush home each night to pick them up.

Still, the process of finding someone has been hard. We've never done it before. We don't know how it will turn out. A nanny is more than an employee - it is like interviewing someone to join your family. During the week, this person would be in our home more than we would, and would spend more time with our kids than we could (at least in waking hours). Several times I've been about ready to give up on the process and just send the kids both back to day care full time in August. That would be the easiest, cheapest thing to do. My son would be older than he was when he had problems and he would be in a different room, so he may do better. And the religious stuff won't be reinforced anywhere, so it probably won't leave any lasting damage - after all, it didn't for me when my parents put me in day care and preschool run by a church. The lack of damage was probably because my parents are not religious at all and we never did anything religious.

There is one woman we both like who seems capable and is willing to commit for the time we'd like at a price we could afford. But I wonder - can she really commit to that long? She is young, only 19, but then, so is the babysitter who is here during the week now. I really don't have any experience with this sort of thing - but then again, maybe I do. I have certainly had to deal with lots of child care issues over the past four years. Finding a day care, dealing with a half dozen different regular babysitters, and now even having an almost-nanny for the summer.

I probably would not hesitate to get a nanny as much if we could really afford it, on our own, and could pay someone what would be considered a professional rate - perhaps the $650 to $700 mentioned above. I don't know. For now, the search continues.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Supply-Side Jesus

After sharing the link below (Lovecraft and Jack Chick) with a friend, he forwarded to me this link, which is hiliarious and accurate. I wish I could have a copy in handbill form to pass out in churches.

Lovecraft meets Jack Chick

This is absolutely brilliant. (h/t to Larry). Jack Chick is insane, and yet like the proverbial train-wreck, it is hard to tear your eyes away from the lunacy that is his comic series. Of course, as a gamer, I particularly enjoyed his tract against playing Dungeons and Dragons. (I won't link to it, but rest assured, if you search for it, you will find it).

Fox News is Beyond Parody - as is the GOP

It is just beyond parody that Fox "News" has yet again labeled a Republican politician in the midst of a scandal as a Democrat. This is a really signficant thing for Republicans. I know this because the GOP true believers that post to this bulletin board for a job I used to have love to call the media "liberally biased" based on such things as how often and prominently the political party of a politician in a scandal is labeled. It is something they obsess over.

This makes it even more significant for Fox to deliberately post the wrong party every time a scandal breaks. They know what they are doing and they know their audience. Another thing the GOP is really good at is accusing everyone else of doing what they are doing - particularly where really the ONLY party doing what they are accusing is the GOP. So I find that often the best way to get insight into what the GOP is really up to is see what they are accusing everyone else of doing. The accusations of MSM bias based on the use of labels tells me that the GOP does this (and also that the MSM probably doesn't - not that they don't suck in so many other ways - it is just that the ways the MSM sucks are ways that the GOP doesn't complain about because the GOP exploits them).

It is telling that every sensible person I know who used to lean Republican or was Republican has left the party in disgust. The GOP (and its organs like Fox, Rush, etc.) have gotten truly pathetic. Hell, the latest scandal on the South Carolina governor - it was out for only a few hours and already Hannity was accusing the MSM of "dragging it out" by talking about it too long. Rush is blaming it on Obama for giving the stimulus funds and "making" Mark Sanford fight a lawsuit over it, ignoring, of course, the fact that he fought his own state legislature, not Obama. Facts never matter to them, though, as the mouthpieces for the GOP are lying sacks of shit. Ahem.

As always, here's my disclaimer that I think the Democratic Party is made up of a bunch of spineless wimps. Even Obama, who has more spine than most, is refusing to do the right thing on torture and other Bush era crimes for fear of appearing partisan. Either that or he really just doesn't care. Oh well. He is still way better than McCain. No way I'm ever letting the GOP get the keys to the White House again. I guess we're just screwed.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Paizo Pathfinder Adventurepath: Rise of the Runelords

I've been running the Rise of the Runelords adventure path. I started October 9, 2008, so we've been going a solid 8 months now. The players are just about to finish the third book (of six), putting them, by at least one measure, halfway through the adventure path.

Thus far, I've really enjoyed running it and the players have really enjoyed playing it. It is a very solid, fun, interesting adventure. They really don't have a clue yet what the big storyline is, but they've certainly gotten lots of little pieces of it and it may start to make some sense when they get into book 4.

One thing I do with my games is give extra experience for doing "write ups" of each adventure. I give 100 exp per level of the character doing the writeup. A few players started doing some, but really, only one player has kept it up the whole time. The list of writeups is here. The one player who is keeping up is playing a gnome ranger. Those writeups are here.

I may comment more on this as they progress. I'll certainly say something when the entire adventure path is complete, though at this rate, it will be February or March 2010 before they finish it. We play every Monday night, unless two or more people can't make it. With five players, four is enough to play. We've occasionally played with three players, but that just isn't as fun and can also get unwieldly. Thankfully, despite the rigors and trials of life, lately usually everyone makes it. At least til last week, when summer vacations are now starting to pop up.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

My Advice on College

Since this is college graduation season (and high school graduation season for that matter), I've thought about the sort of advice about college I'll be giving my own children when they start approaching the age where it matters.

The first thing I'll tell them is that usually an expensive school simply isn't worth the money. With very few exceptions, no one cares where you went to school. It only matters much, if at all, for your first job right out of school. After that, your work experience and how you've done at your job will be of primary importance for your career. Thus, if the choice is between two schools and one is vastly cheaper, I'd say, go for the cheap one. Free is best.

Now, there are obviously exceptions to this, like if you want to be a faculty member at Harvard Law school - they are snobbish assholes and very likely won't give you the time of day if they don't like where you went to law school. Other academic positions may also have issues with that. Also, if you want to enter into politics, rubbing shoulders with the aristocracy can only be acheived by going to certain schools. And even that is not necessarily a requirement - it just makes thing easier. There are probably other examples.

With my first thing in mind, I'd suggest going to a community college for the first two years. You can get a quality education that way for cheap and then transfer it in to a four year school. This is also about saving money. You also may get a much better education at a community college than certain four year schools. Which brings me to my next point.

For undergrad, look for the school that places emphasis on education rather than research or prestige. That's where you'll get your best value for what money you do spend. A school that emphasizes education will tenure good teachers. Almost by definition none of these schools will be considered first or even second or third tier schools. But then the tiers are set up by factors having nothing to do with education. They focus on prestige and research. You might think that if you want to do research, it would be good to go to one of those schools for undergrad. You'd be wrong. As an undergrad student, you would not be involved with any of that. If you want to do research, go to a research school for grad school. The grad students are the ones involved with the research. If you want prestige - well, see above.

Speaking of prestige, a minor aside on that. At my first law job, most of the other people I worked with were not from big name schools. All of them were amongst the smartest people I know. Or almost all. The exception was someone who I admittedly never got to know that well. But even though I did not know her, she made sure to introduce the fact that she went to Harvard Law school when you first talked to her. Now, I found that interesting, though I never really asked her about school. I had never met anyone who went to Harvard Law, so I was curious. It turned out she was one of the only people to basically be asked to leave the job. I can't claim to know all of the circumstances, but I do know that she simply was unable to really do the job that everyone else there (from much lower tier schools) was able to do. Admittedly that is but an anecdotal example, but from that, I would be wary of being all that impressed by Harvard Law credentials in the future. Prestige is a poor substitute for competence.

The next piece of advice I'd give would be about what to do while in school. I'd say, firstly, study. Get a routine. Figure out how to study. Most high schools are not all that great at giving good study habits. Mine wasn't. That was mostly my own fault. I was always good academically. I didn't have to try very hard. So I didn't learn how to study hard. I just coasted and did well. I had to learn how to study when I hit college. It took a few tries. Which brings me to another point - don't start school until you are ready.

There's no reason you have to start college as soon as you graduate from high school. Not everyone is ready for school at that point. I probably wasn't - mostly because I didn't do much real living in high school. I didn't have many friends, never went out, never really learned how to be sociable. I did learn these things in college the first few years - but then I was so busy with doing all of those other things I really didn't do some of the basics like - studying or even going to class. It was good for me to learn those non-classroom things, but I could have probalby learned them just as well without spending lots of money on tuition.

Really, in the end, you get out of school what you put into it. I'd say pick a school that is cheap, has the classes you want, and then make sure you get your money's worth. Show up to class. Study. Learn how to stay focused and organized without parents (or anyone) peering over your shoulder. School can be very good for that, but only if you are ready for it.

Finally, consider not going at all if you want to do something in life that doesn't require it. I wish this were easier than it is. So many jobs now require degrees that really shouldn't. In the end, there's probalby not much you'll get from undergad that will really be useful later in life. Most of the classes I took I barely remember and don't really apply to what I do now. The piece of paper that is a degree is more of a bullshit requirement than something valuable, though you certainly can learn some useful skills in school. The thing is, those same skills could be learned just going out and getting a real job after high school. But until society changes, that piece of paper has a big earning potential attached to it, so you probably need to get one.