Desperate Houseflies: The Magazine

Feel free to pull out your trusty fly swatter and comment on what is posted here, realizing that this odd collection of writers may prove as difficult to kill as houseflies and are presumably just as pesky. “Desperate Houseflies” is a magazine that intends to publish weekly articles on subjects such as politics, literature, history, sports, photography, religion, and no telling what else. We’ll see what happens.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Setec Astronomy

In response to the recent Washington Post 4-part series on Vice President Cheney, some conservative pundits have argued that they still approve of the way Cheney operates because they believe he has the nation's best interest at heart.

If good intentions were all that mattered, that might be persuasive.

Unfortunately, they aren't. And power wielded in secret doesn't just corrupt intentions; it corrupts wisdom.

Aside from engendering the tendency to behave badly, power wielded in secret also engenders a tendency to behave foolishly. Even if the current president and vice president were saints, immune to the morally corrupting influence of secret power, they still would make many more foolish mistakes as a result of having it.

It's a simple enough principle. Secrecy, by its definition, means less input from fewer people, which almost always leads to more mistakes. There's a reason the executive branch has a department devoted to diplomacy, another devoted to defense, and several specializing in collecting and analyzing information. Those departments aren't pork barrel projects. They came into being because executives needed expert input to make good decisions.

The Bush/Cheney approach cuts off that expertise in the name of secrecy. It leaves the two of them and a handful of their immediate aides talking inside a barrel; the only ideas they hear are their own, echoing back to them as if everyone outside the barrel were agreeing with them. How often does that -- and the lack of expert advice -- lead to fewer mistakes? If the vice president's record is any indication, almost never.

Secrecy isn't just corrupting. It's extremely error prone. And that remains true even with the best of intentions.

Secrecy breeds incompetence.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Archbishop of Boston Declares NAMBLA the Model for the New Church

Whatever our political persuasion, I think we can all agree on 2 things: things are not going as well in Iraq as we'd like; and an Arab/Muslim version of "My Favorite Things" likely would not include Israel. Not only can we all agree on those things, I would think we all take them as rather obvious. I mean, I don't know when you last forgot that the Arabs and Israel don't get along, but it's been a good while for me.

So why, oh, why is the President of the United States saying Israel is our model for the new Iraq?

That thumping sound you hear is me banging my head on my desk. I mean, sweet Italian Jesus, who thought this would be an appropriate comparison to make? Which White House speechwriter is so tin-eared he doesn't understand how that's going to sound in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East? How is saying it supposed to be helpful to our cause?

Honestly, I'd give most anything at this point for mere competence in the executive branch. Nothing fancy. It could still be hardcore Republican. Just competent hardcore Republican. Is that really so much to ask?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Licensing and Whatnot

So I I get to work a while ago and go to Pandora Radio and find the following message.

"I'm sorry to say that today Pandora, along with most Internet radio sites, is going off the air in observance of a Day Of Silence. We are doing this to bring to your attention a disastrous turn of events that threatens the existence of Pandora and all of internet radio. We need your help.

"Ignoring all rationality and responding only to the lobbying of the RIAA, an arbitration committee in Washington DC has drastically increased the licensing fees Internet radio sites must pay to stream songs. Pandora's fees will triple, and are retroactive for eighteen months! Left unchanged by Congress, every day will be like today as internet radio sites start shutting down and the music dies."

Okay, so I wouldn't call this "disastrous," as much as just a head-scratcher. I don't understand licensing well enough to say anything interesting here. I'm not a fan of illegal downloads, so it's not like I'm trying to get something for nothing here. I've heard a lot of new bands by listening to Pandora and have bought a few albums that I wouldn't have otherwise.

So I guess my question is: why would this be a big deal for RIAA? Why would they want to hinder potential consumers from hearing about their products? Is there something larger at work here that I don't know about?

(And for some reason I have it in my head that DeJon knows all about this DeJon? Thoughts?)

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Had Me a Baby ...

Hi all, I just wanted to give you the good news that Casey Harper Ludwig has arrived. He was born at 9:28 p.m. on Monday, June 18, weighed in at 7 pounds 6 ounces, and was 19 1/2 inches long. The birth was uncomplicated and unmedicated (!). Casey, David and I are all doing well. Here's where you can find some pictures: (password is Casey).

Thursday, June 21, 2007


I'd like to take this opportunity to point out that "flibbertigibbet" is spelled "flibbertigibbet." I have no point here; this was just news to me, and oddly fascinating. One wonders if it has nautical origins, which fact probably makes one a flibbertigibbet.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Gray Net of Abstraction

(A slightly modified sharing of today's post from my personal journal-type blog)

An intense thunderstorm rolled through late yesterday afternoon, changing my evening plans. My youngest daughter emerged from her colorful room, wanting to be with me, and I wondered again if we Gulf Coast citizens are a wee bit more sensitive to the weather than folks in other places. Maybe not, but I wonder...

Anyway, after the storm settled down, my change in plans allowed me some time to do a little more reading in The Jesus Way by Eugene Peterson. I finished an interesting chapter on "Isaiah of the Exile," and at its conclusion the author shared a quote from famed novelist, Saul Bellow.The quote is a bit heady for me, but after sorting through it I realize that it reflects a theme with Peterson, one that I've been buying into for some time now. Here's the quote from Bellow:

"...the gray net of abstraction covering the world in order to simplify and explain it . . . that must be countered . . . by insisting on the particularity of detail and the immediacy of place, giving us access to life firsthand so that we are not 'bossed by ideas.'"

Like Gomer Pyle, I had to put a bucket on my head and "have a think" on this for a while, but I think I get what Bellow is proposing: that the tendency to simplify the world into concepts can keep us from participating in life.

I'm afraid this betrays a church scandal. We're big into concepts at church (the gray net of abstraction): we talk a LOT about things like love and mercy and justice and salvation. And yet, I'm afraid we may end up so "bossed by ideas" that we may miss out on participating in these very ideas - loving the person in line at the grocery store, showing mercy to the waitress at lunch, seeking justice for the lonely nursing home resident, experiencing salvation from our personal addictions.

It is becoming an increasingly important aspect of my life to spend less time dwelling on ideas and concepts and more time in "the particularity of detail and the immediacy of place."

Maybe even today.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Voting Trends. And Happy Father's Day.

This is an interesting map of the U.S., showing voting trends by district over the past 40+ years in Presidential elections. I just thought it was interesting to see how the voting changes from election to election. So anyway -- just watch the map and it'll do the work for you, changing every few seconds from one election to the next.

More importantly, though.

Happy early Father's Day. My dad's a keeper. On more than one occassion he's driven for hours just to give me a hug and take me to lunch (and by hours, I mean from Arkansas to TN or NY -- and he'd start out for CA tonight if he thought I needed a hug and a steak). The Houseflies I actually know have some top-notch dads. I kind of adopted JU's entire family a few years ago, and his dad is one of the best. I've been on several outdoors-y type trips with C-Love's dad (other than his questionable skills of navigation, he's a hoot). Golfed a few rounds with Doc Watson's dad (he always pays!). So yeah, happy Father's day.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Politics, Protestantism, Postmodernism, and Agape

Here's Laura Miller reviewing Terry Eagleton's new book, The Meaning of Life. Miller is my favorite book reviewer, edging out Sven Birkerts, and Eagleton is an uncommonly good writer with a sharp wit, so this was a promising combination. Sure enough, it's a really interesting review.

I don't have all that much to say about it that isn't in the review itself (which, if you're wondering, is not very long). I thought it might be of interest here because of where it fetches up -- the ethics of agape -- and because it ties together a set of interesting ideas in a really interesting way.

Also, I thought I'd link to it because Eagleton's book (if Miller's review is accurate) is a good example of how to offer a non-religious argument for public policy that's consistent with one's own religious beliefs.* This is something I've harped on occasionally, here'bouts, as being important in Christian ethics, so I though it might be useful to link to an example.

I'll be interested to hear what the Houseflies think.

* It should be noted, as Miller does, that Eagleton is no longer religious. Nonetheless, he is talking about an idea -- agape -- that is still rooted in his Catholic upbringing, which he still values.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Sharing Time

I'm not on the cutting edge of things most of the time. This is no exception. A number of students this past year kept telling me about Pandora Radio. I didn't know what they meant. But in the last month or so, I've become addicted. If you have any interest in music whatsoever, I highly recommend the site. How it works: you simply type in the name of a band or musician you like. That's it. The site will play continuous music by artists and musicians with a similar sound. So you get to hear songs by your favorite musician as well as songs by artists you've never heard of. If you don't like a song they are playing, you just click a button saying you don't like it and it immediately quits playing it and moves on to the next song. It's free, but you do have to register. I don't think I've received any spam from signing up with them, but I'm not positive about that. It's at least worth a look-see.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Carribean Cruise

Our Cruise

Sorry to be so absent around here lately. I was literally out of the country this past week on a family vacation cruise to Mexico. You can check out some of the pictures in the slideshow above, and you can read my cruise journal at my personal blog HERE in its six short installments.

In years gone by, friends would invite you over to show you their boring slideshow from their summer vacation. Now, your friends put them on a blog! Yippee!!! Progress!!!

Friday, June 08, 2007

My Hellacious Employment Story

Where to begin? I guess I’ll start with the employment story. It’s kind of long, so I apologize.

I have been working at a small plaintiff-side class-action law firm for over two years now. It took only a few months for me to realize that I wasn’t particularly valued in this job. Basically, at my first review, which occurred about five months after I started, my employers (two older male partners, in their mid-60s and mid-40s respectively) told me that they “thought I was further along on various skills than I really was.” Meaning, they had somehow gotten the impression that I wouldn’t have a learning curve, and didn’t appreciate that I did need guidance and supervision. This despite the fact that I was honest about my qualifications and previous experience when I was interviewing, and that this was an entirely new practice area for me. The older partner particularly seemed irritated whenever I asked for help or guidance. I knew already that I didn’t enjoy working with him. The younger partner I had fewer problems with, but he would often ask for things without fully communicating what he was asking for. I was mostly able to manage these requests during my first year to year and a half.

At my third review (in August 2006), the older partner said, pretty bluntly, “I’m not sure you want to do this work. I’m not sure you want to litigate.” It was a complete sucker punch – I had no idea at all that such a global judgment had been made about me. Only one example was given to support the conclusion – the day that I had come back from a deposition I was defending upset after being bullied by opposing counsel and unsure of how to deal with an issue that came up during the depo. This had happened eight months prior to the review in which it was raised, and at the time it happened, the partner had been very nice and understanding about it. Needless to say, I thought the entire thing was handled poorly. And, statements like the one the older partner made have a tendency to be self-fulfilling prophecies. After that day I tried my best to avoid him as much as I possibly could. Fortunately, I worked more by that point with the younger partner, so this was not difficult.

Unfortunately, it didn’t solve my problems. I’ll try not to make this too long and involved, but basically in July 2006 there was a misunderstanding involving a deposition being postponed and an expert who was coming to DC to help prepare for the deposition not being informed that it was postponed. There were a lot of communication issues with our co-counsel in that particular case (i.e., they didn’t communicate with us), and I had barely been involved in the case or even informed that this expert was coming to DC, but I got blamed for the miscommunication as lower people on the totem pole often are. After that incident, the younger partner began to on occasion be what I would characterize as verbally abusive toward me. In other words, rather than disagreeing respectfully when I expressed an opinion or giving me constructive criticism, he would make belittling comments that attacked my “lack of experience” or similar. Sometimes these comments were made just to me (especially harshly via email), and sometimes they were made in front of co-counsel. And I started to get blamed anytime there was any type of misunderstanding or miscommunication in a case on which I was working, regardless of whether I was actually at fault or whether five other attorneys had overlooked the same thing. The writing was on the wall, I decided. I needed to find a new job.

But, by the time I realized how bad things had gotten, I was already pregnant, so I had to stay put. I thought, well, I’ll just get through this pregnancy and then I’ll look for another job. Surely I could stick it out for only a few more months.

I told them about the pregnancy in January. The younger partner looked like a deer in headlights when I told him, the older partner was nice about it but a bit paternalistic. Neither of them ever really seemed that comfortable with the whole thing. I didn’t expect them to be. I understand that what is a happy thing for me is an inconvenience and expense for them. But, I knew that I would have gotten a lot more slack and kindness had I been a valued employee in the first instance. The associates had gotten together and anonymously shared our bonuses after the new year. As I suspected, mine was the lowest – and the same amount as that of a colleague who had been at the firm less than nine months and had been out taking the bar for the entire summer (and who quit at the end of the year, but that happened post-bonuses). If I needed any additional confirmation that I was considered the least valuable attorney in the office, I certainly got it that day. There was actually another associate (happily, he has moved on to a new job) who was treated even more poorly than I was, but apparently that didn't translate perfectly into the financial realm.

There are other parts to the story – the many new fascist and punitive “policies” instituted this year, the fact that all the other associates are unhappy too, even the ones who are more well-liked by the partners – but in the interest of keeping this to a manageable length I’ll just say that I have been really miserable for a long time, but especially in 2007. Things just seemed to keep getting worse and worse. Particularly throughout March and April, there was a lot going on and I was working a lot of hours.

And then. In late April we had a court hearing in Connecticut in a case in which I was working with the younger partner. I made the trip but wasn’t feeling particularly well, especially the day before the argument, when we traveled in the morning and then spent many hours prepping for the argument. I should note that I don’t really agree with the younger partner’s style of preparing for an argument (or a deposition, or whatever). He wants/needs a lot of interaction, while I would have my head buried in the materials and not interact much with others since during an argument it’s one person and the judge, so nothing anyone else knows can help you. It’s a stylistic difference based on personality type – I am an introvert, and thus have a different learning style and communication style than do most extroverts. I identified this long ago as a potential reason why I was not being appreciated at work. Introverts are only about 15% of the population, and are often misunderstood and undervalued because they are not interested in (and are in fact averse to) being the center of attention or singing their own praises. Thus, their contributions are often overlooked. But I digress.

Basically, because I was tired and not feeling so well, I probably appeared less engaged than normal with what was going on during the preparation for the oral argument. Part of this was the stylistic difference – because I wasn’t doing the argument, I really didn’t understand what role I was supposed to have in prepping for it. Another part of it was that I didn’t feel that our argument was meritorious. But I usually “fake it” better – I was almost eight months pregnant and just didn’t have it in me that day. I was wearing pants that I realized halfway through the day were too tight around my belly and was having some Braxton Hicks contractions. Add to that the fact that the previous day I had gotten a high blood pressure reading (three of them, actually) during my visit to the midwife. High blood pressure can be a sign of preeclampsia, a very serious complication of pregnancy. I believed that the high blood pressure was due to the stress of my job – not only the long hours I was working, but also the stress of being so unhappy with my work. I was angry and frightened that the (in my view unreasonable) schedule imposed on me at work -- not to mention the crappy way I was treated -- could be harming my baby. I had decided before the trip to wait until after the oral argument to approach the younger partner about this issue and request that I be allowed to slow down a bit.

The argument went well, considering the huge gaping holes in our case. The younger partner flew out instead of taking the train back with the paralegal and myself since he had to go to the West Coast the next day. She and I ended up in the quiet car, so I turned my ringer on my cell phone off. Halfway home, I checked my phone and saw that the partner had called and left me a message. I decided that after everything I had been through on the trip, whatever it was could wait until the next day. So the next morning, after a relaxing train ride home and a nice evening with David, I got to work and checked the message. I was floored by what I heard. It was an extreme escalation of the verbal abuse I referred to above. What I remember of it is that he called me “irresponsible” about five times and said that no other attorney in our firm had ever acted the way I had acted, that he couldn’t live with it, and that I was throwing our clients under a bus. It was completely immature, inappropriate, and abusive, not to mention completely out of proportion to what had occurred. I hadn’t mentioned that I wasn’t feeling well or anything about my blood pressure because I was trying to be considerate of his need to prepare for the argument. I had done what he had specifically asked me to do during the trip – even though that involved (inevitably) delaying meals, lugging a heavy laptop computer on the train with me, and staying up until midnight the night before the argument when I normally went to bed at 10:30 and was trying to be conscientious about getting enough sleep. This voice mail was just the limit. Obviously, it also didn’t have the greatest effect on my blood pressure to be threatened and abused this way. I was incredibly upset, my heart racing and my blood pressure sky high, for over 24 hours.

After consulting with two of my coworkers and the only other attorney who had had children at the firm, I went the sympathy route. I responded to the voice mail with an email in which I explained my side of the story about the trip (emphasizing not feeling well), and then explained my concern about my blood pressure. I made it clear that I did not want to discuss the matter any further because I didn’t want to exacerbate the high blood pressure, and that I needed to be working no more than 40 hours a week per my midwife's suggestion.

Two weeks went by in which there was no response to this email. Then, after two weeks had elapsed, I was called into a meeting with the two partners and the office manager to discuss when my maternity leave would start. I had initially planned to work up to the moment I went into labor in order to have the maximum amount of time possible with the baby and also to minimize the amount of time I was not being paid. In recent weeks, particularly after the voice mail, I had been thinking of starting my leave around June 1, even though my due date was more than two weeks later. I was so miserable I just wanted out ASAP, and the money be damned. A couple thousand dollars was not worth my or my baby’s health, David and I reasoned. Of course, by then it was clear things were not so dire. During those two weeks I had gone out and purchased a blood pressure cuff and took my own blood pressure often. After staying up for a while after the voice mail, it had stabilized and come back down to normal. I had been tested for preeclampsia and found out that I did not have it. The midwives agreed that it was transient and caused by stress. I would still be able to have the birth center birth that I wanted, barring any unforeseen additional complications.

So at this meeting, the older partner says that based on my email to the younger partner, they consulted with outside counsel and decided that I should go on leave starting two days from then (the meeting was on Wednesday, they wanted my last day to be Friday). They wanted me to file a claim for short-term disability so that they would only have to pay for part of my salary during this leave. When I told them that actually, I was doing fine and that there was no medical reason for me to not work, they were unmoved. They just kept saying that they couldn’t be responsible (maybe the word was "liable" -- it was clearly a fear of being sued, which was incredibly insulting and indicative of how damaged the relationship was). It was completely surreal. I told them that I didn’t think I would qualify for short-term disability and they said to just take the form and talk to my “doctor.” The older partner basically said (not in so many words) that you could always find a doctor who will say whatever you want them to say, and that they had been assured by our benefits coordinator that if I filled out the form, the claim would be granted.

I was appalled by this whole turn of events. First of all, if they had really been concerned about me, the time to be concerned was when I initially sent the email explaining what was going on. When I got no response, I assumed that they didn’t care. Second, they wouldn’t listen to me when I explained that in the two weeks that had passed, tests had been run and things were much clearer. None of the potentially bad things that could have been going on had come to pass. Third, they were trying to give me two days notice before not allowing me to come back to work. It was unclear whether they could or would actually keep me from coming into the office, or whether their intention was just to bully me into leaving. Fourth, they were asking me to file a bogus short-term disability claim to help them out financially. The whole thing was so disgusting I was amazed that as bad as things had been, they could possibly sink to this new low.

After consulting again with my coworkers, I sent the partners an email saying that it would be better for the firm if I was able to stay an additional two weeks (through May 18) in order to ensure a smooth transition. They “graciously” “allowed” me to work the additional two weeks. I could have fought it harder and tried to stay longer – hell, I could have consulted an attorney, which is what several people said I should have done since this was clearly pregnancy discrimination – but I decided that I would just rather be done with it all, take my maternity leave pay and run. I had known for a while that I would be looking for another job during my leave, but had always thought that at least this was a backup if I didn’t find anything. But the events of the past several weeks had been so traumatic that I knew that no matter what the financial consequences, I needed to not step foot in that horrible place ever again.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Checking on Sandi

We haven't heard from our expectant Housefly in a while, so I just wanted to find out: how you doin' and, while I'm at it, when is it you're due?

Monday, June 04, 2007

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

So. Thus begins my first official blog post. Exciting times! What shall I ramble about, you ask? The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

I first heard about the book when the author, Brian Selznick, was interviewed on Fresh Air. (Yes, I'm a nerd.) Selznick has illustrated several children's books, but I believe this is his first foray into writing. Don't quote me on that. The invention of Hugo Cabret is a graphic novel that tells the story of a 12-year-old orphan who lives in the walls of the Paris train station at the turn of the 20th century. He discovers a broken automaton and is convinced that if he can repair it, it will deliver a message from his dead father. Along the way, he encounters a girl intent on uncovering Hugo's past, a toy shop owner with his own mysterious past, and discovers the magic of early film.

This was my first experience with the "graphic novel" genre, and I didn't realize what I was missing! It really can't get much better than this. The illustrations are all done in pencil and have a huge part in the actual telling of the story, not simply illustrating what you already know is happening.

This is the kind of book that I give to unsuspecting friends as Christmas gifts. It's currently making the rounds through my group of friends, so I might save some money come the holidays.

If you've already read Hugo, let me know your thoughts. If not, a bookstore can't be too far away!

Thus ends my first official blog post. Tada!

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Professional Sports Tournaments

Both the NBA and NHL finals are going on. Noone watches either of them for a couple of reasons. First -- these are both winter sports and it's officially -- if not technically -- summer. The last weekend of May is the first weekend of summer. Even in Canada. Second, professional versions of both sports are painfully boring.

And since we're a week into the "official" summer season, everyone's preparing for the pinnacle of summer sports, which takes place on 4 July every year. Nathans Hot Dog Eat-Off (or whatever its called). Thing is, this year there's extra excitement to be excited about leading up to the eat-off. A NEW RECORD HAS BEEN SET. In a recent "preliminary" round, Joe Chestnut ate almost 60 hot dogs in 12 minutes. SHATTERING! the old record.

Personally, I have no desire to compete in these types of events. However, I would like to apply to be commissioner of Major League Eating, which -- and I can't tell if they're trying to be funny or not -- describes itself as the "governing board for all stomach-centric sports."

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