Wednesday, September 30, 2009

On the Road Again

We are heading out tomorrow for another road trip through the southwest. This year we are heading to St. George, Moab, Grand Canyon and Sedona. St. George is really just a stopover but because we spent a fair amount of time there the year our young'un went to school there, we have a few haunts we like to visit.

After St. George, we have three nights planned at a B & B outside Moab. We stayed there last year and loved the people and the resident deer. We decided we needed more time in the Moab area than we had last year to explore the natural wonders of the area. If the weather holds (unfortunately rain is forecast--we have to go on vacation to see rain), we plan to visit Arches and take a boat trip into Canyonlands.

One night we plan to spend on the south rim of the Grand Canyon. Our motel reportedly has a view of the rim. I am mostly looking forward to seeing the sunrise and then having breakfast at the El Tovar Hotel, which has the rugged elegance to which I aspire.

Then we are on to our familiar stomping grounds in Sedona, specifically we have 4 days planned at the Enchantment Resort. We are hoping to take some hikes in Sedona this time if Paul's back holds up.

As usual, I cannot wait!!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Le Weekend

Today is Monday and back to the office after the weekend. Since I am not Jewish, I went to work today unlike most of senior management at the studio. It was a quiet day. But not as quiet as my weekend. I did almost nothing all weekend except lie in bed and sleep. And I feel guilty instead of good. Where does this guilt over not doing anything productive come from?

As far back as I can remember being a semi-responsible person--let's say starting in high school--I had work to do on the weekend. In high school and college there was always course work to do over the weekend. I can remember in college in particular always spending some part of Sunday in the library, even if I had gone away for the weekend.

When I moved to LA to attend UCLA grad school, the weekend was no different from weekdays. Grad students worked 7 days a week. I always went to my office in Franz Hall on the weekend to catch up on some research or writing or grading papers. That habit carried over during my time as a researcher at USC and an assistant professor at KU. Law school was also the same. Too much work and not enough time so I always wound up working on the weekend. By then I was married to a lovable workaholic who works 7 days a week almost all the time. I remember many Saturday nights at home with hubby working so I would try to work too.

Then I worked for law firms for almost 9 years. The life of a law firm associate is one of 7 day work too, particularly when you have billable hour targets to meet. And I had children, who also took up my time on the weekend. And I had to spend the weekends doing errands, filling the larder and cleaning the house.

When I started working at the studio 16 years ago I discovered that almost no one worked at the office during the weekend. The weekends really were your time although sometimes there was some work to finish at home. At that time, however, my children played sports on the weekends year round and one of them was on a traveling team for several years. And as if I did not have enough to do, since I still had to do errands on the weekend, I joined the board and eventually took over the job for two years of running our community's recreational youth soccer league (AYSO) --which serviced over 3000 players.

Even after the sports ended, I started scheduling hobbies on the weekend--piano lessons for 5 years, singing in choirs, gardening. This year, however, I have given up all the hobbies and activities. My weekends are tabula rasa. Most of the time I still have plenty to do--library, food shopping, walking on the beach, other errands. But recently I find myself sleeping most of the weekend. This past weekend I needed to get my car washed and pick up conditioner I left at the hairdressers. I did neither thing. I dragged myself out to Costco with my son but did not make it to the garden store which was our other planned destination. I had lunch with my husband but ate all my other meals in bed. I slept and read a little. Mostly I slept. And I felt completely  depressed that I had spent another "unproductive" weekend.

Habits of activity die hard so I attribute my guilt over inactivity to spending all those years overbooked. I also sometimes think that our time here is so precious. I should sleep when I am dead. But unfortunately once you take on the mantle of the sloth, as I did this past weekend, it is hard to shed it. And Catholics, even lapsed ones, find sloth to be a deadly sin.

From the Pocket Catholic Catechism:

Sloth is the desire for ease, even at the expense of doing the known will of God. Whatever we do in life requires effort. Everything we do is to be a means of salvation. The slothful person is unwilling to do what God wants because of the effort it takes to do it. Sloth becomes a sin when it slows down and even brings to a halt the energy we must expend in using the means to salvation.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Page from the Bush Playbook

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was hospitalized this week reportedly in response to treatment for anemia. She has pancreatic cancer so one must believe that the anemia is associated with the disease or the treatments she is taking for the disease. As I have written before in this blog, I am very fond of Justice Ginsberg and although she says that she hopes to stay on the court for at least another 5 years, she may need or want to retire at the end of this term. Thus it is likely that President Obama will have to appoint another justice within the next year.

Obama is developing a reputation as a middle of the roader. See e.g. the Washington Post article by Rajiv Chandrasekaran. Obama's last choice for Supreme Court supports that reputation, as far as I can tell. However, he must break with this proclivity and appoint someone like Ginsburg to the next open seat. Obama needs to be more like W and appoint people with more definite values (this time left leaning) just as W appointed two (!) highly conservative justices during his administration.

Otherwise we will continue to suffer the fallout of the Bush administration. A May 2009 article in the New Yorker by Jeffrey Toobin demonstrates why. As Toobin wrote:

After four years on the Court, however, Roberts’s record is not that of a humble moderate but, rather, that of a doctrinaire conservative. The kind of humility that Roberts favors reflects a view that the Court should almost always defer to the existing power relationships in society. In every major case since he became the nation’s seventeenth Chief Justice, Roberts has sided with the prosecution over the defendant, the state over the condemned, the executive branch over the legislative, and the corporate defendant over the individual plaintiff. Even more than Scalia, who has embodied judicial conservatism during a generation of service on the Supreme Court, Roberts has served the interests, and reflected the values, of the contemporary Republican Party.

What that means for us is the potential loss of civil rights to which we have become accustomed. A Roberts dominated court could eliminate the following:
  • rights of African- Americans-Roberts already signaled his intentions to cut protections to African- Americans in last term's case involving section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which the Court ultimately upheld but narrowed such that local governments now have the option not to obtain Justice Department approval before making changes to their election laws or rules. As Toobin points out, these rules include "from the location of polling places to the boundaries of congressional districts." Roberts also supported the overturning of the Seattle School District integration plan in 2007 and found that the rights of white New haven firefighters were violated under Title VII of the civil rights act.

  • abortion- six of the current nine justices are Catholic, in comparison to under 25% of the American population. Roberts already supported the upholding of the federal Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act in 2007.

  • women's rights in employment- Roberts supported the decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear which imposed virtually impossible standards on those suing for discrimination. In that case the woman plaintiff was seeking equal pay for equal work.

  • rights to pursue torturers- Roberts dissented in Boumediene v. Bush, which upheld rights of those held in Guantanamo to a "prompt hearing" on challenges to detention. If the AG ever decides to pursue those who justified and allowed torture in the Bush Adminstration, we can safely predict where a Roberts led court would come out.

So, if Obama must name another justice in the coming year or so, I hope he recognizes what is at stake and takes pains to find someone who is ideologically like Ginsburg. Otherwise Bush's legacy of conservatism will rear its ugly head for a very long time in the Supreme Court.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Come Together Right Now

Since I have been reading a lot recently about the Bush administration's isolationism, I am probably more sensitive to and interested in certain news the past few days.  Obama has supported and other leaders have agreed for a permanent shift of international economic discussions from G7 to G20.  In addition, Obama garnered support from other nations to confront Iran on its secret nuclear plant filled with Pakistani centrifuges and located near Yum in a highly protected area.  Here are two instances, thus, where Obama shows his global view  in contrast to the last administration's blinkered view of the world where our nation's perspective was the only important factor. 

The shift to G20 only reflects the reality of the world.  The 19 nation member plus the EU reportedly represent 90% of the world's GDP.  It includes the new rising economies and according to the NYT:  
The member countries are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey and the United States. The European Union is also a member, represented by the rotating council presidency and the European Central Bank.

It makes sense to have this group meet rather than the traditional big industrial countries of the G7, United States, Britain, France, Canada, Italy, Germany and Japan.  We need to adjust to the reality that growth of economies throughout the world affects us all.

The second event reflects Obama's desire to approach problems with multiple allies rather than the show Bush put on to justify the desire to invade Iraq. Obama is trying to enlist a number of countries including Russia  and China to put pressure on Iran to come clean about its nuclear capabilities and comply with international nuclear proliferation treaties. Hopefully the international community will respond and not be affected by its experience regarding Iraq.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Full Sail Ahead?

My oldest sister, a pioneering soul who got me started on Facebook, goes sailing every September on the Lewis R. French, "America's Oldest Windjammer". I am thinking about joining her next September. As part of the trip, the guests have to help with furling and unfurling the sails, working the ropes, etc. I worry about the lack of strength in my hands due to arthritis. But my sister has plenty of experience taking care of me on the water. When I was 5 and she was 18, I believe, she drove me across a lake during a storm by stowing me under the deck. I actually remember the feeling of safety which may explain why I sometimes crawl under my desk when events at work get too overwhelming!

Here are some photos of the schooner from its website. Tell me if you think I can hack this type of sailing.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Brave New Film Distribution Model

I met Robert Greenwald, filmmaker, at a pilates studio several years back. Well, "met" is not exactly right. He was working out next to me with his trainer, who told my trainer and me to shut up because we were talking too much and disturbing his session. He was having back problems and trying to strengthen his core which apparently must be done in silence according to his trainer, who displayed the worst of certain eastern European stereotypic behavior. Robert, for his part, did not say anything so I do not know if he agreed (I like to think not but I understand noise can be annoying). In any event my trainer and I complied with his trainer's request-cum-command.

I have watched Outfoxed and parts of his WalMart film on DVD (until my DVD copy stopped playing which actually as I think about it may have been the player rather than the DVD--I should try again) with great admiration and interest. Robert may be further out there politically than I am but his documentaries are much more watchable for me than say Michael Moore's. Now Robert is making his films through his company Brave New Films and distributing them over the internet for free. I am not clear how he supports this endeavor, which includes paid staff but is classified as a 501(c) organization. He asks for donations and sells DVDs (which he also characterizes as a donation) but if you want to watch his latest film, Rethinking Afghanistan, you can see it entirely for free by linking from his website to Youtube.

I spent some time yesterday discussing film finance with two of my colleagues. I do not understand it well but enjoy learning about how we project revenues and how we finance films, although as my colleague said, these days you should have a big box of tissues handy when you discuss film finances. The home video market has gone to the dogs (no offense to the pups) and apparently the first affected were the direct to video movies which explains why no one in this country could feasibly distribute that new Darwin movie, a perfect candidate in years past for direct to video. So how in this marketplace does Robert Greenwald find the money to make and distribute his political films, particularly when he encourages people to share them and watch them for free? Is a mystery. But I am glad he does.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Listing Toward Bethlehem

I have written before about my love of books and libraries. One of my favorite libraries is in Delmar in the little town of Bethlehem. But this post is not about libraries.

In addition to reading books, I get a particular kick out of keeping a list of the books I have read. It probably all started when I was a nerdy child in elementary school spending my free time at lunch hour in the school library instead of playing games on the playground or in the auditorium if the weather was inclement. Our school library was not all that fancy. My favorite books were short, green bound biographies of famous people that I would whip through quickly. Then I could record them on the List of Books I Read which was some contest run by the diocese of Albany. For 25 books read you got a silver paper medal and for 40 a gold paper medal. I won the contest every year. I still shiver with pleasure from the thought of reading and listing all those books.

When my son was in elementary school, Pizza Hut sponsored a Books for Pizza contest where you earned a pizza for so many books read. And to think I was satisfied with paper medals! My son loved pizza so he met the target the one year the contest was held. Somehow, though, as life went on, his love of movies overtook his love of pizza and he has gone on to spend his spare time watching flicks rather than reading. So pizza did not even work all that well in his case.

For me the list itself is rewarding. For a few years, I kept on Myspace a list of books read and then transferred it to FB until I discovered that FB has an application that allows you to list and write reviews of books you have read. Oh boy! I can list books that I have started reading and check them off when I am finished. Today, for example, I am close to finishing Post American World so I expect to be on the FB application tonight listing and reviewing. I can almost taste it now.

What does this interest in listing books mean? I do not know. It is not a compulsion, just a pleasure. I do not like making lists of most other things. So maybe it is just the life long remnants of a wonderful childhood experience for a nerdy little girl who was always better at the books than the games. Nerd power!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Obsession Redux

Recently I wrote about a local college professor who was held in contempt for violating a restraining order. She had continued to contact a local TV weatherman by email after being ordered not to have any more contact. Tonight Jeff Gottlieb in the LA Times reveals a bit more about the emails and behavior that led to the restraining order. Our professor was not just writing about onshore and offshore flows. Here's what he says:

In his declaration to the court, Coleman said he began receiving e-mails and handwritten letters from Renfrew in early 2007 that "used religious invective and expressed intimate feelings that she had toward me."

He said it appeared from the "obsessive tone" of the correspondence that Renfrew "was not a stable person." Although he asked her to stop, she continued communicating with him.

Coleman said that Renfrew, who holds a doctorate from UCLA, referred to restaurants he frequents near his office and in Toluca Lake, where he is honorary mayor. He said she also showed up at a personal appearance he made at Knott's Berry Farm.

Coleman said that even after NBC security spoke with Harbor College officials in fall 2007, Renfrew failed to stop contacting him, and he found that her "continuing incoherent messages were highly disturbing."

According to the court file, she invited him for an "intimate" Thanksgiving dinner and for Christmas, telling him he could camp in her backyard.

In one letter, she wrote, "We never have to get married or even be friends unless you want to." In another she said, "I don't want to love someone who doesn't love me, so I'm not afraid if you don't."

Another time she sent him 10 pages from her journal she was writing at 3 a.m. "I felt God was inspiring me to write to you," she said.

OK. I agree. This was NOT about the weather.

Men are from the West, Women are from China

I am reading Post American World by Fareed Zakaria and just encountered his idea that the Chinese, who are steeped in Confucianism rather than Abrahamic monotheism, value relationships more than abstract concepts like the law.  They are also more situationally ethical rather than adherent to dictates of contracts, another abstraction.  I have noticed in my dealings with the law in China that they do not hold contracts as sancosanct as we Westerners do.  They also do not follow stare decisis--precedent from other courts so you may go through the Western analysis of what the cases have held and it is still a crap shoot how your case will come out.

All of these observations bring to mind Carol Gilligan's A Different Voice, which I mentioned in yesterday's post.  That book viewed women as being more guided in their ethical decisions by interpersonal relationships than abstract concepts like justice. Sound familiar?  Perhaps it would be better to send women to do business with the Chinese.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

For Everything A Time and a Season

No, this entry is not about football although it is clearly the season.

I have been reflecting about how timing of ideas is so important to their acceptance.  There are many examples of this proposition in history and a few in my own life.  One new historical example I recently learned was that the Chinese traveled the seas in a much bigger flotilla in the 15th century than those in Europe.  One of their explorers, Zheng He,  predated Christopher Columbus and had significantly larger and more ships than the ones who stumbled upon the New World.   However, the rulers of China put the kibosh on exploratory seafaring after expeditions all throughout southeast Asia and eventually closed down China to the outside, leaving it to catch up later with the West who went through extensive agricultural and industrial development in the 16th-19th centuries.

I also look back on two ideas I had in my 20s that others had as well  with far greater recognition.  I wrote my senior thesis in college based on the idea that  women would more likely to be motivated by social relationships rather than traditional achievement arenas.  I did not find support for that idea but I did my study using Smith and Amherst students who are probably not representative.  Carol Gilligan, of course, put forth a similar thesis and found support for it in A Different Voice, published in 1982.   Although Gilligan examined moral reasoning rather than achievement some of the research used tools similar to achievement motivation research.  

The other idea I had is quite a bit less lofty but would have been lucrative if only I had been the one to capitalize on it.  I found a note I made at least 25 years ago, maybe 30, to put together a picture book of cats with captions of their saying funny things.  Of course we now have LOLcats and "I can has" which yielded its creator reportedly at least $2 million when it was acquired in 2007 by investors and yielded a book deal with three books out there already.  Ugh.  If only my timing had been better.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Panting for Equality

When I was a law student I worked as a summer clerk (now called summer associate) at a large LA law firm.  One of the senior partners there was a bastion of Democrat politics but also liked his women lawyers in skirts, not pants.  I was told to wear skirts to the office when he was going to be there and since I never knew when that would be I wore skirt suits all summer.  

That was 1983.  At some point during my career as a lawyer it became completely acceptable to go to work and eventually to court in pants suits.  At first, you could only wear them in state court but eventually you could also wear them in federal court.  Some judges in NY still prefer their women lawyers in skirts, I learned last summer when I went to NY for a state court trial and my outside counsel (both women) wore skirts to court. Ironically they were both partners in the same firm where I was advised in 1983 not to wear pants to work.  These women typically did wear pants and were amused by my story but nevertheless thought it prudent to wear skirts to court for the particular judge trying our case.

I get a bit of a chill when I see women wearing abayat, chadors and burkas because I fear that the attitude about how visible women should be in society will overtake western countries as well as those who follow Sharia.  So today I was appalled to read that the Sudan sent a woman to jail for wearing pants as a violation of Sharia law there.  I mourn for my sisters in those countries and hope that the progress we women have made here in the US and other countries (I remember German Chancellor Angela Merkel cringing and pushing W off when he inappropriately tried to massage her shoulders at a G-8 meeting) will not be lost. I cheer for the Forbes list of 100 most powerful women (with a special hoorah for our own Amy Pascal at number 60) and Diane Sawyer  (at 63!) becoming the anchor of ABC Nightly News, notwithstanding the skeptics of my gender who see the glass as half empty (or perhaps 97% empty in terms of media clout). I worry because people sometimes do not even see that women are the object of discrimination and have been historically in this country.  For example, all MEN were constitutionally guaranteed the right to vote in this country almost 140 years ago in 1870.  Women did not win the right to vote until 50 years later in 1920.  

The woman in Sudan today chose to go to jail rather than pay a fine for wearing pants.    She wanted to make a statement that she could honor her religion and her womanhood too by dressing in a manner that was modest, appropriate and her choice.  I hope we do not go back to those days when men tell us how to dress and what to wear so that we may move about in society that they run.  I feel we all need to be vigilant about these issues even though they seem trivial on the surface because they are symptomatic of a larger more dangerous view about the inequality of women to men.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

You Say Offshore, I Say Onshore

There was a peculiar little article in the local paper today that caught my eye because earlier this week I was pondering as I wrote about the fires whether I was correctly using the word "offshore" to describe winds that come from the desert rather than the ocean.  I even checked online to make sure my usage was correct.  Well it turns out, according to a professor at a local community college, that the terms onshore and offshore  are used by local weather broadcasters in a manner such that we are all confused and to our healths' detriment.  Indeed this professor was so vociferous about the usage by one local TV person, Fritz Coleman, that the court issued a restraining order to prevent her from contacting Coleman.  When she continued writing  more emails to Coleman, she was held in contempt and faces time in the slammer (which may be waived if she leaves Coleman alone for the next 6 months until she is sentenced).

This story, assuming it is accurate, raises some interesting questions about when obsession becomes criminal, when speech is not protected and when common usage of a term undoes the meaning ascribed by academics.  Is it and should it be against the law to act crazy and send repeated emails to someone to make a particular point about an issue (leaving aside the issue of spam which has and can be stopped by constitutional narrowly tailored antispam laws)?  When does writing letters become stalking and when does the recipients subjective fear become the basis for a restraining order.  Coleman apparently was spooked by all the emails from the professor and by an interaction with her at Knott's Berry Farm, where she claims she ran into him by coincidence, not by plan.  I think the restraining order in this case violates the First Amendment as applied to the communications if in fact there were only one in person interaction after the emails (she apparently met him at an AMS meeting and started writing to him thereafter) and the rest were emails.  The professor's continuing to contact Coleman, however, after the order was entered, reveals either hubris or ignorance, neither of which is an excuse. 

You can judge for yourself whether the professor is a bit dotty on this issue or criminally liable. Here is her blog response on the subject.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


The Station fire is reportedly 22% contained (wonder how they calculate that) as of this morning and some of my friends have returned to their homes in La Crescenta/La Canada area.  Last night Mt. Wilson and the transmitters were sorely threatened but due to heroic efforts were still standing this morning.  Tujunga Canyon seems to have gotten the worse of it at this point.  I need to check with another colleague who lives there.  

Full containment is not expected until September 15 --2 weeks!