Friday, October 29, 2010

My Opinions -- Apparently Flexible

Yeah, OK, so I heard about that whole Sherlock thing on PBS.  I was what you might call skeptical.

Look, I take my Sherlock Holmes seriously.  I've seen and read enough bad versions to last a lifetime.  So when I heard that someone was updating Holmes to present day, I thought about all the ways that this could possibly go very, very wrong.  I'd heard some positive buzz on the show, but didn't believe it could be genuinely good.  I resisted, and my friends pretty much had to tie me down in front of the television.

It took about a minute for me to do a complete 180 on this.  

Because the show opens with a young man having military nightmare/flashbacks.  Modern military flashbacks.  Desert camouflage; rapid gunfire; realistic hand-held camerawork.  

My immediate first reaction was to chuckle.  Because I remembered that the first thing Sherlock Holmes says to Doctor Watson is "You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive."  And I thought, "Ha.  They've put him the current Afghan war, so they could use the same line.  Clever."

And right around the time I thought that, my jaw sorta kinda dropped, and I realized what they were doing.  Watson has always been a military doctor -- that's the way Doyle wrote him, and pretty much every incarnation since has at least paid lip service to the idea.  But Sherlock was grounding Watson in it, defining him by it.

And it was the sheer brilliance of this that instantly enamored me of this show.  Because, really, the thing that most people tend to screw up with their versions of Sherlock Holmes is Watson.  They make him some bumbling doofus who is always dumbfounded by Holmes's brilliant deductions -- and that's just wrong.  But this Watson is not an inept idiot -- he's seen combat; hell, he's probably performed emergency medical procedures under fire.  He's formidable.  And if anyone has the cajones to start off by establishing their Watson as that strong of a character (although with his own set of weaknesses), they must have a hell of a Holmes to play him off of.

And they do.  I loved their Holmes before he first appeared on screen.  Good old Detective Inspector Lestrade is giving a press conference, pontificating on about the police's investigation in a series of odd deaths, and, all of a sudden, every single journalist's cell phone goes off, with the word "Wrong!" appearing in a text message.  It feels so right -- so very Holmesian in its irritating assuredness.

And, a few minutes in, when our Watson finally meets our Holmes, I eagerly await the, "You have been in Afghanistan" line.  And, instead, I get, "Afghanistan or Iraq?"  Because although Sherlock pays a surprising amount of respect to its original (in lines, behavior, and other references), it is always aware that it isn't the original -- so it's playful about it -- always tweaking things to fit its contemporary setting.  Nothing is quite what you expect it to be.  And it's that quality that makes it absolutely delightful.  To the point where, even when it has moments that aren't particularly good, it's still fucking brilliant.


Wow.  Nothing like spending $50 and 4 hours working on a Halloween costume which I'm fairly certain most people won't "get."  Still, I'm proud of my effort.  There will be photographs.  And perhaps a guessing contest.  

(You can't have the photos now because the fabric paint is still drying.  And I'm only doing the skin painting once (at most).)

And there's definitely a homemade look to this thing, as I'm not particularly artistic by nature.  (Superglue was used, and, of course, dripped upon myself.)

Happy Halloween.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Conference -- Day Two

I rarely blog about my job.  This is mostly because all the really interesting stuff I do is protected by all kinds of confidentiality rules.  Basically, I'm an invisible little cog in the wheels of justice.  I'm a happy little cog, but a largely anonymous one.

(I am also your (state) tax dollars at work.  And, if I do say so myself, I'm a damn good deal at the price.  And for everyone out there whining about California state employees getting too much money in our "defined benefit" pension plans, keep in mind that every lawyer who came to my job from private practice (that I know of) took a substantial cut in pay to work for the court.  I'm 19 years out of Yale Law School; I've spent 16 of those years helping the California Court of Appeal dispense justice; and I make less money than a first-year associate at major downtown law firms.  And part of my agreement (and that of my co-workers) to work for the court at the cut rate of a government salary is that we get paid a decent pension when we retire.  Anyone who thinks we'll be receiving pensions for sitting on our butts as part of some sweetheart union deal can just bite me.  Because, honestly, if the state would rather cancel my pension and instead pay me what I'm freakin' worth (and what I've been worth for the past 16 years) I'll come out ahead -- way ahead.)   

Where was I?  Oh, anonymous (slightly squeaky) cog.  

And every year, all of us anonymous cogs up and down the state get together for a conference.  (Actually, we each get to go every other year, thanks to budget limitations.)  There are all sorts of lectures about developments in different areas of the law -- things that are likely to be of use to us in the cases we work on.  (Just came back from the hour-and-a-half update on what the U.S. Supreme Court has been up to, which is always a highlight of the conference.  Yes, we actually dig this stuff -- I know that makes me sound a little weird.)

Actually, the, er, shared weirdness of this group is sort of a bonus of the annual conference -- it's something I've come to appreciate over the past few years.  Here's the thing:  judicial appellate attorneys (for that's what we are) are a bit different from your trial lawyers or your corporate lawyers or ... really ... most people's image when they think of what a lawyer is.  First off, we don't have clients.  When we're presented with a legal issue to resolve, we're looking for the right answer, not the answer that makes our client happy.  Second, we generally like this stuff.  Lots of lawyers like the drama of being in a courtroom.  Or even the fun of finding the "smoking gun" memo that's going to end up costing the other side a lot of money.  But what we like is the research, the digging into the problem until we get the right answer.  

And what I've noticed about these conferences is that we all genuinely like rational, reasoned discussion of almost any problem.  Every once in a while, we'll have a speaker who comes in with a list of hypothetical questions that he'll want to raise for group discussion -- and what will invariably happen is the speaker will never get past the first question.  We can easily go an hour and a half on a juicy topic -- hell, we've debated for hours on stuff at work, imagine how long we'll go when they give us something fun to discuss.

And that, I think, is where the real value in these conferences is found.  Sure, we get the continuing education that we need in order to keep our licenses current.  But we also get to meet with other judicial attorneys around the state -- bringing into our discussions different people than our usual "debating partners."   And they invariably have new arguments we haven't considered, or new points of view for us to contend with.  The whole exercise helps keep us sharp -- and, of course, gives us a chance to discuss our work with some of the (relatively) few other people on the planet who understand exactly what we do, and with whom we can speak freely without violating any confidentiality rules.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Minor Annoyances

I'm at a conference.  For two and a half days, I sit around with a bunch of other people who have my job up and down the state, and get myself some continuing education.  We get lectures on topics of (at least theoretical) relevance to our job, and generally compare notes with our counterparts.

They've put us up in an airport hotel near SFO -- oh, hey, just in case someone is googling the name of the hotel, that would be the Hyatt Regency San Francisco Airport.

When my flight got in, I took the shuttle to the hotel, dashed in line, and managed to get a room even though it was before the check-in time.  Met up with a colleague who had come up a night earlier (on his own dime) and had an absolutely delightful evening moving hotels when the electricity went out in this one (and then moved back this morning when the problem was fixed.)  He was pretty annoyed and attempted to obtain compensation from the hotel for his trouble.  After a fair amount of negotiating, he received, for his trouble, a voucher for a free sandwich at the hotel's deli (worth no more than ten bucks).

So, after lunch, the conference started.  There's another conference going on here as well.  Somehow, their reception area was fully stocked with coffee and tea, but we didn't get beverages until after our first session.  (Cookies arrived, too.  But everyone from our conference attacked the cookies during our brief 15-minute break and they didn't replenish them quickly enough.)  Survived both sessions and went back to my room for a half-hour break before meeting up with some friends for dinner.  Sat down with my book, read for about ten minutes.

... and that's when the electricity went out. 

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Disaster Preparedness

Like ... well, I hope, everyone ... I am all kinds of happy and relieved that the Chilean miners all got rescued safely.  I really kept expecting it to go to shit at any time -- not that I wanted it to, mind, but that, after the whole BP oil spill thing, I guess I was in a frame of mind where I just expected each successive attempt to go massively wrong.  Instead, there was calm brilliance on this, from beginning to end.  Way to go, Chile!

Changing direction, though, I just received a flyer (and an email) about the Great California ShakeOut -- California's statewide earthquake preparedness drill.  Basically, at 10:21 on October 21, we're all supposed to stop, drop and roll... no, wait, that's not it ...  "drop, cover, and hold on" (not nearly as catchy) while various first responders around the state test their first responsiveness.

Reminded me of the first one of these in which I participated, back in High School.  The idea was that we (and all other schools, and various other entities) were going to simulate a quake of a certain magnitude.  The earthquake drill bell would go off and we'd all drop under our desks.  Certain students were directed in advance to pretend to be injured.  Everyone else would then vacate their classrooms and wait out on the football field.  The "injured" students would be taken to the makeshift hospital, where there'd be mock triage and various responsible students -- under the direction of the school nurse -- would practice wrapping bandages around wounded limbs.

The "injured" students were all played by the "Leadership" students in my school.  I guess they wanted only the most responsible kids to be hurt.  I wasn't in Leadership, but I was one of the top students, so asked the administrator in charge if I could play some part as well.  My quick-thinking principal said that all the "injured" parts were taken (wouldn't it be nice if earthquakes were so orderly?) but offered that I could be dead.

A storyline was quickly created (apparently, despite my academic prowess, I was the only kid in the whole school too stupid to drop under my desk during an earthquake and got taken out by a light fixture).  When the drill happened, I slumped in my chair and did my impression of dead.  My teacher dutifully evacuated the rest of the class to the football field, leaving me in my chair and the words, "one casualty" on the chalkboard.

Nobody had quite explained what would happen next, but I stayed there, slumped, opening one eye a bit to peek around and see if anything was going on.  Eventually, campus security found me.  ("I'm not sure she's dead," one officer memorably said to the other, "maybe you should put a round into her just to be sure.")  I was then taken via "fireman's carry," (not entirely pleasant when you're actually conscious) to the science classroom, which they'd decided would be the morgue.  (Not a bad idea, when you think about it.  The place had already been used for dissection.)

Once in there, I was ignored for the rest of the drill.  Poked my head out once or twice to see the rest of the school sitting out in the hot sun on the field while I was nice and cozy in the air-conditioned science lab.  All things considered, the dead had it better than the living for the bulk of that drill.

The irony of the whole thing is that I was probably the one part of the drill that was actually a suirprise.  The list of Leadership students had been pre-circulated to the responders, but I was the one-and-only corpse, and the role had been given to me at the last minute without anyone else knowing.  But Security reacted properly, and someone found me a nice cool room in which to ... not decompose.  Well done all around.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

"I'll Take The Deal, Howie."

Been home sick lately.  (Got home Sunday, slept in Monday, went to work on Tuesday, woke up sick on Wednesday.)  Didn't do much except sit on the couch drinking fluids and watching daytime TV.

And while I was watching "The Price is Right" and "Let's Make a Deal," I noticed a certain risk-averse nature in the contestants.  Nearly every time, when the contestant had the choice between $2000 in his or her hand, and a chance for way more than that (or nothing), the contestant would keep the $2000.  "$2000 is a lot of money," they'd say, "I'm keeping it."  And even when they'd find out that they would've won $10,000 or the prize of their dreams, they seemed genuinely happy to have the risk-free $2000.  (I was most struck by a group of three fraternity brothers on "Let's Make a Deal" -- when each given a laptop computer and an iPad, they each stuck to the laptop and iPad through three different offers to trade them for the chance at something better.  Because it's a laptop and an iPad, and the mere possibility of having had a laptop and iPad and losing them in a greedy attempt to get something else was too great a risk to take.)

I'm sure this is the result of the economic downturn.  I mean, if you've got $2000 you can blow on whatever you want, you'd probably be willing to risk a free $2000 for something better.  But if you don't, you're not going to easily part with a free two grand.

I admit that I'm sorta pleased to see this level of rationality in the current crop of game show contestants.  Then again, it does make for really boring television.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Paying the Karmic Debt

On the way back home, I was actually stopping over in Florida for a few days, for a family thing.  (Actually, a cousin's kid's bat-mitzvah; although, practically-speaking, a chance to see my 95-year-old grandmother once more.)  This cut short the London part of my trip, but, hey, it was about time to get the hell home anyway.

Flight back to Miami, then.  When waiting in the airport check-in line, the very nice lady from Virgin Atlantic was asking everyone in line if they were interested in buying an upgrade to "upper class."  I asked how much.  She said its normally over 1000 pounds, but could give it to me for 799 pounds.  I did some useless mental math (useless because I wouldn't even do it for 799 dollars) and concluded that $1275 is too much to pay to (admittedly, vastly) improve a 9-hour flight.

I was still waiting in line, so then started pondering at exactly what point I'd pay for it.  I mean, 799 was too high to even negotiate from, but if she'd said something like 300 pounds, I'd seriously consider it.  (Of course, I figured that, at that price, everyone else would seriously consider it too, so the option very likely would never be presented to me.)

Fast forward through check-in, passport control, security, the duty-free shops, and the other security (because flying to America), and I'm waiting in the "departure lounge" to board my flight.  At which time, my name is called up to desk for ... wait for it ... a free upper class upgrade!  (Apparently, 799 pounds was too steep for everyone else, too.)  So I (and one other lady) were selected to fill the seats at no further charge.  

Virgin Atlantic Upper Class so totally rocks.  Comfy seats that turn into totally flat beds (with mattress pad and cushy duvet); tasty food served whenever you want; big personal video screen ... the works.  I enjoyed this so much I was actually pleased when we had a short delay before take-off -- more time to hang out in my personal luxury suite. 

And then I had a thought, and that thought was that if I would've been willing to pony up a few hundred dollars for that seat, karma would probably be happy if I ponied up said cash to a charity Virgin Atlantic supported.  According to their website, they support (for the next three years, anyway) Free the Children and Travel Foundation.  So, thanks for the free upgrade, Virgin Atlantic; my donation to Free the Children is on its way.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Yes, I'm alive.

(Thanks for asking.)

Returned to the U.S. on Friday, for a family event in Florida.  Came home on Sunday (after an unfortunate 4-hour airport wait and a 6-hour flight).  Am still wiped out.