Jeremy's Weblog

I recently graduated from Harvard Law School. This is my weblog. It tries to be funny. E-mail me if you like it. For an index of what's lurking in the archives, sorted by category, click here.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The teacher of my improv class has a book in stores about weird things in New York. Here's a barnes&noble link. The book looks interesting, although I haven't seen the inside, so I'm just basing that on the description on barnes&noble and the fact that he's a good improv teacher. I can recommend with confidence that if you take an improv class, you should take it with him, or with the improv teacher I had for a previous class. They're both very funny and good. Why does everyone have a blog now? It used to feel special. This must be what people who had color TVs before everyone else feel like now.

I just watched Barbara Walters' special on the 10 most fascinating people of the year. I bet if you didn't watch it you can't name 3. I think it was really the 10 most fascinating people of the year that ABC has lots of file footage on, and, in 8 of 10 cases, were willing to sit down and talk to Barbara Walters for 10 minutes, and have a movie (or album of rap music) to promote. Here would be my list, just off the top of my head, of the 10 most fascinating people of the year, none of whom were on Barbara Walters' list. I'm actually serious about my list. I could have tried to make a funny list, like with "Katrina" on it, pretending she's a real person. Or, "Katrina," "Mrs. Butterworth," "my cousin," and "Terri Schiavo," who, while she was in the news this year, sure, she is not fascinating. In fact, she is probably the opposite of fascinating, given how much mental activity she had going on.

Okay, my list, in the order in which I could think of ten fascinating people. Send me your list and I'll post it. yeah, why not. I'll post your lists if you want. Sure. That could be fun. Okay.

My list, sadly, appears to be populated in large part by Supreme Court nominees and baseball people. Oops. This reflects what I find fascinating, I guess. This is hard, actually. I can't really think of 10. I sort of hate my list.

1. Harriet Miers
2. Ray Nagin
3. John Roberts
4. Theo Epstein
5. Peter Jennings
6. Stephen Colbert
7. Rosa Parks
8. Ozzie Guillen
9. General Russel Honore
10. Michael Bloomberg
Some dumb things I've thought about in the past few days:

1. Over the weekend my grandma's sprinkler pipe froze and broke, because the water hadn't been shut off. So the water pipe broke. But when I learned about this, I imagined a funny sketch where this happens to a pregnant woman, and she's saying "my water pipe broke, my water pipe broke," but people think she's saying her water broke, and they call an ambulance and try to get her to go to a hospital, but really it was just her water pipe. But it wouldn't be a sketch with anywhere to go, unless maybe there's a second thing that could be confusing like that. Like, then she says, "I'm having baby lamb chops," and people think she's saying she's having the baby... but that isn't funny at all, and doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

2. I was telling someone the other day that I don't read before I go to sleep, partly because the light switch is on the other side of my bedroom, and so I'd have to get up out of bed to turn the light off. And as I way saying it, I realized there's a really easy solution to this problem, if I just buy a little reading lamp. I probably won't. But, still, I hadn't even thought of it until I actually said it out loud.

3. I got a questionnaire from my publisher, starting to think about marketing stuff, and it was a standard form that doesn't really need to be changed very often, and it said at the bottom, last revised in 1999... but the only thing that really gives that away is that in the instructions it says that if I want, I can turn in my response on a floppy disk. I can't remember the last time I used a floppy disk. My laptop doesn't even have a floppy disk drive. Actually, I used a floppy disk for law school exams, and my old laptop had a detachable floppy drive that I could plug in. But besides that, no floppy disks recently...

4. I bought a new bottle of shampoo, and it's the same kind of shampoo as I was using before, but it used to be white and now it's clear. The bottle doesn't have any indication of the change. So part of me thinks I'm actually crazy, and might have been using two bottles of conditioner before, and no shampoo. I don't really think that's the case, but who knows. Would I notice? And would they really change the shampoo from white to clear without warning the user about it on the bottle? I mean, Dannon even announced when they changed their yogurt from 8 oz. to 6 oz. -- "now there's room for mix-ins!" Oh, you mean less yogurt in the same size container, for the same price? Yeah, exactly.

5. I bought a "Holiday Metrocard" the other day. New York City is giving people 41 days for the price of 30, for the holiday, if you pay in cash at the booth. So I brought $76 to the subway station to do this. This felt like the closest I've been to a drug deal. "You have any holiday metrocards left?" "Yeah, you have the cash?" "Yeah." "You have a dollar bill so I can give you back a five?" "Yeah, sure." "Thanks." "Yeah, thanks."

6. I got an e-mail from a reader, no subject line. "Random thought.... but if you put a container of baking soda in your refrigerator, with the lid slightly open, it keeps everything smelling better...." Now I'm worried my refrigerator smells bad, and, even worse, people reading my weblog can tell.

7. When I was home over the weekend for the holiday, I had to sneeze, and the only tissues I could find were Key Food brand, and they felt like sandpaper. I don't understand generic tissues. They're not soft. They hurt. Why is it worth saving ten cents to buy crappy tissues? I understand generic cereal. I understand generic lots of things. But if something's being rubbed on my skin I'd rather it not be generic. That sounds kind of disturbing when I write it like that. You know what I mean though.

8. Thumbs down to Sarah Silverman's movie "Jesus is Magic." The articles about it give away all the jokes. Not so funny. I really wanted to like it. But I didn't.

9. I'm reading a book I got from the library called "AA Gill is Away." He's a British travel writer, and this is a collection of his columns. I saw it in a bookstore and it looked good enough to get for free at the library. I'm surprised. I really like it. He's a good writer. The pieces on America are the most engaging so far, just because I have more of a baseline for understanding than I do with his pieces about Africa, which are interesting too, but since I've never been, they're less engaging to me. This seems like the opposite of what I should read travel writing for. Like, I should want to read about places I haven't been, not about countries I already know a lot about. But that's what I'm finding.

10. Lists shouldn't have to have ten things, but it's a nice round number. I just installed Norton Internet Security on my computer because my old version expired and was starting to make my computer do funny things, like not connect to the Internet. This is really just a filler point. I have nothing to say for #10.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

I'm going to try something, just to see if any of you can spark anything. Here's my question. What would you like to see Anonymous Lawyer do? Doesn't need to be specific. "Go to a Dodgers game" would be a fine and helpful response. Here's why I'm asking. My wall is currently covered in post-it notes, as I plan out how to execute the revisions to the first draft of my manuscript. There are some plot elements I'm adding in, and some things I'm moving around. I have a master outline I'm working off of, but the post-its are helping me get a sense of what happens in what blog entry in the novel. One of the things I started realizing when I read through my draft, front to back, red pen in hand, was that it's often fun when Anonymous Lawyer gets out of the office and has to interact with people who aren't his subordinates. The stuff in the office is fun too, but there's nice opportunities for him to be interesting when he's elsewhere. So, like this Dodgers game suggestion I'm giving myself, I think there might be some way to work that into my plot, and get to write something fun about him getting angry that the players won't sign autographs for his son, even when he throws twenty-dollar bills at them. I'm making that up on the fly. I haven't written anything yet. But I thought I'd throw the question out there and see if I get anything back. It can be in-office things too, not just outside. But if anyone has any thoughts to throw my way, who knows what it can trigger. And it would be dumb for me not to take advantage of input wherever I can get it.

On an unrelated topic, I got the following e-mail the other day:

I'm a 1L. I have an 8-hour Property exam coming up in a couple of weeks. Can you tell me (on your blog, that is) what an 8 hour exam is like? How did you structure your exam - how much time was devoted to preparing your answers and how much time was spent typing?

I figure some law school-related content is probably a nice change of pace at this point, so I appreciate the question. I had a lot of 8-hour exams. Harvard liked them. Everything was 8-hour or 3-hour, pretty much. The 8 hour exams were take-home. You went and picked up the questions at 8:30 in the morning and had to turn your answers in by 4:30 in the afternoon. Often they were word limited -- 3 questions, 4500 total words, or something like that. Sometimes one question. I think most of them were two or three questions. Con Law, Property, Torts, those were all 8-hour exams.

I found the 8-hour exam format to be pretty awful. Especially fall term exams, because you're really not seeing daylight. You trudge out of your apartment half-asleep at 8:30 to pick it up, and when you're handing it in at 4:30 it's practically dark outside. So it completely throws off your sense of the world. I also never found myself able to stop and eat. I wouldn't get hungry, I wouldn't want to go out in the cold, I wouldn't want to risk it taking longer to do something than I felt it was going to. So I'd try and buy some food the day before and have it around, and sort of eat lunch, but the appetite was never there and I'd end up eating two handfuls of triscuit crackers, or something ridiculous like that. Yogurt. Cereal. It may just be me, though. I do know people who stopped and took twenty minutes for lunch. And it wasn't an issue of timing -- I never cut it too close. It was just the fear that I would need those minutes... by lunchtime it wasn't always clear how long the exam was going to take.

I did make sure to set up my desk beforehand. I would take the exams in my dorm (1L) or apartment (2L/3L), because I lived pretty close to campus. One exam, in Communications Law, I found myself really distracted while I was taking it. It was a boring exam to write, very much based on re-reading things in the casebook and looking over class notes, and I couldn't focus and so I went to the library at about noon, found a quiet area in the basement, plugged in my laptop, and spent the next 3 hours distracted by the heating vent and the flickering fluorescent light but ended up doing okay on the exam anyway. But in my room, I'd have all the course materials laid out on the floor, my outline open on my computer, the file all set up so all I needed to do when I came back with the exam questions is sit down and start working.

I skimmed the exam first, looking at how many questions and which ones looked more do-able than the others. I liked to get a question out of the way first that I thought I could do pretty quickly, just so I could assure myself I wasn't going to fail. So I'd hope there was something there that I could dispose of with relative speed, and I'd do that. It makes real sense on a take-home, when time isn't going to be so hurried, to review the class notes and the casebook to make sure there isn't anything you're forgetting. More than a few times, I'd have an answer outlined and then I'd flip through my notes and realize there was a case I was forgetting that was right on point, and made a lot more sense to use than the ones I was planning to include. It's hard to keep everything straight, and sometimes it's actually a really nice feeling -- you've prepared yourself to write a really complicated answer, and then you flip through some materials and realize it's not nearly as hard as you thought. Deep breath, maybe check e-mail as a reward, re-outline, and go for it.

1L year I unplugged my ethernet cable so I couldn't check e-mail or distract myself. By 2L year I'd rationalized that checking e-mail wasn't going to make or break this exam and it wasn't too distracting to have the cable in. Came in handy during one exam, when the registrar sent an e-mail clarifying something about the exam, I think about what materials we could and couldn't consult, but I'm not sure.

I liked to use a lot of the time reading -- re-reading cases, etc. I felt like that was useful, and made the writing go faster. I outlined my answers before I started writing. Everything they're asking has an answer, somewhere. Or at least some clues. They don't ask questions that make no sense, usually. There's something to start with. Some case, some statute, some area of the law. Just write something. It's a battle of focus and stamina. Just write something. Answer all parts of the question. Divide your time -- if there are three questions, equal word count, know that after 3 hours you should definitely, definitely be on question 2. Especially if you've started with one you think will come relatively easily.

I usually had the patience for one print-and-read before turning it in, but only one. When I thought I was done, I'd print, copyedit, check for anything that didn't make sense, and then make those changes, print again, and turn it in. There were exams where I knew I could clarify a point or do a better job with something, but after 7 hours I couldn't do it. I was too wiped out to re-think a whole section. If it was okay, I left it. If I didn't think it would change the grade. It was hard to keep focus.

I found it helpful at some point in the exam to call my mom or my grandma or someone I knew would be home, and just talk out loud for three minutes or so, just to feel like I wasn't stuck in a hole somewhere all day just writing. Even just saying things about the exam out loud. "I'm taking an exam, there are three questions, I've finished two of them, and probably an hour away from being done. The first question was kind of easy, it was something I was expecting..." Whatever, anything, just to feel like there's a larger world out there.

I don't know how much time I spent typing vs. preparing. I type really fast, and can spit out lots of words without thinking too much if I know where it's going. So I'd spend a lot of time reading and thinking, knowing that the writing wasn't going to be my problem. But it was also sometimes nice to type SOMETHING early, again just to reassure myself that I wasn't going to fail and that I would have something to hand in, even if I wanted to go back and fix later.

I also never really worried about word counts until I finished writing the answer I wanted to write, and then I could go back and cut. I didn't want to miss a piece of the answer because I knew I was getting close to the word count. It's easier to just go back and take out unnecessary words. I use a lot of unnecessary words. I also had a habit on exams of reiterating points I thought were important, which is good on a 3-hour in class hand written exam, I think, but less crucial on a typed 8-hour, and finding and cutting those got me down to the word count in a lot of cases.

Most important, don't panic. At least there's a finish line, even if it feels really far away. 8-hour exams are no fun, but they're do-able, the answers are in your materials somewhere, and you have time. Just keep focus and hand in something. I tended to do considerably better on 3-hour exams than 8-hour exams, I think because while I write fast and have pretty good recall for surface level ideas and facts and concepts, the reality is that other people understood the law better than I did, in a lot of cases, and when put in a situation where there wasn't as much time pressure, and we were being tested on a deeper understanding instead of something shallower, I didn't have a competitive advantage. I like timed multiple choice exams where speed is an advantage. I do well on those exams. I don't as much like exams where you really need to know what you're talking about. :)

Okay, that's all I've got on 8-hour exams. Hope it's helpful.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

I bought a pair of fleece pajama pants at Old Navy yesterday, because my apartment is just a couple of degrees colder than is comfortable, and these are nice and warm. This is my best purchase of anything in as far back as I can remember. I don't think I've spent a better $17.50 ever. I never knew how neat fleece pants were. Wow. This is like a revelation.

I'm not actually upset about the apartment temperature -- the landlord turns the heat on when it drops lower... it never gets really cold. And I'd rather it be a few degrees too cold than a few degrees too hot. In the fleece pants, it's fine. Much better than if I had to start opening windows in winter.
I just watched last night's episode of "The Office," which has actually been pretty funny this season. The farther it moves away from the British version, the better it's been, even though the British one is really funny. Anyway, last night's episode had one of the workers inviting everyone except for the boss over to his house for a party, and the boss went to his improv comedy class. I think this was the first time I've ever seen them portray an improv class on TV. It was clearly written by people who've taken improv classes. It was very funny. The boss would insist on pulling out an improvised gun in every scene, completely taking over and ruining the scene for the other people in it. And the office party scenes were really good too. What's nice about The Office is that the characters mostly all feel real, and don't just feel like stock sitcom characters.

Monday, November 21, 2005

I just saw the oddest thing I've ever seen on a subway platform

A woman had a cigarette lighter in one hand, and was trying to light her other hand on fire. She kept lighting a flame and putting her index finger next to it, like she was, I don't know, trying to burn off a wart or something, and then it would get hot and she would shut off the lighter and she would shake her finger, in some obvious pain, until it cooled off. And then she would do it again.

This was very strange. And I walked down the platform a bit to be sure I wouldn't end up in the same car as her, since who knows what else she wanted to light on fire.
Cool article about New York magazine and its editor, Adam Moss, who used to edit the NY Times magazine.
I had some neat food tonight. A friend of mine started this monthly thing where a bunch of us go try some unusual restaurant somewhere on the fringes of the city. Last month we ate Georgian food in Midwood, Brooklyn. Tonight we ate at Sripraphai (don't ask me how to pronounce that). It got two stars in the New York Times, which I guess it deserves, but I'd be able to make a better guess if I had any idea what the Times rating system is all about. But it was very good, certainly the best and most interesting Thai food I've ever had.

There were 9 of us, and we shared everything, so we got to try a whole bunch of really neat stuff. A sausage appetizer was really excellent, a fried watercress salad was really excellent, a catfish salad that had what was basically pulverized catfish on top was unrecognizable as catfish but very good. Papaya salad was good. We had a soup with some random meat and fish in it that was good. Choo-chee curry with tilapia was tremendously excellent, crispy pork was very good, drunken noodles were good. I can't remember the other dishes we had, but everything was really good and it's cheap and portions are big and it was definitely worth the trek into Queens on the 7 train.

They have a case filled with odd desserts, and we tried some strange ones. There was a pickled fruit thing that most of us didn't like, but I kinda liked it, so I ended up with the leftovers on that one. There was a preserved durian thing. Durian has a reputation for smelling terrible but tasting good, and the guy at the restaurant told my friend he wouldn't like it, but we got it anyway, and it did smell terrible, but it didn't seem to make up for it with the taste and most of it ended up wasted. But there was a really good pumpkin and coconut dessert, and some jelly-like dessert things that were neat.

So if you like Thai food, it's really different and good, and you should read the review and go.

And if anyone knows any other out-of-the-way interesting restaurants somewhere in the outer boroughs worth trying, let me know. Next month is my turn to pick one.
Here's a Times piece on Howard Kurtz, the Washington Post media critic and host of CNN's Reliable Sources and basically the poster child for how much one person can accomplish in a day. Every article I've read about Kurtz talks about how prolific he is, how fair he is, and that he's from Brooklyn. This one says that in addition to his many jobs, and his one-year-old kid, he's writing a satirical novel about the news business. Being Howard Kurtz sounds pretty cool.
Chris Geidner has an excellent post on one aspect of the Underneath Their Robes stuff. Check it out.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

An Update on the Book

I've been meaning to write this post for about a week, but I haven't been sure what exactly I'm looking to say.

Here's the update: a week ago I sent a completed draft to my editor. 80,000 words, which is about 270 book pages. Still needs some work, but it's a start-to-finish draft. The moment I pressed send was the first time it really hit me that I'm going to be able to do this. The first time I've been able to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I haven't written that much about the process over the past few months, because there hasn't been that much to write. It's been very different writing the novel than it was writing the weblog. I think a lot of that is because when I've been writing the weblog, everything is fresh to me. I started writing Anonymous Lawyer because I had feelings I wanted to explore and ideas I needed to get out. Most of what I have to say about law firms and the law firm experience is either here or on Anonymous Lawyer, somewhere. There aren't that many emotions I haven't expressed somewhere in my writing. There aren't a ton of things burning to get out.

So while a lot of the weblog was driven by sheer inspiration -- no thought about how one part fit with another, no consideration for anything except what I was dying to express at that moment.

The book's different. The book needs to make sense. So a lot of it has been work, figuring out how to put things together in a way that feels fresh, in a way that tells a real story, and in a way that keeps the elements of the blog that work -- the voice, the humor, the shred of humanity that keeps Anonymous Lawyer from being truly irredeemable, and, frankly, keeps him being fun to write, and, hopefully, fun to read.

It's a book. If I'm doing my job right, you'll really like it. If I'm doing my job right, even the people who want to hate it will like it. I just need to do my job right.

It's getting there. I'll have another update soon.
I just finished reading Bill Simmons' book, "Now I Can Die In Peace," a collection of his columns about the Red Sox over the past 8 years or so, culminating in their 2004 World Series victory, footnoted with all sorts of random fun stuff. Great book. I hadn't read Bill Simmons regularly until a few columns this summer that I loved, and now he's a must-read. So this book was a great way to catch up on what I'd been missing all these years. He's great. His columns are terrific. I can't say enough good things about him.

I wish I hadn't had a chance to finish reading the book yet, but the subways on the weekend are incredibly terrible. Usually I can get to pretty much anywhere I might go in Manhattan in about a half hour, door to door, including train waiting times. Tonight, the train I take was running in two parts, so I had to switch, and so I had two long waits, and it ended up taking over an hour. But at least the book was good.

I was at a friend's birthday party, which was a lot of fun. The first part of the evening was a potluck dinner. The instruction was to bring something weird. Yes, that's a weird instruction for a potluck dinner. But kind of cool, and with lots of potential. So I found a recipe for chile chocolate brownies, which sounded weird but edible. It was from an online cookbook and said they're popular in Texas with barbecue, because of the mixture of sweet and hot. I've used my oven twice before in six months here. I'm not completely inept with food, but usually I do stuff involving the microwave, or the George Foreman grill, or boiling water on the stove for pasta or some experiment with vegetables. Last weekend I cooked some fish in the oven -- bought a piece of striped bass, wrapped it in some parchment paper with rosemary and dill and some lemon juice, threw in some fingerling potatoes, made a salad with mustard greens and some more of the dill -- this is what happens when I go to the farmers market while hungry... I come back with lots of ingredients and an idea for one thing to do with them -- and it was an awesome meal, had leftovers the next day, really terrific, because the fish was fresh, it cooked just right. So, anyway, not inept in the kitchen, but I don't know if I'd ever baked anything before.

So I printed out the recipe and went to the supermarket to get the ingredients. I could have bought a packaged mix and just added the chile powder, but I was in the mood to torture myself, so I figured I'd do it from scratch. The problem -- and I think there's a great business idea here if someone wants to partner with me and jump on this -- is that nothing you need for baking is sold in anything close to the size you need. I wish I could buy one teaspoon of baking powder. I'm never going to use this entire container. So I bought baking powder, flour, sugar, eggs, chocolate, butter, and chile powder. And came home and realized I was missing one thing. A pan to put the batter in. So I went back out and bought that too. Total cost: about 20 bucks. Whatever, it would cost almost as much to buy something from a store, so I was cool with the cost. And now I have enough baking powder to bake, uh, something else, and fifty things more after that.

I also don't have a mixing bowl, so I used a pasta pot. And I used a plastic spoon instead of the wooden spoon, but I think that's allowed. Greased the pan, preheat the oven, mixed the flour and the chipotle chile powder I bought, melted the butter and chocolate, stirred in the sugar, mixed it with the flour mixture, was about to pour in the batter... and then I noticed the eggs still on the counter. Oops. Missed a step. So I did the eggs last, which probably screwed up the consistency, but what could I do at that point. Into the oven, came out of the oven, was a little soft, but tasty. They have a kick to them. But they're tasty.

They didn't go over so well. Too spicy. The strange Guiness-infused cheddar cheese, the olives stuffed with anchovies, and the hummus (nothing strange about the hummus) went over better. But I was proud of myself anyway.

I saved three or four of them for my family to try. Maybe they'll like them better than my friends did... :)

Friday, November 18, 2005

Congratulations to everyone who passed the New York bar exam, and good luck to the people getting their California results tomorrow. I expect most people who took the NY exam have been spending the evening scrolling down the list looking for their friends. I thought about doing a post listing the top 20 unpronounceable names of people who passed the bar, but decided to hold that one for a day when I'm really desperate.

Also, I want to pass something along that I got from Legal Affairs magazine, in case anyone's interested:

I thought you might be interested in this week's Legal Affairs Debate Club: John Yoo and Neil Kinkopf debate the limits of presidential power, with Yoo in favor of broad executive authority and Kinkopf for more measured presidential power.

This should be a great debate and I wanted to share it with you early on in
the week.

Here's the link to the debate:

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Jury Duty, Day 2

Here's a boring post. Got there at 9:45, like they told us. Sat in the hall with the other jurors. At 11:00 they called us into the courtroom. The judge told us the case wasn't moving forward, and we could all go home.

So, all prepared to have a great answer to the question, "Do you know any lawyers?" and I didn't even get a chance. Oh well.
Passed. Cool.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Jury Duty, Day One

So... I was the crazy one taking notes on everything. The people sitting near me in the juror holding pen... um, the Juror Lounge, I guess... probably thought I was insane. Oh well. So, nothing too exciting, but here's my report.

I arrived on time at 8:45 this morning to the Criminal Court building, which is the one I'd been assigned to. Got through the metal detector and took a seat in the second floor juror room, which was actually a pretty pleasant place. The chairs were comfortable, there were bathrooms and vending machines, temperature was okay. It was like a huge airport gate area. At about 9:10, a man came in and welcomed us, told us this was our civic duty, and he knows none of us want to be here, but that they would try to make it as comfortable as possible. Aside from the fact that they probably give Iraqi prisoners of war the same speech, it was okay.

Then they put on a video for us to watch. "Your Turn: Jury Service in New York State." I wanted to really mock the video, but in all honesty it was a better explanation of the jury system than anything we got in law school, so I can't be too critical. That said, it was clearly put together by someone who wishes he was making real movies and is instead stuck making the juror instructional video for the New York court system. There was some museum-quality stuff going on in the video.

It started off with some people dressed up like ancient Romans -- beards, period clothing, looked like they filmed it in Colonial Williamsburg or the Renaissance Faire. Before juries, defendants used to be tied up and thrown into the water. If they floated, they were guilty. If they sank, they were innocent. It actually looked like an episode of Lost. I feel bad for the actor who had to get wet.

I recognized the narrator's voice but couldn't place it. He went on to talk about how it's a good thing we don't still throw our defendants in the water, and how our system today is much better. I couldn't help but imagine the casting call that must have gone out for this. "Seeking bearded actors to play critical role in juror instruction video. May get wet." Lovely.

But this was just the teaser. The title card came up, and the music switched to something that reminded me of one of those spiritual shows that used to be on early Saturday morning when I was a kid, like that Mormon show where people were always doing good for each other, with the Broadway actress Celeste Holm. There's no way anyone knows what I'm talking about.

Anyway. And suddenly we're in a courtroom, and there's Ed Bradley from 60 Minutes, the narrator whose voice I couldn't place. I'd love to know how much of our taxpayer money they spent to get Ed Bradley to do this. Ridiculous. Okay. So Ed said something about how people hate jury service, and then we got some man on the street clips that fell off the back of Jay Leno's production van.

"When I got my jury summons my heart sank."

"I have a lot to do at the office."

"Do I have the right to judge anyone?"

"I hope I don't have to see photos or evidence that's upsetting."

"This is a pain in the you know what."

Ed: "Is it worth it?"

And now time for our history lesson.

Ed again: "The first known juries developed in Ancient Greece, 400 years before the birth of Christ."

Hold it now. Why are we bringing Christ into this? Separation of church and state, anyone?

Anyhow... some Aristotle, some Romans, some choir music. Charlemagne. The English legal tradition came over to America. They tried to punish Peter Zenger for publishing newspapers but jury refused to find him guilty. It was the first movement toward the independence of juries. Women got the right to serve starting in 1878.

Meanwhile, the woman behind me had been on her cell phone for the past ten minutes, talking very loudly and completely ignoring the video. Maybe women shouldn't have the right to serve after all.

The jury assures the right to a fair trial and stands for the participation of We the People. Thanks, Ed.

They showed a clip from Perry Mason as Ed talked about what a rich source of entertainment the legal system has been for the popular culture. Someone's toupee gets ripped off his head. The woman on the phone is still talking.

And we're back in the courtroom, but Ed Bradley has been replaced by Diane Sawyer, another exciting expenditure of taxpayer dollars. "Don't look for quick and simple solutions," she said. "A case is like theater. We don't know how it'll turn out." Well, in good theater. But theater's scripted. I'm not sure I support the analogy 100%. But I know what they're trying to say.

Now we get to meet a sample jury, composed of actors who answered the call for "ordinary looking people of all races and ages."

"If you are excused, it is in no wat a reflection of your intelligence and integrity."

"It may seem like you're just sitting around, but in fact you're playing an indispensable role."

The fake defense attorney on the video answered the call for "woman with extreme New York accent who likes to scream."

"You are most likely to find it fascinating, no matter the case you sit on."

Okay, now Ed and Diane have left and the new narrator is Judith Kaye, chief judge of the state of New York. She's got some exciting news about jury service in New York.

"Some of our courthouses are younger than the average juror!"

"We've added new lists to the jury pool so everyone has a chance to serve!"

"No automatic exemptions!"

"More than 450,000 people serve on juries every year in New York State -- that's almost half a million people!" Is that so!

"Less sequestering!"

"More attention to your needs!"

"Less waiting!"

"More impact than voting!"

"Seize the power!" Uh, is this a call for jury nullification?

This whole section felt like a campaign commercial for Judith Kane. I don't know if she's elected, but if she is, I'm not voting for her next time.

So the video ended, and the friendly man started reading us some instructions. First he wanted to make sure we were all in the right place. For the first of perhaps a dozen times, he told us to make sure our summons card was "what we call purple and white -- that's white with a purple stripe." Every time he said it, it was never just "purple and white." It was always "what we call purple and white." Now, I don't know if this is always the case, but what they called purple and white was actually purple and white, so it didn't need the clarification. If it was actually orange and green, but they liked to call it purple and white, then I understand. But it was purple and white, no question about it. So saying "what we call purple and white" just made the guy sound color blind.

"If your card does not say today's date, 11/16/05, please come up to the front." Ten people got up. "No sir, that IS today's date. Please have a seat."

"Put your social security number in the spaces provided, ONE NUMBER PER BOX." I'd love to see someone who tried to squeeze all nine numbers into one box. Really.

Sign that we're trying to build too much self-esteem in the jury pool: "Please write your occupation in the space marked occupation. Everyone has an occupation. Whether you're a housewife, a doctor, a bus driver, a student, unemployed, retired, or disabled. Do not leave the space blank or write 'none.' Everyone has an occupation." Well, no. "Unemployed" is not an occupation. It's a condition. Hopefully a temporary condition. Maybe a status. But not an occupation. Housewife too. Possibly not an occupation. But the court says otherwise.

"What are your regular days off, and your regular work hours?" Well, if I was answering honestly I'd probably be in big trouble, so I made something up that sounded sensible. I don't know what my regular working hours are. I write sometimes. Sometimes a lot. Sometimes less. What I really wondered about were these people whose occupation was unemployed. What are their days off? Is a day off from being unemployed mean a day you go and work? I really do wonder about that.

So now they listed off some reasons why people could be excused, and told people to go to another room if they fit any of these categories:

"The date on your jury summons is not 11/16"
"Your jury summons is not what we call purple and white"
"You are here and do not have a jury summons" (tourists?)
"You have two or more jury summons"
"You are not a resident of Brooklyn"
"You are not a citizen of the United States" (3 people left)
"You are the parent or guardian of children under the age of 14, do not work at a full-time job, and must pick your children up from school" (TONS of people left)
"You have been convicted of a felony" (2 men left)
"You have served as a juror in less than 4 years" (I wrote down what they said. Let's not quibble with the grammar)
"You cannot serve due to medical reasons" (3 very healthy looking people sprinted out the door as fast as they could)
"You are a full-time student with classes today, not tomorrow, today"

Then they told us the exciting news that if we were still in the jury room at the end of the day, we could go home and not come back. Everyone was very excited. It was to be short-lived.

After about a half hour, they came in and read the names of about 50 people, out of the hundred or so in the room. They all went to one courtroom. A half hour later, they came back and read the rest of our names. We went to another courtroom. Part 29. Judge Collini.

Judge Collini read us some stuff about how important it is to serve as a juror, and then he told us some more stuff that he said wasn't on the sheet. He did make me feel bad for not wanting to be there. I admit that. Then he explained the case. A guy is accused of narcotics possession. The witnesses will be police officers. If we have a problem with police officers, any bias that may affect us, or any good reason we think should excuse us, he asked everyone with any issues to line up against the wall, and he'd talk to them one at a time. I don't have any issues. At this point, I'm there, I may as well try and make this interesting and serve on a case. I'm not actively trying to get out of it, I just like complaining. But about half the people there did get up, and we could hear them say stuff about having family problems or work problems and the judge made most of them sit back down. A guy with a flight the next day got to leave, and a guy with some criminal record got to leave. Then the court officer put all the names into a bingo ball machine and pulled out one at a time until they filled the jury box with 20 people. I was not one of the 20 selected. They each were asked some questions about whether they'd ever been a victim of a crime, knew any police officers, what their occupation was, whether they were married or single, had any bias against anything relevant... and, my favorite question, whether they knew any lawyers. Hardly anyone did. I was surprised. So, a few people got excused as the judge asked them questions, and each time someone left, they picked another name to take that seat. I was not picked.

The judge finished his questioning and told us to go to lunch, and then when we came back at 2:20, the lawyers would question the potential jurors. And they needed the rest of us who hadn't been picked, in case they have to excuse people and need to fill the spaces. So I went to lunch, found a bizarre vegetarian Chinese restaurant in Brooklyn Heights, which wasn't very good, got back at 2:00, and sat in the hallway with everyone else, waiting for the judge to call us back in. And sat. And sat. At 3:20, the court officer came out and said we should go home and come back tomorrow at 9:45 to continue.

So I go back tomorrow, even though I'm not on a case and I'm guessing I won't be, since that "do you know any lawyers" question should probably knock me out. But I suppose I'll see.

More "boring tales from court" just 24 hours from now... Of course, just over 9 hours from now, right before I leave, I guess I'll get to find out my bar exam result. So, if I get through on the web page before I leave at about 9:15 (I have a hunch the page might be a little overwhelmed, but I guess I'll see), I will post my result. And then I can come home to lots of e-mails telling me how dumb I was for not studying or how smart I was for not studying, depending on the result. I've prepared my family to expect that I failed, because it's more fun that way. So the other result will just be a happy surprise.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Tomorrow at 8:45 I'll be at the Kings County Supreme Court, answering a juror summons. I postponed once before, and to postpone again you need to show up in person with an actual reason... so I figured this time I may as well just do it and hope it's either (a) quick, or (b) something to write about. I was a "telephone standby juror," which meant I had to call tonight to find out if I have to report. I have to report. I'm really hoping it's only one day and out, but I honestly have no idea how this stuff works. Is it true that I can give some dumb answer to a question ("I believe we should all take law enforcement into our own hands") and get out? Or is that just what people say? And do I want to get out? That is, is it interesting? Is it fun? I haven't seen any stories written about jury duty. Is there material there? Should I start an "Anonymous Juror" weblog? Would anyone care? Would that be against the rules? I have so many questions. :) In any case, I'll report about how that goes tomorrow, hopefully in an entertaining way.

One more thing. I wasn't going to write about this, but I've gotten more than a handful of e-mails asking me what I think about the New Yorker piece revealing the author of the weblog Underneath Their Robes as a lawyer who works as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Newark. Read the New Yorker piece for background if you haven't seen the blog. I was a little surprised that the reaction to the reveal yesterday tended toward the negative, with people saying they thought it was creepy that it was a guy writing from the perspective of a girl, and talking about shoes and clothes and things like that. I just think it's pretty cool he was able to create a compelling and convincing character. The blog had a following. He had a fresh angle that was different from anything else out there. He did a good job, or at least good enough to make Jeffrey Toobin at the New Yorker want to write about him. There are people much better equipped -- and perhaps few people less equipped -- than me to talk about whether it's appropriate for an Assistant U.S. Attorney to be writing a blog about federal judges, and my gut tells me it's probably not a great career move on that end, but it seemed like that discussion took a back seat to the "ooh, it's a guy writing as a girl" thing, which just surprised me a bit. Look, clearly my opinion of all of this is colored by my own experience. I remember the absolute fear that I felt the moments before the piece about Anonymous Lawyer hit the Times website last December, not knowing what the reaction was going to be, and feeling genuinely concerned that it would turn out very differently than I'd hoped. So I couldn't help but feel bad for this guy as the reaction started to trend negative, and he had to pull his site. For all I know, great things are happening for him today. And if so, good for him, this guy's been writing a fun site that's gotten some traction and taken a fresh angle and gained loyal readers. The ethical questions about the blog as related to his job, yeah, I guess I see the argument, sure... but the gender-switching thing just doesn't strike me as all that creepy, but actually fairly impressive. That's pretty much all I've got on this one.

No, you know what, I'm going one more step on this one. Like I said, for all I know, great things are happening for him today. But the fact that he pulled his site, and all this stuff on How Appealing, make me think they're not. And that sucks, even if you can make the argument that he brought it upon himself. It's just a weblog. He didn't reveal any government secrets. It shouldn't be the kind of thing that screws up someone's life. And I have no reason to believe that's what's happened. But I can't shake the feeling that something's wrong about this. I can't really articulate what I mean. I don't know. Again, it might just be that it all reminds me that, damn, I got really terribly lucky with the Anonymous Lawyer stuff and things could have unfolded in a terribly different way, and I would have been real screwed.

So where do we go from weblogs, now that we're seeing a new reveal every week? Podcasts? Internet telephony? What's the next cutting-edge communications technology, and who wants to play with it with me? Weblogs are so Hebrew Year 5765 it's not funny.

Monday, November 14, 2005

According to the crawl at the bottom of the screen here, NY bar exam results will be online Thursday morning at 9. I guess I'll set my alarm clock. :)

Sunday, November 13, 2005

I saw "The Weather Man" tonight, which stars Nicolas Cage and Michael Caine. It's an odd movie, for a big studio release with big names. It's a depressing movie. It's about a sad guy, mired in a sad life, without much redemption at the end. Nicolas Cage plays a Chicago TV weatherman, separated from his wife, two sad kids, and a father, played by Michael Caine, dying of lymphoma. There's no joy in Cage's life, and he can't snap out of it to find any. Yet I thought the film was excellent. It's a character study. You get inside Cage's character's life. He becomes real. The movie does a great job of making him feel real. But he's sad. And he makes you start to think life is sad, always sad, and there's no way to avoid the sadness of it. I would not recommend the movie if you're thinking about killing yourself, or if you're thinking about a career in TV weathercasting. But I would recommend the movie otherwise. There aren't too many movies that do a credible job of going inward, of putting you in someone's head. This one does. Masterfully, I thought. Plus, Michael Caine is a terrific, terrific actor.

Roger Ebert's got a very positive review here. ("Yes, 'The Weather Man' is a downer, although the sun breaks through from time to time, and there are moments of comedy that are earned, not simply inserted. Do you never want to see a downer?")
I had a very vivid dream last night.

I was at my mom's house, and she was having some sort of dinner party. And the mail came. And in the mail was an envelope from the New York Bar. And inside the envelope was a very complicated pamphlet with all sorts of numbers and statistics and a grading key. And I needed to get a calculator to figure out whether I passed or not. And I got the calculator and plugged in all the numbers, in the dream, and it turned out I failed. And then I used a rotary phone to call someone and tell them. And then someone at the dinner party ate my food. And then I woke up.

This is what I get for reading a message board about bar results right before going to sleep. The rumor is that they come out on Wednesday.

I can't legitimately expect to have passed, given the amount of studying I did, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't rather have passed than have failed. Luckily, there aren't any consequences for me either way. If I didn't pass, it's a good argument for Bar/Bri classes. If I did, it's a pretty solid argument against. I'll report the results either way.

I hope the people for whom this all really matters aren't getting too nervous about it. I imagine it's pretty nervewracking to not know if you really need to know. And it's been a really long time since the test.
There's an article in the Columbia Journalism Review analyzing Richard Posner. I keep meaning to read it, but haven't yet. But I wanted to share the link. I'll read it soon, I think.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Okay, this is interesting to maybe five people, but a quick note on Theo Epstein again, as I just read something mindblowing on the Boston Globe's website. Larry Lucchino released a statement today saying in part:

I would like to respond to two specific points about which I have been asked. First, why did I not attend Theo’s press conference last Wednesday? I was actually preparing to do so, as an observer, when my boss, John Henry, expressed the preference that I not do so. Therefore, I watched the proceedings on NESN. When I heard John’s very complimentary and very generous remarks about me, I understood why he felt it might have been awkward for me to be in the room.

Um, maybe Lucchino was watching a different press conference. The reason Henry didn't want Lucchino there was because Lucchino was getting lambasted in the press for being the cause of Epstein leaving and he knew that having Lucchino there would cause the media to press on this and pummel Lucchino with questions about what happened. The "complimentary and very generous remarks" weren't anything compared to the complimentary and generous remarks Henry made about Epstein and were entirely to deflect criticism away from the team. If Lucchino really thinks the reason Henry didn't want him there was so that he wouldn't be made uncomfortable by Henry saying nice things about him... there's something screwed up in Lucchino's head. Bizarre.

Okay, no one cares about this except for me. Sorry. Moving on...
According to the New York Times, too much e-mail can get hard to deal with. Choice quote:

Jeff Jaenicke, a supervisor at a financial institution, said e-mail can breed a touch of paranoia. When he sends an e-mail, he said, he finds himself scouring the message for goofs, or to see if the tone is right. If someone doesn't respond quickly enough, he said, insecurity kicks in. He chalks up one lost friendship to a political joke he sent to a friend, a Republican, during the Republican National Convention last year. "I tend to make jokes when I talk," he said. "I think I'm funny. But you look at e-mail - I'm not a writer - and it's completely different."

The bolding is my own doing. Maybe Mr. Jaenicke's friend will see the Times piece and they can have an emotional reconciliation. Maybe they can do a whole reality show about it or something.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

While I was making some dinner I just watched a bit of Wheel of Fortune on TV. There was a pre-taped clip at the beginning -- "We taped this episode earlier this year, in one of our favorite cities, New Orleans. Please enjoy this episode and donate to the relief efforts." I'm paraphrasing. It was something like that. Or like this:

"We taped this episode earlier this year, in one of our favorite cities, New Orleans, and then we really freaked out when that hurricane hit, because even though we're a profits juggernaut, pulling in millions of dollars a year, we don't want to throw out episodes, and so we assigned a couple of interns to comb this thing really carefully for any unintended phrases that we might have to bleep out. And hopefully the audience won't notice that the prize totals don't add up because we had to completely excise the following puzzles: 'MOVIE: On the Waterfront,' 'PHRASE: All Washed Up,' 'PLACE: Convention Center,' 'GROUP: Federal Emergency Management Authority,' and 'BEFORE AND AFTER: Bridge Over Troubled Waterworld.' Also, the contestant introductions banter from Wednesday's show about the amateur swimmer, from Thursday's show about the guy who owns a canoe, and the clip from the end of Friday's show about how they've been flooded with mail all week. We've also cut that clip about the structural beauty of the levees and the joke we made about how the city wouldn't have enough buses to evacuate anyone in the case of a category five hurricane, because, you know, how could we predict. Anyway, enjoy the nine minutes of the episode we've been able to save, and stay tuned for next week's France Week, taped earlier this year."
I saw a commercial for Flood Insurance just now, calling floods, "America's Most Common Natural Disaster." That sounded like a sales pitch. Like one of those movie review blurbs. "A.O. Scott of the New York Times called Floods, 'America's Most Common Natural Disaster.' Check it out this Friday, at a low-lying beach near you." And is that even true? Do we have a master list of natural disasters such that we can call floods the most common? And how are they measuring? By frequency? By strength? I'm guessing there are more thunderstorms than floods. Almost by definition there might have to be. But is a thunderstorm not a disaster? What about all those low-level earthquakes there are all the time, they say... what's the "disaster" threshold on the Richter scale? Anyway, I quibble with the word choice.

I haven't been following the news as well as I could be the past few days, but it definitely seems like there's a problem over in France with these riots. I feel like the blame may be misplaced though. It's obviously not the fault of the rioters, it's the fault of the cars. What kind of cars burn so easily? France should be recalling these cars, for non-spontaneous combustion problems. It's dangerous, this non-spontaneous combustion. Anyone can be driving along, through a rainstorm of lighter fluid and past a propane torch and -- BAM! -- big fire, out of nowhere, with hardly any warning besides the existence of the lighter fluid and the propane torch. Non-spontaneous combustion is almost as bad as that defect so many American cars have with the seatbelts, where if you don't put yours on it DOESN'T WORK AT ALL. Dangerous. Dangerous dangerous.

Also, these riots make me think we've been re-naming the wrong fast food side dish. No more Freedom Fries, now we have Riot Rings.

And, finally, I'm waiting for the press release that announces that Riot Weekly is about to name the French Riots the Tastiest In The World. And, okay, this is going to be really forced here...the French riots earned 4 stars from Michelin, 3 for the food, and 1 for the exploding tires. Um... okay, that doesn't entirely make sense as I've worded it, but there's something there... there's some joke I haven't quite figured out yet buried in there. Maybe.

Monday, November 07, 2005

There's a store in Union Square called Filene's Basement but it's on the 5th floor. That's confusing.

I saw the movie Kiss Kiss Bang Bang tonight. It's clever. It's a murder mystery comedy. I liked. First half more than the second half -- it started to drag -- but it's well-crafted and funny and neat. Good stuff.

Reading a book called Mediated by Thomas De Zengotita. It's about how we don't experience things for "real" anymore but everything has a layer of irony or perspective or media on top of it... like how young people today can get nostalgic for the '60s even if they never lived through it... or like reality TV.... I'm doing a bad job of describing it, but it's very interesting. Really. The author would probably rather I just read his book than blog about it though... adding another media lens to the experience... or something like that.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Last week I was in Target and saw a bizarre looking product on the shelves. Jones Soda Holiday Pack. Five small bottles of soda, each with a holiday flavor. Cranberry, Pumpkin Pie, Wild Herb Stuffing, Brussels Sprout, and Turkey & Gravy. Seriously. Of course I thought this sounded pretty cool, so I bought it, and decided to share it with my mom next time I saw her, because I figured she'd think it was cool too. So tonight I saw my parents and brought the soda with me, and we tried it.

It's awful.

I mean, really, really awful.

But here's the thing. I don't know if it's awful because of the flavors themselves, or awful because it's made with Splenda and has that awful diet soda aftertaste. I kind of feel like blaming the Splenda. Because it seemed like it could be cool, despite being bizarre, to have turkey flavored soda. And it smells like turkey, and it's the same color as gravy... but it tastes like Splenda gravy.

That one was the worst one, definitely. The herb stuffing one was pretty nauseating too, tasting mostly like carbonated white bread and Splenda liquid, if that evokes anything more than "herb stuffing soda" does. The brussels sprout one is strange and almost as vile as the others but not quite. The pumpkin pie and cranberry ones are the ones that are making me think it's the Splenda more than anything else, because they both smell good, but then just taste really horrid.

So I can't recommend these sodas at all, despite wanting to have liked them. They're awful. Really terrible.

Something else that I wanted to like and didn't... George Carlin's HBO special that was on last night. I like George Carlin, but this just didn't click for me at all. I don't know. Lots of stuff about suicide and why we should have a suicide TV channel, which could have been funny, but wasn't so much.

I also caught 10 minutes of a terrible new reality show on VH1 called "But Can They Sing?" where 9 "celebrities" not known for their singing do an American Idol-type competition. The problem with this show is that I've barely heard of any of the celebrities, and none of them (none that I heard, at least) can actually sing, so it's just watching people you haven't heard of who can't sing. The most famous celebrity on it is Morgan Fairchild, from the Old Navy commercials and some TV shows that aren't on any more. She's not that famous. Then actress Bai Ling, who I've sort of heard of. Some actor on One Tree Hill I've never heard of. A former boxer I've never heard of. One of the Gotti children from that reality show. A former model. And some other people. The judges are people they aren't even pretending anyone has heard of. This show might work if they had real famous people on it, embarrassing themselves. But they don't.

This is a very negative post. Sorry. But I've liked the past few movies I've seen and books I've read, so maybe this is just payback.

Friday, November 04, 2005

There's a CNN article about the e-mails recovered off Michael Brown's computer during the Katrina stuff. This is hilarious stuff. Funnier than fake news could ever be.

"In the midst of the overwhelming damage caused by the hurricane and enormous problems faced by FEMA, Mr. Brown found time to exchange e-mails about superfluous topics," including "problems finding a dog-sitter," Melancon said.

Melancon said that on August 26, just days before Katrina made landfall, Brown e-mailed his press secretary, Sharon Worthy, about his attire, asking: "Tie or not for tonight? Button-down blue shirt?"

A few days later, Worthy advised Brown: "Please roll up the sleeves of your shirt, all shirts. Even the president rolled his sleeves to just below the elbow. In this [crisis] and on TV you just need to look more hard-working."

On August 29, the day of the storm, Brown exchanged e-mails about his attire with Taylor, Melancon said. She told him, "You look fabulous," and Brown replied, "I got it at Nordstroms. ... Are you proud of me?"

An hour later, Brown added: "If you'll look at my lovely FEMA attire, you'll really vomit. I am a fashion god," according to the congressman.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

I saw "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" on Broadway tonight. Liked it. It's a solid show. The script has moments of humor, the story's engaging, the songs are fine, the acting is really good. It's everything a Broadway musical should be. I wasn't blown away -- the music is fine but nothing really stuck; the story is fun but didn't do anything for me emotionally -- but I was certainly satisfied. Norbert Leo Butz, who plays the second lead to John Lithgow's first, is terrific. Absolutely terrific. Commands the stage, great voice, great presence. He played a supporting part in Wicked, but left the Wicked cast before I saw it and instead I saw Joey McIntyre, who was also very good. But, despite his terrible name, Norbert was terrific. John Lithgow's good, Joanna Gleason's good, the whole cast was very solid. Good show, glad I saw it.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Theo Epstein held a news conference this afternoon about why he's leaving the Red Sox. His answers were kind of cryptic, but, frankly, I was riveted, and have been riveted by this story for the past three days.

One of my friends put this best in an e-mail I hope he doesn't mind me posting:

I think what I just can't get by with this story is that he gave up his
dream job. A lot of people our age are struggling with finding a job/career that they actually like. At some point in life, most people give up on their dream, and make either small or large concessions.... Theo actually got to be GM of the team he grew up rooting for. Theo became the model of someone who actually accomplished his dream of becoming a GM.... Now, they've offered him $4.5 million to do his dream job over the next three years.

And he's walking away. It's pretty hard to believe. He must have his reasons. There must be something pretty unbearable about the working relationships there. Or maybe it's just a perfect example of someone of our generation expecting their job to be TOO perfect. There's always going to be some problems with your job.

Part of me admires Theo for having the courage to walk away from this amazing position without a concrete plan as to what his next step is. On the other hand, if he can't be happy with his job, what hope is there for the rest of us?

I think that very well captures the essence of why this is a fascinating story to me. It relates to a lot of the stuff I've been thinking about and writing about over the past year, about my struggle to decide whether or not to take the law firm job, about looking for something that's more fulfilling than that, for me. And about whether it's fair to expect that much from your job. On the face of it, Theo Epstein had a dream job. But, like Bill Simmons wrote in the column I linked to yesterday, which remains the best piece of writing I've seen on this thing, sometimes the reality can never quite live up to the dream.

Look, maybe it's easier than I'm making it out to be. Maybe after three years as a GM, Theo wants something more -- the next step, team President, CEO, whatever is next in the hierarchy, and didn't want to be trapped in this role forever. Maybe. But I doubt it's that simple. I wrote back to my friend that I don't know if I'd call what Epstein is doing courageous. It's not courageous to pass up $4.5 million over three years to be GM of the Red Sox. No matter his difficulties with the job, I'm fairly sure there are worse jobs out there. Being GM of the Red Sox, even if you can't trust the people you work with, even if their philosophy isn't quite the same as yours, even if they're trying to run a profitable business while you're trying to win baseball games and sometimes those goals conflict -- I'm sure Theo Epstein wouldn't argue the claim that there are lots of jobs that are a lot worse.

But he's in an enviable position. At 31, he's been the GM of a World Series winner. I think it's probably safe to assume he has all sorts of opportunities at this point. He could probably write a book and it would do pretty well and he would make enough to live. He could go on the lecture circuit. He has value in the business world -- his success as a GM probably makes him valuable in a variety of corporate roles. Within baseball, most teams would probably love to have him in their front office. He could start a foundation and do charitable work. Some of these things might be worse than being the GM of the Red Sox. Some of them might be better.

But I think most of us, in Theo's position, would instead be paralyzed by the fear that we'd never have it as good as we have it right now. That quitting this job -- that passing up $4.5 million over three years to do the job you've been doing, and that you've always wanted to do -- and that you've proven yourself to be good at, and that's gotten you all sorts of benefits in terms of name recognition, popularity, and the platform and opportunities that go along with that -- would end up being a mistake we'd regret for the rest of our lives. What my friend is calling courage I'd rather call presence of mind -- the presence of mind to realize that the fear is probably more imagined than real, and that he does have these other opportunities. And that if there are things about the Red Sox job that weren't working for him, maybe there is another position out there that'll make him happier, and maybe it's worth it to take that risk, because the reward could be so high.

I'm about to make a parallel here. I bet this isn't the first time Theo Epstein has done this. Theo Epstein went to law school. I'll admit this is a little bit contrived, because Theo Epstein went to law school part-time while he was working for the San Diego Padres. But let's imagine the Theo Epstein from a half-dozen years ago, in a low-level job with the Padres. Let's imagine him in law school. Let's imagine him passing up a law firm job to keep working for the Padres. Here's how the standard argument might go:

"Theo, you have a great job offer. An unbelievable job offer. How can you walk away from it? Most people would kill for this job, and you're just walking away, not even with any certain alternatives, but just because you can't put 100% into it. What do you expect? It's a job. Deal with it."

I'm squeezing for this parallel, but I really think it's there, and it's crystal clear in my head. The same criticism that people level on law students who don't go to firms is how people can react to Theo Epstein leaving the Red Sox. And it's an even stronger claim when the job in question is GM of the Sox, as opposed to a law firm.

So where am I going with this? If Theo Epstein isn't afraid to pass up the Red Sox job, why are you afraid to pass up a law firm job? :) Okay, maybe I'm forcing this, and I know I'm not being absolutely articulate here, but maybe this makes sense to someone, I don't know.

Anyway... the transcript of the Epstein press conference is here. It's not terribly revealing, and it's largely cryptic. But one thing stood out for me:

Q: Was there anything that could have been done at all to you to stay?

In the end, no. In the end, we had a lot of honest talks during that last week and reflecting on ourselves and the organization and the job and whether it was right. And again, the way I look at it you have to be all in. You have to believe in every aspect of the job and the organization and your ability to stay and do the job the right way, with your whole heart and your whole soul. And in the end, it just wasn’t the right fit. It wasn’t right.

Q: When you met with us after the season, it seemed like your heart and soul was in it. What happened (since then)?

There was a process, leading up to the decision, during which we really turned the microscope on ourselves and on the organization, on relationships and because to do this, we all felt that to do this, you had to be all in. You had to really believe. And that process was very difficult. I think a lot of good came from that process. There were a lot of difficult discussions that probably should have happened a long time ago, but in the end, you asked what changed, the process revealed that I could not put my whole heart and soul into the job at this time.

I'm reading too much into this, but I have a story I want to tell, so let me try to get there. Looking at this from the perspective of Epstein's bosses, Larry Lucchino and Sox owner John Henry, this past week must have been miserable. Here's your 31-year-old General Manager -- who's done a great job, and who you desperately want to retain. And he's forcing you into these long discussions about your business, and about the plan going forward, and about your relationships... this isn't how business works normally, is it... we don't usually have the ability -- or the desire -- or the idealism -- to get our bosses to do this. But when you want more than just a job out of something... when you're looking for that passion that it's fairly obvious Theo was looking for, and somehow in the past few weeks, lost, for whatever reason... I'm sure he found himself searching... searching for how to make this decision and how to justify what he was feeling... and making this whole thing out to be a lot more meaningful and serious and tortured than his bosses would have liked, I'm guessing.

As he was saying at the press conference what I quoted, I immediately thought back to my software job in Texas. It was about six weeks in. I'd been hired for the marketing department, but there was a couple of months of training at the beginning, everyone all together, programmers, consultants, business and marketing... and we did some projects and assignments... and one of the assignments was to learn the company's Insurance Commission software, and how to program commission formulas into it so that it would spit out the right calculations. It wasn't really programming so much as a bit of a logic puzzle. I found the exercise sort of fun, and I was good at it. At the time the company needed consultants more than it needed marketing people.

As I recall, my supervisor mentioned to me, based on this exercise, that maybe I could do a consulting rotation instead of marketing. Being a software company, there was certainly a sense that software consulting was a more important piece of the business than marketing. And I remember having a very awkward conversation with my supervisor, trying to get a sense of how much of this was my choice, versus something they really wanted me to do. And feeling confused, because this was a month out of college, my first job, and I didn't know... I didn't know what the dynamic was supposed to be, and whether by passing this up I would be hurting myself in a real way, or what the right answer was... and wanting to lean on my supervisor as a friend who would be able to give me advice, and tell me what the right answer was, given the kinds of things I wanted to do and was good at. And it felt so important at the time. Like a critical moment, and I didn't want to bungle it.

And what I'm remembering is a very awkward and uncomfortable conversation with my supervisor, in a supply closet/hallway thing, where I wanted so much to be accommodating, but also wanted so much not to be a software consultant... I recall feeling like I ended up seeming like I was eight years old and incapable of actually having a grown-up conversation about this. I ended up not doing the consulting rotation and staying in the marketing department. I also probably ended up making my supervisor think I was a baby unfit for the employed world. But, anyway, that's the moment I thought of when I heard Epstein say that, and I hope, for his sake, that his conversations went better than mine did.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Great column by Bill Simmons about the Epstein stuff.
I'm serially obsessed with news stories, but some just end up falling under the radar for me. I went from reading everything about Harriet Miers to about three days with nothing really too interesting to read about, and now I'm reading everything about Theo Epstein resigning as Red Sox general manager. Yeah, yeah, it's only baseball. I have nothing really to say about Judge Alito. I don't know anything about him, he seems like what the right expected Bush would pick to begin with, he's not glaringly unqualified like Miers, so I don't find myself drawn to the articles. But Epstein -- this is big news!

It appears to be a fairly interesting drama... Epstein was first hired as an intern in San Diego by Padres then-President Larry Lucchino. Lucchino served as Epstein's mentor, and Epstein excelled. When Lucchino became President of the Red Sox, he offered Epstein a job. When the Sox fired their last GM and couldn't get a big name like Billy Beane to take the job, Lucchino boldly made Epstein the youngest GM ever, at age 28. Then the Red Sox won the World Series. Now, the story in the media is that there's a power struggle, Lucchino meddles too much, Epstein wants more control... and they couldn't reach an agreement. The son revolts against the father. Or something like that. This article in Sunday's Boston Globe, saying the contract was done, Epstein was coming back, apparently had an impact, according to other articles. Epstein didn't like that Lucchino went to the media with it. I have trouble thinking the blame lies with Epstein for any of this, and that's stupid because I obviously don't know anything besides what I read... but he's apparently turned down 1.5 million dollars a year to continue doing the job he always wanted to have and has thrived in... for someone to give that up, to give up the job as GM of the Red Sox, something big must be screwing things up in the front office. I would think.

The Epstein thing comes on the heels of the Dodgers firing Paul DePodesta, another of the new breed of young GMs. There's now Jon Daniels in Texas (who, someone e-mailed me when I first posted about his hiring, apparently went to the same high school as I did, and graduated a year before me), and Andrew Friedman in Arizona. The GM job has transformed from a job given to old people to a job given to smart young people. Over just the past few years. It's really quite an interesting shift.

Wouldn't shock me if, like the A's managerial change from earlier this off-season -- Ken Macha leaves, Ken Macha comes back -- if Epstein ends up re-hired in the next couple of weeks, the differences are ironed out, and everything works out in the end. Also wouldn't shock me to see Padres GM Kevin Towers go to Boston and Epstein get hired under Sandy Alderson in San Diego. Or Epstein to get the vacant L.A. job and DePodesta to end up in Boston. Clearly there's about two readers reading this (and I know who you are...) who actually care this much about who's the general manager who what baseball team. But I'm semi-obsessed, so I figured it would get a post.