Following Yogi’s advice about those forks

When Yogi Berra died last week, the media was full of Yogiisms, his oft-quoted malapropisms. One that can actually be attributed to him struck me as perfect for this post: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

I’m taking a major fork. At the end of today, I will no longer be a full-time attorney or partner in the state’s largest law firm. I’ve spent the entirety of my 29 years, 3 months and 29 days practicing law there. Tomorrow, I will be “of counsel,” doing some work for a particular client for several months but I’m leaving the full-time practice of law forever.

At the risk of or actually sounding like the old fart talking about “the good old days,” the practice of law has changed over the years — and not for the better. Due in part to the growing number of lawyers, I believe professional courtesy and competency have declined. I am at times dumbstruck by the shoddy product I see and the contentious assertion of what are truly asinine arguments. Yet these problems face everyone who practices law, so it isn’t the main reason for the fork. How law firms operate also has changed. While it’s always been there, I’ve seen a significant increase in the focus on individual gain as opposed to who we are as professionals. There’s still some altruism, naivete and egalitarianism that haven’t been crushed by my cynicism. Combine all four and it’s difficult to accept “what’s in it for me?” trumping skill, ability and similar intangible assets and contributions. Practicing law isn’t easy, it’s often stressful and even more frequently frustrating. Focusing on its pecuniary aspects makes it more difficult and needlessly consumes energy and time.

This latter change also has been gradual. In fact, I’d decided a couple years ago that I was going to retire on my 30th work anniversary, in part because I would also be 59½ (some will recognize the significance of that age). But events over the last year or so made me realize that it wasn’t worth continuing to practice solely for that reason. In fact, I would have been done this at the end of last year but for the influence of a handful of my partners. And if a 30th anniversary rationale was artificial, the timing now is probably more so. It’s my present for myself for my 59th birthday this month.

This prompted my education binge. And there seems to be a trend in my “going away” presents so far: three books from my assistant of 27 years, a $50 Amazon gift certificate from my kids and four books from one of my partners. That’s great because I told my wife that one of my goals this winter is to get up in the morning, read until my eyes get tired, take a nap, read until my eyes get tired, take a nap, and repeat throughout the day.

What am I going to do? I have no clue and no plans. Basically, I’m going to kick back for a while and maybe what I want to be when I grow up will sneak up on me. All I know for sure is that I intend to enjoy the hell out of this fork.

I enjoy waking up and not having to go to work. So I do it three or four times a day.

Gene Perret

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Birthday to me

We have a video of my oldest daughter’s birthday 20+ years ago where my middle daughter insisted on loudly performing “Happy Birthday” as simply “Birthday to you!!”. The phrase has been used in our family probably since then. Since today is “Birthday to me” and I’m 366 days (thank you Leap Year) from the big 6-0, I’m giving myself a big birthday present — edification.

Today is the first of three classes I start this week through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (“OLLI”). The courses are on “War, Politics and Morality in Today’s Conflicts,” African literature and “ISIS and the Arab Spring II.” And Wednesday I start a twice a week, six-week online writing class through the School District’s ed2go program. And if I weren’t glutton enough, over the weekend I started an 11-week, self-paced online University of Virginia class on historical fiction through Coursera. Then, on October 1 (two of my OLLI courses end around then), I’m slated to start another online class through Coursea, an eight-week University of Zurich course called “Spacebooks. An Introduction To Extraterrestrial Literature.”

Each is a new experience for me. I’ve never taken an OLLI class, participated in so-called “distance education” where you have assignments to turn in or a MOOC (“massive open online course”). My total investment (aside from a couple books) is $245, $95 for the online writing course and $150 for an OLLI annual membership. And the latter allows me to take avy of the additional classes it will offer this winter and coming spring for no additional charge.

I’m hoping I’ve not overdone it. But after a couple weeks time shouldn’t be a big issue, something that is the subject of a future post.

Learning is not compulsory; it’s voluntary. Improvement is not compulsory; it’s voluntary. But to survive, we must learn.

W. Edwards Deming, February 1986

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Evidently someone really wants to blog hack

It’s not been uncommon for me to get messages from my security plugin that someone has tried to access the administrative aspects of my blog. For a couple years now, I used a plugin that would lock someone out for a couple hours after two failed logins and for three days after four. Even though it’s worked well, I installed a new security plugin over the weekend that included that feature along with its more straightforward security elements. It, too, sends an email when someone is locked out. I love the new plugin but I clearly wasn’t paying attention when I set it up.

From about 10:30 last night until about 9 this morning, it notified me 663 times that someone had been locked out from the blog. Most of the IP addresses were in Russia, Ukraine or Belarus, although I’m guessing even most of those are spoofed. But why this onslaught?

Turns out that when I set the options for the new plugin, a person was locked out from trying again for just five minutes. Thus, someone using an automated approach could try and try — and try and try and try and try and try and try. When I figured out what was going on, I increased the lock out setting by well more than 1,000 percent. The new plugin also allows me to specify user names that are immediately blocked. Haven’t had a lock out notice since.

Look, I know I haven’t posted much this summer but if this person were interested in posting, it would have been a lot easier for them to just send me an email offering to contribute. Of course, his or her real interest was wreaking havoc on a infinitesimal speck of the Interwebz or as a launching pad for something nefarious.

The Internet is the crime scene of the 21st century.

Cyrus R. Vance Jr.

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Book Review: He Wanted the Moon by Mimi Baird

Over the decades, the mental health memoir has become almost a genre in and of itself. That isn’t to knock them. After all, a 1908 memoir, A Mind That Found Itself, remains in print today. And more recent works about depression (William Styron’s Darkness Visible), bipolar disorder (Marya Hornbacher’s Madness: A Bipolar Life) or schizophrenia (Elyn Saks’s The Center Cannot Hold) are considered classics on their subjects. Most important, these firsthand accounts provide insight and education not only for those dealing with such conditions but also their families, friends and the general public.

Mimi Baird’s book, He Wanted the Moon: The Madness and Medical Genius of Dr. Perry Baird, and His Daughter’s Quest to Know Him, is somewhat unique in this class. As the title suggests, it is a dual memoir. Much of the book is squarely within the genre. It’s her father’s account of the five-month period in 1944 when manic depression took him from his almost six-year-old daughter, who would see him only once again before his death 15 years later. The balance is the story of her journey to discover her father when a manuscript he penciled on onionskin paper arrived on her doorstep some 30 years after his death. The former is striking, the latter affecting.

moonDr. Perry Baird was a graduate of Harvard Medical School who coauthored five published medical journal articles by the time he graduated. He had occasionally battled depression but during a postgraduate fellowship in Pittsburgh he was hospitalized for manic depression, today called bipolar disorder. Following his release, though, he managed to become a highly respected and successful dermatologist in Boston. Yet in a 10 year period he would be hospitalized three more times and he knew enough about his condition to check into a hotel when he felt a manic phase coming on. Everything collapsed in February 1944, though, when at age 40 his condition became unmanageable.

Baird was committed to a state hospital from February 20 to July 8, 1944. There, he began writing about his experience, an “account of every kind of suffering and disaster.” Despite his hopes of publishing the story, the manuscript, it ended up in a box of various items in a relative’s garage in Texas. After his daughter learned of the manuscript nearly 50 years later, she was sent the box. Combining portions of it, his medical records and her narration — all set in different typefaces — He Wanted the Moon details a story of institutionalization and suffering coming from “five prolonged suicidal depressions, four acute manic episodes and many hypo-manic phases.”

Because Baird was writing while hospitalized, the manuscript his daughter received was jumbled. Her ability to reconstruct allows his mania and altered thinking to come through. It also reflects the extent to which manic depression was ill-understood and the lack of effective treatments. To Baird, treatment consisted of “an utterly meaningless period of confinement in a hospital under barbaric conditions inherited from a culture of darkness and ignorance.” Especially viewed from today, his perspective is accurate. For the first several weeks, he was placed in a drug-induced coma for 11 days, tied to a bed in a straitjacket and bound to the bed, nude, wrapped tightly in sheets soaked in ice water for hours or days at a time. Perhaps also reflecting the time, he viewed the state hospital as being behind the times it did not use electroshock therapy.

While hospitalized, Baird not only had his medical license revoked, he was served with divorce papers. Fed up with institutionalization, he escaped from the hospital in July 1944, managing to actually make his way to Chicago and then Dallas. His mental health did not improve, though, and he would spend time in several mental hospitals, including a hospital for the criminally insane in Massachusetts. Eventually, he in underwent a lobotomy, then believed to be the best treatment for mental illness, in December 1949. After that, he could barely tie his shoes and continued to suffer mental and physical issues until his death in 1959.

Between 1944 and his death, Baird wasn’t mentioned or discussed by family or friends. Mimi was told simply that he was “away.” Even after her mother remarried, she was told her father was “ill.” One afternoon when she was 13, though, he came and visited her briefly. It was the last time she saw him. It wasn’t until 1969 that her mother said her father had “manic-depressive psychosis.” She would not discuss it, though.

Much of Mimi’s story reflects the impact of her father’s basically unexplained disappearance from her life and the shame and stigma that seemed to prevent acknowledging a family member is mentally ill. In 1991, though, she happened to meet someone who attended medical school at the same time as her father. That chance encounter sparked a quest to pierce the veil over her father’s life. She obtained copies of letters between her father and two mentors, learned of and got the manuscript, interviewed people who knew him and obtained his medical records. Her process of learning about her father and the effects of his mental illness inspired her to see that his story be told in his own words.

The immediacy of Dr. Baird’s writing makes it the real focal point of He Wanted the Moon. In fact, much of his daughter’s portion of the memoir tells parts of his story he didn’t or couldn’t. But in addition to the personal impact, Mimi Baird’s story reveals an immense irony. During his hospitalization in 1944, a medical journal published Dr. Baird’s research on whether there was a biochemical cause of manic depression. Just five years later, an article was published about lithium as a biochemical treatment for the condition. Today, lithium is among the most widely used and effective treatments for bipolar disorder.

[T]he modern psychopathic hospitals I have known are direct descendants of ancient jails like Bedlam, and I believe they do harm, not good.

Dr. Perry Baird, He Wanted the Moon

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Giving new meaning to dead letter

Naturally, when you move you put in a change of address with the Post Office. Mostly, what you get is bills, magazines and similar items where they haven’t actually processed the change of address you gave them. It doesn’t take long, though for the direct junk mail industry to start sending things to your new address. I’m not talking about the ones that say “resident”; these are the ones that have your name and new address and seem to start arriving not long after you moved.

Yet my wife and I have been quite intrigued by a couple pieces of junk mail. In the last coupe weeks, my Dad has received offers from Direct TV and another retailer, both addressed to him at our new address. It’s not odd because my Dad doesn’t live with us. Nor is it the fact he never lived in Sioux Falls. It’s bizarre because he died in January 1993 — and his address certainly hasn’t changed since then.

Not only does this put a new spin on the concept of the dead letter, it seems to create another irony. Ben Franklin, the man who said only death and taxes were certain, was also the country’s first Postmaster General. Evidently, junk mail lists are more certain — or at least more longlasting — than death.

I get mail; therefore I am.

Dilbert, Dilbert, Oct. 26, 1990

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Thankfully, reality trumps posture

There’s plenty out there about the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling and I can’t really add anything that probably hasn’t already been said, just an observation from looking at the State News Page in my RSS reader this morning.

One of the first things posted on that site was Gov. Daugaard’s statement on the decision. I found it interesting. It said, “I would have preferred for this change to come through the democratic process, rather than the courts. We are a nation of laws, and the state will follow the law. I will be working with the Attorney General to ascertain what this ruling means for state and local governments.”

My thought on the first sentence is that we should consider how we got to this. Citizens elected legislators, legislators passed laws, citizens exercised their right of access to the courts, the courts issued a ruling. Seems to sum up a significant part of “the democratic process.” As for the last sentence, the item on the site immediately prior to the governor’s statement was a release from the Attorney General’s Office in which AG Marty Jackley said, “Because we are a Nation of laws the State will be required to follow the Court’s order that every State must recognize and license same-sex marriage.” Seems to me, then, that there wasn’t much work to be done to “ascertain what this ruling means”.

Fortunately, (although apparently coming after announcements of the approval of $23.7 million for water and waste projects and the GF&P finding “rusty crayfish” in the Missouri), the site contained this headline: South Dakota Prepared To Issue Same Sex Marriage Licenses. Basically, the Department of Health’s system was ready to issue those licenses by 1 p.m. yesterday and the licenses could be obtained at any county register of deeds office. Looks like someone in state government was thinking ahead.

Granted, at least as of this posting, the more partisan announcements are prominently featured on the news page while the significant one is a bit buried below. But at least the state moved far more rapidly than I would have thought, without creating any delay or roadblocks. Reality can be a dose of fresh air.

Indeed, changed understandings of marriage are characteristic of a Nation where new dimensions of freedom become apparent to new generations, often through perspectives that begin in pleas or protests and then are considered in the political sphere and the judicial process.

Obergefell v. Hodges (2015)

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