John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Circling the Drain

jyb_musingsThat feeling you are “circling the drain.”

For some it signifies the end. For others it signifies being on the brink of a new beginning. And for others still it means the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning or, for extreme pessimists, the end of the end.

For me, though, it feels more like an extreme sport. Hangin’ 10. From near the drain. At least some days. Like today.

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Some days I feel like I am hitting on all cyclinders and am a masterfully mindful multi-tasking maniac.

Other days I feel like my brain is operating aduquately for a 1963 model.

And every now and again it seems concerningly quiet and uneventful up there –like I am mentally moving at the speed of the video game Pong. And my side forgot to show up.

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“I’m way deep into nothing special”

How I feel today (quoting Steely Dan, West of Hollywood)

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Look, I get it. It’s not my post. You just aren’t in the mood to “like” something right now.

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“It’s not personal; it’s just business.”

Really means for the person hearing this that it is no longer “business” and just became “just personal.”

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Groups, ironically, seem to be the best place for us to learn how to be better individuals

–Leaving my men’s accountability group this morning

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: September 12th

jyb_musingsI know this is probably not politically correct to say but I personally believe Sept 12th is a more significant date for our country to commemorate than Sept 11th.

Because it signifies that no matter how horrifically shocking the terrorist attack was 13 years ago, that it lasted only one day, and on Sept 12th, we began picking up the pieces and moving ahead, chastened and somber, to be sure, but also united and wiser and unbowed.

And that, to me, is important for us to remember and celebrate today.

Will Meyerhofer: Evil Middle Management

Will MeyerhoferWhen I launched The People’s Therapist, my intent was to get stuff off my chest – process a smidgen of psychic trauma. I’d write a column or two, exorcise the odd demon, piss off Sullivan & Cromwell and call it a day.

It never occurred to me I’d be deluged with lawyers as clients.

It never, ever occurred to me I’d be deluged with partners as clients.

It never so much as crossed my mind they’d be so unhappy.

It turns out being a partner can be…not all that. For many of my clients, the job boils down to evil middle management.

Permit me to explain.

Biglaw associates resemble the low-level evil henchman in James Bond movies – those omnipresent guys in jumpsuits who all look the same and do what they’re told. They drive around evil headquarters in little golf carts, manipulate dials in the control room, shoot at James Bond (always missing) – then get shot themselves. Presumably – like biglaw associates – they’re mostly in it for the money, rather than a genuine penchant for evil.

I felt like an impostor at S&C – only pretending to be a genuine low-level evil henchman. I was more like James Bond after he bonks the real low-level evil henchman on the head, then reemerges strolling through evil headquarters sporting that guy’s jumpsuit.

I was an impostor – trying to look like I drank the Kool-Aid, going through the motions. I wasn’t even a clandestine agent, battling evil, like 007. The plan to blow up the moon wasn’t my problem. I just wanted a way out of that crummy job – one not involving a fatal dunk in the evil piranha tank. Somewhere in that evil-lair-secreted-in-a-hollowed-out-volcano there had to be a door marked exit.

Most of the partners I work with are looking for the same thing. The difference is, as a partner, you’re not an impostor pretending to be a low-level evil henchman – you’re an impostor pretending to be evil middle management.

“Preposterous!” you sputter, outraged. “Partners never condescend to be middle anything! They crouch, smugly, at the pinnacle of the evil pyramid! With one wiggle of their evil little finger…they manipulate human life!”

It can look that way from the bottom rung, whence a partner appears as far removed from a low-level evil henchman as a junior associate from a positive bank balance.

From the vantage of the pyramid’s sub-sub-basement, all partners appear interchangeable – the unifying feature being their utter dissimilarity from anyone like you. A partner’s one of them – evil incarnate, possessing his own evil headquarters – his own creepy evil white cat (for stroking purposes) – and his own weird evil European accent (with which to mutter, “Come now, Mr. Bond…”) A partner doesn’t have to drink the Kool-Aid – an iv bag of the stuff dangles by his bedside.

If only that were true. After getting all up-close and personal with a bevy of partners, I’ve caught wind of a terrifying reality: All partners are not the same. Most are nothing more than evil middle managers.

It turns out – I swear on a stack of Books of Mormon – there’s only one guy per law firm who actually owns an evil headquarters.

He’s also the one guy who gets to stroke a cat and mutter diabolical threats. At most, there are six or seven guys (yes, they’re always guys.)

The other, lesser partners aren’t diabolical geniuses – or low-level evil henchmen. These so-called “partners” only get to act like they personify evil – they’re hardly Dr. Evil himself. They’re more like the bland guy sitting in the wrong chair in the evil boardroom when Dr. Evil presses that discreet little button – the one that activates the steel wrist straps and the trapdoor in the floor.

I’ve worked with partners so traumatized by the situation, it’s shaken their faith in global organizations dedicated to evil.

It’s dispiriting.

Here, in a nutshell, is how you end up in evil middle management:

Over the course of years of slave labor, you make yourself indispensable to a rainmaker (your “rabbi”.) He elevates you. Then two things happen: First, you acquire the title of PARTNER and all the rights, privileges and immunities (and status and money) thereunto appertaining; and second, the ink begins to dry on a binding contract with Beelzebub.

Mr. Rabbi doesn’t share his clients with you. You’ve never spoken to them. He elevated you to do his work, transforming you into a glorified senior associate (glorified = overpaid.) Since the downturn in 2008, there are no longer any actualsenior associates at the firm – they’ve been fired – so the actual partner reduces your points (partner-speak for money) and increases your workload.

It’s getting to where you’re not even overpaid, let alone glorified.

Don’t like it? No problem. Do what they keep telling you to do: Find your own clients. Generate business. Pull your weight. Do some marketing.

There are issues. First, you don’t know how to market. They didn’t have a class in “marketing” at your evil law school. Second, when you try marketing – which seems to mean pointless research, then taking people you hardly know out to lunch – you feel like an idiot. Third, it doesn’t work. They don’t suddenly call with a pile of overpaid legal stuff for you to do.

This is not entirely surprising. In a domestic market containing, at minimum, twice the lawyers the entire planet could possibly utilize, clients aren’t sitting around waiting to be asked to hire over-priced outside counsel. Many are bringing work in-house to cut legal bills – or strong-arming outside counsel to trim prices.

You could offer to reduce your fee – slide your price to bring in work – but your rabbi won’t hear of it. It would “degrade the firm’s brand” – which means it might affect his fee. He’s got his own book of business, and doesn’t give what we’ll euphemistically refer to as a “hoot” about your book of business. You’re competition.  He’s content having you do his work.

That’s evil middle management. You’re a partner, but you don’t feel like it. Your friends and family assume you’re rich and powerful. Your car mechanic tacks on made-up charges when you take your Benz in for a tune-up. Obscure charities guilt you into tickets to their annual ball thingamabobs. Even your therapist considerately slides his rate up for you.  : )

The truth is you’re rich-ish – or used to be, or were heading in that direction. But you earn a tiny fraction of the rabbi’s take and that keeps declining. And power? You hold none whatsoever, beyond the ability to torment associates – which isn’t as much fun since they fired all the associates.

Things get worse as the recession deepens. The plan to build your own book of business seems more and more like a pipe dream.

You have no actual idea what’s going on at your firm, since no one shares information. The other partners in your group tell you nothing. Without warning, five of them took off from the LA office last month. You found out by reading AboveTheLaw.

Scarier still, the rabbi isn’t sending you as much work. You hear about partners at other firms – and your own – getting pushed out. First, they’re hunched at their desks, playing computer solitaire – then they’re no longer with the firm. You recall that discreet little button.

There are additional indignities. Your secretary is fired. You come in and she’s not there. Yeah. That happens.

But you’re a partner! You can say to heck with it, and take off. If this is how they treat a co-owner of the firm, you’ll go somewhere else, where partnership still means something.

Nice try. You’re a service partner. You have no book of business. No other firm is going to greet you with open arms. They will buy a book of business – and probably overpay, since it will be inflated with clients who aren’t actually portable. But no book of business? No evil headquarters.

How about going in-house? Sure, you’ll take a pay cut, but a senior vice president job would be cool, or even general counsel. You could frame it as a lifestyle choice – something you’re doing for the wife and kids. You’ll work nine to five, get a company car, attend conferences. Might be refreshing.

It would be…if everyone else hadn’t thought of it, too. Service partners are lining up for those jobs.

Where to go?

Nowhere. You’re stuck where you are. Let’s face it, resigning your partnership isn’t a step you’ll take lightly. You worked your ass off for the ultimate lawyer honor – to become a would-be diabolical genius. You don’t give that up.

One client – a mid-level associate – recounted being taken aside by a female partner, and given a speech about the meaning of partnership. The partner intended to inspire.  She came across as unhinged.

“She said making partner was better than I could imagine,” my client recalled. “It was the greatest day of your life. It was better than sex. It was better than getting married. It was better than having a child.”

“At some point, she got this weird look in her eyes – it creeped me out. I listened with a frozen smile and thought, I’ve got to get out of here before this happens to me.”

Okay, so some partners are a little…touched. Evil genius is a difficult job description. And maybe it isn’t better than sex. But you shouldn’t under-estimate the degree to which making partner is played up in the world of biglaw. It’s the beginning of everything – wealth, power, respect. You become a real person – someone who can hold his head up. You go to private clubs, buy bad-ass apartments and vacation on Mustique in a rented villa. You’re “in” – a made man – sitting at the table with Dr. Evil (no one mentions the discreet little button.)

The truth is, I hear a lot more partners talking about resigning their partnership than I see actually doing it. One guy who did resign from a major firm was literally covered in shingles and having a nervous breakdown when he quit. He couldn’t get out of bed or stop crying. (No, he wasn’t my client.) I got the feeling he felt obligated to reduce himself to that state to earn permission to do the unthinkable – or convince his wife (who wasn’t terribly sympathetic.)

To make partner, you elevated the goal of earning major bucks into the focus of your life for an endless string of god-awful years. Along the way, you picked up a spouse and kids and a mortgage. It ends up like everything else in biglaw – all about the money.

If the rabbi’s happy and has work for you, then you still count as a partner at a big law firm. You are evil middle-management. You can wear the fez and dark glasses each day and maintain the facade. You’re a partner. You were elevated.

Meanwhile, you daydream about killing the rabbi with an ax. You hate handing your life over to that condescending windbag.  You moan to your wife about how you can’t take it anymore. How many partnership meetings can you attend in the evil boardroom, watching him toy with that discreet little button…wondering if you’re sitting in the wrong chair…

Partner isn’t a title. It’s what you do. Unless you go out there and – by some miracle – bring in business, you’re not really a partner, equity or otherwise. You’re someone who gets called a partner for working for a partner.

Even if you have a book of business, it can be tough. I worked with a junior partner with a growing book of business.  He hates the grind.  Being on-call 24/7 triggers anxiety attacks. He debates quitting, going “part-time,” trying for a government job or taking the leap and starting his own firm. With a book of business, he’s got options.

Other partners have fewer options.

One service partner client discovered her rabbi was defecting to a notorious sweatshop. He offered to bring her with, but she couldn’t stomach it, and stayed behind.

Work dried up. Now she’s at another firm, on her own, unable to drum up business. In-house jobs aren’t materializing. She talks to her husband about moving to the country, giving the whole thing up, getting out of law…

Like many partners, she’s looking for an exit – one not involving a fatal dunk in the evil piranha tank.
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This piece is part of a series of columns presented by The People’s Therapist in cooperation with AboveTheLaw.com. My thanks to ATL for their help with the creation of this series.

If you enjoy these columns, please check out The People’s Therapist’s new book,Way Worse Than Being A Dentist: The Lawyer’s Quest for Meaning

I also heartily recommend my first book, an introduction to the concepts behind psychotherapy, Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy

(Both books are also available on bn.com and the Apple iBookstore.) 

Will Meyerhofer: Save the World

Will MeyerhoferIf law students are annoying, then pre-law students are twice as annoying. There’s something about observing these lemmings scrabble their way into the maws of ruthless law schools, despite dire warnings and appeals to common sense, that just…gets under my skin.

Even after so much effort has been expended for their benefit – i.e., which part of “Way Worse Than Being a Dentist” didn’t you understand? – these piteous creatures patiently queue up for their punishment, hungry to “learn to think like a lawyer.” If your resolve weakens, and pity prevails over contempt, you might mistakenly engage one in conversation. For your trouble, you’ll receive an earful of a clueless pipsqueak’s master plan to save the world. Because – you hadn’t heard? – that’s why he’s going to law school: The betterment of humanity.

Because that’s what the world so desperately needs:  Another lawyer.

Somehow or other, these automata get it into their programming that, if they actually did want to save the world, becoming a lawyer would be a sensible way to do it. They are unaware of how imbecilic their words sound to anyone not entirely befuddled by the miasma of law school propaganda.

Law schools inundate proto-lawyers with ‘lawyers save the world’ nonsense, cramming their crania with musty tales of Brown v Board of Ed. That’s because the schools are well aware of the likely effect of such indoctrination: Greasing the rails to the killing floor. If a kid can tell himself he’s going to “change the world” – as opposed to, say, “make a lot of money and feel like a big deal” – then he’ll line up that extra bit more smugly for the $160k/year that makes his eyes roll up into his head and a little string of drool form at the corner of his mouth.

It’s simple: If you can tell yourself you’re doing it for the good of humankind, you won’t feel so guilty selling out in the most soulless, stereotypical way imaginable.

 

You know the vast majority of law students will end up deeply in debt and unemployed. We all know that. But before that happens, the sorry little shlemiels honest-to-god tell themselves they’re going to save the world.

The problem is lawyers very seldom do change the world, at least for the better. The bulk of significant positive change that the world experiences at any given moment – surprise! – doesn’t derive from the actions of lawyers. It derives from the actions of non-lawyers, or, at very least, lawyers acting in non-lawyer-y ways.

Evidence? Let’s start with a quote from one of the nation’s top civil rights attorneys, Michelle Alexander, from her book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness:

In recent years…a bit of mythology has sprung up regarding the centrality of litigation to racial justice struggles. The success of the brilliant legal crusade that led to Brown has created a widespread perception that civil rights lawyers are the most important players in racial justice advocacy…Not surprisingly…many civil rights organizations became top-heavy with lawyers. This development enhanced their ability to wage legal battles but impeded their ability to acknowledge or respond to the emergence of a new caste system. Lawyers have a tendency to identify and concentrate on problems they know how to solve – i.e., problems that can be solved through litigation. The mass incarceration of people of color is not that kind of problem.

Got that? Here’s a top-flight lawyer, at the center of a struggle to address the disaster of a nation that locks up a vast percentage of its poorest, most vulnerable citizens based largely on their race (whites don’t go to jail for minor drug possession offenses, blacks do.) What’s she saying? There are too many lawyers.

Read the rest of…
Will Meyerhofer: Save the World

Carlton Weddington: The Caged Pol Sings, Part Three

“Ex-inmates life chances shrink because few institutions or programs are prepared to give them the tools and job training to get work and become productive citizens. Many become burdens to their families, and some end up homeless.  A good number of ex-inmates develop mental problems, which often go untreated.”

– Come on People, by Bill Cosby and Dr. Alvin Poussaint.

carlton weddingtonNationally, 1600 men and women are released from prison each day. Many will return to communities throughout the country with no more education, programming or sense of purpose than when they arrived to prison. The burden to help and service these individuals falls on the public. Locally, the state of Ohio boasts to be one of the nation’s largest prison systems and releases more than 28,000 ex-offenders each year. However, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections (ODRC) has failed Ohio and Ohioans with its lax and meager standards in operation and programming for re-entry.

Ex-offenders are at the highest risk of committing a new crime or violating probation or parole immediately (within the first three months) following release from incarceration. The Bureau of Justice Statistics found that within the first six months of release, almost 30% were rearrested and the rate increases to 44% within the first year. If Ohio wants to be a leader among states, it must do a better job of taking care of a potential segment of its most valuable commodity – its human capital. The fragmentation of services, lack of coordination, and leadership must be addressed. A clear focus, not dispersing of energies is needed in order to solve this problem.

The support and help of the public and private interests should be sought for inmates who are in need and desire quality programming that will enable them to be successful upon release, because well equipped and determined ex-offenders are less likely to return to a life of crime and help build the economy. The creation of a successful re-entry program enhances public safety, reduces costs and improves lives. Families and advocacy groups need to be diligent in making the best use of the limited programming and resources the prisons offer, but ODRC needs to get its act together and start educating the individuals they house as if they mattered. The cumulative effects of poor prisons for communities in which these ex-inmates return to is one very good reason why recidivism perpetuates.

I refuse to believe that the practices of ODRC are the best Ohio can offer inmates and their families in 2014. I’m urging taxpayers, political leaders, inmates and their families alike to speak their minds about the affairs of rehabilitation and corrections in Ohio. Inmates who feel that society has no positive role for them are likely to conclude they have nothing to lose by abandoning the difficult path of study, self-discipline, and rehabilitation for the instant gratification of prison life that lead, to the continuation of the street life that brought them to prison.

David Host: Why Baseball’s Pete Rose Question Matters Beyond Sports

David HostI was ten years old when I first became an avid Cincinnati Reds fan. Growing up just over one hour’s drive from Cincinnati, I could not help but notice when the legendary “Big Red Machine” won their second consecutive World Series the year before – but the 1977 season marked the first time that I personally followed almost every game. Staying awake in bed listening to Marty Brennaman and Joe Nuxhall call games from the West Coast remains one of my fondest childhood memories – as do the many trips my dad and I made up I-75 to watch the Reds in person.

Like many kids my age, I mimicked the batting stances of all-time greats like Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, and Joe Morgan. I also tried to teach myself the knee-in-the-dirt pitching motion of Tom Seaver, who joined the Reds at mid-season that year (I tore the cover off several of the baseballs I hurled at the “strike zone” I envisioned on the brick side of our garage). As the years rolled by, it became clear that my athletic skills did not match the profile of a budding big-league ballplayer. Yet, the Reds and their up-and-down fortunes throughout the 1980s remained a central feature of every summer.

I had just started my freshman year in college when Pete Rose broke Ty Cobb’s all-time hits record on September 11, 1985. “Charlie Hustle” had never been one of my favorite players when I was younger. As I matured, I grew to appreciate Rose – his head-first slides; his blue-collar grit; and, most of all, the message he conveyed – that excellence is not always captive to natural ability. Rose looked and played like any of us might if we had the chance to play pro ball, which is why this native son of Cincinnati captured hearts in that city like no one else ever has, or likely will again.

After Rose retired as a player, he managed the Reds to a succession of second-place finishes during the late 1980s. He was an average manager at best, in retrospect; though his prodigious knowledge of the game suggested that Rose possessed tremendous potential in that capacity. Led by stars like like Eric Davis, Chris Sabo, and future Hall of Famer Barry Larkin, the Reds were once again a team on the rise – and Rose seemed like the natural link between this brightening future and the dominant teams of the 1970s.

The Reds won the World Series in 1990, the season after Rose received a “lifetime ban” for betting on games involving his own team. There is no evidence that Rose ever bet against the Reds (his ultra-competitive nature strongly suggests that he never entertained the thought). Yet, Rose clearly presided over a series of underachieving teams. Sadly, we will never know what he could have accomplished as a manager without the distraction of his gambling habit.

The scandal which sundered Rose’s connection with the game he personified seemed to erupt out of nowhere. From all accounts, Rose thought that Major League Baseball officials had already convicted and sentenced him, so he opted for a very public fight. This battle consumed the Reds’ 1989 season – and for the first time I could remember, I lost interest as the team limped toward a fifth-place finish. As saddened as I was by Rose’s abrupt fall from grace, I cannot deny that I was relieved to see him go.

Like most Reds fans, I wanted to believe Rose’s denials. Yet, it was hard to ignore Major League Baseball Commissioner Bart Giamatti’s grim conclusion: “One of the game’s greatest players has engaged in a variety of acts which have stained the game.” Giamatti’s sterling reputation further made it difficult to question the justice and fairness of the outcome.

Major League Baseball never officially concluded that Rose had bet on his own team in exchange for Rose’s acquiescence to the “lifetime ban.” For every other individual in the modern era to whom it has applied, baseball’s “lifetime ban” has, in reality, meant a suspension for a few years. Yet, Giamatti’s death from a heart attack eight days after announcing baseball’s settlement with Rose seems to have fueled a lasting personal vendetta at the game’s highest echelons.

First, the National Baseball Hall of Fame officially decided to exclude banned players from its annual baseball writer’s ballot in 1991, just before Rose became eligible to appear on that ballot. Next came Major League Baseball’s inexplicable and inexcusable refusal to act on Rose’s application for reinstatement, which persists to this day.

To me, the exclusion of baseball’s all-time hits leader transformed the “Hall of Fame” into a farce. Then, when the 1994 players’ strike canceled the World Series and eviscerated a promising Reds season, my attachment to baseball began to fray; particularly when neither the owners nor the players association even bothered to apologize – to the fans who pay their bills, or to the concessionaires, ushers, and other hard-working individuals who truly suffered the effects of the strike.

Baseball gradually recovered after 1994; in large part due to the record-breaking exploits of a bevy of new “superstars,” including Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Barry Bonds. We subsequently learned that these performances may have been the product of steroid use. Meanwhile, no one has ever accused Pete Rose of cheating, and his all-time hits record remains unassailable and, perhaps, unreachable. Yet, McGwire, Sosa, and Bonds remain eligible for the Hall of Fame, while Rose remains the game’s lone outcast.

On its face, this scenario seems outrageous and absurd; particularly when Pete Rose the player remains the exemplar of everything that once mattered about baseball. Yet, I remain initially persuaded by the argument that Rose flagrantly violated a “prime directive,” of sorts – a rule that is prominently displayed in every team’s clubhouse, for which the penalty has always been clear and certain. By contrast, while Major League Baseball appears to have banned steroid use for more than two decades, its enforcement of this policy has not always been consistent.

Gambling is a clinically recognized addiction, just like alcoholism and drug abuse. The late Steve Howe notoriously received suspension after suspension for cocaine use during his 17-year pitching career. Does anyone seriously believe that Howe would have stopped had drug abuse held the same “prime directive” status as the rule against betting on one’s own team? Still, amidst all the judgments pronounced against Pete Rose in the media and elsewhere, I have never heard anyone suggest that an illness might have deprived Rose of complete control over his actions.

Admittedly, Rose has often been his own worst enemy. I cannot help but believe that had he quietly come clean with Bart Giamatti when the gambling allegations first arose early in 1989, Rose might still have enjoyed a long association with baseball after a few years away from the game. Instead, he lied about his actions until 2004, when it became apparent that he might never be reinstated without a full confession. Rose also apparently continues to gamble; though his once-defiant attitude about his circumstances seems to have mellowed somewhat into genuine humility and remorse.

Perhaps Rose’s lack of genuine rehabilitation justifies Major League Baseball’s refusal to consider his reinstatement. After all, no less than Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays spent two years on the “banned list” merely for working for casinos in public relations capacities. But why not make this fact clear? Even at this late date, why not give Rose a very public choice between the game he loves and the habit he seemingly refuses to conquer? Wouldn’t this approach communicate the most productive message to anyone battling addiction: mercy for those who seek help and consequences for those who do not?

Otherwise, it is naïve to suggest that by potentially making Rose the only modern player against whom it has literally enforced a “lifetime ban,” Major League Baseball has protected itself one iota from the influences of gambling. Indeed, the exact opposite may have occurred. Instead of encouraging players, coaches, and managers who suffer from a gambling addiction to obtain the treatment they need, Major League Baseball has sent an unmistakable message of “no quarter;” one which seems destined to drive these individuals further underground. Unbending rules often produce inflexible results – which means that one had better guess correctly regarding the outcome.

During his recent appearance in Cincinnati, outgoing Commissioner Bud Selig addressed baseball’s “Pete Rose question” by reiterating his obligation “to do what I think is in the best interest of this sport” and then reminding his audience that he “was particularly close to Bart Giamatti.” As understandable as these personal sentiments might be, confusing them with an appropriate resolution does no favors for Selig’s legacy or baseball’s future.

Selig’s comments strongly suggest that Rose’s continued punishment has little to do with the rule he broke. Instead, personal animus seems to be driving Selig’s approach to this matter – and that fact says a lot more about our culture than we would like to think it does. Particularly in politics, everything seems to revolve around individual personalities. We cannot have mere disagreements without judging one another’s motives and character – then we wonder why our legislative bodies have become utterly dysfunctional. Instead of debating the practical merits of specific programs and proposals, we back our opponents into a corner and force them to defend their personal honor. Under such conditions, how can they ever give an inch toward compromise?

In short, the debate about Pete Rose’s fate continues to be about Pete Rose, when it ought to focus on what promotes the long-term health of baseball and the general welfare of our society. Whether a “lifetime ban” remains an appropriate penalty given what we know today about gambling and addiction is a much more relevant question than whether Rose has earned “forgiveness.”

My first visit to Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park with my teenage son two years ago lifted my spirits and took me back to a time before player strikes, steroids, and “lifetime bans.” I still follow baseball – but for far too long, baseball’s off-the-field errors have interfered with my genuine enjoyment of the game. By making peace with Pete Rose, Major League Baseball might offer the rest of our society with a desperately needed and realistic model of justice, compassion, and practicality. And it might finally win back fans like me.

Jeff Smith Offers His Hometown Recovering Pol Perspective on Ferguson

Tomorrow, our very own contributing RP Jeff Smith will be appearing on MSNBC’s “The Cycle” to discuss the tragic situation in Ferguson, Missouri, from his unique perspective as a social scientist who represented the St. Louis region in the Missouri legislature.

Jeff has already emerged as the go-to guy for many national news sources on the continuing crisis.

This morning, the New York Times published his op-ed, “In Ferguson, Black Town, White Power” which answers the perplexing question as to why it appears that a majority African-American population is being governed by mostly white authorities. Here’s an excerpt:

POLITICS, wrote the political scientist Harold Lasswell in 1936, is about “who gets what, when, and how.” If you want to understand the racial power disparities we’ve seen in Ferguson, Mo., understand that it’s not only about black and white. It’s about green.

Back in 1876, the city of St. Louis made a fateful decision. Tired of providing services to the outlying areas, the city cordoned itself off, separating from St. Louis County. It’s a decision the city came to regret. Most Rust Belt cities have bled population since the 1960s, but few have been as badly damaged as St. Louis City, which since 1970 has lost almost as much of its population as Detroit.

This exodus has left a ring of mostly middle-class suburbs around an urban core plagued by entrenched poverty. White flight from the city mostly ended in the 1980s; since then, blacks have left the inner city for suburbs such as Ferguson in the area of St. Louis County known as North County.

Ferguson’s demographics have shifted rapidly: in 1990, it was 74 percent white and 25 percent black; in 2000, 52 percent black and 45 percent white; by 2010, 67 percent black and 29 percent white.

The region’s fragmentation isn’t limited to the odd case of a city shedding its county. St. Louis County contains 90 municipalities, most with their own city hall and police force. Many rely on revenue generated from traffic tickets and related fines. According to a study by the St. Louis nonprofit Better Together, Ferguson receives nearly one-quarter of its revenue from court fees; for some surrounding towns it approaches 50 percent.

Click here for the full piece.

Last week, Jeff wrote an influential piece for The New Republic, “You Can’t Understand Ferguson Without First Understanding These Three Things.”  Here’s an excerpt:

You can’t really understand Fergusonthe now-famous St. Louis suburb with a long history of white people sometimes maliciously, sometimes not, imposing their will on black people’s livesunless you understand Kinloch.

Kinloch, the oldest black town in Missouri, is now essentially a ghost town, but it wasn’t always that way. In fact, it thrived for nearly a century after its founding in the 1890s. Back then, restrictive housing covenants prohibited the direct sale of property to blacks, so a white real estate firm purchased parcels of land, marked them up over 100 percent, and resold them to blacks.” One advertisement noted, “The good colored people of South Kinloch Park have built themselves a little city of which they have a right to be proud. More than a hundred homes, three churches and a splendid public school have been built in a few years.”

The turn of the century was a heady time for the bustling little town. The Wright Brothers visited Kinloch Airfield in one of their earliest tours, and the airfield hosted an event at which Theodore Roosevelt took the maiden presidential airplane flight, which lasted approximately three minutes. Kinloch Airfield was home to the first control tower, the first aerial photo, and the first airmail shipped by a young pilot named Charles Lindbergh. A streetcar line ran through Ferguson, helping Kinloch residents travel to jobs throughout the region, and perhaps more importantly, exposing many whites to Kinloch as they passed through. Despite the region’s decidedly Southern folkways and segregated housing arrangements, blacks and whites rode the streetcars as equals. Kinloch itself was also notable for its relative enlightenment; despite school segregation, it became the first Missouri community to elect a black man to its school board.

All that began to change in 1938. A second black man sought election to the school board in the district which had a narrow black majoritywhites inhabited the north and blacks the southand whites responded by attempting to split the school district. It failed: 415 blacks in the south voted unanimously against the effort, while 215 whites in the north all supported it. So to get around the small problem of losing democratically, whites in the northern half of Kinloch immediately formed a new municipality called Berkeley, and a rare Missouri effort at integrated governance ended. Kinloch continued to thrive for the next several decades as a small nearly all-black town of churches, shops, community centers, and tidy homes.

In the 1980s, the airportlong since been renamed Lambert International Airportbegan snatching up property to build an additional runway. From 1990 to 2000, Kinloch shed over 80 percent of its population, and as the community fabric frayed, it was increasingly plagued by crime and disorder.

Construction on airport expansion, which cost well over a billion dollars and involved 550 companies, began in 2001. Unfortunately, two other things happened that year: American Airlines bought TWA, and 9/11. Which means that the airport is dramatically underutilized now; a senior airport official told me Lambert could easily handle twice the traffic it currently gets.

Meanwhile, many of the residents displaced by this wasteful construction project have ended up in Fergusonspecifically, in Canfield Green, the apartment complex on whose grounds Michael Brown tragically died.

Click here for the full piece.

Jeff has also been burning up the Twitter feed (@JeffSmithMO) with his brilliant perspective on each day’s events.  Click here to read a “Storify” of his last few days of tweeting.

JeffSmithMO Tweets on Ferguson

Josh Bowen: Work + Rest = Success

joshAs I sit here on my 2 day vacation in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina I have to remind myself of the importance of rest. As most know, I will push myself to limit everyday, sometimes working 7 days a week and working out 6-7 days. Rest has not been my best friend, but thankfully I have great people around me who encourage that I take a break. And that break was must needed. For the last 2 days, I haven’t done much of anything besides walk the beach, work on my tan and disconnect from everything. It is a great feeling, every once in a while. 

Not only did my mind need a breather, my muscles did as well. For the better part of 15 years, I have consistently worked out, 6-7 days a week. However, lately injuries have mounted. My biceps tendon was an issue for 2 weeks, then it was my hip. After resting the past few days, my aches have subsided. My body was telling me to take a break. And for the first time in a while, it got it. 

So here are three components of rest we must remember to take our bodies and our minds to the next level: 

1. Sleep- helps the brain commit new information to memory through a process called memory consolidation. In studies, people who’d slept after learning a task did better on tests later. While lack of sleep can have dire consequences, adequate sleep provides only positive, healthful benefits. In a typical day, a person’s waking hours are consumed trying to meet the many mental and physical demands encountered at every turn, as well as replenishing vital nutrients as they are being used up during these daily activities. In the hours remaining during sleep, the body takes time out to rebuild and recharge, preparing for the day ahead. PLUS…your body only changes when you sleep, so no sleep equals no change. 7-8 hours is recommended. 

2. Relaxation- in addition to sleep, your body and your mind needs to relax. Working out hard is great but you cannot take your body to limit all the time. Taking a day off to recoup is a great idea. Listen to your body, it will tell you where to go and what to do. Yoga and meditation are great relaxation techniques to put you in a great mood and keep your body changing and results coming. 

3. Recovery- can encompasses the 2 above but I would also like to include the nutritional aspect. Adequate amount of protein, healthy fats and vegetables should be used to help recover your muscles to go again. Remember muscles don’t grow and body fat does not disappear during exercise. It is during the recovery phase that changes happen. 

We we all work hard and sometimes forget to take care of ourselves. Just remember this equation: Work + Rest= Success. 

Will Meyerhofer: Encountering Vishnu

Will MeyerhoferSpectating upon the atom bomb ignition at the Trinity test site in New Mexico, Robert Oppenheimer was reminded of a scene from the Bhagavad-Gita – an encounter between the prince and Vishnu, the latter apparently in a cranky frame of mind. The scene culminates in Vishnu, who is attempting to persuade the prince to do his duty, assuming a multi-armed form and intoning:

I have become death, destroyer of worlds.

There are lawyers out there who remind me of Vishnu in his multi-armed form. No, they don’t sprout extra limbs, or destroy entire worlds. These Biglaw-inspired incarnations of Vishnu merely assume the form of senior female attorneys to become career-death, destroyer of junior associates.

Behold the Biglaw Vishnus! (And trust me, within their personal sphere of destruction they give the real thing a run for his money.)

One of my clients fell victim to a Biglaw Vishnu – and his story is, as they say, far from atypical and so merits recounting.

He went, if not to a first-tier school, then to a first-and-a-half tier school, and by some rare stroke of fortune managed to locate a job, (if not at a first-tier firm, then at a first-and-a-half tier firm.)

It’s fair to say this guy was riding high – and gloating appropriately – when he happened to notice a problem: The firm had no work. His response was the same as everyone else’s around him – he twiddled his thumbs, wondering if he somehow smelled funny, or if, in fact (as it appeared) everyone else was twiddling their thumbs too (all while studiously pretending to be busy busy busy.) That situation endured for a year and a half, until my client was rudely stirred from this idyll by a partner, who delivered to him an awful review of the obviously-staged variety. (My client can’t remember if the problem they identified was that he asked for help too often instead of showing initiative or asked for help too rarely and wasted time by being too independent. He hadn’t billed an hour for months so he could hardly blame them for making something up.) As they say in California, “whatevers.” There was, however, a modicum of “fall-out.” Icarus-like, my client found himself plummeting in the unmistakable direction of every lawyer’s ultimate nightmare (at least officially): Unemployment. We all know the rules of this profession – five minutes of unaccounted-for time on your resume and it’s game over; you’ll never work as a lawyer again (well, maybe a staff attorney or doc reviewer but that hardly counts, does it?)

My client had three months to drum up a miracle. Following the world’s most intense job hunt, something came through at the eleventh hour. But there was a catch: He had to work for Vishnu.

Read the rest of…
Will Meyerhofer: Encountering Vishnu

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