Thursday, December 31, 2009

2010: The Year of Posting Positively

Can I get through an entire calendar year posting positively?

I don't know. There's plenty of bad stuff in this crazy old world, and I feel some duty to point it out. But I might also enjoy pointing out the bad stuff just a little too much. I really doubt that any Global Warming Deniers, advocates of wars of aggression and fans of torture (...who tend to be pretty much the same people ...) are persuade by anything I say, or that anyone else say; they're faith-based religions that feed on verbal persecution. Even in cases of less cosmic awefulness, such as pointing out why certain websites suck, I have the awful feeling that I'm just wasting my time and contributing to the energy-sapping negativityn (not to mention the time-sucking...).

In contrast, I've noticed that sometimes starting something with the phrase: "Good News! We have a way of doing stuff better!" and then launching into substantively the same critique, but worded positively, can be far more effective at changing minds. It also gives me a happy or proud feeling that contributes to my energy.

Imposing an artificial structure onto writing can sometimes lead to more thoughtful writing, as the content must be carefully pondered to fit into the structure. I remember one month when, on a certain listserve that had degenerated into bickering, I restricted myself to posting only in limericks. It made me stop and consider well what I meant to say, in the process boiling off needless snark and generally packing the same point into few words. I really enjoyed the exercise!

I'm not ready to post only in limericks, but, as an experiment, I'd like to try getting through 2010 posting only positively. I've had good luck making carefully-considered vows on the subject of drinking, so let's see if this new vow results in more effective writing and a happier, more effective me
"For the calendar year 2010, I will post only positively."
Wish me luck!

CO2 Fractions vs. Amounts: Latest Denier Foolery

A misunderstanding of the difference between a fraction and an amount is fueling the latest global warming denial talking point.

The deniers quote an article "No Rise of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Fraction in Past 160 Years, New Research Finds" without understanding the difference between the Amount of CO2 in our atmosphere and the Fraction of human-generated carbon that remains in the air.

Here's what the article says...
"... Most of the carbon dioxide emitted by human activity does not remain in the atmosphere, but is instead absorbed by the oceans and terrestrial ecosystems. In fact, only about 45 percent of emitted carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere. ..."
...and from this, the deniers conclude that man-made global warming is a hoax.

This is a stupid conclusion. 45% of the carbon emitted by human activity is a heck of a lot of carbon. The "Fraction" referred to in the title is the fraction of the total emissions that remain in the atmosphere, not the fraction of the atmosphere that is CO2.

Indeed, the study does not say anything about the undisputed fact that global atmospheric CO2 levels have increased. But that doesn't stop the deniers from stupidly citing this study in support of their claim.

Reasonable people may question the best way to address this problem, but the deniers have once again shown they don't know science and cannot be trusted.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Web Resources for Free CLE

As this year winds to a close, need for web-based free CLE does not decline. This year's collection includes more than a dozen audiorecordings of events which are eligible for credit in some jurisdictions:
(Note this list goes to multiple pages; click on "older posts" at the bottom of that page to see more)

Washington and Oregon attorneys should take special note of the ethics credit on ( ). I would urge you to send them a few bucks to keep their site running!

Let me also shout-out to the Intellectual Property Colloquium - another leader in providing interesting and free online CLE!

As always, if you come across free CLE resources, feel free to contribute to the list. May 2010 be a great year for you and yours!

Debugging Life

Living life well is your biggest project, so why not adopt tips from successful project leaders to the project of managing your life?

In the self-help field, there's no shortage of people, books, churches and more, all eager to tell you what to do, but most suffer from provability problems. One can never be sure whether a priest's advice has ever gotten anyone into Heaven! Reports of success from  self-help programs may be artifact of observer bias or even of modifying goals to meet the results achieved. It is hard to find objective standards for evaluation.

In contrast, product development has a somewhat objective standard for success; products ship on time or late, buggy or not - and customers complain loudly! It stands to reason that successful project leads have ideas that that we may profitably swipe and modify to other parts of life - such as life itself!

In this spirit I just finished reading Steve Maguire's "Debugging the Development Process: Practical Strategies for Staying Focused, Hitting Ship Dates, and Building Solid Teams", and can report that it is, indeed, full of ideas that can be adapted to everyday life.

For example, in the workplace, we may all recognize we should "work smarter, not harder" and Maguire is no exception; his parsing this concept into particular skills, with homey examples of actual implementation, is helpful for extending this concept to everyday life.

Another concept is that project members should work only on things that advance the goals of the project; the function of a project lead is to shield the rest of the staff from anything that gets in the way. To adapt this concept to managing your own life, ask yourself: If your project is to be a better person or to have a happier life or whatever, ask yourself: why are you doing anything else? You may have good reason for doing those other things but if you don't know what those reasons are, perhaps you need to re-evaluate.

I most enjoyed the idea that part of every day of successful leadership is pausing to think of how we can hit the project goal just a little be better. Not every improvement will be major but they add up; the important thing is an attitude of systematic, continuous improvement. Surely this applies to life as well as to business!

These few ideas drawn from the book may seem obvious, but if they are so obvious, ask yourself: are you doing them? Perhaps you need a program of systematic, continuous improvement in your life skills; you can start by giving this book a quick read.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Overpaidism Comes to America: What are You Going to Do?

Are you overpaid?

"Americans Are Overpaid" says Fortune Magazine; we must all take a pay cut to "rebalance the global economy".

What does that mean? I just got a new, real-life example:
My father-in-law is being laid off next month because he makes too much money. He has given 30 years or more of skillful and loyal service but, because he's an American who's making house payments and using medical benefits, he's getting kicked to the curb and replaced with a foreign worker. He's a symptom of overpaidism!
Now, let me note that Fortune Magazine and the rest of the corporate media doesn't really think that "all" of us are overpaid; they continually remind us that the CEOs who mastermind the outsourcing of jobs and the collapse of our economy need to get more money, because if you don't pay them enough for shipping your jobs overseas, they might quit working so hard ... and then where we would be? What would happen to America if CEOs didn't ship my father-in-law's job overseas?

Are you stupid enough to believe this garbage that they are feeding you?
Do you feel overpaid? Are your health benefits too good? Is your workplace too safe?

One of the dirty secrets of job exports (that Fortune Magazine article conveniently overlooks) is that the cost of labor is maybe 10% of the cost of imported goods; the really big savings is in safety and environmental issues. Here in the United States, you can't just kill a few workers or pour poison into the air like you can in many other countries. So because we have decided we don't want to poison our kids, we'll lose more jobs.  Or, from the corporate standpoint, poisoning kids is o.k. so long as they can make another buck!
The people who run our economy are telling American workers: "You're too greedy! You want too much money! We can replace you with foreigners who'll work cheap and die quietly! Good-bye!" Although to be fair: they don't seek to export all the jobs; sometime they just fire you and hire cheaper replacements. And then they run for president!.

This is not a question of America's ability to do the job. Americans can do anything.  My father-in-law mastered a technical specialty, and his work is still in demand. The only problem with his work is that he and his co-workers are Americans. We have mortgages, the most expensive health care system on the planet, and expectations of worker safety.  And my father-in-law was getting near retirement; if he'd reached a certain number of years of employment, he'd be eligible for extra benefits upon retirement.

You wouldn't want that!  An American citizen enjoying a comfortable retirement after decades of service? No way, not in our country! Why should Americans be able to own a home, have health care and a comfortable retirement?

My father-in-law's company found some people in another country who could use computer and communications equipment to do the same job, not as well, but a lot cheaper. Remember, the health-and-safety requirements are a lot lower! And retirement? pshaw! Best of all: once you've figured out how to offshore a job to one country, you can easily switch to another one that's even cheaper. You can play off every nation on the planet for whoever's the most desperate! Let Americans eat cake!

What are You going to Do?

The question right in your face is this: What are you going to do about it?
  • First, don't think your job is safe. If you work in a factory or an office, unless you are direct customer service, your job is at risk  (... and sometimes even direct customer service can be offshored.)
  • Second, consider doing nothing. With luck, you'll die before our great nation is a Third World hellhole and you may be able to keep yourself in kibble until then.
  • Third, if you're a patriot, or have children that you love, fight back politically! It's not going to be easy; you're not fighting evil individuals, but evil organizations (Persuade one businessman to do the right thing, and a thousand more will rise to take his place.) A simple labor-equalization tariff would be helpful but will be opposed by our corporate owners with every pundit they can muster. One thing we've learned from the health care debate is that corporate America is willing and able to deploy billions of dollars to protect its vampire-like hold on our nation's blood. A corporate structure that will block the import of life-saving drugs are reasonable prices is not interested in your life and health.
  • On a personal level, you need to prepare to lose your job! At the very least, you need to figure out what to do if your income falls disasterously.
  • Education is not necessarily going to help you. It's good to be constantly learning, but too many people are now coming out of school well-trained for jobs that aren't there, and are not going to be there.  My particular area of interest is the legal field; the number of unemployed entry-level law school graduates is seriously bad ... and heaven help you if you have a liberal arts degree!  One thing you can count on: your school debts will dog you, eating up whatever income you can get from your entry-level job.
  • Adopt the MultiModal Approach to Maintaining Yourself.
    Most of us in our United States are used to a single mode of maintaining ourselves; usually we rely on income from a job, although some of us are farmers. Contrast this to the experience of  one of my buddies worked on land reform in India. The easiest way to get people there out of poverty into a decent living standard was to get them owning enough land to support themselves. This worked in general pretty well, with one limitation: often, a family did not WANT enough land to support themselves 100%. Instead, many wanted smaller plots of land on which they could be part-time farmers, supplementing income from a job or a shop. In retrospect, the advantages are obvious: being a full-time farmer is risky, because of natural fluctuations in the market, weather and so forth; a bad year for a farmer is very bad indeed! Having multiple means of supporting yourself reduces risk and, in good years, can lead to significant prosperity. It can also be more interesting, challenging and perhaps fun.

MultiModal Maintenance

Most of us in our United States are used to a single mode of maintaining ourselves; usually we rely on income from a job. Few jobs are safe anymore, although as long as you have one it can be very helpful.

Assume that our jobs, or other sources of income, will not be enough for prosperity. Find something in addition that you enjoy.

There are all sorts of get-rich-quick schemes, multi-level marketing and other scams. Don't do it. If it sounds too good to be true, it's not true.

However, there is a lot you can do to develop supplementary income. Millions of Americans are doing this small-time through the internet, via eBay, Amazon, and a thousand other venues. One of the great national benefits of internet marketing in used goods is that it increases the value of things we already have in our country; instead of importing another gadget made abroad, we're reselling something from our existing stock, essentially remanufacturing here in America.

Try starting a business, doing something you love and for which there is a demand. I can't advise you on this, except to keep VERY careful track of your money and get help. Many people start businesses in Depressions and it's hard for you to outsource yourself involuntarily!

My favorite suggestion ... the route I am taking ... is to plant any piece of dirt that you own or rent with low-maintenance crops. If you have the use of land, even as small as a parking strip, plant it! Replace that sterile shortgrass with something low-maintenance and high-yielding. This can really work! while you can invest way too much time gardening, you can get good results also with but a little effort.

In 2009, with access not nothing but pots on a rooftop patio, I produced enough greens to keep 1 person in salads for most of the summer! (Some of it was a private effort, another part was an urban agriculture effort that helped a localfood bank.) You may be especially interested to keep in mind that food you grow on your own can be organic if you like, use varieties developed for taste and nutrition instead of the ability to be shipped a thousand miles, and tax-free. This IRS does not monitor the value you get from home-grown tomatoes!

I'm interested in hearing your comments on other modes of maintaining yourself other than income from a job.  While we will never return to the Ozzie and Harriet days in which one person worked one job to support his family, we can still maintain a decent standard of living if we're smart and determined.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Welcome to Avataristan

If you haven't seen Avatar, you will. All reports indicate that this amazing movie combines story and image into a completely compelling whole as few movies have before.

The question to ask afterwards is this: which side are we on?

Are we the Na'vi, a people smart enough to have figured out how to live in harmony with our planet, to pass on to the next generation something as good as we got?

Or are we a people who are brave and bold to kill those we consider more primitive than ourselves, until they recognize our superiority, adopt the flags
and parliamentary system we set up for them, and hand over the goods?

And most of all, are we brave enough to keep killing the primitives until they learn to stop being Guilty of Defending themselves against our just and righteous occupation?

We, today, in our Asian wars, have no doubt in our exceptional nobility; we have a long list of good deeds we've done to reassure us. (Much of the list of good deeds done by our ancestors, but what the heck.) I know and work with many of our troops; as individuals and groups they are fine people.

The problem is not our troops. The problem is us; We The People who send them to subjugate those we fear and those we feel superioir to. We order them to bomb the heck out of people and replace their indigenous murderous thugs with our preferred set of murderous thugs (but on the plus side, we insist that our preferred thugs talk about human rights before and after they rig an election.) And we expect the rest of the world to accept our innate American nobility, our superiority of intellect and of virtue, our exceptionalism, because after all we won WW2 some 50 years ago, and today we are sacrificing an awful lot to bring civilization to the savages.

"We did not ask for this burden," we tell the world, "And please don't compare it to Kipling's White Man's Burden. We're multiracial, y'know. So you can be sure we aren't bombing you into civilization out of racist disdain for you or your false religion. We're doing it someone from a different country than yours killed a lot of our people, and because we are a noble nation that knows what's good for you better than you do!"

Does anyone wonder why it's so hard to get other nations to join our projects of war? Except for our Anglo-Saxon bellophilic friends, "Coalitions of the Willing" members have to be bribed to join us. India and China have borders with Afghanistan; you'd think they'd have an interest in maintaining stability there. It's almost as if they think nineteen boxcutters is not worth spending trillions of dollars in a war on the far side of the planet, or even in a war next door.

Or perhaps they've just put in a little time investigating the extraordinarily decentralized Afghanis before deciding to turn them into a unified nation. (That's a project that took us from 1789 to 1865, and there were some pretty nasty bumps along the ways.)

We, as a nation, have pissed away the goodwill built up through the generations, and We The People didn't even get a T-shirt out of it ...
"...Obama declared, "The plain fact is this: the United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms."

The fact that the global security so underwritten was, like that ensured by other empires past and present, derived from the subjugation, exploitation and death of countless people - described by Obama in strikingly imperial tones, as "tribal" and unable to "reason" - cannot be mentioned.
Their deaths, in the millions in Vietnam, in the hundreds and tens of thousands in Iraq and Afghanistan (not to mention in Latin America and Africa during the Cold War) are left unremarked...."

--- Mark Levin, "The end of American exceptionalism"

And so back to Avatar.

It's entertainment. That's what it should be; movies that preach are always crappy.

But if it does challenge us to question why we might occupy another people's planet, it's only a short step to question why we're occupying another people's land on the other side of our planet.

Of course, the parallel is not complete. The Asians that we habitually explode are not 3-meter-tall blue aliens; they are genetically indistinguishable from Americans. They are human!
More to the point, the corporate goons in Avatar have an obvious motive: plunder! In Asia, our motive as a nation is messier; we (as a nation) gain nothing from occupying them; rather, it is our privateers and war profiteers would reap the plunder of those nations ... and for the most part, it's plunder taken from the pockets of We The People ourselves.

Portraying this on the big screen is beyond the power of even John Carpentar, for it would require the Na'vi to invade and plunder themselves.
It may suffice that Avatar may cause a few people to think twice about the nobility of occupation.

If you tell a story that has deep truths in it, then it's a better story ... and it just might make it easier to face what We The People are doing.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

What Do You Do with a Newspaper Bag?

Moving toward Zero Trash reminds me of one of Zeno's Paradoxes; it may be impossible to actually get there but the journey is worthwhile, partly because reducing trash really does help the environment we're leaving to our next generation, but also partly because the challenge is fun. Who doesn't like a challenge?

Recently we moved out of an apartment to a house, and this brought  a new set of trash challenges. Today's challenge is that the paper (which formerly was left in front of our apartment door bound with a reusable rubber band) is tossed expertly onto our porch, neatly bagged. This change is obviously necessary because we're soggy, very soggy (I measured 1.5 inches of rain since we've moved, by the simple expedient of leaving an open cooler on the back porch). I had found a lot of alternative uses for the rubber bands, but now I have to think of something to do with the plastic bags.

To its credit, the Seattle Times uses a bag that bears a recycling seal, so with very little effort, I could simply include them in the large, friendly green recycling bin we set out fortnightly. But that seems so unimaginative! Recycling is good but reusing is better; if you can put an item directly to use without sending it through the recycling process, you may be saving even more energy and whatnot.

For me, the solution is easy; I ship about 10 books a day using a nearly carbon-neutral packaging system that starts with wrapping each book in plastic to protect it from water damage. The newspaper bags work well for massmarket paperbacks and some larger sizes, so I'm set: every day, there's usually one the right size to fit in the bag. This is better than recycling since I don't have to save the bags for two weeks, PLUS I save a teeny tiny bit on plastic wrap.

But what do other people do? How do people who don't ship a lot of books handle newspaper bags?

And what do I do when I run out of rubber bands?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The First Half of Our Last Move

I'm not fond of moving. All that packing and planning and hauling and dropping and unpacking, just to end up in a place to live in that you'll probably just move from again sometime. Why bother, since you can be happy almost anywhere anyway?

Kris & I have lived in the same building (The Centennial Court) for longer than I've lived anywhere since I was a child. Our stacks of Stuff buildt up, especially in those storage spaces we rented to just temporarily hold the overflow and could sort through them. You can imagine how quickly that happened; a few years ago, I added a 2nd storage space. We were pretty settled. But ...

We like the Centennial; it's convenient and the staff is excellent. However, we needed to think of our future. We don't plan on working forever and, while retirement is a long ways off, we didn't want to be renting thereafter. The time to move was now, and waiting wasn't going to help. So we started looking around for a house, with the following characteristics.
  • Money: We can pay it off by the time Kris retires, using as a down payment a chunk of the money I'd set aside for retirement. By converting part of my retirement money and the rent we would otherwise have paid into a decent house on an adequate piece of dirt, we will at retirement have to cover taxes, utilities and fixes on our pensions & social security, which should be doable.
  • Size: Big enough for us (including the books), but not too big to clean easily. We don't need or want a dining room or a lot of the other stuff that seemed so important the first time either of us bought.
  • Community: We are not just buying a house; we're making a commitment to a community. We must like it as it is, and have reason to anticipate that we'll like it 40 years from now. It must have easy access to transit, be walkable and bikeable, and so on.
  • A Home Not A Condo: While many people love condos, we don't. To us, buying a condo is like marrying a building full of strangers. You just have to hope most of them are no crazier than you are. We think we'll stick with a small house even if it means giving up the "Luxury Condo" concept.
  • Mother-In-Law Apartment: We'd like to be able to convert or to build a mother-in-law unit for Kris' mom. This makes a lot of sense both economically and in other ways. We are always sharing books, tools and her truck anyway. Kris has lived with her a long time, and we don't have any compatibility issues (that I know of; we must let Ginger speak for herself.)
  • Upgrades: We would like something basically sound but with many opportunities for upgrades that we can do ourselves.
  • Sustainability: Since we plan to be there until they carry us out feet-first, we will be able to experiment with sustainability initiatives that may take a while to pay off financially. For example, water management may require a lot of sweat equity (e.g. building a roof runoff cistern) but over decades should more than pay for itself, not to mention the fun of doing it and the interesting people we meet in the process.
  • Parking for Larry's Motorcycle: Larry is Kris' Mom's boyfriend of 20 years. We want to encourage him to be here as much as possible!
We're not looking to flip; we're looking to settle in and invest for the longest possible term. As Kris puts it, "The only way we're leaving that place is in a box!" After months of looking around, we found the right house in the right neighborhood. The big problem is that it's a short sale, which means that setting a closing date depends on a lot of things, and it could fall through at the last minute. However, we've looked around and this one fits our criteria better than anything else. So how can we solve the problem of not knowing when closing happens?

Going month-to-month in Belltown is very expensive, yet we didn't want to sign a year-long rental agreement hoping that we'd break it partway through; that just didn't seem right. We tried a 3-month extension, which was well enough, but not really good enough.

One day, we decided to have a look at the home we're buying (subject to Freddie Mac) ostensibly to plan the first year's garden, but mostly because we enjoy looking and planning and, frankly, dreaming. I remembered that on an earlier trip around the neighborhood (confirming that it was a neighborhood we'd like now and for decades to come) I had seen a few "For Rent" signs. We thought perhaps we'd see what was available in the area. So we drove to the house, looked around a bit, and then thought, "Where have we seen a For Rent sign?"

How about 1 block north? On the same street?

It hadn't been there before that very morning. Ron and Claudia, the couple who owned the place, were almost finished renovating it and were looking to get it rented. We promptly called, talked, met, discussed and ... long story short ... committed to a 3-month rental with month-to-month thereafter. This has numerous advantages:
  • The rate is sufficiently less than in Belltown to more than make up for transit costs; we'll be saving money, which we sure can use!
  • There's a little more space here, which makes life a lot easier
  • We're getting to know the neighborhood; our immediate neighbors are very friendly and we love the Farmers' Market (see photo)
  • We've accomplished the hard part of the move; now when our house comes through, we have only 1 block to move things in!
In a way, we're moving to our ultimate destination in two steps. The first step was a dooozy! We had a lot of help from a lot of friends but even so, I think it might have been better to just put a "Free Stuff!" sign on our door and walk away. Well ... too late now, we're done and settled in and the memories of the horror are fading away.

We like the house we're renting. However long we must stay, we'll be o.k. Ron and Claudia are really easy to get along with, and I think it'll be helpful to have friends who know as much about houses as they do. Plus, we're having the chance to experiment with house living before making the Irrevocable Commitment. So far, we love it, but we'll see.

We miss our friends at the Court, and will try to see them from time to time. But we're already exploring West Seattle (see photo above) and well content with the 1st half of our last move.

Friday, November 27, 2009

SWAGging Pro Bono: The Ten-Percent Solution

A biologist for whom I wrote some FORTRAN code, way back in my undergraduate Work-Study years, told me what we had to do when we didn't have some key bit of data.
"Just SWAG it for now," he said, "As long as we state our assumptions, we can get some work done right away, and that'll tell us where we have holes to fill in."

What does SWAG mean? I asked.

"Scientific Wild-Assed Guess".
The really interesting problems in life are those where you don't start with all the information you need. For example, my biologist boss needed to know the speed at which certain bugs at certain life stages (the "naiad instar" stages) swam when they left the muck at the bottom of a pond to the surface, where it shed its skin and flew away. The speed and the depth of the pond determined the length of time the bug was exposed to hungry fish, a matter of concern to bug and scientist alike.

We didn't know how fast those naiads swam, and we didn't want to hold up everything while some hapless grad student was put on the problem, so we SWAGged it at a meter a minute and moved on. The scientists were able to get some insights even when operating with estimates, and when they got actual numbers, they plugged them into the model and roared on. It was fun and useful!

Today's experiment is in a related field. Instead of a watery gap between the bottom and the top of a lake, which our frisky naiad seeks to navigate without getting eaten, we have a Justice Gap between the resources available and the resources needed to keep our fellow citizens from meeting an unfair fate in our justice system. Estimating what share of that gap can be assigned to pro bono, what share to legal aid, and so forth is absolutely necessary to effective planning, but it's also like figuring out how fast that little bug can swim. We need some graduate students with stopwatches and hipwaders, but until then, we have to SWAG it and ... who knows? ... maybe something will make it to the surface and take wing.

The Need

The Justice Gap is the difference between resources available to persons with a civil legal need, and the resources necessary to ensure a just resolution of that need. The numbers below are for Washington State, 2008.
  • Percent of low-income people that needed and got legal services: 20%
    Source: Alliance For Equal Justice;
  • Percent of low-income people that needed but didn't get legal services: 80%
    Source: Calculation from the above 
  • Number of low-income people that went without legal services: 650000
    Source: Alliance For Equal Justice
  • Number of low-income people needing legal services: 812500
    Source: Calculation from the above
  • Number of low-income people that needed and got legal services: 162500
    Source: Calculation from the above.
No SWAGging so far ... give us time ...

Pro Bono's Share

In gross, we can figure out the absolute maximum reasonable number of lower-income persons who can be helped via pro bono by counting how many people are in the pool of legal professionals who might reasonably take on some cases, and multiplying by the number of cases they might take on each year.


(All figures: Washington State, November 2009)
  • Active Status: 28312
  • Emeritus Status: 139. These are, by definition, doing pro bono work already but we might squeeze a little more out of them.
  • Inactive Status: 4219. Some of these have expressed interest in pro bono service. At present, the path for this is to change to Emeritus status. Since Emeritus is only about 3% of the pool of (Emeritus+Inactive) it seems reasonable to think that an active recruiting campaign, focussed on each inactive attorney's interests, may be fruitful, although the maximum conversion rate would be only SWAG. 
  • Military Status: 11. While this pool is small, I know of a few who may be interested in pro bono service on a time-available basis.
  • Suspended Status: 2126. This pool seems a stretch, but for the sake of completeness should be considered. Comparing the number of disbarments per year to the current pool of suspendeds, it seems likely that most suspended will return to active status upon fulfillment of fee or CLE requirements. However, it seems equally likely that they will be replaced by a comparable number of newly suspended members. Thus, for estimation purposes, Suspended should be ignored. This means about 8% of WSBA's potentially active members may be ineligible for pro bono service by reason of suspension at any particular time, which is is something to ponder.
Maximum Pool of Washington State Lawyers that might do pro bono (Active, Emeritus, Inactive, Military): 32549 

Others (See Notes for derivation)

  • Law Students 1896 
  • Law Faculty 203
  • Paralegals 8000 
  • Other Legal Services Professionals, e.g. legal secretaries (pure SWAG)
Pool of Other-Than-Lawyer Legal Services Professionals that might do Pro Bono: 10199

What Share of Closing the Justice Gap Might Pro Bono Take?

  • Maximum Pool of Legal Services Professionals that (With Unreasonably Optimistic Assumptions) Might do Pro Bono: 42741
  • The entire unmet need might be satisfied by pro bono work if each member of the pool took, in addition to their current pro bono efforts, the cases of 15 people a year (650000/42741)
  • If each member of the pool took the cases of 1.5 persons a year, that would represent about 10% of the existing gap, enabling a small quip in our title (42741x 1.5 = 64,111 or 10% of 650000).

Legal Aid's Share

We can think of several reasons why Staffed Legal Aid programs are absolutely necessary.
  • Even if we had enough raw pro bono hours to close the justice gap, infrastructure in support of those hours is very significant. Organizing, training, matching, and so forth takes time and, perhaps of greater important, organizational memory that simply is not maintained by volunteers.
  • Anyway, we don't have enough raw pro bono hours to close the justice gap (unless the assumptions above are way low.)
  • Paid staff signifies a recognition by our State that the Justice Gap is a serious enough issue that we're going to invest resources in it. It may be analogized to fire protection; Volunteer Fire Departments are important but not enough to provide comprehensive fire protection.
It's beyond the scope of this post to contemplate how much of the Justice Gap should be closed by Legal Aid organizations, but since there's at the very least a symbiotic relationship between Legal Aid and Pro Bono, it's hard to think about one without thinking about the other.

Assuming that the pro bono efforts could be increased to absorb an additional 10% of the Justice Gap, and that legal aid organizations were increased enough to make that pro bono effort effective, we're left with 90% of the gap left. In round numbers, that is 72% of the entire Justice Gap (90% of the 80% of unmet need. Assuming that it was during our Legal Aid systems' best-funded years that the 20% of the Gap was closed, it seems unlikely that the 72% will be closed by Legal Aid alone.

Something Else Is Needed.

Something Else's Share

The nature of the "Something Else" that is needed to close the Justice Gap is not entirely clear to me. I'm hoping someone smarter than I can figure it out.

One thing seem obvious: it needs to be something that enables the needy community to serve itself, since there will never be enough people from outside that community to serve them.

Running with that assumption:

One method might be to enable the community to develop its own, local experts, from within the community, who can handle some types of cases. An expansion of the Law Clerk program might allow communities to support members while they learn professional skills, then return to their community to serve without the crushing burden of debt. A large number of veterans might find it rewarding to use their limited GI Bill benefits to develop a career in community service law - but only if they were actively recruited to do so.

A complementary approach may be to make the legal system itself more efficient, perhaps using technology to help with the most common matters.

No doubt a dozen other strategies might be employed. There's plenty of opportunity to experiment.

Notes and Assumptions

  • Washington State: The data in this note specifically refers to Washington State, since it's the jurisdiction I'm most familiar with. I don't have anything to suggest it is atypical of our United States.
  • Lawyer Counts all come from the Washington State Bar Association's lawyer directory. The "Status" selector includes several statuses that are useful for other purposes, but unlikely to yield pro bono help, e.g. Deceased. (Software developers will enjoy that page's disclaimer: "Some results may appear unusual, but they are consistent within the program logic.")
  • Law Faculty Counts
  • Law Student Counts
  • Paralegal Counts: Courtesy Brian Haberly of the Washington State Paralegal Association; he is not responsible for any abuse I may have made of the number. Obviously paralegals represent a huge growth opportunity for Closing the Justice Gap efforts but institutional barriers make joint lawyer/paralegal programs rare.
  • Unit-of-Data Issues: Some figures are in terms of number of people needing help, some are in number of cases (which could include multiple people), some are in terms of hours of pro bono worked or needed.
  • What Is The Goal: Successful programs get that way by defining a strategic goal, making it known to all, and unsentimentally figuring out what it takes to get there. If you don't have the resources to make the goal, then you need either a different approach or a different goal. The only really worthwhile goal of pro bono is to be part of a joint effort to close the Justice Gap. If we don't have the resources to close the Justice Gap by conventional means, then it's time to play some Moneyball!
  • Let's UnSWAG!  You'll have noticed some data issues above, and no doubt there are some structural issues as well. Any help you can give would be gratefully received. Are we not teammates?  

    Tuesday, November 24, 2009

    Growing Mr. Scrubby

    Kitchen Scrubbies are useful but they wear out. Plastic mesh bags are annoying because they're too small to reuse as a shopping bag, and they're probably non-biodegradable, but they are common packaging for some food items, such as elephant garlic and apples from our favorite farmer's market. What do these items have in common?

    This week's Change The World Wednesday challenge is
    "...collect your garbage rather than toss it out. Continue to compost and recycle, but rather than take your bag of "real" garbage to the dumpster or put it out for collection ... keep it. At the end of the week, take a look at how much you've collected and consider ways to reduce it...."
    This is a really good idea, but I needed to adapt it to our little apartment. In the spirit of "consider[ing] ways to reduce" my garbage, I analyzed each item we trashed. The very first thing I saw was a mesh bag that seemed obviously useful for something, but what?  It wasn't bulkly enough to be a scrubby, so (thinking of the world's largest rubber-band ball)
    I tried accumulating these mesh bags around a scrubby. Maybe I'll grow the World's Largest Scrubby!

    As you can see, Mr. Scrubby (to be formal) is coming along nicely. Doesn't he look natty with the kitchen sink plug topper? All he needs is spats and a stickpin!

    Savings Analysis: Growing Mr. Scrubby is not going to make you rich (...unless you really do grow The World's Largest Scrubby, but remember: There Can Be Only One!) but it is a small improvement in garbage output and a tiny savings of money, in exchange for almost no labor at all.

    Besides, it's good cheap fun ... and good clean fun!

    Sunday, November 22, 2009

    Simony 2009

    I remember, as a child, believing with all my heart and mind (...which were young and unformed...) that Roman Catholicism was the One Way to Heaven. All those Protestants, Hindus, Communists ... I felt sorry for them; they were doomed.

    It followed from this belief that whatever the priest or the Pope said was true. Therefore I needed to believe it, because if I did not believe it, I too was doomed.

    I can still call that feeling back: the fear that I am doomed if I don't not merely OBEY but BELIEVE is dug in deep. I ignore it nearly all of the time cuz I've grown up, but I can well imagine that some never have. Certainly some of my former seminarians don't seem to have, and for them I must feel pity.

    Doesn't it seem, some days, that the Church Hierarchy is trying to see how strange it can get just as a test of faith? Apparently the General Assembly of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is about to issue an official message ("pastoral letter") denouncing sex within marriage for purposes other than making babies as "dehumanized" and "demeaning".

    "Dehumanized" and "Demeaning"?

    Lordy, am I reading Mad Magazine? It's almost as if the hierarchy is deliberately putting out nonsense to weed out those who have more faith in their loving spouse than in the Vatican. Rather than lead an inclusive Church, they wish to lord over a small band pressed into True Believing, as Asphalt says, tommyrot.

    I can't imagine a Good God heading such an organization. Making one choose between Wife and Pope would be dreadful. In fact, using the fear of Hell to compel one to Obey nonsense reminds me of Simony. That's the sin of selling your special access to God's power; in the Acts of the Apostles it refers to a literal attempt by Simon Magus to buy an Apostle's power of working miracles. In 2009, it is (I propose) the use of the Church's purported special access to Divine Power to keep church membership up.

    This sort of thing led to the Reformation. But in 2009, it may simply lead to an Abandonment.

    (And thanks for being alerted to this by my bloggy buddy at Wholly Hodgepodge)

    The Green Hawks and the Hippies should be Friends!

    A Green Hawk believes that greening our economy is a matter of national security.

    Thomas Friendmann recently wrote about the concept, arguing (if I may paraphrase) that even if global warming is a hoax (it's not) and even if hippie communal sandal wearers look funny (yes we do!), still the reality is that our planet has several billion people who will not stop trying to get to our American standard of living, and THAT will totally break any carbon-based energy economy.

    It is indeed awkward to square a just and necessary criticism of free market capitalism with the equally just and necessary use of its enormous power for good. Power tools are like that; you can lose a finger or even more if you're not careful, but you wouldn't want to do without them. People who, like me, have concerns should ponder the Salon "interview" of Adam Smith; he's not necessarily who we think he is.

    Now, I'll expect the next week to be filled with climate change deniers cherry-picking phrases from some stolen email and ignoring the debunking of their claims. But even if deniers are right (they're not) and those greedy climatologists are on the take from Big Wind and Big Solar (they wish!), still the Green Hawks are right. And a patriotic American would want our nation to be #1 into the solution, so as to reap the benefit, instead of selling ourselves to others, e.g. Chinese Solar Panel Firm to Open Plant in Arizona.

    Of course, I understand patriotic Chinese saying the same thing about THEIR nation. Do your most, and may the best planet win!

    And for a bit of fun ... since I said "Big Wind"

    Thursday, November 19, 2009


    Lonely panther hunts;
    A pride of lions kills daily;
    I demand a treat!

    The bird of time flies;
    Its nest holds tasty meat snacks.
    Time. It. Is. To. Feed!

    You ignore your cat?
    Your hands pet keyboard, not me?
    Now I leap toekwtypsypsmishtgytsdsSSSDZXSZZ!!!!!!!!!!!

    Wednesday, November 18, 2009

    Washington State's Alliance for Equal Justice

    tThe Alliance for Equal Justice of Washington State is an umbrella network of all civil legal aid programs in the state, formed in 2004 to create efficiency, provide support, and foster collaboration among members.
    Alliance members are organizations whose predominant mission is to provide civil legal aid to Washington State’s low-income and vulnerable people. There are two basic kinds of member organizations: legal aid programs, and volunteer programs.

    Legal Aid Programs
    The Alliance includes a number of statewide and specialty legal aid programs. Some are general practice programs; others help low income populations who face unique barriers to our civil justice system or provide representation related to specific types of legal problems. Several programs provide services to individuals and families across the state.

    Through statewide planning with one another, the pro bono programs, and Alliance supporters, these programs create efficiency by ensuring services are not duplicated and that legal assistance is available to some of our state's most marginalized populations.

    Volunteer Programs

    Thousands of lawyers in Washington provide their time and expertise to make access to justice a reality for low income and vulnerable members of our community. 

    Pro bono efforts are coordinated through local bar association volunteer lawyer programs throughout the state as well as in law firms, governmental law offices, and corporate counsel offices. Volunteer lawyers provide a continuum of services from brief advice in clinics to extended representation in court.


    Most of the above text is straight from the Alliance's website.

    This praiseworthy effort does not seem to flaunt on its site any strategic vision. It recognizes that "Over 650,000 low income people living in Washington went without any help when they faced serious civil legal problems this year" but does not offer any plan to solve the problem of making "access to justice a reality" for that 650,000. It has a list of things it does, and they are all very good things; but  the magnitude of the uncompleted tasks is never compared to the resources marshaled to address them. It has a very wordy yet number-challenged plan (2008) which assumes that the Legislature is going to provide funding where there isn't enough pro bono volunteers; there is very little in the historial record to suggest that this will, in fact, occur. The website talks about the work it does and anecdotes about the success it has achieved; it avoids the topic of the work left to do and how it will achieve it. This is rolling out an aircraft that has yet to fly, without a plan for it to take wing. What a pity! the problem is inherently solvable, although basic math suggests that a comprehensive solution requires projects in addition to those within the Alliance's evident contemplation.

    Among these means may be:
    • Training members of the underserved community to provide legal services, either by funding law school or systematically expanding the Rule 6 program (In the long run, the best means of providing an underserved community with something is to empower the community to provide for itself or in cooperation with other communities. Every other approach merely perpetuates inequality.)
    • Educating members of underserved communities to avoid legal issues or, when possible, to steer their way out of them, through Public Legal Education and comparable programs
    • Systematically coordinating efforts with other legal professionals, such as paralegals, legal secretaries and other
    • Reforms to laws and rules, to facilitate pro se and other access to courts
    • Improving means of funding legal aid programs, to eliminate dependence upon the inherently unstable IOLTA
    • Other means; above all, a plan, however voluntary, to close the Justice Gap, using every means available.
    It's worth noting also that "equal access to justice" does not promise a particular outcome in any particular care or class of cases. For example, in your garden-variety landlord/tenant matter, sometimes the law and facts are on one side, sometimes on the other; the goal of equal access to justice is to give all parties an equal shot to have the matter decided on the merits.
    This is to be distinguished from social justice, which can relate more to outcome than to process. The distinction maybe helpful for enlisting a broader range of support, since some persons reluctant to address social justice issues that may disadvantage themselves personally may nonetheless be totally in agreement with our foundational American vision of Equal Justice Under Law.

    Sunday, November 15, 2009

    I Can't Complain, Although I Want To

    I've had good luck and I've had bad luck. Good luck is better!
    In my career, I've been screwed over several times, but I must in honesty admit I've also had some unreasonably good luck. In my case, things have more-or-less worked out even.

    My first good job was back when people were just getting over the idea that programming had to be on punch cards, and structured programming was still controversial. (Not to me, but to people who just didn't Get It!) If you don't know what structured programming is, think of it as the invention of cellular life; before it, our loose and unstructured coding protoplasm wandered messily all over the place and died mysteriously.

    I moved from Michigan to Pelham, Massachusetts possessing several years of programming experience, but had no luck finding work. Partly this was because I was living in a small college town where there was an oversupply of students competing with me. I also didn't want to take a pay cut from what I'd earned in Michigan, little appreciating that my resume and professional appearance was not helpful. (All those people who tell you appearance doesn't count, it's what's inside that matters, knew nothing about looking for work.) Armed with an unrealistic view of my marketability, and knowing nobody actually working for pay in my field, I turned down a couple of offers that I now know were actually reasonable.

    Finally, I got an interview at Coleco Industries, in Hartford. This was a grossly excessive commute, but I was out of options, so I went to the interview with the project manager named Ray. Now I'm not going to say anything bad about Ray; I like Ray; he was very outgoing and if he didn't have the greatest technical skills in the world, he was never nasty. If I could make something work, that's all that really mattered to him; what else do you want?

    But our first interaction was a screw-up. At the interview, Ray asked if I knew anything about transaction programming. Sure, I thought, I knew what a transaction is. You know, it's like cashing a check. And I knew about programming. So I said yes. And so I got the job.

    It turned out that we had both fooled ourselves and each other. Transaction programming was a specialized field, sort of like pre-internet page serving with some database access thrown it. It wasn't that hard to pick up, so maybe Ray never knew we'd mutually b.s.'d each other. Maybe it didn't matter, since it all worked out.  Maybe the supply of programmers was tight in Hartford, with the big insurance companies vacuuming up all the talent. Or maybe Ray could never admit a mistake.

    At any rate, through this lucky accident I got a gig which was still the best job I ever had. The working conditions were good, the pay and bennies fine, I had lots of friends and respect for the knowledge I had crafted. (I would still be working there today, if the company hadn't gone bankrupt, but that's another funny story...)

    I like to think of that job interview, when I am reminded of the times I was screwed over. For certain organizations, I have sacrificed a lot; in return, I've been treated like a used tissue - not even recycled! Now, this has been not everywhere and everytime; I can name some good organizations and great bosses too but, frankly, technical merit and business success has too often been the least important features of too many projects. This would annoy any normal person but, since my entire programming career depended on that one bit of unreasonably good luck, how can I complain when the dice run cold?

    Don't we all like to think that anybody can succeed with hard work, good planning, skill and determination? Don't we all know this is horseshit, although (like a steaming manure pile), sometimes it's your only source of warmth on a cold wintery day? Anyone will find it easier to succeed with work, planning, skill, determination and a bit of horseshit, but as Stephen Schwartz writes in Pippin:
    "Now listen to me closely I'll endeavor to explain
    What separates a charlatan from a Charlemagne
    A rule confessed by generals illustrious and various
    Though pompous as a Pompey or daring as a Darius
    A simple rule that every good man knows by heart
    It's smarter to be lucky than it's lucky to be smart"
    And with that cheery thought ... good night and good luck!

    Saturday, November 14, 2009

    The Healing of America: Why Fear Learning from Our Friends?

    If you never saw the ocean, you might think your local swimming hole is a pretty big body of water.

    That's the problem with people who think our American health care system is the best in the world: they have never gone to see if anything is better.

    Pride in your local swimming hole is harmless, but health care is life and death. Only an arrogant fool would think that THEY know all the answers, and cannot possibly learn from our friends in Germany, Japan, France, Canada, India and the U.K.. A wise man would go there, try their system, and see what ideas we can borrow for ourselves.

    In "The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care", T. R. Reid does every American a great big favor by taking his bad shoulder around the world to be looked at by doctors in six countries. What he finds will surprise anyone who thinks the rest of the world is a socialist hell, burdened by grey bureaucrats staffing drably uniformed Death Panels. He finds is that each of those nations has a different system, tuned to their particular histories, and with strengths and weaknesses. Most are dominated by private suppliers, e.g. doctors who run their own offices. I was shocked to discover that, on average, Japanese visit doctors more than twice as often as Americans; France's information technology makes ours look like a joke; even in much-maligned Britain people's lives are saved because there is no financial barrier to coming to the doctor if you have a suspicious lump. Why are Americans afraid to learn these basic facts? Why not take their ideas to improve our system? Are we just too proud to live?

    I suppose pride is part of the problem; the other is that Our existing system has enormous institutional inertia. As Machiavelli said those few who reap great profit from some affair can easily defeat a vastly greater number who have a more diffuse interest. In providing an actual experience of seeking health care around the world, this book suggests that our current arrangements are not the best; but of course, they are the best to those it enriches.  Reid tries to demonstrate that inertia can be overcome, by describing how Taiwan and Switzerland converted their systems around the time that the Clinton initiatives failed. I suspect, unfortunately, that our American system will be a trickier conversion, because the forces arrayed against reform learned from Taiwan and Switzerland, and will fight to keep what they've got; you cannot take a juicy steak away from a pack of hungry dogs without getting bitten.

    If you're in a hurry, you will appreciate that this book is a quick read. While it's got plenty of footnotes so you can verify the assertions and learn more, its organization lends itself to grabbing a quick chapter while you can. I especially enjoyed the chapters about each nation; they were like a short story of a visitor seeking help and happened when he did.

    However, I found the most surprising chapter entitled "An Apple A Day", which discusses why our current system works against preventative measures. Since your insurer as a youth will not be your insurer in old age, the former has no reason to do anything that would benefit only the latter. If a private insurer can put off dealing with a problem until the patient turns 65, the private insurer may not have to deal with it at all! It is a perfect example of how what is economically efficient in individual health PAYMENT transactions results in systemic inefficiency in the overall health CARE system.

    However, the most important chapter may be "The First Question". Ultimately health care is not a financial question; it is a moral question. What kind of nation are we? What kind of people are we?

    If we are content that a woman shall live or die depending solely upon whether she is the president of a company or its minimum-wage floor-mopper, then we need do nothing. We have that system already. Of course, we can't be very proud of that; it's basically a return to the hells of Upton Sinclair.

    If, however, we are a more decent people, we believe that all of us should have a good chance at life. Life is not a luxury to be reserved, but a necessity to be shared by to all members of our community. And, best of all, as this book shows, we have friends in other nations who can show us how they did it.

    It's our choice.

    What are we?

    Friday, November 13, 2009

    Dusting Lightbulbs for Fun and Profit

    In response to this week's Change the World Wednesday Challenge:
    "In most homes there are multiple light bulbs used to light a single area. For example, bathrooms usually have a row of vanity lights ... ceiling fans often have three or more light bulbs ... and kitchens typically have quite a few lights (over the sink, over the table, over the center of the room, etc.). So, this week, twist off all but one bulb in each area and see if it works for you. If one bulb isn't enough light, twist on a second ... or a third. The idea, here, is to experiment a little, use only the amount of light that is truly necessary, and save a lot. So, twist them off!
    So I took a look at our bathroom lighting.
    Six bulbs, one that burned out a while back; since we never bothered replacing, clearly we didn't need it.

    I unscrewed the one of those left (!Basta! that's HOT!) and the result seemed o.k. We'll try it for a week and, if there's a problem, screw it back in again. Experimentation is fun!

    I noticed the top of the bulb was dusty. That dust is dysfunctional from a lighting standpoint; it coverts light to heat, not only absorbing maybe 5-10% of the light but also heating up the bulb, shortening its life. So by dusting the tops of the 4 bulbs left on, I increased their output, getting FOR FREE the equivalent of another half-a-lightbulb. It's not massive wealth but hey, let's take what we can get!

    If we owned this place, I would install a inexpensive mirror strip behind and above the bulbs, to cut the light wastened in bouncing off the wall and ceiling. For that matter, by the time we can afford a home of our own, lightemitting strips will be cheap enough for home use.

    But for now: dust those light bulbs to save money AND our planet!

    Wednesday, November 11, 2009

    Veterans Day: Our Responsibility

    Can you think of a better way to honor our veterans on Veterans Day than to reduce or eliminate the need to make more of them?

    We civilians send them to kill and to die for us; their actions are our actions and the consequences of those actions are our consequences. We like to duck and deny those consequences because, you know, they're expensive. At the same time, we feel the need to increase those consequences; we feel the right to order our servicemembers to go anywhere and kill anybody that we decide is a threat to us or to "our interests". Our interests include anyone we decide is our friend, no matter how awfully they treat their neighbors or their subjects, and our economic system. We are, in a word, arrogant.

    We civilians are the ultimate Pointy-Haired Boss.

    So on this November 11, let us wax sentimental about those we send in our name to do our killing for us. Give them nice uniforms and nice speeches and the most expensive equipment money can buy (whether or not there is a military need for it.) Let us spend hundreds of billions of dollars on airtankers to protect us against ragged men with AK-47s who aren't entirely clear on whether the Earth is round. Let us spend trillions of dollars on flotillas that burn huge amounts of oil, to protect our access to oil (which is sold into a world market.) Let us spend more money than all the rest of the earth put together protecting "our interests", as defined by the corporations that make the flotillas, airtankers, and possibly even the AK-47s.

    But when it comes to "serving those who served", let us be economical. While our VA gives pretty good care for service-connected injuries, when it comes to matters than cannot be proven connected to service, we treat our veterans like every other American: badly. Our one-time foes Germany and Japan treats their every citizen better than we treat our veterans when it comes to ordinary medical care.
    “On this Veterans Day we should not only honor the nearly 500 soldiers who have died this year in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also the more than 2,200 veterans who were killed by our broken health insurance system. That’s six preventable deaths a day." - Public Health, Nov 10, 2009
    Likewise, when it comes to higher education opportunities for our veterans, even with the new GI Bill, are inferior to that offered every civilian in Western Europe. And housing? Transportation? Legal aid?

    If we don't think we can afford to treat our veterans well, maybe we should consider being just a little less arrogant in the world. Then we'd have fewer injured veterans to heal, and need fewer troops to protect our "interests".

    So let us honor our veterans on Veterans Day with ceremonies and speeches. Then let us decide whether we are just all talk.


    See also: Warriors for Peace portrait series

    Tuesday, November 10, 2009

    XKCD on Mortality

    One of the most thoughtful writers currently in print is Randall Munroe's XKCD. For example:

    My sentiments exactly.

    See more:

    He's even got a reasonable licensing/re-use policy!

    Monday, November 09, 2009

    Why Abortion Trumps the Gospel for Rightwingers

    David Brin (best known as one of the great SF writers of our current era, but also a keen social commentator) recently analyzed to why abortion is a perfect issue for rightwingers who are afraid of Jesus' essentially socialist message of social justice. Brin's deconstruction is completely consistent with my experience as a young seminary student, circa 1970, agitating on command against the pro-choice Referendum 20 in Washington State.
    "... Which brings us back to abortion. My own theory is that this issue became so bilious and rage-drenched because of "The Jesus Factor."

    Look at Jesus. Read his words. Tell me, whose side would he be on, in the argument over health care reform? Or taxation? Or welfare, or helping the poor? C'mon, it's embarrassing. He looked like a hippie, talked like a socialist and said that camels could pass through needles before rich dudes could enter heaven. The nagging question of "whose side would He be on?" was a truly vexing one, if your side always seemed to favor the wealthy and powerful. Even if some particular issue actually favors your conservative position, with logic and reason and Adam Smith on your side -- (hey, it could happen!) -- Jesus is still a pretty potent figure, standing over there with the socialists!

    What was needed was a deal-breaker. A way to re-take the moral high ground. Ideally, a simple on-off switch that could be flicked once, and then left running, requiring no further anxiety over ethics and such. ANd requiring no further effort or money out of your pocket. The need? Find one issue so important that Jesus would HAVE to side with you, even if he disagrees with you over everything else.

    Killing babies.

    Yep. That'll do. Take a blatantly analog situation and mark it out digitally, as a perfect, binary on-off state. Define any fetus, embryo, even four-cell blastocyst, as a precious and totally reified baby. Pose your opponents as baby-killers and Jesus will have to side with you, even if he holds his nose over all the other, less-important policies you're pushing! Saving babies trumps everything else.

    And there are other advantages. First, a ban simply ain't gonna happen. So you are safe from having to live in the resulting world, chasing women down dark alleys and going back to the days of teeming orphanages. Second, win or lose, it is an issue that will ask no sacrifice from the rich.

    Yes, my diagnosis seems contemptuous. (Mea culpa.) And, as I said, there is a level where the argument over abortion truly is legitimate and philosophically interesting. Certainly it is an unpleasant thing, ethically tainted, best minimized and made as rare as possible. (Something that happens under broad-spectrum sex education and NOT via abstinence-only programs.) Furthermore, when an anti-abortion activist says she has actually adopted a child, I turn humble and willing to listen politely. Any decent person should.

    But here is where you see the basic purpose of dogmatism. For the aim of anti-abortion activists is not to reduce the number of abortions. (If it were, they would vote for democrats.) They will tell you that even one aborted fetus is a travesty, to be fought without any thought of compromise... even if the fight actually results in more such terminations actually happening. At one level, of course, it is a philosophical position worthy of respect. And lefties who refuse to even briefly see that are fools.

    On the other hand, I have a right to look at a rancid explosion of simpleminded hatred and peer beneath for some of the causes and drivers of a Culture War that seems directly aimed at undermining our republic. No, in most cases and at most levels it is NOT sincere. It is about trying to corner Jesus, and I doubt he's buying."
    The binary choicepoint - that human life exists when a unique combination of DNA is created - was a great source of comfort to me when I was anti-choice. It simplified all the decisions for me; I was against killing babies, so my opponents were for killing babies! It gave me a firm feeling of being absolutely, gloriously RIGHT and GOOD!

    I miss that wonderful feeling. The funny thing is, I can still call it back, like the memory of an old girlfriend, and feel the righteous rage against the unrighteous, not to mention contempt for their foolishness.

    I'm not sure that these comforting beliefs were ever dispelled by logic. I vaguely remember some women trying to talk to me about the realities THEY faced, but it's all a blur. They were talking about their bodies, their needs, birth control failure, and so on ... but *I* was thinking about *saving babies*! so whatever they said to me was just "a gong booming and a cymbal clashing." I suspect memories did not form because I literally could not understand what they were saying.

    I don't know why my thoughts and feelings on this topic changed, except that in a general way I grew up and learned that our complex universe has little respect for our artificial dichotomies. I would like the comfort of being able to point to a single experience as being decisive - one logical argument, or one Startling Revelation by a Lover that She Too had had an Abortion ... but then that's the problem, isn't it?

    Wanting a simple solution to a complex problem?

    For those who seek New Testament support for Jesus as a Jewish Commie, see Matthew 19:21, Luke 6:24 and 12:33.

    And as to his followers OMG!: 2 Corinthians 8:13-15;
    Acts 2:45 and 4:34-35 "to each according to need"

    Sunday, November 08, 2009

    Warriors for Peace Portrait Series

    Warriors for Peace works with veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan to document the emotions and stories of those who have decided to transform from being a soldier in war to a warrior for peace.

    Forget the words,
    See the Photos

    Tuesday, November 03, 2009

    Bush v. Gore 2009: The Free Market Has Ruled

    If the Free Market represents the combined judgement of hundreds of millions as to the quality of a product, let us compare and contrast the cases of Al Gore and of George W Bush.

    Al Gore

    • Commands a speaking fee of a hundred thousand dollars per speech, although he often waives it
    • Wrote multiple best-selling books
    • Created one of the best-selling documentary movies of all time
    • Just came out with another best-selling book (in Amazon's top 100 overall sellers in its first day!)Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis
    • Made anther $100,000 or more by winning the Nobel Prize
    • Between one thing and another, is on track to becoming a billionaire, not by being born wealthy (although his family was pretty well off) but by figuring out what people wanted or needed.

    George W Bush

    • Born rich, the son of a rich guy who was, himself, the son of rich guy
    • Once he now longer had the power of the Oval Office to make it worth your while to give him money, no school, university or other organization in our United States is willing to pay him to give a speech :-(
    • But wait, all is not lost! George W Bush, once the most powerful man on the planet, is becoming a motivational speaker. THIS IS NOT A JOKE!
    •  Peter and Tamara Lowe have hired him to come onstage in  a program featuring pyrotechnics, special effects and many other speakers!
    • For $19.95, you could hear George W Bush impart his wisdom!
    • But wait, there's more! Your ticket gets you a speech not only with Bush, but with an entire STAGE of motivational speakers.
    • Is that not enough? Well, your ticket admitted not only you, but everyone in your office! 
    • And if that's not enough: ticket were available FOR A LIMITED TIME ONLY for only $4.95 per individual!
    THAT'S RIGHT! See the former LEADER of the FREE WORLD ... plus COLIN POWELL ... plus RUDY GUILIANI ... and  many OTHER speakers ... for LESS than the price of a BOWL of NOODLES and a CAN of COKE!

    His first performance had up to 11,000 people in the audience - representing about $55,000 to cover expenses and be split among the many speakers.

    The Market Has Ruled

    The market represents the considered choices of hundreds of millions of people, and the choice is clear:
    • Gore: Rules
    • Bush: Drools. On his bib.


    The Colbert Report
    Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
    George W. Bush's Motivational Speech

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    Sunday, November 01, 2009

    What Is the Pro Bono Goal?

    Semi-equality is never the goal of any successful civil rights struggle; it can not be an unstated goal of the access to justice movement of which pro bono is a component.
    Friday I participated in the Pro Bono Week event at Seattle University, "Pro Bono Workshops: Hope and Help in Hard Times"; itwas certainly enjoyable. The facilities were completely functional and pleasant, staff helpful and efficient, the atmosphere hopeful and exciting. I am especially glad that I didn't skip the social event at the end; Bill Gates (a.k.a. "The Senior"), Sal Mungia and Harry Schneider Jr. gave short talks that were both factual and inspiring. Schneider in particular is a very funny guy, which may be an underappreciated asset in protecting our constitution.

    However, we had a fundamental, underlying, unaddressed problem: no great goal.
    Now in bringing this up, I am going to hurt the feelings of a lot of nice people: hardworking, decent, generous, possessed of all the virtues ... and far better lawyers than I. So be ready and remember, it's nothing personal; it's just business. We have a problem to solve and I ask you to reserve judgment on whether I'm just bitching.
    So here's the problem: No-one talks about what the goal of the pro bono enterprise should be.

    While we can be proud of individual successes in pro bono efforts, who talks about solving the entire problem? Where are plans, however non-binding and informal, to systematically and measurably close the oft-invoked justice gap? If that's the goal, are we closer to it, or farther away? While we know how to make progress in individual cases, what will it take to move us all across the goal line?

    What Is The Goal?

    At this excellent programs, I heard several things in favor of pro bono:
    • Pro bono makes providers feel good
    • Pro bono trains new lawyers by letting them practice on people too poor to afford skilled assistance
    • Pro bono is like giving away lottery tickets; winners get help navigating our legal system, although since there will never be enough winning tickets, the goal might otherwise be stated to be to abandon most of our fellow citizens to injustice.
    Are you angry now? That's fine. The question is whether you're angry because (A) the above unfairly categorizes the many fine people who devote time, money and sometimes whole careers to providing pro bono services ... or because (B) you don't think it's right that there will never be enough winning pro bono tickets for all who need one?

    A good answer is "C) Both of the Above".

    What is the goal of the pro bono enterprise as a whole? To get there, how much pro bono do we need? Can we get there without asking those questions?

    If you don't want to ask those question, then why are you providing pro bono at all? If you are trying to solve problems, why not the greatest problem?

    Success 101: Have a Goal

    Anyone who's participated in large projects know that you need a goal. Everyone on the project needs to know the goal, and unless there are reasons for keeping progress toward the goal secret, you publicize honest and accurate periodic public measurements of what we have left to do.

    Otherwise, you're playing football without a goal line, or building a house without even a rough blueprint. "Just build more foundation and get us some more shingles!"
    Biographical note: I came to the Law after working in private enterprise for decades on programming projects involving millions of transactions, multiple continents, more money than the Legal Services Corporation has ever seen. I say this not to boast, for hundred of thousands, or perhaps millions, of computer programmers can say the same. I state with little fear of contradiction that every one of us will say: No successful project lacked such goals.

    You do not stumble into success! Good intentions, hard work and even huge resources are less important than having Commander's Intent. Goals may be unwise or ill-conceived (I have worked on projects in which the goals were mathematically impossible) but they are necessary if you want to succeed. Frank, unsparing, unsentimental goals analysis makes it possible to recruit the necessary help and trust that our efforts (even if sometimes individually insignificant or even wasted by our PHB's)
    are worthwhile; this is highly motivating. They're also substantively useful, which is always a plus.
    Now, tell me: what is the goal in providing pro bono services, and how close are we to realizing it?

    If the Goal is Healing the Justice Gap, Then Where Are We Now?

    The final formal session of our October 30 program had a panel of four expert, intelligent, highly-motivated, skilled and experienced lawyers, all of whom have probably done more pro bono with their little fingers than I have with in my entire body. So I was not intending to criticize them when I asked:
    "What share of closing the Justice Gap should pro bono fill? How much more pro bono do we need to do that?"
    This is a fair question, and relevant. Precision is not needed (e.g. "39.14%"); the question asks for rough estimates in the context of an over-all plan.

    A good answer would have been something like
    "The 2007 Washington State Access To Justice Strategic Plan (the latet year available) envisions pro bono efforts filling in about one-third of the Justice Gap, with the remainder being filled with a mixture of legal aid, public legal education, public service lawyer recruitment and statutory reform. Our current economic crisis has been a setback; although it's hard to measure, we anticipate that unmet civil legal needs has increased over the last year. At the least, we need to roughly double the number of pro bono hours provided to meet the goal.". There's studied vagueness in this response but it indicates a goal and an idea of how to get there.

    That's not the answer we got. The panel was visibly rocked by the question although, I hope, amused

    Into the pause came a response came from an audience member - a highly dedicated, respected and hard-working participant in pro bono enterprises - who voiced the opinion that it didn't matter, because the need was so great that we just needed more pro bono, lots more.

    This was an entirely wrong answer!  It may not have been wrong on the facts, but it was wrong from a project management standpoint. You cannot meet any goal that you refuse to define; it is impossible to get adequate resources if you refuse to quantify them however imprecisely.

    The panel did not shrink from a further response, showing (if I may editorialize) why they are such effective advocates: they provided an excellent, fact-laden response that did not answer the part of the question that they could not answer. The panel referred to a plan more than five years old that had never been fulfilled. It gave a frank admission that the facts on the ground (e.g. our current economic problems) have made things worse since the plan had been written. These were top oral advocates, and they gave a great no-answer.

    One did some quick math and come up with a number; while it unfortunately was low by a factor of 10 (lawyers are not mathematicians), it was pretty good start for a pop quiz. Too bad this should not have been a pop quiz, but a central point in every planning session. Of greater concern to me is that this response assumed that the 1st question's answer was "100%" - that the entire Justice Gap was to be filled by pro bono - a strategic concept which is neither possible nor wise.

    That panel did not suggest how much of the Justice Gap pro bono should fill, and therefore how much more pro bono we needed to get. If they do not know the plan, then there IS no plan in any meaningful sense. We have many virtuous, hard-working and generous individuals and institutions playing football without goalposts or chalk lines, and building houses without a blueprint.

    I'm sorry if I hurt anyone's feelings with this, but it is not about our feelings. We need to habitually think of pro bono in the context of the broader effort of closing the Justice Gap. We need to start or resume the practice of setting measurable goals toward closing the Gap, measuring how far we have left to reach each goal, and then taking steps to close the distance. That is how every successful project ... succeeds.

    What Is Now To Be Done?

    You might ask, well what is now to be done?

    Hey, I'm just this guy. I'm a poor lawyer, in every important sense.

    But if you do not have a goal and you do not have a plan, do you really expect me to come up with a plan? If I had t, I'd set a reasonable goal, such as "Cut the Justice Gap from its base level (2009) by 10% per year until it is zero'd out (2019)". Naturally, pro bono would be only a fraction of the means t implement this goal; other means (e.g. legal aid, statutory reform, development of a corps of lawyers financially able to make public legal aid a viable career option). Then I would start setting out tasks and phases and dependencies, and all that project management stuff.

    However, why look at me? Somewhere, there must be people, many people, who have thought these thoughts before; it's simply implausible to suppose any of the above is without precedent. So somewhere, surely there's a Committee somewhere working on a plan; I'm willing to go to find it. Why isn't it not merely easy to find, but all up in the face of every lawyer, makes no sense. But whatever - just tell me where to go, and thither I shall go, not with the expectation of being any smarter than anyone there (...let's be realistic...) but totally willing to be a pain in the ass until someone comes up with an answer.

    I love you all, people of the Access-To-Justice Community. You are smart, dedicated, hard-working and well-meaning; you have defended individuals, groups and our sacred human rights and Constitution with more skill and effectiveness than I ever have or could.

    But how the heck do you expect to succeed if you won't even talk about the frickin' goal?