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!