Code of Conduct is a period piece!

Russell J. Sanders (Houston, TX United States)

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is no more, so Rich Merritt’s Code of Conduct is now a period piece. Hurrah! But the novel is so rich with detail, so engaging in characterization, and so vital in its messages that it is not dated. Merritt has created full-bodied characters who leap from the page, capturing their audience, tugging at heartstrings and inciting righteous anger. It is a wonderful thing that gay soldiers can now serve openly in the American forces. But so many of Merritt’s negative characters are still extant in our society. We still battle hatred-filled politicians and guilt-ridden homophobes. This will most likely never change. But Merritt’s message is clear: everyone just wants to be loved, be they gay, straight, or bi. Thankfully, many of today’s Americans believe that way. They and gay/lesbian/bi readers can all enjoy this wonderful story. The others–well, maybe they can learn from it.

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Carrie. She will never die.

Nor should she.

First, Carrie was a novel, by Stephen King. For a fascinating account of how this story came into existence, read Stephen King’s On Writing. If you’re not familiar with the Carrie story, as I wasn’t until recent years, it’s a horror story. I’m not a horror fan in general, but this one is the exception and I recommend you read, watch or go see it.

Then, “Carrie” was a movie, starring Sissy Spacek. I just watched the movie a few weeks ago and loved it. I won’t tell you why I’m thirty-five years behind the times because if you’re coming to this page, there’s a good chance you’ve read my memoir and you know why. Well, this movie has held up over time, that’s for certain.

Finally, they made “Carrie” into a musical. The original production didn’t do very well and I can’t speak to that but I can verify that the off-Broadway revival we saw last night was incredibly good. The music is excellent and moving and the young cast was spectacular. Their energy added fire to the fire on stage and the crowd loved it. As usual, Ben Brantley of the New York Times got it completely wrong in his review. (Note to Times – why don’t you hire a theater critic who actually likes theater? Otherwise, hire me to review NASCAR races, the result would be the same).

People who complain that “Carrie” is all about a teenager killing other teenagers, sort of like a pre-modern “Hunger Games,” IT ISN’T A HOW-TO MANUAL. It’s fiction. In fact, it’s a cautionary tale about the evils of bullying and a lack of understanding.

The bad news is that Carrie the Musical is a limited run and it ends this Sunday. The good news is that they’re going to record it on video this Saturday. Hopefully that video will be available. If it is, I’ll let you know!

The amazing cast consisted of Marin Mazzie, as Carrie’s mom; Molly Ranson as Carrie; Christy Altamore as Sue; Jenna de Waal as Chris; Derek Klena as Tommy; Ben Thompson; Wayne Alan Wilcox; Corey Boardman; Blair Goldberg; F. Michael Haynie; Jake Boyd; Elly Noble; Jen Sese; and Anne Tolpegin.

With any luck, someday soon “Carrie” will be an ice show!

My favorite time

I’m a morning person. Maybe it was eight years on active duty in the Marines that made me this way, but my favorite time of the day is waking up after a restful night’s sleep before anyone else. I’m not bragging or apologizing, just blogging about it. The sunrise this morning looks beautiful so I thought I’d share my view with you.

Xander is a morning dog too. He likes to get up with me and come into the living room. Willow prefers to stay in bed until a minute before the 8 a.m. walk. I love that my pets have such different dispositions. So much like people.

Attack dog. Attacking a beef stick, I mean.

You’ve Been Replaced…By An Algorithm!

I knew this day was coming. I’d just hoped it wouldn’t be so soon…or so undignified.

I’m a contract attorney, an untouchable in the caste system of the legal profession. In the modern arena of big law, partners own the firms, associates are over-achieving youngsters who hope to be partners, staff attorneys are employees of the law firm not on a partnership track and contract attorneys are the peons at the bottom of this inglorious heap. We are usually brought in as just-in-time inventory, when there’s a major looming deadline in large-scale litigation, and we are unceremoniously dumped just as rapidly, when the client wants to cut the bill or the case settles or in my latest example, someone approves an algorithm that can do a better job than 250 of us could do, and do it in a nanosecond. Literally.

Here’s why this matters and I aim to prove it to you. So what if a few lowlife attorneys lose their jobs, you say. Well…follow my argument below and you will see why this means the very destruction of the America we know and love.

Decades ago, congress or somebody created the system known as “discovery”. When big companies sue each other, they are required to turn over large volumes of documents to each other. The idea is that if everyone knows everything, the case will settle more quickly and more fairly, freeing up the judicial system for more important matters, like settling Brooke Astor’s estate or deciding whether Leona Helmsley’s dog gets millions of dollars. In law school, we joked that these discovery rules were a “full-employment act” for attorneys. What stupid putzes we were.

Discovery rules meant that law firms had to hire large numbers of young attorneys to sift through mountains of paper; first, so the partners would know what secrets lurked in their clients’ records and then so they would know what was in their adversary’s records. As technology increased, paper yielded to emails, spreadsheets, power point presentations and other documents. As the number of documents increased, so did the number of attorneys required for review. Law firms charged clients astronomical amounts per hour for this work. When I was a first-year associate over a decade ago, my rate was $190 / hour. Believe me, I was not making $190 / hour. Most of that went for firm overhead costs or into the partners’ quarterly payouts.

In recent years, however, computer programs have been developed that can search through the texts of electronic documents. The programs have gotten smarter, even venturing into areas of artificial intelligence. Sophisticated search algorithms can tell if a document is responsive to a request more thoroughly and much more quickly than a person reading the document. And an algorithm’s eyes don’t get blurry. So…this really sucks for me. When I gave up my lucrative job on the partnership track, in exchange for a stress-free day job to support my writing habit, I never expected to be put out of work by mathematics.

But here’s the rub. As the work decreases for contract attorneys, it decreases uphill as well. Fewer documents being reviewed means fewer staff attorneys supervising the document reviewers and fewer associates nagging the staff attorneys. With the number of billable hours greatly diminished, that means law firms are bringing in much less revenue.

HA HA! That’s a GOOD thing, so you say.

Hmmmm. When you think of America’s cities, what comes to mind? Usually it’s buildings, the skylines. On television or in the movies, when the director wants to convey “San Francisco” you’ll see a shot of the skyline featuring the Trans-America tower. Chicago, it’s the Sears Tower or John Hancock building. New York…nowadays it’s the Empire State Building but soon it will be One World Trade Center. LA is usually that bland library tower or whatever it’s called these days. Who do you think pays the rent in these buildings? It’s not the drycleaners or the Bodega owner at the street level. It’s the law firms. I noticed that when I was interviewing at law firms in downtown LA. By the end of the callback season I had visited almost every floor in every building over 15 stories. I noticed the same was true for Atlanta and San Diego.

So, my point is that I’m not the only one who has been replaced by an algorithm. Let’s see the algorithm pay the exorbitant cost of the great American skyline.

PS – I’d thought about researching all of these facts and showing you how it’s true, but screw it, in order to do that I’d have to use an algorithmic search program known as “Google” and I refuse to aid and abet the enemy in a blog post about how the enemy is beating me. So I’ll just have to hope the enemy leads you to this blog post. HA!

The Perfect Human Being Is Uninteresting, etc.

“Follow your bliss” is what I wrote yesterday. As you can tell below I was struggling with that, and still am, but the good part is that it caused me turn to Joseph Campbell and The Power Of Myth.

Campbell was born on March 26. To celebrate his birthday, for the next seven days I’ll post some of his quotes that have helped me over the last ten years:

On imperfections:

The writer must be true to truth. And that’s a killer, because the only way you can describe a human being truly is by describing his imperfections. The perfect human being is uninteresting – the Buddha who leaves the world, you know. It is the imperfections that are lovable.

  • The thing that makes you human and not supernatural – that’s what’s lovable. That is why some people have trouble loving God, because there’s no imperfection there.

On storytelling:

  • We all need to tell our story and to understand our story.

What it’s all about:

  • We’re so engaged in doing things to achieve purposes of outer value that we forget that the inner value, the rapture that is associated with being alive, is what it’s all about.
  • How do you get that experience? Read myths. They teach you that you can turn inward, and you begin to get the message of the symbols. Read other people’s myths, not those of your own religion, because you tend to interpret your own religion in terms of facts – but if you read others ones, you begin to get the message.
  • Myth helps you to put your mind in touch with this experience of being alive.

Willow Approves

Willow Approves

At the corner of 11th Ave and 55th Street, Willow stops to express her appreciation for the construction workers who have wisely decided to install a window specifically for her to look into the construction area. She approves.

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