Prof Marmot, one of Britain's leading experts on stress at work, said the working conditions at the warehouse are "all the bad stuff at once". He said: "The characteristics of this type of job, the evidence shows increased risk of mental illness and physical illness." "There are always going to be menial jobs, but we can make them better or worse. And it seems to me the demands of efficiency at the cost of individual's health and wellbeing - it's got to be balanced."While there is good news on the horizon for Amazon employees, such as attempts at unionization actually getting to the point of a vote, and protests mounting in opposition to working conditions, I am not overly optimistic. Things may get better, but they won't be good. My money is paying for possessions I don't really need a the expense of the health and safety of my fellow human beings, all to make a select few people even richer. We know CEOs and their lot make far more than employees, sometimes 1,000 times greater, other times a mere 350 times greater. We also know most of the wealthy despise us lower life forms. A Business Insider article posits that "a rash of incidents [demonstrate] tech execs appear to have interpreted their personal economic success as proof of their permanent superior status to the rest of us." Whether in Silicon Valley or on Wall Street or anywhere in between, rich people do not appreciate us, they only want our money. This is the time of year when we are often told to reflect on the meaning of the season. According to the CIA World Factbook, 78.5% of Americans are some form of Jesus believer. I drowned in the bible as a youth, and I don't think a celebration of Jesus' mission or theology involves such blatant and crass consumerism as we practice this time of year, from Black Friday through the after Christmas sales (and all year long, really). We pour our hard earned money into the waiting pockets of our corporate overlords, and for what? Electronics made by teenagers in China? Clothing made by women in sweatshops? Jewelry from blood diamond mines? I'm not arguing that we should all give up and move to Walden Pond, but I am saying we should take the time to think about why we're pumping our dollars into Amazon and other large businesses when those same businesses do not care about the people we love. That Business Insider article lists examples of the wealthy complaining that they have to rub elbows with the poor and homeless, and describe how they create clubs to maintain exclusive socialization circles. A few of them even want to leave the country for a libertarian island paradise, which is nothing new; Paypal CEO Peter Thiel wants an island "for implementing policies that libertarians, stymied by indifference at the voting booths, have been unable to advance: No welfare, looser building codes, no minimum wage, and few restrictions on weapons." American Conservatives have been threatening to "Go Galt" for years, but ultimately have remained in the U.S., possibly because they have a sweetheart deal in this country. Maybe if they leave, the average American will have more influence over their elected representatives. As it stands now, as David Simon pointed out, "capital has effectively purchased the government, and you witnessed it again with the healthcare debacle in terms of the $450m that was heaved into Congress, the most broken part of my government, in order that the popular will never actually emerged in any of that legislative process." Wishful thinking of safe and happy Amazon employees and truly representative government aside, I can only act as one individual. I don't want to fill my life with meaningless trinkets, making the 1% wealthier while the bottom 47% suffer. I am also realistic, and thus realize I will be required to give money to large corporations. So long as I wear clothing, use Internet, turn on electricity, watch movies, etc., I am contributing to wealth disparity. However, I can minimize how much I spend and give careful consideration to what I spend it on. We live in a world where everything comes with a price, from the water running through our tap to life saving medicine (a company may have found a successful treatment for brain cancer, and upon the announcement, "shares soared as much as 32 percent in early trading"). Pope Francis said some nice words about how Jesus would not approve of our current money over people society, arguing that capitalism in its current state is un-Christian. Conservatives and capitalists were quick to try and smooth over the Pope's ripple-creating words. Of course, the Catholic Church itself is one of the oldest and wealthiest corporations, so it's not too hard to dismiss the Pontiff's words. Nevertheless, all of us should contemplate the society we have inherited, and we should wonder whether it is a place we want to continue to live in. I cannot transform the entire world through my actions, but I can affect my private world, and if more people do the same, maybe we can shape the world in a positive way.
Sunday, December 22, 2013
Thursday, December 19, 2013
A crisis is looming in legal education. Last month, a notable group of legal educators who call themselves the Coalition of Concerned Colleagues released a letter declaring that law schools have spewed forth more graduates than the legal market can absorb, resulting in rising unemployment among young lawyers, who cannot pay off colossal student loans. As the New York Times recently reported, applications are plummeting, and a movement is on to reduce law school educations from three to two years—advocated in the New York Times by law professor Samuel Estreicher and law dean Daniel Rodriguez. The CCC letter similarly argues that legal education should be less expensive and less uniform, which sounds fine in the abstract. But in the details, the proposed fixes will make the crisis worse than ever.That's just the opening salvo, but the entire piece is worth a gander. These young, inexperienced graduates are desperate for jobs. While you would think someone with my experience and resume would stand head and shoulders above the new blood, law firms are so cheap that they are hiring the lowest priced attorneys. I was recently offered a job traveling around 11 counties making municipal court appearances and settling or arguing those cases, in exchange for $15 per hour. Hardly the six figure dreams many law school graduates take with them upon receiving their diploma. I have applying for the same jobs hundreds of other people have as well. Some of the automated messages I have received reflect the bombardment of resumes these places are receiving (which I'm sure is true in many industries):
We are currently experiencing overwhelming responses [...] so please make sure to read and follow the application instructions carefully to ensure your resume is considered for this opportunity.
This email serves as confirmation that we have received your application. Due to the volume of responses to the advertisement for the position, we are unable to respond personally to each applicant. After we have completed our review of the applications submitted, we will contact those candidates who have been selected for interviews.Back in August, I wrote about my disdain of my job and the problems I saw in the profession, noting that the American Bar Association warned students not to go to law school three years ago due to rising tuition and lack of job opportunities. Just for example, the ivy league school in my local city, the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, operates a prestigious law school. According to their website, for the upcoming 2014-2015 term, law school tuition will be $51,630 (plus fees and other costs). For the 2004-2005 year, tuition was $31,070. That is a $20,000 bump over ten years, per year. As Salon pointed out, law schools have no incentive to turn away students because they are raking in a small fortune. In hindsight, going to law school was probably a bad idea, and if I had an opportunity to do it again, I probably would have changed directions as an undergraduate. Salon also published an article decrying college in general (as opposed to law school):
Although educational credential inflation expands on false premises— the ideology that more education will produce more equality of opportunity, more high-tech economic performance, and more good jobs—it does provide some degree of solution to technological displacement of the middle class. Educational credential inflation helps absorb surplus labor by keeping more people out of the labor force; and if students receive a financial subsidy, either directly or in the form of low-cost (and ultimately unrepaid) loans, it acts as hidden transfer payments. In places where the welfare state is ideologically unpopular, the mythology of education supports a hidden welfare state. Add the millions of teachers in elementary, secondary, and higher education, and their administrative staffs, and the hidden Keynesianism of educational inflation may be said to virtually keep the capitalist economy afloat.It's a fascinating look at higher education. In this fantasy do-over, not only do I pick a different degree (something in engineering or computer science), but I avoid graduate school altogether. My undergraduate loans were paid off years ago, and on my new magical career path I'd be enjoying a debt free, job secure life.
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
When people think of classic Who, they'll remember the amazing run of Tom Baker or the boyish charm of Peter Davison. Unfortunately, the Doctors after Davison and before the mid-naughts relaunch were less universally beloved. McCoy genuinely got the short end of the stick, at the helm of the ship when it was sunk by a BBC executive. Like the Doctor before and after him, he did not get much screen time (42 episodes), and frankly the show looks worse than usual as I think it was recorded straight onto someone's VHS tape that had been sitting in a van in July, but I think McCoy's Doctor had quite a bit of charm. The 7th Doctor also was stuck with Mel, perhaps the least interesting companion of all time, and Ace, who likely wouldn't make my top ten list for companions.
Like Troughton, McCoy may have exhibited the Doctor personality of which I am most fond. Instantly warm and likable, yet dark and cunning, he exhibits a charm and wisdom that defines the greatness of Doctor Who. The 7th Doctor really found his legs towards the end of his limited run, and "The Curse of Fenric," the second to last story arc for this Doctor, is generally considered his best. For audio fans, McCoy's Doctor has had a large number of appearances in radio serials, so although his time was cut short, like the 8th Doctor (Paul McGann), McCoy continued his legacy in vintage radio form.
Of his audio and visual productions, though, "Fenric" stands shoulder to shoulder with some of the better Who serials. It's not an upper echelon story, but if you think about it, it was easily the best Who story released in a two decade period (1985-2005). Alas, those days are long behind us now, but let's journey back just for today and watch the "Fenric" serial, released 24 years ago this November.
Sunday, October 20, 2013
The Cadmus crossed an ocean wide
From the French shores to the new world
The General-Major toured the tide.
In every town which he did come
Their hero true was welcomed back
But soon fondness mellowed to glum
Under the skies of Hackensack.
The grass soaked up the silent sun
As shadows spilled from cold grave stones
Underneath the carpet earthen
Lay the Poor soldier's honored bones.
As melancholy stroked his heart
Amidst the bloomed perennials
Lafayette turned and remarked
"Ah, that was one of my generals."
Monday, September 9, 2013
While Batman is now a global phenomenon, Doctor Who is reaching that same apex. Although there was an American co-produced television movie in 1996, and while Doctor Who aired on PBS throughout the 1970s and 1980s, it was not until Russel T. Davies launched Christopher Eccelston as the Doctor in a new BBC series that the program took hold in the U.S.A.
There are many, many, many well-written articles out there describing all manner of Doctor Who-ness, so fans of the modern Who who (owl?) want to investigate the older series have a significant amount of resources to choose from. I just want to take a brief moment to highlight two unsung Doctors whom I believe people should take the time to watch.
Sylvester McCoy may be my favorite Doctor, not in terms of story arcs but just for personality. He was like Tom Baker's Doctor merged with Mr. Bean. Although his Doctor was the last one of the original run, that was not his fault; the BBC heads were trying to axe the show years before McCoy came on. By all accounts, the show's final season was one of its best and McCoy's Doctor was cut off prematurely. I will talk about him more in my next post, but for now, for today, let's talk about the second Doctor, played by Patrick Troughton.
While William Hartnell was a stern grandfatherly figure and Jon Pewtree was James Bond with a Liberace wardrobe, the Doctor between those two was the cosmic hobo, a friendly yet wickedly clever time lord who allowed for humor and the "I know nothing but really everything" elements in the story. American audiences saw some of that with Peter Falk as Columbo. In many regards, Troughton's Doctor was the spiritual predecessor to McCoy's.
Unfortunately, a bad heart took Troughton too early (at the age of 67) and the BBC intentionally recorded over many of the early Who episodes, but we are left with an outstanding legacy, and some surviving arcs as well. One of the best is "The Tomb of the Cybermen," which also features the longest on air companion, Jamie the Scotsman (featured alongside the fourth Doctor in Viz Comics' "Doctor Poo"). We are also treated to the amazing (albeit brief) "Space Adventure" suite by Martin Slavin, played during the dramatic Cybermen scenes. It manages to evoke both electronica and the classic alien invasion scores of the 50s.
Anyway, presented below is the complete Tomb of the Cybermaen, which originally aired 46 years ago this month. Without question, it holds up and remains one of the top ten Who story arcs.
Thursday, August 29, 2013
However, I do want to take the time to talk about being a lawyer, especially as a fresh crop of unsuspecting students begin law school this month. No one will be honest with you about the realities of the profession before you join, and after you become barred (admitted, for the layman), then no one will dare discuss for fear of admitting weakness or failure. While everyone's experience in law will vary, I can say that for me, this kindhearted bloke typing these words for your eye sockets, a decade after I first stepped foot into law school, I can't help but thinking it was the biggest mistake I made in my life.
While I am not the best in my profession, I am certainly not the worst. I have practiced in state and municipal Courts, argued and settled numerous cases, and even got myself an award this year for my work. I am a member of professional bar associations and an Inn of Court. I have taught continuing legal education classes to other attorneys (and even a Judge). Despite this success, I see it all as a failure.
I hate the job. There are a number of reasons why, but we'll start with the one no one seems willing to discuss - the profession is draining. As that same colleague of mine also said, as an attorney, you can be under attack from your clients, your adversaries, Judges, or Court staff, sometimes all at once. Not only are clients typically upset about their legal problems (as well they should be), but they take out their aggression on their legal counsel. Many clients rarely listen to advice, and often clients cannot (or will not) pay their bills timely. It would be like going to the doctor, then arguing with your physician over how to treat your ailment, and then refusing to pay her for her services. Oh, and by the way, any single mistake could jeopardize your client's case and leave you the subject of a malpractice claim, or worse, an ethics complaint (both of which are taken very seriously and which I, thankfully, have no first hand experience thus far).
Amusingly, I have achieved fantastic results for clients who have turned around and been vitriolic towards me over the experience. Sometimes they don't appreciate what has happened, or they wanted more, or they wanted some unrealistic result, or they wanted it for free. It doesn't matter how many times and in how many ways you explain things to clients, they won't listen. Even the good ones, who sit in front of you and cry because they face eviction or losing their child or losing their freedom, drain you. I have had to sit in my office and absorb the emotional stress and angst of thousands of people.
This perhaps explains why the rate of drug dependence and suicide is so high in the profession. According to the Benchmark Institute, "10% of the adult population is alcoholic. [...] Studies conducted in numerous jurisdictions have pegged the rate of alcoholism in the legal profession at between 15% and 24%. Roughly 1 in 5 lawyers is addicted to alcohol." Philip Thomas articulates very well why the profession is horrible in an article discussing a rash of attorney suicides in Kentucky this summer.
While the practice is bad enough as it is, we (meaning attorneys) treat each other poorly. Not all of us. I try to be courteous to everyone, so I will rarely be curt or rude with a fellow lawyer, or anyone, for that matter. However, to be frank, the best attorneys are assholes, because the practice is saturated with antagonism, the playground of the professional asshole. People who are consensus builders, or thoughtful, or simply do not thrive on aggression and confrontation, have a hard time dealing with the law environment. In my experience, the attorneys who achieve the best results for their clients are the ones who can find a resolution without going to trial. It saves the client time and money, and the Courts in my state are specifically structured to encourage settlement, going so far as to have numerous mandatory settlement conferences, panels, mediation, etc., depending on the type of case. Yet, the profession is at such a point where bullies and jerks thrive, and there is a real economic incentive to drag out litigation. Despite knowing some wonderful people who practice, I can say at its heart that the practice of law is a horrible profession built by horrible people.
Then, of course, if a case can't settle, there is the tremendous pressure of rolling the dice and arguing in front of a Judge or jury. I respect and enjoy most of the Judges I appear in front of, and many of them like me on a personal level. However, they are overworked with huge caseloads. Americans may complain about lawyers and the justice system, but they're the ones clogging the Courts with countless cases. Judges are human, and they sometimes make mistakes, lose their cool, or become miserable like everyone else. Judges have a lot of power, not only over the litigants but over the attorneys as well. They can make life problematic, intentionally or not, but, as I said, I tend to like the Judges I deal with, so that's a small positive in a sea of negatives.
All of the above would not be so bad if I earned a salary that made it worth it. I went to a reasonably priced law school with a good name, paid in-state tuition, and still have a huge student loan. The principle never seems to go down, and as you probably know, you cannot get rid of student loans in bankruptcy. The American Bar Association warned students back in 2010 not to go to law school, as the tuition was (and still is) increasing far beyond the rate of inflation, and yet the job market is drying up. It's easier for someone like me, with experience, to get a job over some law school graduate because law schools teach you maybe, MAYBE, 3-5% of anything you actually use when you practice.
Anyway, back to the salary complaint. So, I have all of this debt, like all of my fellow colleagues, and yet I make a very poor salary. There are countless articles online explaining how great lawyer salaries are, especially in big law jobs. First, those high paying jobs are the province of the miserable. They also drive the average up. A skillful glance at salary listings on websites (or even job postings on Craigslist) show the average salary for attorneys in the Philadelphia area to be between $35,000 to $70,000. Personally, I have never earned more than $50,000 as an attorney. While that may sound like a lot to some people, keep in mind I could be earning that same salary without the stress and the debt. In fact, I have seriously looked into getting a job at Trader Joe's, a grocery store chain, just so I could earn more money.
Not all attorneys make crappy salaries. I know some very successful attorneys, including a handful of millionaires, but they are the exception. According to this article, "the average starting salary for law school graduates declined from $72,000 in 2009 to $60,000 for 2011," but that includes big law firm salaries of the low six digits, which prop those numbers up. Regular law firm salaries are "between $40,000 and $60,000," which was the historic range - those numbers are decreasing.
Most of my clients, including clients with only high school diplomas, make more than I do. Yet, I still have the same bills as everyone else, and, oh yeah, that giant student loan debt that will follow me to my grave. Had I taken my undergraduate degree and just started working, I would likely be earning a comparable, or more likely better, salary than I am now, minus the mountains of stress, debt, and contentiousness that exists in my current profession.
Many attorneys agree with my sentiments, even if they haven't read them, because they are living through the same thing. I know I am not alone. One attorney I know took a pay cut from her already crappy salary to go work for the state, because she could no longer stand private practice. A few months before she made that move, we had lunch, and expressed our dissatisfaction to each other without actually coming out and saying that we hated our jobs. That's a shame. I don't think I will keep quiet about it anymore.
I am usually not one to share my personal problems in a public forum, but it is my nature to try and help people. It's why I wanted to become an attorney in the first place, the fool that I am. If you are a person considering law school and you happened to find this blog, take my advice - find something better to do with yourself. Unless, of course, you are an asshole, in which case, your people are waiting.
(the above handsome fellow is not me)
Monday, August 26, 2013
Now into it's fourth season, I think I've lost interest in the show, and perhaps the show has lost interest in itself. The conflicts just seem to be shoehorned in now (Jim and Callie can't agree on a wedding date! Jim's estranged father shows up!), but worse yet, the plots go by a clearly defined pattern which never shows deviation. Sometimes the plots are interesting, but at this point, I doubt I'm going to finish out the season. With six episodes in my DVR, so I want to give another six hours of my life to this show? Especially when I have so few hours left in my life? Surely I have to catch up with Breaking Bad.
Anyway, if you are an aspiring Hollywood writer and would like a job working for The Glades, just follow this story structure and you will be set:
Opening showing two strangers finding a dead body
Jim and Carlos are on the scene examining the corpse
Jim rounds up exactly three suspects, is completely disrespectful towards all of them
A problem arises involving Jim and/or Callie's personal life
Jim bounces back and forth between the three suspects
Every suspect is accused of murder each time Jim sees them
Jim begins arresting and releasing his suspects
Jim and/or Callie resolve their issue
Lab analysis or bank record reveals critic clue
After repeated trial and error, Jim finds the real murderer
Murderer confesses, explains crime without asking for attorney
Two FDLE cops show up to arrest murderer
Wrap up of episode
Saturday, August 17, 2013
Thursday, July 18, 2013
Monday, July 15, 2013