Thursday, February 5, 2009

Good People

When I was a freshman in high school, I played the trumpet in a couple of the bands (big shocker, I know -- I was a band nerd ...). I remember that our band director, who like so many high school and middle school band directors was slightly crazy (who wouldn't be after teaching high school band for hours each day?), had a poster on the wall in his office that caught my eye. It had a picture of an eagle struggling to fly up to the clouds, but the eagle was being held back by a bunch of turkeys on the ground. Across the top, it had the words "It's hard to soar like an eagle ...", and along the bottom the words "... when you are surrounded by turkeys."

Even though I have seen variations of that statement several times over the years since then (such as the example to the right), that was the first time I had ever come across it. I remember thinking that it was quite clever, and (based on my vast life experience to that point) that it was so true.* However, now that I in fact do have some life experience to draw upon, I have recently concluded that the poster was actually somewhat off base.

The other night I was in a meeting with several individuals with whom I associate through my church. It was getting late and the day had already been long, and yet I was in no hurry for the meeting to end. As I sat there listening to things that were said around the table, I was struck by how amazing these people are. These are good people, who do good things for their families and neighbors and others around them. These are selfless and honorable people who strive to better themselves every day. And although I believe that I fall well short of the high marks these people set in their lives, yet I was grateful to be surrounded by such goodness.

And that is when I remembered the poster from my high school band teacher's office. Only, I realized that the poster needed some alteration before it would truly harmonize with my life experience. In my mind's eye, I recast the poster so that now there were a group of eagles soaring in the clouds, and a lone turkey on the ground watching them as they passed above. The text across the top now read: "It's easy to want to soar ...", and across the bottom: "... when you surround yourself with eagles."

While I may never quite be one of those eagles, I'm thankful that I am surrounded by so many of them (at home, at church, in the community), and that they remind me to keep looking upward.

* Of course, it didn't occur to me then that my band director probably thought that we, his students, were the turkeys.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Hello, McFly!

Let me apologize in advance for the rant that is to follow. I really am a happy person that people (I think ... for the most part ... I hope) like to be around. I'm even smiling as I write this.

Do you remember the movie "Back to The Future", with Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd and various and sundry other actors? Well, one of the lines from that movie that has stuck with me over the years is the one uttered by bully Biff Tannen as he knocks on the forehead of George McFly (two different times in the movie, actually) and says: "Hello? Hello? Anybody home? Huh? Think, McFly." That always struck me as an awfully rude thing to do and say to someone, and yet there have been several times over the years when I have wanted to do and say the same thing in certain situations. Today was one of those times.

I read in the news today that two of President Obama's picks for cabinet positions have withdrawn their names for consideration for the offered posts: Tom Daschle for health and human services secretary, and Nancy Killefer as chief performance officer (whatever the heck that is). The reason for the withdrawals? Basically, tax fraud. Killefer didn't pay 1 1/2 years worth of employment taxes on "household help", and Daschle didn't pay taxes on income from "consulting work" and other benefits from 2005 - 2007. And all of this comes about a week after the senate confirmed Timothy Geithner, Obama's pick for treasury secretary (the guy that will oversee the IRS for the near future...), even though Geithner failed to pay $34,000 in certain taxes.

Hello? Hello? Anybody home?

It's not like these people wouldn't understand how the political process works. Could they possibly have forgotten that every detail of their lives would be scrutinized when they accepted the invitations to serve in the Obama cabinet? Did they nevertheless think that tax evasion wouldn't cause people even a little concern? Have they not been watching the news at all over the past 15 years and seen other people make the same dumb mistakes?

Think, McFly!

I mean, we little folks have to deal with those pesky tax laws. And at least part of those taxes we pay are used to pay the salaries for senators (like Daschle used to be) and cabinet appointees. It is things like this that cause me to have a fairly dim view of politics and politicians in general. I just love the double-standard that some of these people in politics seem to live. They appear to think that the rules don't really apply to them ... at least not until the president creates a fancy sounding job for them. I know there are some good people in politics, but there are just too many fools thrown in there as well.

Unlike Biff in "Back to The Future," these three won't likely have a truck-load of manure dumped over them as they sit in their fancy convertibles. Too bad. Some politicians spend a lot of time doing the same to us.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Biggest Lawyer

I'm a lawyer.

I make that statement because it is directly relevant to this installment of my blog. You see, as a lawyer I have been trained to spend my working days questioning just about everything, digging into minute and often purposely left-out details, searching for ulterior motives, and doing other such happy things. And since I do those things all day long and have been for years, it shouldn't be a surprise that I tend to be a bit cynical at times. Not usually, mind you, but occasionally. And while that can be a good thing under appropriate circumstances, such as when I am lawyering, it can also be a negative thing, such as when I might be more judgemental than I should be in reaction to something that I see or hear.* Like tonight, for instance...

When I went to read my home email tonight, I noticed a "news" story about the most recent winner of "The Biggest Loser" TV show, Michelle Aguilar. Ms. Aguilar lost 110 pounds in about 3 months in order to win the contest, and got $250,000 (in addition to all of the obvious health benefits) for her efforts. But that was not the point of the story. The focus of the article (which you can read for yourself here: was the surprise (Michelle said she "was so shocked") marriage proposal from her boyfriend just nine days after the end of the contest. The article states that Ms. Aguilar and her boyfriend (Micah Whitehead) have been dating for about four months, which means (if I correctly understand the duration of "The Biggest Loser") that they were a couple for about one month before she left to be on the show.

Now, if I were to let my cynical side completely take over, I might say something really awful, like: "Hmmmm ... girlfriend loses 110 pounds, and is suddenly $250,000 richer. Yeah, that proposal was a big surprise" (can you see my eyes rolling?). I know -- a terrible thing for me to say. But before you judge me too harshly for such a comment, ask yourself: were you thinking something similar? Come on, be honest. But I have better control of myself than that, and so I will let the momentary wave of cynicism that washed over me recede and ebb into oblivion.

To be sure, Ms. Aguilar's transformation on the show was amazing, her reconnecting with her mother was inspiring, and her win was certainly well-earned (okay, yes, I admit I watched a few of the episodes ...). I was even rooting for her down the stretch. She definitely deserves all the accolades and victory spoils that she has received. Who am I to rain on that parade?

Congratulations, Michelle -- and all the best to you and Micah!

Just remember to execute three separate copies of the prenup ...

* In addition to being cynical, lawyers have three other traits: (1) they like to use disclaimers (the entire first paragraph of this post is one big disclaimer); (2) they like to make lists in paragraphs (like this one); and (3) they like to drop small-print footnotes at the bottom of a page. Welcome to my world.

Friday, January 2, 2009

For The Love of White Elephants

In my Christmas-Eve post, I wondered "aloud" where the term "white elephant" had come from, and vowed to do a little research to find out. Well, this is what I discovered.

Based on an exhaustive search of all available sources on the subject (i.e. a few websites websites found from a search on Google and Yahoo!), it appears that the term "white elephant" originated somewhere in Asia. Apparently, white (i.e. albino, or otherwise pale-skinned) elephants actually exist, but are rare and were considered sacred in certain Asian cultures in the past. Depending on which source you read, such countries might have included Burma, China, India and Thailand (formerly called Siam). The "sacred" part may have come from a legend that Buddha's mother, when she was still pregnant with Buddha, either saw a vision of a white elephant presenting her with a lotus flower, or of a white elephant entering her womb. In either event, white elephants were thereafter closely associated with Buddha, and according to one source (, even considered to be descendants of Buddha.

With white elephants being so rare and sacred, it made sense that the only people to own them were typically monarchs. The possession of white elephants represented royal and heavenly power, and was a sign that a monarch ruled with justice and equity. However, because white elephants were so sacred, they were not used in battle or to perform labor as other elephants might have been. Rather, they were kept and protected and fed, at great expense, basically only for show.

Somewhere along the line, a monarch (the King of Siam according to one legend) realized that owning and maintaining a white elephant would be a huge, and perhaps crippling financial burden to anyone other than the king. So the king began making gifts of white elephants to people he did not particularly like, such as perhaps a rival within his court. At first, such a gift might have been considered an immense honor. But as the months passed and the impending financial ruin took shape, it became clear that this "gift" was anything but. In reality, the expense and burden of the "gift" far outweighed any value. The gift of a white elephant became a way to wreak financial havoc on a rival or enemy.

None of the sources I researched were very clear how the term "white elephant" made its way from these origins into its "modern" usage, although one source notes (without backup) that the phrase first appeared in English sometime around 1851 (see In any event, it doesn't seem like much of a stretch to see how a "white elephant" gift would come to be associated with something that has diminished value or appeal to the giver, and could be considered useless by the receiver. A few years ago, our family did a "white elephant" gift exchange on Christmas Eve as has been our tradition for some time. On this particular evening, I was seduced by the relatively large size and weight of a particular package (I know, I know -- big mistake ...), and decided to take it as my "gift". Upon opening it, I found a complete paperback copy (multiple volumes) of the California Civil Code. And -- it was out of date! As I look back on that moment now, I clearly see that the giver of that gift had obviously already done their research, and truly and fully understood the origins and deepest meaning of "white elephant" -- big, useless, and (potentially, at least) very expensive. Thanks, Carol!

(By the way, if you don't trust me -- and why shouldn't you?? -- and feel that you have to verify my research, search "where did the term 'white elephant' come from" in both the Google and Yahoo! search engines)