Towards a more decent 2017

Politics are not a staple of Working Scribe and any number of other sites can slake the reader’s thirst for yet one more red Solo cup of politics from 2016’s skunked keg. Some things are more important in valence and precedence than politics – many things, in fact, but to talk about these things, we have to talk (a little, sorry) about “that thing.”

I don’t know whether the world I thought I once knew disappeared, or was never there, or was the mere reflection of a happy childhood, replete with Big Bird and 2nd grade teachers and Goofus and Gallant in every monthly issue of Highlights magazine. Our culture seems so brutal, so indecent, with no monopoly anywhere on indecency.

Could one have imagined a presidential candidate dismissing a majority of his opponent’s supporters – roughly a quarter of the republic’s electorate – as a “basket of deplorables” in 1996, or 1984 or 1960? Can one imagine living through the demeaning behavior and language that characterized a major candidate’s campaign persona? The mere language necessary to discuss the current events of politics, the lexicon, is not suitable for a 4th grade civics class. Politics isn’t just nasty, it’s too nasty even to discuss in social studies. This wasn’t true when I was in the 6th grade in 1980, when we held class mock elections in my Catholic elementary school. (The Republican won, and I backed the third-placed candidate – familiar pattern.)

Most people aren’t saints, but most are decent most of the time. Yet we have this indecency in our politics. It seems as if politicians had forgotten how to appeal optimistically and positively to the common (okay, not universal, but common) decency of most people.

After the election, I saw posts from advocates for a losing presidential candidate urge their comrades not to go for Thanksgiving to the parts of the country where the winner’s supporters predominated, urging instead that they host dinner and teach their benighted relatives “how people should be treated.” This is, in fact, not how people should be treated.

We hear “decency” used in reference to sexuality, especially out of the mouths of preachers and politicians seeking money; public indecency, for instance, does not refer to cruel words uttered on a sidewalk but to an unauthorized exposure of human skin. There is a place for decency standards in sexual matters but we have become indecent in so many issues greater than nudity or sexuality. Most of life is about other matters; even pornographic actors spend most of their lives NOT having sex. Christian friends of mine have noted that their Bible talks a lot more about money, especially helping the poor, than about sex. They and many others of similar sensible priorities have a point.

It is far easier to be indecent to strangers and outsiders, what some sociologists and social activists call, awkwardly, “the other.” I fear that we have become a society where there is no “society”, rather a basket not of “deplorables” but of isolated and mutually indifferent (or worse) gel capsules. In 1980, MTV did not exist except as a ambitious idea and cable was barely in existence; national television including respected television news had three major networks and pretty much that was it. I recall saying the word “indivisible” in the Pledge thousands of times; yet that word tells a lie. We are extremely divisible and have been micro-divided, as it turns out.

May 2017 give us a greater sense of being in “one nation”, ideally without the unifying force of a horrible tragedy. As for me and mine, we will eat dinner tonight in peace and health in the Red State part of Maryland, and play cards. and be decent and loving to one another, remembering a more unified and decent time, our different politics notwithstanding. May you enjoy a very decent and Happy Thanksgiving with you and yours, and may the end of this year soon start a more decent one for us all.

Alan Hilliard Legum, R.I.P.

A very decent man died this week. Annapolis attorney Alan Hilliard Legum died this week according to a recent announcement by his law partner Shane Nikolao and reports in the Capital Gazette.

Alan was surprisingly gentle in his style for a litigation attorney, very understated in his personal demeanor but most effective in his practice – a model for young attorneys.  Among his professional focuses were large tort liability claims against large utility companies and government agencies.  His office on West Street was where I had my first post-law school clerk job..  His son Judd Legum is a nationally recognized public figure in his work in the founding of Think Progress, a liberal advocacy organization.

Alan cared a lot about fundamental justice and civil rights issues and was closely allied in civic life with controversial Annapolis alderman and civil rights activist Carl Snowden (later active in state government as well.)  The Legum family has long lived in the Annapolis area and has included several attorneys and judges.

Speaking personally, I am most grateful for something that Alan did – humanely but resolutely – to aid me in my professional development – namely, his firing me.  6 weeks after I got barred, Alan realized that his practice needed better than 6 weeks of lawyer experience from his clerk.  My drafting skills were not what they needed to be for his active practice, and he was too busy with the actual business of helping clients to train a green lawyer.  I felt disappointed in myself when this happened, but there’s no doubt he made the right decision for his clients’ needs, and he was such a decent human being about it. How he handled that situation says more about this good man than most of the accolades that you may read about him in the newspapers.

My condolences to Alan’s family and friends.  A very decent man and attorney has passed away. The Capital reports that there will be a memorial service this Sunday at 10 AM at Annapolis Roads, south of Eastport at a park facing the Severn River.

The White Elephant in the Room

What is “whiteness”? Specifically, what is “whiteness” in America?

Superficially, relatively pale European skin color (in its diversity) may be the result of the interplay between melanin, Vitamin D and folate/folic acid. Melanin impedes Vitamin D production, but aids the production/retention of folic acid, both of which affect human development even prenatally. Environments with little sun (high latitudes) put the ability to produce Vitamin D at a premium, so a lack of melanin is especially helpful in the north. On the other hand in sunnier latitudes, where production of melanin is less critical, melanin aids in protecting folic acid production from the damage of the sun’s radiation. Accordingly, northern climes in northern Europe tend to be habitats of fairer-skinned people, the opposite near the Equator. The palest people on earth are clustered near the Baltic Sea. The arctic Sami in the Nordic countries are darker than, say, Lithuanians or Estonians to the south. Some have conjectured that the Gulf Stream and adaptation to agriculture led to a reduction to Vitamin D exposure, promoting over time even paler skin on the Baltic shores.

But we don’t care about “whiteness” primarily out of curiosity about fetal development, anthropology or evolutionary scientific hypotheses. “Whiteness” is at core about sociology and power politics, not the detail of skin color. White people do not lose their caste status as white people after a week of bronzing at the beach.

“Whiteness” got invented in multiple places where Europeans exploited people who were not and didn’t look European. It represented a sort of cartel between uneasy competitors. Like many cartels, sometimes the membership isn’t so stable. “Whiteness” was enshrined into the laws of the American colonies, and in the first Naturalization Act passed by the first U.S. Congress, barring “non-whites” from citizenship by naturalization. Legal “Whiteness” protected the early caste system of the United States that operated not only in “slave” states but allegedly “free” ones as well.

If you go visit the 1800s records of Germany or Italy, for example (those countries did not have those names politically in 1840) for evidence of “whiteness” in the records of the towns, you won’t find it. Those folks, including my German ancestors, identified themselves by birthplace, language, region, religion and social class. Their descendants came here, and became “white people” while giving up, to greater or lesser extents, their cultural heritages and identities, almost completely by the fourth generation (for German-Americans, often by the second generation.)

The important point about American whiteness as an identity is that it has essentially no substance that unites white people reliably AND distinguishes them reliably from designed non-whites, other than the “badges and incidents” of white privilege itself. “White people” aren’t a people with a culture; they are a caste. There’s no “white food”, “white music” (a few genres are much more popular with whites, but more on this later), “white religion.” There is no “white accent”, as one can tell by listening to Senators Ben Cardin (MD), Lindsay Graham (SC) and the late Ted Kennedy (MA) on YouTube and realize that these senators are of different religions, different regions, different accents but the same white caste in this country.

Some people might suggest that a few cultural artifacts, like hockey or country music or trips to Prague, are predominantly white entertainment or recreation, forming some basis for some “white culture.” The minor premises are true: marketing professionals will confirm that some cultural and non-cultural products are overwhelmingly white-bought/used/attended in the United States. But these artifacts are, in essentially every instance, sharply limited by class, subculture or region. One finds few hockey fans in Georgia, few country music buffs in New England and Long Island and Washington State, few aficionados of trendy European travel among blue-collar white people, even among those who might afford a longer, more expensive trip to Hawaii. Other cultural artifacts particularly popular among white-caste people have similar other limits.

What did Pee Wee Herman, Evel Knievel, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Hillary Clinton, Flo from the 1970’s sit-com “Alice”, a white college student at the University of Washington, David Letterman, Klansman and neo-Nazi David Duke, Theodore Roosevelt and the author of this blog post have in common? All are “white by law” and de facto white by caste, the caste created before the founding to this Republic and reinforced by centuries of law, custom and individual and collective practice. All benefit from the violence, plunder, depraved indifference and hypocrisy of what some people call “white privilege.”

I don’t particularly like the term “white privilege” – the most common term for the peculiar institutions of white caste of this country, going back to 1650. “Privilege” is a semi-nice word. “I feel privileged to be here” is not a gripe but a statement of gratitude. In my law practice, I take pains to protect “attorney-client privilege.” The Constitution protects some “privileges and immunities.” It’s perhaps better than nothing, but the word “privilege” isn’t nasty enough to describe the nasty reality.

Theodore Roosevelt (may his name be blotted out) attacked corporations for collusion against the public in price-fixing, and declared war on them through enforcement of the Sherman Antitrust Act. Teddy Roosevelt never had the moral insight or character to declare war on white collusion against black American citizens in the U.S. South or elsewhere. Indeed, Teddy Roosevelt was an open and unapologetic advocate of explicit “race wars” by whites in America against Native Americans (expressing rough approval of the idea that the “only good Indian is a dead Indian”) and Filipinos. Roosevelt told black audiences that the “rapists and criminals” among them “did more harm to their race than any white man can possibly do them.” Roosevelt explicitly advocated that white people outbreed non-whites as a means of conquest so as to promote among whites “a clear instinct for racial selfishness.” White racist pathology, organized into the structure of an entire government and society, was the first “price-fixer”, and Roosevelt was among its bigger “big sticks”.

For his advocacy of criminality, war and injustice and the expansion of American empire, Roosevelt’s graven image appears for white people’s reverence carved at enormous expense into the side of Mt. Rushmore. May his name be blotted out by all who fear Justice.

A better term for the 350 years of white caste in this country is “white pathology.” People talk about “black socio-pathology” because of high crime rates and other admittedly serious social problems in many impoverished black neighborhoods. Yet what is more pathological than making peace with a history of murder, enslavement, sundown towns, theft, redlining, racist exclusion from unions, professional associations, licenses, housing, jobs, credit? What is more pathological than taxing people to make a monument to someone as atrocious, as hideous as Teddy Roosevelt? The answer, of course, is that white America sociopathically felt almost no guilt about its sociopathology or the conditions of black Americans even 40 years after emancipation. White people are not generally sociopaths, but white caste and white power have operated under a sociopathic model, and most white people don’t particularly give a damn about it.

The terms “white-race sociopathology” or “white American sociopathic politics” are clumsy but get the job done better than “white privilege.” Professor Robin DiAngelo has suggested the term “white fragility.” Lots of people who benefit from white caste don’t look particularly privileged materially.  Many whites are broke and REALLY hurting, and have been hurting for many years. But broke white people can count on knowing that America was built for them, for their caste and their children, for people who look like them, a few decades of civil rights statutes and economic growth in Black America notwithstanding. When white people hear “This Land is Your Land”, a folk anthem by self-described communist Woody Guthrie decrying inequality in the United States, white people aren’t generally thinking about non-whites.

White people got offered a fairly tough bargain: drop the culture of your parents and buy into American culture including America’s peculiar institutions of white sociopathy and you too can eventually enjoy white caste. White caste was not always fully open to all Europeans at all times.  Many might be surprised to learn that at different times and places in the US, Hungarians, Irish, Sicilians, Greeks, Arabs from the Levant and even perhaps surprisingly Swedes were distinguished from “white people” and excluded, at least partially, from white caste. I refer the reader to the scholarship of Noel Ignatiev and Robin D.G. Kelley for some of the history details.

White caste was fully open to Germans in Maryland.  My German (and, elsewhere, non-German) ancestors came here and eventually they and their descendants became white-caste Americans, retaining little more than the name “Rupp” from the old country. America made a hard bargain but it was in the end a bargain. Germans, white by US law, came and became white-caste Americans by the millions, both before and after the US Civil War.

My ancestors’ experience – coming into the port of Baltimore, meeting other German-Americans, buying a little farm land, starting businesses, becoming white-caste American people – was quite different from that of my friend and college roommate Professor Anton Treuer of Bemidji State University. His father escaped Hitler’s Anschluss of Austria by a few days, came to America and married Tony’s mother, an Ojibwe from a reservation near Bemidji MN. Tony’s father got white privilege here but spent much of his life undermining that privilege as a journalist and socialist activist. The Ojibwe and other native nations on this continent did not get white caste. Even the U.S. citizenship of Native Americans was in legal doubt for centuries.

There is much more to say about the history of white caste and Native Americans than what I, unstudied, am qualified to say.  I would refer the reader to Anton Treuer’s extensive scholarship. Tony’s life’s work has involved unwinding what violence and cultural extermination white sociopathology and its institutions infliction to the Ojibwe and other Native American nations.  Specifically Tony’s work involved preserving and promoting the Ojibwe language in immersion schools, scholarship, history, dictionaries, recordings and also in common parlance and commerce in Bemidji among Ojibwe and non-Ojibwe alike.  In other words, his work involves the direct rollback of aspects of white caste power, which was particularly oppressive against the Ojibwe of northern Minnesota.

Getting back to white caste. One of the effects of the size and wealth of the country’s white caste is the ability to live inside its boundary lines, economically, culturally, socially. The same white American folks who know a lot about Prague (today, perhaps, Warsaw, Istanbul, Bucharest) and wander its streets will often die knowing not a damn thing about Black American life. You can see it in my hometown Baltimore. When you saw the maps of the locations of the “riots” (some of which were bona fide riots, some of which were crimes short of riot and some were no crimes whatsoever), you saw clusters in west and northwest Baltimore and others on the east side, in a shape that looks roughly like a bow-tie. The MTA and mayor shut several metro stations down in NW Baltimore, turned them into “ghost stations” like those that existed in East Berlin after the Wall was built over the tunnels and split the city. Transit service on the largely white Light Rail, running north-south linking to predominantly white suburbs and skirting some of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods, was unaffected. There were a few demonstrations in overwhelmingly white neighborhoods like Hampden, where white demonstrators challenged the City’s curfew. The Baltimore City police were much more polite in Hampden, in deference to white caste, than they were at overwhelming black Penn-North, where more direct and violent policing methods were employed. But most white people could avoid the “bow-tie” or “butterfly” entirely.

A personal, though perhaps trivial (you decide) example of living in a white bubble, was a comment that I made to a black friend in law school. He and I were coming out of the law school and we were discussing television. I mentioned that “Seinfeld” was a dominant program on Thursday night TV and a touchstone for the country. My friend patiently informed me that “Living Single” was much more popular among black Americans at the time, that “Seinfeld” was not particularly popular among black Americans. I then realized to my embarrassment that “Seinfeld” was set in New York, a city where white people were a minority, but on the show there were essentially nothing but white people. Even in New York, perhaps especially in New York, white people often live in a white cocoon. So can white law students in a city that’s 65% black.

One of the annoying things about white pathology is that white people tend to think of “racism” as something to do with a personal outlook. “I’m not racist,” comes the reply. That’s nice, and irrelevant. If the only contact that white people have with the peculiar race-caste institutions of this Republic is the opportunity to disavow “impure thoughts”, they prove rather than challenge the general point. “Racism” becomes a personal disavowal, like removing gluten from one’s diet: might be nice for your digestive tract but it doesn’t move the needle for the rest of the human race.

Black Americans (and others burned by white caste pathology in this society) aren’t trying to get validation and warm fuzzies from you or me or your or my racist uncle.  By and large, Black Americans are trying to design, build, operate and maintain their lives in a society that for most of its history has made doing all of the above very difficult or impossible. Many white people have maintained the conceit that they have a right not to be made uncomfortable about such discussions, not to have their consciences challenged. CS Lewis once wrote that the one sin that the devil could not make popular was cowardice, but the American white caste has proved him wrong.  Life involves conflict, and believe oneself to be exempt from the discomfort of conflict is, historically speaking, pretty peculiar.

Some will say that I am “bad-mouthing” America, and on the eve of Memorial Day, no less. I shrug my shoulders and invite critics to correct my errors and check my math. Some will suggest that America has been far less bad than many other societies in history. This might be true; our species does have a poor track record. The Byzantine emperor Basil the Bulgar-Slayer, upon defeating an enemy army of Bulgars, blinded 99% of the survivors and plucked one eye each out of the other 1%, leaving them to lead the other 99% back home to their king. Empire after empire in history has inflicted cruelty and mass killings,.  The Romans, Phoenicians, British, French, Chinese, Japanese, the Greek-speaking “Romanoi” of the Eastern Roman/Byzantine Empire, the Songhai, the Egyptians, the Sumerians, the Axum empire in Ethiopia, the Babylonians, Alexander the Great, Tamerlane, Genghis Khan, the Aztecs, the Third Reich, the Russian Empire and its successor Soviet empire. Perhaps others can grade the American Empire on the curve.

To its merit, the US has been more protective (though not absolutely so) of free speech and assembly than most of the societies named above, allowing for some better hope of civic remedies short of revolution, The US, at times, has ruthlessly suppressed free speech and assembly through, for example, COINTELPRO, the suppression of Native American languages and religion even by violence, FBI infiltration of political organizations, the bugging of both Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.  Even when we get a little bit exceptional, we find that we are not exceptionally exceptional.

Back to the central question: What is “whiteness”? The answer, counter-intuitive as it seems to people, is that American whiteness is as artificial as a silicone implant. It is as artificial as being “British” was in Philadelphia on the eve of Independence. It is as artificial as the Klingon language spoken on “Star Trek”. American whiteness got invented to protect the power and assuage the greed of slaveholders, who learned that they could not safely enslave Africans and others merely on the basis of being “infidels” (non-Christians.) Race and racial caste came to define life-time chattel enslavement in Virginia, my beautiful and beloved Maryland and elsewhere. White caste sociology and pathology remain to this day in the explicit political consciousness of some white-caste Americans (Rush Limbaugh, Jared Taylor of American Renaissance, Lee Atwater, David Duke, Chuck C Johnson come to mind (Author note: 2019 examples would include Steve Bannon, Tucker Carlson, Professor Amy Wax and occasional CNN commentator Richard Spencer) and in the implicit world views of perhaps most white-caste Americans, replete with some level of cognitive dissonance.

White-caste Americans should, if they actually believe the words of the Hebrew Bible “Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof“, reject as a criminal conspiracy, as illegitimate, what white-caste politics, sociology and institutions have done on this continent. We should be more fearless than were those who rejected British identity in Philadelphia, even at the cost of our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor. Five million “taxed without representation” Americans resided in the colonies on Independence Day. 36 million black Americans, most the descendants of enslaved inhabitants of this continent, of persons taxed without the right to vote throughout the Jim Crow south, are better moral claimants for a moral revolution than were British subjects who shot hot lead into the bellies of British regulars in the American Revolution.

Who is a traitor, and who is a revolutionary? We generally do not call George Washington a “traitor”, though had the British Crown defeated the Continental Army there is a good chance that Washington would not have received from the British Crown the mercy that the United States showed to its enemies Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis. Washington and his army, with some key help, prevailed.  Washington’s face is on Mount Rushmore next to Teddy Roosevelt’s. Winning helps. What I advocate is unapologetic treason to what American history and present society has constituted as the American white caste – in a certain sense, “race treason” as an ethical obligation.

Caste/race treason requires white caste people in this country to face the fact that this country, like the fields and villages and shtetls of Eastern Europe, like the plains where Basil the Bulgar-Slayer plucked out 20,000 eyeballs of his enemies, is to some extent a crime scene. America is hardly unique in being a crime scene.   The human race has been horrible in its history. A small example with which to end: If you drive up Troyer Road (pronounced like the surname of my friend Anton Treuer mentioned above, but Anglicized by one of my fellow German-American white caste members or an immigration clerk) in northern Baltimore County near the PA line, you will pass by a crime scene. It won’t look like a crime scene, but a black American of my acquaintance lives on Troyer Road. He enjoyed success in business and other professional life, and purchased the specific parcel of land on which white caste pathology enslaved his very own ancestors, just below the Mason-Dixon Line.

Yet it doesn’t look like a crime scene.  It looks like a rather nice-looking fenced piece of rural property in northern Baltimore County, 25 minutes away from the nearest police station. Americans, including especially self-congratulatory white-caste Americans, are not exceptions to human nature in wanting not to face reality.

Unlike the Byzantine soldiers under Basil the Bulgar-Slayer, we seem at times to have plucked out our own eyes. It’s time to start seeing clearly, and to address with moral courage the aftermath of our bloody, or to admit honestly that we – those whose ancestors’ fateful choice to join the white American caste – in fact do not and never will give a damn about justice.  Either we can choose to see, or we can keep pretending that we have no eyes.

The Enneagram: the least likely most useful thing I have encountered….

By temperament and culture, I am not given to “new age” thinking. If it came out of California and it isn’t a pair of Levi’s, it starts out with two strikes against it. There are no crystals in my apartment, unless I am indulging a nerd toy of a crystal diode radio (soon to be harder to find, since Radio Shack seems to be circling the corporate debt drain.) We speak Nerd in the Godfrey household, militantly so; bury us with our 20-sided dice.

Perhaps the only inside joke that my children’s mother and I still treasure from our marriage was our disbelief at fellow B&Bers in Canada sitting around the breakfast table talking, in all seriousness, about their “kundalinis rising.” For me, and I think for her, it had about the same level of dramatic irony that pervades the most hilariously indecent of SNL skits, but no one was laughing except me and my then-pregnant then-wife (laughing on the inside, to be polite.) She was at that time religiously conservative, I a secular-minded Nerd, but we found common ground at our near-inability to keep from bursting out laughing hearing our fellow guests holding forth on how their kundalini would rise up from their insides.

It is with this hard-nosed, woo-hostile outlook that I encourage (especially to attorneys) an open mind toward a model of human personality known as the Enneagram of Personality, and to examine the evidence for it and against it.

No single blog post can do justice to this model, but in summary, the model posits nine (Greek: ἐννέα) personality types with certain strengths and weaknesses, very roughly as follows:

  1. The Reformer – someone with a sense of mission (examples: Confucius, Pope John Paul II, Meryl Streep, Jimmy Carter)
  2. The Helper – someone with a desire to be needed by others (examples: Leo Buscaglia, Pope John XXIII, John Denver, Elizabeth Taylor, Dolly Parton, Mother Teresa)
  3. The Achiever – someone ambitious and highly driven for advancement (examples: Augustus Caesar, Muhammad Ali, Bill Clinton, Taylor Swift, Barbra Streisand)
  4. The Individualist – someone sensitive and seeking identity/personal significance (examples: Edgar Allen Poe, Sarah McLachlan, Amy Winehouse, Billie Holliday, Janis Joplin, Marlon Brando, Prince)
  5. The Investigator – someone intensely cerebral, eccentric, isolated (examples: Albert Einstein, Mark Zuckerberg, Bobby Fischer, Ursula LeGuin, Jodie Foster, Jane Goodall)
  6. The Loyalist – someone oriented towards security and relief of anxiety (examples: Chris Rock, Richard Nixon, George H.W. Bush, Dustin Hoffman, Woody Allen, Sally Field, Jennifer Aniston, Ellen DeGeneres)
  7. The Enthusiast – someone extroverted seeking variety and new experiences (examples: Mozart, Richard Branson, Sarah Palin, Bette Midler, Robin Williams, Joe Biden, Timothy Leary)
  8. The Challenger – someone dominating, confrontational and decisive (examples: John Wayne, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Roseanne Barr, Tony Soprano, Humphrey Bogart, Susan Sarandon, Serena Williams)
  9. The Peacemaker – someone easygoing, conflict-averse, supportive (examples: Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Stewart, Sophia Loren, Homer Simpson.)

The nine enneatypes are typically portrayed in relation to each other upon an “enneagram” – a geometrical figure of nine points on a circle connected with nine line segments of uneven lengths, representing the purported tendency of personalities at their highest and lowest points to take on some characteristics of other personalities. In some cases, personalities may be on the frontier between types; the model posits that some people may have a “wing” to any adjacent personality type (example: 5 with a 6 wing.) The personality numbers are arbitrary and are NOT intended to rank the enneatypes.

The enneagram and its associated personality models are the creations of G.J. Gurdjieff, Oscar Ichazo and Claudio Naranjo. Some have identified the roots of these personality types in early Christian mysticism and, per one account, even within Homer’s Odyssey among the hazards that Odysseus encountered. Those familiar with Catholic theology may be familiar with the concept of “predominant fault” – the tendency of people to do the wrong things again and again.

There is much more to discuss regarding this personality model, but for my purposes I will state that being able to figure out, reasonably quickly, which personality type I am dealing with has helped me immensely to predict conduct and avoid unnecessary conflicts, to be more forgiving of other people in my life and, unexpectedly, of myself as well.  (I am probably 5 or a 5 with “6 wing”, if it matters to the reader.)  For me, it’s a efficient shorthand, comparable to dividing politics into “left” or “right”.

Rather than indulging further discussion here, I would direct inquiring readers to take an enneagram self-test and see what you think of the results. A common result of taking the test and getting the results is something like “Oh God they really did nail me, didn’t they!” But don’t trust me: see for yourself.  Don’t trust me on this; test and see.

Reflect, return, refresh

Eleven years ago this winter, I started a political blog, www.crablaw.com. It was a source of great enjoyment to me and to my readers, all 6 of them (ok, a little wider than that, but not dramatically so.) The blog was a sort of rolling experiment in blog design, formatting, topic range (a lot about MD politics, a lot about law. etc.) I enjoyed it, and perhaps once or twice contributed something useful over the more or less 1500 posts that it ran – more, if you count the time when I ran it on Drupal as an experiment for maybe a year, I forget. Eventually I let it go to the dustbin of the dead domain scrapers; bought by some investor with an alleged address in Washington State, it now forwards to some German-language clickfarm, my own damn fault for letting it lapse.

Six years ago this week, I got up the gumption to go out on my own in solo practice for real, reserved BruceGodfrey.com (which I should have reserved 5 years before), got hosting and arranged for professional liability insurance. It wound up being the launchpad of my employment practice, starting with my unemployment appeals webpage in its various updated editions. That page soared high within Maryland searches within Google’s search algorithm, and still ranks quite high 5 years later.  That fact remains the ongoing joke of my practice: I wrote the page so as to provide something for visitors to read, not to bring the visitors in the door in the first place, but such is what indeed occurred.

Five months ago today, I joined with Jezic, Krum & Moyse LLC, a medium-sized firm with a sharp focus on the rapidly-growing Latino community of Montgomery County and nearby environs. During the last five months, I have had to learn more or less simultaneously:

  • the Spanish language, as spoken in El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Wheaton, MD
  • cultural and practical realities of the law firm’s Latino client base
  • personal injury law, practice and procedure (not my first contact, but my first contact at this level and volume)
  • the practice management software Needles, which I had not used before (was a Clio partisan and am still a fan) and
  • the practical “easing-in” to-do items in a full-time+++ job in a medium-sized office

The firm is famous for its long hours; working until 8 PM is normal and all attorneys must work a half-day on three out of four weekends. Accordingly, time is scarce and what free time I have is easily consumed by the important people in my life (starting with my sons) and quotidian responsibilities of groceries, dry cleaning, etc. So the blog has been pretty quiet; this has been probably the first 5 month period of relative blog silence since January 12, 2004, when I registered Crablaw. What posts I have made have been pretty cautious (it’s worthwhile to discourage drunk driving but it’s not exactly a profile in courage either.) Out of respect for my employer and its claim on my time, and out of a desire not to be the mouthiest new hire in the mid-Atlantic after more than 5 years of answering in my content only to myself. I knew I would return to blogging, but I wanted to make it “safe” – not for me personally (I, one crank lawyer blogger with wi-fi in his apartment, am not Charlie Hebdo or Theo van Gogh) but more out of respect.

Seventy-two years ago, a proto-blogging hero died on a guillotine in Munich. Sophie Scholl and her resistance group The White Rose distributed scathing leaflets at the University of Munich condemning Hitler’s war and his Final Solution, i.e. the mass extermination of European Jewry. For a while they got away with it, but eventually she and others were caught, “tried”, convicted and executed (a few in her group were imprisoned.) Had she been Catholic rather than Protestant, she would probably appear in icons; her name is inscribed at Yad Vashem and a bust of her likeness appears at Valhalla in Regensburg, a hall of historically or culturally significant Germans. If a 21-year old woman could be that brave, I have no excuse when I have no real skin in the game. On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with taking a respectful tone (as opposed to my historic irreverance or cheek, or worse) while writing forthrightly either.

Eleven years ago, blogging was an outlet when I was unhappy about other things in my life. Today, in much bappier times, it’s more like an old friend returning after too long. So expect to see a little more activity here, especially on the weekends, and thanks for visiting.

Please don’t drink and drive

There are two basic approaches for discouraging a motorist from drinking and driving, and likewise two basic strategies for avoiding committing drunk driving.

The two basic approaches are

DO NOT BE A SOCIOPATH

and

THE CONSEQUENCES CAN DAMAGE YOU EVEN IF YOU ARE LUCKY.

The basic strategies for not drunk-driving are “do not drive” or “do not drink”; these strategies are perfectly effective but not perfectly popular, as active DUI attorneys like me can attest.

Driving while under the influence or while impaired by alcohol is never safe, but especially unsafe on nights where the offense is going to be more common and the other drivers are likewise impaired. A decent non-sociopathic human being will decide not to drink and drive. A sociopath can keep his eye on “what’s in it for me?” and still avoid drunk driving, due to the catastrophic consequences like jail, fines, repair bills, lost income, cab rides to/from jail, eviction (got no license, got no ride, got no job, got no cash left, got no apartment), the costs of probation.

Legal fees, too; we charge actual green money for helping out with legal work for the defendant in State v. Drunk. Deductibles and the cost of increased premiums add up too; the Gecko and Flo from Progressive are going to take it really personally if you T-Bone your Corolla into the side of some factory worker coming off the 4-12 shift and break her left tibia, fibula and six ribs – drunk. Maybe you might also kill some teenager sitting on the driver’s side, maybe someone who – responsibly – didn’t ride with her worthless drunk boyfriend and called her Mom instead.  Your keys, your booze, your dice.

Think about the cost of the most expensive cab ride from downtown in your city (say, Baltimore) to the most remote suburb (say, Havre de Grace out along the “Land God Gave to Cain” on Route 40 past the pawn shops, peep shows and bankrupt liquor stores.) $150, maybe, and then maybe a lift back later to fetch your car? $150 plus lunch on you at Appleby’s for your friend for taking you to fetch your car is a much cheaper deal than a tow bill and a bail deposit in the aftermath of a high-impact DUI case – let alone legal fees.

No one should have to talk about the consequences on you from drunk driving. Warning you about the consequences to others ought to be enough. But if you are the sort of self-absorbed person who is listening ONLY to “WII-FM”  – “what’s in it, for me” – then consider this. You can keep on drinking more booze into the future if you avoid catching a no-alcohol-at-all probation order for 18 months.  You can avoid that scenario entirely if you either abstain (never a mistake) or secure a place to stay, a cab ride or public transit to your destination. You can keep on drinking (if that’s important) if you dump the keys, stay in, watch a marathon of The Big Bang Theory or what’s on Netflix.  Dump the car, stay at home and knock back a cold one.

I am tired of this being the n-th year in which I don’t get to say “Happy New Year” to my best friend from law school. Admittedly, it’s a little personal. If I come off as a bit preachy, so be it; the drunk who killed Nancy Yellin, Esquire, and three members of her familly didn’t have a preachy jerk convince him to stay home.  The killer is doing life in Florida now, but that doesn’t resurrect the dead.

Call a cab. Stay home. Get a lift from a SOBER driver. Catch the bus. Get a hotel, cheap or fancy.  Stay at an all night bar drunk listening to Nickelback if you have completely lost your dignity, but that’s better than trying to drive blitzed.

Call or text me if you must at 240-687-3564 and you are in Maryland; I will respect you for it and will try HARD to help. Do it because you are a decent human being or, failing that, because you want to keep looking out for number one.

Whether you “don’t drink” or “don’t drive”, either strategy will keep you much safer. If you must drive on New Year’s Eve, please be aware of the dangerous fools who were less wise than you in their planning and executive function.  Please be safe.

My best for a healthy, prosperous and responsible 2015.

R.I.P. Amira Milad

Last week I learned of the passing of Amira Milad, an IT administrator in a medium-sized law firm where I worked for many years in Pikesville. That firm and I severed ties some years ago, but I recall Amira warmly for her decency and generosity with her time on many technical issues that can arise in a working law office.  My condolences to her family and loved ones. R.I.P.

Annual St. Patrick’s Day Don’t Kill People Post

In 1997, a drunk driver killed my closest friend from law school, her brother, her sister-in-law and her infant niece in a one-crash accident in a residential neighborhood north of Miami right around “bar time.” The drunk driver fled the scene, having in no manner attempted to render aid to the wounded or even to have called the police, the fire fighters to douse the burning car or the EMTs to the scene of the crash. My friend had gone to the airport to collect her family and bring them home from a late flight arriving in the wee hours; the crash occurred within about a mile of her parents’ home on the ride back. The drunken motorist has been serving a life sentence arising out of the incident.

Over 16 years later, after one marriage, one divorce, two sons with autism, several major career metamorphoses, the relocation of my residence maybe 7 times and many personal lows and highs, it still hurts. I don’t think about my friend daily now, but rare is the week when I don’t think of her.

I represent accused drunk drivers and do so without apology. It is necessary work constitutionally and deserves to be done well. The accused deserve competent and diligent representation; “competent” and “diligent” aren’t a brag but the merest ethical “opening bid” for practicing law. But the following is about not hiring me or any other Maryland attorney for a DUI charge, by not catching the charge in the first place. St. Patrick’s Day is less than 10 days away and a lot of fools use it as a rationalization for driving drunk.

Cabs look expensive, but aren’t. Okay, $100 cab ride is epic, but if you get held on a DUI bail (not that common in MD but it does happen), you are going to kill that amount and more on the fee to the bondsman before you get sprung. The highly skilled professionals at Big Boyz or Fred Frank or Busting Out All Over Bail Bonds have one thing in common: not a damn one of them is a pro bono operation. You will lose that cab fare before you get sprung. If you can get sprung, if you aren’t in a hospital cell with a deputy watching over your wrecked, burned body.

Lawyers are expensive. Even cheap lawyers are expensive; some say that a cheap lawyer is the most expensive thing ever invented. When you get a services agreement from an attorney, even if there’s no “accident”, even if you have no priors, you are probably going to have to tap savings or get a loan from somebody. If you can afford to get lit on St. Patrick’s Day, you probably aren’t indigent, which means that you probably shouldn’t be a public defender client.

Rehab and alcohol treatment cost money. My favorite alcohol assessment resource in Baltimore County is very good and costs around $200.00 to open, and the weekly visits won’t be cheap either. Does the $100 cab ride back home look cheap?

Then there’s the interlock. Without getting into the specifics of Maryland law, refusing or failing the breath test may result in pre-trial license suspension, unless the motorist arranges for the installation of an interlock device. The interlock isn’t free; the providers of interlock installation and monitoring aren’t Communists or hippies. If you live in the suburbs and you face a license suspension, you may lose your job if you cannot drive to work. More money for the install and for the monthly monitoring.

There are the indirect costs of lost time. If you need to go to an AA meeting on direction of your attorney or your alcohol counseling provider, that’s time you cannot bill/earn on the clock. If you need AA you should absolutely go there for its benefits, but AA meetings have set start and stop times; when you are there, you aren’t earning.

It should shock no one to learn that GEICO’s Gecko and that camel from “Hump Day” aren’t exactly looking for an opportunity to do business with drunk drivers. They hate paying out money and drunk drivers are nothing but liabilities to them. While you might not get cancelled, you will probably suffer severe consequences from a drunk driving charge on your rates. Do you want to cover the costs of the town drunk’s wreckage? Neither does “Hump Day” or the lizard.

People do go to jail on first-time DUIs sometimes, even in relatively moderate Maryland. The bench in Baltimore County has shown an increasing willingness to jail defendants at least briefly on jailable traffic offenses, especially for DUI defendants who show up to court with no alcohol treatment plan in place. If you are convicted or found guilty, you will be fined, have to pay probation fees and related costs.

Then there are the intangibles. A lot of fair-minded people don’t want to date someone who drives drunk. If you get caught drunk driving, you may have to face the humiliation of your spouse seeing you having done this stupid thing. Your infant children won’t know (if you are lucky), but your teenage children will lose respect for you (as they probably should.) Your boss, if she finds out (and she probably will), may conclude that you are a screw-up and cannot be trusted with more responsibility. You may find it difficult to face yourself in the mirror after you come home.

If you are religious, you will probably have to account for this act of recklessness in your religious life, as no religion makes peace with getting drunk and risking other people’s lives. Specifically, the Catholic Church (which, after all, canonized St. Patrick) condemns drunk driving and reckless risk to human life generally in its Catechism of the Catholic Church:

…one is not exonerated from grave offense if, without proportionate reasons, he has acted in a way that brings about someone’s death, even without the intention to do so. (2269)

Those incur grave guilt who, by drunkenness or a love of speed, endanger their own and others’ safety on the road, at sea, or in the air (2290).

No moral or disciplinary law of the Catholic Church requires drinking or eating anything on St. Patrick’s Day, which falls during the ascetic and penitential season of Lent in the Roman Rite calendar.

Maybe the biggest intangible should be the end of your life or the life of another person. Drunk driving fatalities aren’t a talking point; they are physical piles of dead human flesh that EMTs have to drag and bag out to the hospital or the morgue. Some poor soul has the job of counting, identifying (preliminarily) and removing the road kill of the drunk driver. That roadkill could be you, if you drive off the road and your car catches fire in a crash. You could kill some teenager, some family of four. Drivers’ licenses numbers should start with 007; every license is, in a certain sense, a license to do something that sometimes kills people. Maybe this video can make the point more concretely than I can:

Hat Tip to Scott Greenfield, Esquire.

If you really need to party on St. Patrick’s Day, please be sensible. Restrain your consumption, or be the designated driver. If that doesn’t work, get a cab and if necessary a hotel/motel room, sleep off your drunk watching reruns of Seinfeld on the hotel TV. Get drunk at home and carry on there, if you must.

If you have to do something stupid with a piece of equipment while drunk, then “drunk dial” and not drunk drive. You may annoy your “ex” with your drunken call, or cause yourself other embarrassment with your boss, but at least they won’t have to attend your funeral and you will be around to face your humiliation. If you think you shouldn’t drunk dial, then dial the cab.

Nancy Sara Yellin, 1969-1997. May her family and those of her brother, sister-in-law and infant niece, be comforted.

Top ten things you need to know about practicing law in Maryland.

To young lawyers, new lawyers and visiting lawyers, here’s your top ten things to know about starting up in this state as a practicing lawyer in the view of one opinionated Baltimore County solo attorney.

1) Small.  This is a small state with a fairly sophisticated Bar, a very diverse one.  But it’s small.  If you get a reputation for being a jerk or an incompetent, it’s 4 degrees of separation, not 6.  And if you are connected in anyway to Loyola High School, it’s 2 degrees, starting with half the Baltimore County bench (as well as this attorney, ’87.) I am not advocating any of the foregoing, just describing it accurately.

2) Local Rules.  This rule has two parts: a) there are no local rules; and b) part a) is complete BS.  More accurately, the Rules use the word “may” a lot and “shall” less often.  How these rules get interpreted locally varies; get help if you are at risk of getting “hometowned.”

3) There is no “typical” Maryland court. Essentially, Maryland is 6 or 7 ministates united by a tax form.  The distance from Hagerstown to Bethesda is about 60 miles, but culturally it’s about the distance from Hagerstown to Brooklyn Heights.  Baltimore and Bethesda are 40 miles apart but they are different worlds, united by a tax form. Don’t even go to the Shore for legal business without local advice.

4) Judicial districts and circuits don’t matter. OK they matter internally for budgeting and assigning judges, but they don’t matter.  No one talks about circuit or district numbers except for lawyers doing criminal marketing mailings, and even they don’t talk about them but simply acknowledge them on the database.  They don’t matter; you will never see a reference to them on a pleading.  Counties and Baltimore City matter; counties often have very strong powers of home rule in a manner completely foreign to New Englanders who bumble in.

5) Contributory negligence is real.  If you utter “comparative fault” in this state you get the shocked looks that you deserve from working lawyers. Someday it may change if the insurance lobby stops seed-spreading the cash.  Until then, expect to have a bear of a time with slip and fall cases.

6) It’s a fairly forgiving Bar here.  Maryland ethics rules are fairly forgiving on some of the esoteric advertising nonsense that we hear out of Florida (e.g. no flags?).  Then again, Florida has to put up with “Florida Man” and we don’t. Annual bar dues have been the lightest in the country for many years and the bar association is voluntary (which in my view makes it better).  CLE is not mandatory, which in my view also makes it better.  How to stay out of trouble?  Be honest; don’t mishandle other people’s money; know what you are doing and do it promptly, and don’t be a disgrace.  The rest is commentary.

7) Sanctions are used sparingly in state and federal court. Both state rules and the local federal rules discourage sanctions filings in theory and in practice.  In the state systems, fee sanctions are remedial, not punitive.  I have asked for sanctions against opposing counsel three times in my career, and regretted it once.  Moral to the story: don’t make yourself a test case, as you will stand out.

8)  The Annotated Code of Maryland is the official code.  Righteous people who adhere to the Blue Book (which, to my knowledge, has not been made a canonical resource by the Court of Appeals through any official act) will tell you to cite the Code as “Md. Code Ann.” rather than “Md. Ann. Code.” Someone in Massachusetts actually gets paid to issue this rule to us.

9)  You should go to Ocean City in June if you can.  The MSBA puts on a rather good show, good spread, lots of CLE, most of it very good from working lawyers.  You deserve a deductible trip downyocean to learn.

10)  Bar members here are, in my experience, exceptionally generous.  When I was coming up in the Bar, I was too intimidated to seek out advisers, to ask for help.  Part of why I give back now is that I don’t want young lawyers to make my mistake.  Lawyers in this state are almost always freely giving of their time to young attorneys when they can, and that’s a very good thing (and something I wish I knew when I was 25.)  The MSBA list-serv for small firms and solos is an excellent example of this.