December 27th, 2010

Hacked! (And Did I Meet My Hacker at Killington?)

It happened last week. I found out right after I posted a story on a $50M personal injury verdict, and just hours before I headed off for four days of skiing at Killington. This blog was hacked.

And oddly enough, while skiing, I think I met the hacker. Or at least someone just like him.

The emails and alerts started last Tuesday, as people began getting redirected from here to a porn site, with a message asking them to click on something having to do with a virus alert. Frantic messages from me to my tech guy then followed, who updated everything and cleaned up the area. Then, apparently, I got hit again. Once again, stuff restored.

Calling me pissed off would be an understatement as I imagined a parade of horribles that I wished would descend on the hacker’s head. It isn’t often that I actually run into people with such an utter contempt for their fellow humans. After all, as an attorney I deal in the world of negligence, not the criminal arena that so often deals with deliberate attacks.

But then, on Saturday morning, after just a couple of ski runs, my wife hurt her knee high up on the mountain. She needed the dreaded toboggan ride down to the base lodge and a trip to Rutland Regional Medical Center.

In the course of that experience, we saw a lot of good old-fashioned human empathy. People stopped on the slope to see if we needed assistance (we did, thank you for stopping). And then they went off to get help. Everyone on the mountain, no doubt, could imagine this happening to them and knew exactly how they would want others to react. They responded with The Golden Rule of treating others the way they would want to be treated. They offered to stay with us if need be, and do whatever they could (nothing to do but wait for Ski Patrol, but thank you for asking).

And then there he was, my hacker. Or as I said at the top, someone just like him.

As Mrs. NYPILB was pulled on the sled at the first aid station at Killington base near 11 a.m. — and this had the potential to be far more serious than her tushy bone injury last summer — we went past a ticket window. And a voice called out, with what sounded like a German accent, “You done skiing today?” Huh? Was he talking to me? I turned to see him looking at me, and he repeated the question.

What a bizarre question I thought, as I hauled our skis to a rack and ran to catch up with the uber-nice ski patrollers who were getting ready to unload her. Yeah, I said, I’m done. Dumb question, I thought. And then…

“Want to sell your ticket?” If I wasn’t a bit rattled at worrying about my wife, and so perfectly stunned by the question, I might actually have walked up to him and knocked him down. Which, if you know me, would be quite out of character having never done such a thing. But I simply couldn’t recall having ever seen a person so completely lacking in empathy. Here was someone getting ready to take his wife to the hospital for lord knows what kind of injury — and you didn’t need an imagination of any kind to come to that conclusion given my wife laying there on the sled — and the thing that ran into this young punk’s mind was saving a few dollars on his lift ticket.

And it occurred to me, as I waited a bit at the hospital for the x-ray results (negative, visit to local ortho coming soon with ACL concerns) that this creep is just the sort of person that hacks. Absolutely no concern for their fellow man. No ability to identify with the plight of another. Zero emotional capacity to put themselves into the shoes of others.

At trial, empathy is something that lawyers look for and try to use. Now we can’t say to a jury, imagine if this was you — that is a violation of a different Golden Rule, this one for juries, and might result in a mistrial.  But many a lawyer does ask during jury selection if people would avail themselves of the jury system if they felt they had been wronged. That gets both to the feelings they have about the civil justice system, and incidentally asks jurors to consider what they would do if they were the injured party.

I hope that there weren’t too many of my readers that were affected by the hack. I confess to some complacency on the subject of hacks and viruses since I use a Mac, as Macs aren’t exactly ground zero for hacking. Mac users don’t generally even use any kind of anti-virus software, other than what Steve Jobs might build into the system to quietly work. But this didn’t take place on my computer. It happened on some server somewhere in the back of beyond of the information superhighway.

Perhaps one day the hacker will find himself (and you just know it’s a him, and not a her, don’t  you?) in need of assistance. Or the victim of some accident or attack. And will think back on his life and the stuff he has done. But until then, I expect he will remain a slime ball. And perhaps a slime ball forever.

The hacker might be tech smart, but is utterly barbaric in the world of  human relations. We can only hope this will prevent the creation of similarly inclined offspring.


June 20th, 2010

Happy Father’s Day, from Me and Harry

With my kids now tucked in and, I hope, happily in dreamland, I wanted to finally write that Father’s Day message. But Harry Chapin already did it as well as could be done with Cat’s in the Cradle, about his son Josh growing up while he was out there trying to make a living with his guitar. I think of the song with every school play, baseball game and other event that comes up in the lives of my kids.

And so, to all those father’s who spend more time that we’d like away from the home, in order to support that home and do our best for the people that we represent, I bring you this live rendition of Chapin. I was surprised, in hunting this down, to learn that the song had been covered by so many others, including Guns N Roses, Johnny Cash, and others (compilation). But this version  is all Harry:

Harry Chapin, live, Cat’s in the Cradle


April 25th, 2010

Welcome to WordPress (Is this thing on?)

After 935 posts using the Blogger platform, I move today to WordPress.  It seems that Blogger is no longer supporting FTP publishing as of May 1st. I’m not really sure what that means, except my techie guru tells me that I won’t be able to use Blogger to post to my own blog if it is hosted by someone other than Google.

Bob Ambrogi had discussed the problem back in March as he contemplated shutting down his LawSites blog and starting anew (as had Venkat Balasubramani).

Since I couldn’t claim complete happiness with Blogger, due in part to poor controls on comments, and I certainly had no intention of starting over with a new URL, I’ve moved today to WordPress.

I have some minimal experience with WordPress, having used it for the Paine to Pain Trail Half-Marathon site, but there are only a few posts there and limited activity since the site (and the race) are new.

I’m open to suggestions on which WP controls work best, so you might see some off-again on-again changes as I experiment. For now, though, one feature I’ve set is to close comments after 14 days.

My thanks to Rob Saunders, my techie guru, for making the changes, apparently without problems.


April 23rd, 2010

Back When I Had Hair…

I wasn’t going to write anything about the 22nd anniversary of my 28th birthday, until my brother sent a picture on to me. If you believe AARP, it’s an old picture. But that isn’t the way I like to think of it.

It is a good day, however, to repeat something I wrote three weeks ago explaining why I run April Fool’s gags:

Lawyers often deal with misery. Peoples’ lives can be forever changed in a fraction of a second in an accident. Divorce. Child custody. Bankruptcy. Arrests. There is no real end to the chain of human misery that clients bring to the doors of practicing attorneys.

So the April Fool’s post is a count-your-blessings kind of thing. You only live once and life doesn’t come with rehearsals. If you can enjoy yourself a little without hurting someone else, then that’s OK. Laughter isn’t the antidote to all of life’s ills, but it sure doesn’t hurt. Unless, of course, you’re the Paper of Record.

Seems to me that blessings should be counted on other days as well.

Thanks to Mrs. NYPILB and the little people in the house for the breakfast in bed. And if you were looking for a birthday video, you can forget, as we already made one that was banned. So you’re stuck with the pic.


February 1st, 2010

R.I.P. Jane Jarvis, Shea’s Queen of Melody (And a Lesson For Lawyers)

Jane Jarvis, the long-time organist for the New York Mets at Shea Stadium, died last week at age 94. Shea Stadium’s Queen of Melody inspired fans over the course of 15 years, and her playing, oddly enough, held lessons for lawyers. Stay with me here. I have a point this time.

Those of my age that grew up spending times watching the Mets at Shea remember her playing for the fans, and the fans responding, and Jarvis tinkling the ivories back at us. It was like an exuberant conversation during her 1964-1979 tenure as she kept us entertained between innings and during other breaks. Anyone who spent time at the now-gone ball yard remembers Jarvis doing Meet the Mets on the Thomas organ.

Ultimately she was replaced by over-amplified canned music (and a thousand other distractions of the modern ball park). But canned music, of course, can’t respond to the fans. Her playing was personal. She could see and hear what was going on, and speed up, slow down and modify on the fly. Live music is like that.

So where does the law come in to this? Lawyers often used canned materials too. We borrow briefs and memos from others for use.

But here is the important part: Too many lawyers, it seems, borrow the brief and don’t actually read it. They don’t make it personal to the actual facts of the case. The writing doesn’t crackle with originality and pertinence, because oft times it is neither.

I once read a brief that was filled with “this honorable court” and “respectfully” this and “respectfully” that, and behind all the obsequious writing was garbage. I always figured that if one wanted to be respectful to the court, one would tailor the brief to the actual facts and points that needed to be made. The writer would make it easy on the eyes instead of forcing the judge (or clerk) to go burrowing through the darn thing trying to figure out what the actual point is.

Other briefs I’ve seen over the years have clearly been filled with cut-and-paste from other briefs, or straight out of WestLaw. It’s pure laziness and the message that the judge no doubt receives is, “If the lawyer didn’t care, why should I?”

There isn’t anything intrinsically wrong with a form book, of course. If you are doing something for the first time it’s good to see how someone else did it. The mistakes are in believing that this the only way to do it, or that the form shouldn’t be changed at all. The mistake is in ignoring your audience.

Jarvis used sheet music to get her songs down when learning them. But then she adapted each song, just as the lawyer must adapt each and every argument (if, that is, you actually want to communicate a point to the judge)

Jarvis was a virtuoso when it came to the organ and the crowd. And that was because she didn’t sit back and rely on the forms she started with.

A 2008 article in the Daily News described Jarvis’s experience this way:

When it comes to music and the Mets, Jarvis once wrote the book. “I made all the decisions,” she says. She had a song for when the Mets trotted to their positions, and a song for when they smacked a homer, and then there was the Mexican Hat Dance to get things going when the home team really needed it during the seventh-inning stretch. An entire generation of Met fans came to identify the team’s championship run in 1969 with her lilting keyboard work. 

Rest in peace.

(P.S. Pitchers and catchers report in 17 days. I think Jarvis would want me to mention that)