Thursday, July 27, 2006

Eastern Caribbean Cruise

On June 26, 2006, I joined Polly and Susanne, my two sisters in the photo to the left, and their families, on an Eastern Caribbean cruise on the cruise ship known as "Carnival Elation". The cruise lasted a full week and this photo was taken on one of our last nights on the ship.

We all had staterooms on the same deck and I was lucky enough to have my own stateroom. It was a lot larger than I had expected and very well appointed. While I was initially sad that I did not have a roomie, that feeling quickly faded when I realized that I would be having my own room for the first time in probably 30 years!

I found it somewhat difficult to pack for this cruise so, of course, I packed too much. The cruise ship itself was like a floating resort and I "needed" many different outfits, shoes and accessories so I could seriously enjoy the spa, the casino, the food, the shows, the pool and so forth, as well as be prepared for the 4 ports and the variety of excursions that would be offered.

My most favorite thing about the cruise, of course, was that I was able to spend time with my sisters and their families. Polly and her husband, Mike, and their children, Alex and John Paul, and Susanne and her husband, Matt, along with their children Clayton and Skylar, made the trip so much fun. I absolutely loved being with them!!

The next best thing about the cruise was that it offered something for everyone. There was a plush and quiet library where I could sit and people watch. The outside pool was always busy with some contest or event. I watched the ice carving performance by one of the chefs and listened to several of the live bands. I also got to see some fun volleyball and basketball contests. They had shopping onboard as well as during the excursions. I helped the women's team win a "Battle of the Sexes" trivia contest by correctly naming Nancy Drew's companions. Susanne and I played in the casino a bit but we were not big winners. The three Moms had luxurious trips to the spa where I had a wonderful manicure and facial. Port excursions to Half Moon Cay, St. Thomas, Puerto Rico, and Grand Turk each offered their own pleasures, including beach time, souvenir shopping, food, outdoor and water sports of all sorts, sight-seeing, and so forth. The food during the cruise was abundant and the service was attentive.

So, after all that fun, I was happy to have some wonderful memories to bring home to Indiana!

HSN and Terrorism

HSN and Terrorism

Once upon a time, I awoke at 5 am on a Saturday morning. I picked up my stitching and turned on the TV. Flipping through the channels, I happened upon the Home Shopping Network (HSN) channel where I spotted some underwear that looked fabulous. I had never purchased anything from HSN but I decided to go ahead and do so. When the transaction was completed, the operator asked me, "Would you like to apply for an HSN card? It has special privileges." Of course, never one to miss out on a special privilege, I agreed. She patched me over to another department. While waiting for the next operator, a recording came on and announced that this upcoming conversation was being recorded for training purposes. I was not at all surprised that this phone call was being recorded, but I did wonder, "Who is being trained? Are they training me or the other guy?" And, "What are they training us for?" Soon a different operator arrived on the line. He was a nice young man, who seemed to be in his early twenties. He was cordial and asked me for my complete name and the last 4 digits of my social security number. I happily gave him that information as I was anxious to discover what special privileges the HSN card had to offer.Next, he began to read from a script. It was familiar to him, so he read on with some speed but was careful to speak each word clearly and to pronounce each with distinction. At the same time, I listened half-heartedly as I was still viewing the HSN channel and mentally recording the special features of the underwear I had just bought. Just as the TV screen moved to another item for sale, I thought I heard him say, "In its efforts to combat terrorism, The United States government has passed a federal law which requires that HSN identify each of its HSN cardapplicants. Therefore, pursuant to the mandates of this federal law, I will be asking you a set of personal questions to make sure you are identified properly." Although I must admit I was not fully alert to his entire message, when I heard him say the word "terrorism", I sat uprightin my seat. Before he had a chance to move on, I interrupted him. "Could you repeat that last part, please? I am not certain I heard you correctly." I thought I heard him respond with a giggle but he repeated these words with clarity, "In its efforts to combat terrorism, the UnitedStates government has passed a federal law which requires that HSN identify each of its HSN card applicants. Therefore, pursuant to the mandates of this federal law, I will be asking you a set of personal questions to make sure you are identified properly." I was stunned. I had no idea that our country's legislators were so forward-thinking and creative. How awesome to learn that our nation's leaders had figured out a way to enlist the help of this vast commercial enterprise - the entire Home Shopping Network backed by its many cardholders - to defend our country against terrorism. Even though it was still early in the morning, my mind started racing. I could not wait to complete this part of the call. I was anxious to provide my personal information so that I could not only get the HSN card but also so that I could help my country defend itself against terrorism. I immediately affirmed my patriotism to the operator, "Of course, I amhappy to assist my country and the Home Shopping Network in their allied efforts to combat the evils of terrorism. I will voluntarily answer any and all personal questions to make sure that all terrorism is thwarted. I am so grateful to have been asked because I want to assist our nation andthe Home Shopping Network to make sure that no weapons of mass destruction threaten our purple mountains or amber waves of grain." I was so engrossed in announcing my personal pledge of allegiance, that I even thought I'd heard the few faint strains of The National Anthem in the background. Suddenly it dawned on me that I had been put on hold by this young male operator. What I has hearing was the Home Shopping Network's recorded music! Apparently, the young man had to cut off the conversation because he had started to laugh. It was just a few moments later that the recorded music stopped and the operator's voice returned. I paused and hetook in his breath to begin the next part of his script. Although he tried to be serious, I could hear - with the utterance of his first word - the "chuckling" in his voice. I interrupted him curtly, as I was, needless to say, a little miffed that he was obviously making light of my national pride. In my most confident voice, I continued, "There is one subject, however, the nature of which is so personal, and the answer to which is such a well-guarded secret, that I beg you to not even ask it. Please do not ask me my weight. First off, I would have to lie about it. I could notdivulge that information unless you tortured me, for example, by not allowing me to have the Home Shopping Network card with its many privileges. I could not tell you the truth, even if you refused to ship me the underwear I just ordered. Secondly, I must issue a warning. If youhappen to discover some method that did cause me to disclose my true weight, I would then be forced to take steps to silence you.” By this time, both the operator and I were laughing hysterically – neither one of us expected to come to our senses in any reasonable time frame. I was ever so grateful that I had called an 800 number and was not being charged for 5 minutes of laughing! Soon the operator gathered his wits about him and said the only thing a man of his age could say that guaranteed to me that he fully grasped the severity of the consequences he would face if he had to broach the subject of my weight, "I have a Mother and a Grandmother! I know not to touch that subject.""What a relief!" I said to myself. I could continue my discussion with the HSN operator and was, I fervently hoped, just moments away from being granted the Home Shopping Network card, including all of its many rewards. He went on with his questions, all of which I was able to answer while at the same time preserving my dignity at not having to disclose any deepsecrets. Once done, he promised I would hear from HSN in a few short weeks. When he asked me to confirm my satisfaction with the call, I told him I felt he was very courteous and quite helpful but that I needed to amend my original order, "I will have to pay for expedited shipping. Ineed to get that underwear right away so that my efforts at battling terrorism can be undertaken as soon as the package arrives and I start wearing my new bra and panties in public." He responded aptly, "The sooner the better."In closing, my friend and fellow countrymen/women, be sure to remember - each time you see me in public, you might notice notice that my bottom is a little smoother and my top a little perkier. My mission continues – no terrorists will survive as long as the nation's efforts are beingsupported by HSN and its fabulous underwear!

Monday, July 17, 2006

E-Mail Etiquette

I was very interested to learn yesterday - while reading the newspaper - that one of the big cell phone companies has an employee whose title is something like, The Grand Poobah of Cell Phone Etiquette. She is supposedly the person who lets us know what is acceptable and what is not acceptable when using cell phones. (As an aside, the focus of the article was that 35% of American employees rank their co-workers’ personal cell phone ring tones going off at work as their most annoying work interruption. DUH - cell phone rings are designed to be annoying. The correct question actually is: Why does an employer permit employees to use their cell phones at work as I suspect the employees are not being paid to answer personal phone calls while at work?)

Anyway, during a recent discussion brought about by the posting and forwarding of a somewhat mean-spirited e-mail, I got to thinking we might need a Grand Poobah of internet or e-mail etiquette. I am not nominating myself but I do feel qualified for the position because I have made some pretty big boo boos, like the time I intended to send an e-mail to a co-counsel on a case stating unequivocally that our mutual client was a putz but inadvertently (or NOT) sent it to the client. Whoops!

A few things came to my mind regarding the recent discussion about people sending e-mails that maybe should never have even been written, let alone sent.

First off, I should say for those of you who do not know me - I am an attorney and I play one on TV (that last part is a fib). That said, much of my background is as an insurance defense attorney and I have handled DOZENS of cases involving lawsuits that arise out of one person innocently (or NOT) making a damaging statement about another person or entity. These would be civil cases - defamation for libel or slander - where the plaintiff is seeking money damages. While they are definitely difficult for the plaintiff to win, the problem for the defendant (the person who so innocently stated "whatever" about the plaintiff) is that she/he would have to defend the action in court and that means very expensive legal fees. On the other end - the damages end, if the plaintiff gets that far - one measure of damages is based upon the level or number of publications, i.e., how many times did the defendant "state" or “publish” the defamation. That number can get very large if you are "publishing" the statement on an internet forum or bulletin board. WOW!

Secondly, one of the posts indicated it was a federal offense to send out certain types of e-mails. Initially, that sounded somewhat incredible but - in fact - I am confident a federal law could easily (and unwittingly and unknowingly - which are not good defenses by the way - remember our Perry Mason law class motto - "ignorance of the law is no defense") be violated on the internet (like copyright, trademark, intellectual property infringement, and so on). More importantly, a "federal case" could be made out of an internet posting, primarily because the nature of internet communication allows it to be disseminated to hundreds of people, perhaps millions of people, in what seems like a nano second.

Thirdly, in my not-so-humble-opinion, many people think the internet allows them to remain anonymous. It is thought that what we used to do over the backyard fence (but would never admit to anyone -- gossip - dish - chitchat - kibitz) is perfectly fine because we are secure in our homes, no one can see us, no one really "knows" who we are, etc. Of course, that isn't true. In fact, the internet is a device that can easily expose our secrets, rob us of our identities, and threaten our privacy.

Fourthly – and this is my free legal advice: Don’t make evidence. You are making it too easy for your enemies. Writing it down and sending it across the internet becomes a permanent and easily retrievable record. We are no longer in the era when a tape of a conversation – or portions of a tape – can inadvertently (or NOT) be erased. What you write down and send on the internet could come back to haunt you later.

So, where to go from here? How about I tell you of the conversation I recently had with my daughters (ages 23 and 20)? The conversation concerned whether or not my sweet little Maggie, age 20, could bring a guest to a wedding reception when the invitation was specifically addressed just to her but the reply card had the spot that indicated "how many will be attending". This conversation, by the way, was a lively debate of sorts and covered many topics (friendship, money, gift-giving, how to meet a nice person at a wedding instead of the butthead you wanted to bring to the wedding, etc.). The big message I was trying to get across to them was that rules of etiquette were not designed to make people uncomfortable and stuffy but, rather, are mostly designed to make sure that feelings don't get hurt. For example, it is probably best if you and/or your beloved tell your future mother-in-law of your engagement before you announce it to each of your customers at the bank, especially if she is a local merchant and also a customer of the same bank! Am I right? Could you see how her feelings might get hurt? In the end, the message they took away from the conversation was that you should follow rules of etiquette because "somebody might get hurt". Now, whenever someone BURPS (a topic which I regrettably cannot find in the index of my copy of "Miss Manners’ Guide for the Turn-of-the-Millennium"), one of them cries out, "Watch out, someone is going to get hurt!"

The motto I want you to take from this story is: Whenever you are about to push the send button - think of BURPING - and make sure your message will not cause someone to get hurt!