The Top 10 of 2014

Friends:

I couldn’t let 2014 end without my annual Top 10 list of books I read during the year. So, without further ado, and in no particular order, here are the 10 best books I read in 2014 of the 66 total that I read and the 2 that I didn’t finish:

  • Gangsterland by Tod Goldberg: It sounds like the plot to a sitcom. Chicago mafia hitman goes on the run and poses as a Rabbi in the suburbs of Las Vegas. But it is anything but a sitcom. Instead it is a harkening back to the good old fashioned “family” storytelling of a Mario Puzo in the way only Tod Goldberg could tell it. Wit, sarcasm, violence and heart. In anyone else’s hands it could have been a disaster. In Tod’s, it is a masterpiece.
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak: I read this one on a recommendation and expected a kid’s book. But even though you can typically find it in the young adult section, it is much more than a book for adolescents. At times scary and at others incredibly heartwarming, it’s the book I cannot wait for my kids to read, but I am also scared to death that they will.
  • The Burning Room by Michael Connelly: No book list of mine is complete without an entry from my favorite author and his hero Harry Bosch. Connelly again knocks it out of the park. If you like a good police procedural with a compelling hero and damn dirty deeds, you can’t do better than Connelly.
  • The Golem of Hollywood by Jonathan Kellerman and Jesse Kellerman: A “whodunit” like nothing I have ever read before. Mysticism and history, murder and mayhem, this is what fine storytelling is all about. A nice departure from the Alex Delaware series, this is a new series to definitely watch.
  • The Revenant of Thraxton Hall by Vaughan Entwistle: A surprisingly fun and engaging mystery with Arthur Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde as the heroes. An investigation into the ghosts and unexplained phenomena at a country home with creepy séances and characters who can’t be trusted, this is hopefully the first in a series with these erstwhile heroes.
  • Alex by Pierre LeMaitre: A mystery from France, set in and around Paris, but there is nothing straightforward about this one. One, long, manipulation, where you don’t know who to trust and who to feel sorry for, this one had twists all over the place and a winning ending. Can’t wait for the next one.
  • The Devil’s Workshop by Alex Grecian: Despite the number of books that I read that take place in Victoria London during the days of Jack the Ripper, none of them come close to Alex Grecian and his Murder Squad books. And this one leaped over its two predecessors, with JTR making an appearance and nonstop tension. Cannot recommend this series enough.
  • Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King: You know I am a scaredy-cat and yet I read two Stephen King novels this year. This one was the true standout. A cat and mouse caper with sympathetic heroes and a truly nasty bad guy. The ending was not quite on par with the rest of the book, but the lead up to the conclusion was well worth the time.
  • Edge of Eternity by Ken Follett: This was the beast of the year, measuring in at over 1100 pages and weighing just over 20 pounds (or so it seemed), this conclusion of The Century Trilogy and chronicling of the 1960s through the 1980s was the best of the three and the one I was looking forward to the least. The 1960s are not the most intriguing time for me in history, but Follett makes the history come alive with remarkable detail and compelling characters. Of especial note is the recounting of the erection of the Berlin Wall and the impact this had on the people who were forced to the east, not to see freedom for over 20 years. A remarkable achievement in storytelling.

 

  • FINALLY: All of the Peter James novels. I had not heard of Peter James or his police detective hero Roy Grace before June but once discovered I devoured all of the entries, all 10 of them. The town of Brighton and Hove in the south of England is in good hands with Roy Grace on the case. James crafts not just police procedurals but character studies of the good guys and the bad guys. From a bachelor party practical joke gone bad to the harvesting of teenager organs to celebrity stalkers to September 11 to a mystery that spanned a century, James truly has the gift for storytelling. If you read only one book on this list, do yourself a favor and make it a Peter James. He ranks up there with Michael Connelly and Jonathan Kellerman on my list of favorites. 

 

So those were my favorites. What were yours? I am always looking for recommendations so please let me know what I should read next.

Happy reading in 2015 and, above all else, a happy, healthy and prosperous 2015.

 

Rob

“A great flood is coming. The waters of the heavens will meet the waters of earth. We build a vessel to survive the storm. We build an ark.”

Friends:

I am not a Biblical scholar. I barely passed my Hebrew School classes because, really, have you ever heard of someone flunking out of Hebrew School? But I am conflicted because of my love of bacon. I LOVE bacon and it has always bugged me that for some reason it was decided that bacon wouldn’t be kosher and that I shouldn’t eat it. So it was with some measure of satisfaction when I finally discovered the real reason why Jews are not to eat bacon or any other food from the pig. It’s amazing what you can learn from the movies…

Last weekend I finally got to watch the Russell Crowe movie “Noah.” Since I have young kids, the only movies I can claim to have seen recently either has dragons, penguins or big heros in them, so Noah didn’t make the grade, although I am sure he had some penguins on board the Ark.

We all know the story of Noah and the Ark; that Noah was told by the creator of the big flood that would be coming to wipe out the Earth and that he was to build the Ark and collect two of every animal and his own family for safety from the flood, after which life would begin again. Yet there is more to the story than that, and I thank Russell Crowe for opening my eyes.

Apparently Noah had a nice-sized family: at the beginning of the film he has two sons about 8 or 9 years old, a baby boy and, after a long journey, they adopt a daughter who was the lone survivor of some kind of massacre. After what seemed like minutes but was really something like 10 years, the kids have grown up and everyone is helping to build the Ark. But the bad people of the world want to be saved also, and it is up to Noah to ensure that the creator’s wish is fulfilled, that all of the bad people perish in the flood, with humanity starting all over again through Noah’s family.

But one of Noah’s sons took a basic mathematics course and can see the writing on the wall—he sees that the ratio of men to women is skewed. Noah has his wife, and his brother has their adopted sister. This leaves him and the other young brother with no female counterpart with whom to repopulate the world. He is none too pleased with this, so he goes out into the world to find a bride and, when he is on his way back to the Ark with her, the storm begins and Noah refuses to allow her on board, thus sealing her doom.

This son is beyond upset and assists the leader of the bad people who has stowed away on board the Ark. Everyone else is obliterated, but the leader of the bad people has survived. The creator’s intention was to get rid of all of the bad people and start afresh, and this son has thwarted that effort… and the creator is not happy about this at all.

Obviously the good triumphs over evil, Noah defeats the bad guy and all is right with the world again. But the creator does not suffer from short-term memory loss. He knows what happened and he knows who attempted to disrupt His plans. Noah’s son. Noah’s son, Ham.

And thus, the creator instructed that his people should not eat any food from a pig because it would be a salute to someone who attempted to subvert the creator’s instructions. You’ll note that we do not eat snakes either, and there is an obvious reason for that…

Whew! It is a relief to finally have that mystery solved. And I must thank the movie Noah—it was more like a documentary than a film. I’m sure every word in it is accurate.

Now, I can’t wait to see “Exodus: Gods and Kings” when it comes out on DVD. I’m sure there is more to learn…

Have a great week, and a great holiday.

“I’m tired of trying, I’m tired of lying, the only thing I understand is what I feel.”

Friends:

You probably didn’t notice, but we had another “rock star death” a few weeks ago. And while I don’t typically care too much about celebrity deaths, this one hit me particularly hard. But it probably isn’t for any reason you could have predicted.

Unless you are into the heavy metal music scene, you probably weren’t aware of the death of Wayne Static two weeks ago at the age of 48. While I initially thought, like many other people, that this was another one of the rock star overdoses, it turns out, at least preliminarily, that this wasn’t the case, it was just a death by natural causes; whatever natural causes are when you are 48 years old.

Wayne Static was formerly the lead singer of a band called Static-X which experienced a modicum of success in the late 1990s and early 2000s. A hard sound with impossible to understand lyrics penetrated the brain and ears through its singer with stage presence and personality, not just anger and black clothes.

But after many years, Static-X broke up, its members unable to continue to play together or even get along. Like many bands, they could not rectify their differences and continue to please their fans, so the band dissolved and Wayne Static became a solo act. Wayne had a loyal following and was just getting ready to embark on a tour when his life ended prematurely.

So what? You may ask why I care so much about another rock start death. Sure, I liked his music and enjoyed his shows and the idea that I will never be able to attend a Static-X or Wayne Static show again is saddening to me. But I never get so attached to any celebrity that it personally affects me. Yet this death was distressing in one major way.

The break-up of Static-X was, at times, particularly brutal and public in the heavy metal world. Band members who had played so well and so long together could no longer even sit in the same room due to… well, what else? Money. It all comes down to money, doesn’t it?

As you can imagine, when Wayne’s death was discovered, the media pounced, contacting the former band members for comments. What would you expect them to say? That he got what he deserved? Of course not, hopefully no wounds run so deep as to wish ill or death on another person. Instead, however, the former band members, including the one who Wayne most publicly fought with, expressed sadness, of course, but also one other emotion – regret.

Koichi Fukuda, the former guitarist for Static-X had this to say: “I thought the time is the only thing needed for all of us to realize what we had is something so special. I was just waiting patiently for my old friend Wayne to come back and hoping someday we’ll play music together again in a same room with a smile on our face and have fun like old times.”

Tony Campos, the former bass player for Static-X had this to say: “It’s sad the way our friendship ended, but even more sad that we never got to settle things between us. Even though we were no longer friends the last five years, I held on to a sliver of hope that my old friend would come back.”

Both of these band members said, at least in my interpretation, the same thing—they were waiting for the other guy to come back and make amends. It appears that they never took the initiative to take the first step on their own and now they won’t have that chance.

We never know when we are going to die or, when someone else is going to die. The “wait and see” approach never works. Because invariably you will end up waiting too long. Aside from the fact that Static-X never made up to create more music together, what is more saddening by Wayne’s death is that two of his band members will now spend the rest of their lives regretting that they didn’t pick up the phone or send an email or send a text or tweet a message or do whatever in order to attempt to reconcile with their friend. Band member? The more important term is friend. This was their friend; they let money or ego or whatever else get in the way of their friendship and now their friend is gone and they can never make up again.

I am sure that there are people out there who I have wronged. I know there are people who I was once friends with who I am no longer close to at all. To all those people, I am sorry and I encourage a reconnecting. Life is too short to hold grudges. If you are waiting for some intervening event to bring you and a former friend back together, you’ll be waiting a long time and, I guarantee, it will eventually be too late.

Have a safe week.

“I’m just calling to tell you that I love you, and goodbye.”

Friends:

Last month the wife and I were in New York City for a few days and we knew we just had to go to Ground Zero, the former site of the World Trade Center. Lots of weird and uncomfortable thoughts go through your mind when you are standing at a spot where such devastation and destruction took place, especially when you saw it happening on TV as it was happening. So much different from newsreel footage of historical events.

While you are standing there, trying to imagine the two massive structures as they stood just moments before the airplanes flew into them, it is inconceivable even to my practical mind, that such an act could have taken place. And as we walked through the mass of people all trying to get a glimpse of basically nothing, I found myself looking at everyone, trying to memorize their faces, trying to pick out the tourist from the local.

Because as we left the area and walked through the neighboring areas, it was clear that while the buildings were coming down, there were thousands of other people who experienced the destruction and horror first hand. And I must have been passing many of them as I walked in the vicinity. The people who own and run the storefronts just next door, the attorneys and accountants and financial advisors who worked in the offices next door, the kids walking through the area who, on that September morning must have been walking to school. These people who I was passing at that very moment had already witnessed such terror and panic as I had never experienced in my life and it felt to me as if I had to be deferential to that, to not push back when I was shoved out of the way by a rushing New Yorker, to say an extra appreciative “thank you” to the guy who worked in the pizza shop, to give a couple more dollars to the homeless guy on the street.

I felt like I owed it to these people who had already seen and experienced so much, that I owed it to them to be kinder, more appreciative, more respectful.

By comparison, when I was in Germany about 15 years ago, I felt the opposite. Every older person I passed by on the street was instantly viewed with suspicion, a curiosity as to what he or she was doing in the early 1940’s while their government was pursuing their reign of terror.

And at that point, comparing my thoughts of Germany to my thoughts of NYC, it occurred to me that we all have experienced, in some form or another, some sort of horror and terror, some kind of devastation and destruction. And we all deserve additional respect for having suffered that. For just as I was concerned for the shopkeepers who were at the base of ground zero in 2001, so might they feel the same about me as I tell them about my experience during the 1994 Northridge earthquake, or the girl next to me who discusses her experience in the New Orleans hurricane.

We all have stories and we all have experiences and some of them are unpleasant and terrifying. Because I was there in NYC at Ground Zero, I felt the magnitude of the destruction but also an alarming sensitivity to those who had suffered by surviving. While the deaths of the people on the planes and in the towers were certainly tragic, we must not forget the impact the destruction had on the living, the first responders, the volunteers, and simply everyone who had to move forward from that day and rebuild and regroup.

We all have experienced something like that, something that was so devastating that the process of rebuilding and regrouping was just as tragic as it was for the people who perished. Don’t we, then, owe it to each other to treat each other with that extra level of respect? I knew as I was passing people on the street at Ground Zero that they were there, that they had experienced the terror, that they survived and rebuilt. But the people on my street, or on other streets, I don’t know the same about them. But if I assume that they have some sort of similar experience and I treat them with that extra level of respect, then aren’t I being a better person?

And can’t we all be better people if we consider that when we are dealing with other people? Just because they don’t have scars on their bodies it doesn’t mean that they haven’t been scarred.

“Oh, obviously! The moment I sat down I thought I was looking into a mirror.”

Friends:

Hollywood is biased against an important cross-section of society and it has been like this for over 50 years, if not longer. And none of you have ever noticed or said anything about it. It is time to rise up and voice our disdain for Hollywood and its consistence abuse.

Hollywood has always been resistant to change. Even today, when we have such celebrated thespians as Denzel Washington, Will Smith and Halle Berry, Academy Award winners and box office giants, there is still the perception that there aren’t enough good roles for African-American actors and actresses. Or consider Hollywood’s insistence that a woman be young and beautiful in order to get the good roles, while the women who are advancing in age are being given the roles of mothers and grandmothers. Harrison Ford, Liam Neeson, Sly and the Governator, they continue to get roles into their 60s and 70s and yet other than Meryl Streep, I defy you to find a woman over the age of 45 who headlines major motion pictures.

And Hollywood is replete with activists who continuously raise awareness about these important social issues. It was only a few years ago that a woman finally won an Academy Award for Best Director. A momentous occasion for Hollywood and women everywhere! 12 Years a Slave won best picture and Lupita N’Yongo won best actress. Tremendous strides have been made, even over the past 10 years, in equality in Hollywood.

But it boggles my mind that Hollywood consistently ignores one of the most important and impactful contributors to entertainment. And I blame one person: Hayley Mills.

I’m going to take you back to 1961 and a film called “The Parent Trap.” If you aren’t familiar with the movie, the synopsis is simply this: identical twins separated by their parents at birth meet at a summer camp and decide to switch places in order to try to get their parents to get back together. Of course madcap hilarity ensues and the twins succeed in their quest with mom and dad getting back together at the end.

But there is one small yet significant piece of the equation that always gets overlooked: the twins were played by the same person! They didn’t use actual twins!!! This is what’s wrong with Hollywood today!

Consider the following examples of actors and actresses who played identical twins:

–         “The Parent Trap” (1998)—Lindsay Lohan;

–         “The Social Network” (2010)—Armie Hammer played the part of both Winklevoss twins, in face only. Instead of using real twins, they used Armie Hammer and another person and then digitally placed Armie Hammer’s face on the other twin;

–         “Liv and Maddie” (2014) – Dove Cameron;

–         “Twins” (1998) – here Hollywood didn’t even try to get people who looked alike, choosing Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger

–         “Dead Ringers” (1988) – Jeremy Irons;

–         “Leaves of Grass” (2010) – Edward Norton; and

–         “Adaptation” (2012) – Nicolas Cage;

And the list goes on—other notables are Bette Davis, Eddie Murphy, Andy Garcia, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matthew Modine, and Jean Claude Van Damme.

Frankly I think that Hollywood needs a wake-up call. Identical twins have been stepped on and ignored for too long and this identical twin has had enough. When the musical “Miss Saigon” premiered in London, there was incredible controversy about the fact that Jonathan Pryce, a British actor, was cast to play a Vietnamese pimp. Why isn’t there similar controversy when one actor is cast to play identical twins?

Hollywood has been silent for too long. Something needs to be done and I, for one, will be boycotting any films or television shows or any other form of entertainment that feature identical twins played by one actor or actress.

I urge you to join me in making a stand. Tell the executives in Hollywood that we will not allow these injustices to continue.

“What you want, Baby, I got – What you need, Do you know I got it?”

Friends:

We aren’t given a lot in this world; we have to work awfully hard to get ahead, to be successful, to simply survive.  But there is something that we should be given, something that we shouldn’t have to work for or earn.  And you might be surprised by what I am talking about.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T.  We have all been taught that respect is earned, it’s not given.  Frankly, I think that’s an outdated and antiquated theory and one which contributes to society’s general sense of ill-will.

We view people as unworthy of our respect until they act in a certain way that engenders it.  They prove something to us; they show us something that makes us believe that they are honest or trustworthy.  They act in a way that shows that they respect themselves.  And then, only then, do we give them respect.  Sure, there are people who we agree should be shown respect simply by virtue of who they are, like judges and police officers and firemen and teachers, but I have seen too many litigants in court openly disrespect the judges and court staff.  Simply wearing a black robe doesn’t automatically mean respect is given.  It still has to be earned.

The problem with the theory of earning respect is that there are no criteria for it; how does one earn respect anyways?  Is it by graduating from some institution of higher education?  Is it making a million dollars a year?  Is it feeding a family of four without the need for government assistance?  Is it working two jobs in order to pay for college tuition?  Is it working hard at your job?

We as a society appear to be confused and because of our confusion, we tend to side with the belief that the other person has not earned our respect.  It is far easier than to examine the other person to determine if respect is warranted.  And we then act in accordance with that perception.  We criticize, we castigate, we offend and we ignore.  It’s a tough way to go through life, either being the critic or the subject of such criticism.

I see it every day in my career and it has, at times, made the practice of law agonizing.  Seriously, what does an attorney have to do to earn the respect from an opposing counsel?  The only people who truly understand the challenges in becoming an attorney are other attorneys, so why is respect so hard to come by from the people who know the trials and tribulations so intimately?  (pun intended)  There’s no respect, there’s no congeniality, there’s no reverence.  There’s a reason why there are so many jokes about lawyers… because some of them are true.  There used to be a time when being an attorney held a certain esteem; when one could walk down the street and hold their head up high knowing they were a part of a lofty profession.  The times have changed unfortunately and it just doesn’t feel that way anymore.  Instead we have backstabbing and name-calling and criticizing as a part of a normal strategy of representation.  If you represent the opposing party then you do not deserve my respect because you stooped so low as to take him/her on as a client.  No one in their right mind would have accepted that representation, so you get no respect from me.  Don’t believe me?  I’ve heard it from other attorneys, many times.

And it isn’t just attorneys or adults for that matter.  I see it in my kids and how they and her friends treat each other on the schoolyard.  So much of bullying is a product of a lack of respect; in fact, I would hesitate to say that all of bullying starts it.  If someone is different because of the color of their skin or their sexual preference or their size then they are not worthy of respect, right?  Teachers are not worthy of respect because their sole focus is in being a disciplinarian, they don’t really care about the students.

I want to suggest an alternative.  Instead of adhering to the philosophy that respect is earned, what if we just live by the tenet that everyone shall be given respect until they prove that they are not deserving of it?  You can think that my client is a terrible person, but you will respect me until such time as I prove to you that I don’t deserve your respect, such as when I fail to comply with a deadline, I deliberately mislead you to gain an advantage or I lie to you.  Then you may adjudge me to be unworthy of your respect.

The problem is that we simply don’t know enough about each other to make decisions about whether someone is deserving of respect.  The guy you bump into on the street, you don’t know if he cheats on his taxes, does drugs or works three jobs to feed a family of 5.  The attorney across the courtroom from you, you don’t know if he was top of his class at Harvard or took the BAR exam 7 times.  The kid on the playground who doesn’t have the newest Nikes, you don’t know if his parents are divorced of if he and his family are homeless.  You aren’t deserving of my respect because you don’t have the same fancy clothes that I do.  You aren’t deserving of my respect because you didn’t go to an Ivy League school for your master’s.  You aren’t deserving of my respect because you don’t work in a big downtown accounting firm, you’re just a solo practitioner working out of your house.

Life is incredibly difficult.  What’s the meaning of life?  I can tell you what it shouldn’t be.  It shouldn’t be about having to deal with people who disrespect you.  It shouldn’t be about enduring criticism or reprimand or disparagement or denigration.  It should be about happiness and satisfaction.  And having to deal with people who show you disrespect can certainly impede you other pursuits.

It is so much harder to gain respect then it is to lose it.  So why not avoid stacking the deck against each other.

“A kingdom for a stage, princes to act and monarchs to behold the swelling scene.”

Friends:

I don’t know much about Shakespeare, I confess.  Sure, I’ve read the popular ones, but go further astray into his catalog and I am virtually useless, a category I would not run on “Jeopardy.”  But over the past few days I learned a little bit more about his writings and I wonder what he would have to say about some of the cases I have to handle…

The 70th anniversary of D-Day was just a few days ago and when the news ran its reports it made me think of the movie “Saving Private Ryan” and the HBO mini-series “Band of Brothers.”  I didn’t realize until our Rabbi mentioned it Friday night that the title “Band of Brothers” was taken from Shakespeare’s play “Henry V.”  (I don’t know anything about it, but I’m pretty sure they all die in the end.)  As the Rabbi was giving his sermon Friday night he touched on this passage from the play:

“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;

For he to-day that sheds his blood with me

Shall be my brother”

Powerful words about the relationships that are forged on the battlefield, the brotherhood that is created when strangers are thrust together on the front lines in pursuit of a common goal.  As the Rabbi was discussing this in terms of the recent Memorial Day holiday, I couldn’t help but think of the irony of the statement, these 416 years after they were written.

The purpose of the metaphor, to Shakespeare, was to describe the bonds between soldiers as being impenetrable, the most solid and impervious bond known to man; because Shakespeare viewed the bond between brothers as being strong and durable.  At the time, there was no connection stronger than that of brotherhood.

I highly doubt if he were writing “Henry V” today he would choose such a metaphor to demonstrate something so unbreakable.  All Willie would have to do is sit in the gallery in any probate court in the country and listen to the stories of brother versus brother, parent versus child, sister versus sister and he would give second thought to the perception of this impervious bond.  Because it isn’t.  We’ve heard that the bond between soldiers is stronger than any other bond because of the tension and stress that surrounds the relationship, the trust that must be present and which could be the difference between life and death.  That bond can be relentless.

By comparison, however, the bond between siblings is forced upon them, not by their own choice and not necessarily fostered by them.  Instead it is a bond that is frequently fraught with resentment, feelings of favoritism by parents, disparate treatment and misperception; which breeds not a relationship of deep trust and faith in each other, but of bitterness and hatred.  This creates a relationship that, over time, can frequently fester and worsen until a breaking point is reached, usually the death of the parents.  Then the gloves come off and it is no holds barred.

Would Shakespeare use the metaphor “Band of Brothers” today?  I just don’t see it.  I recently participated in a career day at a local junior high school and I asked the kids how many of them got along with their siblings.  You’d be surprised how few of them raised their hands.

A “Band of Brothers?”  Men who would be willing to die for one another and expect the others to feel the same… you would think that the bonds of family should be the strongest of all and in Shakespeare’s time it might actually have been that way.  But it is a sad sign of the times when those types of bonds are few and far between.

“Now, none of us has any idea where life’s gonna take us, ’cause what we have is now.”

Friends:

While I really hate to admit it, it’s simply a fact that Britney Spears is a role model.

Ok, maybe not a role model per se, but perhaps a model of how to effectively care for a young star who is quickly careening down a path of death and destruction. Remember the incidents of her shaving her head, shoplifting, erratic behavior, drug use, hit-and-runs and investigations of child abuse and neglect? Sure you remember; she was a train wreck and it was only a matter of time before she took her place in Hollywood lore next to James Dean and Marilyn Monroe and Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, another star who shot to fame too fast and couldn’t control the downward spiral.

But then fate intervened, or rather, her father. He came into the fray, realized that her daughter was out of control and initiated court proceedings to have himself appointed as her conservator. A parent’s job is never over. Even though the kids may be adults and out in the world on their own, a parent is never not a parent.

Now I am not saying that the conservatorship of Britney Spears has been appropriately handled and without hiccups or controversy; I am simply highlighting the fact that on January 31, 2008, crimefilenews.com stated the following: “Sadly, the Britney Spears death watch is well underway.” And now, five and a half years later, you would be hard pressed to find anything negative about Spears, and certainly nothing as fantastic or appalling, or life-threatening, as in 2008.

Now look at the other side of the coin: Justin Bieber, Lindsay Lohan, Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, Shia LaBeouf, Jodie Sweetin, Adam Rich (a name from the past)… while some of those on this list seemed to find their own way out of their spirals (or at least so far), some of them seem unable to get out of their own way. Bieber and Lohan are the most prime and obvious candidates.

Many people look at conservatorship as a necessary evil when caring for the elderly or mentally ill, a court-supervised process that many of us perceive as applying in only limited circumstances. On the other hand, it seems that parents believe that their job ends when the kids turn 18. Seriously, how many times have you wondered what Bieber’s parents are doing while he consistently gets in trouble with the law, abuses drugs, falls in with bad crowds and generally makes a mockery of himself all over the world? While we would like to think that his parents had to have raised him to be better than this, it simply appears that his parents have stopped caring.

Which is why I revisit the Britney Spears matter, a situation in which a parent identified that his daughter was playing with fire and was on the verge of being irrevocably burned, so he took action. Was it right, was it wrong? I am not going to take a stance on that. I am only going to say that something was done. The parents did not sit idly by and watch as the flames rose higher and higher.

Recently the same thing happened with Amanda Bynes, a child star who was acting so erratically the police arrested her and put her under a psychiatric hold, the same as Britney Spears. Since then, her parents have been appointed conservators and she has been out of the limelight and seemingly under control.

I acknowledge that in the cases of Spears and Bynes the police had already arrested them and put them under psychiatric holds before the conservators were appointed, but if anything else, they are demonstrations of parents who took action to try to help and the help seems to have been successful.

Even though they are adults, they are still the children of parents and the parents cannot sit by and allow the devastation and personal destruction to continue, especially when their efforts cause harm to others. Bieber and his car accidents and personal attacks; Lohan and her shoplifting and breaches of contracts and car accidents. Look, if you want to mess up your own life, go ahead. But when you take your efforts to the public and threaten the health or well-being of other people, something has to be done to get the act together. The options are not pleasant: it’s either jail or death.

You can imagine that the parents will be weeping at the graves of their kids when they crash and burn; but will they be looking in the mirror at the same time? 

“He’s human. Not superhuman, just human. He did what he thought he had to do because he wanted to be a doctor more than anything else in the world and you ruined this for him.”

Friends:

I watch such little television these days that for me to comment on something from the boob tube is an anomaly.  But as I kept my wife company the other night watching “Grey’s Anatomy” on the TiVo, I heard something that resonated that I wanted to share.  Because I am sure that even though many of us aren’t doctors, we have all felt this way at least once in our lifetimes…

I apologize in advance if I describe the circumstances inaccurately; however, I was actually reading at the time and only partially paying attention to the story line.  The character of Christina, played by Sandra Oh, was in a tough situation of having to decide which of two children, siblings, would receive a heart transplant and which would receive an artificial heart.  The parents, reasonably enough, could not make the decision of selecting one of their children to live and one to die, so they insisted that Christina make the decision.  Despite the fact that Christina felt that she had made the correct decision, it nevertheless resulted in the death of one of the kids, with the parents understandably distraught, taking their misery out on Christina.

We next see Christina, fully clothed, standing in the shower, trying to deal with the pain and heartache of what had just happened.  Her husband/former husband (who remembers?) tries to assuage her despondency by telling her that she made the right decision, but she will not be placated and says, “What’s the point, Owen?  What’s the point of anything?”

We all have, at some point in time, done our very best job, but the anticipated results just simply did not transpire.  An argument that we made that fell on the deaf ears of a judge; an investment that tanked despite all signs of it being a safe bet; the agreement that was not as bullet-proof as one had anticipated.  While you can never expect results, there is an expectation that when we give 100%, we will be rewarded.  And that frankly isn’t always the case.  The vagaries of the justice system, the unpredictability of the markets, and simply the fates having their way, can disrupt the best laid and performed plans.

And we are inevitably left wondering why we do it.  What’s the point…?  If we are going to give it our best efforts, do the very best job we can, then dammit, don’t we deserve to be rewarded for that?  Don’t we deserve to get the results we want and expect to get?  Shouldn’t the patient live?  Shouldn’t the judge make the right decision?  Shouldn’t our clients be happy?

When you consider how many factors can affect any type of an endeavor, you realize that you can only control yourself, you cannot control the unknowns.  You cannot control how the wind blows.  Just like in golf—you take your stance, give it your best swing, the swing that has been perfected over thousands of hours on the driving range, and you connect with the ball just right, the tuning fork goes off in your arms and the ball is flying right for the middle of the green… when a gust of wind comes from nowhere and pushes it off course.  No amount of planning or preparation could have saved that shot which just careered into the rough.

So what do you do?  Do you mope and whine and give it all up?  Do you throw a tantrum or punch a hole in the wall?

When I was playing baseball as a kid I remember distinctly being told that at the end of the game, I was supposed to go home, look in the mirror, and ask myself if I did the very best job that I could do.  And if the answer was yes, then it didn’t matter if I went 0-4 with 3 strikeouts or 4-4 with 2 home runs.  What mattered was that I was able to look myself in the mirror and ask myself that question and get a positive answer.  It’s only when you fail to give it your all that you have reason for dismay.  Sure you can be upset about a result and sure you can have clients who are irate, but as long as you can look yourself in the mirror and state with conviction that you gave it your very best try, then that should be all that matters.

We have all been in Christina’s position.  We have all questioned if we are doing the right thing, if it’s all worth it; if it’s worth the sacrifices and the hours of time and the stress and the pressure.  The only person who can answer that is you.  If you gave it 100% and the result just wasn’t what was expected or anticipated, then you can absolutely be upset.  And you can absolutely be troubled.  But you shouldn’t be troubled or upset with yourself.  The vagaries of our systems are simply a breeding ground for unpredictability.  What’s the saying about the best laid plans?

But I guarantee that if you continue to give it that 100%, the bad results will be few and far between.  And the rewards will greatly trump the disappointments.

“I’m not such a good reader myself, you know. We’ll have to help each other out.”

Friends:

You all know how much I love to read.  If I could spend morning, noon and night reading, I would be in heaven.  And now that the Dodgers aren’t on my television anymore, I have even more time to read.  Yet this weekend at the LA Times Festival of Books I was faced with the ultimate moral dilemma.

I think that it is safe to say that my daughters are very well taken care of.  Perhaps that is just my politically correct way of saying that they are spoiled but I just can’t bring myself to actually say that about them.  However, they certainly do not want for anything.  Toys, dolls, clothes, food, activities, Disneyland, you name it, they get it all.  Most of the time they utter some words of thanks, but most of the time they somehow forget to do so and it really ticks off their mother and I.

To make matters worse, with the attention span of a hummingbird, they are through with the new item and on to something else.

As you can no doubt expect, being such avid readers as their mother and I are, we spend a lot of time at the bookstore (while they are still around, that is).  And of course, when we are there, the chorus of “I want that!” and “How about this one?” resonates throughout the store.  This was equally true around the USC campus on Saturday as we attended the LA Times Festival of Books.

What is a parent to do when faced with this moral dilemma?  Their mother and I have tried to raise appreciative and respectful children and there definitely is still work to be done.  Sure, we know they want the Hello Kitty this or that and that they would love to go to Disneyland yet again, but it is easy for us to say no to those things.

But books.  Ahh books.  I found a statistic online that 44% of 4th graders cannot read fluently.  I have a 3rd grader who is reading at a 7th grade level.  Am I supposed to say no to her when she says she wants more books?

When I was a kid, my parents made me a promise: as long as I continued to read books, they would buy them for me.  They were so supportive of my appetite for books that they actually bankrolled my addiction!  And when Amy and I would argue about going to the bookstore and buying more books for the girls, I would remind her of the promise my parents made to me.

Ugh, but the struggle persists.  As we walked around the USC campus, the whines and complaints were endless.  I’m hungry, I’m thirsty, I’m tired, I’m bored.  And when their mother or I wanted to stop at a particular booth or speak with an author we liked, they never failed to remind us that they were there and that they didn’t want to be.

Yet when we ventured to the kids’ book section, you can imagine how the tune changed.  No longer were they bored or thirsty or hungry.  Instead, they were wanting this, that and everything else.  And we struggled to say no.  We struggled.  We didn’t want to be the pushovers we knew we were.  We didn’t want to be the enablers who reinforced the poor behavior with rewards and gifts.

But books.  Ahh books.  We just couldn’t say no to books.  For all of their antics and exploits, for all of the constant affirmations that we wouldn’t do it again, we wouldn’t reward poor behavior… well, we caved.  To have children who have developed a love of books like their parents is such a reward that we didn’t want to discourage it.  The other day, Brooklyn told me that the perfect life would be sitting in her room and reading all day.  It just about brought a tear to my eye.

We continue to struggle and work hard at making our girls respectful and appreciative individuals.  We try to avoid spoiling them and rewarding poor behavior.  But when it comes to books, I think their mother and I are ok caving just a little.  I see so much imagination and creativity in Brooklyn and I attribute it all to her love of books.

And since we can’t watch the Dodgers on our television anymore, well, at least we still have our books.