A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late October, 1996

Wednesday, October 23, 1996

4:30 PM. I feel tired.

After an early dinner yesterday I went back to the office. I called Dad, telling him that my Nova check had been credited to my account because I knew he’d like to hear anything about someone in the family getting extra income.

I read four cases dealing with personal jurisdiction and the issue of whether maintaining a website that can be downloaded in a jurisdiction means you can be hauled into court there.

The cases go both ways, but I wrote George with the information and the text of a case which suggests he couldn’t be brought under the jurisdiction of a federal court in New York if John F. Kennedy Jr.’s George sues him there.

George told me that they’d blocked the legal action so far by refusing service of the papers and that Steve Hall, the attorney I recommended, is going to meet with George Magazine’s lawyers this week.

A couple of law students came around to ask about the Florida Bar Foundation Fellowship program, so I chatted with them for about twenty minutes, giving them all the information I could. They thanked me for my time, but in truth, I was glad to be able to be useful.

At 7:30 PM, I decided to head over to the O’Connell Center. I figured I’d see people I knew, and immediately I ran into Bob Karp, whom I’ll see again later tonight at the Human Rights Council board meeting.

He introduced me to a friend – whose name, of course, immediately flew out of my head.

Then, on my way to the men’s room, I ran into Rosalie, also with a friend (I can’t recall her name either, but at least I remember that the woman works in Sponsored Research.)

Rosalie seemed surprised when I told her I was leaving my job at CGR. I’ve started answering people’s questions about what I plan to do next by saying that I’m becoming a door-to-door herring salesman.

At the law school, where the Dole/Kemp bumper stickers on cars outnumber the Clinton/Gore ones by about ten to one, this flip response discombobulates people. Nina Smith, one of the Fellows, took me seriously when I said that this afternoon – and she’s a liberal from South Beach!

I didn’t feel like sitting with anybody in the stadium, and although I had occasional pangs of weirdness about sitting alone, I preferred it and enjoyed just watching people as they walked in. (Today’s paper reported that there was a crowd of about 2,500.)

Mary Matalin and James Carville were okay. She was droll at first but then got serious, pinning the blame for cynicism about politics and government on the media. He had a great stand-up comedy routine but ended with a rousing call to reject cynicism and embrace skepticism.

I don’t see what’s so bad about cynicism. It’s kind of my default state.

The audience Q&A allowed the married couple to spar as liberal Democrat and conservative Republican, which is the nice media shtick they’ve got going. No wonder they seemed proud of making Spy’s list of the ten most annoying people in the world. Hell, I’d kill to get on that list.

While I’d thought about calling in sick today, I managed to get some decent sleep – though it’s never enough – and I was at work from 8:20 AM to 4:20 PM, with roughly a two-hour break for lunch.

Rick e-mailed to say that Sally’s doctor, after seeing the MRI results and noting that she had no scarring or permanent damage on her optic nerve, backed away from last week’s diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, though he said it’s rare to have even temporary optic nerve damage in the absence of M.S.

Sally has quit her job anyway and plans to live a less stressful life, eat right, etc., and concentrate on her music career. I wrote Rick back that I was glad for them. Later in the day I e-mailed him Jane Brody’s column in today’s New York Times saying that many people to manage to live well with multiple sclerosis.

On Friday, Professor Probert is giving a talk and leading a discussion of how hard it is to maintain authority as a law professor these days, and he asked people for comments in advance.

I told him that today’s high school students and undergraduates are encountering “student-centered” classrooms as teachers are being told to shift their role from – as the cliché goes – being “the sage on the stage” to becoming “the guide on the side.”

Certainly I’ve noted the change in methods since I began teaching at Long Island University 21 years ago, and I think it’s probably for the better.

Speaking of LIU, Ken Bernard sent me a flyer for a new literary magazine, Downtown, which is open to submissions from former members of the LIU community.


9 PM. I just returned from the Human Rights Council board of directors meeting at Santa Fe Community College’s downtown campus.

Most of the board members who attended – Craig, Abby, Roger, Bob, Richard, John Kucinski, Sue – are heavily involved in the local Democratic party, and I feel that to some extent that drives our organization too much.

I have no interest in local politics and I never really have. The truth is, I feel (and I should be ashamed to admit this) that local yokels are not important enough for me to pay attention to. That’s why I could poke fun by running for the Davie Town Council on a platform of giving horses the right to vote.

I’ve always been interested in national politics, and to a lesser degree, in state politics. Of course, people like the HRC board members who are active in the local Democratic party are the kinds of people who make things happen in every community in America, so I probably should have more respect for them.

One thing I do admire about Jon Mills is that he’s involved in politics in D.C. and Tallahassee – but not in Gainesville. Jon’s interests are statewide, national, and definitely global. To me, that’s what it should be all about.

The pre-election HRC newsletter will be going out soon, and they’ll be having a mailing session on Monday evening at Abby’s. But I have the Bar Foundation Fellows meeting then, and after that, I’m going to be tired.

I promised Bob that I’d get him a story on the Supreme Court’s refusal to take a “don’t ask, don’t tell” case. He needs it for the newsletter soon, which means I have to go to work on it.

It was nice to be with all these people tonight. I do like them.

Thursday, October 24, 1996

8:30 PM. It’s Thursday night, and as usual, the accumulated sleep deficit of the week has caught up with me. I’d hoped to spend an afternoon off catching up on my reading, but I was barely able to do anything when I took a few hours’ sick time today.

Last night I awoke around 2:30 AM and never got back to sleep. Perhaps I made a mistake in getting up to read Wired because the articles I looked at got my brain stimulated.

Then I checked my e-mail, and on GayJews, there was a press release from the ACLU about yesterday’s Eleventh Circuit en banc ruling in the Shahar v. Bowers case, and I decided that would be worth writing about for the HRC Bulletin, so I went on Lexis and began doing research on that as well as on the gays-in-the-military issue.

After that, I was unable to get relaxed enough to get back to sleep. At 6 AM, I exercised and then fought off a wave of nausea after I’d made a concoction of cereals (including a dry one, flakes, which I never should have mixed with water and microwaved) that got me sick after a few bites.

I was at work by 9 AM. Yesterday I reminded Liz to set up a session to discuss the Florida Bar Foundation Fellows program for prospective applicants. This fall the term ends before Thanksgiving, and we don’t want to wait till the last minute.

But Liz has been very busy lately, and she’ll be away tomorrow. On Monday Jon said he told Karen Holbrooke that she didn’t need additional information to meet with President Lombardi and that we’d have the revised concept paper on the Genome Sciences Center to her by early next week.

I answered Probert’s questions about whether law school needed to be more student-centered by saying that it’s too expensive to really try to make it that way. He seemed to consider my response a thoughtful one.

Most of the morning I spent writing the pieces on Shahar v. Bowers and the Supreme Court turning down the first appeal on the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

When I sent the pieces to Bob and Craig, I realized I’d included something about the UF Law Review controversy which I meant to take out after Barbara told me she wasn’t sure the editors had actually accepted that homophobic case note on Shahar.

So I e-mailed Bob and Craig from home when I got here. Craig called and said that the articles were good, and then he asked me to write something on the recent gay parental custody cases.

I spent time doing so, but all these articles are about 700 words long, and I don’t think Bob can fit them all in the newsletter. On the other hand, this is work I enjoy doing: explaining cases to people who aren’t lawyers.

It’s like the kind of legal journalism I envisioned doing when I enrolled in the joint degree program in law and mass communications. So I guess spending all that time on the articles isn’t really a waste, except that I’m writing stuff that nobody will read and which I’m not getting paid for.

Clinton has been flooding our local TV stations – Channel 21 in Gainesville and Channel 51 in Ocala – with his campaign commercials, most of which are very effective. Perot started running TV spots, too, but where are Dole’s?

Both Dole and Clinton were in Florida yesterday, and last night Dole’s campaign manager flew to Dallas to try to persuade Perot to drop out and endorse Dole. I can’t believe that they didn’t realize that this would backfire – but so did their harsh attacks on Clinton’s ethics.

Tonight Ronna e-mailed apologies for not writing, but her mother’s been visiting, and they had all the hoopla of Chelsea’s third birthday.

I’m bushed.

Wednesday, October 30, 1996

7 PM. Last evening’s Nova Southeastern University faculty meeting lasted nearly three hours. About a dozen faculty showed up, along with the Gainesville site coordinators Phil and Roseann. I finally met Micki, who turned out to look something like what I expected: chubby, middle-aged, and red-haired.

Jane Gibson, the director of the Bachelor of Professional Management program, as well as of Business and Administrative Studies, and her deputy, Jorge Herrera, ran the meeting.

Nova has been very successful, and “business is booming” with their latest B.P.M. clusters in Baton Rouge, Jamaica and Tel Aviv. They just successfully completed SACS accreditation.

We discussed writing across the curriculum, plagiarism, and grade inflation, and I talked more than anyone else about the first two issues. Hopefully, I impressed people with my thoughtful comments, but who knows? Maybe I sound like an asshole.

They stressed grading more strictly, keeping classes the full time, etc., but I got the feeling – perhaps this was wishful thinking – that these pleas were strictly pro forma.

Iris Hart came in late, having been busy observing Santa Fe Community College adjuncts, and I said hi to her; I sat next to her friend Eugene Jones, a full-time computer teacher at SFCC.

Soon after I arrived home, I managed to fall asleep, and when I woke up at 1 AM, I read the day’s New York Times for an hour before I fell asleep again. I got about six and a half hours, enough to make a difference in my mood and performance today.

This morning I didn’t exercise, leaving that till I got home from work at 4 PM. After I got an email from Susan Mernit, I phoned her, and I basically agreed to do the Web Guide for New Jersey Online users.

It will be about 50-60 hours of surfing the Web and writing two-sentence annotations to high-quality links relating to New Jersey. The object for the user is to be able to find stuff of interest while staying on New Jersey Online.

Shreeram, the guy in Tampa overseeing the project, is an excellent journalist, Susan said, who had to move from New Jersey when his wife became a professor at the University of South Florida.

So I called Shreeram, as Susan suggested, but he was about to drive his parents to their apartment and he said he’d call me tomorrow. That’s when he’s going to show Susan what he’s been doing, and of course I need to follow Shreeram’s lead.

Separately, Jennifer said I should go ahead and do a multiple choice Senate quiz of twenty questions (her software supports only multiple choice) on the Torricelli-Zimmer race, and get it to her by tonight.

I finished it at noon, went home for lunch, and e-mailed the edited document to her when I got back to the office.

Blowing off this afternoon’s Excel workshop – I won’t go to tomorrow’s on Word 6.0, either – because I have little time to spare, I called Bill to thank him for the appendix for my draft proposal for the Genome Sciences Center, and said I thought we had enough to give to Vice President Holbrooke. I also told Bill that I got Jon’s approval by phone for the memo I wrote and I initialed it in his name.

Tucker came to me to talk about changing the ridiculous format of our CGR staff meetings, in which we go over the previous meetings and report yet again on each project. Our next staff meeting is at 2 PM tomorrow.

I feel free to speak my mind with Tucker, and I said that we ought to consider using more temporary, per-project CGR employees as part of our package when we ask for half-funding for all “core faculty” in exchange for us committing to getting the other half-funding ourselves.

Tucker learned from me for the first time how they offered Carolyn a position doing the National Health Forum and then reneged on the job offer when funding disappeared. And I learned from Tucker how Richard brought Tom into CGR, pretty much to shaft Tucker and Jeff.

Well, as for myself, I’m planning to leave the Center for Governmental Responsibility in the best way possible, burning no bridges behind me, working hard for the organization while I’m still there. It has been a great place to work.

I even briefed Russ on the genome project and warned him about getting sucked into it, which he’ll be pressured into doing.

Liz was out sick today, but Barbara came in to chat, and I congratulated Ken Tinker on the Yankees’ winning the World Series; I guess he’s the most diehard fan I know.

There was e-mail I didn’t have time to answer from Kevin, Rick and Alice.

The regular mail brought the Human Rights Council Guardian newsletter, and they printed only my “Sexual Orientation and Child Custody,” not the other piece about “don’t ask, don’t tell” – but I’m thrilled with what they did publish.

It’s exactly the kind of legal reporting I enjoy doing, and I think that it’s both accessible and dispassionate, though clearly with a pro-gay rights viewpoint. But then everyone did a great job on their articles for this issue.

Thursday, October 31, 1996

8 PM. Three little boys in superhero costumes and their dad just knocked on my door, and when I opened it, they shouted, “Happy Halloween!” I had heard them coming and I had a handful of quarters.

“You know, a monster came and ate up all my treats,” I told them, “so you’ll have to take this money and buy your own.” As I handed a coin to each boy, the boys’ father said, “Thank you,” and the boys repeated the thanks. It was nice to participate at least once in Halloween.

At lunchtime, I left through the back door of Bruton-Geer Hall and was momentarily startled to see a woman in a harlequin mask. “You never know what you’ll see coming down the back stairs at Halloween,” Marty Peters said.

Last night I slept fairly well, and I had this one vivid dream in which I had to go to Myanmar (“formerly Burma,” as the New York Times always notes after its first reference; I wonder if I could market a new shaving cream, Myanmar Shave, “formerly Burma Shave”).

In the dream, I rented a car here in Gainesville, drove to California, put the car on a ferry going across the Pacific Ocean, got off in Vietnam and drove west. And I came back the same way, returning a few hours later!

Seriously, I do have a sleeping disorder. I’ve never been a good sleeper, but my insomnia used to be the inability to fall asleep. Now I no longer have much trouble falling asleep, but I wake up and then I can’t get back to sleep.

This is obviously a problem of aging. Now I’m beginning to understand the issues Grandma Ethel had; this is the kind of insomnia that older people get. Although I woke up at 2 AM, thankfully I was able to get back to sleep an hour later after I read a chapter of Seligman’s Learned Optimism.

As I figured, the book has been and will continue to be valuable. I need to change my conscious thinking about the world and the way I interpret events. For example, I’ve been quite relaxed today, but on Monday and Tuesday of this week, I felt as if I’d never feel relaxed again. How absurd!

I didn’t get to speak to Shreeram today, not really. He called while I was in the CGR staff meeting this afternoon, and when I phoned back, he was about to leave for work. Hopefully, we’ll chat tomorrow.

There wasn’t much e-mail today, and I was able to read the New York Times and other news articles and a long piece (which I sent Susan) from American Journalism Review on what newspapers and broadcast journalists need to do to make their Web presentations adapt to the new medium.

At our interminable staff meeting, we agreed to replace our old meeting format and all those “Franco is still dead” reports. (Everyone howled when I said this, but it’s true; we go over previous items and say things like, “This article is still being published.”)

Joann was adamant against the change, however, because she says the CGR staff will not fill out the new quarterly divisional reports that will replace our minutes.

I may have overstepped the bounds when, in talking about our genome center proposal, answering a question from Richard, I said, “And then we made up a lot of other baloney and Holbrooke bought it.” Jon looked a little stricken.

The meeting’s big discussion was the proposal for Dean Matasar about getting salary money, something I wasn’t interested in because I’m leaving.

I came home at 4:30 PM and got the mail: just my new Capital One secured MasterCard: a $500 credit line for my $100 deposit.

Kevin forwarded a memo he got at the office: A plastic surgeon was on site today and would be available for consultations, with anyone who works at Warner Bros. eligible for a company discount for face lifts, tummy tucks, breast enlargements, calf implants or whatever will make the employees more attractive.

That’s show biz!