Commentary: $990-an-hour lawyers, bluebirds, dirty words

March 15, 2014 

Some of my best friends are lawyers.

It doesn’t take a lot of courage to write that. Most I know are polite, obliging and, in my experience, witty and interesting people. I don’t think I have any lawyer friends who make $990 an hour!

But there is at least one such person. He is a fellow from Washington, D.C., a former member of the Justice Department, who is delving into the UNC-Chapel Hill academics-athletics scandal.

I don’t know if being from Washington and formerly in the Justice Department makes him any smarter than some who live and practice law here.

You might even think that the university, which each year turns out its own stable full of attorneys, might have found one smart enough to lead the investigation at half the cost, especially since alma mater seems always to have its hands out begging alms from alumni and friends.

Let me share a favorite anecdote, which, incidentally, was related to me by an attorney.

Two hot-air balloonists out on their maiden voyage soon became lost. Eventually they drifted down over a Raleigh neighborhood and espied a man walking out to pick up the morning News & Observer.

“Hell-oooooo down there? Where are we?” one balloonist yelled.

Cupping his hands, the fellow yelled back at the top of his voice, “You’re in a hot air balloon!”

Turning to his companion, the balloonist sighed, “He must be a lawyer. He gave us the answer, and it ain’t worth a dern!”

Let’s hope for the university’s sake that the answers that the $990-an-hour attorney and his staff come up with will be worth far more than a dern to the university, the public and alumni, of which I am one.

What it says

In response to a recent column regarding the Mooresville high school football coach’s leading his players in prayers, and others criticizing the Rev. Billy Graham for his political ads, friend Dave Jones appeared on my doorstep.

“You’re wrong, A.C.,” he said. “There’s nothing in the U.S. Constitution that says a thing about separation of church and state.”

And he handed me the written evidence:

“The First Amendment reads, ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

“That’s it!” he said. “That’s all.”

Cliffs of Dover

The N&O editorial page recently honored the Eastern bluebird by designating it as the harbinger of spring.

When I see or think of the beautiful bluebird, my mind journeys back to World War II and the night of high school graduation.

The glee club sang, “The White Cliffs of Dover,” a hymn of hope as Germany was then about to invade hapless, war-weary England.

There’ll be bluebirds over

the white cliffs of Dover.


Just you wait and see.

There’ll be love and laughter

And peace ever after


When the world is free.

I don’t know if the song immortalized England’s white cliffs or the cliffs under siege immortalized the bluebirds.

I do know that at the naive age of 18 and about to go to war, that I foolishly believed the part about “and peace ever after.”

Plain speaking

News pundits have been commenting lately about the deteriorating quality of political candidates’ language, naming some of the worst offenders.

Remember a time when using “bad words” could get your mouth washed out with Octagon soap? I wonder. Do they still sell Octagon soap?

Fiery Harry Truman, one of my favorite presidents, had a habit of saying exactly what he meant when he disagreed with someone or something. A favorite Truman expression was “Horse manure!”

It is said that during his last campaign, an aide came to Mrs. Truman and asked whether perhaps she could get Harry to clean up his language a bit.

“I’m afraid not,” the first lady sighed. “You have no idea how long it took me to get him to say ‘manure.’ 

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