Thursday, July 30, 2009

making Jesus weep

Ok, kids, I try not to be a grammar Nazi and try not to step on anyone's toes, but this trend is getting silly. Here's a writer at Echidne complaining about changes marked out in her library book:
All references to god that rely on a personal pronoun have been capitalized, i.e., "he" to "He".

Yeah, that sucks, but can we talk about your refusal to capitalize "god" even when you use it as a proper name? Because unlike capitalizing pronouns that refer to h/Him/it/Her/them, which is a matter of personal preference, capitalizing proper names is mandatory. If you are referring to the term "god" as a type of being, you affix an article, as in:
I do not believe in a god.

If you are referring to a group of beings, you don't need an article or a capital:
I do not believe in gods or goddesses.

If you use the word "god" as a proper name, however, you must capitalize it instead:
I do not believe in God.

No, the lack of belief does not entitle you to forgo the capitalization. Note how this statement is similarly incorrect:
I do not believe in santa claus or in zeus and hera.

There is no defense for this rank politicization of grammar that I see among otherwise urbane, capable writers. Even the atheist area of concedes the point!

I have seen some people try to justify it by claiming that they see God as a concept, like karma or justice or something. I see the argument, but it still does not hold water. "Godhead" or "a deity" or "divinity" is the concept; "God" is the being. Besides, if we really wanted to wax Platonic, we could say that any mythic being is a concept, but that does not give one license to start tossing "apollo" and "batman" about, does it?

Am I way off base here?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Harry Potter and the twisted panties

Even on the "liberal paper of record," Americans can be such frakin' prudes.

There's a pattern in a lot of the hand-wringing in this article (and, I suspect, elsewhere) that's worth pointing out. For example:
“Hermione is such a tightly wound young lady, but she’s liberated by some butterbeer,” she said. “The message is that it gives you liquid courage to put your arms around the guy you really like but are afraid to.”

and later:
“I hope parents can talk to their kids and tell them even though Harry Potter made that seem fun, that it isn’t O.K.,” said Dr. Welsh, the author of a 2007 article about alcohol use in the Harry Potter series, published in The Journal of Child and Adolescent Substance Abuse.

I find it interesting (as does Amanda Marcotte in a pretty good post) that these people don't want anyone conveying the message that alcohol "gives you liquid courage" to express your feelings or that drinking is fun. That's a bit odd, though, because these two statements are undeniably true. Alcohol does lower inhibitions and drinking is fun.

Have any of these people considered the implications of keeping your kids from certain behavior by lying to them about it? It isn't like there aren't any bad things about alcohol you can tell them truthfully. Why risk losing the trust of your kids the second they find out that drinking really is like liquid courage?

I think Amanda may be right, furthermore, that this lack of openness about alcohol and our zeal in trying to keep it out of the hands of everyone under 21 probably has contributed to the apparent increase in college binge drinking, particularly in the strange way that college kids look at alcohol as if it's a priceless commodity that can never, ever go to waste and must be drunk NOW NOW NOW.

I think too many temperance movements and too many ad campaigns and too many Wars on Drugs have really warped our perspective on alcohol and drugs. We as a society should take a step back and reevaluate what we think about alcohol and drugs (everything from caffeine to heroin), what we know to be true, and what the dangers actually are. It doesn't do us much good to tell our kids that EVERYTHING WILL KILL YOU IF YOU TOUCH IT, only for them to discover that we were lying. The end result is the same as if we told them nothing at all: they will rely on experience and their peers to find out the truth.

William Shatner recites Sarah Palin's farewell speech

This is why Conan > Leno.

Monday, July 20, 2009

I have come not to praise Caesar, but to bury him.

Greenwald in a particularly shrill, and true, post on the death of Cronkite vis-a-vis Russert, and their stances on opposite ends of the journalism-stenography spectrum.

Also, a clip from Cronkite that no one wants to talk about. I wonder why?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

jury duty: One spin through the system part 4


I hadn't slept very well the night before. I was positively sick anticipating the outcome of the day. On my drive to the court building I considered what moral and ethical obligations I had and what actions I could take.

I could send a note out asking for the judge to re-clarify those things that we were to consider during deliberations with the hint that someone among us was bringing baggage into the jury room. I could do nothing and allow the process to just happen. I figured that when we re-convened that the judge would ask us if we were absolutely sure that we could not come to a unanimous decision. That could be an opportunity for me to express my desire for more deliberations.

I knew certain wheels were turning and I didn't have much time to change the course of this if it was going to get done. I still had the power of the foreman title, but I also had a room full of disheartened jurors who were tired from the long week, disappointed in the outcome, and ready to leave. I had a judge and set of attorneys that believed we were already hung and were no doubt taking the appropriate next steps.

When we all got situated in the jury room together Rachel Ray was again cooking on the television. iI turned her off. We continued our non-case related conversations for a while, but an awkward kind of tension was clearly hanging in the room. I was getting frustrated, so I asked the group "You guys want to keep deliberating this thing?" Everyone seemed relieved and positive answers came from all corners, save the holdout. I buzzed the bailiff and asked him if we could keep deliberating. He said he'd tell the judge, and we shut the door.

"OK, so is everyone still pretty much where they were last night?"
Nods all around, including the holdout.
The lawyer/juror spoke up.
"How about instead of listing the problems with the case we look at the things that are credible?"
I loved that.
"Alright, cool. What do we think is pretty much solid truth in this thing?"

I started collecting a large array of answers. Her ability to describe his penis in great detail. The consistency of her story from a year ago to this week. The fact that her body got excited (no one would make that up). The willingness of the family to act quickly on her behalf. Despite his sloppiness, the quick and firm decision of the cop meant that he was sure convinced. I argued that her inability to identify her stepfather was another one of those things that you would never make up. The man in the room was unquestionably her stepfather, and a coached or premeditated liar would do the opposite of misidentifying the man. A liar would point and say "that's him."

After a while I suggested a show of hands. Someone else wanted to do another secret ballot. I acquiesced, because I figured it would be easier for our holdout to change his position in secret than in public despite the fact that doing so with either method would be public regardless.

I had improved my paper tearing skills. I took four sheets of paper, folded them into thirds and tore them at the folds. We passed them around, wrote our votes and compiled them in front of me. I opened and read them privately as I had done before.

12 guiltys.

"Well, it looks like we're unanimous."

A sigh of relieve escaped the room, and all eyes went to the holdout.

"What changed your mind?"
"Well, I spend some time with my bible last night. I prayed and I talked to God."

Hey man, whatever works. I got the charge and filled it out while someone else pushed the button for the bailiff. All of the sudden we were all laughing and joking. It felt good to get it right, and we were all kind of basking in it. When the judge reconvened and we were lined up outside of the juror's entry I'm positive that we were laughing and joking loudly enough to be heard in the courtroom. The bailiff opened the door, said "all rise" and the twelve of us worked quickly to straighten out our faces and look somber as we walked into the room to deliver what was a heavy verdict.

Judge Adams asked me to stand. He asked if we'd come to a unanimous decision. I answered "We have."

The judge read the verdict and the charge from the paperwork that we had filled out. He advised us that we were going into the punishment phase, and the prosecution resubmitted its case and rested. The defendant slowed down a bit, and whispered to his lawyer. The lawyer whispered back. The defendant pulled his headphones down. He sighed, leaned back in his seat and looked at the ceiling. He closed his eyes. He re-composed himself, put his headphones back on, and resumed the stoic stance he'd maintained all week.

His lawyer called the girl's mother to the stand as a character witness. She was clearly intimidated by the setting, and did little to sway us.

Oliphant gave a still emotional but more logical closing. She noted that if we issued one year for each time he molested her he'd have surpassed the twenty year maximum before the girl had turned fifteen. She called him a monster. She reiterated his selfishness. She explicitly asked for the max and asked us to rule out probation.

The defendant's lawyer was more collected and reasoned as well. He noted that in voir dire we agreed that we could issue probation even if we convicted this man of that crime. He pointed out that this man was a model citizen outside of his transgressions with his daughters. No other convictions in his past. Great work history. He suggested that the defendant would never again be in a position of power that would allow him to abuse his other stepdaughter, and would pose no threat to anyone else. He then explicitly asked for the minimum sentence of probation. He noted that probation was no cake walk and that if the defendant screwed it up he'd go straight to prison.

We retired to deliberate sentencing.

Our options were a prison sentence of 2-20 years and a fine up to $10,000. If we sentenced less than ten years, we could recommend probation in lieu of immediate incarceration. We were hungry and decided to break for lunch before getting into heavy deliberations.

I did my usual routine of eating and then sitting and resting my brain while looking out over downtown from the seventh floor window. The building was beginning to grow on me.

Back in the jury room we took a blind poll to see approximately where we were at from a sentencing standpoint. It was pointed out that this man has already served a year and a half, and that would be counted against his sentence. He could also cut any sentence we hand down in half with good behavior. I passed out slips of paper and asked for three things: a number of years, a fine amount, and a yes or no on probation.

I wrote 8 years, $10k and no probation on my slip, then collected the rest. I cleaned the white board and started tallying the results on it.

20 x 2 votes
18 x 1 vote
15 x 1 vote
10 x 2 votes
9 x 1 vote
8 x 1 vote
5 x 2 votes
2 x 2 votes

$10k x 2 votes
$0 x 10 votes

yes x 1 vote
no x 11 votes

We were all over the map and we had to come up with a unanimous decision on this as well.

The biggest hurdle was clearly going to be the amount of years. I wasn't dug in on a fine, and I figured the probation issue would resolve itself as well. I told the group where I was at and why.

"I put down eight years and ten K with no probation. My thought is that he always wanted her to cooperate. He never just grabbed her and violently raped her. If he had done that I think we'd come up with an easy twenty, but he did allow her to turn over and reject him. I figure that the max is reserved for the most violent version of this crime, and I thought a combination of years and the heavy fine would be the appropriate thing."

"But he would never be able to pay the fine. That family is poor, and good luck continuing to work at a liquor store with a felony conviction on your record. I mean, what's he going to do? What's his family going to do?" One of the Hispanic ladies.

The discussion had begun, and we took quite a while hashing it out. I gave in quickly on the issue of a fine given that we could increase the amount of years that we send him away for. I also pointed out that we needed to err on the high side because he could reduce a sentence that is too high with good behavior, but if we let him off too lightly we were just out of luck. I also pointed out that he was pretty likely to conduct himself in a way that would actually lead to a reduction in his sentence. It was cool hearing our holdout re-engage in the debate and make solid points about how and why we should come up with a number.

We had a scare at one point in the deliberations when it was pointed out that when he went to prison as a convicted child molester he was going to be toast. One of the ladies became very upset about this and started to dig her feet in about recommending probation because she didn't want to send him off to his death in prison. She was one of those who had initially recommended two years because she barely came down on the guilty side anyway, an wanted to err on the low side on sentencing. The room immediately became very conciliatory and it was stressed that this was an exaggeration. He'd be fine. We promised.

I started trying to broker a deal.

"OK, raise your hand if you'd be ok sentencing him to eight years."

Ten hands went up.

"Alright, what about twelve years?"

Ten different hands. Great. We continued debating. We were sure to leave out considerations about what would happen to the family. We talked about how this number was really a representation of what we, as members of the city of Dallas, felt that a crime like this was worth.

Eventually we settled on eleven years, no fine, no probation which happened to line up almost exactly with the averages of our initial gut feelings. We buzzed the bailiff, filled out the paperwork, and reconvened.

The verdict was read into the record, we were thanked for our service, and we again retired to the jury room. We were told that the lawyers were going to come back and talk with us a bit about how we felt the case was litigated, what mattered, and how we came to our decisions. I thought that was a little odd, but I welcomed the opportunity to express my perspective to all sides.

Back in the room all three lawyers arrived at once, and conducted themselves as friends. A few of the jurors had already left to catch up at work. I expressed my level of respect for the defense lawyer. I thought he generally did a great job punching holes in the prosecution's witnesses, and I offered my critique of his closing statements. He explained that the judge was moving things along very quickly, and he didn't have as much time to prepare as he had hoped. I told the prosecution that the cop nearly hung us. I said that the girl's ability to describe her stepfather's actions and his organ in such minute and consistent detail was what sealed the case for us. I said the emotional stuff during closing did nothing for me.

We asked them about the jury selection process, because we were curious about the makeup of the jury. One lawyer, one person who's sister had been molested, and a relatively diverse group. They explained that the people who expressed that they couldn't follow the law were struck first. The prosecution immediately struck all of the people who ranked rehab as the number one reason for imprisonment on their initial questionnaire. They all figured (correctly) that the lawyer/juror had worked both sides of the bench, as most lawyers do. They expressed surprise that he was not elected fore. He explained that he wanted to keep his professional life as far away from the actual jury deliberations as possible.

At the end of it, I came away very happy with the process. The girl reached out. The stepfather was arrested. A trial took place, and he got a very solid defense. He obviously did it, and we shipped him away. It was all very satisfying. The process dodged several bullets during the proceedings, and probably countless more in the months leading up to it, but with all of us pulling on the same rope as reasonable and intelligent individuals we made it work.

As I was walking out one of the prosecutors told me about the girl's reaction when she heard the news. She said she was so happy that someone believed her.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

AMA endorses House health care bill

A surprising and positive development, and an early rhetorical victory for the Dems. I really thought we were going to have to fight them over this one. Go doctors!

The Emmys: now with more shit!

I'm looking at these nominees with varying levels of outrage, which is a pretty fun way to spend the morning. The first fun thing to notice is that Yahoo! users are f**king troglodytes. Mariska Hargitay for best lead female in a drama series? From Law and Order? Outstanding writing in a comedy series for Saturday Night Live? Have you watched SNL these last, I dunno, 20 years?

I don't understand the Emmys' hard-on for Mad Men. I just don't get it. It's a good show, don't get me wrong, but does it deserve to outshine Dexter, In Treatment, and Big Love every single year? Frankly, the idea of Jon Hamm winning a best actor award over both Gabriel Byrne AND Michael C. Hall makes my head spin. Hamm is good in Mad Men, sure, but uh, have you seen Byrne and Wiest sparring on Fridays? They are masters of their craft. They have it harder, too; the format of In Treatment gives the actors no respite, nowhere to hide when the camera is on, and their characters have precious little in the way of back story to draw upon.

For that matter, as good as 30 Rock is, and it's really good, isn't the degree of accolade from the Emmys a little over the top? I mean, should it really be getting more nominations than everybody else, in any genre? Should its mojo be so strong that Tina Fey gets her nomination just for appearing on SNL?

Oh yeah, and of course, what was almost certainly the greatest sci-fi show EVER ran its last season this year, and garnered a grand total of one nomination. What the Emmys has against gritty dramas with largely unknown ensemble casts like The Wire and Battlestar Galactica I will never know.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

"you should use these hearings for self-reflection"

It's really awesome watching an accomplished, brilliant, strong Latina woman be patronized by a bunch of arrogant Southern bigots who have no idea what "bootstraps" even look like.

Self reflection? I don't think it's Sonia Sotomayor who needs to spend a little time in self-reflection, "Lindsey."

Kanye's a funny bastard

Monday, July 13, 2009


This sounds like a person who has no idea how to govern. She's fixated on rebutting every single charge that anyone makes, but can't even set up an office efficient enough to return phone calls. And this person almost became Vice President.

they pay for stuff you like

People here, like anywhere, are a little stupid about taxes. People loved it when the state government eliminated the business inventory tax, even though they provided no alternative income source. Thus, property taxes soared, and people threw a fit. The governor capped property tax rates, but again provided no alternative, so now South Bend is in deep financial trouble. The mayor wants to raise the local income tax by .95% to fix the budget.

The mayor has also released his alternative budget recommendations should this hike fail to pass. Included:

-50 to 75 percent reduction in snow plowing and leaf cleanup.

-Closing Howard Park Ice Rink, Potawatomi Pool, Kennedy Water Playground, East Race Waterway, the greenhouses and observatories at Potawatomi Park, and the Newman Recreation Center.

That doesn't include the recommendation of laying off 19 police officers in the middle of a spike in the crime rate.

Nevertheless, the Mishawaka Council won't even consider the request. And this winter, they will raise a stink with everyone else when their lily-white streets don't get plowed as quickly as they used to, and likely blame the mayor for service cuts. Wankers.

Friday, July 10, 2009

jury duty: One spin through the system - Part 3


Wednesday was really two days. In the beginning I was on the jury, and at the end I was a juror.

As we entered the jury box in the morning there was what looked liked a nice older white fellow in the witness box. Judge Adams noted everyone in attendance for the record, and we took our seats. The assistant DA called the man as a witness and began what appeared to be the standard routine of establishing identity and credentials for us. This man ended up being the doctor who had overseen the examination of the victim. He had a stellar record as a physician and specialized in child molestation cases. He cited a study that made reference to the idea that in child molestation cases "normal is normal." This meant that it was possible and even common for a girl who had been a victim of sexual abuse to have an intact hymen. He described the hymen as "mucosal tissue," much like the lining inside of our cheeks. Because it was mucosal tissue, it had the ability to repair itself over time if it was only partly damaged. It was also very elastic and difficult to damage in the first place. He also said that non-sexual contact could indeed tear the hymen and lead to false positives. Things like bicycle accidents. He was asked what the results of the victim's physical exam were. "She was normal, which is normal." No physical evidence.

The witness was passed to the defense.

"Did you do the examination yourself?"
"No, the nurse on staff did. I reviewed the report and the photographs as the attending physician."
"So you never actually examined the girl at all?"
"And even if you had you would never be able to tell if any abuse had or had not occurred anyway."
"That's correct."
"You signed off on this report?"
"I did."
"Can you read me on page three the physical description of the patient?"
"Teenage black female"
"Black female? When she's so obviously Hispanic?"
"Well, it was an honest mistake. The nurse has a heavy caseload."
"That's a pretty basic thing there. How many other honest mistakes are in this report?"
"You cited the study that says 'normal is normal.' Did you bring that with you for the jury to evaluate?"
"No, but I can have my office fax it over."

Oliphant stood up. "Judge, if we can take a quick recess I can produce that study for you."
Judge Adams looked at the defense. "Do you feel like you need to see the study?"
"No Judge, that won't be necessary."

At this point the whole judicial process was really starting to fall in line for me. It never had registered in my mind the degree to which everyone and everything had to be constantly coordinated in order to retain fairness. The day before, everyone involved had to wait a solid hour while the last juror fought traffic before anything could begin. The judge, the attorneys, the witnesses, the bailiffs, the court reporter, the translator and us. Now if the defense had decided that he did want to see that study then we'd all be forced to wait around while it was found and faxed before we could take another step. The judge, the attorneys, any other witnesses called for that day, the translator and us. We couldn't just review it later because that would potentially cause someone to miss an opportunity to find a flaw in the study and press it with the witness on the stand. All the while a man's life is hanging in the balance here based on what we see or miss or forget when the flow gets broken up. We weren't allowed to keep notes, so flow was very important. It was quite the dance.

The doctor was dismissed and a nice looking black lady was sworn in. She was identified as the victim's algebra teacher. She did the basic character witness thing, describing the victim's intelligence and dedication to school and her family. She seemed like a genuine fan of the victim and gave a glowing report. She identified herself as one of the people with whom the girl had confided about the abuse after her stepfather's arrest. The defense objected occasionally when the teacher was asked to testify to things beyond her knowledge or expertise. Throughout the whole trial the defense objected actively and was never once overruled. On cross examination the defense was once again excellent.

"How long were you her teacher?"
"One semester."
"So one hour a day for one semester is your only real contact with this girl?"
"Actually our class was three hours per day three days a week."
"How well do you feel you know her? How seriously did she take her schooling?"
"Oh very well. I'd trust her with anything. Math wasn't her best subject, but she tried very hard."
"Would it surprise you to know that while you were her teacher that she skipped school often enough to get called before truancy court?"

She was very obviously surprised. Her eyes got wider and she sat back in her seat a bit. She thought for a moment.

"Yes it would. I didn't know that."

The witness was excused and we broke for lunch. I took a packed elevator down to the cafeteria, grabbed some food and plugged into the internet for a while. I had also taken to getting back up to the seventh floor after lunch (by way of packed elevator) and sitting in front of the big window wall that looks out over downtown and meditating a little. The whole experience had been very taxing on the mind.

Back in the jury room we had begun forming into little cliques. The two Hispanic ladies were now thick as thieves, as was the clump of older white men. No one discussed the case, but we had become comfortable enough with each other to talk about everything else. I never really identified with the people my age, instead bouncing between being a loner and interacting with the ladies and the older men. All four of the Hispanics in the room confirmed our respect for the job the translator was doing. I talked cooking with one of the men, business with another, and religion with the women. I noted how incredibly inappropriate it was for the TV to be tuned to the Judge Judy wannabe who was shaking her head and waving her finger and scolding the witnesses. Honestly, in this room of all rooms in the world they had it tuned to that.

We reconvened and there was a good looking twenty-something Hispanic girl with long straight black hair in the witness stand.

The prosecution asked questions that revealed her identity as the social case worker who did the forensic interview on the victim on the day that she confessed. She described the training that she had undergone in order to reach her level of qualification. This training included thousands of hours of interviews and case-study, heavy peer review, and passage of a written and oral exam. She described the techniques that she uses in the interview which is rigidly structured, scientifically studied in medical journals, and designed to identify people who are lying or have been coached. Specifically she wants to see a victim have the capacity to describe an event in detail from beginning to end including the things that happened directly before and after an incident in question. She also wants to be sure that a person can make detailed sensory descriptions of any sexual contact. She told us that if people are lying they will often not know exactly what a penis looks or fees like, or will not have details made up about a story outside of the actual incident. She conducted the interview with the victim on the day of her outreach, which at this point was well over a year ago. The police officer who had testified the day before was present for the interview in question.

The prosecution then produced the video of the interview and played it in its entirety. In the video the camera was behind a two-way mirror and you could see the police officer's hands in the reflection as he wrote notes. The girl entered the room looking very calm, and the social worker introduced herself and explained what they were about to do. She explained that they were recording the interview from behind the two way mirror. What followed was almost a carbon copy of the testimony that we had heard from the girl the day before. She described the years of abuse, the coercion into handjobs, the idea that her stepfather was preparing her to have a boyfriend, the spying, the text messages, the feeling when he would put a movie on for her little sister and call her into his bedroom. Then she described the specific incident on her brother's birthday in detail from beginning to end. She talked about going into the bedroom, her stepfather taking his clothes off and then hers. The feeling of excitement and shame. The way he pried apart her legs and put it in a bit before she managed to turn over and reject him. The fact that she went into the bathroom afterward to wash her face, and found her stepfather turned over and asleep when she eventually re-emerged. Everything was consistent. Her story, her demeanor, her appearance were all remarkably similar to what we had seen for ourselves the day before. She was asked to describe his penis. She said it was long and slimy, and had a big piece of skin on the top that would move up and down when she gave him handjobs. She was asked to describe what it felt like when he put it in her. She said it felt like a burning sensation and that it was pushing her too far open.

At this point in the video the social worker asked the girl to stay put for a moment while she conferred with the police. She left her some paper and a pen and encouraged her to doodle while she was gone. The social worker left and the girl put her head in her hand.

And she left it there.

The tape continued to roll, and for what felt like an eternity we sat and watched the girl sit alone in the chair with her head in one hand. She rubbed her head a little, then leaned back down into her hand. She looked genuinely pained, and that look was burning into my mind for a very very long time. After about five minutes of an entire courtroom sitting in silence and observing this girl enduring the reality of it all, the prosecution got up and fast forwarded to the social worker's re-entry. The worker produced two anatomical drawings and asked the girl to point to the various body parts that she had described. Then she drew circles where she had pointed. As they stood up to leave the girl continued to speak. "Did I do anything wrong?" "No honey. That's what you should have done." "Dad's gonna be pissed."

The video ended and the social worker testified that nothing had been edited or changed from the original interview.

The witness was passed to the prosecution.

"Is it your job to determine whether a person is lying or telling the truth?"
"No, I just conduct the interview."
"So to you it doesn't matter at all whether someone is lying."
"You cited all of the peer review and the studies associated with this interview technique. Did you bring any of that with you for the jury to review?"
"And your only contact with this girl ever was the interview that we saw. You never talked to her before or since?"
"That's correct."
"And when you conducted this particular interview you had only been certified for a few months."

The witness was dismissed and the prosecution rested. The defense rested as well. We retired to the jury room for a while as the attorneys prepared the closing statements.

Tension in the jury room was relatively high after all of that, so we turned off the TV and started joking around. I talked cooking with the guy I had been talking with before. Other people cracked jokes. We were all interacting just to keep the tension at bay. After thirty minutes or so we were reconvened in court.

Once we sat down and the judge re-stated the people in attendance for the record, DA Oliphant broke into Law and Order again.

"'Did I do anything wrong?' she said. 'Dad's gonna be pissed' she said.' 'Your mother wouldn't understand' he said. 'Come look! He wants to see you. He misses you.' he said, and then he pulled out his penis and showed it to a twelve year old child. You heard testimony that less than ten percent of child molestation cases are ever even reported. This girl knew what her stepfather was doing was wrong. She knew that her mother wouldn't believe her. She knew that when she reached out for help that it would destroy her family. But she did it anyway, and now more than anything she needs for you to believe her." Oliphant was walking around the room now. It felt like she was looking right at me the whole time. She stepped back toward the defendant. "For her whole life this girl has been entirely selfless. She graduated from school early so that she could work to support the family. She went to the grocery store with this this man" Oliphant gestured heavily at the defendant and I stifled a laugh "even though she knew what would happen so that she could please her mother and do right by the family. She was innocent. She was a child, and this man" Oliphant gestured again "took her innocence from her. He was selfish. Everything he did was to make himself feel good. He never cared about her. He just wanted her to play with his penis. He wanted handjobs. He wanted oral sex. He wanted real sex. And what he wanted he went and took. Because he was selfish. What this man did was illegal, it was wrong, and it happened for years. It happened when she looked like this." Oliphant produced the photo of the victim when she was twelve and walked it across the front of the jury box. "Either that, or that little girl is the best actress in the history of the world." Her face and neck flushed a bit as she continued with the theatrics. She stomped around, raised her voice, waved her arms and generally put on a show. She was clearly going for the emotional content, but that stuff doesn't do much for me as a juror.

When she finished she returned to her seat. The defense stood, a stack of papers in his hand and walked to the center of the room. At this point I thought I knew exactly what he was going to say. The girl had shown an ability to sustain lies for long periods of time. Her parents were controlling and oppressive and she wanted to get away. She wanted revenge on her stepfather for spying on her and not allowing her to have a cell phone or play sports. She told a lie to the cop and he acted too quickly. There's no evidence that any of this actually happened. Reasonable doubt.

I was sure that was where he was going to go. I was at least a little wrong.

"Four hours. That's how long it took for the officer to decide that my client was guilty and arrest him. He didn't subpoena the text messages. He didn't look for any physical evidence. He just listened to the story and arrested my client." The defense lawyer was calm, though he was a little preoccupied with the notes he had in his hand. "When we talked to you on Monday in voir dire we talked about the burden of proof. We talked about the fact that you can't draw any conclusions on this case based on whether or not my client testifies on his own behalf." He looked down at his notes and flipped through the pages for a moment. "When the nurse examined this girl she noted that she was a black female. Her teacher didn't know that she had gone to truancy court. This is the kind of evidence that the prosecution is asking you to put a man away in prison for." He continued on, but never really brought motive for lying into the equation and never really wrapped it all up in a bow. He was as disorganized and unconvincing during closing arguments as he was disciplined and sharp during the case as a whole. I was surprised.

Once closing arguments had finished the judge read the charge to us again. While Judge Adams is an entirely respectable judge, an orator he is not. He hurried through the charge, which included a definition of the crime as well as the instructions on what we were and were not to consider during deliberations. He sounded both fast and bored, and everyone in the room tuned him out. We were dismissed to deliberate.


When we all got back into the room it was about three in the afternoon. The bailiff said, "Now if you guys get hung up don't sit here beating each other's brains in. That just wastes time. Hit the button and send out a note." I nodded. Our first order of business was to elect a foreperson.

"Alright, who wants to be the fore?"

Everyone ducked like they were being dive-bombed by pigeons. I sighed.

"I'll do it if no one else will." One of the ladies almost hurt herself pushing the stack of papers over to me.

"Is that what he just read to us?"
"Can you read it again? I couldn't hear a word he said."

The room turned into a chorus of "Me neither."

I read the charge aloud. It took a few minutes to get through everything, but at the end of it everyone was clear on what we were discussing.

"Alright, the first thing we need to do is take a blind gutcheck vote and see where we're all standing." I grabbed a notepad and started tearing off pieces of paper. As we were passing the paper and pens around I had an uncomfortable thought: What if we're already unanimous? Do we just convict the guy with no discussion? I thought he did it, but I thought the case deserved at least a little deliberation.

I stared down at my blank slip of paper.

I saw the words "not guilty" on the slip in my mind, but I couldn't convince my hand to write it because I knew it would be a lie. Once I had collected all of the papers I continued to hesitate.

"Alright, what happens if we're already unanimous?"
"We go home." The other cook.
"Seriously? I mean, after all that we don't even discuss it?"
One of the ladies spoke up."What's the point of arguing if we all agree?"
"Alright, well lets see what we have."

I opened the papers one by one. I did not read them aloud, and I put them into a different stack as I read them.

guilty. This one was mine.
not guilty. I breathed a sigh of relief and put it in a separate pile

"Well we're not unanimous, so lets talk about this a bit."

One of the Hispanic ladies spoke up. "That was eleven to one wasn't it?"
"Yes it was."
"Alright, where do we go now?"
"Well let's talk about it."

In my mind, the best way to resolve this was to point out all of the holes in the case and ask ourselves if those holes mattered enough to add up to reasonable doubt. I solicited problems from the group and started writing them down on the whiteboard that was hanging on the far wall. After thirty minutes or so we had a list.

-No text messages
-Normal exam results and no physical evidence
-Poor exam documentation
-Teacher surprised by truancy court
-Girl could sustain lies about her age
-Difficult to find time alone with mother usually out of work and sister always at home
-Fast move to arrest by the cop

After taking some time to go through all of the problems I still couldn't personally find any crippling logical problems with the girl's story, and I sure did buy her delivery. Most of the room agreed with me. There was one consistent dissenting voice though, and I knew we had found our holdout.

The lone black man in the room crossed his arms, put his feet out and said "I made up my mind on the second day. I can't convict based on what that cop did. I mean, that could be a case of mistaken identity." This type of thinking frustrates me in general, but I kept my cool.

"In the end, it doesn't really matter if we believe the cop. What matters is if we believe the girl. The cop wasn't a witness to what went on."
"But how can we reward that kind of police work? I mean, he could just set anybody up. I know as a black man I've been profiled before."
"Hey, I'm not arguing that the cop didn't do a crappy job. There's no doubt he did. What I'm saying is that it doesn't matter. During jury selection we all said that we could convict based on one person's testimony. In this case my mind is going on the girl by herself."
"I made up my mind on the second day."
"You're not even going to discuss this?"
"I made up my mind."
One of the women spoke up.
"Don't you believe her? I mean, this man did that to her for years and you're just going to let him walk?"
"Sorry. I made up my mind. That cop didn't have no right."
"Alright, is there anyone in the room that feels as strongly on the other side as he does on that side?"
Three hands went up.
"Ok, so what happens if we hang up?"
One of the jurors was a lawyer. He spoke up. "If we hang, then they have to re-try the case for a conviction. He's not off the hook, but they have to do this whole process again and the girl has to testify again."

This was crap. We were supposed to decide this case based on the merits of the evidence, not on our personal prejudices. We all swore that we would do exactly that, and now this guy was going to hang us up because he didn't think the cop's work was clean enough? I was frustrated. We continued to discuss, hoping to find some common ground, but the holdout wasn't moving. At one point one of the women started to become disrespectful, but as a group we got that under control quickly. I was giving everything I could to keep the discussion from becoming a piling on, and I think that together we succeeded in avoiding that. We talked more about the case, sometimes including the holdout and sometimes not.

The entire discussion process reminded me of being at a poker table. Poker players police themselves for the good of the game, and as a jury we were doing exactly that. At a poker table if someone spots someone miscounting a bet he'll speak up. If the dealer misreads the board the players will point it out. In the jury room, even though I was directing the meeting the onus was not entirely on my to keep everyone in line. Whenever people would start to speculate about things not in evidence someone would point it out. Whenever someone would try to shift the burden of proof to the defendant I would politely redirect. I developed a great respect for my fellow jurors and lamented the fact that we were hung.

When it was apparent that the holdout was not going to budge no matter what was said we conceded as a group that we were hung. I buzzed the bailiff and wrote a note. "The jury believes it is hung." The bailiff took the note and a few minutes later he re-entered the room. "Alright guys, the judge says to be back here at nine am tomorrow." He walked out and we began gathering our stuff to leave.

I asked the holdout one last time.
"Is there anything the girl could have said to cause to convict?"
My heart sunk because I knew we were letting this man off for an explicitly prohibited reason. If the holdout just didn't believe the girl then I'd be fine with a hang up. It would have made sense and been perfectly legal.

He wasn't even considering what the girl said.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Jury Duty: One spin through the system - Part 2


Tuesday was both more and less eventful.

I parked in the parking garage this time, since I now knew what the fixed cost was. I took a packed elevator up to the seventh floor and found my way to the jury room, which was behind the main courtroom by way of a corridor labeled "Attorneys only." The signage in this place never ceased to amaze me.

The jury was about as diverse as I expected it to be. Two Hispanic women in their forties, two Hispanic men including myself, one black man in his thirties, three white men in their twenties to thirties, one white woman in her late thirties, and three older white men. One of the Hispanic women hadn't arrived yet. There was a television on tuned to Rachel Ray In The Morning. She was cooking. The bailiff instructed us to push the red button on the wall once everyone had shown up. Most of us had the foresight to bring things with which to entertain ourselves. People brought books and newspapers, and I plugged into my phone. No one was really commiserating because at this point the only thing we all had in common was the thing that we couldn't talk about yet. After about an hour the last juror arrived with the requisite traffic apology, and we pressed the button.

It took about twenty minutes after the button push for the bailiff to actually call us into court. We filed into the jury box through a door in the back of the courtroom and I took a seat in the back row. There was a pretty Hispanic girl in the witness stand. Judge Adams noted for the record that everyone was in attendance and introduced everyone of consequence in the room. The Hispanic man with the headphones and slicked back hair was the defendant. The man next to him was his attorney. There was another Hispanic man sitting in a corner speaking into a small device that was identified as the defendant's interpreter. Now the headphones made sense. The two women were Dallas county DAs. The girl who looked like Marcy stood up and introduced herself as District Attorney Felicia Oliphant. Then she broke straight into Law and Order.

"During the course of this trial you'll hear about this man" she gestured toward the defendant "and the two very different sides to his personality. On one side of him you'll find that he was a good father. A good provider for his family and a law-abiding citizen. On the other you'll find a sick man who abused his daughter. A man who on the day of the birth of his son chose not to be at the side of his wife but instead to lie naked with his stepdaughter in his own bed. A man who for years used his position as head of the household to coerce this young woman into sexual acts with him." She went on and it was all very theatrical. Afterward we would all believe that she was looking directly at us as individuals as she spoke.

When she finished the defense attorney began his comments. I wish I could remember his name, because he was also very good. He talked again about the burden of proof and he too referred to the defendant's ability to provide for his family and work multiple jobs just to keep them afloat. He hinted at what he felt would be holes in the prosecution's case, and then sat down.

The judge instructed the prosecution to call the first witness, and they called the girl that was patiently waiting in the jury box. A box of tissues had been placed on the witness stand in case she needed them. I think we all suspected her to be the main victim here, but she was never really identified as such when questioning began. Oliphant remained in her seat, and the other DA, a youngish black woman, commenced with the questioning while also remaining seated behind the attorney's desk. Initially the girl was asked some baseline questions that were probably as much to let the jury get a read on what she looks and sounds like when she's very obviously not lying as a baseline. I actually found this very useful, since I suspected that the entire case was going to hinge on whether or not we actually would believe what this girl has to say.

"How old are you?"
"Do you have a job?"
"At McDonald's."
"What is your job title there?"
"I'm the assistant manager."

After a while the questioning took a much different turn. Can you tell us about your stepfather? How long has he been a part of your family? Tell us about the first time he made you feel uncomfortable.

The girl went on to give a detailed testimony about years of abuse and coercion that began when she was twelve and continued until she was sixteen, when she turned him in. She told us about how he told her that he was going to teach her how to have a boyfriend when she grows up. She said he was going to teach her how to kiss. He felt her breasts and butt a lot. She told us that he showed her his penis and eventually would convince her to give him handjobs. She complied so that it would end, and because she really didn't know any better. She told us about the feeling she got when he would put a movie on for her little sister and then call her back into his bedroom. She talked about the specific incident on the date of her baby brother's birth, where he got naked with her in the bed and worked to open her legs. She said that she felt it go in a little and then she managed to turn over and reject him. She talked about her body being excited, but her mind knowing that all of this was wrong. She never cried, and the court reporter eventually took the tissues off of the stand. She talked about having troubles with subsequent boyfriends because every time they kissed or did anything else she could only see her stepfather in her mind and it made her feel weird. She took her time with her answers, and while it felt as though she'd told these stories a hundred times she never really felt rehearsed. She was only seventeen, but she looked like a grownup on the stand. For context the DA produced photos of her when she was twelve, and in those pictures she almost looked like she was ten. Neither of her parents speak English well, and she told stories of how her mother would send her out to the grocery store with her stepfather to act as a translator. She told of the abuses that would then happen in the car in the parking lot once they arrived back at home. She was always very calm and eloquent. Never overtly emotional, yet there were times when she would stop and compose herself after giving an answer. Pictures that she drew while in counseling were produced and analyzed. She told us about her father having spies that would give him detailed information about her days that he could never otherwise know. She told about text messages that said "solo eres mio" - "you're only mine." She told us that her stepfather said if she would just let him go all the way then she could tell any future husband that she had a bicycle accident. She described both of her parents as controlling and overprotective, not allowing her to date or play sports. She graduated a year early because her parents told her to lie about her age, and did the same to get a job afterwards so that she could help support the family.

Through all of this I was using my poker mind as much as possible. Looking for bluffs and tells. Looking for little lies that would show up later as inconsistent. Nothing ever caught my radar. Every location that she said her father worked at lined up with my recollection of where they were in my own experience. All of the aspects of the Hispanic family unit were there as well. From the father being the main breadwinner and head of household to the little secrets that they kept from each other in order to avoid drama. Anytime the assistant DA was questioning a witness intensively, Oliphant was in constant communication. She would be scribbling calmly on her legal pad from the beginning of each response until the end, and occasionally she would take her pen over to the assistant DA's note pad and write something down. The other DA would glance at it and continue questioning. Sometimes after a note was scribbled she would switch to a new line of questions. They continued in this manner for an hour with the girl.

Then something strange happened. She was asked to identify the defendant in the room, and was unable to do so.

"Is the man that did this to you in the room today?"
She looked right at the defendant.
She squinted.
"I think that's him."
She squinted some more.
"Do you need glasses honey?"
"No, I don't think so."
"Are you sure that's him."
"His facial hair looks different, but he changed it alot."
"How long has it been since you've seen him?"
"Since they picked him up. About a year. Yes, that has to be him."

He never flinched.

Next came cross-examination. The defense was obviously aware of what a sympathetic witness she had been and he made what I feel was a good decision to not overtly attack her.

He talked more about how controlling her parents had been. He asked her how long she had to maintain the lie about her age in school. He asked how she managed to keep the wool pulled over her employer's eyes for so long. He read a statement from her describing how happy she was now that she was finally out of the house and away from her parents. He talked about the other members of the family that she did not have a good relationship with. They discussed her being kicked out of an uncle's house after her father's arrest because she had slept at a boy's house without calling and saying where she was. He asked her about how often she skipped school, and confirmed with her that she had skipped so much that she had been taken to truancy court. The girl never seemed rattled. She never dodged the questions about her lies about her age or her other family problems. She never seemed embarrassed or confused when she addressed those issues. He never ventured into her inability to identify the defendant.

The prosecution rebutted a few points with the girl and then both sides had finished questioning her.

The next witness was the girl's little cousin. She still looked like she was twelve. The translator stepped forward from the shadows and stood next to the girl, where he began translating out loud for the entire court to hear. I know both English and Spanish, and this man ended up being very very good. I felt much better about trusting whatever he was whispering into the little handheld device after hearing him work. Through the translator the prosecution asked the girl to take us through what happened when the victim confessed to her. She told us about the chain of people that they told, which eventually led to the police being called. The defense actively objected during her initial questioning when she got anywhere near hearsay. When it was his turn he asked about some of the lies that they had told to their respective families, and about the secrets that they kept from them. His storyline was becoming clear.

Next was the cop.

He testified about his experience. Twenty one years on the force, six years as the head of the child abuse division. Highly decorated both in his field and in general as an officer. When the police had arrived, he was the first on the scene. After witnessing the girls' forensic interview he believed her and made the decision to arrest and contacted the defendant by cell phone. He asked him to meet him at a gas station, where he arrested him.

The defense was not convinced.

"She mentioned text messages in the interview. Did you subpoena them?"
"Did you get a warrant for the home to look for DNA?"
"It's their house and the last reported abuse had happened weeks before."
"Have you ever heard of Monica Lewinski? I'm sure you remember the little blue dress."
"Well yes, but..."
"Why did you not seek any physical evidence at all?"
"Well I don't have in my notes here why, and I really don't remember."
"You realize that by acting so hastily you're depriving this jury of critical evidence that could help in their deliberations."
"Did you personally interview the defendant?"
"You mentioned hard science that would lead you to believe her. Did you bring and documentation of the studies you're referring to so that the jury can review it for themselves?"
"No I did not."

I thought the cop got ripped to shreds.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

"say it slowly for the folks in Lubbock"

At least he won't be on the football team. From the Austin American-Statesman:
Alberto Gonzales, who resigned as the Bush administration’s embattled attorney general nearly two years ago, has lined up a fall-semester teaching spot at Texas Tech University, the university confirmed today.

Gonzales, who was Gov. George W. Bush’s lawyer, Texas secretary of state and then a Texas Supreme Court justice before joining Bush in Washington, will be working in the university’s political science department, teaching a “special topics” course on contemporary issues in the executive branch, according to Dora Rodriguez, a senior business assistant in the department.

They couldn't get the George W. Bush Presidential Readin' Barn, so I guess this was the consolation prize. God I hate my alma mater sometimes.

not the sharpest, but a tool nonetheless

What was I saying about Sarah Palin not having sufficient intellectual heft to contend seriously for high office? From ABC News:
But as for whether another pursuit of national office, as she did less than a year ago when she joined Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in the race for the White House, would result in the same political blood sport, Palin said there is a difference between the White House and what she has experienced in Alaska....

"I think on a national level, your department of law there in the White House would look at some of the things that we've been charged with and automatically throw them out," she said.

The Department of Law. Thank you, John McCain.

Does that make Eric Holder the Secretary of Law? Or would it be John Roberts?

Monday, July 06, 2009

Jury Duty: One spin through the system - Part 1

So I was recently called upon to do my civic duty and report to jury duty. When I got the letter I did what most people do, which is to put it on the calendar and do my best not to think about it. Eventually though, I ended up being forced to. What follows is a multi-post entry that describes my experience as a juror in the Dallas County Criminal Court.


When the day finally arrived, I told the lovely wifey that I was just going to go in there, be honest, be respectful, and let the chips fall where they may. I did my best not to really pull for selection or rejection, though I really couldn't deny my curiosity into the system since I have such defined political views and so little practical experience with the system. I also have a job that I love and I don't really like missing out on anything interesting that goes there either.

I followed the directions on the jury duty letter to the court building downtown, but the parking lot with the huge "Jurors park here" sign on it also had a hefty parking fee listed on the entrance where you have to pull a ticket to gain entry. I decided against that, and swung around to the parking lot in front. That one only cost $3/day, which I was far more comfortable with. Once inside I joined the unwashed masses in a big auditorium style room that held around a thousand people.

As I was walking around, I got the distinct impression that I was exactly in the middle of the type of facility that my right-leaning friends refer to when they talk about their disdain for anything "government-run." The place was packed full of people. The chairs were functional stadium style fold-downs mounted on rails in uncomfortable proximity to one-another. The walls were bland and there were signs on them asking for people to turn cells phones to silent. Everything about everything was both barely functional and entirely uninspiring. We were repeatedly reminded to fill out our jury summons and hand the top half in to the appropriate personnel or else we wouldn't be given credit for having attended. Dallas is a pretty fat city (
landing 14th in the latest Men's Health survey), and jury duty sure is a testament to that. Most of the seats did not fit the asses. The variety of people was remarkable. Everyone from women in power-suits to homies with their pants dragging filed in around me. I felt both in and out of place at the same time. Someone and also no one.

About an hour after finding my seat a judge came and addressed us. He thanked us for remembering to show up, commented on how he believed that jury duty is a rewarding and important endeavor, reminded us to turn in our jury summons or we would not receive credit, and handed the podium over to someone he did not introduce. She was obviously the resident juror-herder and she politely reminded us to turn our cell-phones off for the video. She also noted that we would have to be sure to turn in our jury summons or we wouldn't get credit, and pointed out the machine that could validate our parking garage stubs for a jurist discount that would lower the fee to $3. Damn. A screen descended in front of us, and a blue screen was projected onto it. We heard the video start, but didn't see it. Then we heard it stop, start again, and stop again. The lady walked back out with a remote and a stern look on her face. She started the video again. Still no picture. Finally she started it again and walked back into her room to leave us to listen to but not watch the video. I resisted the urge to play games on my phone, but only barely.

After the video had ended the woman came back out and asked us to take note of the jurist number on the part of the summons that we had retained. My number was 922. She then started calling numbers and assigning the various courts that we were to attend. She called numbers in ranges, so the first batch was numbers 1 through 50 something, and everyone grabbed a jurist badge from a big box as they were exiting. My number was part of the third or fourth batch, and as I walked by the lady I picked up my badge and asked her to reiterate the court that she had assigned us to so that I could be sure to go to the correct place. She handed me a stack of about a hundred pages bound in a big rubber band and said "District Court 102, seventh floor. Take this to the bailiff." Alrighty then.

I grabbed the papers (which conveniently had "Dallas County Court District 102 Judge Don Adams" written in big letters on the top page) and walked out to the elevators. The elevators were like everything else in the building - minimally functional. I packed into a group of 10 or 12 people in the next available car and we rode up. Later on I looked for and never found the stairs. I did find the emergency stairs exit, but that door had an "alarm will sound" warning on it, so I opted out.

As a side note, the interesting thing about this building was the degree to which things were and were not labeled. There were no maps of the building posted, so you couldn't just go "I am here" and navigate your way to where you wanted to be. There were signs up signifying what was inside the various rooms and hallways, but never really anything pointing you
to anything. Outside of the parking garage this way and cafeteria that way signs, you really had to have insider info to figure out where you were and where you were going. The building was pretty simple to navigate after having run through it for a few days, but on a first pass through one never could figure out where things were without being told. I'm not sure if that's by design or not.

Once we all found our way to the correct door and I had handed the papers over to the bailiff, we were left to loiter about for around an hour. Eventually an attendant appeared and produced a large batch of clipboards, pens, and questionnaires. We were called individually by name and each handed a numbered questionnaire. Mine was number 42. The questions within were revealing, and I had to strain to separate Law and Order from my actual personal experiences.

In general, what is your view of the criminal just system?
____Too Lenient _____To Harsh __x__About right
This question is way to broad. Good arguments can be made for both sides, so I'm defaulting to neither.

What is your view of policemen?
No real dealings with them, but generally they have been helpful to me.

Please number the reasons for incarceration with 1 being the most important reason and 3 being the least important.

____3___Rehabilitation ____1___Punishment ____2____Deterrence

(I considered going with rehab number one initially, but honestly I don't really believe that prisons are good places for that)

What is your view of prosecutors?
Out to win.

What is your view of defense attorneys?
Out to win.

Have you or any family member been a victim of a crime? Explain.
No. (I thought on this question for quite a while, and was surprised with the answer. I mean my truck was vandalized once, but I never really pursued it.)

Have you or any family member been a victim of child abuse? Explain.

There were others, but they were less interesting.

We handed in the questionnaires and broke for lunch by way of packed elevators. There was a big sign in front of the nondescript cafeteria entrance that said "Cash Only!" and of course I don't ever really carry much cash on me. I asked a cop where the ATM was, and she said she thought there was one on the second floor. Great. A whole building that doesn't operate in modern currency, and the only ATM is on a different floor from the primary place where people would need it. I went out, went up, got cash, and came back down.

The cafeteria reminded me of the one from middle school. There were some fry cooks there making burgers, some premade meals, a pizza station and a beverage station. Everything was spectacularly plain though you couldn't tell when you paid. Like everything else, the cafeteria was packed with people and I took the only open table I could find. I plugged into my iPhone, turned on some
Rachel Maddow, and ate my nine-dollar grilled fish and mashed potatoes.

After lunch I headed back up to the seventh floor in a packed elevator and continued to hurry up and wait outside the courtroom doors. Eventually we were able to enter the court, though we had to do so in numerical order. I was in the fourth row of five rows, and the overflow people filled into the jury box.

The courtroom was just like the rest of the building. Wooden pews, dropped ceiling, fluorescent lights, some modest AV equipment. It felt a lot like an office and only a little like a place of raw American justice. There were four people standing at attention behind the attorney desks as we entered the room. Two Hispanic men on the left, one wearing headphones with medium length slicked back hair, and two women on the right, one white and the other black. The white one reminded me of
Marcy from Married with Children.

Judge Adams was in the far left corner perched up in his box and a small wooden divide separated the gallery from the attorneys. Judge Adams greeted us, thanked us, and read the charge. Sexual assault of a minor as defined by the penetration of the victim by an object, his penis. Penetration is defined as any amount of entry, even partial. The punishment allowed by law is to be set by the jury as incarceration in a penitentiary for an amount no less than two and no more than twenty years, and the jury can recommend a sentence of probation.

Marcy started in as the others sat down.

She was very impressive. She explained the concept of reasonable doubt, and then started asking broad generic questions to the group. "Do you need physical evidence to convict someone of child molestation?" "If you had physical evidence, what would you most like to see?" (We all responded "DNA!" as a group to that one) "Who here knows someone close, either yourself, a family member, or a friend who has been a victim of child abuse?" At this point individual hands started getting raised. She began calling people by name and asking them to continue. It was amazing to watch her work as she was able to flawlessly identify every person in the room by name in a random order and had clearly taken the questionnaires into account as she probed into the individual's responses. All the while all of the other attorneys were busy taking notes and making marks on their various papers. She asked if people felt that just because the man in headphones in front of us had been arrested and brought before us that he was already guilty. More people than I would have expected answered affirmatively. She asked if we expected a child abuse case to be reported right away. She asked if we expected to see much physical evidence in an abuse case that had not been immediately reported. After about 30 minutes of question and answer with the group the judge informed her that she had 10 minutes left. She then went row by row and asked us to raise our hand if we felt we could not convict someone based on the testimoy of just one individual. The woman next to me meekly raised her hand and the female attorney sitting down scratched her paper.

When Marcy had finished she had never called on me and I had never raised my hand. I did participate in the row by row questions, though that was entirely by affirming that I could follow the law.

The Hispanic man on the far left stood up and began a different form of Q and A. This man decidedly
didn't know everyone's name by heart, and referred to a sheet of paper that he carried with him to address people's names. He talked briefly about reasonable doubt, and asked questions pertaining to that. He talked with individuals about their experiences with police, and any conflicts that they may have had with the law. A lady gave an anecdote about a time she was given a speeding ticket even though many other people were speeding around her. He asked her how she could have proven that she wasn't speeding to the court, and at this point I raised my hand. He looked me up on his sheet and called my name. "It doesn't matter if she can or not. In a case like this the burden of proof isn't on the defendant. It's on the prosecution." "Exactly! That's the perfect answer" There were some people that were remarkably vocal with their prejudices. One man pointed and said "I know he did it. I know." Another guy would speak up. "I'm a social worker, and I just love the children. I don't think twenty years is enough." The attorney continued on, and eventually was given a time warning by the judge as well. This attorney went row by row as the previous one did, but with a different question - "The minimum punishment for this crime is probation. If you found someone guilty of this crime, and you believed that probation was the appropriate punishment, could you issue probation as the actual punishment?" When he came to me I raised my hand. "I have to say that I'd have a difficult time jumping through the mental hoop of convicting someone of that and then coming to the conclusion that probation is the best punishment, but if I did I could come back with that as the sentence." "Are you saying that you could or couldn't convict someone and give them probation?" "I could. I'm just saying that it would be quite the trick." "Great. Thank you"

When the defense attorney was done the judge thanked us again, and sent us back out into the hall. I plugged back into my phone and watched some more TV. My battery was already running low, and it was barely three in the afternoon, so after a while I decided to stop. I went out to the vending machine which miraculously managed to refuse both credit cards
and cold hard cash. You had to deposit exact change or it wouldn't drop anything. Oh, and it didn't take pennies. Want a candy bar? Ninety cents in exact change please. No you can't just put a dollar in there and let it keep the extra dime. Instead you have to beg your neighbor for the extra fifteen cents to match the loose change in your pocket. Awesome.

Eventually we were called back in and told that we could sit wherever we liked. The three attorneys and the man I now knew was the defendant wearing headphones were standing as they had been before. I picked a chair with some padding on it instead of the hard wooden pew. Everyone sat and the judge started reading names. I was one of the first ones called. Everyone else was dismissed, and the judge gave us our orders. Don't discuss the case with anyone while litigation is ongoing. Don't discuss the case with each other until after all argument have been made. Be here at nine am tomorrow, and call me if you're going to be late. The case should wrap around Thursday. We all rose, and the bailiff led us out the back door and into the jury room. He told us we could bring our lunches, showed us the fridge and the microwave, and sent us on our way.

I called work and wife to inform that I'm on the jury.

HELP is on the way

Krugman says Congress' health care bill works. Pretty exciting times, at least until Evan Bayh's unagenda'ed coalition does the hatchet work for insurance companies.

is it still trite if it's wrong?

A quote from Sarah Palin's July 4th email to supporters: always feels good to do what is right.

I come from academia. In the setting I'm used to, every thing you say is reflected upon and poked at and second-guessed well before you put it in writing, so much so that scholars and professors can sometimes seem pathologically unwilling to stake out a hard claim without qualifiers and addenda.

Perhaps for that reason, I find Palin's thought processes and quotes interesting sometimes in how, well, unexamined they are. This quote would be just another saccharine Saturday morning bromide were it not for one amusing complication: it isn't true. And it's not just that it's not true, but that it goes against the grain of the very same pop moralism it plays upon, where the lesson is that the "right" thing to do is usually the harder of two options, and that the difficulty of the decision is actually an indication that it's right, rather than "the easy way out." Every eight-year-old knows that it often sucks to do the right thing, whether it's apologizing to your sister for hitting her or returning that toy your friend left at your house or admitting to the teacher that you're the one who was talking during the quiz.

Similarly, a couple of days ago, during her resignation speech, Palin quipped: "Only dead fish go with the flow." It's cute, it's seemingly witty, but it isn't anywhere in the ballpark of true. Actually, perfectly healthy fish regularly swim downstream, along with anything from kayakers to jellyfish, just as on the other side of the analogy, good leaders go with the flow all the time. They show that they can play well with others, and that the entire legislative body doesn't have to be hijacked for their agenda. Good politicians also take the occasional principled stand, sure, but that's very different than the knee-jerk contrarianism her analogy advocates.

I think there's fertile ground here for a comedy about a politician touted as a sort of super-moral country type who spouts folksy sayings that are wildly false. "Why am I running for president, you ask? It's simple, John: like the mighty buffalo, I'm always on the lookout for a new mountain to climb."

"The two parties are always bickering and fighting. In Congress, they have to sit on separate sides of the aisle just like different animals are fenced off on my farm; after all, you don't want your strongest bull eating all the chickens."

"I'll tell you why I'm against marijuana legalization: you shouldn't put anything in your body that's mined rather than grown."

This is why I just don't see a political future for Sarah Palin. She whines about being victimized by the "liberal media" (if she has learned anything, it's the political utility of victimhood), and wankers like Ross Douthat wish that she'd taken more time to bone up on politics, but none of that really sank her. It was her lack of self awareness, particularly in terms of her intelligence. If you can't hold your own in an interview and can't match wits with elite journalists, the media doesn't have to crucify you: the voters will gladly do it. All the boning up in the world doesn't help if the politician at the other podium has 20 or 30 IQ points on you. You will suffer for it. John McCain had 30 years to prepare for Barack Obama and he got smoked in every debate. And frankly, if you're really this poor of a decision maker, you're doomed to repeated onslaughts of negative press.