Tuesday, March 24, 2009

My Civic Duty

Well, yesterday I reported for Jury Duty, good citizen that I am. I must admit, I was actually eager to get seated on the jury. I thought it could be a good experience. I was expecting that it would be something short, but it turned out to be for a medical malpractice case, something that would probably take a full 5 days this week.

It sounded like it involved flesh-eating bacteria and a 37 year old man who died within 2 days of seeing the doctor. At least, that's what I could glean from Voir Dire (the questioning of the jury by the judge and attorneys).

As a civil case, only 7 jurors would be seated (6 plus one alternate). There were 55 jurors called. It seemed unlikely I'd make it. Then again, I've never seen a jury VD before, just read them in transcripts (and usually I skipped them because they were relevant).

At first, it seemed like they'd be seated rather quickly. Almost all of the jurors were deemed acceptable to all involved. Then one drops out. Then another. Then one asks to be excused. Pretty soon we're halfway down the list. The plaintiff's attorney dismisses a republican state house aide. No doubt why. Someone else who was a nurse who said that he had been involved in depositions in many "frivolous" suits against his hospital. Later, he denies he used that word but still says he thought that suits were driving up costs and were a problem. So he's gone by plaintiff's peremptory (without cause or explanation kind of challenge).

Finally, surprisingly, my name is called. I go up and sit in the box. Juror number 5 I would be. The judge first asks if I heard all the previous questions and asked if I had anything to say. I said no, forgetting that one of the questions was about professional qualifications. I also figured they'd just read my questionaire. So the judge gently reminds me of that and I tell him I'm a lawyer. I tell him my background. I fill in more details for the attorneys. The judge asked me about my kids and child care. He wants to make sure there will be no problems there. I assure him there won't be.

So no one challenges me for cause. There is none, I've given none. Ok, so I want to be on the jury, though I know it will be a big wrench in my week. Then, plaintiff's attorney signs off - no peremptory. Defendant's attorney. "Thank you, Mr X." So I'm gone. Peremptory. I guess I was not terribly surprised. Still, it looked like I could almost have been seated. On the way out as I walked past the defense table, I asked the defense attorney, jokingly, if he had something against lawyers. He smiled. Apparently so, when it comes to jurors.

I really had no bias one way or the other. I would have full evaluated the evidence and tried to come to the correct conclusion. Maybe that was the problem. Or maybe there is something else at work. Maybe lawyers just don't like other lawyers on juries. I couldn't say. I'd be curious to talk to that lawyer later on and ask him. Maybe I'll even do that, though I don't remember the names and probably don't have an easy way to look them up right now, either. Oh well.

It was an interesting experience. Maybe one of these years I'll actually get seated on a jury.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Outrage at Jon Stewart's Outrage

I watched the various Daily Show segments where he blasted CNBC, including Kramer, about their cheerleading (and total lack of investigative reporting) leading up to the financial crisis.

I've read plenty on the subject, and heard also about Morning Joe (on MSNBC) criticising Stewart, but this post by McCardle really just annoyed me, and almost makes me not want to read anything she has to say, not that I generally agreed with her to begin with.

She blasts Stewart for making serious claims and then retreating into "I'm a comedian" if he "gets called on them." I call bullshit on McCardle. That's not what he does at all. He never has claimed to be anything but a comedian. They pretty obviously take quotes out of context at times just for a laugh. But what is truly sad is that often, they don't need to take quotes out of context to get a laugh. They just do the straight reporting and get the laugh - which is sad because the real MSM does not do this. Never. It was so infuriating, for instance, to see Dick Cheney lying his ass off on TV, and it just being shown without context and with no reporting or investigation to see if what he said was true. Hell, when he lied about things he said himself, when there was actual video of him saying it, the MSM still didn't point this out. It went to the Daily Show to do this.

Stewart's basic complaint is that he should not be the only one on TV actually doing that. He just does it for laughs, he's not really trying to be a reporter. He doesn't want to be a reporter, he wants to be a comedian. But he's also a citizen, and so when he sees this thing happening now again and again, this time with the financial reporting, and the people it hurts, he got mad. And so he expressed that in his interview with Kramer. Which is an example of yet another thing the MSM simply doesn't do - tough interviews, where actual, meaningful questions are asked. Real MSM people seem afraid to upset anyone in power or else they'd not get another interview or access or whatever, so they ask softballs or "hard" questions that are anything but.

And again, Stewart has said he really doesn't want to be the only person doing this. And it is sad that he pretty much is. Of course, the MSM doesn't like to have this pointed out, so it bites back, on Morning Joe, and elsewhere. I do wonder what McCardle's real beef is with Stewart. And something in the back of my mind says it simply demonstrates something about her own character or thought processes that makes me disgusted with her to the point where I'd not want to read her. That's not exactly a logical argument, but that was the feeling I had after reading it. Maybe it came in combination with some of the other things she's written. She seems to pretend to be a neutral observer, above it all, skeptical, and yet I can't help thinking she's drunk a bit of the supply-side cool aide or something with what she's written at times.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Tidy Guilty Verdicts on Law and Order

I watched Law and Order from this past week just now. On DVR, as I watch almost all of my television. The show ended with something it almost never does - a not guilty verdict.

Law and Order almost always ties things up with a neat, tidy guilty verdict, or a neat, tidy (if strong-armed) guilty plea. That always bothers me. Not just for the legal ramifications or fairness ramifications, but even from a purely television enjoyment perspective. What's the fun if they always win? What fun is it to wait for the verdict if you always know what it will be in advance, and you pretty much always do.

It also bothers me that you never see them display any bit of doubt about the guilty verdicts at the end of the show. Sure, they've changed their minds about guilty verdicts halfway through the show (or even at the beginning of the show) only to then nail someone else with a guilty verdict by the end, but you never see doubt at the end of the show. Now maybe this isn't entirely unreasonable, as that seems to often be the attitude expressed by prosecutors and maybe there is a certain need to feel that way to be able to continue to do that job. But this week, when there was an actual not guilty verdict, and there was clear room for reasonable doubt, you'd have thought at least someone could entertain the possibility that maybe they were wrong and the jury got it right. Even better, from my perspective, would be if they admitted that they thought the defendant did the crime while at the same time conceding that the evidence did not support it beyond a reasonable doubt so, in the end, the jury verdict was right and they agreed with it. Because that would be a great way to really show the standard in action.

You aren't supposed to acquit someone based on finding them innocent. You are supposed to acquit someone because the state did not meet its (on paper) very heavy burden to show beyond all reasonable doubt that they are guilty. I wonder how many juries actually take that to heart and conclude that someone very likely did the crime but that, because of reasonable doubt, vote not guilty. I suspect it is very few, but then I'm just guessing, based on my understanding of human nature. I suspect a jury that would actually be willing to do that would be a jury no prosecutor would ever want to face. But these are just suspicions. It would be interesting if there was actual research on this question. And maybe there is something - if anyone knows of it, I'd be glad to read it.

I enjoy Law and Order. I've watched the show probably since its inception in 1990. I've watched it on reruns. I've watched so many episodes (and there are so many) that I've probably watched many more than once, each time seeing them as if it was the first time due to my lack of memory about the details of the show.

But what I like about the early segments of the show is totally absent from the later ones. In the early segments, you see cops arguing about who might have done the crime, and they disagree. By the end, you see the prosecutors and cops all in agreement, along with the judge and jury. As if they really can know. On top of that, you often see prosecutors doing all sorts of unethical and potentially illegal machinations to get their guilty verdict. For once, I'd like to see them disciplined and the conviction reversed based on that, but then again, maybe it is realistic that this never happens, just like it pretty much never happens in real life.

It would be nice if they showed unethical behavior by police (like testilying) and prosecutors (overcharging and cutting deals that basically deprive a defendant of a trial for nothing) or just the system itself crushing poor defendants, just like in the real world. But I guess it isn't that kind of show. I am thankful that there is such a show out there, Raising the Bar, which just had its first season. That was excellent, though it only began to scratch the surface, and it seemed to pull its punches a lot. Still, it was a great start and it is still on the air for a second season (so I understand), so maybe there is hope for it to pull less punches for season two.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Early Color Photographs, Time Travel, and World History

I just love early color photographs. I love old black and white photos too, since they can be even older, but there is a realness about color. You see what you would see if you were really standing there, in that far off time and place.

In that sense, they are the closest thing you can get to a real time machine. You can go back in time and see the world through the photographer's eyes, just a glimpse of it.

Color movies are even better, as you see the in true living, moving color. I've seen lots of BW WWII films, but it is the color WWII films that really stand out, like you are witnessing history.

If I could travel through time, I would. I'd visit all eras, in all parts of the world. I'd get lost in it. I might never come back except to do laundry on the way forward, to see what the future holds.

When I was a kid, I got several series of hardcover books from Time-Life books - the kind where a book comes each month. I really enjoyed those. It was fun to see what would come each week. I got a series on each nation of the world. I got a series on the supernatural - that was just fun reading. But my favorite was the one called "Time Frame" - it started with prehistoric times and then it had books going forward through history, with shorter and shorter timeframes as you got closer to the present (and had more records). It covered the entire world - not just the history of the west, but of many major cultures around the globe. I'm sure it could not possibly have covered everything, but it covered enough to really whet your appetite for world history. I must have read all the way through it at least two or three times. I think it ended with 1990, which was basically the present when the last book came out.

I was thinking about this book series today. I think when my daughter (and later son) gets older, I want to show it to her and then him, maybe read a bit of it to her. Share with her my love of history and of reading. I think that would be fun.

And in the meanwhile, I'll just take my short voyages back in time through color pictures - that will have to tide me over until the first real time machine is built.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Establishment (the know-nothing class) Beginning to "Doubt" Obama

I saw this headline for an article in Newsweek and just wanted to puke. Establishment beginning to doubt Obama has what it takes. What a load of horseshit. He's barely been in office more than a month and already having "doubts"? The idiotic "establishment" was sucking George W Bush's cckk for years after 9/11, with nothing but empty, blind, worshipful praise even as he drove the country into the ground and shredded the constitution.

Give me a break. I don't know how well things will ultimately work out, but I do know it is way too damn early to tell where things will be going or how Obama is doing. Obama has already shown himself to be way more competent than George W Bush ever was. He's put science back in charge of science. He's put competence back as an actual criteria, the main criteria, for government work rather than blind loyalty for talentless hacks. That alone deserves great praise.

The establishment media can kiss my ass. I knew there was a reason I wanted to stick my head in a hole.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Ostriches have it good

Sometimes I just want to bury my head in the ground like an ostrich and just stay there a while, with the notion that when I finally pull my head up, things will be better. The news will be better. The nation will be better.

I hope things are going to get better under Obama, but I don't think we've hit bottom yet and I'm worried both about how far down things will still go and how long we'll take to get there before we bounce back up.

I think of my own financial situation, which is in many ways, the best it has ever been. We don't owe money on any cars. Our day car costs, which are still ridiculous, have at least started to go down as our 3 1/2 year old daughter has been out of diapers for three months. We have more money in the bank than we ever have had before. Our 401(k)s are down 1/3rd, but we really won't be caring as much about what is in those for at least another 30 years, and things will be different by then. In 17 1/2 months, our daughter will start kindergarten, hopefully full day by then, and so we'll no longer have to pay for day care for her. Two years after that, our son will start as well, and then no more day care costs at all (except summers, which may be taken care of by a long visit by the mother-in-law...)

But despite this, I'm still worried. It can all go south so fast. My wife and I have both lost two jobs since we've been married, though the landings were rather soft for her losses and one of mine. So it is appealing to just stick my head in the ground and wait for things to get better. In a sense, that's all most people can do - hunker down and hope. At least we have the luxury of hunkering down with full bellies and warm beds. All we have to worry about is worry right now. I feel lucky. And I'm not an ostrich. I'm going to have to have my head up and I'm going to have to watch where things go from here as they get there. At least I'm terribly busy with work and two kids, so time goes by fast. Maybe that's almost as good as being an ostrich.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Busy Month

March is a very busy month for me, including some trips out of town for work, which means I've been unable to post every day. I could post in advance, I know, if time permits, but if not, well, I won't be able to post.

Hope everyone is looking forward to spring as much as I am.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Has the Pendulum Shifted?

The obvious answer to this question is yes, it has shifted. What pendulum am I refering to? The left-right pendulum (to use an overly simplistic model). Obama campaigned with a progressive agenda, got elected, and is now implementing it. Is it as progressive as I'd like? No. But it is still progressive and he is pushing forward on everything.

While this is going on, the GOP is flailing around, opposing Obama on everything and just generally acting in exactly the same way they acted that got them thrown out of office in the first place. And they are showing themselves to be huge hypocrites and partisans, opposing things that just two months ago they supported only because the name of the person doing it has a "D" rather than an "R" after his name.

While I have had some fears that these tactics would work like they worked before, these fears have faded somewhat, as I have realized that all they are and all the GOP has is tactics. They have no strategy. And you can't win with just tactics. As the GOP was patting itself on the back for winning the 6-hour news cycles during the stimulus debate, Obama was going long, and ultimately he made the GOP look to the public like the empty schills that they are and Obama still got his bill passed. Meanwhile, he's moved on to Health Care reform.

So seeing this, it is making me think the pendulum has really shifted. People are fed up with and disgusted with the GOP. By that, I mean the people in the middle who actually decide elections and who aren't nakedly partisan. The partisan folks would never abandon the GOP. The RWAs. [Right-Wing Authoritarians]

Which reminds me, given the research available on RWAs (like here), I wonder why there is nary a peep about that in the media - I mean, every political polling story out there ought to mention RWAs and how that fits into the poll. Not only should it be mentioned, it should be calculated just what portion of support for a GOP candidate comes from the RWAs. That fact and what it means needs to be part of every polling story because without it, you really miss the story. Because those people will NEVER change position away from their RWA GOP. No matter what the facts say - so when you look at shifts in the polls, if you don't take that into account, you really aren't getting the story.

To tell if the pendulum has shifted, you need to isolate and eliminate the RWAs from consideration, because looking at them tells you nothing except that they'll follow the GOP even if the GOP added child molestation advocates to its political platform.

That said, I think there has been a shift, something which the GOP is apparently in denial about as they try their tired old tactics, tactics that can't work in the new environment. But I don't rest on that. Things could obviously shift back. But shifts like that don't come easily. I tihnk there is a whole generation of young people who are probably turned off the GOP for life without a major shift. As they get older and even more of them vote, the GOP will be in real trouble.

While traditionally, off term elections (like 2010) result in the "in" party losing seats in Congress, I think Obama is going to gain some. I hope he gets full control of the Senate - without having to rely even on Lieberman. That would be a sight to behold.

So I think the pendulum has shifted. And I'm glad to see that Obama appears to be taking advantage of this and planning strategically. I still haven't lost my hope.