Saturday, December 27, 2008

EARTHQUAKE

Last night, just after midnight, a sudden boom rattled the house. We had no idea what it was, maybe a sonic boom caused by an aircraft returning to the military base northwest of here? The rumble lasted about ten seconds and seemed to be coming from that direction.

Turns out it was an earthquake about 15 miles from here measuring 3.3 on the Richter scale. Apparently there are a number of minor fault lines in this area, and people who have lived here a long time knew immediately what it was.

Our local newspaper was on the scene:

Quake shakes Lancaster County
By ANNE KOENIG, Staff Writer

Robert Kreider, of Ridge Road, Mount Joy Township, was in the bathtub when, "I felt it in my butt," he related. "It vibrated."


I suspect his buddies will remember that quote for a good while.

Krieder is planning to spend all of New Year's Eve in the tub hoping for aftershocks.

Monday, December 15, 2008

JURY DUTY

I registered for Selective Services in 1987 but the decades went by and I never got the call for jury duty. In Orlando, Marci got one summons after another, she would postpone her service, postpone it again, then finally go for the day, and come home saying she didn't get placed on a jury. I've been working freelance ever since we married, so I wasn't nearly as busy as she was, so I've always hoped that my name would get picked out of the hat and I'd get the nod.

It never happened until 2006, after we'd moved to LA, the world's largest court system. My first summons was to report if needed to the Malibu court. By this time, I wasn't working at all, so my fingers were crossed that I would get to sit in judgment of Robert Downey Jr, but I called in every day, and never did they need me. My name came up again in 2007, this time for Santa Monica, but again, I didn't have to appear. In 2008, third time was a charm and I got the nod to appear on the Thursday before Veterans' Day in November in Van Nuys.

I took a book and settled in for a long day in the Jury Selection room. There were about 80 of us and it was less than half an hour later when I was part of the first 40 to head next door to the criminal courtroom of Justice Steele. We all were assigned a number and mine was 4 which ensured that I began the selection process by sitting in the juror box. First, the judge had us introduce ourselves and say what we do for a living, or what we study in school, what our spouses do, how many children we have, what they do, etc. We had to disclose if we were familiar with any of the principles in the case, and if we had any prejudices which would preclude us from rendering an impartial verdict. Only jurors 1-24 spoke during this part, while 25-40 sat idly.

Then, the prosecuting attorney, Bollinger had a chance to ask the twelve of us some questions of his own devising. Next, the defense attorney, Halpern, asked us questions. The two attorneys then met with the judge in sidebar and when they came back, they took turns saying thanks but no thanks to whomever they wanted off the jury for whatever reason, which they need not state. Gone was the physician, gone was the pastor, gone was the lady whose brother was accused of murdering his wife. In all, ten jurors were dismissed. Finally, both attorneys were pleased with the composition of the jury and numbers 23 and 24 were seated as alternates. By this time, it was 1PM and we were dismissed for the day. We reappeared on Friday, but were immediately sent home for the weekend. On Monday, the judge read his instructions to the jury and we heard opening statements. Then we were done until Wednesday.

The defendant's name was Catherine, a 19-year-old Hispanic-Seminole blend from North Hollywood. She was being charged on two counts - simple battery and disturbing the peace. We had no way to know if this was her first brush with the law or merely the latest. The defense seated four witnesses. The first two were police officers and the latter two were dog owners who were at the park across the street from the incident. The basic timeline was this: one of the dog owners called the cops to report an act of vandalism after hearing a car window get broken by an unknown source. Officers Esturban and Tomlinson drove by in their patrol car and saw the defendant's younger brother, Danny, walking his dog on the sidewalk. The officers recognized the 18-year-old Danny because he is a thug with whom they've dealt with before. They decide to have a talk with Danny, and because he's rotten to the core, they handcuffed him first for their own safety.

Up to this point, Danny was perfectly compliant. Concurrent to this scene, Catherine and her friend, who have walked ahead of Danny, were alerted to the fact that Catherine's brother was being "arrested." Catherine is a big girl, and she came storming down the sidewalk shouting "What the fuck? You can't even walk down the street?" Tomlinson was acting as the contact officer, cuffing Danny, while Esturban served as the support officer, establishing a perimeter. With Catherine approaching in a belligerent and aggressive manner, Esturban held up his arm and ordered her to stop. She bitch slapped his hand away and barged past him, thus the battery charge. At this point, Esturban got Catherine against a tree and began to subdue and handcuff her. This treatment of his sister totally set off Danny, who immediately starts kicking and spitting on the officers. Tomlinson leads Danny over to the squad car and Danny uses his legs to push off against the car and take Tomlinson and himself to the ground.

At this point, Tomlinson activated a recording mechanism that he carries on his person and the next eight minutes comprise a recording that was played in the courtroom. Backup arrived almost instantly and soon there were at least a dozen cops and two helicopters on scene. On the tape, you don't hear any police brutality, only calming directives such as "Calm down! Stop resisting!" You hear Catherine only a few times in the background saying "I'm okay, Danny!" and such, in an effort to calm her brother. Danny, on the other hand, is out of control, kicking, screaming, spitting, and at one point even tells Tomlinson point blank that "You're a dead man." There's little doubt in my mind that Danny is already serving time, compliments of some previous jury.

The defense offered a gaggle of eyewitnesses before calling upon the defendant herself, all in effort to hint towards police brutality in hopes for enough of a sentiment for jury nullification that they can hope for at least a hung jury if not reasonable doubt. The story was pretty much the same, other than the cops were provoking the Latinos on the street for sport, needlessly harassing Danny and pushing around Catherine once they could legitimately claim in their police report that the situation had escalated. There was one witness who actually stated that the police told him to get off the street unless he wanted to get arrested. We pretty much disregarded that guy's testimony during deliberation, but he did provide the funniest moment of the trial.

The guy was scared to death to be in a courtroom because he most likely is not even in the country legally, and only appeared because he was subpoenaed by the defense. He brought his little daughter with him, who sat in the front row while he gave his testimony through an interpreter. When he was asked what the defendant had been shouting while she approached the scene, he replied "She was saying very bad things." The lawyer said "Can you give us your recollection of exactly what the defendant was saying?" The interpreter said "Da da da da da" and the witness said "Da da da da da" and the interpreter said "She was using some very bad language." Again, the lawyer asked for his specific recollection, again the "da da da, da da da" and the interpreter says "Do you want me to say the things?" Confirmation from the lawyer and another round of "da da da" and the interpreter says "It was bad things." At this point the lawyer asked for a sidebar, and everyone disappeared into the back hall for half a minute and when they came back, the judge had the baliff escort the little girl out of the room and out of earshot. The question was once again posed to the witness and in perfect English, without the aid of the interpreter, he says "She shouted 'what the fuck are you doing to my brother, you mutherfuckers!" Everybody busted up, including the judge.

There was another funny moment during the prosecution's closing argument. When Catherine had bitch slapped Esturban, she had called him Esturbitch. Bollinger had managed to use Esturban and Esturbitch each in their proper place until closing, when he referred to him as Officer Esturbitch. Again, the judge led the chorus of guffaws.

It was Tuesday, the week after Veterans' Day, when the jury was finally led to the deliberation room. The first order of business was to choose a foreman, and that was easy since I was the only person to volunteer. My pal Steve Whitaker sent out an email years ago to his fantasy baseball friends, directing us to be the foreman if we ever get the chance to serve on a jury. I might never get the chance again, so I was eager to volunteer. I thought it was going to be a slam dunk conviction, but once you get in that room, you realize that 12 random people have a way of hearing the same information 12 different ways. There were reasonable people who didn't have much to say other than 'guilty' but there were more than one unreasonable people who either wanted to stick it to the cops or who weren't even sure an offense was committed.

We only had 40 minutes or so on Tuesday before we were released, and I spent that night strategizing and forming mini-monologues for the next day, since I was assigned with the task of getting these random people to all agree in the end. I led off Wednesday morning by stipulating that we are all different and we have been thrown together at random to render judgment on an individual based solely on facts that were presented in the courtroom. I recommended that we in turn present our interpretation of the case to our fellow jurors, including our own prejudices and perceptions of the facts and how we would vote on each count. I went first and spoke for a long time, since I fielded everyone's questions and explained my position on everything and anything to do with the case.

My position was that disturbing the peace was a slam dunk guilty because everything was fine until the defendant started yelling at the cops and then all hell broke loose. So far as the battery went, Esturban says there was contact, Catherine says there was no contact, so they cancel out, because I don't inherently believe a man in uniform more so than anyone else. There were two ladies in the dog park, one of which had a good view of the initial approach of Catherine to Esturban. I didn't have in my notes exactly what this lady saw, but I considered her reliable, so I put the request in to have her testimony read back to us. Meanwhile, we argued on about this and that as the day wore on.

At some point, it occurred to me that everybody thought the defendant was guilty of something but we differed as to exactly what. I asked the group to raise their hand if they would like to see the defendant charged with one of the counts, regardless of which one. All 12 hands went up. Okay, now raise your hand if you think it should be disturbing the peace; 6 hands went up, leaving 6 voting for battery. We discussed each count and came to the general conclusion that even though both counts were classified as misdemeanors, battery sounded like the more serious offense. So, with the understanding that if we can't agree on a unanimous verdict, then the defendant is convicted of nothing and sent home, raise your hand if you would agree to convict her with disturbing the peace if the alternative was a hung jury. Eleven hands went up with the sole holdout adamant that the girl be convicted of battery to send a message that it is simply unacceptable to barge past the law.

When the same question was posed in reverse, ten jurors were okay with convicting of battery and not the other, but the two holdouts were not yet fully convinced that there was enough contact to legitimize the battery charge. At that point, the god in the machine, aka the court reporter, appeared to read back testimony from the dog lady. The testimony couldn't have been more clear: she heard commotion, she stood on a table, she saw the officer put his arm out and she saw the defendant slap away the arm and push past him. The court reporter left the room and the holdouts were convinced: guilty of simple battery. With that conviction settled, we revisited the disturbing the peace charge and came to a relatively quick decision that since Esturban himself said on the stand that Catherine's foul language, including her Esturbitch remark, had no effect on him and did not in itself escalate the situation, then we decided we could absolve her of the guilt that really lay with her brother in turning a routine stop into a full out police action.

Within five minutes of the court reporter leaving the room, the discussion was concluded, the paperwork completed, and I put a call in to the baliff to let him know we had reached a verdict. The principle players were gathered in the courtroom and I handed the verdict to the judge, who looked it over and handed it to the clerk to read. Unlike the movies, where the verdict is read in a manner to heighten suspense, the actual paperwork goes something like: The jury renders a decision of guilty (filled in blank) and then goes on into the legalese and minutiae. By the time the entire paper is recited, the defendant is already weeping and the mother is shooting death stares at the jury foreman.

So, in the end, the defendant got what she deserved for displaying thuggish behavior and I got a tremendous feeling of satisfaction not only for performing my civic duty in this ancient practice of trial by jury, but for serving as the foreman and using my negotiating skills to bring a room full of disparate personalities together for a just decision. Many people put a lot of energy into trying to avoid jury duty. I'm telling you, if you ever get the chance to sit on a jury, try not only to get on, but volunteer to be the foreman. It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

BUSH

I have gone cold turkey off all political news since Election Night, but I got an email pointing me to Jay Nordlinger's account of his hour recently with President Bush. The maddening thing about Bush has been that he is not a poor communicator per se but is a poor communicator qua President. I still believe that history will be kinder to him than the press and contemporary historians have been, but also that history will chronicle the erosion of America's moral superiority and Bush's futile fight against it.

"You know, I don’t follow these opinion polls. But I will tell you, people want to come to America. I will tell you, America is respected. Our values are cherished — because they’re not our values; they’re universal values.”

What should be watched “over these coming decades is the prevalence of moral relativism, which is manifested during my presidency, saying, ‘Bush is imposing his values.’ [He fairly shouts this.] Well, if you believe these are Bush’s values or American values, then you don’t believe in the universality of certain values. And so I firmly believe that our respect is strong in the world. I’d rather be respected than liked. And we are respected, and our values are cherished, and the lines are long to come to America.”

A word about popularity: You can be popular, but “at what price”? “You can get short-term popularity in the Middle East if you want, by blaming all problems on Israel. That’ll make you popular. You can be popular in certain salons of Europe if you say, ‘Okay, we’ll join the International Criminal Court.’ I could have been popular if I’d said, ‘Oh, Kyoto is the way to deal with the environmental problem.’ That would have made me liked. It would have made me wrong, however. And, ultimately, you earn people’s respect by articulating a set of principles and standing by them.

“You know, popularity comes and goes. It just does. It comes and goes for an individual or a nation [sing it, brother]. But principles are enduring.”

Nordlinger's recap is worth reading it its entirety.

On Harriet Miers:

“I think it was important to nominate, not only a person who’d be a great judge, but someone who was not a part of the judicial-nominee club. She went to SMU Law School. I recognize it’s not Harvard or Yale — those are great law schools — but you can also have great lawyers come from” other places. (It helps to have gone to Harvard and Yale, as Bush did — in the opposite order — if you want to talk this way.)

More on SCOTUS:

I mean, I think of Miguel Estrada, unbelievably brilliant, and it’s a fabulous American story . . .”

Me: “That’s why he had to be stopped.”

“Yes. Oh, absolutely. But I look at it from his perspective, not theirs. And his perspective is, I want to serve, I want to be in a position to exercise my intellect, I want to help my adopted country . . . And yet he just got hung out there. It was very discouraging, I’m sure, to him and to others who watched the process.”

On communication during war:

“When the president speaks during a time of war, I’ve found there to be four broad constituencies:

1. The people -- that this war is necessary in the interests of our national security.

2. The enemy -- that we will pursue them, find them, and justice will prevail.

3. The Iraqis -- that we are there as long as necessary, or they'll run to the nearest militia for protection.

4. The military -- that we will honor their service and sacrifice by winning the war.

I just sent this email to the author.

Thanks Jay for your Dec 10 Impromptus. I have gone cold turkey off all political news -- TV, radio, and print -- since Election Night. But I saw the link to your piece in yesterday's NRO Digest and knew you would be a reliable lift. You present Bush as the man I thought he was, the man so many of us thought he was before he disappeared, and you remind us why we voted for him, twice, and why we were right to do so, twice. Some future wartime President will have pictures of George W. Bush on his wall.

Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 05, 2008

WHY ISN'T MARVEL SMITH ON IR?

If you understand Ed's answer, please explain it to me.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT

Certainly you've heard of the show. If you've never watched it, then shame on you. It's easily the funniest series in television history. Okay, maybe Seinfeld is first, but it was appreciated in a way that Arrested Development was not during its time. I remember always reading during its run that people need to discover Arrested Development before it gets canceled. I forced myself to watch it one time, during season three, and was blown away by how clever it was. It managed to run for three years and 53 episodes before the axe fell. The G4 network shows reruns in chunks and by now I've seen most every episode, though I've had to piece together the timeline in hindsight. One of my favorite gags is the name of Scott Baio's character: Bob Loblaw, Attorney at Law. Say his name out loud to get the joke. If you have not yet discovered Hulu, then take some time to acquaint yourself with the site and revisit Arrested Development or discover it for the first time.
Today's Times reports that since the launch of NBC and Fox's online TV service Hulu, the show has consistently been one of the top three most-watched shows up there. I guess all the people who couldn't be bothered to watch while it was on the air are just getting around to it now.
Yesterday was my first day without cable since 1979. I was looking for ways to save some money and realized that most anything worth watching is available on the internet or Netflix. I ordered the Netflix Player by Roku so I will be able to stream movies to my TV.
The box streams movies from Netflix -- it doesn’t download them. Choosing content to watch is done on your computer, using the familiar Netflix interface. Anything that’s available for instant viewing can be added to the player’s queue -- in fact, the box checks your DVD queue and adds any available content to the Roku player automatically.
We're going to live without cable until we are in position to buy an HDTV set. The Netflix Player cost me $120 but between that and the DVDs, there will be no shortage of archived programming to watch. We get the news from the intenet, with CNN offering free footage, and I can even enjoy football via ESPN GameCast. We are currently watching the first season of Mad Men from Netflix, and maybe next we'll finally dive into the entire 24 run, which we've never seen. Going cableless for maybe six months is my biggest personal challenge since fasting for three days back in 1990 with Stamper. That changed my life for the better so maybe this will too. Why just tonight, we enjoyed family game night.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

SCOTTISH E LOOKALIKE TRAUMATIZES MASON

Last night, we had a family viewing of TITANIC to coincide with a non-fiction book report Mason just completed. The film is rated PG-13 but mostly for a smattering of bad language and a flattering view of nice boobies. The kids won't watch anything with blood in it, so I assured them that despite the hundreds of deaths, they were all of the bloodless variety to the best of my recollection, having seen the film over ten years ago.

Well, the kids chattered throughout the film as they do, and when the Captain turned in for the night and handed the reins to Murdock, Mason declared that Murdock was Uncle E:



So, we had fun for the next hour, proclaiming things like "Uncle E looks worried." and "There's no room in the lifeboat for Uncle E." Ultimately, Murdock is using his gun for crowd control as he loads the last lifeboat. He attempts to stave off a panic by shooting a guy or two, and then decides to hasten his own imminent demise by putting a bullet through his own temple. The Uncle E jokes stopped.

Mason wasn't really traumatized and Cadence managed to look away when she figured out what was coming. Murdock's final gesture was to salute as if to conclude his service, so now I can do silly things to crack Mason up like saluting and then hitting myself on the head with a Nerf ball. He can't wait to tell everyone that he watched a PG-13 movie, so rather than being traumatized by the suicide of the Uncle E clone, he plans to use it as a conversation starter. His other favorite scene is when all the fancy dishes crashed on the floor as the boat was sinking. After THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE a few nights ago, Mason realized that he had never seen a movie before in which the main character dies. Now he's got a streak going with two straight.
ZYDECO SWEET POTATO CRAB CHOWDER

I made this for guests last weekend and it was a big hit. My local sausage vendor at the farmer's market came up huge with the turkey andouille.

Ingredients:
2 pieces bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces

4 ounces andouille, ground or chopped (approximately two 4-inch links of andouille)
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
1/3 cup chopped shallots
1/4 cup chopped celery
1 tablespoon minced jalapeño, seeded
1 15-ounce can cream-style sweet corn
2 15-ounce cans low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon Creole seasoning
1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
2 cups, drained and diced Princella cut sweet potatoes in light syrup
1 cup whole milk8 ounces cooked Louisiana lump crabmeat
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley, in all

Directions:
Cook the bacon in a large stockpot over medium heat until it begins to crisp. Remove bacon. Add the andouille to the bacon drippings. Sauté for about 3 minutes or until the andouille is crispy.
Remove 2 tablespoons of the andouille and set aside for garnish. Add the bacon along with the red bell pepper, shallots, celery, and jalapeño. Sauté for about 5 minutes or until fragrant and vegetables are tender.
Add the cream corn, chicken broth, Creole seasoning, and black pepper. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. Next add in the sweet potatoes, stir to incorporate and let simmer 5 minutes, then add the milk and all but 2 tablespoons of the crabmeat, let simmer another 5 minutes or until mixture is heated through.
Stir in 1 tablespoon of parsley. Adjust seasoning if necessary. In a small bowl toss the remaining parsley, crab, and andouille together and use as garnish.
Ladle into bread bowl, individuals bowls, or a soup tureen. Garnish with the reserved andouille/crab mixture. Allow guests to use hot sauce as desired.

Monday, December 01, 2008

PLAX BEING PLAX

I was glad when the Steelers got rid of Plaxico because of his attitude, personality, and off-field problems. The Giants won a Super Bowl with him, but the Steelers won a Super Bowl without him, the year after his release.

The Steelers have always been good about avoiding or dismissing people like him. People in the media this morning are calling the latest incident a "first-time offense" but those who followed his career with the Steelers know this is not his first run-in with the law. Every Friday night he is a police report waiting to happen.

Plax is not too bright. I remember one game where he caught a ball across the middle, fell to the turf without being touched, jumped up and spiked the ball to make a statement, the way sulking WRs do when you finally throw them the damn ball, which in this case was a fumble of a live ball and should have but didn't teach him a lesson.

His buddies are apparently not much smarter. Antonio Pierce, his partner in crime, when asked how Plax was recovering from his injury, replied,
“I went to school for four years at the University of Arizona, but I didn’t get a doctorate, so I don't have that answer."

. . .because, for any other of his friends who may be reading, you get a doctorate to become a doctor to be able to know how your wounded friend is recovering.

Mayor Bloomberg has been emphatic that persons carrying unlicensed concealed weapons in New York will do 3-1/2 years in the slammer, no exceptions. I guess we'll just see about that.

UPDATE: Plax reportedly laughed and joked with a teammate on the phone last night. Today not so funny. Mayor Bloomberg:

Bloomberg said anything short of at least the 3 ½-year minimum for felony gun possession would be "a sham, a mockery of the law."

"I think it would be an outrage if we didn't prosecute to the fullest extent of the law, particularly people who live in the public domain ... If we didn't prosecute to the fullest extent, then I don't know who on earth you would."

"It's pretty hard to argue the guy didn't have a gun that it wasn't loaded. You've got bullet holes in and out to show it."


When the mayor tells the D.A. (and all the papers) that you must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, and your "not guilty" plea includes a bullet hole in the leg and any number of witnesses and co-conspirators eager not to pay for their own complicity, my guess is that Michael Vick is more likely to wear an NFL uniform next season than Plax. And I'm okay with that.