Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Ok, I'm no fan of our DUI laws. Our legislators have gone completely overboard in drafting laws that ignore the standard rules of evidence, fly in the face of science, and run roughshod over constitutional rights. As we defense lawyers like to say, the Constitution doesn't exist in DUI land. I've read the ridiculous stories of a man getting a DUI conviction for riding his lawn mower in his own yard or the guy who walked his bike home, but still got nailed for "operating" a vehicle while intoxicated. That one's just stupid. Don't we want the drunkies walking home when they're too drunk to drive or ride a bike?

But I'm ok with this guy getting a DUI. When I first saw the headline, I thought it was going to be another story about insane application of DUI laws. According to that headline, the guy got a DUI for riding a barstool. Huh? On its face, that's a bizarre headline that makes no sense. Turns out, this was no ordinary barstool. This was a barstool attached to a lawnmower base. The vehicle topped out at about 38 mph. Our intrepid inventor was caught after crashing his unique ride. With 15 or so beers in his system, a DUI seems in order. Sorry, dude.

Nice ride, though. Bet it's fun to show off to the ladies.

Every fabulous girl needs fabulous accessories

Today is the birthday of a very special big girl. Once upon a time, two of my very favorite people got married to each other. (In case I never said it, N&P, thanks for letting me be a part of that day!)

Six years ago today, those two had a sweet, little baby girl. Now that she's 6, we can't really call her a little girl anymore. In honor of her transition into big girl status, her (newly) very crafty Auntie Sarah decided to knit her a purse. Purple, of course. It's personalized, too, with her name spelled out in silver beads on the flower.

Like any big girl, I'm sure she has lots of very important, private items to carry around. If she is her parents' daughter, she will want to carry a book around with her. Maybe a little lip gloss. A Hello Kitty pen and notepad. Definitely some stickers. And maybe one stuffed cat named Gigi (I think that's it's name).

Happy Birthday, big girl!

Brainwashed cult member pleads guilty -- am I the only one who thinks that's a problem?

A woman in Maryland has entered into a plea agreement with the state in the starvation death of her son. She agreed to plead guilty to felony abuse of a child resulting in death. In exchange, though, she insisted the state agreed the charge could be dismissed if (in her mind, when) her son is resurrected. Here is the full story.

My first reaction at seeing this headline is outrage. It's outrageous to me that a judge would accept a plea that includes written proof that the defendant is delusional. This woman was one of 5 followers of a woman who calls herself Queen Antoinette. Queen Antoinette was in the state's mind the force behind the son, Javon's, death. The one year-old failed to say amen after meals. For this, the boy was denied food at Queen Antoinette's insistence. The group would be considered by any rational person to be a cult. Everyone seems to agree that the defendant in this case is brainwashed. The fact that she wouldn't enter into this contract with the state without the resurrection provision would certainly lend credence to the brainwash theory. Despite all of this, a judge was still comfortable accepting a guilty plea from this woman, who clearly isn't all there.

Some will point out that she was found to be competent by a court psychiatrist. That means very little to me. In my many years, I've represented many, many mentally ill defendants and only one of them was ever declared to be incompetent. Several were evaluated, some medicated and monitored, but only the one was ever actually declared incompetent. And eventually a second psychiatrist declared that one competent, even though nothing had changed about his condition. It takes next to nothing to be declared competent and it certainly doesn't excuse a judge accepting a plea from a woman who wants proof of her delusion written into the agreement.

It also occurred to me that there's really not much difference between this woman's obviously wacky beliefs and the beliefs of any other religion. Didn't many people who heard Mary claiming her unborn child was the son of God, conceived without a man, and meant to save the souls of everyone think she was off her rocker? But now, 2000 years later, professing belief in that story isn't considered delusional. I wonder, though, how the legal system would view a plea agreement that included a provision that the charge would be dropped if the rapture occurred in the defendant's lifetime. I know I would still think it proof of the defendant's inability to distinguish secular reality from religious faith. But I'm an atheist who frankly thinks all religious beliefs are illogical and hard to understand.

Apparently, this judge would be a-ok with taking that plea, too. He (or she) shouldn't, though. If a defendant is entering a plea conditioned on some supernatural event or miracle occurring, doesn't that demonstrate the defendant does not recognize or understand the difference between the earthly, legal court system and whatever heavenly authority that defendant answers to? In that situation, maybe the judge and the prosecutor and the defense attorney should be a little reluctant to accept a plea. We probably need to make it clear that we in this earthly court system don't have any jurisdiction over god's realm.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Tip for the Day

If you're wondering how much gas is in your car's gas tank, don't try to use a cigarette lighter to illuminate the tank. Like this guy did. Thanks to him, the rest of us have now learned that fire and gas are a combustible combination. Fortunately for him, he won't get a Darwin Award, because he only burned his hands and face.

You really can't make this stuff up.

What have I done to you, ABC?

ABC and I have a long, tortured relationship. It has historically been home to some of my favorite shows. Some, like LOST and Grey's Anatomy, have been supported, successful, and gotten proper runs. Others, like My So-Called Life, Relativity, Eyes, The Nine, and Sports Night, have been cancelled far too early. Even when ABC breaks my heart by cancelling my beloved shows after only 15 or so episodes, I still come back because every fall, they have the new shows that appeal to me the most.

But this is too much. Back in 1998, ABC premiered two new shows that I loved. Everyone remembers Sports Night, the glorious Aaron Sorkin show that had better ratings than its second season cancellation would suggest. It's been shown on Comedy Central since then and the entire series is on DVD (and in my living room). Few people other than me and my mom remember the other one. It starred Jeremy Piven, before he became Ari Gold, and Paula Marshall as Trevor and Clare. Trevor claimed he was Cupid and had been sent to New York by Zeus with instructions to match 100 couples. (What a convenient number that is, as 100 is gold in the syndication world.) Clare was the psychiatrist assigned by the state of New York to oversee Trevor's care after his release from a mental hospital. It was funny, witty, intelligent, and surprising. I cried when ABC cancelled it.

And now they're bringing it back. The same producer, Rob Thomas (of Veronica Mars fame), the same premise, even the same character names. Only this time it's Bobby Cannavale and Sarah Paulson. Huh???

If ABC were just starting this show from scratch now, I'm sure I'd watch it. I'd probably enjoy it. I've always liked Sarah Paulson, ever since Jack & Jill (not an ABC show, but short-lived). But it's not starting from scratch. It's an idea I loved 10 years ago. ABC liked it 10 years ago, seeing as how they put it on the air. Evidently, they still like the idea now. If only they'd given the original a real chance back in 1998. Because now, I haven't seen the original in 10 years, but I have 10 years of remembering how great it was and how much I loved it.

I'll watch the new version anyway, but, man, it just won't be the same. I can't imagine that I won't watch every episode comparing it to how I remember the original. It's going to have to be extraordinary this time around for the new version to live up to how fantastic I have built the original up to be in my head all these years.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

At long last, here is a picture of the blanket I knitted for my dear friend who just had her first baby. Harley-Babe, as we nicknamed her back in college, is herself a knitter and likes homemade gifts, so I knew she was a good choice for my first big project. I assume H-B 2.0 (the baby's pre-birth nickname) will share her mother's tastes.

I chose a complicated pattern, though I didn't realize it at the time. The final product was actually my second attempt. Tragically, the first blanket unraveled before my eyes around row 17. In the end, though, I'm glad I started over because there were some flaws that were bugging me. I was able to correct some of the mistakes I had made the first time around.

I have so much left-over yarn, I am now working on a series of knitted baby blocks to coordinate with the blanket. I may have to make another baby blanket soon, but I think it's a good bet my next blanket pattern will be much simpler!

He's more machine now than man

Seriously, is Tiger Woods even human? Last summer, he won the US Open on one leg. Well, he had two, but the second one was all kinds of messed up. He spent 8 months laid up, most of that time unable to practice anything but putting. Now he's been back for all of 3 tournaments, and already he's been down 5 on Saturday to come roaring back to win in the final 18.

It's not normal. No one is that good. And you can't even hate him 'cause it's not like he's twisted and evil like Darth Vader. Instead, he seems like a pretty decent guy. He's just the most insanely gifted golfer this planet has ever seen.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Gotcha Day

Today is the 2nd anniversary of my personal favorite holiday, Gotcha Day. Two years ago yesterday, I impulsively answered an ad in the local paper and about 10 minutes later, I had somehow agreed to take a sweet, adorable, but highly energetic 8 month-old puppy off the hands of a family who had decided a dog wasn't the best idea for their lives. I had been thinking about getting a dog for quite a while, but I hadn't really figured out all the ways I would deal with the reality of adding a dependent, 4-legged creature into my life.

First, I had to break the news to SO about what I had done. Fortunately, he had also been thinking it was time to get a dog so he wasn't too mad at me. I had to run out to the pet store that night to buy the basics, like a leash, a collar, toys, and food. All that day, I had a nagging sense that my impulse-shopper nature shouldn't extend to getting a pet, that maybe I should have put more thought into what kind of dog I should get, what I should know about the dog's breeder, how I should meet the dog, etc.

After work on March 28, I drove over to the family's house with SO riding along. He stayed in the car while I went up to the door. A very nice woman answered the door and invited me into the house. She ran a day care service out of her home, so several toddlers watched me enter with much interest. They had thought a puppy would be a fun addition for the kids, but after a few months decided that they couldn't give the dog the level of attention she really needed. I walked towards the kitchen, where a baby gate blocked the doorway. On the other side, I saw her: the cutest, friendliest, most lovable little cocker spaniel ever. She greeted me with a wagging tail and a doggy smile. I now know she greets everyone this way, but at the time I thought she was uniquely happy to see me. As soon as I saw her, I knew she was the dog for me.

The family didn't want any money for the dog, so I gave them just $25 to cover some of her vet bills. She sat in SO's lap on the way home, trembling as these two strange people took her away from her home. But now, two years later, she would let us take her anywhere in the car. Now I do see a difference in the way she greets me and SO as compared to everyone else. She's happy to see other people, but her little body can't contain the joy she feels upon seeing us. And whatever concerns I had about SO accepting my dog have long since been allayed. He's a bigger softie for her than I am.

So on this 2nd anniversary of Gotcha Day, I would just like my sweetheart to know that she is easily the best $25 I ever spent.

Friday, March 27, 2009

I confess, I don't really understand this. Per tradition, the University of Notre Dame has invited President Obama to speak at graduation. They also had Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush in their first years. But many affiliated with the university are upset that the Catholic school extended an invitation to a president who supports embryonic stem cell research and federal funding for international family planning organizations that perform abortions or even just provide education about abortions. One Bishop described the university's invitation to Obama as a "public act of disobedience." Another Bishop has declared he will not attend

What I don't really understand is the Catholic Church's single-minded focus on the abortion issue as the sole barometer for judging whether a public figure upholds values consistent with the Catholic Church or not. Is that really the only thing that matters to the Catholic Church? Adultery is a no-no in the 10 Commandments, so did any Bishops or alumni oppose Ronald Reagan's appearance at the university? I'm sure other presidents have committed sins or supported policies that the Catholic Church perceived as being against their values. But abortion seems to be the only issue that justifies refusing to attend a Presidential commencement address or considering the mere invitation to be an act of disobedience to the church.

It just doesn't make any sense to me.

Ode to the Pancetta Burger

How I Met Your Mother is one of my favorite television shows. I've watched it since day one. Early this season, they made an episode about the best burger in New York. Marshall, the innocent, sweet, slightly naive Minnesota boy was having a rough time in the big, bad city. As the gang was deciding where to eat dinner, he mentioned the best burger in New York. He had stumbled upon that burger joint 8 years ago, but been unable to find his way back to that hole-in-the-wall since. After listening to him describe this most perfect burger, the gang decided to help their friend feel better by finding that burger. Watching that episode made me want a burger more than I had ever wanted one before.

That episode aired again in January. Suddenly, I HAD to find the best burger here. It's like I had a contact burger high just from watching Marshall describe that perfect burger and watching all the rest of them bite into it when they finally found the right place. Sadly, SO and I had already eaten dinner, so we decided not to begin our quest that very night. But a few days later, we tried out a new, high-end fast food burger joint. It was a good burger for a fast food burger and I definitely enjoyed the fries, but I knew it wasn't going to win the prize.

On Valentine's Day, we went to the local bar with bocce ball, cheap beer, and lots of fried food options. The burger there was pretty darn good, but others have reported more disappointing experiences. So while I really enjoyed the burger, it seemed this place wouldn't be able to achieve the consistency necessary to be declared the best burger in town.

For the KU-Oklahoma game (go Jayhawks!), we went to Buffalo Wild Wings. I enjoyed the black cherry mojito more than the burger. The burger wasn't bad at all; it just wasn't special or memorable in any way.

Then, we learned that the local gourmet chef, who runs one of those impossible-to-get-into fixed menu restaurants out of his home, was opening a burger stand at an Irish pub. Our interest was piqued. The paper featured an interview with the chef and his partner at the burger stand. The two wanted to provide an upscale burger in an accessible atmosphere. They offer several burgers made of a combination of sirloin, ribeye, and some other beef cut. They also offer the top dog of burgers, the kobe burger. All for under $9.

Naturally, SO and I had to go. We went that very night, only to learn the place wasn't open on Mondays. After grumbling that they probably should have mentioned that in the article that was published on a Monday, we went somewhere else, resolving to return later in the week. We made plans with friends to return on Friday. But, it was during lent, so poor SO wouldn't have been able to try a burger. We didn't tell our friends, but went on our own on Thursday. We ordered one traditional cheeseburger and one kobe burger and split them both. The traditional was easily the juiciest, tastiest burger I'd ever had. The kobe was just glorious. The next night, I tried the chili burger. Also yummy. SO declared the kobe burger the winner. But, good as it was, I wasn't convinced.

And now I know why. Because the best burger in town is the pancetta burger. Last night, we went to the Irish pub burger stand. I was all set to try the mushroom and gruyere burger until I walked up to the counter and saw the latest offering: the Pancetta Burger. Pancetta, mozarella, fresh basil, and a fire-roasted tomato sauce. Oh, yeah. Pancetta good: it's basically just fancy Italian bacon and bacon makes everything better. Mozzarella good: a salty, stringy, melty glob of cheesy wonder. Basil good: I'd put basil on just about anything (except breakfast cereal). Fire-roasted tomato sauce good: no need for ketchup! And the combination of mozzarella, basil, and tomato is one of my go-to treats. Come to any party I host, and it's a good bet you'll find some variety of a caprese salad.

Put it all together on the best hamburger patty around and oh my god. You have suddenly created the best burger around. Fantastic, delectable, awe-inspiring, heavenly, orgasmic. I'm so over-the-top in love with this burger, I can't find the words to express my love. I'm still in the afterglow. I kinda wanted to burp in the hopes that some of that glorious taste would come back to my mouth. I briefly flirted with the idea of not brushing my teeth. (Hygiene won out.) I will never find another burger that will touch me the way the pancetta burger has. We are soul mates. It speaks my unspoken language. I will love the pancetta burger 'til the day I die.

But, if I ever found another burger that made me break my vow to the pancetta burger, how freaking good would that new burger be?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

How many cases can a court overturn in one fell swoop?

Back in February, I wrote about two judges in Pennsylvania who were pleading guilty to fraud charges in connection with their handling of hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of juvenile defendants. The two judges had been funneling the kids into private detention facilities in exchange for kickbacks from those private kiddie prisons. In many cases, the kids were denied all kinds of due process and were often not provided attorneys.

Today comes the good news that a judge appointed to review cases of one of the judges concluded that hundreds of juveniles had been denied their constitutional rights. As a result, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has issued a blanket ruling, overturning hundreds of juvenile convictions. This case only addresses the defendants screwed over by one of the biased judges. Presumably, the same review process is also occurring in cases handled by the other corrupt judge.

The specially-appointed judge is focusing his attention first on the cases of juveniles who are still incarcerated, obviously, as they might actually be spared some detention time. Sadly, an awful lot of kids have long since served their unjustified detention terms. There is no way to fix what was done to those kids who were railroaded by a morally bankrupt judge who was more interested in padding his own bank account than treating kids fairly. This county has a lot of clean-up work ahead of it, but this ruling, coming so close after the two judges plead, is a good start.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Things that make you go hmm...

I found this story tonight. Women in Saudi Arabia are planning a boycott of lingerie stores until they employ women. The entire country has very few saleswomen because of its strict segregation of the sexes. Saleswomen would have to *gasp* deal with male customers or *horror* work with men. Clearly, Saudi Arabia can't have that. The religious police who patrol the streets, and malls, to watch for any male-female interaction wouldn't know what to do with themselves if women had to serve male customers.

But what about the lingerie shops? Oddly, though women have to be covered head-to-toe when outside, there is no prohibition on their undergarments. So women in Saudi Arabia are free to buy whatever naughty, frilly, and sexy things they want. But all the salespeople are men. How are the religion police not all over those interactions? Men helping women get fitted for a bra, pick out a little something for Valentine's Day, or just ringing up a woman's new underwear. Shouldn't the religion police want only female employees in lingerie stores?

Seems pretty illogical to me that store owners in Saudia Arabia would seek to prevent inappropriate male-female interactions by hiring only male salespeople, even in the stores or departments that cater to women's most intimate items. Maybe that's the one place where the sales staff really ought to be female if your goal is to keep men and women separate.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Random nuggets

1) I made a prosecutor really angry today. It was awesome. I don't quite understand why they take it as some sort of personal affront when we zealously advocate for our clients and honor that continuing duty of loyalty we always have. They also seem to have a particularly difficult time with admitting mistakes. As a defense attorney, I don't have that luxury. If I make a mistake, the only ethical thing I can do is admit it and try to fix it. I guess my karmic reward for standing up in court and admitting I made a mistake is the angry prosecutor.

2) It's very, very windy today. I do not like wind. As a Kansan, of course, I am not afraid of tornadoes and I always enjoy a good thunderstorm, even with heavy wind. But I cannot handle strong winds on an otherwise normal-looking day. It's 70 degrees, the sun is shining. There is no need for 30 mph wind gusts. It makes me a little crazy. It makes me understand how people must have lost their minds during the Dust Bowl or how the Santa Ana winds can cause mental breakdowns.

3) My flash drive is not cooperating with my home computer. This is not good. I really, really need my flash drive, which contains all of the work I have done on my biggest, hugest case, to function. I need to be able to take it from work to home and back again. I do not want to have to resort to e-mailing myself drafts of things before I leave work at night and then e-mailing it right back to work the next morning. I do not want to have to keep track of lots of different versions, making sure to remember which is the most updated or edited version. I just want my flash drive to work properly. Now is definitely not the time for it to act up.

4) The Jayhawks are back in the Sweet Sixteen and the basketball writers association named Bill Self its national coach of the year. Considering that this raw, inexperienced squad is a totally different team from last year's championship team, I am thrilled with how well they've done and how far they've progressed this year. That being said, though, there's no reason for them to stop achieving now. As Bill Self says, "If you're going to play the game, you might as well win." So, Jayhawks, you might as well beat MSU in the rematch. And you might as well win the game after that to make it back to the Final Four.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Today's new thing learned

There are 15 states in this country that don't explicitly outlaw bestiality. Link 3 states only outlawed bestiality in the last 3 years according to this story. I had, wrongly as it turns out, assumed that bestiality bans were pretty universal in this nation.

Alaska and Florida are considering enacting bans. What about the other 13 states?

Finding the bright side of a Missouri win in the tourney

In case you hadn't noticed, the Big 12 came out on top in the first round of the NCAA tournament. We're the only league to pitch a shutout. (I know, I'm mixing my sports metaphors, but it's spring training!) Now if only Texas can beat Duke today, the rest of the world should see clearly that one should never ignore the Big 12. Go Longhorns! (In the NIT, Baylor just rolled over Virginia Tech at Virginia Tech. The ACC is so overrated.)

The article also suggests that the basketball gods are once again smiling on the Kansas Jayhawks. As you might recall, we didn't have to face a tougher seed than an 8 on our way to the Final Four last year. (We earned the heck out of the title by beating two of our fellow #1 seeds once in San Antonio.) So thanks to Dayton, we won't have to face a single-digit seed at least until the 3rd round if we make it that far. Of course, how could the basketball gods not smile on the most glorious tradition in all of college basketball? We play on a court named after the founder of the game, after all. And our legendary coach is the guy all the other legendary coaches learned from. I'm pretty sure James Naismith and Phog Allen ARE the basketball gods.

Forgive me if you come here for my various rants on social and criminal justice, or my occasional humorous anecdote. It's March. I get a little basketball crazy in March.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Fingerprint examiner: Man of science or man of faith?

Forget everything you think you know about fingerprints. Please. It's all based on an assumption that has never really been tested, let alone proved. No one has ever actually established the assumption that all fingerprints are unique. But fingerprint examiners have been coming into courts for 100 years to identify defendants as culprits based on this assumption. Modern forensic scientists accept it as a matter of faith. But, of course, faith and science are mutually exclusive.

This opinion piece from the LA Times also mentions concerns about the smudged prints usually found at crime scenes. Often, they are only partial prints and they're often marred by other materials, like blood. And yet, fingerprint examiners often state in court that their results are practically infallible. The assumption they want us to make is that fingerprints are undeniable evidence of identity, just like DNA.

I know we've all been raised to know that fingerprint evidence is reliable evidence, based on sound science. And I know it's incredibly difficult to abandon those beliefs we've held since childhood. But I think it is time for us to acknowledge that what we have all accepted as undeniably true about fingerprint evidence is untested and deeply flawed.

I think it is time to start from scratch on fingerprints. First, we need to study and test the hypothesis that fingerprints really are unique. I know it seems natural to assume this, but science can't rest on assumptions. It needs to be rigorously tested. Next, a national consensus must be reached as to what constitutes a match. How many points of similarity need to be established before a fingerprint examiner can come into court and declare the bloody fingerprint belongs to the defendant? As it stands now, the number of matches is generally left up to each fingerprint examiner to decide for him or herself. Some rely on as few as 5 or 6 while some require far more. I would also like to see more serious scientific study into how reliable matching can be when dealing with partial, blurred, or smudged prints. Most crime scenes don't lend themselves to a defendant leaving behind a perfect, full, and pristine fingerprint.

In the meantime, if you're a juror in a criminal case, be a lot more skeptical about any fingerprint evidence you hear at trial. Don't just assume it's a valid science; make the state prove it to you.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Next round's on me

Because I love my friends and readers and want you all to be in top health, I want to take you all out for a drink.

Cheers! Drinking with friends good for you

Having a supportive social network enhances the health benefits of having a few drinks, new research from Japan suggests.Link

So, please, take care of yourselves! If you're in my neck of the woods, you know I'll be supportive and share a drink at happy hour. If you're not, please find someone to fill that roll for you.

Please drink responsibly. Drinking and driving don't mix. I am not legally responsible for any crimes or civil wrongs you may commit nor for any bad decisions you make while under the influence of alcohol consumed as a result of reading this blog. And I'm not really buying drinks for all of you. At least, not all at once.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Another one bites the dust!

We may not have gotten very far with the repeal of the death penalty in Kansas, but New Mexico has done it. Gov. Bill Richardson today signed the repeal into law.

I've heard it argued that by abolishing the death penalty, we would be devaluing life. We show how cheaply we hold life if we don't kill people. I'm still trying to puzzle through exactly how that works.

The argument that worked to convince Gov. Bill Richardson to sign the bill was apparently that our criminal justice system cannot be trusted, as evidenced by the 130 exonerations among out nation's death row inmates. (That and the contacts from his constituents were about 3-1 in favor of repeal.) In Kansas, the proponents of the repeal relied on the cost argument, that it costs so much more to pursue an execution than to put an offender in prison for life. I don't particularly care what argument works to convince people to abolish the death penalty as long as we get there. I would love it if we could get everyone on board with the idea that it's just wrong to kill, but I'm not picky. I'll take a repeal bill any way I can get it.

So tonight, we've got one more down. 35 to go.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

My favorite day

of the year is March 18. Because on March 18, it's over: the meanest, loudest, most obnoxious day of the year. Yes, I'm a no-fun curmudgeon. I'm an old fuddy-duddy. I'm the Scrooge of March. I hate St. Patrick's Day.

I don't remember always hating it. It seems to me back in the day, I didn't actually have to take too much crap from anyone for declining to wear green. I don't wear green because a) I'm a non-conformist and 2) it's not a great color for me. Except that second one probably isn't true with my dark hair and hazel eyes, so it's really much more of the first one. I just don't remember it being that big a deal when I was younger. I'm not Irish or Catholic, so it never seemed like something that really had anything to do with me.

I think my real dislike for St. Patrick's Day started 7 years ago when I started at my current job. Every March 17, our building is taken over by drunken revelers. We're on the parade route, or near enough it that getting around by car is nearly impossible. But twice, March 17 happened to fall on the one day of the year that my mother was in town for work and could have lunch with me. I frankly resented that we had such a difficult time getting together for lunch even though she was 2 blocks down from my building.

Then the partiers hang out in our lobby for hours. The floor gets sticky from spilled beer. The air reeks of corned beef and cabbage. I am not a fan of corned beef and cabbage. And the stupid drunk people in the lobby threaten to pinch me. (I don't think anyone actually has, but the threat itself could be considered assault you know.) Each year, I have become increasingly annoyed by the day.

If only people would let me not be a St. Patrick's Day person, it would be better. It's not that I'm not a fun person; this just isn't my thing. I like a good tailgate, or a night out at the bars. You all know this about me, so why do I have to have some reason for not caring about this particular non-holiday? Just let me stay quiet in my office and don't give me a hard time for not playing along. But they don't. They pester me and tease me and harass me. So this year, I'm staying home. I'm getting work done here, I'm playing with my dog, and nobody can see what color I am wearing (or not wearing).

Of course, the damn parade route in this town is so close to my house that my street is a staging ground. I guess I really can't escape. Tomorrow really can't come soon enough.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

There are so many ways in which laws are used to discriminate against gays and lesbians. But today, I read two stories about efforts by two legislators who recognize that people shouldn't be prohibited from living full lives because of their sexual orientation.

The state of Florida has long had a ban against gays adopting. Back in November, a Florida judge declared that ban unconstitutional, as I wrote about here. Of course, that decision is being appealed, which could take a year or more. Well, today I read this story about a Florida lawmaker who has proposed two bills that would finally do away with the ban. It's nice to see someone doing something proactive to write the ban out of law instead of passively waiting for the court case to settle the matter.

Also today, I read this story about Virginia Congressman Jim Moran. He has requested monthly updates from the Pentagon on exactly how many service members have been fired for being gay. 11 soldiers were fired from the Army in January. Rep. Moran issued a statement today, detailing the specialties of the fired soldiers. I can only hope he will continue releasing that information every month until don't ask, don't tell is finally a thing of the past.

Two small steps in the right direction.
I think if I were Bernie Madoff and I were about to embark on a Ponzi scheme, I would have changed my name. To something like Earnest or Priest.

I would at least have changed the pronunciation.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Take off the blinders

Here is a disturbing story about the railroading of an innocent 12 year-old for murder. He was convicted at a bench trial (no jury), but that conviction was overturned by an appellate court who ruled his confession should have been suppressed. The story is mostly about the quest by the exonerated boy's lawyer's to win a civil lawsuit against the individuals who pursued the case against the boy. Police used coercive interrogation techniques to extract a confession from the boy, who almost immediately retracted the statement. They clung to that confession as proof of the boy's guilt, despite all other evidence to the contrary.

I will never understand those individuals who can cling to their original opinion of a case no matter how obvious it becomes that the original opinion was completely wrong. The boy only had 15 minutes of his day unaccounted for, so if he murdered the little girl, it had to be at that time. But the body was clearly moved after the search for the girl began. The first person to see the boy at the end of that 15 minutes was the missing girl's mother, but the boy calmly helped her look for the girl. And the boy had no blood on him at all, even though he had supposedly just stabbed the girl 7 times in the neck, severing her carotid artery. According to the prosecutor's own notes, the boy should have been drenched in blood from the arterial spray.

But despite the fact that the boy's innocence is blatantly obvious to any impartial observer, the prosecutor and the judge still appear to stubbornly cling to the belief that the boy committed the crime. I know it's hard to admit that you've made a mistake, especially a mistake that put an innocent kid behind bars, but the refusal to acknowledge this kid's innocence seems over the top. The prosecutor told the press she knows in her guts that he is the murderer. The judge refused to issue anything officially clearing the now young man so he could be accepted into the armed forces.

From the tone of this article, it seems as though the prosecutor and the judge are just angry that their judgment was questioned. Well, suck it up, folks. You're supposed to be grown-ups. You made mistakes. Admit it and move on. Otherwise, you just look like petulant children. Oh, and there is that small detail of the real killer, who is still out there as a result of your refusal to investigate any real suspects. For the safety of the community, you folks might want to look into that.

I believe, I believe, it's silly, but I believe.

When I was a kid, my dad used to watch this t.v. show about famous missing person cases. That show is how I first learned about D.B. Cooper, Dr. Livingstone, and Anastasia. Naturally, the story about the supposedly murdered princess who may have miraculously survived the slaughter of her family made the biggest impression on me. I believe that is where my interest in all things Russian began. (That, and my love of my mother's beef stroganoff.)

I read Russian literature in high school, naming The Brothers Karamazov as my favorite book. I was a tad obsessed with Catherine the Great, especially after watching the 4 hour miniseries starring Julia Ormond. I took all the Russian history and literature classes I could in college. I loved everything about the Romanovs: their elegance, their culture, their use of French, their eggs. I loved everything Russian, too. (Except the pogroms - those were bad- and Fathers and Sons - my least favorite Russian novel.)

Most of all, I loved the legend of Anastasia. I ate up the t.v. miniseries starring Amy Irving as Anna Anderson, the most famous woman who claimed to be Anastasia. (Side note: Christian Bale played the czar's son, Alexei, in that miniseries. Maybe this is only interesting to me because I so adore Christian Bale.) I read the book by Peter Kurth and believed Anna had been woefully abused by those who declared her a fraud. I loved the Ingrid Bergman movie, and not just because Yul Brynner looked delicious in a tuxedo. For high school forensics, I chose a scene from the stage play "Anastasia" as my duet act. I did the scene where the Grand Duchess finally decides to believe that this Anna is her lost granddaughter. And I can admit that I also love the animated musical starring the voices of Meg Ryan and John Cusack.

The fate of that last czar and his family always haunted me. By the accounts I have read, they maintained such dignity and closeness as a family throughout their imprisonment, first in their own palace and eventually in Yekaterinburg. They also apparently remained convinced that their imprisonment would not last, until that awful July day. I hated the idea that even the children were executed in so horrific a fashion, right alongside their beloved parents. Instead, I latched on to the very romantic notion that one of the daughters survived the onslaught and was rescued by a lowly soldier who loved her and so risked his life to save her. Maybe when I first learned about Anastasia, I was just still at an age where I needed to believe that happy endings were always possible. At least if one daughter survived, the Romanovs could have some glimmer of a happy ending.

My dad, the historian, always scoffed at the notion that anyone survived the bloodbath in that basement, but I didn't care. Truthfully, I always knew in my head that it couldn't be true, but sometimes it's good for the soul to believe in the impossible. So I always said maybe Anna Anderson really was Anastasia, despite evidence that she was Polish factory worker Franziska Schanzkowska.

Then in 1991, the Romanov graves were found. "See?" said my dad. "They were all murdered." But wait! Two bodies were missing: Alexei and one of the daughters! I could still believe. Some experts claimed the missing daughter was Maria, but others concluded it was Anastasia. Ha!

Of course, then someone decided to test tissue from Anna Anderson, who died in 1984, against living descendants of the Romanovs. No match. Anderson's tissue was also tested against the Schanzkowska family. That was declared a match. Once again, my sensible dad declared the evidence was clear that Anastasia had died in July 1918 and Anderson was a fraud. I admit the evidence is compelling, but the evidence was always pretty compelling against Anastasia having survived and I choose to believe, so why stop? After all, the living descendants of the Romanovs wouldn't want Anderson's claims to be proven true. They have money and power, so why couldn't they get to the DNA testing and switch the Anderson sample? Who had saved that tissue sample that allegedly came from the body of Anna Anderson anyway? Conspiracy theories are necessary to sustain belief in a story such as Anastasia's.

Then in 2007, someone found a second Romanov grave, containing the remains of the two missing children. DNA testing in 2008 concluded the remains were, in fact, Romanov. Just this week, the results of a second round of independent DNA testing were released, once again concluding that all 7 members of the Imperial family have been accounted for in those Yekaterinburg graves.

All right. I get it. Anastasia didn't survive. She was murdered, just like the rest of them. Anna Anderson was a big fraud. There was no daring rescue, no love story, no hopeful ending for that destroyed dynasty. My foolish, childhood desire to believe that Anastasia did make it out of that hideous basement is something I have to put aside now as a sensible adult who cannot deny the mountain of evidence that Anastasia died. The case is now closed for good.

Or that's what someone wants us to believe...

I've let myself believe in the possibility of Anastasia's survival for so long, against all odds and evidence, there's no reason to give up now. Lots of people believe in unbelievable things that defy all logic - this is mine. I choose to believe that it is at least possible that Anastasia survived because I still want to believe that the grand Romanov dynasty could have had an ending slightly less awful than the one published in history books. And I really do like that animated movie.

Points to anyone who can identify the source of the quote that is the title of this post.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

This is a great story about the failures of eyewitness identifications.

She sent him to jail for rape; now they"re friends

Raped at knifepoint, Jennifer Thompson-Cannino identified Ronald Cotton as the man who did it. After 11 years, he was exonerated by DNA evidence. Today they are friends and co-authors fighting together to change police procedure. Link

These two were featured on 60 Minutes last Sunday night as well. Now they have written a book together, called "Picking Cotton". Read about the book here.

False eyewitness identifications, one of the leading causes of wrongful convictions, don't just hurt the wrongfully convicted defendant, they hurt the innocent witness, in this case the victim of rape. She was left to feel guilty for the part she played in incarcerating an innocent man. Fortunately for these two, they have made the best out of a horrible situation. They have forged a lasting friendship, they have both built happy families, and they have worked together to bring much-needed attention to the problem of eyewitness identifications.

I can't wait to read this book.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Dear Clients,

I am not a miracle worker. I cannot fix everything. I can't change the criminal code to exclude your conduct from the list of things punishable by incarceration. I can't get you out of your guilty plea just because you've changed your mind. I can't get the judge to reduce your sentence just by saying pretty please. And after you've served a little time in prison, I can't just get the judge to let you out because you've learned your lesson and you're tired of being behind bars.

I can't convince the court that every witness against you is lying. I can't convince anyone that the court reporter just made it up that you pled guilty to 3 counts instead of only 1. I can't just keep your confession from coming out in court. They warned you anything you said could be used against you. They were not lying. (For once.) I can't get you out of the the consequences of having sex with a 13 year-old, because that is inherently illegal, no matter how consensual it seemed to you.

And when you are caught red-handed, right after the burglary, in the alley, with a car full of the loot, I can't convince anyone that you just happened to be walking by and that the glass shards on top of your head did not come from the shattered glass door but rather came from your grandmother's driveway. I am not that good.


Your very human lawyer, who missed the day in law school when they handed out magic wands

Of Knitting and Tails

Dear Auntie Meryl:
Thank you very much for the ball you knitted for me. I have had a lot of fun chasing it when Mommy throws it. Sometimes she tries to pull it away from me, but I hold on as hard as I can. (The ball might not be quite as ball-shaped as it once was...)
Having a special toy made just for me made me feel much better when my tail was hurt. And thank you to all my internet friends who were worried about my broken tail. It does not hurt anymore, but I might have to break it again 'cause Mommy says I need to go to the groomer now that I'm all better. I do not like the groomer.
I am all for confidence and I believe that to be a top athlete, one has to be a little cocky, but this seems over the top:

If OU misses title, Paris to return scholarship

Oklahoma women's basketball star Courtney Paris said she will give back her scholarship money if the Sooners don't win the national championship, the Daily Oklahoman reported. Link

The grand total for her promise would be $64,000. The odds are pretty slim against any particular team actually winning the championship, so that's some very big talk. I won't hold her to this promise. But what was she thinking?

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Outlook: sunnier

I think I have found the cure for feeling discouraged: hanging out with 16,300 of my closest friends. Watching one of the youngest teams in college basketball win a conference championship. That was pretty sweet. The Kansas Jayhawks have now won 5 straight conference championships. No one currently on the team knows what it is like not to win the conference. We weren't supposed to be any good this year. The coaches and sports writers picked us to do no better than 3rd in the conference. But my 16,300 friends and I weren't about to let the Jayhawks share the title, let alone come in third. There is no better place to watch college basketball than Allen Fieldhouse. Keep your Dean Dome (named after a Jayhawk) and your Rupp Arena (named after a Jayhawk) and don't even bring out that silly Cameron Indoor. The Jayhawks are currently on a 40 game home win streak, which is only our 3rd longest home win streak in the last 25 years. AFH is the cathedral of college basketball. A CBS analyst yesterday said that AFH is to college basketball what St. Andrews is to golf.

So the point of all of this is that going to AFH is my version of going to church. My spirit is refreshed by being part of a crowd that helps my team storm back from a 14-point deficit to ultimately win by 10. Maybe it seems shallow that something as simple as a college basketball game can get me out of a depression brought on by being surrounded by death all day every day. But if you're a Jayhawk fan, you get it.

Post-game home-made lasagne, wine, and really good bread with just 3 of my closest friends was quite helpful, too.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Stormy days

When you spend your days immersing yourself in death, eventually you're going to have days when it just becomes too much. When you just can't spend another second thinking about the horrible things that people can do. When you can no longer stand the fact that looking at photos of dead bodies, blood, wounds, and autopsies has become no big deal. When the reality of the state's systematic, merciless, cold, calculated, and completely premeditated attempt to kill your clients makes you so tired and sad that all you want to do is crawl into a deep, dark hole and cry.

Those days tend to coincide with dark clouds, like today. Days where big, nasty thunderstorms seem just a breath away. And it doesn't help if your "pleasure" read is all about tragic death (and ends in an awful way that just pisses you off).

When you have one of those days, it's really easy to pull into yourself, hide away from people, and drink a little (or a lot). That's probably not the best way to deal with the ugliness of it all, though. If you have any better suggestions, I'm all ears.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

We've been had

By the Snuggie. The Snuggie is nothing special or wondrous. Turns out, the Snuggie isn't even something new.

Before the Snuggie, there was the Slanket. That's right. The original giant fleece blanket with sleeves is called the Slanket. In case you think I'm making this up, the Slanket's story can be found at www.theslanket.com.

The Slanket comes in far more and better colors than the Snuggie's measly (and unattractive) 3. And the people on the website look far less Stepford-ized than the freaks in the Snuggie commercial.

Fortunately, SO didn't actually get me a Snuggie for Valentine's Day because it would have taken 6 weeks or so for the actual blanket to get to me. Because I no longer want a Snuggie. I'm a Slanket gal. It's the best blanket ever - no seriously! (well, according to the website...)
Here's a story out of Brazil.

Bishop punishes mom for daughter's abortion

A Roman Catholic archbishop says the abortion of twins carried by a 9-year-old girl who allegedly was raped by her stepfather means excommunication for the girl's mother and her doctors. Link

I will never understand why anyone thinks the moral thing to do when confronted with a pregnant, 9 year-old rape victim is to force that girl to endure the pregnancy to term. The body of a 9 year-old may be capable of becoming pregnant, but it cannot handle a full pregnancy. This particular girl was pregnant with twins, an even more physically-challenging situation. Basically, there was no way this little girl was going to get through a pregnancy unscathed, and there was no guarantee she'd get through it alive.

But her mother gets excommunicated from her church for doing the only thing she could do to protect her daughter. I can't fathom how a church can think she needs to be kicked out for refusing to make a 9 year-old girl stay pregnant.

No word on whether the man who raped the poor little girl was similarly punished by the church.

Monday, March 2, 2009

1 of every 31 US adults is incarcerated. Georgia has the highest incarceration rate, at 1 in every 13 adults. (New Hampshire has the lowest, at 1 in 88.)

1 in every 11 black adults is under some form of correctional supervision. cite

I don't have any brilliant commentary or deep analysis of these numbers. They just make me tired. And heart-sick. We throw so many people away and we do it so easily. With glee, almost. Heaven forbid we should actually do something to help people turn their lives around. Or prevent them from going down a self-destructive path to begin with. We could choose to invest, not just dabble in, things like early childhood development, education, and all those little things we know are the keys to keeping people from ever committing crimes in the first place, but instead we choose to invest in prisons. We could choose to treat drug addiction as a health issue, but we'd rather just endlessly incarcerate people.

I, for one, am tired of just locking more and more people up for longer and longer sentences. Seems like such a waste to me.

Put this in the category of ideas that are better in theory than in practice

I've no doubt that proposing marriage is a scary thing. There are no bigger decisions in life than the decision to commit yourself to someone forever. And I'm sure that the asking must be tougher than the answering. Even if you're pretty confident about the answer, it's still a momentous question that exposes the asker's heart and soul as no other question ever will. So I understand that the person planning a proposal might be so preoccupied by the hugeness of the question that s/he might not be able to think through all the details of the proposal. And I hate to criticize...

But, come on. If you're going to do the cliche "put the ring in a drink" thing, think it through. Clear beverage, dude. Clear glass would probably help, too. So she can see it. Before she takes a huge swig. Otherwise, you'll wind up having to wait a few extra days before you can actually put the ring on her finger, like this guy.

A milkshake? Really? Who puts an engagement ring in a Frosty? What kills me is that the whole gang had gone to Wendy's with the soon-to-be-happy couple and were in on the plan. And yet NO ONE thought maybe the thick, frozen beveragey dessert wasn't the best way to go. I think I might have suggested he put the ring on one of her fries myself.
Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blago-we-don't-need-to-know-how-to-spell-or-say-your-name-anymore-jevich is planning to write a book. He promises to "expose the dark side of politics."

So it's an autobiography.
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