Monday, December 31, 2012

So what did you mean, Torii?

Ok, I'm a Royals fan, which means I hate all things Minnesota Twin (sorry, Dan), so keep that in mind. Torii Hunter was a Twin. (He's now a Tiger, which isn't much better, but at least he's not a White Sock.) Which means I'm inclined to view a situation in the light least favorable to Hunter.

Torii Hunter is also someone who has been on the wrong side of an interview controversy before. When the story of that previous interview came out, Hunter naturally insisted he had been misquoted, taken out of context, etc. Which makes it a little easier to scoff at when he reportedly makes other controversial statements and then responds by insisting, again, that he wasn't treated fairly by the reporter. Or maybe it just means that reporters are expecting him to say controversial things and are more inclined to hear implications that aren't there?

Today's story is on the topic of gay athletes in pro sports. An LA Times reporter published a story on  Saturday questioning whether we will ever see an out gay athlete in pro sports. (Surely we can all agree that there undoubtedly have been gay male athletes sprinkled throughout MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL, etc. history. They just haven't been out while playing.) One athlete interviewed for the article was Torii Hunter.

Hunter was quoted as saying that it would be "uncomfortable" for him to have a gay teammate. The reporter writes that Hunter indicated he thought a gay teammate could divide a team. Hunter's claimed explanation is that as a Christian, he believes biblically that homosexuality is not right.

Naturally, Hunter has subsequently issued a statement that he was taken out of context and that he's a very tolerant, loving person. I can't help but notice, though, that he doesn't deny making the statements, just that they were really two separate sentences that shouldn't have been combined. And he doesn't explain what the two separate sentences are. "It will be difficult and uncomfortable," is a pretty succinct sentence, so I'm not really sure how it should be separated or interpreted differently. Was he just not talking about having a gay teammate at all in that statement? Many, many people have asked him on twitter to explain what he really said and/or meant (myself included), but he has yet to respond. I wish he would because I would like to have a conversation about why he is seemingly hiding behind his religion to express that being around a gay man would make him "uncomfortable."

I'm going to assume he actually said that, since he didn't deny saying it. So then I want to ask him how he feels about having teammates who cheat on their wives? How does he feel about having teammates who have sex outside of the bonds of matrimony? Because we know he has teammates who commit those actions that the bible tells him are not right. He must have teammates who lie and swear. He probably has had a teammate or two who haven't always done right by their parents. And I'm willing to bet he has had a teammate at some point in time who paid for a woman's abortion. Heck, he himself doesn't keep the Sabbath, because I've personally watched him play baseball on Sunday. So why isn't he uncomfortable having himself as a teammate? I'd also like to ask him whether he thinks his personal comfort level should have anything to do with what kind of lives his teammates live? Does he think a teammate should have to keep certain parts of his life in a closet, so to speak?

What I really want to learn, whether from Torii Hunter or someone else who uses Christianity as an excuse for excluding gays, what is it about homosexuality that makes it this extra special kind of sin that trumps all others? I admit there is a lot about Christianity and biblical doctrines that I don't get, but this one is at the very top. If everyone is a sinner, why does this sin count against people so much more than others? I would have thought murder would be the top one. But this Christian sin thing is only ever cited as an explanation (excuse) for excluding the gays. That makes me uncomfortable.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Gun fight at the Little Ceasars

I have a really simple rule to propose. How about we all agree not to shoot people? Just don't shoot people.

Definitely don't shoot the guy next to you at the pizza place when he starts complaining that his pizza is taking too long. How one guy complaining and the other guy chiding him turned into a tussle is beyond me. Two grown men, complete strangers, shouldn't get into a fight at a pizza shop. It's nuts to me to think these two men got to that point. (I wonder if this is the good male aggression Charlotte Allen was asking for?)

But it went beyond two grown men tussling over some ridiculous non-issue. Because one of them has a concealed carry permit and was packing. So he brought out his gun and shot the other guy. Twice. And now he's claiming this is all ok because this is Florida and he has a right to stand his ground.


No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. (Yes, Barney Stinson, 16 nos.)

You don't get to shoot a guy you wrestled with at a pizza place. For crying out loud. How do you even get to the point of thinking that is a rational response? Imagine how terrifying this must have been for the employees and other customers. As a nation, we're all a little on edge about guns and random shootings right now. We don't really expect to get shot when we stop to pick up a $5 pizza special, but if we do hear a gun shot, we'd probably all lose it a little. Because it's in the back of all of our minds, that you really can't know that the next crazy with a gun won't walk into your restaurant or store or parking lot.

There's an old adage that you don't bring a knife to a gun fight. Well, it works the other way, too. You don't get to bring a gun to a fist fight and then hide behind a self-defense claim. You just don't get to shoot people. I have read Florida's "stand your ground" law. It doesn't allow for an idiot man who gets into a stupid fight at a pizza shop with another idiot man to pull out a gun and face no consequences.  How on earth can any rational person think it does? We have gone down the rabbit hole if people actually believe this kind of nonsense is legal self-defense.

Just don't shoot people, ok? Maybe don't take your guns into the Little Ceasars and then you won't be tempted to pull out your gun when the guy in front of you gets a little too loud in his complaining. Maybe consider some anger management classes if you're getting into wrestling matches with random strangers.  Maybe just think about walking away if someone gets you that riled up. But, really, don't shoot people. Just don't.

Oh hell no, part 3

Some things you find on the web are just so unbelievable, so outrageous, so obnoxious, you have no choice but to share them. I find I need validation that the thing I've found is as insane as I thought. Charlotte Allen's thoughts on the Newtown shooting is that insane thing for the day. (I didn't expect anything to top the cavity search video. At least not today.)

Charlotte Allen thinks the problem in Newtown was that there weren't any big, burly men to take out the shooter. She's even sorry that none of the huskier 12 year-old boys converged on him. Really. Go read it. It's unbelievable. I just have to quote you my absolute favorite line. "But in general, a feminized setting is a setting in which helpless passivity is the norm." (If she can write that, she clearly doesn't hang out with the same kind of women I do...)

Now, when you're done laughing or screaming or your head has finished exploding...

Oh, so many things. First, no husky 6th grade boys could save the school because it was a K-4 school. Second, many of the staffers did try to take out the shooter, so there goes her "helpless passivity" crap. And, as this writer in Slate points out, the big burly men who tried to take out Jared Loughner in Arizona didn't all fare so well. I'd guess somewhere in the Aurora theater, there was a man or two. It isn't a function of sex that stopping a guy with a gun isn't that easy.

Know what would have happened if a couple of former high school football players had been at Sandy Hook? They would likely have suffered the same fate that the school principal and psychologist suffered because no matter the size or sex of the person lunging at the maniac with the high-powered weapon, the maniac with the high-powered weapon has the advantage. But this insane woman thinks that 6th grade boys could magically do more than the adult women who died simply because they have more testosterone? She would urge young boys to step in front of their teachers because they are better equipped to do it simply by virtue of their sex? That's just insane and not even a little bit what we should be teaching our kids to do in times of crisis.

I was unaware that the Y chromosome included body armor. Or some kind of Matrix-y special ability to slow down time and contort the body to avoid a bullet's path. I also didn't know that two X chromosomes made women pathetic, helpless lumps of passivity.

This piece is so offensive to the educators at that school who did all they could to save their students. They hid students in closets, lunged at a madman with a gun, took bullets and shielded children. For this woman to suggest that these women were helpless and passive denigrates them and spits on their efforts and their sacrifices. She should be ashamed of herself. I know I am.

Ugh, and she gets paid to spew this crap. Ugh!

Oh hell no, part 2

Should the police get to conduct intrusive body cavity searches on the side of the road for no other reason than an officer insists he smells marijuana? All together now:

Oh, hell no!

Do we need to make cops everywhere go through a Fourth Amendment refresher course? How does any cop anywhere not know that this course of action is utterly, totally, and in all other ways unacceptable? You do not get to conduct body cavity searches on the side of a public highway! And for crying out loud, if you're gonna do it, at least have the good sense to have a "malfunctioning" dashcam. Because there is absolutely no mistaking what the officer is doing. I can't imagine anyone watching that video and not being horrified. If I were the lawyer defending the lawsuit (yes, the two women have filed a lawsuit, as they should have done), no way would I ever, ever want a jury to watch that video. A jury sees that video and the case is over.

I don't think I even need to bother explaining why this search is bad, bad, bad. It's self-evident, isn't it? If two people in a public place groped each other the way this cop groped these women, they would be arrested. It's way beyond the scope of a car search. I'm skeptical of the basis for the car search to begin with, as any defense attorney would be, because I can't even count how many times I've heard that "I can smell pot" line. Shoot, I've even heard of a cop swearing he smelled unburnt marijuana. Sure ya did, buddy. It's just the most convenient, unproveable, and oft-used excuse cops always come up with so they can search a car when they have no good reason to search. I've just never heard it used as an excuse to digitally penetrate a woman on a public street.

After finding absolutely nothing in these body cavity searches, the cops oh-so-kindly let the women go with a warning. As if that would make the women feel so grateful that they'd forget to complain to anyone about the outrageous abuse they'd suffered. Surprising that didn't work,  isn't it?

These cops need to be fired. These women need to win their lawsuit. And, please, let's not make anyone else endure this kind of humiliation and abuse. Oh, and maybe we should all thank a public defender or civil rights attorney for challenging this kind of outrageous governmental behavior.


The female officer who actually conducted the cavity searches has been suspended with pay. The male officer has not been suspended, a fact I find curious. From my reading of the first story, I had the impression that he specifically called for a female officer, which led me to believe he intended for the female officer to conduct intrusive searches. If that is the case, he should also be suspended. Even if it's not the case, he sure didn't put a stop to the searches. Prosecutors regularly argue that kind of non-action makes my clients aiders and abettors. I don't see why that same logic shouldn't apply here.

Monday, December 17, 2012

You can't do that, Paragould.

Oh, hell no.

Apparently, Paragould, Arkansas is a hotbed of criminal activity. The mayor and police chief are sick of it. So they're fixin' to do something about it. And they won't let no pesky Constitution or American way of life get in the way! They're setting up a street crimes unit. Who will patrol the streets on foot. In SWAT gear. With AR-15s.

Says the petty tyrant Police Chief, "If you're out walking, we're going to stop you, ask why you're out walking, check for your ID." Screw that basic American right to walk the streets freely. Forget about that basic American right not to be required to show your papers. Oh, yeah, and who gives a hoot about that basic American right not to be detained (aka seized) by the police without a warrant.

Really, Paragould, you seem like a nice town, so I'd really like to help you out, save you the cost and headache of a lawsuit or 20. You can't do this. You really can't. You can't demand to see ID from everyone who is walking down the street. The fundamental justification for being able to use DUI check lanes for cars depends upon the fact that you're driving a car and have theoretically agreed to certain restrictions by accepting a license from the state. According to the courts, you don't have a fundamental right to drive. But know what all citizens do have a fundamental right to do? Walk freely about. It's a true story; look it up. So the car checkpoint idea of just stopping everyone won't work here.

The Police Chief is claiming that the city's crime statistics give him reasonable suspicion to stop anyone and everyone. Umm, ok. And then he claims that anyone who does not produce an ID could be charged with obstructing a governmental operation. He hopes he won't run into that, though. He wouldn't want anyone to "buck" them. Oh my. This is where the city really needs to reign the Police Chief in and right quick or they will be facing a lot of potential lawsuits. Because no, it is not a crime for an American citizen to walk around town without carrying identification. The poor City Attorney has a few quotes in at the end of the article, where he promises that citizens actually won't be arrested for not having ID. He knows such an arrest would be bogus and would open up the city to all kinds of problems. Doesn't seem like he has all that much sway over the Police Chief, though.

What amazes me most is that there are some comments on this local paper's website in support of this plan. Most of the comments are spot on, decrying these gestapo tactics as the unconstitutional disaster they will be if implemented. The "I'm sick of crime and I have nothing to hide" crowd, though, is present and they are not appalled. Which, of course, I find appalling. Because I don't have anything to hide, either, but for crying out loud, I don't want to be approached by a guy in a flak jacket carrying a scary-looking rifle while I'm just out walking my dog. Under the laws of this land, I'm supposed to be free to walk away from that guy if he tries to walk up to me on the street and ask me questions. Just because he wants to know where I'm going doesn't mean he has a right to know and it sure as hell doesn't mean I have to tell him. One doesn't have to have something to hide to object to explaining one's comings and goings to the police.

I think I will now have to bookmark the Paragould Daily Press because I want to watch how this all unfolds. I sure hope lawyers from the ACLU are doing the same.

Sunday, December 16, 2012


Have you ever done something so dumb that it sort of feels like cheating if you don't confess it somewhere, some way?

I really feel like someone ought to know that today I roasted a chicken upside down.  I'm sure I'm not the first person to have done this, but I really do know better.

I basted it repeatedly. I admired its skin as it turned brown and beautiful. I covered it with foil while it rested. But it was only when I went to cut it and I hit nothing but bone that I realized the damn chicken was upside down.

It still tasted really good.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Why own a gun?

There has been a lot of discussion in the past 24 hours. About gun control, about mental health care, about security measures, about whether we should be discussing any of this so soon after a horrific incident. I have been yelled at by friends and chastised by complete strangers. My Facebook feed has been filled with a steady stream of thoughts and links to articles. I can only imagine others have had similar experiences.

I vehemently disagree with those who insist it's disrespectful or "too soon" to start discussing any of these topics the day of or the day after an incident like yesterday's school shooting. After all, the Oregon mall shooting only happened 3 days before that, so if there is some kind of "waiting period" before it's appropriate to discuss policy responses to mass shootings, then how are we ever going to have a discussion if the next shooting happens just a few days later? I think the only way to respect the loss of life is to figure out ways we can protect against future loss of life.

It seems there are a lot of topics that can be discussed today. But the only question I really want to talk about right now is this: why do people want to have guns? I'm not talking shotguns for hunting (though I'm not a fan of hunting and would never do it and don't really understand why people enjoy it, I do get that people do like to kill their own food). I'm talking handguns. In their homes. On their persons. Why do people want them? I truly do not understand.

This question has absolutely nothing to do with the Second Amendment, so don't dare answer with, "We have a right to have them." This isn't about whether we have the right to own handguns. If you think that is an appropriate answer to the question of why you want to own a gun, I suggest to you you have no business owning a gun. Maybe you don't have to justify your desire to own and carry a gun to me, but you need to be able to justify it to yourself. It's too big a thing to own without having thoroughly considered the whys, the pros, and the cons.

A handgun has one function and one function only: to cause harm. You may argue a handgun serves other purposes, but the mechanism itself has only that one function. The release of a trigger starts a reaction that releases a projectile at high velocity. Upon impact with a target, that projectile will cause damage. That is it. We know, too, that if the target is a human being, the damage will be considerable and will often be fatal. Having a gun and expecting to someday use it means that lives will be at risk. So why do people want to have these things around?

I have a cousin whose life maybe wouldn't be such a train wreck if his friend's parents hadn't kept a loaded gun in their home. A little girl would be an adult now and a young boy would have been able to grow up without the crushing weight of guilt over her death. My cousin's story is sadly not unique. Just this past week, I have seen no fewer than 3 stories about children being shot or shooting someone with a parent's gun. Yesterday's school shooter apparently shot his mother at her home first. All of the guns he used appear to have been legally purchased by her. Then there are the stories of people who shoot a son or a spouse thinking that person is an intruder. The stories go on and on of families who are shattered by the presence of a handgun in the home.

Why do people continue to want these implements of death in their home? Do they truly make you feel safer? Because from my perspective, I would never, ever allow a gun in my home. I was on edge when police were in my home after my house had been burglarized because I was uncomfortable having so many guns in my presence. If I thought they would have respected my wish not to have guns in my home, I would have asked them to lock the guns away in their patrol cars. I always cringe when one of the state troopers whose offices are in my building steps onto the elevator with me because I do not want to be that close to a gun. I do not want to be that close to an object whose sole function is to cause harm.

It is a cop-out to respond that people keep other possible implements of death in their homes, like knives or saws or hammers or baseball bats. All of those items have functions other than causing harm. All of those items have legitimate uses. And none of those items can be used to accomplish the kind of mass murder we all saw unfold yesterday, certainly not with the same efficiency. It's a lot easier to tackle a guy wielding a knife or a baseball bat than a guy armed with multiple guns. The reality is that a person determined to do harm to another person can use any number of standard household items to accomplish that goal or can use nothing but his or her hands. But a gun is faster, deadlier, harder to defend against, and has no function other than to harm.

It's also a cop-out to respond that if ordinary people didn't have guns, only the bad guys would have guns and we'd all be less safe. Because the cold, hard truth is that an awful lot of those "ordinary people's" guns wind up being used on other ordinary, innocent people. As happened yesterday. If you keep a gun in your home or on your person, you're inviting the possibility that the gun will be used on you or by you or around you. If you don't have a gun around you, there is inherently less of a chance that a gun will be used around you. Yes, there will always be bad guys and random crimes and lone crazies. But you necessarily increase the risk that you will be involved in a gun incident if you have a gun. It's just basic math.

To those people who do own handguns, who do carry handguns with them, what do they envision ever happening with that gun? Do they truly expect to use it someday? And do they truly understand what that means? Having a gun and being prepared to use it means being prepared to endanger human lives. I do not understand how so many people willingly bring that risk of danger into their homes.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The wedding shoes

So I have this friend. She's about my height and she's my shoe size and we're partners in crime. Our birthdays are close together, so we often celebrate jointly (with bowling or mini golf or dancing). And we often play poker together or hang out on a Saturday. And we go dancing. We're kind of close.

So when she got engaged this spring, one friend assumed she and I had had a falling out that I wasn't one of the bridesmaids. But I knew better, because sometimes you're such good friends with someone that you don't make the bridesmaid list. Know what I mean? She knew that I wouldn't pitch a fit and wouldn't think it meant she didn't value my friendship, etc., so she knew she could focus on sisters and college friends, etc., without worrying that I would take it personally. And she knew I would prefer to pick out my own dress in my own color, anyway.

But when you're a bride and I'm one of your closest friends, there is one job that absolutely no one else can handle. Do you know what that job is? Can you guess? It's picking out the wedding shoes.  I am who you go to when you need to pick out shoes. I'm kind of known for my shoes. So with this friend, that is the official part I played in the wedding. And we picked out a fabulous pair of shoes. Pretty and sparkly and special. Did I mention that she and I wear the same size shoes?

Even as we were picking out her wedding shoes, I was eyeing them. Salivating, even. We both understood that at some point (after the wedding, of course), I would get to wear them. But I didn't really know if I would just get to borrow them or if she would want them back. Then this week, she brought me the shoes. Just showed up at my office and gave me the box. So tonight I wore them to another friend's birthday evening. And I may never take them off again. Because they're pretty. And sparkly. And oh so special.

We both know that she's not likely to wear them again. Though we're the same height, everyone thinks she's shorter than I am because I always wear heels and she always wears flats. These shoes have at least a 3 inch heel. I'm known for my shoes; she's not. When she's needed dress shoes in the past, she's borrowed them from me. These shoes look like shoes I would own; they look like shoes she would borrow from me. I have dreamed of these shoes since the day she and I picked them out this spring. And now that I have had them on my feet, seen my calves in these heels, seen the sparkle under the soft light of the Star Bar, I know that these shoes belong to me. They may have been on her feet for the most important day of her life, but they belong on mine for every other day.

She can't want the shoes back, can she? I get to keep them, don't I? I mean, she can visit them any time she wants. She can wear them, even. But she can't make me give them back for good. Because they're so pretty and sparkly and special. And while she might wear them on the most special day of her life, I will consider every Friday special because I will wear them.

At the very least, we have to have some kind of joint legal custody agreement where we both get to wear the shoes. But I get primary residential custody. Please?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Scandal has quickly become the most addictive hour of television around. (Or maybe I'm just telling myself that to fill the hole in my heart that was left when all my LOST dvds got stolen in the burglary.)

Anyway, *spoiler alert*, I KNEW Huck didn't shoot the president.

I really hope the world doesn't end on December 21 because I'd like to see the jerk who set him up get her comeuppance.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

All I ask

is to have doors that work as they are supposed to at all times;

a house that is my own, secure, warm and cozy domain;

a job where I can just go in every day, put my head down, and help my clients without dealing with drama and bureaucratic crap;

and someone to come home to would be pretty nice, too.

But apparently I ask too much. Way too much. It's a good thing sitting on your couch alone while crying and drinking too much wine is classy. So at least I have that. And the world's sweetest dog. I have that, too.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


Florida just had to get in on the Advent Execution Season, too. So now we're up to 43. It's starting to feel like the killers got toward the end of their 2012 shift and feared they weren't going to make their quota, so they had to hurry up and fit some executions in before 2013. Oy.

STOP KILLING PEOPLE!! You are ruining my Christmas buzz with all of this cold, calculated murdering of individuals who pose no threat to the rest of us.

This is why I don't always track every execution that takes place - because it depresses me so. But that's exactly why I should broadcast every single one. Because we should have to feel it every time we kill someone. We shouldn't be allowed to hide from it, ignore it, pretend it doesn't involve us. Each and every execution is a stain on all of us and we should all be made to face it.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Monday, December 10, 2012

Yes, probation is appropriate for that case. And for that one. I promise.

Before we begin tonight, I would like to note that it's hard to type while huddled in a mess of blankets, wearing hand warmers, and with a dog between me and the computer keyboard. (And the dog just licked my fingers. As I was typing. Just fyi.) The space heater on the coffee table aimed directly at me isn't doing much good in this ridiculous, uninsulated, drafty old monstrosity I call home.

As you might have gathered, I am a bit of a news junkie and I particularly follow the crime stories. I know my fellow readers aren't coming from the same knowledge base I am. I read a story and know it's describing a severity level 7 nonperson felony or 3 misdemeanors or an off-grid crime. I also usually know right away what the sentence will be roughly. (It doesn't hurt that in my state, sentencing is grid-based with numbers pre-set by the legislature so there's not a lot of leeway for the judges. They can depart, but they have to make specific findings.) I know that battery is a pretty low-level offense that probably doesn't involve any actual harm. (If there were injuries, it would be aggravated battery.) I know cops always arrest people on the most ridiculously, over-the-top charge they can and then let the prosecutors and judges reduce the charges appropriately. I know that cops do this and then make sure to arrest people on Saturdays whenever possible because then they can keep a defendant in county jail for 2 nights and get more money from the state. (In Kansas, you can bail out over the weekend on a misdemeanor, but have to wait for a business day to go before a judge if you're arrested on a felony.) I know that most other people don't know these things.

But, still, I can't help but be surprised when I read these stories about a criminal sentencing and then read the comments of people who think the sentence is ridiculous and a sign that our community/state/world isn't just soft on crime, but is run by the criminals. As if we are all doomed because someone convicted of battery and criminal damage got probation. (Which is the exact sentence the legislature recommends for that conviction event.) Do people really think college students should go to prison for getting into fights? For first offenses? For things where no one really got hurt?

Most people in most criminal courts throughout the country are sentenced to probation. And that's exactly how it should be. Most things that are crimes really aren't so bad that they necessitate cutting the perpetrator off from society for some period of time. If people really knew more about how the criminal justice system works, definitions of crimes, etc., they'd get it, right? I have to believe they would. I can't face the thought that even if people knew that the statutory definition of battery is "a non-consensual touching done in a rude, insulting, or offensive manner," they might still think people convicted of battery should all do hard time in jail. Which would be silly because we've probably all committed misdemeanor battery at least once in the last week. (Remember when you grabbed that sheet of paper out of your annoying co-worker's hand? Battery!)

It seems like in this day and age, it shouldn't be too hard for the public (or at least the interested readers on a newspaper website) to have more knowledge so they can better understand why a district court judge sentenced someone the way s/he did and what the charges actually mean. The criminal statutes are all online, after all. So perhaps the news stories could contain helpful links to the relevant statutes? Or at least to the criminal code where a truly interested reader could find the specific statute on his/her own? Maybe the crime section could include a permanent PDF of the sentencing grid, so people could see what sentences to expect for, say, a severity level 5 person felony for a person with no criminal history. (Or maybe it would just help if people wouldn't spout off uninformed opinions but would instead seek out knowledge?)

I guess I really want two things: for the general public to have a better understanding of what criminal law jargon means and for them to have more realistic expectations of what an appropriate sentence is for a particular set of facts. And for people to stop thinking incarceration should be the answer to every single marginally criminal incident ever. I probably want too much.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Dear People of the Internet

I need your help, and it is the season of giving...

I used to pride myself on being a really good gift-giver. But now, I feel all tapped out. My dad is increasingly impossible to buy for. And I'm just tired of the stuff. I'm tired of books and pajamas and knick knacks and the stuff that just adds to more clutter and noise. (Not that I'm really one to talk as my house is filled with stuff and I love my books and shoes and DVDs (though I have a lot fewer now than I did a few weeks ago).)

Last year, I put a real emphasis on homemade gifts, which means I made myself crazy knitting and bought my sister the single greatest gift ever. I didn't have it in me to knit that much this year. So now I'm looking for new gift ideas that aren't stuff.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Spoke too soon

We're now up to 42. Arizona didn't want Oklahoma to have all the fun so they killed someone today. Richard Stokely was put to death this morning.

'Cause nothing says, "May you feel peace and love this yueltide season" like the intentional, premeditated killing of our fellow citizens by the government.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

#41 ain't just a Dave Matthews title. Wish it were.

People should be forced to notice every time we execute someone in this country. It appears today will be the day for George Ochoa as the state of Oklahoma prepares to kill him. (I have looked in Oklahoma news sites and have not yet seen confirmation that the execution has taken place or when it is/was scheduled for.)

It still sends chills up my spine every time we do this. I can't wrap my head around the fact that we as a society intentionally and with premeditation put people to death. If this one happens today as scheduled, it will be the 6th of 2012 in Oklahoma and the 41st nationwide. That's more people than can be on an expanded September baseball roster. It's almost a professional football team. 41 people is a lot of people.  And we've killed them all.

What's even worse is that this is a relatively low number of executions for a year. Per the Death Penalty Information Center, since the beginning of the modern death penalty era (1976-present), we've had as many as 98 executions in one year. I don't appreciate that this fact leaves me feeling at least a little grateful that we've "only" managed to kill 41 this year. One person intentionally killed by the state is too many.

Oh, what I wouldn't give for us as a nation to get past this barbarity.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Congrats. And good luck.

I know, I know, who cares about a royal bun in the oven, right? I don't. I am as pleased for William and Kate as I would be for any random strangers and about as interested.

But perhaps something good can come out of the blessed news about the Duchess' pregnancy: maybe more in the general public will become aware of hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) and people will stop referring to it as really bad morning sickness. It isn't something that can be treated with saltines and a little ginger ale. It isn't hypersensitive women being crazy and wimpy. It requires hospitalizations and IV fluids and anti-nausea meds and feeding tubes. It is a serious illness that makes pregnancy a very dangerous thing for many women. It can lead to miscarriages or women having to abort much-wanted pregnancies to save their own lives. It killed Charlotte Bronte.

I can only hope that being married to the future King of England means Kate will get the best care in the world instead of backlash that she should just suck it up. And I hope that having such a public face on HG will help all the other women around the world who could get the treatments but didn't know they had anything more than "really bad morning sickness."

Musings from a Chiefs fan

So, you all know I'm a Chiefs fan. Even in this season of awfulness,  I still watch every game, read the articles in the paper, and wear my Chiefs earrings every game day. And you know I'm a defense attorney who always sees people as multi-dimensional creatures who are so much more than the worst thing they've ever done. And I've long complained about our national lack of sympathy for and treatment of those dealing with mental illness. You may not have known that I am also a trained suicide counselor who volunteered at a crisis hotline for years, so I have actually spoken to people who had the pills or the gun or the plan in hand. (Happily, all of the phone calls I personally took of that nature ended pretty well.)

Given all that, it's probably easy for you to guess that I might have some thoughts about what happened in Kansas City on Saturday. It was definitely shocking to learn that a player I'd been following for 4 years had shot and killed his girlfriend before driving to the stadium and killing himself in full view of the head coach and the general manager. Throughout the day yesterday, shock seemed to be the prevailing reaction from all the local tv and radio personnel as well as the national sports anchors who talked about the incident. There was a lot of head-shaking, a lot of confusion about why on earth this had happened, and a lot of uncertainty about how to respond.

Even now, I'm not sure where to go with a blog post, because I've got about 5 directions my rant could go.

1) I'd like to rant at all the pretentious, smug, self-righteous, cruel jerks who are proclaiming so loudly that the Chiefs shouldn't have played their game yesterday. I'm looking at you, Jason Whitlock, among others. The reasoning goes that because a young woman was murdered and her 3 month-old daughter was left orphaned, a game no longer matters. I get that impulse, really. But get over yourselves, people. What the hell else were all those Chiefs players and coaches supposed to do yesterday? Sit at home with their families and stew? Haven't these people ever heard of my two favorite coping mechanisms: distraction and denial? It's entirely probable that the ONLY thing that got some of those teammates who were closest to Belcher and the coaches who witnessed his suicide through the day was having that game to focus on for a huge chunk of it. It would have been cruel to deny all those men the one thing that could make that day tolerable. Just for what, to prove some point about how serious this incident was? As if everyone connected to the Chiefs doesn't already get that? Interviews with the Chiefs players make it clear that they to a man wanted to play the game. Because the alternative, postponing or even canceling the game, was unbearable.

2) I'd also like to rant against those people who seem to think that because Jovan Belcher committed murder, his family, friends, teammates, and everyone else should now write him off as an evil SOB and never mention him again. That anyone who expresses any sympathy for his family or for him or ponders how much pain he must have been in to do this act or says that he wasn't all bad is a pathetic sports fanatic who puts men on pedestals for playing a game. There is nothing wrong with sympathizing with the family members of a murderer, with acknowledging that they must have some very conflicting emotions. Those people who are close to murderers shouldn't be expected to forget all the good, kind things they did before they committed murder. So, yeah, if Chiefs players want to express kind thoughts about their teammate, that's ok and no one should confuse that with condoning murder.

3) In reading stories today, I read one focusing on the problem of domestic violence in the NFL. I don't disagree with that, but I get a little frustrated with some of the language that is used around domestic violence. There is a bigger problem that gets lost when we only talk about there being a domestic violence problem with professional athletes. So often, these conversations knock a big, strong football player who puts his hand on a woman. One pro coach has apparently said no one who hits a woman is welcome in his clubhouse. Every time I hear a comment like this, I get angry. Because it suggests that it would be (or at least could be) ok for a big, strong football player to put his hands on a man. Or to hit a man. It isn't. It isn't ok to hit anyone. (And, btw, when we limit it to men shouldn't hit women, we're a) making it ok for women to hit men and b) leaving it open for a man to think, "This woman is as big or strong as a lot of men, so hitting her is fine.")

It seems to me the NFL has a violence problem, period. Or rather American professional sports does. They all own guns. Lots of guns. Today at a Chiefs' player press session, one of the players expressed complete and total amazement when the reporters indicated that, no, they don't all own guns and carry them everywhere they go. Plaxico Burress carried a gun. Look where it got him. (Shot himself and landed in prison for 2 years.) Seems to me a lot of pro athletes could stand to learn the lesson that you should never resort to pulling out a gun or your fists to solve your problems, whether your problems are in a personal relationship or in a NYC nightclub. Maybe there's something about the American pro sports culture that leaves the athletes with a severe deficit in their problem-solving skill set.

4) Someday, I will go on a full tear about how angry it makes me when people call suicide a "selfish" or "cowardly" act. To call it that is rude, insensitive, obnoxious, and a load of other bad adjectives. You might disagree with me (you'd be wrong), but even if you're just darn sure that suicide is the most selfish thing a person can do, at least do me this: Please, for the love of all that is good, don't ever say that to someone who has lost a loved one to suicide. It's incredibly unkind.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A quiet win

Sometimes in the law, the real win comes in not having your case heard. When you win at the Court of Appeals, you really don't want the Supreme Court to grant review of the case. Even if you're pretty sure the Supremes will see it the same way and you'll still win, it just delays the relief to the client and means the police or prosecutors might keep doing the wrong thing for a while longer, which means there might be a defendant somewhere who will fall through the cracks and have the wrong thing stick to his case.

So it's really not a bad thing that the United States Supreme Court this week declined to review a case out of Illinois that challenged that state's broadly-written eavesdropping law. The law makes it a felony, punishable by up to 15 years, to record someone without that person's permission. Now, lots of states have laws against recording a person without that person's permission. But most states also have an exception for recording a person who does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Which is why it's perfectly legal to photograph or video record random people on the street. The purpose of the eavesdropping laws is to protect people who think they're engaging in private behavior, like personal conversations or, you know, bedroom stuff.

The Illinois law, though, does not have any such exception. Which has made it the perfect state to fall at the center of the fight over citizens recording the actions of cops. In this era of smart phones, it's become common for bystanders to arrests to break out that phone and record the incident. Sadly, it has also become somewhat common for cops to challenge those bystanders, harass them, arrest them, delete the footage, etc.  In most states, the camera operator has a pretty solid defense by arguing that police officers acting in their official capacity don't have a reasonable expectation of privacy. How can they? They have to fill out reports of everything. They have to expect to testify about arrests, the statements made and the actions taken during them.

In the Illinois case SCOTUS declined to review, the ACLU filed suit, claiming a First Amendment right to record police, so fortunately no bad conviction is involved. The ACLU wanted to launch a government accountability program and wanted assurance that its employees wouldn't be arrested. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the ACLU that we the people get to gather information on our government officials. And now SCOTUS has let that ruling stand by declining to take the case.

For the ACLU and residents of Illinois who were facing prosecution under this application of the eavesdropping law, this cert denial is a good thing. And it means that the only federal appellate case law out there affirms citizens' rights to record the police. But this probably won't be the last we hear of this issue. In that sense, it would have been nice for SCOTUS to take cert and provide a little finality. But then again, they ruled flag burning couldn't be outlawed over 20 years ago and we still hear about occasional flag desecration prosecutions, so maybe we'll still hear about cops arresting citizens for recording arrests for years to come. Let's just hope not in Illinois.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Oh, Greta

When I watch Greta Van Susteren now, I cringe at the thought that I used to respect her. Way back in the old days when she and Roger Cossack had that show, Burden of Proof, on CNN, I thought she was great. A knowledgeable lawyer. Thoughtful. Way smarter than Roger.

But now she is utterly unwatchable. Between her girl crush on the ridiculous Sarah Palin and her tolerance for the biggest buffoon on the planet, Donald Trump, she lost most of her credibility. The last of it left when she started buying wholesale into the silly Fox News party line on stories instead of choosing for herself what stories to cover.

And she's a Scientologist. Oy.

Umm, Your Honor, you really can't do that

I found this story on one of my atheist social networking sites last week and have been meaning to write about it, but between the holiday and the hideous weekend thing, I haven't gotten around to it yet. So now here goes.

In Oklahoma, a state court judge ordered a young defendant to attend church once a week for 10 years as part of his probation plan. The 17 year-old defendant had been convicted of a vehicular manslaughter charge. Because of his status as a youthful offender, the judge had more discretion to fashion a unique sentence. The judge added the condition because he thinks "church is important." The judge further said, "I think Jesus can help anybody." It's not clear whether he made that statement at the sentencing hearing or when being interviewed later.

I rather hope I need not explain what the obvious potential problems with that condition are. This did not come to the public's attention because of any objection by the defendant, though. Rather, it was the American Civil Liberties Union that objected. The ACLU lacks standing to object to the defendant's sentence itself, so they raised the issue in the context of an ethical complaint against the judge.*

This topic is one that I'm a little conflicted on. It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone to know that I am a big fan of creative punishments that don't rely on incarceration. I want judges to look for ways to make probation work, especially for young offenders. I want probation to be a way for offenders to connect with their communities, which will help them find a better path in life and not re-offend. Call me a Pollyanna if you will, but I believe our response to crime should be much more rehabilitative than it is in this incarceration-crazy atmosphere.

But, I'm also an atheist and don't appreciate the way religiosity can dominate in some public spheres. Just this week, our local paper has been running a series of stories about the prevalence of prayers at public meetings, for example. Yes, I know it doesn't hurt me to sit quietly for a minute, but it does irk me just how much of my life has been spent in those quiet minutes imposed on me by others when I'd rather just get to work already. If I were ever convicted of a DUI (I don't expect that to happen, btw, just a hypothetical), I would be the defendant who would object to a condition that I attend AA meetings. And I would prevail. I could be required to participate in some kind of alcohol counseling, but I could not be required against my will to participate specifically in AA because of the religious content of its message. (This link provides links to some of the case law on the AA topic.)

So it is with these conflicting views that I come to this: if this defendant were my client and he agrees with the probation condition, truly doesn't object, truly finds it beneficial and something he wants to do, I would agree to it. Heck,  I would zealously advocate for that condition if that was what my client wanted. But if my client were like me, I would object to the condition. Even strenuously object. And I would do my level best to make sure the judge didn't engage in vindictive sentencing by saying, "All right, it's prison for you, then." That, to me, is where the real danger comes in with this kind of sentencing condition. That a defendant will not feel like he can object to it, will fear that objecting will lead to the court changing its mind about probation and imposing prison instead. Can we be sure that the defendant is truly, freely, wholeheartedly agreeing to the condition rather than feeling coerced? If a judge thinks it can impose this condition, it stands to reason that a defendant has no clue the judge can't.

What most sticks out to me about this particular Oklahoma case is that the judge suggests that he truly does not understand that he can't require this probation condition whenever he wants. Someone who is regularly sentencing defendants in criminal matters shouldn't be that unaware of the limitations the Constitution imposes on him. I hope this judge has now learned that lesson and will be more careful in future sentencings. But I hope he won't give up on attempts to be creative in sentencings, especially when youthful offenders are involved. There are other ways a court can require a defendant to participate in his community that won't run afoul of the First Amendment.

*I'll be curious to see how the ethics case comes out. I don't have any sense of how such a complaint against a judge in Oklahoma might be treated. I doubt there would be any serious consequences for the judge. Though it does seem to me that complete ignorance of the First Amendment is kind of a problem for a judge.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The insanity defense

If you are my age or older, you most likely remember where you were when President Reagan was shot. I was in 2nd grade, Mrs. Teegarden's class, and I recall the teachers all being hushed and serious while all three 2nd grade classes were brought together and allowed to watch movies (The Lorax, as I recall) instead of having our normal math and reading lessons. I remember learning a little about that one guy who got hurt the worst (though I couldn't have told you his name was James Brady or predicted how famous his wife would become in the gun control movement). I also remember wondering who Jodie Foster was and why this crazy guy thought that shooting the President would somehow win her over. But as with the effect on the gun control debate, I had no idea how significant this shooting and the sad case of John Hinckley, Jr. would be in the discussion of how to treat those mentally ill individuals who cause harm to others.

Hinckley was not convicted of crimes in the 1981 shooting, but was found not guilty by reason of insanity. To this day, he remains committed to a psychiatric facility, though he does now earn the occasional day or weekend pass. To me, this seems an entirely acceptable resolution to the sad, strange attempted assassination committed by a delusional man with serious mental health issues. But to a lot of people, the result was an insult. After that verdict, legislatures around the country started thinking about ways to change the law so that people couldn't "get off" on insanity pleas.

The ripple effects of the Hinckley case are still being felt today. Literally today, as the United States Supreme Court today ruled on a petition for cert out of Idaho. In the debate about what, if anything, to change in response to the Hinckley outcry, a couple of states went so far as to abandon the insanity defense entirely, including Idaho. My state, Kansas, is one of the others to have completely abandoned the old, standard insanity defense, though Kansas is less severe than Idaho. In Kansas, a defendant can argue that she suffered from a mental disease or defect that prevented her from forming the requisite criminal intent. It's something. It basically means that to be found not guilty of stabbing a person to death, the defendant has to think she was cutting cabbage, but it's more than Idaho offers. Under Idaho law, "a defendant's mental condition "shall not be a defense to any charge of criminal conduct." John Delling, who suffers from acute paranoid schizophrenia, asked the US Supreme Court to consider whether Idaho's lack of an insanity defense is unconstitutional. On appeal from his conviction for two counts of murder, Delling argued that due process entitled him to present an insanity defense. Today, SCOTUS denied that cert petition. (Three justices did dissent from that denial, though.)

I can't say I'm surprised or even that disappointed. I don't think we'd get a good ruling on this issue from the current court. I'm just overall disheartened that this is even an issue. I'm tired of having to fight the wrong-headed view that "mental illness is no excuse." I'm frustrated with the way we have criminalized mental illness in this country. Mental illness actually is an excuse and insanity should always be a defense. Anyone who says otherwise can't have much experience with someone suffering profound mental illness. They can't have met someone who just can't stop the voices or who sees squirrels in the bathroom or who sees people climbing out of walls. They can't have known someone who cannot distinguish between what is real and what is not.

We would never say someone with bronchitis should just control the coughing. We would not think it was that person's fault if he couldn't. No, we'd be smart enough to get that even with cough syrup, someone with bronchitis is gonna cough. (I happen to know a little about this. And, man, when my body wants to cough, there isn't anything in this world I can do to stop it.) But somehow, when the disease is in the brain, all of a sudden, people insist that the sick person really ought to know better, ought to be able to control the disease, ought to be treated like a criminal if she can't. It's so illogical, it makes my head spin.

The Hinckley court got it absolutely right. The state of Idaho has got it absolutely dead wrong. I wish I could come up with the magic explanation, the right sequence of words that would make the anti-insanity defense folks get it. But since the tide doesn't seem to be turning back toward compassion for those with mental illnesses and the public still seems inclined to believe mental illness is no excuse for criminal behavior, I guess for tonight I'll look on the bright side: at least with this cert denial, we won't get really bad law from the current Supreme Court.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

How many times are ridiculous things going to happen to me, leaving me and others shaking our heads thinking, "Surely, Sarah's luck has got to change soon?" before we all just come to accept that, no, my luck is really never going to change?

For crying out loud, this is gettin' to be ri-god-damn-diculous.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Skimp now... well, you know the rest

I have never understood the mindset of people who will do anything to save a buck now, without regard to the consequences. I'm not talking about people who truly can't afford anything but the cheapest option but people who have the resources to make different choices but steadfastly refuse to spend a nickel they don't have to.

Take shoes as an example. Some people balk at the idea of spending money on shoes when you can buy shoes cheaply at big box stores. I've done both. And let me assure you, the expensive shoes last a lot longer. So if the expensive shoes last for years but I have to replace the cheap ones every few months, am I really saving any money by buying the cheap ones? Buy better windows and your utility bills will be lower. Buy better building materials and you won't have to do as much maintenance.

Sometimes, refusing to spend money now just costs you a whole lot more down the road. Like refusing to fund early childhood development programs like Head Start. Refusing to pay for school breakfast and lunch programs. Refusing to fund public schools and state universities. Sure, you'll save those bucks now, but what are you costing yourself in the long run? It may be tempting to save your pennies and not pay for an oil change now, but you'll be damn sorry when your engine seizes , leaving you carless and with a repair bill in the thousands.

If we don't pay for things like Head Start, public schools, and those nutritional programs, what are we costing ourselves? Well, eventually we'll be paying for high school drop-outs on public assistance. And we'll be paying to deal with crimes and punishments. Why spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to incarcerate a young man when we maybe could have avoided those costs by spending tens of thousands of dollars to help him achieve success in school, which might well have kept him from committing a crime in the first place? (Why am I including lunch and breakfast programs? Check out some of the research on the correlation between childhood nutrition and success in schools.)

Likewise, skimping money on indigent defense now may feel good, may feel efficient. But in the long run, it will cost the taxpayers a whole lot more. If you refuse to pay appointed counsel a livable amount, if you refuse to pay salaried public defenders as much as you pay prosecutors, and if you overload them with so many cases they can't name all their clients, you're going to get poor performances from attorneys. And when you get poor performances from attorneys, all sorts of bad things can happen. You can wind up wrongly convicting innocent people when you have an exhausted, overworked attorney who doesn't have the training, the time, and the resources to find the holes in the state's case. You can wind up having to do the whole trial again when a court realizes that the defense attorney's performance was so poor, it prejudiced the defendant's right to a fair trial. So all that skimping and penny-counting can wind up costing a whole lot more in the end.

Being smart and efficient with money and other resources requires something more than "don't spend, don't spend, don't spend!" Doing it right the first time, whether it be educating a child or decorating your house or trying to convict an alleged murderer, is the most cost effective thing you can do. It boggles the mind that people don't get that.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Defending Kim K

Kim Kardashian made news this weekend. Not for some outfit she wore or club she went to or anything like that. She got a lot of attention for a couple of tweets she posted about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I guess she should have known that saying anything about that situation might get her attention and put her in the middle of all sorts of spiraling debates as people can get pretty heated on that topic.

But then I saw what her tweets were. She first wrote that she was praying for everyone in Israel. And then she wrote that she was praying for everyone in Palestine.

And for this she had to remove the tweets and issue an apology. For praying for people. She didn't express an opinion about the conflict. Didn't say she wanted one side to prevail. Just said she was praying for people on both sides. Generally suggesting she wishes them well, wants peace, doesn't want people to die. And somehow this generated controversy.

Isn't that a pretty sad statement? That there are people who can get mad that someone would have the nerve to pray for people on both sides of a conflict? I, for one, am offended that people were offended. There are good and decent and innocent people on both sides. And it's good to want none of them to get hurt or suffer. But, heck, I don't even want the bad people on either side to get hurt. I think it's ok to root for that, too. It's not ok to be mad at someone for rooting for that. Sheesh, that's not something anyone should ever have to defend.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

My Benghazi rant

For days now, my frustration about the Benghazi thing has been growing. At first, I was more confused than anything. As I learned more, I became irritated. Gradually, that irritation turned to a slow, burning rage and today, that rage is exploding. I am beyond fed up with this nonsense.

Do I mean that I'm fed up with the supposed incompetence and alleged cover-up of the Obama administration? Sorry, but no, Fox News and John McCain, I am not buying what you're selling. I am fed up with you and your kind ranting and raving, claiming that this tragedy is the biggest scandal ever to hit the White House. Bigger even than Watergate.

Holy hell, people, have you lost all sense of perspective? Rational thought? Did you all really learn absolutely nothing from the election that happened just last week? Foolishly I, like others, hoped that maybe the Party of No, the members of Congress whose sole, acknowledged goal for the last 4 years was to make Obama a one-term president, would actually start acting like grown-ups. That they might put away the almost reflexive need to complain about every single thing this President has ever said or done. That they might stop just flat making stuff up.

But, clearly that is not the case. At least not this week. And, yes, it would appear that some Congressional Republicans really have gone so far down the rabbit hole of hating the President that they have no idea which side is up now.

Thursday, at a Congressional hearing on the Benghazi attack, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), suggested that Bengazi is worse than Watergate. Think about that for a minute. That a terrorist attack on a consulate in a war-torn nation is worse than the President conspiring to commit multiple felonies. Really? I mean, REALLY? You don't see anything, anything at all, wrong with comparing not having all the answers to what happened in a chaotic situation in the first days and weeks afterwards to knowingly and intentionally committing burglary? If you can't see what's ridiculous about that statement, you have no credibility. Although, if you can see it but make it anyway hoping to score some political points, you don't have any credibility, either. Basically, just making that statement is conclusive proof that you have no credibility.

Now can we take a minute to focus on Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham and their insane and completely baseless (otherwise known as untrue) attacks on UN Ambassador Susan Rice. They say she's not very bright, incompetent, and up to her eyeballs in Benghazi. (This from the man who nominated Sarah Palin for VP and from two men who confirmed Condoleeza Rice for Sec. of State after she presided over the massive intelligence failures that led to the Iraq war.) Because on the Sunday after the attack, she was a convenient representative for the administration to send on the morning show circuit. She repeatedly said it was an emerging situation and she was only relaying the best information available at present. And she also very clearly said not that it was a spontaneous attack, but that a spontaneous demonstration started and that quickly extremist militant types showed up with hardcore weaponry that clearly separated them from protesters. Sens. McCain and Graham should be ashamed of themselves for so outrageously lying about her level of involvement and her statements themselves. And then there's my favorite tidbit: while McCain was grandstanding Wednesday about how Susan Rice's possible nomination for Secretary of State will never go anywhere if he has anything to say about it because the Benghazi thing was just too outrageous and we had to get to the bottom of it, he was missing a briefing about the Benghazi thing. Which kinda lends support for the idea that getting to the bottom of Benghazi isn't really what McCain is in this for. He's just a bitter old man who still can't stand the fact that he lost the presidency to that one and is hell bent on opposing him, no matter what.

Fox News and the few Congressional Republicans who are going hog wild with this fairly minor incident need to stop. What happened in Benghazi was a tragedy. Obviously, the death of 4 Americans dedicated to foreign service is terrible. People are right to ask questions about what exactly happened and why. People are right to try to learn from this situation to figure out what lessons we can apply to try to improve the situation for our diplomats in the future. But we can't get to any of that with all of this fake noise and outrage that is completely overblown.

This was hardly the first ever attack on one of our embassies or consulates. The Iran hostage situation was a pretty big one. The bombing in Beirut that killed over 200 Americans. The 1998 bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. Plus any number of lesser known incidents. These things happen and will always be a threat no matter what precautions we take.

Working in foreign service has always had the potential for danger. And yet there has always been the tension of providing security details in such a way that it doesn't interfere with the mission by creating a barrier between the diplomatic personnel and the country they're supposed to be forging relationships with. We have changed security standards since that 1983 Beirut bombing. Perhaps the Benghazi attack will yield more security standards. But perhaps, also, there is some point where we have to realize we really can't account for every risk, that some kind of trouble will always find its way through to our diplomats because it's just the nature of the beast. We can do our level best to keep them all safe, but we can't reasonably expect 100% success on that.

One question making the rounds now about Benghazi is why there wasn't more security in place. After all, Ambassador Stevens had raised alarms and asked for more security. It was a trouble spot and there had been lots of security issues throughout the year. It's a fair question and it should be addressed. But let's not pretend that requests for more resources don't occur at pretty much every level of government on a nearly daily basis. Some requests are granted; some are denied. There is never enough money or resources for everyone to get everything that they want or need. And sometimes it's awfully difficult to discern what is merely a want and what is a need. Sure, we can now see in hindsight that more security for our diplomatic personnel in Libya might have been a good idea. But that doesn't necessarily mean the decision not to increase security was a bad one or the wrong one.

And, of course, the State Department doesn't make security decisions all on its own. Congress has to provide the funding. So perhaps Congressmen who have voted more than once to cut spending for embassy security shouldn't now be so outraged that more security wasn't provided. You should hold hearings and consider whether more embassy security should be offered around the world. But you shouldn't pretend that you don't have something to do with those security decisions. Yes, I'm looking at you Darrell Issa and Jason Chaffetz.

Which brings me to another point. The CIA was heavily involved in Libya. One of the two compounds involved on the night of the actual attack might have been a CIA base of some kind. This might help explain why some intelligence personnel were not in a hurry to give firm answers, or were even ok with focusing on the video theory, in the initial days after the attack. Because there might have been real security issues with divulging too much information to the American public. (Like Issa and Chaffetz did when they outed CIA operatives.)

In a criminal case, it is hardly unusual for police to withhold information from the public, even sometimes put out deliberately false information, if they think it will help them nab their suspect or keep their informants safe. No one blinks at this. Mightn't the President, the State Department, and/or the CIA want to do the same thing in particular situations? But people throughout the administration were as soon as the morning of September 12 stating that the weaponry involved made it clear that the attack was perpetrated by someone other than, or at least in addition to, spontaneous mobsters. (Despite the insistence by Fox News that the administration blamed it on a protest for up to two weeks after the attack.) Not being able to say definitively within days or even weeks if it was premeditated, a planned attack, whether it was a terrorist organization or militants isn't a sign of incompetence or a cover-up. It's either the completely normal uncertainty in the immediate aftermath of a chaotic situation. Or it might also be indicative of an unwillingness to say too much that might compromise security. Perhaps the American public isn't actually entitled to all the answers if those answers will endanger covert operatives.

So, yeah, maybe there were some wrong initial assessments or some hesitant ones. And maybe not everyone was on the same page or had the same information. So the hell what? That's normal. It's not the first time that has happened and it won't be the last. It's not some epic failure that should end careers and lead to impeachments. It's not even a debacle. It's not something people should try to elevate to the level of one of the biggest scandals ever to hit the White House. It's not a scandal at all. It's a tragic incident. Maybe it could have been avoided. Maybe different decisions could have been made. We should definitely investigate it to see if things could have been done differently. Just like other reasonable organizations study their mistakes and failures so they can learn for the next time. But can we please stop for the love of pete pretending like it's this big, huge, unprecedented, unparalleled thing of epic proportions? It just isn't.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Here comes the free stuff! Woot!

You know what, Mitt, Rush, BillO, you're right. I did vote for President Obama for all the stuff and the gifts he was offering me.

I couldn't turn down the gift of knowing I will be able to get health insurance despite pre-existing conditions should I someday have to change health insurers.

I couldn't turn down my free PBS and NPR. Girlfriend's gotta have her Downton Abbey! (Along with the probing news programs like Frontline and the educational programming for children, etc.)

I couldn't say no to the gift of a President who accepts science and facts.

I couldn't turn down the promise of nominees to the Supreme Court who think that when the equal protection clause promises all citizens shall receive equal protection under the law, it doesn't exclude gays and women because that isn't what the men who wrote the clause 150 years ago meant.

And most importantly, I couldn't say no to the gift of personal autonomy. The promise of a president who wouldn't put me in a binder and think he's responding to my needs if he lets me leave the office at 5 every night so I can go home and cook for my family. And who wouldn't pander to the hardcore anti-abortion lobby to the extent of backing legislation that would declare a zygote that happens to be inside me matters more than I do. Seems like an awful lot of women couldn't say no to that gift.

I have to say, though, I'm pretty disappointed I couldn't also get a laptop out of the deal. I could really use a new laptop. But the gifts and free stuff I got will do.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

We have a bathroom fairy

There is a very odd phenomenon in the women's bathroom at my office. (I suspect the are also odd and unpleasant things going on in the men's bathroom, but fortunately that is outside my realm of experience.)

Or office bathroom is slowly being transformed into the bathroom at a 3-star hotel that wants a 4th star. Or a home bathroom. The counter is being taken over by personal products. It started with a harmless, unremarkable bottle of lotion. That seems a reasonable item to have in a bathroom, especially in the dry winter months when hands can get rough and cracked. But it didn't stop there.

Next, there were emery boards and nail buffers. (I must say I would prefer not to find emery boards in the actual stalls...) Then we got those wooden stick things used on nail cuticles. A bottle of hair spray. Then a second bottle of hair spray. A box with q-tips, cotton balls, and wipes. Oh, and feminine hygiene products, of course.

I thought that my bathroom counter was full.

A colleague and I have been monitoring this phenomenon and taking bets on what will show up next. We should have tweezers. And mouth wash. Definitely dental floss (that I would actually appreciate and maybe use because broccoli doesn't wait until I'm at home to get stuck in my teeth). Anti-frizz serum because it's not just our hands that need moisture. An eyelash curler, a hair dryer.

Ooh, ponytail holders! I can't tell you how many times I've been at work and hated my hair but not had a clip or a barrette or a bobby pin or a ponytail holder.

So bathroom fairy, if you're reading this, start with the ponytail holders. That is tops on my wish list. But I'm not kidding about the eyelash curler, either...

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Leave the poor kid alone, already!

I would like to propose a hard and fast rule. Fourteen-year-olds should be off-limits to paparazzi. Photogs should not be allowed to stalk and shoot minors. Celebrity gossip sites and magazines should not publish photos of minors. Especially when the story is that the minor has been removed from her home and placed in the guardianship of an adult sibling due to allegations of abuse by the minor's mother.

This rule should apply even when the teenager in question is on a popular, award-winning television show. Some might argue she perhaps asked for being in the public eye (or did the allegedly abusive overbearing stage mom from whose custody the teen has been removed ask for it?). But, seriously. She's fourteen. Anyone who really wants to see photos of her now to document her reaction to this stressful life event ought to be ashamed.

Look, I admit I'm pretty guilty of reading celebrity gossip sites. I check them daily. But when I go to my gossip sites looking for my Robsten news or updates on Katie Holmes' new single life or because I just have to know exactly when and why Selena dumped Justin, I really don't want to see stories about a young teenager going through such a difficult time. In fact, I think it's pretty appalling that a case involving the intervention of a state social services agency and removal of a kid from a home is public knowledge. I definitely do NOT want to see photos of this teen now walking down the street with her new guardian. Leave the poor girl alone!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Badly done, California

As you might suspect if you know me, I was pretty psyched last night. All the Senate races I had hope for went the way I wanted. Even better as I really didn't expect the woman to win in North Dakota. That jerk Joe Walsh in Illinois rightly lost his House seat to the Iraqi war vet who lost both her legs. Her veteran status isn't why she deserved to win, though. The complete jerk things Walsh said about her are why he so thoroughly deserved to lose. And it looks like the equally despicable Allen West in Florida has lost his House seat. Sadly, we're still stuck with Michele Bachmann, but I had resigned myself to that. Marriage equality winning in all 4 states that voted on it definitely helped me get over the Bachmann win. And I take special joy in Tammy Baldwin's Wisconsin Senate win because I got to vote for her in her first Congressional race, when Madison voters made her the first open lesbian in Congress. I think it's fabulous that she will now be the first openly gay person to the Senate.

And as you all know, or can guess, I was quite pleased that the President won re-election.

For someone who has always followed politics as closely as I have and whose values and views have always been decidedly liberal, it was a pretty good night.

But, there is a but. And it's a pretty big but. There was one vote I cared about more than all the others (well, except the presidency). One result that would have induced the biggest joyful crying jag ever. California voters had the chance to do something big. They got to vote on the death penalty. Straight up and down popular vote on whether the state would abolish the death penalty.

The state of California is drowning in debt. The state is broken. It is crushed by an unworkable taxation process and an unwieldy (and costly) voter referendum system. The state can't afford its schools, its prisons, its courts. Prisons are so overcrowded, federal courts have stepped in to demand solutions, even if that solution is the premature release of inmates. Meanwhile, the state has over 700 inmates on death row and none of them are anywhere close to execution. Litigating these cases takes forever, in large part because the state can't find enough lawyers to represent all these capital defendants. And there are other procedural problems that have to be resolved with the method of execution. The bottom line being that these people aren't going to be executed, but they're right now an endless drain on the state's limited criminal justice resources.

The voters of California could have put an end to all of this ridiculousness. Could have saved themselves somewhere around $100 million a year. And could have saved over 700 lives in the process.

By the time President Obama spoke last night (after 1 am), only 20% of the vote totals were in, so I had to go to bed not knowing how that would turn out. So it was only late this morning that I saw the awful news that the repeal effort had failed. The voters of California chose vengeance. They chose vengeance over fiscal responsibility, emotion over logic, anger over rationality.

It breaks my heart.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The woes of a public defender

I have long had a wish list of things that I would love to improve about my house. Like fixing that cracked wall, rebuilding the stairs and removing the living room carpet, replacing the dishwasher with one that actually washes the dishes. And then there's the whole sloping floor in the kitchen thing, which doesn't seem to be getting any better on its own, but is just part of the charm of owning a home that's over 100 years old. Right?

But now there's something fairly major and important that needs to be fixed. Unlike the foundation that I fixed 4 years ago ($5,000) and the siding/paint job of 3 years ago ($5,000), this job can't just be paid out of pocket 'cause I'm fresh out. Turns out when you write large checks, that money doesn't just magically regenerate in your account. Huh.

And then there's my car, which pretty desperately needs new tires and brakes and quite probably some work on the suspension system as well. Oy. And then there's the student loans and the mortgage and the electricity and heat and water...

Which all leads to the big question: why oh why did I have to be a public defender? Why did I have to be one of the bleeding-heart liberal do-gooder types who puts doing a job she loves ahead of financial security? This trait seems awfully connected to the trait that made me want to buy an ancient house rather than some new construction that wouldn't have so many issues and might even have an HOA to address some of them. Public defenders are naturally pretty anti-authoritarian, so we don't take well to busybody neighbors telling us how short our grass must be or what colors we can put on our homes.

I couldn't have been some civil lawyer who can charge $400 an hour. Or a transactional lawyer or a trust lawyer. Someone who can just take on as many clients as necessary, adding new ones when some big bill comes up. No, I had to take a salaried job as a lowly state employee with no opportunity for raises or bonuses or taking on outside work if money gets tight. Because it's the work I believe in, finances be damned.

If I were the lovably neurotic heroine in a Sophie Kinsella novel (please allow me the courtesy of believing that my neuroses are lovable), I would fit about now have some fabulous meet-cute incident with a ridiculously attractive and remarkably single multi-millionaire. But real life doesn't work like that. So I will continue to be a devoted public defender who can never, ever gain financial security but can't stomach the thought of taking any other kind of job. My house may well fall down around my ears, but at least I will still have my soul.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, October 29, 2012

Yeah, I've been quiet of late. The last 10 days or so have been, well, let's just go with intense. And now I'm recovering. So I haven't had a lot to say, not stuff that anyone wants to read, anyway.

But I do have to say this: it is a sin and a shame, no it's a crime, that Alcides Escobar is not a finalist for a Gold Glove award. Anyone who watches him play baseball has to understand that he is the best shortstop in the game. And it's not even close. He makes plays that no other shortstops even try. His range is ridiculous. And because he makes these ridiculous plays that no other shortstop could try, he has a few more errors than others. The error total is probably why he got left off the list, but for crying out loud. If scorers are going to hold him to a higher standard because he's just that much better than everyone else, shouldn't he win the award meant to acknowledge the shortstop who is that much better than everyone else?!

You were robbed, Alcides. Robbed!

Monday, October 22, 2012

This time

I really would say "I told you so." If given the chance.

Yes, yes, I know. I'm a petty, small, mean, petty (I should include it twice, I think) know-it-all. It's a wonder I have any friends.

But, darn it, I was right.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Hey, I haven't heard from you in months! Oh, it must be election season.

I can always tell when advance ballots start arriving in my friends' homes by the emails. Inevitably, my non-lawyer friends (and I do have some non-lawyer friends) email me to find out which judges they should vote to retain. Our appellate judges are appointed, but then face retention votes every few years. (I want to say 6, and, yes, this is something you should expect me to know. Bad Sarah.)
In my county, our district court judges are also appointed, though there are some counties that elect their judges. So for most of my friends, I simply offer advice on whether any of the judges are deserving of a no vote.
This process I go through every election season highlights one of the reasons I disapprove of electing judges. The reality is that most people who don't use the court system much simply aren't in a position to place an informed vote. They don't know which judges ignore the law or mess up the rules or are incompetent, extremely fair, or whatever other qualities they might value in a good judge. At best, they hope to have a lawyer friend who can tell them if there are any judges they shouldn't vote for. At worst, they might know which particular criminal sentences sparked outrage for being too lenient, even if they know nothing about how the judge arrived at that sentence.
The appointment-retention election method of judicial selection is exponentially better than direct elections of judges, of course. Judges should never be elected, having to campaign and win votes with all of the politicking and promise-making that entails. I'd prefer that they not even be voted on by the public in the retention process, either, because I'm not comfortable with the idea that a judge could be voted out for making a ruling that is unpopular. A good judge should make the unpopular decision when it is legally warranted and shouldn't hold back out of fear of losing her job.
But since judges almost never lose the retention election, practically it's not an actual problem. Even when particular judges have been targeted by groups campaigning for a "no" vote, they have still easily won the vote. Perhaps the bigger problem with the retention vote system is that it leaves us without a realistic way of removing a judge who truly does deserve to lose his or her job.
As long as we retain the retention vote, though, I will happily continue to respond to all of my friends' requests for assistance because as long as the question is on their ballots, I want them to have some idea how they should vote.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

I'm not gonna say "I told you so," but...

I don't actually need everyone in the world to know I'm right. It really is enough that I know I'm right. But sometimes it can be really fun to watch as the thing I said all along turns out to be absolutely, 100% correct and everyone comes to realize it.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

In the event of the apocalypse, who would take care of my guys?

Has anyone been watching Revolution? The show about what happened 15 years after all electricity went out and never came back. I want to like the show. I really do. J.J. Abrams and Jon Favreau are producers. Elizabeth Mitchell (aka Juliet from LOST) is on it. It's an interesting idea, to envision what would happen to modern American society if we instantly lost our phones, our cars, our lights, a/c, refrigerators, etc. But they just haven't grabbed me yet. And I don't buy the idea that a high concept show can't grab you right away because LOST had me from the first second.

But what I'm really curious about, and what proves that I am a criminal defense nerd of the highest order, is what happened to all the incarcerated people when the power went out, governments folded, and society as we know it generally collapsed? Would someone have gone around to prisons and fed the inmates? Or just  opened all the doors? Might they have all been reduced to chain-gang style hard labors? Perhaps individual inmates might have intrepid family members who would come to rescue them? Or might they all have been forgotten about, abandoned and left to die in their cages? The logistics of this fascinate me.

Prisons are pretty reliant on electricity, especially when it comes to all the doors. There have to be ways to open the doors manually, I'd assume. But then would they all have to be opened one at a time? There are a lot of prisons in this country, housing a lot of prisoners. And I would imagine that as absolutely everything was going to hell, robbers and murderers and sex offenders probably wouldn't be high on many people's list. So I tend to think a lot of them might well just be stuck.

I also wonder how long the leadership structure would remain in place. One thing the show hasn't really nailed down for us is how long the US government or any state governments attempted to function after the blackout. We did see a flashback to about 6 months after the blackout where one of our main characters recognized that there was no law, no functioning police force to protect people and punish thieves, so he took it upon himself. But that could have simply been a matter of transportation and communication being slow, not exactly non-existent. So I wonder how long the leadership structure of any individual prison might have continued to function, even in some minimal way. I have met a few prison wardens and I think a few of them really enjoy running their own little fiefdoms. They might cling to whatever power they could maintain for as long as possible.

We know that the criminal justice system suffered serious lapses in the Katrina aftermath. Records destroyed by the flood, defendants forgotten about in jail. The courts were already overloaded and basically fell apart after the storm. The courts put out requests for attorneys to come from out of state and receive special status to help clear out some of the cases. And that was just one city suffering a temporary shutdown. But in the Revolution scenario, you've got every city, county, state, etc. suffering the shutdown with no resumption of normal activities. In New Orleans, a sad number of people arrested on really petty stuff, like pot possession, got lost in the shuffle and wound up spending months and months in jail. In the Revolution world, I'd have to imagine an awful lot of drunks taken to detox and college kids arrested on MIPs (minor in possession) and people arrested for unpaid parking tickets would suffer that fate and get stuck.

Yes, this really is what I spend my time thinking about. In the post-apocalyptic scenario (or at least the end of electricity scenario), what would happen to the inmates? I'd like to think it would be people like me, my defender family if you will, who would make sure they were safe and taken care of. But I'm useless without my iPhone. I'm pretty sure I would die in the first wave of any kind of giant-scale catastrophe. So I hope that the rest of you would step up and take care of my guys for me.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

AFA v. SPLC, Round 317

11 years ago, the Southern Poverty Law Center came up with a program they hoped would help combat cliques and bullying in schools. They called it "Mix it Up at Lunch Day." On one day of the year, students are urged to sit at lunch with someone s/he would normally not talk to. The SPLC hopes to break down self-imposed barriers that lead to cliques which can lead to bullying. They want kids to reach across superficial barriers like economic class, race, ethnicity, and instead try to find similarities and understanding.

Sounds like a pretty cool idea to me. Don't we all remember how separated we could become in high school? How the theater kids sat here and the a/v nerds sat there and the popular kids sat at the center table and then there was that one girl that no one would sit with. Maybe if Mix It Up day had existed when I was in high school, I finally would have had the courage to go sit with that girl.

But apparently I have just been duped because the day isn't really about encouraging unity and discouraging bullying. The day is really all about furthering the homosexual agenda. Its super secret real name is "Homosexual Mix It Up Day." Thankfully, the American Family Association is here to tell us this. According to AFA, the SPLC is a "fanatical pro-homosexual group." (To be fair, the SPLC doesn't think much of AFA, either, having declared it a hate group.) And this Mix It Up thing is really all about "intimidat[ing] and silenc[ing] students who have a Biblical view of homosexuality." Just as all anti-bullying measures are really all about punishing Christians who believe homosexual behavior is wrong. Though the AFA does kindly add that no one is in favor of anyone getting bullied.

AFA is fighting back against this day by urging parents to keep their kids out of school on Mix It Up day. Because heaven forbid any darling little Christian kids be exposed to different kids who might not ordinarily be in their circle of friends. Especially not any of those icky, sinning gay kids. Which we all should know is SPLC's real goal of this day. It's really about bullying the Christian kids.

It must be exhausting for the people behind the AFA to be so ever-vigilant and always finding all of these efforts by the devious "fanatical pro-homosexual groups" to further the radical homosexual agenda. These groups are just so good at hiding their true purpose behind things that sound good, like anti-bullying efforts.  So I guess it's good we have the not-at-all fanatical AFA to ferret out that insidious homosexual agenda. Because I would have thought anti-bullying efforts, like getting school kids to go outside their comfort zone and get to know kids they normally wouldn't, were good. Silly me.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

On Mrs. Sandusky

Did you see the letter Dottie Sandusky wrote to the judge in advance of her husband's sentencing hearing? She wanted the judge to know that Jerry is not a monster, that he was good to people, that he didn't hurt those kids, etc., etc. I've seen many online comments today calling her sick, evil, demented, as guilty as he is.  But to me, she's just sad. Sad and pathetic and weak.

She's not the first older woman who found herself married to a nasty child molester I've encountered. Back in law school, I shadowed a parole officer for a day. One of his stops was at the home of an 80 year-old man who liked little girls a little too much. I will never forget walking into that house and seeing his 80 year-old wife to whom he had been married for 60 years. She welcomed us, puttered around while the p.o. talked to her husband, and occasionally offered assurances on particular points, like that he was going to counseling sessions and staying away from little girls. All while offering us tea in her cramped dining room that looked like it had been decorated 40 years ago. I was naive and oh so young and couldn't fathom why she stayed with him after finding out about his very indecent ways. She just seemed so sad, stuck, and resigned to standing by her man, like she had no choice. Maybe financially, she didn't but it was more that she didn't think any woman in any economic station would have that choice because staying with him was just what had to be done.

But I think I get it now. How hard must it be to try to face the fact that the man you married really is a child molesting creep. How much easier it is to deny the accusations, or even before that to ignore any warning signs you might see or instincts you have. Because if you recognize you married such a person, what does that say about you? Especially if you truly don't know anything about this until later in life. Do you then have to question your entire life, wonder what else you missed or what other terrible judgments you made? It would be an incredibly hard think to accept that your entire adult life had been in a sense a lie.

Which is why I don't despise Dottie Sandusky or think she's evil or anything like that. I can't work up the energy to be outraged at her words to the judge or her never apparently having noticed her husband's activities. I just think she's weak, too weak to choose any path except denial. It's not commendable, but it's understandable. And sad. And pathetic.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Today's craziest political candidate

Every time I read statements from a far-right, out there political candidate, I think I have surely heard the worst of it. But every time, I have simply underestimated how much crazier the next guy can get.

Today's entry into the contest of crazy is Charlie Fuqua, a Republican candidate for the Arkansas House of Representatives. He has published a book, God's Law, that as far as I can tell is only available digitally. Judging from the descriptions and the excerpt I have read, I can't blame reputable publishing houses for declining to print this tripe.

First, Fuqua argues that there can be no other solution to the "Muslim problem" other than expelling all the Muslims. I am slightly curious to read and find out if he tries to argue how this solution doesn't violate the First Amendment. Because those intellectual gymnastics could be fun to watch while being entirely unsuccessful. Just as a hint Mr. Fuqua, expelling Muslims from the country could in no way be found to comport with freedom of religion. Fuqua himself expressed surprise that so many people seem troubled by his expulsion idea. He thinks his views are pretty accepted on that point.

Second, and even better, he has seriously called for the United States to allow parents to seek the death penalty for their rebellious children. Honestly. I could not make that up if I wanted to. Deuteronomy authorizes it, so it should be kosher, right? (By that logic, does our amendment outlawing slavery violate God's law?) He thinks that children will fall into line and respect their parents if they know that the state could let the parents off them for bad behavior. (Of course, he also thinks abortion is a sin and should be illegal. But what if the unborn child is rebellious, kicking too much, causing heartburn and raising blood pressure?)

It really can't get crazier than this, right? I have finally found the absolute limit. Right?
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