Monday, April 30, 2012

Will this nonsense ever stop?

This may surprise you, but I watch the tv show "Army Wives." Yes, I do tend to oppose the military industrial complex. I do tend to assume that I would not have a lot in common with a lot of military folk. I do tend to get annoyed by the idea that supporting the military is patriotic and anyone who opposes the mission opposes the military and is therefore patriotic. But army folk and I do have one thing in common: we have both sworn to uphold the Constitution. And anyway, I kinda like the show.

This season, the show said good-bye to one of the original army wives and rumor has it that at least one (and maybe two) other originals are also leaving. So the writers have introduced several new families, presumably testing out some potential new series regulars. We've got the new general and his seemingly-ambitious wife. We've got the new enlisted guy and his brand new bride, neither of whom are quite ready for grown-up life. And we've got the female intelligence officer and the woman who runs the children's center on post. We got to meet them both separately before having it revealed to us that they were a couple.

Now, the general's wife is a pill popper and the new bride is being played to some pretty obnoxious Hispanic stereotypes. But I bet you can guess which new family is generating the most discussion on the show's comment forum. Of course, I expected to read some people proclaiming that they would never watch the show again. I expected a few people to complain about the inappropriate subject matter for a family show. Much as I wish I hadn't, I'd even expected the comments about how disgusting the couple's on screen kiss was. (For the record, it was a really sweet moment in a really sweet scene. I guess we see what we want to see.)

And, of course, there are lots of comments castigating liberal Hollywood for pushing its evil liberal agenda. Because if you portray gay people on a tv show, you have an agenda. But if you leave them out, there's no agenda there. That's just good and right and moral. Never mind that there actually are gay personnel in the military. Of course there are or there would never have been a don't ask, don't tell policy to repeal. As of September, those personnel are no longer required to hide their personal relationships or refrain from mentioning their significant others by name or gender pronoun, as they had been before. But there are still undoubtedly a lot of people in and around the military who oppose gays serving openly, so it's a tricky minefield for gay soldiers in deciding how open they want to be, if they want to be open at all. Seems like an area ripe for a weekly one-hour drama focusing on the military to tackle. Indeed, it might feel false to some (like me) if the show just ignored the topic entirely.

Two characters out of a cast of 25 being gay is not in any way, shape, or form being "in your face" about being gay. It is, in fact, quite statistically appropriate. And love is never disgusting. (when it's between consenting adults who are not related by blood. Always read the fine print.) I am so beyond over these people who rail against the "homosexual agenda" and declare grown adults going about their lives "disgusting" and want to push every gay and lesbian (not to mention the bis and transgenders and transsexuals) back in the closet so that the good, upstanding, moral people who will watch t.v. shows featuring adultery and addiction and fornication (at least two of which sins occurred in the most recent episode people are up in arms about) and all sorts of other sins don't have to have their precious eyes and ears ruined by the sight of two women sharing a loving kiss after getting engaged. You having issues and being uncomfortable with any life that doesn't look just like yours isn't a problem that all the rest of us should have to cater to.

In other words, we're here, we're queer, get used to it already, you judgmental prudes who want to pretend that anything that doesn't fit to your narrow mindset doesn't exist.*

*no, this is not some big revelation of anything. Just expressing solidarity. Believe me, though, I would be if I could be. Lesbians love me.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Who says geeks can't be fashionable?

I must have these.

They combine two of my greatest loves: shoes and Star Wars.

I would rock these shoes. They would go with anything. Little black dress. Jeans and a t-shirt. Pajamas. Anything.

So if you're looking for a birthday present for me...

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Dear Housewife Heather of the O.C.

I owe you an apology. A big one. Even though you didn't know it and don't know me.

When you first started on this show and said you were an actor, I looked you up and didn't find anything. So I lumped you in with the Alexis' of the world who way oversell their roles and accomplishments. But I did a terrible job of looking you up and I was very, very wrong. I am sorry.

Turns out, as you well know, you looked vaguely familiar to me for a reason. Because once upon a time, you were on a t.v. show I quite liked. You were the star of that show, in fact. For 35 episodes, you played Paul Sorvino's daughter and Kevin Dillon's sister. And I watched. As I also watched the Tony Shalhoub-Neil Patrick Harris short-lived show. (How fantastic are those two?) Crap, and you were in an episode of "Nowhere Man" which means you are right here in my house. So I apologize. You are a real actor. And way, WAY smarter than Alexis. (But that, I never questioned.)


ps: Readers, what are you looking at? This isn't news that I watch trashy reality t.v. But I draw the line at the Housewives of NJ and I have NEVER watched the Housewives of Atlanta. Let's instead focus on what's important here: I can, in fact, admit when I am wrong. It just doesn't happen very often.

Rant of the day

Want to know one of my biggest criminal law pet peeves? Coroners who rule deaths homicides when doing so requires knowledge or a judgment call way, way outside their expertise.

Coroners are charged with determining two things: the cause of death and the manner of death. Cause of death is the more technical "blood loss from gunshot wound" type thing. Manner of death is more about the source or culpability. There are five options for a coroner to choose from: homicide, suicide, natural, accident, and unknown.

Now, there are cases when the medical evidence supports a finding of homicide. Knife or gunshot wound to the back where the victim couldn't possibly have done it herself. A beating death. Those kinds of things. But there are an awful lot of cases where a doctor examining the body can't possibly tell if the death was caused by a person thus making it a homicide. Like a fire, for example. A coroner is clearly competent to determine that the cause of death was smoke inhalation and thermal injury. But is a coroner, a medical doctor, really qualified to declare that death a homicide? How can a coroner be allowed to rule that the fire was started by a person?

Coroners with their medical degrees should not be allowed to make judgment calls that go far outside their areas of expertise. Like declaring a dog mauling to be a homicide. To rule a death like that a homicide, the coroner has to make a judgment call about the moral and legal culpability of the parents whose child was killed by the family dog. That simply should not be the coroner's call to make. Ultimately, that is going to be a question for a jury (assuming that the father gets charged, as I expect he will).

In this scenario, declaring this death to be a homicide is not, can not, be a job for the coroner. Because if he gets to get up on the stand and testify that this is, in his medical opinion, a homicide, well that pretty well settles the question for the jury. It certainly gets them pretty far to deciding that the father is criminally liable for this tragic death. Frankly, I think it is sheer hubris for a coroner to declare a death like this a homicide. Medically speaking, you just can't say that. Suck it up and admit that the manner of death is accidental. Or at best unknown. Deciding this was a crime, though, just isn't your job.

Oh, Fox News

I admit it. I check Fox News' web site every day. It's instructive, to say the least. It's interesting to see which stories every other national news organization is covering but they are not. Or how their headlines differ. It's also important to check their stories against other organizations stories, even when it's a wire feed story, to see what parts Fox has left out. I remember once catching them excluding a paragraph that was pretty key to an understanding of the entire story. Without that paragraph, things looked much different and not nearly as favorable for the side that Fox clearly preferred.

It's also interesting to see what stories they cover that no one else does. In my experience, most of these stories provide "evidence" for what Fox News promotes as the "war on religion.*" The one that caught my eye today was this:

Proposed Law Would Force Churches to Host Gay Weddings!

Ok, so the headline didn't include the exclamation point, but it was clearly implied. Because this is outrageous! This is intolerable! This is one very short step away from evil government forcing Grandma and sweet, innocent children to watch those dirty, dirty gays pleasure each other at the altar on Sunday mornings! Until you actually read the story and realize this is...

...nothing more than a garden variety proposed city ordinance that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the classes of people who cannot be discriminated against in public accommodations. So restaurants can't refuse to serve gays or transgender folks. Apartments can't refuse to rent. Hotels can't refuse rooms. And places that rent out rooms to the public can't discriminate. So churches that open up their parish halls or other buildings to the public as rental spaces couldn't refuse to rent that publicly-offered space to gays. Oh noes! The horror!

These public accommodation laws are nothing new. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, anyone? It's hardly all that radical or new a notion to add sexual orientation and gender identity to these laws. This proposed law is in Hutchinson, Kansas and there isn't even a story about it on that local paper's website that I can find. And, of course, any church in Hutch that can't abide the thought of their parish hall hosting a gay wedding reception or some other icky event by those icky Sodomites has a really simple solution: stop offering your space as a rental to the public. If you restrict rental just to congregants, problem solved. But if you're going to be part of the commercial marketplace, separate and apart from your religious mission, we as a society get to say you can't discriminate. Seriously, you don't think there was a church somewhere who tried to argue that racial desegregation being forced on them was a violation of separation of church and state? That argument didn't fly, neither should this one.

But Fox News just has to put forward every example it can find to support its claim of a war on religion (all while steadfastly denying anything like a "war on women"). Even though no church will ever be "forced" to host a gay wedding. It just sounds better to say it that way. I can't help but wonder what their coverage would have looked like if they'd been around to report on Brown v. BoE, Little Rock in 1957, and the Civil Rights Act.

*religion means Christianity and only Christianity. The outpouring of opposition to Muslim mosques and community centers cannot in any way, shape, or form be construed as part of some "war on religion." That would just be crazy talk.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Couldn't happen to a more deserving guy

Oh, poor Joe. Poor, poor Joe. Sheriff Joe Arpaio's world is now crumbling around him. Boy, I just feel so bad for him. America's toughest sheriff, he of the tent jails and the pink underwear and the anti-immigrant rhetoric, who never met a Constitutional right he wouldn't run roughshod over, might finally, FINALLY be at the end of his reign of terror. And he just might have to pay the piper, too.

His closet allies are abandoning him. Or getting disbarred, like former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas. The lengthy diatribe opinion disbarring him concluded that there was no doubt Thomas had violated federal civil rights laws. All in service to Sheriff Joe's agenda of smearing, even jailing, his political adversaries.

Sheriff Joe's closest ally in the state legislature was recalled six months ago.

And the Department of Justice's long investigation into Sheriff Joe's practices is drawing to a close and at least some expect an indictment within the next 30 days or so.

Here's hoping! That man is a menace and has done enough damage to the Constitutional rights of the citizens of Maricopa County. He's been allowed to continue his reign of terror for about 2 decades too long already.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

This story and its implications strikes fear into my heart. I'm sure it strikes fear into the hearts of many a defender. I hope it strikes fear into the hearts of lay persons who want a criminal justice system that gets proper results, you know prosecuting people who actually commit crimes and leaving those who didn't commit crimes the hell alone. I want to believe it strikes fear into the hearts of all prosecutors, as well, but sadly I am familiar with too many stories of prosecutors relying on really shady evidence and experts to believe it. Of course most prosecutors want good, solid forensic experts, but there are some who just want convictions over all else.

In my perfect world, though, anyone and everyone would be appalled at the idea of just anyone hopping on the internet, taking a taste, and, BAM!, getting some certificate from an official-sounding organization proclaiming that anyone is an expert in some field of forensic sciences. Just like that.

Look, all I want is good science in our courtrooms. Well, I want good science in our class rooms and our public policy and everywhere else that science exists, too. But in our courts, I'm not opposed to experts testifying, to using science to convict the guilty. Heck, I'm not even opposed to pushing the scientific envelope. But I want it done right, following sound scientific principles. And that's not going to happen if the CSI equivalent of diploma mills are churning out certificates and credentials and "experts" who really don't know what they're talking about.

My fellow defenders, we need to be aware of this stuff. We need to be prepared to cross-examine these witnesses so we can expose their lack of real credentials. We also need to do the research so we can expose them when they spew fancy-sounding terms and phrases that make it sound like they know what they're talking about but any real expert would see all their flaws.

And, hey, potential jurors, if you could not assume that anytime the defense goes after a state's expert it's just smarmy lawyer tricks, that'd be great, too.

Unnatural-born citizen?

Back in law school (1998-2001), I took an upper level seminar my third year on bioethics and the law. It covered a range of fascinating topics on medical research, stem cells, and similar topics. The main topic that stuck with me was reproductive technological advances and the legal conundrums they create. When a donor egg is fertilized with a donor egg and implanted in a surrogate for a couple to raise, who does the law recognize as the parents? How about when the donor egg is from the surrogate herself? Remember Baby M?

Naturally, as in any new area of law, the first few court decisions didn't always agree with each other but by the time I took that course, there seemed to be an emerging consensus that the law would look to who put the creation of this child into motion and who intended to be this child's parents. So basically donors and surrogates were losing out to the person or persons who accepted the donation or hired the surrogate. I think that's the right answer, that the donors don't have parental rights. Sperm banks would cease to exist if the anonymous donors could be on the hook for child support, after all.

So this story caught my eye the other day. A female American citizen decided to become a single mom. So she went through in vitro fertilization using a sperm donor. She also used an egg donor. All of this occurred in Israel, where the woman is living. The twins who resulted from this pregnancy were then born in Israel. When the new mother went to the US Embassy in Israel to register her children as US citizens, she was shocked to be asked how she conceived and where the sperm and egg came from.

What an appalling set of questions to be asked, right? Just as a starting point, once a woman produces a birth certificate and a doctor's note that she did, in fact, push these infants our her vagina, that really ought to be the end of the questioning. Asking how she got pregnant seems wildly, inappropriately invasive. But apparently this is US policy. If she had conceived the children naturally or used only a sperm donor, the children would be recognized as US citizens. And if she had adopted the children, they would be citizens. Heck, if she had gotten sperm and egg donations from American students studying in Israel, the kids would be citizens. But because she can't prove that either donor is a US citizen, the children aren't considered citizens. Even though they came from the womb of an American.

I am shocked to learn this is US policy. It makes no sense. Certainly, if a child born in a foreign country to foreign parents becomes a US citizen when they adopt that child, why shouldn't a child BORN to a US citizen become a US citizen upon birth, regardless of where the egg and sperm came from? It would certainly be in line with the law I studied in law school that granted rights based upon who caused this child to be created and born with the intention of parenting the child.  Are we seriously going to say that this woman, a US citizen, can come and go into this country as she pleases but her toddlers can't? Do they at least get permanent resident status? She can get them citizenship by bringing them to the US and living here continuously for six months and filling out some paperwork. But I'm with her in thinking that's a ridiculous hoop that a US citizen shouldn't have to jump through for the children SHE GAVE BIRTH TO!

On a side note, this could leave some infants without citizenship because they won't all automatically be considered citizens of the country where they were born.

For the story, the State Department says they are sympathetic to this woman's situation, but are just following the law, a law that was designed to prevent people from fraudulently attaining American citizenship. Two things about this leave me needing to know more. First, what law is this? Did Congress actually pass a law or are they referring to a regulation?

Second, was this really happening? Were US women acting as surrogates, giving birth to babies so they could be citizens and then handing them back to the parents who actually intended to raise them? And if this really is happening, what on earth would stop these con artists from just lying and saying, "Yep, this baby came from my egg!"?? If you're willing to go to these absurd lengths to get your child US citizenship, it seems pretty plausible to me that you'd just lie to the Embassy employee who asked how you got pregnant. I'm guessing the woman in this story kinda wishes she'd lied on that question, too. Just think, if she'd just said she had some drunken one-night stand, her kids would be recognized as citizens by now.

Whether this is an actual act of Congress, result of a court decision, or a regulation enacted by the State Department, it is an uncommonly silly and illogical law that is not in keeping with sound legal reasoning, encourages lying, and needs to change.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Running on empty

Do other people go through each day feeling as discouraged as I do, or is it really just me? All through childhood, I was the kid who couldn't sleep at night because I was sure that nuclear war would break out any day. Now, I am consumed by fears that global climate change has reached an irreversible stage and most of the planet doesn't believe it's happening anyway, so we're doomed. Maybe it's easier to give in to that gloom and doom thought when one's own life doesn't have much of a future to look forward to. Politics is so ugly and divisive these days. The economy, or at least people's perceptions of the economy, doesn't seem to be getting better and is probably within 2 to 3 decades of total global collapse (according to one article I read recently). Certainly, my own economic situation isn't getting any better with every bill I have going up and up and up while my paycheck remains stagnant. And, of course, since I'm so mired in this sense that there is nothing left to be hopeful or optimistic about, I don't seem to have many friends left who are willing to hang out with me or chat with me. To those of you who think you have heard bad views from me lately, I can only assure you that you've only been exposed to the tip of the iceberg.

Which is all to say I could really use something good right about now. New people. New opportunities. New hope. But I'm so wrung out from trying and failing, I just don't have any energy left to go look any more. The something good has to find me because I sure haven't found it, despite what I really think were some solid attempts. And it wouldn't hurt if the Royals could find some dang pitching.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

More on Roger Clemens

You know I think prosecuting Roger Clemens is a giant waste of time and money. And that the prosecution really shouldn't get to do it a second time since they're the ones who screwed up the first time necessitating a mistrial. Turns out I'm not alone in thinking the prosecution is wasteful and shouldn't continue. Some jurors at the first trial think so, too.

The idea being that maybe Congress has much, much bigger things to be worrying about these days than whether baseball players are using steroids or other performance enhancing drugs and whether players weren't exactly up front with Congress about these matters. In an era of giant deficit, debts, unemployment, partisanship, war, etc., perhaps cleaning up baseball really should be left to MLB.

It's also probably that the Department of Justice could be prioritizing their resources better. I get being offended that someone allegedly lied to Congress. But not everything that can be prosecuted as a crime should be. I have to believe that there are worthier uses of these prosecuting attorneys' time than this particular case. In the most respectful way possible, might I suggest that at the very least, the DoJ should take some of the money going toward this silly prosecution and put it into training its attorneys on how to avoid committing misconduct and how to comply with their duties to share exculpatory evidence with defense counsel?

Jury selection at Clemens' second trial is set to begin Monday. At this point, it's probably too late to avoid inconveniencing all the people who have been summoned to jury duty. But, still, it would be pretty nice, refreshing, if the prosecutors would walk into court Monday morning and announce that despite their good faith belief that they have sufficient evidence to proceed to trial, they have decided to exercise discretion and drop the matter. Save the taxpayers a little money. They won't do it, of course. Prosecutors really don't like to let things go like that. But it would be nice to see.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Curious and curiouser

Intentional homicide? Or alcohol poisoning?

International intrigue? Or pedestrian murder?

A conspiracy to take down a hated political figure? A love triangle gone wrong? A business deal gone wrong? A huge misunderstanding?

Is anyone else as insanely curious about this British businessman found dead in a Chinese hotel room as I am? Originally, the death was declared to be alcohol poisoning, suggesting that the poor man drank himself to death. Now, though, "authorities" have declared the death to be an "intentional homicide" and have named the wife of a Politburo member as the prime suspect. The Politburo is the 25-man body that runs the country. So the equivalent of someone much higher up than a junior Senator. The husband has now been suspended from his post, suspected of "serious disciplinary infractions." The couple is under some form of detention or confinement.

Meanwhile, the body of the Brit was cremated, without the family's consent, so there is no follow-up testing that can be done to determine if there are signs of poisoning. The family maintains the man rarely drank, so the alcohol poisoning theory does not jibe.

The most accepted rumor is that the Brit and the wife were involved in a business deal that went south, so she (or a lackey) poisoned him. But, man, I kinda want it to be a lot more than that. I want it to be some kind of huge conspiracy involving lots of political intrigue and the total information control of a totalitarian regime. I mean, if the Chinese government is investigating it and they're the ones who killed the guy to frame this Politburo guy's wife so they could take him out so one faction of the Politburo could seize control or just get control of that one region...

I want it to be something so much more interesting than one business partner offing the other after lots of money was lost. 'Cause that's no fun. But political intrigue and assassinations, that stuff's cool.

Sunday, April 8, 2012


I'm sitting here on this beautiful Sunday afternoon on the verge of a giant panic attack. I am facing SOOOO many deadlines right now, to call it overwhelming feels like calling that thing the Titanic hit an ice cube. Between now and June, I kinda need there to be about 10 extra hours per day. And even that might not cover it. I do not know how I am going to get it all done and maintain my sanity. (Yes, smart-alecks, I currently have my sanity.)

And there are still some more things I need to find time for. Like running, because I have totally let that slip and it's showing. And finding some sort of side business or secondary source of income so I can replenish the savings account that took such a hit with the broken wrist incident. I guess the good news is I will be too busy to go shopping or out to eat.

So if anyone has any extra time you can give me, that'd be great. And if you don't hear from me for a few days, you might just pop by and make sure I'm not curled up crying in a closet...
There are sometimes waves of similar types of criminal cases. Like in the 80s when there was a spate of child sex cases against day care workers. And the most famous of those turned out to be completely bogus cases where well-meaning zealots, be they police or parents or social workers, wound up ruining the lives of an awful lot of innocent people. It took a while for the fervor that sprang up to die back down and for ration and reason to take over again. (Seriously, if you are presenting testimony in court that seemingly nice, normal day care operators had a secret room where they did all sorts of awful things to kids, some of which involved a clown, but you find no physical evidence to support these fantastical tales, don't you have to realize these stories are probably not true?)

There was the string of convictions based on the ridiculous "lead bullet analysis" from the FBI. That has to be one of the most shameful stains on that agency ever. Claiming that they could analyze the lead in a bullet fragment and compare it to the lead in a box of bullets connected to the suspect and determine that the bullets came from the same source? Honestly, on the face of it, it sounds so ludicrous I still don't understand how so many prosecutors, so-called "experts," and juries fell for it. Mercifully, the science finally caught up with that nonsense and put an end to this sham claim.

Shaken baby cases are another category of cases that seemed to spring up in a large clump. It's easy enough to understand where the idea of shaken baby syndrome comes from. Obviously, there are severely injured or dead children. And obviously those serious injuries and deaths need to be investigated. And the natural human instinct is to assign blame. When infants suffer such severe injuries, it's hard to imagine that the injuries weren't the result of an accident but were caused by the intentional, or at least reckless, acts of an adult. And there are undeniably children who are abused. Some of the shaken baby cases are undoubtedly legitimate convictions. But the cases got ahead of the science, as can so easily happen. And we are now coming to realize that a lot of the injuries doctors had previously assured us could ONLY be caused by intentional shaking could actually have occurred accidentally, with much less force than was originally thought possible.

So I hope that we might see more stories like this one out of California. Of course it would be better if convictions like this grandmother's had never happened, but it's good that Gov. Brown was willing to address the mistake when courts were willing to wrangle back and forth for years about whether the interest in finality of cases outweigh the interest in not letting innocent people remain in prison. Right now, I am choosing to focus on the happy ending to this story rather than dwelling on the frustration I feel toward the US Supreme Court who seemed content to let a conviction stand even when they had grave doubts about the defendant's guilt.

Friday, April 6, 2012

People have some very weird and wrong ideas about what life is like in prison. And they're all just so darn sure they know what they're talking about. But they're all so very, very wrong.

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