Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Okay--so here's the thing.

Pankleb rightly points this out in the comments below:

"The jury selection process is designed to weed out people with nutty and/or too unfavorable personal biases, but that doesn't mean you leave your biases at the door of the jury room."

My personal bias is certainly not nutty and (in my view) not unfavorable. That bias is that I am against the death penalty, and just can't see myself implementing it. I therefore am barred from serving on juries in capital cases. I am of two different minds about this.

One is me about seven years ago: "Well, TeacherRefPoet, even though you disagree with it, it is the law. So if there's a trial, you need people who will enforce the law as it is, not as you think it should be. So you need to sit out capital crime trials."

The other is me now: "Doesn't this eliminate nearly half of the population from the jury pool? Are we creating a jury of peers, or a jury of those who believe in capital punishment? Wouldn't this unnaturally--and unfairly--increase the number of times the death penalty is implemented?"

What do y'all think?

Joe--we'll get you some chocolate.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Highly ambivalent about this decision.

The Colorado Supreme Court has thrown out a convicted rapist/murderer's death sentence because jurors consulted their Bibles during the penalty phase deliberations.

Someone smarter than me (or who works in, say, a library and can look it up):

What are the guidelines a jury gets for determining whether a guy gets the death penalty? Are they very strict and set in the law, or is it more a judgement call by the jury as to whether a crime is so heinous as to require execution?

And, by the way, do you agree with the court's decision?

I do not condone what this guy did.

But if this story is true, he caught a plagiarist and drilled her in a way that is pretty damn sick. I hope a lot of college and high school folk read this.

Thanks, Joe.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Palm Sunday

Forgot to tell y'all this last week...

We're all marching around the church, waving our palms. The program says that the march around should be "raucous" like the original palm sunday. People are hitting drums, tambourines, noisemakers, etc. We're wandering and listening, sorta single file...

and my fiancee starts doing the Bunny Hop.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Elderly Relatives

I've decided that I need to audiotape a conversation with some of my more elderly relatives before we lose them. I want to record their perspectives on my family so we don't forget, but also am curious as to their views of what was going on in this world, nation, and their city (Detroit) in the first half of the 20th century.

I've just emailed a big list of questions to my parents, who are in Detroit and will conduct the interview with my octo- and nonagenarian relatives. I'll be in Florida next week to talk to another one.

What are the questions that you would ask if you were doing what I'm doing?

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Would Tom DeLay care if...

Just curious:

A young woman suffers a tragic brain condition identical to Terri Schiavo's--but this woman is gay. Would Tom DeLay still fight for her life?

Let's expand the scenario:

The brain-damaged woman's partner is a Catholic who is passionate about the sanctity of life (anti-abortion, anti-death penalty, and anti-euthanasia). She holds true to her beliefs--and those of conservatives--and believes her partner (to whom she has remained dedicated all through the difficult years) should remain alive. It's the brain-damaged woman's parents who get to make the decision, however, and after much thought and prayer, they decide that it's time to let their daughter slip away.

Would Tom DeLay fight to save this woman's life? Would his supporters?

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Need some help to enjoy this season

Today, I watched a little bit of Mariner spring training. I wanted to see if young Felix Hernandez is as much of a stud as they're saying, and he had a good outing. But I'm also back to the summer's ritual of listening to Rick Rizzs.

Rick is one of the play-by-play guys for the Mariners. He's not as awesome as Dave Niehaus, who has done M's games since the M's came to be in 1977. In fact, a lot of people hate Rick. I don't mind him...he's passable and easily ignorable...except for one trait that I find troubling ever since my brother pointed it out to me two years ago.

Let's suppose a Mariner pitcher allows a couple of baserunners early in an inning, but then manages to get through the inning without allowing a run to score. Every single time this happens, Rick says the same thing: "So, [pitcher's name] gets out of a jam." It might not seem like a big deal, but 162 games is a long season, and I now can't stop noticing that this is said every single game.

I've decided this is the year to help Rick diversify a little bit. The goal is to come up with 161 other ways to describe the situation. I figure about 20 of you will read this. If each of you chip in 8 different ways to say "he gets out of a jam," we'll have 160 of them. Then, I just need two more and I'll cut and paste them into an email to Rick. He'll have one new one per game that way, and M's games will be easier. In fact, the M's pitching staff is weak enough that we can probably look forward to a lot of baserunners, so a lot of opportunites to see which phrase Rizzs picks.

I'll begin with my eight.

First, let's go simple synonym:

1. "He gets out of trouble."

Second, let's go metaphor:

2. "He dodges a bullet."

Third, let's go literal:

3. "He lets some baserunners on, but none of them score."

Fourth, let's start to get weirder metaphors.

4. "He gets his hand out of the cookie jar."

Now, two more, sort of in stream of consciousness:

5. "The undertow didn't get him; he's back on shore."

6. "He swims out of the fisherman's net."

Let me try folksy:

7. "He's feeling like a hen the fox mistook for a big rock."

And finally, something with a 1950s sexual feel:

8. "He leaves the runners hot to trot but out in the cold."

There. That didn't take me long. Now, it's your turn. Please, help us Mariner fans get through the year without the dread of hearing the EXACT SAME PHRASE EVERY NIGHT...

Give me your eight.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Schiavo part two...People as symbols

Okay. Tom DeLay. I hate him. HATE him now. Tuesday morning's NY Times really hit home for me with this article. Here's the passage that brings tears of anger to me:

"One thing that God has brought to us is Terri Schiavo, to help elevate the visibility of what is going on in America," Mr. DeLay told a conference organized by the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian group.[...]

"This is exactly the issue that is going on in America, of attacks against the conservative movement, against me and against many others," Mr. DeLay said.

Mr. DeLay complained that "the other side" had figured out how "to defeat the conservative movement," by waging personal attacks, linking with liberal organizations and persuading the national news media to report the story. He charged that "the whole syndicate" was "a huge nationwide concerted effort to destroy everything we believe in."

Let's start with the first sentence. I'm sure that Terri, her husband, her parents, and all the people who loved and love her don't feel that Terri existed to "elevate the visibility" of any political cause. And while I don't pretend to know the mind of God (unlike Mr. DeLay), I find it offensive to think He'd send Terri and her loved ones through this to further DeLay's (or anyone else's) opinions in the American political arena.

Notice that, in DeLay's quote, there is nothing indicating any interest in the feelings of Terri Schiavo or her loved ones. NOTHING. The first concern is the liberal "syndicate." Check that...that's the second concern. The first is himself. Schiavo is just a symbol for whatever his current political cause is.

And this is my problem. Although he'll tell you he's doing the opposite, DeLay has dehumanized Terri Schiavo. People are people. They are not symbols, and I get angry when political interests (whether I agree with them or disagree with them) make them into symbols.

A particularly resonant example of this (for me, anyway) was the Columbine shootings. With the tragedy in Minnesota this week, maybe we'll get a repeat--I'll watch for it. But back in 1999 everyone on the left and right made Columbine's students and faculty into symbols for whatever they wanted. Their first concern was their pet project; a distant second (or beyond) were the people in pain. They weren't people: they were a public service announcement for gun control/school prayer/smaller schools/better parenting/better suburban architecture (yes, I saw poor architecture blamed for the murders).

There's one more example. Remember when Newt Gingrich said the murder of a pregnant woman was a result of the way welfare was done in this nation? I do. Did he care about the people involved, or did he put his pet issue first? If I remember right, the husband of the victim (whose child remained alive) called a press conference to tell Newt to shut up about his family, then left the spotlight to raise his child. He knew how much Newt (didn't) care.

The same is true of Terri Schiavo. Congress has not met her, and yet is passing unprecedented legislation to protect an individual?

All three of these situations, quite simply, deny the victims so much: their privacy, their own thoughts (it is assumed victims agree with the politician/speaker at all times), and finally, their right to act as their own moral agents. And while I don't have any direct experience with public tragedy in my life, watching the politicans brings tears to my eyes. Angry tears.

Michael Schiavo, I think, has it right when he invites the principles in the political grandstanding to visit Terri. Will the President, Governor, or any grandstanding politician on either side visit? Only if they actually cared about people as people rather than as an arcane political symbol.

In other

I'll be saying a prayer for all of the Schiavo family tonight. They deserve better from this country. They deserve compassion.

Schiavo part wishes

Jack Bog has suggested that there's no good analysis of the Schiavo case on blogs. I think my baby has done a good job (twice now), but I figured I'd take JB's statement as a challenge. A two-part challenge.

First of all, I echo my fiancee's wishes.

1. If, God forbid, I am in anything like Terry Schiavo's condition, what my baby says goes.

2. If there are protestors, pelt them with water balloons. In memory of my love of Mexican food, fill every 20th water balloon with guacamole. Don't waste the good homemade stuff...use the crappy store-bought stuff.

3. And if Congress makes another stomach-churningly historic mistake and decides they want to screw with my baby, me, and countless previous court decisions about us, you must find a way into their offices in DC and urinate on the pretty office carpet of any Congressman or Congresswoman who said anything about me beyond "Why is Congress talking about this?"

Everyone who has ever cared about me: please follow these instructions.

Mr. Bog, lawyer I have to go to the trouble of filling out a living will now? Will this be sufficient? And if people piss on the congresspeople's carpets, can they be prosecuted if they are following the provisions of my legal living will?

Monday, March 21, 2005

NCAA Women's Basketball Tourney Report

I, TeacherRefPoet, am your correspondent for everything you need to know about the NCAA Women's Hoop Tourney. Well, last night anyway. Okay, last night in Seattle. Swankette and I went to see a pair of second-round games at the UW...Baylor/Oregon and Vanderbilt/Kansas State. We were in the FRONT ROW! Just a few seats down from the Baylor/Vanderbilt benches, and right behind the alternate official, which allowed us to be completely immersed in the games. I will tell you some stuff that I noticed, and then, if you want, you can surf over to Swankette's site and she'll tell you some stuff she noticed. In fact, we had to fight a little over who got to talk about what!

Observations are kinda random.

First, the Baylor/Oregon game:

--Neither team played well. This is because Oregon wanted to slow the game down to have a chance at keeping up with Baylor, and it wound up being a bit of a street fight. Oregon was up by one, 16-15, with 8:02 left in the first half, but then didn't score again for six and a half minutes, by which time Baylor had scored 18 straight. Oregon barely shot the ball in those six and a half minutes. It was ugly basketball, and in spite of the lopsided win, Baylor's play wasn't much better than Oregon's. They'll need to play better to get past Minnesota, and definitely to get past the probable matchup with UNC or with Arizona State (in Tempe).

--The head official was Lisa of the best. I was stoked to be where I could hear her and watch her work. Right before tipoff, and just a few feet away from me, she took out a stick of what I believe to be Wrigley's Spearmint Gum and stuck it in her mouth and started chewing. I was absolutely floored. She was going to call the game with a wad of gum in her mouth! I would choke to death if I tried that. Beyond that, I think I'd have a hell of a time blowing a whistle while chewing gum. As best as I can figure, I think she must tuck it in her cheek while she's running--which, given her full-year officiating schedule, must be really bad for her oral health.

--Baylor's head coach, Kim Mulkey-Robertson, was quite intense. Not rude or overbearing, but damned intense. I suppose it would have been worse if it had been a closer game.

--Mulkey-Roberttson got on Mattingly a couple of times, shouting at her at one point: "THAT'S YOUR CALL, LISA! THAT'S YOUR CALL!!!" (It wasn't.) Mattingly just shrugged a little as she ran by. Didn't acknowledge the coach much. It was a little different in the second game.

--Tough game to officiate--but Mattingly and her partners (whose names I cannot find) did a fine job.

--I loved sitting behind the time-out coordinator and NCAA representative. When the game got out of hand, we could keep an eye on more competitive games on the TV.

--Baylor is still steamed about a call that went against them with 0.2 seconds left in their game against Tennessee in the Sweet 16 last year. Really steamed. But when I see that replay, I see a foul and a gutsy call.

Next, the Vanderbilt/Kansas State game:

--Hadn't heard of any of the officials: Lawson Newton, Randy Campbell, or Anita Ortega. I don't like the first name Lawson--and if it is to be used, it should be used with a monosyllabic last name.

--Vanderbilt's coach, Melanie Balcomb, acted like a complete [I can't decide whether to use "ass," "butthole," or "turd," so I'll let you pick] the entire night. The first call of the game, she dropped an F-bomb on Campbell. She taunted Ortega, saying "You haven't used your whistle all night!" She let loose with a few "goddammits." I went ahead and yelled back--I was close enough that she could hear me--that there were kids here, and she should watch her language. Does she believe that her berating of officials is acceptable, normal, adult behavior? I don't.

--With 12 minutes remaning in the game, Newton, after explaining what he saw on a borderline (aren't they all?) block call, finally showed Balcomb his palm. He was on the other side of the was a calm gesture. I liked it. Then, Ortega went up to her the next trip down the floor to make the warning verbal. Good teamwork...she obviously saw the gesture. She didn't talk nearly as much thereafter.

--Kansas State's Laurie Koehn set the NCAA record for most three-pointers in a career. But she shot 3-for-13 from beyond the arc. Vandy was all over her all night.

--Reason #2,759,201 I love my baby: She said to me, and I quote: "Look! The cheerleaders' skirts are so short, you can actually see their asses." Few women would call their men's attention to that.

--Vanderbilt was up by double-digits most of the second half, but K-State had a massive comeback...10 points between the 4 minute and 2 minute mark. K-State were down 61-58 with 42 seconds to go, played awesome defense on the Commodores, and got the ball with 12 seconds left. They took the ball down the floor and took...A TWO POINTER. Yeah, Brie Madden put it home, but by then there were 5 seconds left. Terrible decision...eliminated any chance of victory.

--I was rooting for K-State. I like purple, and I briefly attended a Big XII school (back when it was the Big 8. Arabic numeral, not Roman.)

--If you ask the NCAA people nicely as they're distributing halftime stats to the press box, they'll give you one.

--While looking at that, my honey said "Looks like Vanderbilt are ahead because of points off turnovers." I hadn't noticed. She's becoming a sports studette.

--This was as much fun as I've had in years at a basketball game.

--Vanderbilt has a shot against Michigan State. They have a tendency to play the stand-still offense, which will have to stop. But they've got the horses to beat MSU, who are not a terribly strong 1 seed.

--I see Newton moving on in the tournament for officials, as well as Mattingly and her female partner whose name I don't know. I'll keep an eye out for them.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Remember this?

Remember when Pedro Martinez said that the media feeding frenzy over the 2003 Sammy Sosa corked bat incident wouldn't have been nearly the same if Sammy were white? Remember?

Remember him saying that if Mark McGwire got caught swinging a corked bat, "it would still be a big deal, but not like this"?

Pedro...have you been watching the news? Have you ever seen a group turn on someone so virulently and so quickly?

Pedro--you are officially wrong. I wonder what the chances are of him admitting he played the race card too hastily.

26 in a row

Way to go, alma mater.

Friday, March 18, 2005

This is the last time.

I will never again have to wake up obscenely early for my activity. That actually gave my a little spring in my step this morning.

Go team. Take state.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Not a math major.

Just heard this from Sen. John Thune (R-SD) about the ANWAR. Rewound the Jim Lehrer TiVo to make sure it's what he said. It is.

"Below the frozen tundra is the single largest and most promising on-shore oil reserve in America. Somewhere between 6 billion and 16 billion barrels of oil. Now, the average of that would be 10 million barrels."

C'mon, John. That's not the average....the average is 11 billion. (I did that in my head!) It's obviously just a number you picked because it's easy to divide.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Powerlessness and crisis in faith via Jonathan Kozol

I've just finished reading Jonathan Kozol's Amazing Grace for the third time. The first time was for myself, and the most recent two times were for literature circles for my students. I want my privileged kids to see what life is like in Mott Haven, New York. My kids, thanks in good part to Kozol's incredible writing, seem to get it. They see what's going on, and there's sadness in them for their fellow human beings, as well as a sense of their own privilege. Last time I assigned the book, one kid understood the discrepancy between his life and the lives he was reading about, poking sarcastic fun at himself: "I read the book over spring break, on my parents' boat, reaching for lemonade. I thought...geez, this is the life." Disarmingly funny, and terribly discomforting. His humor indicated he understood Kozol.

For whatever reason, my own reaction to the book has been far more intense on this reading than it was on the first two. It may be because I am starting to settle into a fairly comfortable life. My fiancee and I aren't rich, but with two incomes and no kids, we're doing fairly well. We're putting together a wedding that, while not extravagant, is expensive. I'm about to take my annual baseball trip...I consistently hop on planes two or three times a year for vacations. I have a car payment and a condo payment--neither of which existed the last time I read this book. So I guess I see myself as a little more of a participant in the injustices Kozol describes now than I did last time.

Two quotes stand out for me. Here's the first. Kozol says:

Many of my white friends[...] would insist that they are personally imposing nothing on the people we have met within this book. They might say they have simply come to New York City, found a job, and found a home, and settled in to lead their lives within the city as it is. That is the great luxury of long-existing and accepted segregation[...]Nothing needs to be imposed on anyone. the evil is already set in stone. We just move in.

Later, Kozol quotes a woman he calls Alice Washington, an AIDS-suffering single mother who he befriends. She says:

I don't think [white people] wish that we would die. I think they wish that we were never born. Now that we're here, I think they don't know what they ought to do[...] I'm not talkin' about all of the white people. Some of them feel this way. Some of them don't. Some of them don't feel nothin'. Some are nice people but they can't get nothin' done and so they put it out of their mind.

These quotes hit me where I live. Poverty is evil, yes. So is a deadly natural disaster like last year's tsunami; so were the 9/11 attacks. I remember writing checks in response to the latter two events. I felt like, with some help and some time and effort, we, as a human family, could get through the tough times caused by those tragedies. I do not feel the same way about poverty. I don't know how to fix it. Neither does Kozol: unlike in Savage Inequalities, which contains specific policy suggestions to ease the scourge of inequitable public education, he doesn't present any suggestions, ending the book with a blunt "I don't know what can change this." Neither do I, Jonathan. And I'm damned if I do and damned if I don't. If I write a check, it won't end poverty, it'll just provide a false respite from my guilt. If I don't write a check, I'm callous, cruel, and giving myself permission and justifications to perpetuate the evil status quo (I didn't do it: I just moved in).

So what do I do? Not much. I read this book, ask that students read it, and invite friends like you to read it. I feel bad at the end of Kozol's descriptions, and am indeed near tears at times. I throw up my hands and say "well, I'm trying...I'm teaching, which can help effect change even if I'm teaching the privileged, and I'm voting my conscience and even contacting my representatives every now and again. I'm doing my best." But then, I hear a voice telling me that my best sucks. I hear Alice Washington's voice telling me that I'm a nice person, but I can't get nothin' done, so I just put it out of my mind. I even hear Jesus' voice--his demand--that I give up all of my possessions and give them to the poor. I recognize Jesus will forgive me for being unable to do that, but damn, when you come right down to it, what the hell am I doing for the South Bronx, South Chicago, or South Seattle?

How does my intense desire to help end poverty coexist with my knowledge that, even if I followed Jesus' teachings literally--first, gave up every vacation, then every possession, cancelled the wedding and eloped, then continued to give all I could afford to give and more--that poverty would still be as ugly as ever?

I hate writing this. Saying I feel powerless after reading about the South Bronx is a privileged white cliche. But it's my cliche. I might as well own it.

Sunday, March 13, 2005


Saw it on Friday night. Didn't like it as much as my friends and family insisted I would, but I liked it. Well made. Sad. Interesting.

I'm finding as I get older that the morose stuff I used to like doesn't touch me as deeply as it used to. (See this old-but-good post on my beloved Aimee Mann.) And I suspect that, had I seen Sideways in my mid-20s, it would have been hugely impactful to me. But when I see the Paul Giamatti character trying to stumblebum through depression, I recognize it and am moved by it, but am not transfixed as I once may have been. What's strange is that I don't know what has replaced the old morose stuff as my "new" style.

I like seeing interesting movies with brilliant people like my baby. We talked for some time about why Giamatti's character drank the 1961 bottle when he did, and whether that was a victory or a defeat. I'm still mulling that over, which means it must have been a great movie.

It occurred to me that this was my first night in the movie theater since Election Night (Ray). Now that the coaching and reffing seasons are over, my baby and I should try to get to the movies a little more. I wonder if I'll like Million Dollar Baby.

On my upcoming trip, I'll be staying at a very ritzy 4-star hotel in Downtown Atlanta for $70 plus fees. Pretty cool--the usual price is $229.

Problem: My sister and her beaux are staying with me. And the Priceline doesn't guarantee that the room is sufficient for three people. I'll call to ask for two double beds, but how willing will they be to bend to the needs of a cheapskate like me? We may end up hiding people in the bathroom and crap like that.

But hey. Maybe I'll get a spa treatment or something.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Morning Songs

Frequently, I wake up in the morning with a song stuck in my head. Maybe I dreamed the song...I don't know. But I'll usually take action to get it out of my head, even if it's just playing the song in the car on the way to work.

This morning I woke up with the Dr. Demento classic "Dead Puppies Aren't Much Fun" stuck in my head.

And I don't have a copy of it to play.

This could be a long day...

Monday, March 07, 2005

An old favorite

Just saw Zelig (the first part of it, anyway) for the first time in many years. It has aged very well...the main joke (a man who changes physical appearance to match those around him in order to avoid conflict) is possibly more resonant than it's ever been.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Just showing off...

Hugh and Lemming have done this meme lately. It makes me feel worldly and well-traveled. So I'll post it.


Bold the states you've been to, underline the states you've lived in, and italicize the state you're in now...

Alabama / Alaska / Arizona / Arkansas / California / Colorado / Connecticut / Delaware / Florida (I'll be there next month) / Georgia / Hawaii / Idaho / Illinois / Indiana / Iowa / Kansas / Kentucky / Louisiana /Maine / Maryland / Massachusetts / Michigan / Minnesota / Mississippi / Missouri / Montana / Nebraska / Nevada / New Hampshire / New Jersey / New Mexico / New York / North Carolina / North Dakota / Ohio / Oklahoma / Oregon / Pennsylvania / Rhode Island / South Carolina / South Dakota / Tennesee / Texas / Utah / Vermont / Virginia / Washington / West Virginia / Wisconsin / Wyoming / Washington DC

Only five more states to go. Definitely gonna be in FL next month. Then it'll be four.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005


Jim at Decorabilia has a silly game to find your "evil twin" blog. It works thusly:

Pick a number. Go to the ___th blog on your blogroll. Then go to the ___ blog on that blogroll. Repeat ___ times. That blog is your "evil twin."

Well, geez. Under the Rule of 5, I am my own evil twin. That's weird.