Thursday, July 30, 2009

Killer cattle

The latest MMWR is out. No surprise -- farming's still dangerous work, especially for geezers and kids.

Fatalities caused by cattle:

During 2003--2007, deaths occurring in the production of crops and animals in the United States totaled 2,334; of these, 108 (5%) involved cattle as either the primary or secondary cause.
Also no surprise -- dairy bulls were the most dangerous, although in one case a cow killed a woman who entered a pasture to remove the body of a dead newborn calf.

None of that is going to keep me from fantasizing about keeping Ayrshire cattle up on the tundra once I'm retired. I must have been a dairy maid in a previous incarnation, because when I sleep I dream of cows.

Reality check

I've been thinking about blogging and bloggers, the real world versus the virtual world, and life in general lately. Several of my favorite bloggers have recently changed direction, suffered burnout, or rediscovered there's an actual world away from the keyboard. Ranger Bob decided to take a break, and, much as I have days when I feel like Brandon de Wilde running after Alan Ladd ("Shane! Shane! Come back Shane!"), I can understand why.

Blogging's an odd hobby -- it's both intensely personal and incredibly exhibitionistic (not to mention egoistic). A person is simultaneously venting, using the space for therapy, and playing to an audience. No doubt there are bloggers who maintain totally private blogs, no readers other than invited ones allowed, but the ones I'm most familiar with are all public. And there's nothing quite like playing to an audience to start shaping what and how a person writes.

Maybe you started off thinking, well, I'll just do this as a way for friends and family to keep up with what's happening with me and the S.O., or I'm going to just vent because I'm the only liberal in an office full of conservatives (or vice versa) . . . but then someone comments. And it's someone you don't know. Holy shit! Someone's actually reading what I wrote!! And the comment was complimentary!! I wonder what I can do to attract more readers. . . and so it goes. Sometimes you get lucky (I think I have) and end up being read by (and reading in turn) smart, funny people with similar interests or ideologies (the principle of homophily applies in cyberspace as much as it does in the meat world); sometimes you're cursed with trolls.

And sometimes it hits you that an activity you meant to do occasionally on the side as a hobby is suddenly taking up way too much of your time -- and you take a break. Because one other thing you eventually figure out is that you're being influenced by stuff you never thought you'd be influenced by -- and that's not always a happy thought.

Does that mean I'm taking a break? No. But that doesn't mean I never will.

(A better question might be "Is there anybody out there who has managed to watch The Wall without being stoned at the time?")

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Working from home today

I think I could get used to this. Sipping coffee in my pajamas, C-SPAN on in the back ground instead of through headphones, no telephones ringing in other cubicles or snatches of conversations intruding into my thoughts . . . I've always said I had no desire to work from home, ever. For two full years I resisted getting the infamous "key fob" that Large Nameless Agency hands to employees to enable us to log into LNA's intranet. I wanted to maintain a nice sharp line between where I live and where I work. As far as I was concerned the whole issue was moot when the Dilbert cage is only a couple blocks away. And then a couple things happened. . .

In April I started at the journal and discovered that, unlike my regular work group, there didn't seem to be any aversion to people teleworking. Three of the other copy editors telework. One's in Virginia, one's in Pennsylvania, and one's right here in Atlanta but works from home -- they never come near the office. This definitely contradicted what I'd been told was the official position: anyone who teleworks has to report to an actual office, too, on a regular basis, like one day a week or some equally ridiculous requirement. That come in occasionally b.s. had kind of negated the whole purpose of teleworking as far as I was concerned. I saw no point in maintaining two separate offices and having to schlep files back and forth between the two.

Then I attended a preretirement workshop, which prompted some deep thinking about the Before and After incomes. I know that once I retire our household income is going to drop to maybe 30% of what it is now. It'll be adequate for life on the tundra, but there's not going to be much slop in the budget.

Finally, I got the key fob. My supervisor basically said everyone in the work group had to have one, so I got one. I figured it would come in handy if (for nothing else) I ever wanted to get at something I knew was on the agency intranet but not released to the public website, like an article in an internal newsletter. So I test drove it, figured out it actually worked. . . and then I started thinking.

And what am I thinking? That if I can manage to slide into teleworking on a semi-regular basis (a couple days a week) and it's not too unpleasant an experience, then maybe I'll be able to slide into teleworking fulltime -- and relocate to the tundra, taking the fulltime income with me. Because, let's face it, my job is not particularly onerous. It's about as stress-free as work can get. There are occasional minor headaches, like dealing with authors who don't seem to recognize that their article isn't going to be the one that we allow to break the word count limits, but they're rare. (I'm actually dealing with a headache today in the form of an author who ignored the instructions on how to make corrections to copy, but it's the first time that's happened in the almost 4 months I've worked for the journal.)

So today the experiment begins. Can I work from home and still be productive? Can I manage to maintain the lines between Work and Not Work and not end up putting in more than the amount of time I'm actually getting paid for? That is one of the dangers of teleworking -- not that a person will do too little, but that he or she ends up doing too much. Given the nature of the work I do, I don't think the latter is likely, but you never know. And can I convince my supervisors that I am actually working when I'm supposed to be and not lolling about on the couch with a good book or watching "Regis and Kelly"? We shall see. . .

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Amusing things I heard today

This one tops them all:

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is running television ads touting the airport as a destination in and of itself. Shop, Dine, and Explore. Oh yes, be still my heart. It's all I can do to restrain myself from running for MARTA to spend 45 minutes traveling to the opposite side of the city to spend an enjoyable evening shopping at a newstand and eating an over-priced Wendy's hamburger.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Speaking of killing stuff

h/t to the Friday Fluff comments thread on Shapely Prose.

The war continues

Me vs the roaches. Boric acid. Soy oil. Roach traps. Raid in various forms. Roach bait. You name it, it's been (or still is) part of the arsenal.

Today the war continues. Deep, deep cleaning of the kitchen (for the umpteenth time) and another deployment of weapons of mass roach destruction under and behind the refrigerator and into every visible crevice.

Still, I fear that as long as we live in Georgia and have cats we'll also have roaches. The cats' water dish is for the roaches* what a waterhole on the Serengeti is for wildebeest. When I flip on the light switch late in the evening that's where the little scuttling bastards scatter from. I zap as many as I can with the soy oil, but in my mind I keep seeing the cockroach general in the Fabulously Furry Freak Brothers comics reacting to a loss of troops: "No problem. I've got a million more."

*Roaches can go a long, long time without food, but they die in 7 days without water. If roaches have a religion, they probably worship large furry gods who generously share an unending supply of both manna (aka Meow Mix) and water.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Pulitzer Project: The Road

If you're looking for a book to cheer you up, The Road isn't it. I'm going to make this review short and simple: the writing is superb, the book itself is beyond depressing. Which actually isn't much of a suprise, considering it's by Cormac McCarthy, author of such other cheery works as No Country for Old Men.

I will give McCarthy points for getting one thing right with a post-apocalyptic novel. One of my pet peeves are the authors who seem to think it would be possible to scrounge indefinitely in the ruins of grocery stores and abandoned houses for canned goods and other supplies. McCarthy actually talks about rusting and bulging cans and stuff no longer being usable. It's also a very readable book. I can remember picking up one of McCarthy's earlier novels and never finishing it. That didn't happen this time: The Road sucks you right in, and the next thing you know you've read the whole thing.

The Road is supposedly being released as a movie in October of this year. Considering that the plot makes The Postman and most other post-apocalyptic stories seem like buddy comedies in comparison, I'm not sure who's going to go see it -- especially when the cast list includes such fun roles as Cannibal #1, Baby Eater, and Well-Fed Cannibal -- but maybe casting Viggo Mortenson and Charlize Theron will guarantee enough ticket sales to at least pay production costs.

LegalMist is reading The Road, too, and will be posting a review soon (if it's not up already). I'm curious to see if her response to the novel differs much from mine.

[Would my reaction have been different if I hadn't just come off that week of jury duty on a trial that involved a double homicide? I don't know. I do know I was depressed when that sad affair ended, and The Road did nothing to improve my mood.]

And this one's for the S.O.

As long as I'm thinking about the Beatles, this is my all-time favorite:

This one's for Lisa

[A classic from the days when Sir Paul looked cute instead of embalmed.]

Friday, July 24, 2009

Quilts: I actually finished another one

I started it in Omaha. The piecing was fast and easy; the hand quilting took what began to feel like forever. It's a queen-size, I finished it around the end of May, and gave it to the older grandson a couple weeks ago.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Continued amazement at stupidity on parade

Update: It is now Friday morning, almost 24 hours after I started writing this post, and the MSM is still obsessing, but now it's "should Obama have said what he thought about his friend being arrested?" Then they did a sound bite of the cop being totally unapologetic, saying he did absolutely nothing wrong, and that Professor Gates "had total control of the situation. Oh, and he shouldn't have said bad stuff about my mother." Or words to that effect. WTF?! The person in control should have been the guy in the uniform, the one with the gun and the civil authority. Letting some relatively small, physically disabled (Professor Gates needs a cane to walk) middle-aged academic goad you into arresting him does not speak well for the officer's cognitive abilities. Behaving stupidly doesn't begin to cover it.

I made the mistake of turning on the television this morning. The main stream media have finally decided to stop telling me that Michael Jackson is still dead, and have moved on to a couple of new (sort of)obsessions, both tied to racism, and both of which I really hadn't intended to say anything about because other people have already said it better, but I feel the need to vent:

Item 1. Noted scholar Henry Louis Gates being treated like a criminal in his own home. Lots and lots of blathering on and on by (what a surprise) white people about how Gates should have behaved. You know, done a little shuck and jive and maybe a Bojangles soft shoe shuffle, just let the man in the uniform know that Gates recognized both their places in society, and all would have been well. Shades of "Yassuh, Massa, just let me fetch you a mint julep, maybe shine your boots, and we'll pretend none of that uppity stuff ever happened." Hey, I know there are a lot of good law enforcement officers out there, but I also know there are some power-tripping jerks in uniforms -- and it sounds like Professor Gates had a run-in with the latter. Would Gates have been treated the same way if he was a middle-aged white guy? I doubt it. Even moronic cops tend to recognize white guys living in a good neighborhood might have some influence with local politicians. And would the typical middle-aged white guy have meekly allowed himself to be treated like a criminal even after producing proof he was in his own house? I doubt that, too.

Still, I think I'd be disturbed in any case by the immediate assumption of so many people that if the police say or do something, it's automatically right. This isn't some third world banana republic. The last time I checked we still had the right in this country to question authority, and even to be obnoxious in the way we do so (especially when standing in our own kitchens). Any cop who hasn't mastered the art of placating angry citizens (i.e., defusing a situation) instead of bullying them into getting even more ticked off probably needs to look for a different line of work. But that's a subject for a separate post.

2. The birth certificate. When are the tinfoil hat types going to give it a rest? We get it. You're all annoyed that someone who, in your warped world, is the wrong color is now in the White House. You can't come right out (unless you're so far over the edge you're openly a Klan member) and admit that's why you're ticked off. Even hard-core bigots have learned that it doesn't pay to openly admit to being a bigot. You can't bitch about his qualifications -- the man is educated, erudite, and obviously a heck of a lot smarter than most of us. So you obsess about the birth certificate. Which, incidentally, has been produced multiple times, starting back during the campaign, which is yet another reason why every time this subject comes up the people obsessing about it look more and more like morons. The birthers have actually progressed to suggesting the birth announcements in the Hawaiian newspapers were faked, too (hard to do when back then birth announcements in newspapers came from either the hospital or the county clerk's office, not the parents or grandparents). As a commenter elsewhere noted, "What's next? Demanding the US Geological Survey produce official certificates that the earth is round?"

Oh well, there is a bright side to the lunacy: Lou Dobbs has climbed on to the bus to crazyville. Maybe that's going to get him a fast ticket over to Faux News, and I'll never have to hear his voice again. (I watch CNN because the S.O. is a Jack Cafferty fan, which means that every so often we're treated to Dobbs doing a promo for his show.)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Lumberjack Special, Laona, Wisconsin

I've been seeing advertising brochures for the Camp Five Logging Museum and Lumberjack Special train in Laona, Wisconsin, for years. Every summer for, I swear, the last 15 years we've talked about taking the grandson(s) there. This year we finally did it.

Camp Five is a logging museum operated by the The Camp Five Museum Foundation, Inc., and is located on the site of a Connor Lumber Company camp and farm. The only way to get to the museum is on the train, which runs from a site right next to U.S.8 on the outskirts of Laona to the camp. It doesn't take long -- the track is probably not much more than a mile in length, if that -- but there are a few curves, and the train moves slow enough that I imagine it does feel longer than it is to little kids. The coolest part, of course, is that it's powered by a steam locomotive (Vulcan Ironworks, 1916)(there was a time when I was enough of a foamer that I'd be able to rattle off the Whyte notation [2-6-2], too, without having to resort to looking at the photo. Not anymore.) so there's the classic "choo choo" noises -- and the occasional humongous plume of black coal smoke. When it's parked at the depot next to the highway the engineer encourages small fry to come pull the cord for the whistle.
Options for passengers include this open air rehabilitated Soo Line boxcar. The outside-braced box car was built in 1920 by Haskell-Barker (Michigan City, Indiana), sold to the Laona & Northern RR in 1955, and rehabilitated into an open car in 2007.

We opted for the padded seats in a regular passenger car. (I shouldn't say this, but as the S.O. ages he's looking more and more like an oversized garden gnome. It must be that Finnish nose.)

Once the train arrives at the "camp," there are a number of interesting exhibits. A diesel locomotive named after a former Conner Lumber Company employee:

A Holt logging tractor with a full sledge of logs.

A big wheel. (The grandson and the S.O. rode in the caboose back to the depot. The grandson said the view from the cupola was a good one. I'm old. I stuck with the padded seats in the passenger car.)

(Small digression: Big wheels suddenly appeared on the logging scene in the late 1860s, early 1870s. Never really thought about the timing, and then when we toured Fort Pulaski earlier this year and I saw the gun carriages. . . bingo. Civil War veterans taking an application they'd seen used to move artillery pieces and transferring the technology to the lumbering industry.)

So what was the grandson most interested in? The petting zoo.

Camp Five is one of those attractions that's perfect for a day trip with kids. Very low-key, the type of place where the adults can sit back and be amused by watching kids attempt to feed sheep who obviously have absolutely no interest in letting anything human near them. The goats, of course, were shameless beggars, total gluttons. Camp Five is still a working farm -- back when Connor Lumber had to worry about feeding hundreds of lumberjacks, Camp Five is where they raised the beef -- and they were making hay the day we were there. There was something incredibly soothing about watching the tractor circle the field, first to rake the windrows of hay and then to bale it.

I had a good time admiring the logging artifacts, the S.O. waxed nostalgic over the display of 1940s and 1950s man-killer chain saws (it's amazing enough sawyers survived using the early models to make it worth manufacturing more) -- apparently the first chain saw he remembers was some gigantic Lombard that to me looked like it could be used to fell redwoods (it had an engine that looked big enough to power a car and one of the longest bars I've ever seen), but he claims his father and brothers used one like it for making firewood. And Logan had fun with a few of the interactive displays, like one that demonstrates how a pulley allows a person to lift a heavy weight without much effort. He thought the blacksmith shop was neat, too. At 8 years old, he wasn't going to be critical about how crude the "horseshoes" were that the smith was creating; he was just fascinated by the process. (Available for sale for a mere $2 each; I asked if he wanted one, he said no.) Signage overall was good -- enough information to explain what you were looking at, but not such much it's overkill.

We also did the "Green Treasure Forest Tour," a leisurely drive through the woods. The forest around Camp Five has been intensively managed for over 100 years and selectively harvested at least 9 times but doesn't look it (at least not to the uninitiated eye, based on comments I heard from fellow tourists. Personally, I'd have taken the number of stumps visible as fairly strong evidence this woodlot was not a pristine wilderness tract). It was pretty with lots of big trees despite being second (third? fourth? fifth? sixth?) growth. The nice young man leading the tour kept throwing out factoids about how much timber the average American uses each year in the form of lumber, toilet paper, plastics, and various food products and reminding us it's got to come from somewhere. They also do a boat tour, a cruise along the river on a pontoon boat, but we decided not to do it. We'd spent enough time sitting already, and knew we'd be sitting again for several hours when we got back to the car. Next time we will.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Back to normal

My life seems to be back on track. It's Sunday morning, C-SPAN is on in the background, and, as usual, every 5th caller or so seems convinced Obama is a socialist. Or worse. I always wonder if any of those people have any clue at all just socialism actually is -- probably not. If they did, it wouldn't frighten them as much as it does. Buzz Aldrin is supposed to be on in a little while talking about the moon landing (h/t to Utah Savage for the link), and I'm willing to bet there'll be tinfoil hat types calling in then, too, to rant about Obama and his pernicious influence on everything.

I'm not exactly sure just how I survived 4 weekends in a row with no C-SPAN. I thought I'd at least have withdrawal symptoms, but, nope, didn't miss it at all the entire time I was out of Atlanta. Which means that maybe I'll actually survive once I retire and am back up on the tundra with limited options -- all PBS, by the way.

What I did do while on vacation was read a lot. I headed out of town with ambitious plans for the two weeks. I was going to spend a couple days actually doing research on an 1893 typhoid epidemic in Ironwood, Michigan; I was going to persuade the S.O. we'd like to drive over to Grand Marais (either Michigan or Minnesota, both are worth visiting); I'd spend time with the Older Daughter and the grandkids; I'd get all the flowerbeds (both up by the retirement bunker site and by Tammi's cabin) weeded; and the S.O. and I would complete several projects. I would, in short, be a burning ball of ambition.

Ha. It rained. I read. And one of the things I read was a biography of Florence Nightingale. It was the oddest book, one of those tomes where you pick it up, find yourself wondering why you're reading it, but still can't put it down. This book was huge, definitely into the "would make a great doorstop" category in terms of weight, and went into excruciating detail about every aspect of Nightingale's life, but you know what? I still don't have a clue as to just what it was Nightingale actually did other than write astounding amounts of letters and reports. There's chapter after chapter talking about Nightingale harassing various politicians, either in person or via letters, into letting her take a contingent of nurses to Turkey to help with the wounded during the Crimean War; there's page after page about newspapers reporting on how wonderful she was and how much the soldiers worshipped her -- but there never is any description of just what it was she did.

You know, the assumption is that she was busy nursing, i.e., changing bandages, bathing patients, and doing similar tasks, but the weird part is that her correspondence very specifically argues against using "nurses" to do that type of menial task. Over and over she talks about nurses providing spiritual help to the sick, basically sitting there holding peoples' hands, gently wiping sweat from fevered brows, and maybe spoon feeding the patient some aspic. So just what did she do in the Crimean War besides wander around the hospital with a lamp in the middle of the night? It's a mystery. I think the author made a classic mistake -- he talks a lot about the image of Florence Nightingale as the lady with the lamp and how everyone knows about her work as a nurse during the Crimean War, i.e., he's assuming everyone has read previous biographies and/or children's books about her. And that's not true. I knew who Florence Nightingale was, more or less, but I don't think either of my daughters would.

The one thing I did get out of the book was Nightingale was not a particularly likable person, at least not on paper. Which is odd, because the author seemed to be trying for hagiography and not the reverse. He made a number of comments about trying to redeem Nightingale's reputation and/or restore her rightful place in nursing history. Still, the more I read, the less I liked her -- especially when the author got into some of Nightingale's other theories about nursing. It was a higher calling, a spiritual duty, so nurses should not be recruited from the "lower" classes. And, because it was a higher calling, nurses should be paid as little as humanly possible. If nursing paid a living wage, then women might go into nursing because they saw it was a career rather than as the religious vocation it actually was. In short, the woman was a lunatic, a Victorian-era middle-class snob with a martyr complex and delusions of sainthood.

That said, the book overall wasn't a complete waste of my vacation time. One reason Nightingale had so much apparent influence is her family moved in interesting circles. Powerful politicians were family friends, as were various intellectuals, scientists, and artists. The background material, the descriptions of the context in which Nightingale moved, was really interesting. Too bad Nightingale herself provided less engaging material.

[Photo is of an abandoned sauna.]

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Fort Donelson National Battlefield

A few photos from Fort Donelson National Battlefield in Tennessee. I stopped there June 27 on the way north to Michigan. I'm not normally much of a fan of cannonball parks, but I liked Fort Donelson. Admittedly, the setting helps. It's on the Cumberland River in fairly rural location so it's very quiet and peaceful -- minimal noise pollution. The do not feed the eagles sign was a first for me. Don't believe I've ever seen a sign before that suggested they'd learned to panhandle like pigeons and Canada geese.
All the books on sticks in the park are color-coded. The red ones provide information about the Confederates, the Union ones are blue.

Above: Cannon poised to blow bass fishermen on the Cumberland out of the water.
Below: The Visitor Center. It's definitely a Mission 66 structure and has seen better days. It felt rather sad and tired. Park staff told me the park's current General Management Plan calls for construction of a new Visitor Center with groundbreaking set for FY2010.

Below: a wayside providing information about the battle. When Union forces under General Grant took Fort Donelson it changed the course of the war. Once Donelson fell, the Union was able to advance on Nashville and gain control of the railroads.

The only monument I spotted in the park is this one. It's dedicated to the Confederate soldiers from Tennessee.
The park has a couple nice trails through the woods over mixed terrain, including some pretty steep hills, as well as a nice picnic area, so there is more to do than simply admiring the artillery batteries and reading the interpretive signage.

I've also posted a few photos from Fort Donelson National Cemetery on I See Dead People.

Friday, July 17, 2009

It's over

And I have a hunch I'm going to be unhappy about the way the process worked for a long, long time. The DeKalb Police Department did a truly shitty job of investigating this particular case -- they were slow, they were sloppy, they neglected to collect truly important evidence (e.g., projectiles, aka bullets) at the scene. . . and if the defendant had had a Trak phone instead of one through Metro PCS the prosecutor's office would have been SOL. They wouldn't have had a single piece of credible evidence other than the man's in-laws' dislike of him to connect him with a double homicide.

As it was, the cell phone records (Metro PCS) convicted him because they contradicted his claim of having left the scene 6 hours prior to the murders happening. Atlanta is full of cell phone towers, but between 11:30 p.m. and 5 a.m. he made multiple calls, and they all hit the same tower, one located very close to the victims' home. Although we all recognized that the fact the tower site did not in itself prove he was in the house, it did make it clear he had lied about where he really was when the calls were made -- which was about ten miles away with a whole lot of other cell towers between him and the one his calls went to. Everyone knows that being right next to a cell tower doesn't guarantee that's the one your call is routed through -- but call after call after call passing through the same tower definitely suggested he'd been in the same general location all night. And if the friend whose house he claimed he was actually at had had lived four blocks away instead of those ten miles, the phone records wouldn't have meant a damn thing.

Some background: this was a double homicide, two women shot at approximately 5 a.m. on a Sunday morning a year ago. A neighbor heard the gunshots, and saw a man fleeing the house on foot, but that neighbor did not see the suspect clearly enough to make a visual identification from a photo lineup, nor did he recognize the suspect when he saw him in the courtroom. He did, however, say the man was carrying a gun as he ran. He called 911.

When the police arrived 7 minutes later they found the house totally empty of people except for the bodies of the victims, one in her bedroom and the other on a living room sofa. Within minutes of the police arriving, a friend of the victims showed up to accuse the estranged husband of one of the dead women of being the shooter. This was at approximately 5:30, 5:45 a.m. And, remember this was a double homicide.

When does DeKalb's finest decide to go looking for the prime suspect? Three hours later, around 9:30 a.m., they call his cell phone to ask him where he is. He gives them the address of the friend he's staying with. One hour later, around 10:30 a.m., they actually go to that apartment to talk to him. My fellow jury members didn't seem to have a problem with DeKalb's finest taking four fucking hours to get around to going after "a person of interest" who quite possibly was armed and dangerous. For sure I do. Calling up a possible murder suspect and giving him an hour's head start in which to flee? If this is acceptable policing in Georgia, it's yet another reason to look forward to seeing this state in the rearview mirror next year.

Anyway, when they did finally make contact and bring him to the police station, they park him in an interview room for 7 hours before they finally get around to doing a gun shot residue test kit, which, of course, was pretty much wasted effort by that point.

In short, at the time they arrested him for the murders they had no evidence: no murder weapon, no definitive identification (two of the kids later said they'd seen him fleeing the house, but they weren't interviewed until almost a full week later, and neither one saw him with a gun), nothing other than the suspect's own admission he had been at the house Saturday evening to watch movies with his estranged wife and his kids. It wasn't until the GSR tests came back negative from the GBI that they finally got around to getting a court order for phone records -- and by that time it was no doubt the prosecutor's office that had brains enough to go looking for them.

The trial itself was pretty much of a clusterfuck, too, on the state's part. Example: a duffel bag of odds and ends of men's clothing was introduced into evidence, but it seemed totally irrelevant. What did six pairs of men's boxer briefs have to do with anything? No clue. The detectives seized them when they searched the room where the defendant was staying at a friend's apartment (the defendant and his wife had been estranged and living separately for approximately 8 months prior to the murders; nonetheless, testimony by several witnesses indicated they had an amicable relationship and were seeing each other again and talking about a reconciliation) but it was a truly odd assortment of clothing, and none of it was ever tied in any way to the crime scene. So what was the point?

And then they introduced a witness for the prosecution who was quite obviously mentally challenged. The prosecution kept asking her about the statement she had given to the police and the way she seemed to be contradicting it in court. The assistant prosecutor (one of them) placed the statement in front of her and told her to read it to refresh her memory. The poor woman was staring and staring and looking like a frightened rabbit -- and then on cross examination it comes out that she's functionally illiterate. The detectives had asked her questions, written a statement for her, and asked her to sign it. She could not read cursive writing. If those of us in the jury box could spot in 30 seconds that this lady was retarded, quite possibly an adult with Down syndrome, how could the police be so fucking stupid as to question her without insisting on having someone there (e.g., a social worker) to make sure she truly understood what they were asking her and why? And how could they believe that anything she said was credible? Not to mention how could the prosecution be so stupid as to place her on the stand and then speak to her in polysyllables? It was bizarre. Not that it actually mattered much in the end -- but it could have.

And that's what really pisses me off. The police being lazy and sloppy meant that there were a lot of instances where something that could have helped the case if the investigation had been thorough resulted instead in making things murkier and more confusing -- and the DeKalb PD came really close to causing jury nullification because so many of us were so disgusted with their incompetence. If they had done their job right to begin with, the case might have been a slam dunk with a quick plea bargain. As it was, only the phone records saved them, and that was sheer luck. I think half the jury took the time to go up to the prosecutors after the trial (the judge encouraged us to do so if we had any suggestions to offer to the attorneys, both prosecution and defense) to complain about the DeKalb PD.

Bottom line: the defendant was found guilty of 2 counts of malice murder, 2 counts of felony murder, 2 counts of aggravated assault, and 1 count of child cruelty. (In Georgia commiting a felony in the presence of children is legally a form of child abuse.) This being Georgia, I'm going to assume he'll be a guest of the state for the rest of his life. Now I think I'm going to do some self-medication and try to unwind.

I do have some real strong philosophical problems with that bullshit of doing multiple charges all for the same crime -- it's a tool prosecutors came up with to help them plea bargain (i.e., we'll drop two if you plead to one) -- but that's a subject for another time.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

I should have stayed in Michigan

It's been an interesting week, and it's only Wednesday morning. Got back from vacation Sunday evening and was looking forward to easing back into work without much hassle. I knew there was a possibility I might end up at the DeKalb County Courthouse on Monday -- I'd gotten a summons for jury duty back at the beginning of June -- but I've known so many people who've been summoned but never had to serve that it never occurred to me that I'd be the exception. Besides, even if I did end up at the courthouse on Monday there's no way any attorney in his or her right mind would actually allow me to be seated on a jury.

I was wrong. I called Sunday evening, found out I did have to report to the courthouse. Got to the courthouse, and was in the first group of people called. Okay, it was still long odds for me to actually end up in a jury box: 50 people in the pool, and only 14 would end up seated. I got more and more hopeful I'd be one of the rejects as the attorneys went through the winnowing process -- I'm old, so there were a lot of questions I could answer yes to ("Do you know anyone who's been a victim of domestic violence?" "Do you ride MARTA?"[only 2 of us answered yes to that one and it's still a complete mystery as to why it was asked, unless it was to determine how comfortable we were around the unwashed masses] "Have you ever been a witness in a court case, either by giving a deposition or appearing in court?") . After asking the questions to the group as a whole (a process that ate up most of the morning), the attorneys followed up with the individuals who had given yes answers to get the details.

Maybe I shouldn't have referred to the Older Daughter's ex as an "abusive lout." It's possible the prosecutors saw this as a sign I didn't have much use for violent offenders. Still, I thought sure it would be the kiss of death when I said I'd taught sociology on the university level. Sociologists are notorious for being bleeding heart liberals and soft on crime because of our insistence on looking at context and talking about root causes. Wrong again.

So for the next few days I'll be sitting in a courtroom or a jury room from 8:30 a.m. until who knows when in the evening. We ran late Monday (the selection process took forever), we got out at a reasonable time yesterday because the judge had another court matter to take care of at 4:30, but the rest of this week is looking grim. Long, long witness list and a judge who's said the plan is for the trial to finish within its allotted time, i.e., by late Friday afternoon.

On the positive side, once this ends and it's ethical for me to discuss the case, I'm going to have a ton of material for a really long blog post. For now, I'm just going to be quietly relieved this is not a capital murder case.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

All good things must come to an end

The vacation's over. I'm home, back in Atlanta, stiff and sore from two days of driving, covered with bug bites, and waiting for the ehrlichiosis symptoms to hit. Who'd a thunk wood ticks would love crawling under sandal straps so much?