Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Some Things I Believe

1. I believe that every American should have to spend a year living in a third world country before embarking on a career.

2. I believe the lottery is a tax on the mathematically impaired. It follows, then, that it is immoral for the government to be in the business of raising funds by preying on this widespread human impairment.

3. I believe that Jesus Christ was the world's greatest psychologist, because we know that those who are living for a cause greater than themselves have the highest levels of satisfaction and mental health.

4. I believe that change begins with the individual. It follows, then, that micro-economics is more important that macro-economics.

5. I believe that one's religion is worked out through prayer, reading scripture, and in community. Therefore, any use of the radio and TV airwaves for religious broadcasts is pseudo-religion at best and should be banned.

6. I believe that the two-party system has the effect of unfairly stifling minority views.

7. I believe that baseball is the best game ever devised, when it is played on natural grass, without the DH, and with the umpires enforcing the rulebook as written.

8. I believe that learning to defer gratification is the chief sign of maturity.

9. I believe that Newton's third law applies to human relations. It follows, then, that violence is not an acceptable way to solve problems, as it simply begets more violence.

10. I believe that "Seinfeld" is the best TV series ever.

11. I believe in the importance of community.

12. I believe that health care is a basic human right. It follows, then, that all Americans should hang their heads in shame that the U.S., alone among developed countries, has no national health care system.

13. I believe in buying in bulk.

14. I believe that politics has no place in the Olympics. Jimmy Carter's boycott was therefore wrong.

15. I believe that people should think for themselves.

16. I believe that "shipping and handling charges" should be included in the (advertiserd) price of a product.

17. I believe in all-cotton clothes.

18. I believe that one should not have to "read between the lines" to figure out what someone is saying.

19. I believe in walking.

20. I believe there should be more coffee houses and more book stores.

21.I believe that inarticulate expression reflects muddled thinking.

22. I believe people are entitled to a private life.

23. I believe that between violent opposition and passive acquiescence there lies a third (and better) way.

24. I believe the world needs more people like Andy Rooney.

25. I believe that people should have to qualify for parenthood before becoming parents.

26. I believe in the beauty of a fresh snowfall.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

My Favorite Directors

Unlike other lists, this one has a modicum of objectivity about it. It is based on the number of films each director has on my all-time favorites list.

1. Alfred Hitchcock (6)

2. Barry Levinson (5)

3. Norman Jewison (3)

4. Mike Nichols (4)

5. Rob Reiner (3)

6. Martin Scorecese (3)

7. Quentin Tarantino (3)

8. Woody Allen (3)

9. Robert Zemeckis (3)

10. Clint Eastwood (2)

11. Jonathan Lynn (2)

12. John Hughes (2)

13. Steven Spielberg (2)

14. Arthur Penn (2)

15. Robert Rossen (2)

16. John Dahl (2)

17. Ron Howard (2)

18. Jonathan Demme (2)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Adventuresome vs. Adventurous

Yesterday my mom described my niece as "adventuresome" for her plans to travel soon to Alaska. Mom then wondered if this or "adventurous" was the right word to use.

"Adventuresome" is defined as "willing to undertake or seek out new and daring enterprises", while "adventurous" has a definition of "fraught with danger". An Alaska trip would then be best described as "adventuresome", since danger isn't really part of the picture so much as just trying something new and different and far away.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Trial of Lizzie Borden

I just finished a book with the above title, written by Edmund Pearson with an introduction by Alan Dershowitz. The attitude of both is that Lizzie was likely guilty and the trial judges (there were three) sabotaged the prosecution with erroneous evidentiary rulings. Dershowitz opines that "the heavy hand of a biased judiciary" resulted in a "miscarriage of justice".

Having been given this introduction to the case, I was prepared to start foaming at the mouth about how women are invariably given lenient treatment compared to men in our justice system. However after reading the entire account, I cannot agree with the conclusion reached by Pearson and Dershowitz. Let's examine why.

There are two evidentiary rulings the authors complain about. The first involved the judges' ruling that Lizzie's testimony at the inquest could not be used against her at the trial. The relevant facts on this issue are that the murders occurred on August 4th, she was placed under police observation August 6th, she was subpoenaed to appear at the inquest August 9th, and she then testified on the 9th through the 11th. The Mayor of the city accused her of the crime on the 6th, a warrant was issued for her arrest on the 8th, and then she was arrested two hours after her testimony on a similar warrant.

She had asked for legal counsel prior to her testimony, but was denied counsel and the DA was allowed to grill her unmercifully. At one point, the DA menaced her with "You will answer my question if I have to put it to you all day". He asked her to recount her every movement on the morning of the murders, where she was every minute, what she was doing, how long she did it, who else was in the vicinity, etc. If she ever gave the slightest deviation from the prior version, he pounced on it and in effect called her a liar and insisted she answer again. Thus, every detail was belabored ad nauseum. (And who among us could account in this detail for our actions on a given morning.)

What the DA relied on in prosecuting her based on this testimony were the alleged inconsistencies in her account of her movements that morning. There was *never* any direct evidence found to tie her to the murders. Rather, the case was entirely based on circumstantial evidence, the idea being that there was no evidence anybody else did it, therefore Lizzie must have committed these horrible crimes.

Obviously if Lizzie had been arrested and charged at the time t of the inquest, then she could not have been compelled to give testimony at that inquest. On the other hand, if she was a disinterested witness with no stake in the case, then obviously the subpoena power of the state could compel her testimony. If you read this testimony, there can be no doubt that she was under suspicion at the time. The DA grilled her like he was cross-examining a hostile witness; he was permitted to ask her the same questions over and over, and to attack her answers, with no restraint at all on him.

If this were a court proceeding, the Judge would have interrupted as soon as suspicion pointed towards the witness, and advised her of her right not to testify any further. As it was, there was no judicial intervention of any sort, and poor Lizzie patiently answered all questions, despite the brutal nature of them. The trial judges determined, correctly I think, that this coerced testimony, given without benefit of counsel, could not be used against her at the trial.

Dershowitz states that the ruling "would have surprised even the most fastidious adherent of modern-day Miranda-type exclusionary rules". How an able attorney like Dershowitz can reach this conclusion is beyond me. Perhaps the prior sentence gives some clue, wherein he states that "the judges kept from the jury a voluntary statement ... given by Lizzie prior to being charged". The key here is the word "voluntary"; in actual fact, Lizzie's testimony was compelled, not voluntary. Dershowitz may not have been careful enough in learning the facts of the case before writing this introduction. Further, suspicion had already settled on her, and the fact that she had not yet been formally charged seems irrelevant. She did have rights under the Constitution not to incriminate herself, and the Judges rightfully recognized this.

The other piece of evidence kept away from the jury was that a few days before the murders, Lizzie attempted to buy prussic acid at a pharmacy in an adjoining town. There was no evidence that prussic acid had anything to do with the deaths, and it seems legitimate to exclude this so-called "evidence". Prejudicial evidence against Lizzie *was* admitted, such as the fact that Lizzie insisted on calling her stepmother "Mrs. Borden" rather than "mother", indicating the cool relationship they had.

When a jury is not convinced of guilt, they properly acquit. (I had a jury tell me once that they wanted me to tell my client that "We didn't for a minute believe that ridiculous story he told on the stand". Yet, they acquitted him, even though they believed he had lied, because they didn't believe the prosecution had proven its case.) In Lizzie's case, the whole case was based on the idea that they could find no other suspect, so they made her the scapegoat. How these brutal murders could take place with no physical evidence linking the defendant to the crime is beyond me. The prosecution simply didn't prove its case, and for Dershowitz to be so shocked at the result is mystifying.

Oscar's Ten Worst "Best Picture" Mistakes

1. The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) (instead of High Noon or The Quiet Man)

2. Gigi (1958) (instead of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof or the Defiant Ones)

3. The Apartment (1960) (instead of Psycho, Inherit the Wind, or Elmer Gantry)

4. The Deer Hunter (1978) (anything but this one)

5. Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) (totally bogus depiction of a custody fight)

6. Ordinary People (1980) (instead of Raging Bull)

7. Dances with Wolves (1990) (instead of Goodfellas)

8. Braveheart (1995) (instead of The Usual Suspects)

9. The English Patient (1996) (instead of Fargo)

10. Titanic (1997) (instead of LA Confidential, Good Will Hunting, or Jackie Brown)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Hall Gets Two New Members

The writers voted in two new Hall lof Fame members this week--Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice. Henderson got in on his first time on the ballot by an ovewhelming percentage, and rightfully so based on his incredible career. The hits, walks, and stolen bases, not to mention the leadoff home runs, make him an easy choice.

Rice is more borderline. He actually got in only on his 15th and last time on the writers' ballot. I must confess to having ambivalent feelings about Rice's membership in the Hall. Rice was a dominant offensive player from 1975 to 1986. I was following baseball closely during those years, but I never saw him as a superstar. Usually only a genuine superstar, like Sandy Koufax, merits the Hall when he's had a relatively short career.

Certainly Rice's career numbers don't jump out at you. His on-base percentage was a mediocre .352. In only one season did he even draw as many as 60 walks. He finished with fewer than 400 homers. And remember, he had the advantage of playing his whole career in hitter-friendly Fenway Park.

If I had a vote I would definitely have to study this further, but my current impression is that I woujd not vote for Rice, though it doesn't particulary offend me that he is going in. Some of the other players on this year's ballot are worth discussing also.

Third on the voting list behind the two new inductees is Andre Dawson at 67%. Like Rice, Dawson has been creeping up year by year, leading one to surmise that the might eventually get in, like Rice now has. Dawson played 21 seasons, though he had injury problems. His OBP is only .323. Because he had such a long career, he ranks at or near the top in several categories in career stats for all non Hall members, making it easy for him to pick up votes among the less discerning BWAA members. E.g., consider his 2,774 hits, and 1,591 RBI's. Only Harold Baines has higher totals among Hall-eligible players who are not in. But consider this: his RBI total has been surpassed by no less than five players who are still active! In my view Dawson doesn't quite make it.

Next we have Bert Blyleven at 62.7%. Now here is a guy who definitely should be voted in, and it's a travesty that he has had to wait so long. Blyleven's 60 shutouts rank 9th all-time, and everyone above hm and remotely close below him are in the Hall. He was always a dominant pitcher and there is no reason to deny him his rightful place in the Hall. Looking at a historical analogy, Goose Gossage didn't reach Blyleven's current vote percentage until 2006, and he was inducted just two years later. Based on that apt comparison, perhaps Blyleven will only have to wait two more years. Having retired in 1992, Blyleven fortunately has enough more years on the ballot to get over the hump.

The other player of interest is Mark McGwire. Surprisingly, Big Mac's percentage actually went down this year from last, to 21.9%. This reflects the grain of salt the writers are currently taking towards the big stats of the steroid era. I've heard some reporters commenting this week that when it is realized how widespread the steroid use was, players like McGwire will not be punished so severely. But for now, we are trying to sort this all out, and I think it is right to deny McGwire, Sosa, Clemens, and Bonds any entry to the Hall until the cloud hanging over them is lifted.

Finally, Pete Rose is still not on the ballot. This is a travesty. The rules of the Hall are that you go in as a member of a single category only, and not for your overall contributions to the game. This is a flawed concept, but it is the way it is set up. Pete would go in as a player, not a manager. Why, then, is he being punished for something he did as a manager? It makes no sense. Put Pete in already!