Monday, June 30, 2008

We're done!

According the certificate I received today, I have spent the last three months--and I quote--"materially contributing to the maintenance of Liberty Under Law through the Fair and Impartial Administration of Justice." Wow.
My term on the Travis County grand jury ended today and although I think we all enjoyed our service and learned a lot (although one juror did say, jokingly, that he was saving the last bullet for himself), we were mostly glad it was over.
As you probably know, grand jury proceedings are secret. We all took an oath to the effect that we "would not reveal by word or sign" the details of our work. So, as I process aloud in this forum, I will only describe those things that are a matter of public record or my own personal subjective experience.
So if you could be a fly on the wall during the proceedings of the 2008 grand jury of the 331st district court, what would you see? Well, first, you would see 12 people with the best of intentions--all "upstanding citizens," a fact to which we swore three months ago when we were impaneled. (The only other test for service was that we were eligible to vote in Travis County.) You would see a group that ranged in age from younger than Barack Obama to older than Moses--but no one under 40. You'd be pretty impressed by the ethnic diversity, which reflected Travis County demographics pretty accurately.
You'd see these 12 people devoting an average of ten hours a week assembled in a large horseshoe behind the kind of desks that you see city council members at on public access TV. Each grand juror has a legal pad, a pen, and a list of prosecutors and cases scheduled for the day. As each prosecutor presents cases, describing the offense and the evidence linking the offense to the accused, grand jurors listen carefully, ask questions, take notes. Sometimes someone has brought food to share and breaks are used for socializing and complimenting the recipe. More often, grand jurors have brought their own drinks and snacks, used as much for staying alert as for nourishment. Sometimes there are witnesses or photographs or videotapes. More often, there is just an offense report and subsequent interviews.
Once the prosecutor has presented cases, he or she leaves the room and deliberations begin. At the beginning of the term, you would have seen the group fumble for direction and proceed cautiously. You would almost see the question, "Are we doing this right?" forming in thought balloons above each head. Soon, though, you would be amazed at how efficient and well-ordered the process became--in part due to our foreperson who had a hard job that only got harder over time. As you watched her, you would learn a few things about leadership and you would be reminded of how easy it is to critique someone else when you're not actually having to do the job yourself.
You would see both the democratic ideal and textbook group process emerge as individuals with vastly different points of view and cultural experiences struggle together to determine what justice is, never forgetting that the lives of individuals are at stake (both victims and defendants). You would also see them constantly bringing themselves back to the task at hand: Is the level of probable cause in this case reasonable enough to warrant an indictment and a trial? You would be surprised at how difficult it is--given people's natural emotions, such as curiosity or outrage and their over-exposure to crime shows and police dramas--to focus on probable cause and you would be really proud of how well this group did.
Then you would see a series of votes, taking each allegation separately, giving it the attention it deserves. Although it only takes nine votes to indict, you probably wouldn't be surprised to see that most votes are unanimous and efficient since most of the time, the facts are not really in dispute. But, of course, you'd remember the difficult cases, the cases framed by debate and ambiguity and reflection and you'd be amazed at how often consensus could eventually be reached and how decisions were respected by the dissenters.
So how does this story end? Well, we heard over 1000 cases. Most we indicted (true-billed), some we no-billed and some we passed on for various reasons. And now we're done.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The strangest movie that I've ever seen that I'll never forget

What if you were part of a community of people that were willing to love you no matter what? What if, no matter how odd you were or how inappropriate or how uncomfortable you made them feel, they were committed to care for you like family? What if they asked themselves, "What would Jesus do?" and then did it--just for you? Don't you think that kind of love might win the day?

Tonight we watched a quirky, eccentric film called "Lars and the Real Girl." I won't even describe the plot because it would come across as farcical and absurd. It's a ridiculous premise that, in the hands of wise writers and actors, becomes a gentle parable about how the foolish teach the wise, about how real community expressed creates love, about how there is no reason to feel ashamed because we all have something, because "these things happen." It's a sweet love story like you've never seen before.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Agreeing to disagree (with myself)

I reread my untitled blog entry from May 28 and decided I don't really agree with it after all. (That's really something, to disagree with yourself!) I had several opportunities to listen well last week--with dear friends, with hurting people, with family--and the truth is, I love it. I love being able to offer to the people I care about something real--the space to think through their own thoughts and a caring place to feel what they feel. And I don't really feel deprived of that in my own life--if you're reading this blog, chances are that I could pick up the phone and have your loving attention in a heartbeat.

So what was it that I was trying to say? I think I was frustrated with feeling used. It's probably the same way that accountants feel when people pump them for free tax advice at parties or the way doctors feel when people say, "Could you just look at this place on my back real quick?" It's when I sense that the other person has no interest in me or in a real friendship (maybe it's the fact that they talk for hours without ever asking?) and when they demand my time and sympathy. I think maybe it's the "pastor's wife" label--it makes people think they're entitled to it and frankly, sometimes it makes me feel as though I have to give it to them. So maybe that's what I was trying to say. Or maybe not. We'll see . . .

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Would you believe . . . ?

The first thing you need to know is that we hardly ever watched TV when I was growing up. When I was really little, the TV was up on the top of a tall cabinet (seemed tall to me, anyway) and it was hard to see, but I remember Sesame Street and--my favorites--the Electric Company and Zoom. All public television, of course. There were also Saturday morning cartoons, which I watched from the test pattern until 10:00--except for Road Runner. I hated Road Runner and turned it off. The Jetsons was my favorite with Scooby Doo as a close second.

Then when I was a little older, I was allowed to watch the introduction to "Mission Impossible" just before heading off to bed. "Your mission if you choose to accept it . . . " Remember? And the briefcase with the photos in it and then the smoke at the end? I never actually saw the show but my dad watched it which is why I got to see the intro, I guess. Later I watched "The Waltons" and my sister watched "Little House on the Prairie" and we could watch game shows if we were sick. (My favorite was "Password," hands down.) Every now and then, we could watch "Gilligan's Island" when we got home from school. And my parents even let me stay home from church once a year to watch "The Sound of Music" on Sunday night. Anyway, the point is that I didn't grow up watching a lot of TV, which was actually a pretty good way to grow up.

But when C and I were first married, he introduced me to all the TV shows that I had missed. That first year, we had so much fun watching old reruns together. It was fun for me to watch them for the first time and fun for C to watch me watching them for the first time. I found out pretty quick that I had outgrown "Gilligan's Island" and that "Leave It to Beaver" was more interesting than entertaining. We laughed every day at "The Dick van Dyke Show" and "I Love Lucy." I fell in love with "Andy Griffith" and have now seen every episode umpteen times along with my kids. But one of the shows we watched together that first year was "Get Smart," which you probably know just came out in theaters as a movie starring Steve Carrell as Max and Anne Hathaway as Agent 99.

We went to see the movie tonight and had so much fun. It is silly, silly, silly but in a clever and nostalgic way. And of course, the last line of the movie? "Missed it by that much!" Lots of silly fun.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Pomp and circumstance and all that

We started with this: C and I had visions of graduation photos, announcements, a party to celebrate, maybe even prom. Mowgli had visions of skipping graduation altogether. Somehow, we managed to meet in the middle with a minimum of disappointment on both sides. When Mowgli wanted to know why he had to walk across the stage, I told him, "Because it's a rite of passage; you didn't have a bar mitzvah, so you have to do this." He maintained to the very end that it would be a much bigger deal if he DIDN'T graduate from high school. Fortunately, by Thursday afternoon, he seemed to decide to make the best of it and I think he actually enjoyed graduation day and the low-key gathering at our house later.

Here, before the ceremony, we have Mowgli and Boo, reversing roles.

And this is at the party afterward, as Mowgli opened his gift from Boo (a picture frame with a photo of both of them from last Christmas). The smile is awesome! A word about the outfit: We told him he could run upstairs and get more comfortable. We didn't realize he would get THAT comfortable! And no, that's not a UT shirt--it's a free shirt from a Houston Dynamo match.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Who's that masked ballerina?

I don't have the photos from Mowgli's graduation yet, so I'm posting photos from Boo's dance recital last weekend. She danced to " Masquerade" from Phantom. You may remember that her biggest grief in the move was the loss of her dance studio so this was an answer to prayer and the result of many, many tears. She had a great day! Boo is back center (second from left) in this first photo:

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Sexism vs. racism

As I've told you, we've been obsessed with politics here . . . and I do mean obsessed. Mowgli and I have had many conversations about which is more insidious--racism or sexism. Mowgli's opinion is that sexism is more prevalent but that racism is more virulent. Mowgli also sees sexism as more benign and less dangerous, rarely seeing gender discrimination where I do. It's a generational thing. When Mowgli was about four, I took him to see a male pediatrician for the first time. He rolled his eyes and said, "Mom! Boys can't be doctors!"

I would love, love, love to see a female president and I do think that a lot of the sexism toward the Clinton campaign went unchallenged. When the frat boys showed up at her rallies with the signs that read, "Iron my shirts!" we all laughed. Can you imagine the uproar if those boys had shown up at an Obama rally with signs reading, "Shine my shoes!" And while female commentators denounced it, male pundits and comedians tended to give too much attention to Clinton's appearance, especially early on--what she wore, signs of aging, etc. Pantsuits became a joke, even though there is no good alternative for women. (By the way, what IS the female equivalent of khakis and a golf shirt? This stumps me ALL the time!)

Ultimately, though, I don't think that Clinton lost because she was a woman. After all, she was a woman when she was the front-runner, when she made all the big headlines, when Obama was considered a flashy upstart with no chance. She was a woman when she amassed the largest campaign war chest of all time, and she was a woman when she won millions of votes. No, I don't believe that sexism torpedoed her campaign.

Instead, I think she lost for all the same old reasons: she failed to read the climate of the country, she underestimated her opponent, she allowed infighting and conflict to drain her campaign of energy, she miscalculated the importance of caucus states and younger voters and her early vote for the war, she relied on an outdated top-down approach to campaigning, and she made some serious gaffes. When a woman can lose the White House for all the same old reasons that the male contenders do, we've come a long way, baby.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

What just happened?

Don't get me wrong, I like Hillary Clinton. I always have. I think she's bright and articulate. She has a winning smile and, I believe, a genuine faith. I think she likes people and cares passionately about making the world a better place. I think I would enjoy having her as a friend or a relative. But last night just reminded me of all the reasons I didn't support her for president.

Several hundred people crowded into what looked like half a college gym to hear her speak. They were not allowed to bring in Blackberries or cell phones or any other device that might allow them to hear the news that Barack Obama had just been awarded the final four delegates that made him the presumptive Democratic nominee. Likewise, after the announcement about Obama, no one else was allowed into the venue.

Clinton was then introduced with enthusiasm as "The Next President of the United States"--remember that Obama had already gained the necessary votes to win the nomination--as the crowd went wild. This was no conciliatory speech. It was self-congratulatory from the beginning, then veered into veiled disgruntledness, casting doubt on the validity of Obama's nomination because of the Florida/Michigan fiasco (don't even get me started on that). C and Mowgli and I were all yelling at the TV--"What is she doing?" Jeffrey Toobin on MSNBC called it "the delusional narcissism of the Clintons." He might be right.