Monday, August 24, 2015

Shatterproof quiz on prescription drug addiction

Shatterproof, a national group dedicated to ending teen drug and alcohol addiction, sent me an interesting email today. In it they invited me to take a three question quiz on prescription drug addiction. In return, they said, a donor would send them fifty cents if I completed it.

Actually, I know a little bit about how addictive prescription painkillers can be, though thankfully not from having had occasion to become addicted to them. No, I became curious abut the drug OxyContin after watching the series Justified and then coincidentally seeing a Lisa Ling report on the way the drug had eaten inroad in the Salt Lake City Mormon community.

Despite my awareness of the problem, I actually got all three questions wrong. So why don't you go on over to the quiz and see if you can beat me? It shouldn't be that hard. This donor will honor all you quiz takers with a 50 cent contribution for each completed quiz, up to a maximum of 30,000 dollars. It's really to bad I don't have 15,000 followers, but we do what we can...

Thursday, August 20, 2015

jury nullification

I have once again been summoned for jury duty. The summonses have been coming a little thick and fast recently, as two years ago I was called for superior court duty, last year for appellate court duty, and now once again for superior court. Although this seems a bit much, in actuality, in my whole life, I've only had to go down and be in a jury selection pool for one day, and though I was in the first group to be quizzed, I was quickly booted. So I can't say it's really been all that onerous.

Not my actual summons

Though I have my issues with trials in general, I am, if not happy to serve, then at least grudgingly willing. It seems to me to be just one of those citizen duties, like voting and paying taxes. But this time around, I have been getting quite a few completely unsolicited suggestions for how to get out of it. And no, I am not going to tell you what they are. But one person did mention that if I just said in the selection process that I believed in the right of jury nullification, no lawyer would want me around.

I knew vaguely about this concept, though I did not know its name, which frankly sounds a little creepy, like voter suppression or something like that. And it's usually been brought up in conversation by fairly extreme activist types, so it's sounded a little suspect and on the fringe of legal theory. But, in fact, it's not. 

Jury nullification is simply the process by which a jury votes to acquit a defendant, even though under the law, he or she is guilty. It is basically a vote against the validity of that law in those circumstances. It has been used to acquit people who were guilty of harboring slaves when the Fugitive Slave Law was still active, as well as letting people off of convictions during Prohibition. It has also been used to acquit perpetrators of hate crimes in communities that weren't unilaterally against such practices. So it's not any kind of magic bullet. But the option does tend to arise when law has somehow parted ways with the community it is supposed to serve. Whether it is ahead or behind the times is another question.

Convincing looking, but that doesn't make her right.

A curious aspect of the possibility of jury nullification is that the American public is not particularly well informed about it. If it was, a lot of people who are languishing in prison for small, non-violent drug violations would not have ever gone in, I bet. Our ignorance in this case has to do with the fact that the Supreme Court ruled as far back as 1895 that judges have no obligation to inform juries of this possibility. They have often tried to keep defense lawyers from telling juries about it as well.

Now, while all of this came up casually, it turns out to be timely as well. A Denver Post editorial appeared just a couple of days ago entitled "Jury Nullification is Not a Crime, Denver". It speaks of the recent arrest of two activists handing out literature on jury nullification outside of a Denver courthouse. But a civil rights attorney has filed a case on behalf of other activists who want to do the same thing unharassed. The article points out that a similar case was ultimately thrown out in New York, the judge saying that there would have to be proof of the pamphleteer trying to influence a particular case rather than just trying to educate people about a general principle.

Jury nullification isn't just some newfangled American thing. Its roots go back to English Common Law. And at, quotes from Oliver Wendell Holmes and a good handful of the Founding Fathers come out in support of nullification. Here's Holmes:

"The jury has the power to bring a verdict in the teeth of both the law and the facts."
— Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Horning v. District of Columbia, 1920

And here's Jefferson:

"Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add 'within the limits of the law' because law is often but the tyrant's will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual."
— Thomas Jefferson

So what am I going to do with my newfound knowledge? Well, here's Jurybox's advice:

"If I get selected for jury duty, should I disclose my knowledge of jury nullification to the attorneys or judge?

Only if asked. And if asked, do not lie about your knowledge. (This is a crime in and of itself.) Since knowing about jury nullification may get you excused from sitting on a jury, and the best place for informed jurors to be is on a jury rather than excused from it, the best answer to give is: "I have heard about jury nullification, but I'm not a lawyer, so I don't think I fully understand it. Maybe you could explain to me what it is?" This will typically result in either them dropping the issue entirely, or explaining it in full for other potential jurors to hear.

Yeah--that's my story and I'm sticking to it. 

Friday, August 14, 2015


"True Humility": Bishop: "I'm afraid you've got a bad egg, Mr Jones"; Curate: "Oh, no, my Lord, I assure you that parts of it are excellent!"--George Dumaurier in Punch, 1895

Well, not that kind of curate. I'm thinking more along the lines of 'curated', which seems to have been popping into my awareness lately. Slow to catch on as usual, I see that Alex Williams of the New York Times was noticing the trend as far back as 2009, but then, that's New York for you.

I have known a curator or two in my time, and by that I mean people who worked for museums and on art exhibits in various capacities. I do not mean people as they are represented in the NYT article, as in food vendors who offer curated food stands, or secondhand clothing stores that offer curated collections of not just any old junk. Or so say they.

I liked what John McWhorter is quoted as saying in the article. He calls it "an innocent form of self-inflation. You’re implying that there is some similarity between what you do and what someone with an advanced degree who works at a museum does.”And linguist Geoffrey Nunberg says that it's hardly the first time a less credentialed profession took on the nomenclature of a more prestigious one. I liked the example he gives of "associates", which at one time meant partners or colleagues in some position of power but now can extend to any level of the work force including the salesclerks. I suspect in those cases that being an associate doesn't mean that you share in any kind of equal way in the profits.

Self aggrandizement, then, is both human and normal. But I find it interesting to be in a period when a word's new meaning hasn't quite become universally accepted, so that one person may be signalling "I am so in the know" while the listener may be thinking "You are so full of it." Still some people are just early adapters of new word usage. As with so many other newfangled things, I am not. So I think it will be a long time before you catch me saying that I curate anything.

Well, curator of ignorance, maybe. But I doubt that will go to my head.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Berber--sort of

I was planning to do a little post on the term "Berber" here tonight, after going to a concert at the Church Street Fair today, which is the free outdoor portion of the Cabrillo Music Festival going on these first couple of weeks of August. The Moroccan musicians that I made a point of seeing said that to their people, "Berber" is an offensive term, and that the people of that region would prefer to be called by their self-given name, the Amazigh people. And at first glance, internet searches lead you to see Berber as a form of that old Greek bar-bar, where we get barbarians, which made some sense.

But then I happened upon a blogpost that went into the whole issue much further than I can or would. It is by a blogger called Indiana Josh, who goes into different theories about where the word Berber really comes from, and though it's interesting, I knew I wasn't really in any position to weigh in on either side of the argument, or even do half as good a job of summing it all up, so I think I'm just going to give you the link to that post. Make of it what you will. I will say that it seems to be done with good will and not with any particular agenda.

Meanwhile, it's probably just good policy in general to ask people what they call themselves and what they'd like you to call them.

And while I'm at it, here's a website of AZA: Amazigh Music and Culture with a sample of Fattou and Mahomed's music, which better judges than I have deemed praiseworthy (and I agree). Also, you can watch a lot of it on Youtube if you just search for AZA music.

Mahomed and Fattou