27 February, 2007

I just discovered Kathy Reichs

As I've been blogging about lately, one of the things that I've been doing to help with my depression is to read. I guess one of the things that this does for me is keep my mind off a lot of the stressors that are in my life right now. Additionally, it helps keep my mind focused, and as I've blogged about, I find a lot of things in books to be applicable to or reflective of my life, or more generally, there are passages that "speak" to me. Two of the authors that I've been reading a lot lately have been Sue Grafton and Patricia Cornwell. Because the selection of books that I have not yet read by these female authors has dwindled, I recently asked a librarian if she could recommend something else to me along the same genre/style of the two woman powerauthors, and she recommend Kathy Reichs. I picked out Death du Jour and within a few pages, I was in love.

Reichs, like Cornwell, is employed in the forensics field. In addition to being an author of great caliber, she's a forensic anthropologist in North Carolina and Quebec. Additionally, like Grafton and Cornwell, her characters are well-formed, three dimensional representations of individuals that you could swear you've known about for quite some time. Take, for instance, the following passages:

"Do you have a religion, Dr. Brennan?"
"I was raised Roman Catholic, but currently I don't belong to a
church."
The ghostly eyes looked into mine.
"Do you believe in God?"
"Dr. Jeannotte, there are some days I don't believe in tomorrow
morning."

One of the things that I haven't really talked about is my spiritual affiliation. Like the main character in the novel, I was raised Roman Catholic, but don't currently have a religious affiliation; I consider myself spiritual. And like Dr. Bennet, my depression has me to the point where there are many, many days wherein I can't conceptualize there being a tomorrow morning for me.
"You've heard of subversion myths? Anthropologists love to discuss
these."
I dug back to a grad school seminar on mythology. "Blame giving.
Stories that find scapegoats for complicated problems."
"Exactly. Usually the scapegoats are outsiders -- racial,
ethnic, or religious groups that make others uneasy. Romans accused early
Christians of of incest and child sacrifice. Later Christian sects accused one
another, then Christians pointed the same finger at Jews. Thousands died because
of such beliefs. Think of the witch trials. Or the Holocaust. And it's not just
old news. After the student uprising in France in the late sixties, Jewish
shopkeepers were accused of kidnapping teenage girls from boutique dressing
rooms."

Full of useful information. As you may be aware, anthropology is the study of humanity, and this may explain why I find these books to be so fascinating, as they really delve into the human condition.

One of the things about Reich that I found somewhat irritating is that she held out. What I mean by this is that she didn't reveal the plot as the story was revealed; there were certain aspects that she kept "mysterious" and didn't reveal until almost the end of the book. For instance,

I told her Elisabeth's skeleton was packed and ready, and that the report
was being typed. She said the bones would be picked up first thing Monday
morning.
"Thank you so much, Dr. Brennan. We await your report with great
anticipation."
I did not avail myself of the opening. I had no idea how
they'd react to what I'd written.
Now, she's been alluding to some finding for quite a few chapters, but has yet to reveal, exactly, what this suspicion of hers is. It's a tease, of course, and meant to keep the reader engaged but, trust me, with her writing, she really doesn't need to use such an obvious ploy.

Another passage that spoke to me:
Though age has mellowed Sam, I doubt that it will ever
change his discomfiture at social interaction. It isn't that he doesn't want to
participate. He does. His seeking the office of mayor proves that. Life just
doesn't operate for Sam the way it does for others. So he buys bikes and wings
for flying. They provide stimulation and excitement, but remain predictable and
manageable. Sam Rayburn is one of the most complex and intelligent people I have
ever met.


I, too, find the need for life to stimulate me. One of the things that I used to do to find this stimulation was drive fast. Safely, but definitely fast. My last car, the Pontiac Grand Prix GTP Comp G, allowed me to do this, quite safely.

Here's another example of the annoying "toy with the reader so the reader will continue reading" ploys that Reich employs:
Sam dragged a ladder from under the field house and
propped it against the trailer. He brushed away spiderwebs, tested his weight on
the first rung, then climbed up.

"What the hell?"
"What?"
"Sonofabitch."
"What is it?"

He rotated something in his hand.
"I'll be goddamned."
"What is it?" I tried to see what
the monkey had dropped, but Sam's body obscured my view.

Sam stood motionless at the top of the ladder, his head
bent.

"Sam, what is it?"
Without a word he climbed down and held the object out for
my inspection. I knew instantly what it was and what it meant, and felt the
sunshine go out of the day.

I met Sam's eyes and we stared at each other in
silence.

[End of chapter]
Not to sound ungrateful, but couldn't she tell the reader what it was that was found before ending the chapter?

Well, I guess when a writer is able to evoke such emotion out of an individual, it merely is a testament as to the high quality of her writing. So if you like Grafton and Cornwell, by all means, check out Reichs. I did, and I'm glad. I hope you will be, too.

22 February, 2007

QOTD

Who we are is who we were and the more things change, the less they
do, unless we start with our hearts. ~Trooper Truth, character in
Patricia Cornwell's novel, Isle Of Dogs.

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PCF
http://petercfrank.blogspot.com

13 February, 2007

It's Started

Well, here it comes. The snow has finally started falling. Let's see
if it actually last this time. If it does, I'll post pictures.

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PCF
http://petercfrank.blogspot.com

12 February, 2007

An Unselfish Act

The other day, when I was getting out of work, I couldn't find my
metrocard to get on the subway. Just my luck, right? So I went into
the station with my last twenty dollar bill in hand, hoping to buy a
ten dollar metrocard with the twenty. As luck would have it, I got all
the way down the stairs and the entrance I had picked didn't have a
token booth, only the vending machines selling metrocards. I tried to
purchase a ten dollar card with my twenty dollar bill, but the
machines will only give out a maximum of six dollars in change! I
didn't want to buy a twenty dollar card as then I'd have no money
left, yet I needed to get back to where I was staying. so I started
asking people if they had change of a twenty. This one lady stopped
and looked, and apologized that she didn't have change. Then I guess
she saw that I was walking with a cane, and asked if I just needed a
swipe to get on the subway. It took me a minute to realize what she
was asking me, as it totally took me off guard. It's not that I'm so
shocked by random acts of kindness by strangers in New York; rather,
one can get in trouble for swiping someone else in using your
metrocard so I really wasn't expecting the offer. Anyway, I just
wanted to thank the kind lady who allowed me to get home after a long
night's work. When I got off the subway, I was able to get a ten
dollar metrocard from the token booth clerk at my destination stop.
This lady's kindness saved me from having to go up all those stairs
and back down just as many (stairs are one of the most difficult
obstacles for me to navigate, what with my bad leg and all) into
another subway entrance where I would have been able to buy a ten
dollar card from a booth clerk using my twenty dollar bill. Ah, the
trials and tribulations of being in New York City. :-)

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PCF
http://petercfrank.blogspot.com

09 February, 2007

New York State to Ban Pedestrian Use of Handheld Devices?

A New York state senator has announced his plan to introduce legislation that would ban the use of electronic devices such as iPods, BlackBerrys and cell phones while crossing streets in major cities.

State Sen. Carl Krueger, a Democrat who represents New York's 27th district in the New York City borough of Brooklyn, claimed that the phenomenon of "iPod oblivion" has led to a number of fatal accidents on urban streets. While he did not cite any statistical studies that have indicated a rise in such incidents, he referred to the January death of a 23-year-old Brooklyn man who, tuned into his iPod headphones, walked into the path of a city bus.

Very recently, I briefly blogged about the various levels of judicial review, which is the process that judges in appellate courts apply when determining whether or not a governmental action is or is not constitutional. Judicial review isn't a power of the courts that is spelled out in any law. Rather, it is found in common law, and essentially it is a power that the United States Supreme Court gave itself and other appellate courts. However, common law isn't something that the Supreme Court Justices created out of thin air; common law has a long history in the British (England's) legal system. Most American common law is based on and derived from the English common law system.

As any first year law student would be able to tell you, the first instance of judicial review in the United States is generally and widely accepted to have been created by common law in Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137 (1803), wherein the Court reasoned that it had the authority to review and declare constitutional or unconstitutional acts of the other two branches of government. The actual underlying issue in the case was not very complex; however, in order to reach a decision about it, the court first had to determine whether or not it had the authority to make such a determination in the first place. Thus was born the concept of judicial review. There's a great article that goes into a very good explanation of the case, and why something decided more than two hundred years ago is still quite relevant to this day.

Now, as I just blogged about, there are three levels of judicial review: rational basis (the government must show that the challenged classification/law is "rationally related" to serving a "legitimate state interest"), intermediate scrutiny (the government must show that the challenged classification/law serves an "important state interest" and that the classification/law is "substantially related" to serving same), and strict scrutiny (as before, the classification/law must serve a "compelling state interest" and the classification/law serves a "required state interest" (or that the classification/law is required to serve same). It is this last level of scrutiny -- strict scrutiny -- that I believe should be applied to determining whether or not this proposed law would be constitutional; however, I also will look at the law under rational scrutiny (intermediate scrutiny is pretty much reserved to cases where one's sex is a factor in government action).

As a reminder, there are three "prongs" to the strict scrutiny test:

  1. The classification/law must be justified by a compelling state interest;
  2. The law/policy must be narrowly tailored to meet this compelling state interest; and
  3. the law/policy must use the least restrictive means to achieve such compelling state interest.

Now, this isn't an either/or situation. In order to survive a strict scrutiny standard of judicial review, all three prongs of the test must be satisfied. So let's take a look at this piece of legislation that New York State Senator Carl Krueger has proposed and apply the strict scrutiny test:

  1. The compelling state interest is the safety of the state's citizens: PASS.
  2. I can't seem to locate the actual proposed bill on the Senate's web site. If someone can find it, then I can take a look and see how it's tailored: UNCERTAIN.
  3. Banning all forms of electronic devices while crossing a street is an extremely restrictive means of ensuring the public's safety, especially as there are other, less restrictive means of accomplishing the same goal (for instance, a law could be passed requiring pedestrians to look both ways before crossing the street, or to pay attention to traffic while crossing a street, or to use assistance while crossing the street (e.g., for the visually impaired), etc.) FAIL.

Because this legislation cannot survive just one of the three prongs of the strict scrutiny test, I do not believe that it would be constitutional. Unfortunately, however, if this legislation were to become law and be challenged, the court most likely would use a rational basis standard of review, as that is the default for governmental action, and crossing the street is not a guaranteed constitutional right (although one could make the argument that government is restricting one's liberty and pursuit of happiness, in which case strict scrutiny would kick in).

Under a rational basis standard of review, the government need only show that what it is doing is rational and related to a legitimate state purpose. Protecting the public safety is a legitimate state purpose, and one could argue that preventing people from using electronic devices, thus forcing them to pay attention to the street crossing and not otherwise, is rational.

As a civil libertarian, this legislation is quite disturbing to me, and my only hope would be that the court can be convinced to use a strict scrutiny standard of review based on the legislation attempting to infringe upon one's constitutionally-protected right to the freedom of liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

05 February, 2007

The Fight Continues in California for Same-Sex Marriage

I'm glad to see that the typically Californian modus operandi of being laid back, easy-going, c'est la vie is taking a back seat in the struggle for those gay couples wishing to marry and thereby obtaining equal rights and treatment under the law. As a form of protest, a very smart, sassy, and ingenious Yolo County Clerk employee (Freddie Oakley -- she's the person responsible for issuing marriage licenses) is standing up for equal rights under the law and, in concert with various other demonstrations and protestations that will occur this year on Valentine's Day, she will offer a "Certificate of Inequality" for same-sex couples seeking a marriage license, which cannot be obtained under current state law in California (well, not just California; only Massachusetts allows for same-sex marriage, and even that right is under attack).

Quoth one article,

The woman who oversees civil marriage in Yolo County is planning to issue "certificate of inequality" to same-sex couples on Valentine's Day. It's her way of protesting California's ban on gay marriage. They will say, "I issue this Certificate of Inequality to you because your choice of marriage partner displeases some people whose displeasure is, apparently, more important than principles of equality."
What's really cool about Ms. Oakley's action is that, unlike most other municipal employees who take some sort of action in protest of what are (in my opinion) unconstitutional bans on same-sex marriage, Ms. Oakley isn't gay. As this article explains, she's married, has kids, the 2.7 dogs, and probably a white picket fence in front of her house. Oh, and get this: she's an Evangelical Christian. So there are actually religious people out there who are intelligent and can use their brains.

Quoth she, "I don't think that religion belongs at the office. I think it's wrong. I don't go down and tell my pastor how to preach and I don't want him to stand behind my counter[.]" In another article, she states, "I don't give up my right to exercise the First Amendment by assuming county office[.]"

Kudos, Ms. Oakley, and many thanks. I just wish more Americans could see the logic, and legality, of her position.

Lest we forget why being able to marry is important, let's take a look at some of the legal and non-legal consequences that can depend on marital status:

  1. A New York judge has ruled that a Long Island lesbian cannot sue the man responsible for the accident that killed her partner because their relationship is not recognized by New York State law. ... In his ruling in the Saegert case Judge Daniel Palmieri noted that an unmarried opposite-sex couple also would not be recognized under the law.
    The difference, say LGBT rights attorneys, is that opposite-sex couples could marry if they wished while same-sex couples are denied that right in New York State. (Full Story)
  2. Getting married enhances mental health, especially if you're depressed, according to a new U.S. study. (Full article, Related article). More information is contained in this article, which states, "A US study of more than 125,000 men and women revealed married couples suffer fewer mental health problems than those who never married or got divorced."
  3. As of January 31, 1997, there were 1,049 federal laws where marital status is a factor in the law, pertaining either to benefits, rights, privileges, or responsibilities of married couples. On January 31, 1997, the United States General Accounting Office issued a report (PDF) wherein the United States Code was searched for "laws in which benefits, rights, and privileges are contingent on marital status." (Note: this report has been updated (PDF) as of January 23, 2004 to 1,138 federal laws; I probably should devote an entire post to the updated report).
  4. In 1967, the United States Supreme Court reaffirmed its holding that marriage is a "basic civil right" (aka a Fundamental Right) and, therefore, any restrictions placed upon marriage must be subject to a standard of legal review called strict scrutiny -- the most stringent form of judicial review -- to determine whether such restrictions can be deemed constitutional. "The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men." (Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967)) In order to pass a strict scrutiny standard of judicial review, a three-prong test is used:
    1. The law or policy must be justified by a compelling governmental interest;
    2. The law or policy must be narrowly tailored to meet such compelling governmental interest; and
    3. The law or policy must be the least restrictive means of achieving such compelling governmental interest.
  5. As I've previously blogged, I believe that the prohibition of same-sex marriage violates United States law (specifically, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964).
  6. Same-sex marriages are allowed when one partner is transgendered (e.g., a MtF marrying a woman). (A whole separate issue arises out of transgendered people and marriage.)

I'm certain that there are more and further ramifications but for now, this should give you something to ponder. If there's something you think I've overlooked, by all means, leave a comment!

For my Gather.com friends, here's a link back to my post there so you can comment.