Commemorating petty idiocy
By now, I should not be surprised at the shameless self aggrandizement and sheer chutzpah of public officials. But, oh, my simple mind cannot grasp it all. Nearly every day for years, I’ve passed by a bronze plaque on the ground floor of the Marion County Courthouse. The Courthouse is a grand sandstone Greek Revival structure with columns and marble and woodwork and frescoes (of that more soon), but the first floor is pretty dull – you walk past the USGS benchmark set into the stone by the front door into a drab hallway where you find the County Clerk, the public bathrooms, and the elevator. Beside the men’s bathroom, you find this bronze plaque which proudly announces that the HVAC Installation and Electrical System Renovation was done in 1995, and it sets forth solemnly for all Time the names of the county commissioners, the county administrative assistant, the chair of the building committee, and the engineer. At current prices for cast bronze, this would cost $500+ today. (At around $1.50 per square inch.) Of public money. Is this for some legitimate historic purpose? Will archaeologists excavating the Courthouse one day revel over this plaque like inscriptions on the plain at Giza? Will so and so the engineer be revered like Goombah the Grand Vizier of King Tut? I rather doubt it. The bronze is simply a posting of foolish peacocks’ names, to brag that they were public officials when they had heating & airconditioning and wiring done. Maybe they think that their “fame” will somehow live on after their corporeal bodies have returned to dust. What a sad and pathetic notion. I absolutely would be ashamed.
(Note for urbanites: The United States Geological Survey places "benchmarks," which are bronze markers places with unblievable precision using pre-GPS technology, and which are referenced on the USGS topographical maps.)
Voice from an Island
Friend Sarai called Friday morning, and it was sooo nice to hear voice to match to the smooth, kind and pithy prose. This was a wonderful surprise, and a pleasant reminder on a Friday morning that people of good will are all in this life together
Senator Gramm is Partly Right (Extreme Right, too)
Senator McCain’s economic advisor, Senator Gramm (who has a Ph.D. in economics) terms Americans “whiners” because they are complaining about a recession or about economic troubles. He boasts that the Economy is growing at 1% per annum, so we shouldn’t be bitching about off-shoring, out-sourcing, down-sizing and so forth, nor the fact that it’s cheaper to manufacture goods with slave labor and maximum pollution in China, ship them using slave labor and maximum pollution on ships to ill-monitored ports of entry, and distribute them to Walmart where laid-off American workers can’t afford them, even in the improbable event that they are goods that those Americans actually need. Senator Obama, sensing an issue, has responded quickly that life is hard and no one can blame the American people for being discouraged and looking for a sugar daddy, and oh, the humanity, Americans are chaff in the wind. Fie on everyone. It is easy for Senator Gramm to channel the ROTC guy in the final scene of Animal House, shrieking in the midst of Chaos, “All is well! All is well!” He doesn’t worry about $4 gasoline and his Congressional pension and government health care is secure. And it is politically advantageous for Senator Obama to give everyone a “There, there, it isn’t your fault, poor dear, poor dear, daddy fix, daddy fix,” knowing that daddy is really thinking 24/7 about 270 electoral votes and when & if daddy gets them, daddy damn well won’t fix and that any solution requires that everyone will get off their ass and work, as well as holding the money sucking whores of Congress, lobbying and corporate elitism accountable. So the Gramms are beating people down and cussing them for not shouting, yes, master, beat me more, and the Obamas are counting votes and limos, and nobody is going to the head of the pack and leading from the front. Give us a new Nintendo, they think, and we’ll stare at the electrons and zone out. Maybe it’s time to get pissed off.
These Are My People; Judges Should Be More than Judges
Yesterday, I went down to Clarksburg to present a talk to a group of potential adoptive parents on the legal part of the process. I really, really enjoy talking to small groups of people like this. In doing some philosophizing with someone recently (of that more anon), I’ve commented that “these are my people.” I am just not a Mercedes-3-piece-black-suit-leather-briefcase-wingtip kind of guy. I did this for a national agency that buddy Brenda is associated with. Gee, Brenda and I have been doing these cases for 30 years now. Amazing. At one point, I commented that the “horror stories” about Courts doing stupid things are mostly urban myths, that lawyers and judges are people who live in the real world, not theoretical-minded academics who will screw a child because a comma got lost. That touched someone’s sore spot and, I confess, sometimes the tomahawk does cut a wide swath. So, let me say that I don’t dislike academics. One of my very favorite books is Das Glasperlenspiel (The Glass Bead Game) by Hermann Hesse, where the fictional academic institution “Castalia” is a beautiful notion integrated into society, even though Hesse never has to say precisely what the Castalians do. Sometimes, my daydreams are of an academic retreat where calm matters of the mind, and reason and peace and thought and philosophy will advance and some new Truths will be found. But that’s not where I live. And, indeed, a pure academic viewpoint makes for a poor judiciary. The greatest judges I have known have been really smart people - accomplished in academic pursuits - who have participated in non-academic things and thus been connected with humanity. Perhaps we should devise a list of activities for prospective judges and give them weight. Here’s an off-the-cuff partial list, with the number of points for each event:
Be with someone while they die - 10 points
Serve in the military - 15
. . . in combat - 50
Have kids - 25
Coach a kids’ sports team - 10
Try 10 jury cases to verdict - 20
Be a volunteer EMT, fireman, auxilliary police officer, Red Cross worker - 25
Change your own oil - 5
Attend a religious service of something other than your own faith once a year or more - 10
Attend a religious service of your own faith 10 times a year - 10
Isolate yourself to consciously meditate 10 times a year - 10
Do what the Boy Scouts would consider a “good turn” every week - 20
Go with someone to a movie that you don’t want to see - 3
Increase your credit rating by 200 points - 10
Read 50 books of 200+ pages in one calendar year - 15
. . . including 5 biographies - 5
. . . including 5 histories - 5
. . . including 5 current events - 5
. . . including 5 science - 5
Clean up vomit or shit from a stranger - 3
Work a blue collar job for one year - 15
Ride a motorcycle 5,000 miles - 2
Spend 50 nights camping - 5
Stay married or in a stable residential relationship for 10 years - 10
Start a fire without a lighter or a match - 1
Graduate in the upper 1/3 of your law school class if you attend a 3rd tier or 4th tier school - 5
Graduate in the upper 2/3 of your law school class in you attend a 2nd tier school - 6
Graduate from a 1st tier law school - 7
Well, that’s MY partial list. How about you? What would you add? What activities would you award “life experience points” to?
And in my system, you’d need, say, 50 points to become a trial judge, and 75 points to become an appellate judge - and 100 points for the U.S. Supreme Court. Did you know there there are U.S. Supreme Court justices who have never looked a jury or a human client in the eye?
So, I must persist. Judging is too important a job for people trained just as judges.
Send me your list, what seems important to you as the experiences of one fit to judge their fellow citizens, and I’ll publish a revised scale in a future post.