Monday, August 30, 2010

Small Graces.

I allowed myself a day to mope. Not to grieve: I suspect that will be a much longer process.

I did what I often do when my heart is troubled: I drove.  I drove one of my usual haunts in time of despair or self-doubt -- Highway 1 from Half Moon Bay south to Santa Cruz.  (The section from Half Moon Bay to San Francisco is far too developed for it to be soothing to my soul.)  I drove it the complete length and then, in an unusual move for me, drove it back (instead of going over the hill on Highway 17).  (I suspect that was because I did not have time to fulfill my real wish, to drive to Monterey and south over Big Sur. ) I am a creature of the sea:  the sound of the waves and the smell of the spray heals me in a way that few other things do. I stopped several times along the way (including a lengthy stop at Natural Bridges in Santa Cruz) just to ... be.

And as I drove, I listened (and sang along with, loudly) my current mix tapes, which are entitled "Comfort Food 1" and "Comfort Food 2."*  They contain music which, for various reasons means a lot to me.

And as I drove, it occurred to me: for someone who is having such struggles with faith, with the notion of a loving and merciful God, I sure do have a lot of religious music** in my iTunes library.

There are traditional hymns:  "Simple Gifts" and "Amazing Grace" sung by Judy Collins; "River of Babylon" by Sublime; "Down to the River to Pray" by Alison Krauss; and my very favorite, the Cat Stevens version of "Morning Has Broken." (I am still seeking for versions I like of "Thou Art My Vision" and "Seek Ye First".)   There are songs which are "secular" which nonetheless use explicitly Christian language and imagery: "Kyrie" by Mr. Mister, or "Travelin' Thru" by Dolly Parton.***  There are songs which include very strong spiritual elements: "Prince of Darkness" by the Indigo Girls or "Asking Us To Dance" by Kathy Mattea. Not to mention the entire soundtrack to "Godspell," and a couple of songs from "Jesus Christ Superstar."  And these are just examples.

Maybe I have them because I am seeking... something I once had but lost.

I have been looking for God for a long time now.  It occurred to me on that empty, lonely stretch of Highway 1 today that maybe I am looking in the wrong places.

I keep waiting for the epiphanies, the miracles (usually involving someone else, which is never a good thing).  I am waiting for the tongue of fire in the upper room, the bolt of lightning on the road to Damascus.

But maybe what I need to understand is God in the small graces, in the still small voice.  The grace of the faces of my children, and the voices of my friends.  Of the realization that there are people out there who love me and who will actually care what happens in my life -- and whose lives I care about, too.  That there are people who respect me for who I am, not ignore me because of what I am not.

Of the sea and the birds and the sky at sunset.  Of golden poppies in the spring and crepe myrtle in the summer and glorious leaves in the fall.  Of autumn and winter nights that close around me like a comfortable blanket.

Of the world around me.  Of creation.

Maybe those aren't such small graces, after all.

* If you are at all interested, the playlists can be found here.
** There is no "Contemporary Christian" music there, for the simple reason that I have yet to find any at all that I like.
 *** I am uncertain how to classify "Hallelujah," written by Leonard Cohen and sung by Rufus Wainwright.  Yes, Cohen used a lot of Biblical imagery, but it seems to me for another purpose entirely.

When is a child an adult?

We have certain standards for when children become adults in this country.  We believe youngsters incapable of making the commitment to marry (or have consensual sex) without parental consent, in most states until sixteen, in others eighteen. We state that young people are too irresponsible to vote (or smoke) until they are eighteen.  We hold that they are too reckless to drink (except for active duty military) or, in most cases, enter into contracts, until they are twenty-one. (And most rental car companies will not rent to people under 25.)

On the other hand, we hold them perfectly capable of being adults, of understanding the world around them, when it comes to violent crime.  In that case, in some states, they become adults at the age of.... twelve.

In 2001, twelve-year old Christopher Pittman took a double-barreled shotgun and killed both his grandparents, set fire to the house, took the family dog and SUV, and fled.  The facts are not in doubt:  Pittman has admitted to them in court.  Prosecutors tried him as an adult.

A jury took less than a day to convict him of the double-homicide.  Because he was tried as an adult, not a juvenile, the judge had no ability to take his age into account when sentencing: he received thirty years with no possibility of parole. 

This for a child -- and what other word is there for a twelve-year old ? -- with a troubled past, who had been on anti-depressants (including recently started Zoloft), and who had been twice abandoned by his mother, who claimed that his grandfather had beat him with a belt.  Who had been on Paxil, an antidepressant no longer prescribed for people under the age of 18.

The state held him in juvenile detention for three years before trying him.  It is noteworthy that the jury was faced not with a twelve year old, but a with a fifteen year-old.  Someone who looked, in other words, much more like the adult he was accused of being.

The Supreme Court refused to hear his appeal.  That thirty-year sentence, with no possibility of parole, stood. 

[Note: in the lengthy time I have spent thinking about this case -- I started writing this post in June -- Pittman received post-conviction relief from the circuit court on July 27.  The circuit court did so based on the failure of his attorneys to seek a plea bargain.  The state can appeal, however, and I would be very surprised if they did not do so.]

This summer, the Court, in what should be an obvious result (but with SCOTUS, that which should be obvious sometimes is ignored), held that life-imprisonment without possibility of parole for juveniles for non-homicide crimes is unconstitutional.

Interestingly, or perhaps maddeningly, the Court merely now states that juveniles must be offered a chance to show parole boards that they have matured enough to not be a danger to society.

And when will that be? Ten years? Twenty? Thirty?  And what will this once child be like at that point?  Arguably, a long prison term may make a once-child-now-adult more dangerous to society, not less.

Yes, there are children who will grow up to be serious menaces.  Perhaps trying older juvenile repeat offenders as adults is not such a bad idea.* But children -- and I refuse to consider a twelve-year old, or thirteen year-old** anything other than a child -- deserve help, and a chance.  To do otherwise is to throw them away.

Or we might as well declare them adults for all activities.  Because if one is capable of landing in jail for such a possible length of years, what's a little drinking compared to that?

*While the Supreme Court dismissed another case involving a thirteen-year-old for procedural issues, the case it did decide involved a sixteen-year-old. Someone much closer to being an adult.

**The facts in the Sullivan case are atrocious: a thirteen-year old was convicted of rape on "voice identification" by a witness that had been blindfolded before the crime, and more importantly, the testimony of two older co-defendants who identified Joe Sullivan as the assailant, and who received juvenile sentences.  (That brings up the issues of using co-defendant testimony, but that's a rant for another day.)  DNA evidence, which was available, was not introduced at trial, and has since been destroyed. His attorney filed a brief on appeal stating that there were no issues. The attorney has since been disbarred. 

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The gift was ours to borrow*...

The job ended Friday.  My efforts in support of representational democracy are done.

I knew it was temporary when I took the job.  I just never expected to find it so meaningful.  Or to have such wonderful coworkers.

I never expected to care so much when it ended.

I knew the end was coming -- I had been told a week ago.   I was not alone in going -- the office is paring down to a skeleton crew in preparation for closing.  Of the crew in field ops, three clerks other than myself were let go.  There was similar attrition in the other departments.  Even before then, I knew it would not be long: all field operations had finished a week ago.  I was pleased that, just as with NRFU,  I got  to enter the last EQs for NRFU Res, the last operation, closing it out.

On Friday, we had a pizza party for lunch, followed by a lovely session in which the LCOM (Local Census Office Manager) spoke to us about how well we had done and all we had accomplished.  He insisted that everyone speak. When I spoke I said that I had no regrets, other than it had not lasted longer. I reminded him that he had told us the first day that we would be working with people who were all vastly overqualified for the jobs they were doing, and to enjoy them.  He was right.

I stayed for much longer than I expected, much longer than I had any right to expect.  I ended up being the most junior clerk in field ops, and possibly the most junior clerk  in the office.  It was an honor.

One of the wonderful things about staying was that I got to know my bosses better.  Especially my grandboss, a warm man with a wicked sense of humor.  And I got to know the few clerks that remained, especially those who tended to work in other parts of the office.

Friday, I said the things to people that I felt I needed to say.  To one boss, who left on Wednesday for a trip, and to whom I said goodbye early, I told what a wonderful and supportive influence she had been.  I told my other bosses how much I had enjoyed working with them, and thanked the boss with whom I worked most closely for his support through some of the difficulties I faced.  I told the LCOM that I firmly believe that the tone of any organization starts from the top, and thanked him for fostering such a wonderful work environment.  I told the supervisor in QA how much I had enjoyed his silliness over the months. I told AL, a fellow clerk, how he had always been the clerk I aspired to be.

Walking away was hard.  I find myself wondering things, from the serious -- how will shipping the field binders back go with so few people -- to the silly -- what's going to happen to the field ops rubber band ball?  (It had started out when one of the crew leaders had returned her rubber bands in a ball the size of a baseball, and we had just added to it over the following few days.  When I left it was almost the size of a miniature watermelon.)

It is rare that you can be part of something that matters so much with such great people.  As I said, I have no regrets.

How often can you say that about anything in life?

*A line from What I Did For Love, from A Chorus Line.  I had it stuck in my head the entire week.

Friday, August 13, 2010


To  my LGTB friends --  may you have the chance to marry  before the opponents of same-sex marriage can get a higher court to agree with them.  I have yet to read the District Court's opinion, so I can't talk about specifics, but I am very happy at the outcome.  (I understand there are some interesting standing issues -- and I find standing a very engaging topic -- but again, have not read the opinion, or cursorily glanced at news reports of the legal manueverings following it.)

Monday, August 09, 2010

More Conversation...

Echidna Boy:  So, Mom, what do you think the weaknesses of the Census databases are?
Me:  a) I don't know, and b) if I did, I certainly would not tell you.

In the subsequent conversation, I learned, among other enlightening things,* that his Computer Media teacher had decided that he was one of the four kids in the class most likely to hack the school computer, and put special controls on them.  Echidna Boy, of course, told this with a great deal of pride.

We are soooo doomed.

*His big goal for the year was to be put on the media team that handled the live announcements over the closed circuit television, and Rickroll the school.  His teacher, who really is nobody's fool, refused to let him anywhere near the media team.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Laughing hard, I am.

wcg at Live Journal pointed me to the wonder that is  #wookieleaks.

My favorites, other than the ones listed in the article?

"Plans to drain Degoba swamps to build planet sized WalMart meets resistance from green party. " (@jjd241)


"austerity measures announced on Dagobah system, Yoda's pension to be reduced by half, forced to give up costly elocution lessons" (@Poscillio)

My very favorite, as mentioned in the Atlantic article, is:  "Protocol droid fluent in 6 mil languages discharged for violating DADT." (@daudig)