Friday, May 27, 2011

The Reluctant Juror

Matt Taibbi: “The amount of money investors lost in this fraud scheme is probably gigantic. The ill-gotten money the banks made off that same fraud is probably similarly huge. And the damage to society, in the form of mass foreclosures and other losses, is incalculable.”

New York Times: “Eric T. Schneiderman, the New York attorney general, has requested information and documents in recent weeks from three major Wall Street banks about their mortgage securities operations during the credit boom, indicating the existence of a new investigation into practices that contributed to billions in mortgage losses.”

A couple weeks ago I got another jury summons. Over the years, I've been summoned many times and have served on four juries. I have little recollection of the first experience beyond some vague images from the deliberation. The second case was a burglary: we found the defendant guilty. When I found out after the trial that this was his third strike, something they don't tell you during the proceedings, I was sick to my stomach. Yes, he was guilty, but did he deserve the third strike “punishment”? Hardly. The third case was a few years ago, a civil case for damages being brought against a doctor. I was the only one on the jury who found in favor of the defendant. Unfortunately for him, since it was a civil case, the jury didn't have to be unanimous, and the doctor won. My last jury was about a year ago. I guess they can call you now every year or so. I was an alternate. It was a murder trial. The two defendants were accused of killing a homeless man. The defendants were found guilty. I disagreed (on the basis of self-defense and other factors), but of course, since I was an alternate, I had no say in the matter. The whole experience was a bit disturbing: they took us out to the scene of the crime, the family of both parties were in the courtroom during the case, many witnesses were homeless, etc. I journaled the experience for personal purposes and perhaps I'll post it later.

These last two cases reinforced something I've known most of my life, i.e., I have a bit of a different perspective on things than most folks. But that's not the point of this post. The fact of the matter is, since I've received that summons, I've pretty much decided that I cannot serve on another jury. In the last year or so, as I've learned more about this country's financial “collapse” and what actually happened, how we were originally “told” this whole thing was a bunch of “circumstances” that just happened to result in horrible financial misfortune for thousands of people, how the bankers/Wall Streeters HAD to be saved, how they were “penalized” with a slap on the wrist, and yet, how now we realize these people were in fact CRIMINALS with knowledge aforethought about the whole thing and who were MANIPULATING the system and the suckers so they could further expand what they seem to feel is their birthright for yet more wealth and power at the expense of everyone else. And that so far NO CRIMINAL CHARGES have been brought against them, except that, God help him, New York's Attorney General (see above) MAY be doing something about it. Good luck on that, sir. Remember Elliot Spitzer?

On June 6, which just happens to be my father's 87th birthday, I will probably (I have to call first) show up at the courthouse and wait to be questioned to see if I end up on a jury. Only this time, if I do get questioned, I don't think I will be able to say, with a clear conscience, that I can be impartial. I'm repulsed by the blatant two-tiered justice system in this country. Of course I know this has been the case forever, but to my mind, it's becoming too much the norm and too many members of the revolving door ivy league banker/legislator/lobbyist club are NOT EVEN BEING clandestine about it anymore and not a one of them is having to pay for anything. So when I look at that defendant in that courtroom, I will be partial towards their “situation” - I will not be able to look at anything in that courtroom with an open mind. And I suppose I will have to tell them how I feel.


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Pandora's Crawler

This recent cartoon got me thinking about the preservation of "web stuff" and the peculiarity of what really is a new era of preservation of all manner of data statistical, textual, visual, and aural. My first thought was a variation on a theme of some years ago, a new era of its kind, the subpoena of presidential guards somewhat over ten years ago. At that time, there was history from both Kennedy's and Nixon's presidency which related to the secret recording of presidential meetings, but none relating to forcing revelations from White House security insiders from the Secret Service or elsewhere. I wondered, could literally anything that had ever been posted on the web be grist for some legal mill? Party A posts a video of Party B picking her nose, and twenty years on it's used as part of a character assassination of Party B as a high office candidate.

As expected, the answer to the question involves quite a bit of complexity, and yet is fairly well-defined, perhaps. Courtesy the Solid Forensics blog, for instance:

Although there are a few ISP companies that offer a web interface to subpoena data (Sprint is one of them), there is no excitement in the ISP world for setting up a national system to handle this type of data. There are too many security and privacy issues to overcome. This is exacerbated by a recent Justice Department’s 289 page report that claimed the 'FBI obtained Americans’ telephone records by citing nonexistent emergencies and simply asking for the data or writing phone numbers on a sticky note rather than following procedures required by law.'

That implies, however, a potential for a fiduciary requirement, which would then imply something like the Ken Starr scenario writ large. The thing that's pretty fascinating, though, is how much is really preserved, as in the case of the Wayback Machine (whose name has a Rocky and Bullwinkle legacy), which allows the casual user the ability to poke around in a historical web-in-amber which is the Internet Archive, where everything that was there in 1994 (and later) is preserved. As it happens, a news story today highlights that era; Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, whose DNA is sought now in connection with the earlier Tylenol poisonings, coerced the New York Times into publishing his manifesto about then. Now it would be a simpler matter both to publish and to retrieve his ravings.

Having finished my brief investigation of web forensics, though, I noticed that the Internet Archive had a drop down called "All Media Types", and when I dropped it down, well below Wayback Machine itself, in the Audio subsection, there was a Grateful Dead selection. I decided to pick it, then put in "Cosmic" as the search term, and the first of a whopping 270 entries was a late 1970 "Grateful Dead Live at Sargent Gym, Boston University" recording of - you might well have guessed it - "Cosmic Charlie". It had been downloaded over two thousand times, but reviewed but once, by someone noting "Bobby very high-----strung on vocals."

And today, the aural rock historian site Wolfgang's Vault put voluminous video archives online. And neither these nor my ramblings will ever quite go away...

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Whistling Past

On one of my rare trips to the supermarket near work recently, I chanced to hear someone whistling in the parking lot. I didn't bother to see who it was, and it was some days later before I thought about the fact that it had been months since I had at least noticed someone whistling, and I wished then that I could think about who it was who did it. I'm the only person I have ever heard whistling at work, for instance, and it may not be an accident that I'm also about the oldest person at my workplace. I'm beginning to think that there are few young people in our country who do it, or are even capable.

The general history of whistling from my point of view is one with fairly corny associations. I've written disparagingly earlier about Roger Whittaker, who however is a phenomenal whistler, very good at what he's done. I sort of think of the canonical whistled melody as being like the theme to "M. Hulot's Holiday", carefree, sentimental, stuck in the forties or fifties, technically as solid as Whittaker's delivery. A measure of how ingrained the taste for things like that was in that era was Guy Mitchell's hit "Singing the Blues", a nominal woe-is-me tune delivered in a suspiciously chirpy style.

The sixties probably were reckoned to be fairly daring just because the whistle was deployed for suspense in contexts like Ennio Morricone's "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly", not to mention Otis Redding's wan whistle which was the ultimate selling point for the lugubriousness of "Sitting On the Dock of the Bay." But since then, a dearth of whistling in popular music, and really popular anything, is observable - this list is probably a pretty good indicator of how rare it is. You could probably cut a swath in hipsterland by even including some whistling in some otherwise alt-like musical effort.

But then, someone would have to show you, and it's not particularly straightforward. The mouth-puckered type of whistle may be easier than either the tucked-lip or two-finger "hey!" whistle - the latter being, for the time being, beyond me - but I found it hard to describe to my daughter, and I suspect she's made little headway based on my attempts at instruction.

But then, I'm not particularly good at it, and if it makes me happy sometimes to whistle some of the up-and-downs of Debussy's "Arabesque", I'm going to make a point of avoiding public places.