The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
 
 
Thursday, December 30, 2004
Current Affairs ... Foreign Relations/World Affairs ... Music ...

It’s always great news when an uprising for freedom starts in some foreign land where tyranny and oppression has long been the norm. Remember Tienanmen Square in China in 1989. But it’s even better when an uprising actually gets somewhere. Like in the Ukraine. It looks as though the Orange Revolution has succeeded – opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko has been declared the winner in the new Presidential election, which was called after the original vote was declared fraudulent and irregular. (Now why couldn’t we do that in the US back in 2000?). Viktor Yanukovich, The pro-Russian establishment guy, is still complaining but the election observers seem to be in agreement that Yushchenko won fair and square. Sorry, Mister Putin, but your next door neighbors ain’t gonna just snooze their way through your efforts to re-establish the Soviet Union, even if your own people will.

You know who is snoozing through this one, though? Weird Al Yankovic, that’s who. Yea, Weird Al, the pop singer and comedy stylist who got some attention back in the 80’s with his takeoff on Queen’s “Another One Bites The Dust”. Of course, under Weird Al the refrain became “Another One Rides The Bus”, a tale of unwashed homeless people getting on a public bus and sitting next to clean-shaven working citizens. I guess it was funny at the time.

Weird Al is still out there, putting out albums and making appearances for some kind of cult following. But he missed his opportunity to get back into the mainstream by tagging on to the Orange Revolution. “Yankovic ” must be an Americanization of something awfully close to “Yanukovich”. It would have been pretty neat for Weird Al to have gone to Kiev to denounce “Weird Vik Yanukovich”, who might have been a 6th cousin or something. Al might have finally gotten a chance to have been taken seriously. Say he had given a concert and put out an album “Weird and Orange, Live in Kiev”, including a cover of “Everyone Knows This Is Nowhere” and “Comes A Time” from Neil Young’s Freedom album . . . it might have put Al on the map. It might have said that even the cheesiest elements of American culture care when an oppressed people longs for freedom. But no, Weird Al sat it out, hoping that his recent “Poodle Hat” album will keep him working. Well, Al, good luck. Fate stops at your doorstep once in lifetime, and you slept right thru it. Pleasant dreams.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:09 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
Monday, December 27, 2004
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THE FACTS OF CHRISTMAS: I drove past a Roman Catholic church on Friday evening, Christmas Eve, and had to slow down because of all the people getting out of their cars and going to mass. In the back of my mind, deep within my imagination, I started having a Woody Allen movie dialog with all of those good Catholics. In the movie going on within my head, everything stopped and everyone just stood there in the street looking at me. Because I’m a renegade from the Holy Roman Church and from establishment religion in general, I started explaining why I wasn’t going to mass with them that evening (or the next day either, or any other day for that matter). I told them that I respected their desire to provide their children with positive values, and that I believed in basically the same kind of God that they did. But we live in the 21st Century, and our society is supposed to be committed to facts (although we’ve still got a long way to go on that one). We’re not supposed to give in to stories that twist the truth, stories like the one about how the world would be much better off if all Jews were exterminated (circa 1935 – 1945), or how much freer the Arab world would be if the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were destroyed (circa 2001).

Christianity does not have enough respect for the facts. Take Christmas, for example; there is no evidence whatsoever that Jesus of Nazareth was born on Dec. 25. It could have been any day of the year; the late December date was simply the Church’s co-option of pagan solstice festivals in the Roman Empire. And that’s not a bad thing; I’m not at all opposed to solstice festivals, nor to celebrating Jesus’s birth, whenever it was. I just don’t like the way that the Church uses peer pressure to make its members believe and profess that Jesus was born on Dec. 25. If the Church had more respect for the facts, it could still have a Christmas –- but it would teach the difference between fact and myth, stressing the importance of each. Unfortunately, the Church lets the facts get buried beneath the myth. And when facts start getting buried beneath myths, it’s a sure sign of trouble. It’s bad precedent, even when the myth seems pretty tame. (OK then, but what about Santa Claus? Should we deny kids of an innocent fantasy? Good question, but with the high level of cynicism that kids have today, it’s becoming moot.)

So, back to the street scene in my dream sequence. I just finished explaining myself to all of those moms and dads and children who should otherwise be in the warm pews getting their missals and songbooks ready. They all gave me a thoughtful if slightly dubious look. Someone smileed a little, then looked down. Then a man broke the silence and asked me, “just what would you replace it with?” A woman stepped out from behind a family van and asked, “how would you protect our children and warm our hearts and souls?”

Ah, yes. That’s indeed the problem. Over the Church’s 20 centuries, all kinds of factual alternatives have been proposed. And they’ve all come up lacking. The fact is that fact worship leaves the soul hungry; the Unitarians and the Ethical Society people prove that every Sunday. It also has a problem giving kids a strong moral foundation.

Are there any new options? Sure. Today there are all kinds of new religions developing throughout the world; one of the more successful ones, at least in the Far East, is the Falun Gong phenomenon. There’s an informative list of new religions on the University of Virginia web site at religiousmovements.lib.virginia.edu. These movements mix various elements of traditional religion from both east and west together with astrology, New Age, UFOs, pop psychology, occult, yoga, you name it. They’re finding all sorts of ways to touch people’s hearts and souls in ways that protect their homes and families. But what about protecting the truth? Reverence for the facts doesn’t seem to be out on the forefront of the new wave of religions (or of the old). (Hmm, that might be a bad way of putting it after what just happened out in the Indian Ocean. Sorry about that.)

Yea, it’s a hard problem, and I don’t know what the answer is. I’m hoping that some day, a prophet of both fact and spirit will come along and will inspire people to find a way to be close to God and yet fulfill the promise of the Enlightenment in the 21st century (with technology and 24 hour media coverage and all that). I’m hoping that this prophet won’t turn out to be another charlatan out to make a buck. In other words, I’m hoping for a miracle. That’s what the world truly needs for Christmas right now, and for a Happy New Year.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:37 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
Wednesday, December 22, 2004
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Every now and then I do a search on one of those big web engines to see how many eternal students there are out there. The results show there to be quite a few. There’s more than one blogger who claims to be “THE Eternal Student” (I myself only claim to be “AN Eternal Student”; but then again, humility is the virtue that dare not speak its name, so I’m not being humble here). And there are a whole lot of other folk who refer to themselves in a less formal manner as eternal students (including someone on suicidegirls.com, a porno site disguised as a blog; I’m sure all you guys are now punching that URL into your browsers). I’m glad that the eternal student idea is popular, even in the darker corners of cyberspace.

Most of the “eternal students” out there on the web are young grad students who are probably being ribbed by their career-conscious friends for staying in school so long. Eventually, I’m sure they will all graduate and start their professional careers with business or a university or the government, and their need for witty self-defensiveness will vanish. Then there are other folk like me who are well into their working lives, but doggedly hold on to their intellectual curiosity despite the fact that it does your career absolutely no good. In the aggressive world that we live in, clever and slick do much better than wise and understanding. It’s not what you know, it’s how you spin it and distort it, so as to bring in the bucks. Don’t fall in love with the truth if you want to live a comfortable, decent life on this planet.

Still, there are people who get through a typical career of spinning and distorting without losing their desire to cuddle up with the truth before they die. Here in the US, about the best you can do is to buy some DVD lectures from Great Courses. Forget about going back to college, because that’s become a place for instructing the young in the art of spinning and distorting (or performing research funded by the military and business – i.e., more spinning and distorting). But in Asia, they’re now setting up university-like places just for old fogies, places where there might be more time to explore truth and wisdom. I just saw an article about “universities for the elderly” on the web site belonging to the International Pan-Pacific South East Asia Women’s Association, or PPSEAWA for short.

PPSEAWA is a horrible acronym, but the organization itself seems quite worth while. It’s one of those international non-profit things with ties to the United Nations, having lofty goals like “promoting peace through understanding and friendship.” Well, at least PPSEAWA has a nice web site, with lots of valuable information and positive messages. So, it’s not surprising that PPSEAWA became interested in places where “eternal students” can go in their old age. It’s too bad that all of these “old schools” are in Asia. Maybe there is something to the myth that Asians possess greater wisdom than we westerners do, especially with regard to the aged. I certainly hope that the elderly university movement finds its way to the States. For now, you can check out this article about “true eternal students” at www.ppseawa.org/Bulletin/99Aug/students.html.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:12 am       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
Sunday, December 19, 2004
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I discovered the local chapter of “Socrates Café” during the summer, after reading something about it on the web. Socrates Café is an emerging “nationwide movement”, a meeting of people interested in philosophical discussion … semi-philosophical discussion, anyway. The intention is not to regurgitate Plato and Niztche and Hobbes; the idea is to get people to speak about their own unspoken personal philosophies. That’s what Socrates supposedly did way back when; by asking the right questions, Socrates supposedly got people thinking and talking about things like “the meaning of life”, ways of treating other people, respect or disrespect for government, etc. In sum, today’s Socrates Café tries to get people’s minds off of immediate things like $2.50 gasoline and Brittany Spears, and on to their reasons for being and ways of being. I’m glad they have a local chapter nearby (so far, there are only about 130 chapters nationwide).

The discussion topic of a recent “Café” that I attended was “the value of idealism”. Not surprisingly, that topic was suggested by one of the younger members of the group, a guy in his early 20s. The discussion that evening rambled about quite a bit; it never did pin down just what the young guy meant by “idealism”, i.e. just what idealism he had in mind. (Still, it was an interesting way to spend 100 minutes or so on a weekday evening). Every idealist needs an ideal, and since every person is different, each person’s idealism is a bit different. In fact, the various ideals behind peoples’ idealisms can be very, very different. There are liberal idealists, conservative idealists, Islamic fundamentalist idealists, Zionist idealists, Communist idealists, and on and on. I generally respect the sincerity of most idealists, no matter how crazy their ideals seem to me. However, idealism is generally equated with impracticality precisely because human ideals are all over the place, because people disagree so widely on what the ideal human being and the ideal society should be like.

When I was in my teens, my favorite type of idealism was pacifism. The Vietnam War was still raging and I was getting near draft age. The possibility that I would be called to serve my country overseas in a very nasty shooting war was becoming quite real. Based upon my religious beliefs, which I believe were sincere, I adopted a Quaker-like belief in pacifism (even though I was a Catholic boy from a white ethnic parish, and had never even met a real, living Quaker). I decided that killing another person was never justified. I would claim to be a conscientious objector to violent military service.

As it turned out, the cup passed; Nixon ended the draft ended just as I became eligible.

I can’t say that I’m still a pacifist today (yea, I know there’s a scent of hypocrisy in the air — I was a pacifist when it was convenient to be one, and now that I’m well past draft age I can dump it). But I still ponder the social justification for pacifism that I espoused quite vehemently back in the late 60s and early 70s: the idea that pacifists should refuse to kill even in self defense, because in their brave act of dying for such a noble principle, the killers themselves would be converted to pacifism. Once the process of sacrificial martyrdom worked itself through, a world of peace would finally be attained, as everyone would become a pacifist; no one would even think about killing another. Arguably, this has certain parallels with the idealism that lies at the heart of Christianity and its early tradition of martyrdom, although most Christians today never give it much thought.

This is a beautiful ideal. But the question is, given human nature, would it work? I used to believe that people were ultimately rational and ultimately good, and thus the pacification process would certainly work if only enough of us pacifist-martyrs had the guts to get things going (even though we would never live to see the better world that we started). But now I read more and more that we humans may not be ultimately rational (and as to being ultimately good — who knows, that’s more a leap of faith than a measurable characteristic). A lot of our acts and motivations may be genetically determined, and our genes may still have a lot of instinctual tendency toward violence as a left-over from our monkey ancestors. If that is so, then a pacifist martyrdom strategy could backfire — there would not be any widespread conversion of the violent, as anticipated; instead, the gene pool would be depleted of pacifist influences, ultimately making the average human being more violent, and making society that much more brutal.

Well, I know that the genetic argument can also be taken too far. The truth about humans and their social interactions obviously lies somewhere between the “nurture” and “nature” extremes. But still, the social rational for pacifism is not an established truth, the Quakers notwithstanding. Radical pacifism may or may not in the end contribute to a better world.

At the Café meeting the other night, the group generally agreed that idealism, whether pacifist or otherwise, is good for the soul. It gives people something to live for; it helps to fight cynicism and depression. On the other side of the coin, idealism may be an impediment on the road to the truth; personal ideals are often found to be wrong, or at least not the whole truth. Sad to say, idealism and the search for truth are often at odds with each other. (Albeit, searching for truth may actually be a form of idealism). If truth is your goal, then you may have to move away from your ideals, and that can be a bit depressing. But as I said at the meeting, perhaps the pursuit of truth is worth a bit of depression.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:55 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
Friday, December 17, 2004
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I like to discuss big ideas and big thoughts here, but right now I’m gonna discuss something little. Just a pet peeve of mine. I try to go jogging a couple of times each week, and it’s usually at night. Here in my section of genteel Montclair, people usually try to be nice to each other out in public. And they even do so behind the wheel. When I’m running and approaching a corner, I stop to see if any cars are coming up the side street – the usual thing to do if you want to keep on living. If there is a car coming, I either bolt out in front of it and make a tear for the other side, or, when my rationality is more intact, I stop and wait. But when I wait it out, often the person behind the wheel sees me as an opportunity gain a brownie point in heaven, stops short of the corner, and waives for me to go. OK, that’s a nice thing to do. But to be honest, I hate it – especially at night. I just don’t enjoy putting my body out in front of a ton of metal with a restless engine at its core, with some nameless person behind those klieg lights in temporary control of my fate. I’d rather the driver do the predictable, snarky thing – pull up to the stop sign and make me wait, and then let me have the road back to myself.

I guess you could say that I have an issue with trust. Yea, I suppose that I do. The other night I visited the local Socrates Café discussion group, and trust was the topic for the evening. Trust in general, not just trust in the matter of jogger / driver interactions. What is trust? When and why should we do it? I made the point during the meeting that trust could be looked at in two different ways. On the one hand, trust could be an act of faith, faith that the world is ultimately a good place and people ultimately are good too; evil exists, no doubt, but it isn’t the true nature of things. So even if trust does sometimes backfire, the odds are with you when you trust someone else or trust a situation. It’s just the natural thing to do if that’s the way the world really is.

On the other hand, trust can be seen as a necessary thing even if and even though the world is a random and cruel place with lots of evil at its core. Without some level of trust, things would just stop. You couldn’t write a check. You couldn’t use money – who could trust the government that issues those crummy pieces of greenish paper. You couldn’t drive thru a green light. A bank couldn’t give you a mortgage or a college loan. You couldn’t go to a doctor – he might well give you Vioxx for your aches. So, you’d be on your own for survival. And the world just ain’t set up for individual survival these days. Sure, maybe a billion or two people could survive as hunter / gatherers, but the rest of us depend upon governments and industries and markets and professionals and technology webs. And all those things are based on trust, however imperfectly they fulfill that trust. If they collapse, then a whole lot of people would be left to starve in the cold.

In sum, you’re stuck – either trust and take your chances of getting stiffed now and then, or buy a gun and head for the hills; and good luck when your ammo runs out, cause the factory that made it can’t get credit anymore and had to shut down.

So trust we must, when truly necessary. But as to jogging at night, I’m still not gonna trust those benevolent soccer moms and dads in their SUVs. They’re gonna have to get their points with heaven some other way than by waiting for me to cross. Perhaps they can redeem their souls by not cursing at me when I reject their suburban benevolence.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:02 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
Sunday, December 12, 2004
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The Christmas season is definitely under way, and if there’s any reason why we go thru all this silliness, it must be for kids. Christmas is a gift to kids from adults. And that’s nice, when you think about it.

I myself am not a “natalist”; I didn’t have any kids and don’t want to have any kids. In my younger day, I was open minded about kids; I might have started a family, had the right person come along. I put in some years as a Sunday school teacher and youth minister at two different churches, and I hung out with families that had kids. So I got my fill of being around ’em.

I found out that I just wasn’t wired to be a kid’s kind of person. Admittedly, they’re precious in many ways, and I’d never want to hurt them. But after a while, they’re just too … too … too childish. The childishess is cute for a while, but it just doesn’t let up. I went through the 4 PM “arsenic hour” a couple of times, when you’re ready for a nap and the kid you’re with just keeps on bouncing around.

So I don’t think I would have done well as a parent. Truth is, I really wasn’t so keen on kids even when I was a kid! Reaching the age of 20 and going to college was an immense relief to me — it was like emerging from a dark world of irrationality.

But OK, let me give kids their due. They can be quite creative. And thus the painting above, from a 2 or 3 year old named Gavin. I dated Gavin’s mom for a few months back in 1992. She gave me the boot on Thanksgiving Day, right after the big family meal. I don’t know what ever happened to them; last I heard, they moved to Alaska. Anyway, about a month before that fateful afternoon, Gavin had his water colors out and gave me this. Quite colorful, I thought.

Well, Gav must be in his teens by now. Hope he’s been developing his artistic talents. Hope his mom eventually found him a step dad who gives him the attention he deserves. Hope Gav has a nice Christmas.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:23 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
Wednesday, December 8, 2004
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THIS WE DO KNOW: I don’t see many movies these days, as most of them just don’t interest me. Back during my younger days, while participating in the male-female courting rituals, I generally kept abreast of popular cinema (and even the not-so-popular “film noire” showings in Manhattan; my ex-wife was quite in tune with the haute culture scene). I went out to the flicks almost every week, and after a year or two they all started blurring together. So today, a film has to be pretty darn exceptional to attract my interest.

I heard some rumblings not long ago that “What The Bleep Do We Know” was pretty darn exceptional. It’s still playing nearby, so I went out to see it the other day. Yea, that film was different all right. I’m not going to do a standard review of it — you can find reviews of What The Bleep all over the Net. The reviews I liked the most were at Yahoo User Reviews. Last I looked, Yahoo listed 237 comments and scores from viewers of What The Bleep. The average score was B minus, but hardly anyone actually gave the film a B minus. Most people either gave it an A or an F. Definitely a “love it or leave it” proposition.

As you might already know, “What The Bleep” is a New Age Buddhist manifesto. It’s sort of a call to faith, in some ways like Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of Christ”. Either you buy into the underlying doctrine or you don’t. What The Bleep’s doctrine of faith is a mélange of quantum physics, pop psychology, brain chemistry, Kantian philosophy, and free agent spirituality (not attached to any institutional religion).

My response to “What The Bleep” is something like the quantum “superposition state” that the movie tries to explain (not very well, incidentally — the basketball court scene was more confusing than anything else). I give it both an A and an F at the same time. No, I don’t average them out to a C or B minus. The movie has turned me into a victim of quantum weirdness. I both love it and hate it at the same time. There are some incredible truths being conveyed, and at the same time some terrible distortions of what life is about.

Since your act of reading this blog is an observation of my quantum state, and since according to physics an act of observation must collapse the two potential quantum outcomes into a single position, my love-it-and-hate-it probability function will now collapse into a definite opinion. OK, it just collapsed into a negative viewpoint. Here’s what I really didn’t like about What The Bleep.

The core story behind Bleep (which probably didn’t even occupy half of the film’s running time) was about a deaf photographer named Amanda. Amanda, played of course by Marlee Matlin, wasn’t very happy with her life; she was always popping some kind of anti-depressant, and took too many liberties at an open bar during a wedding she was working. In the end, though, the wisdom of the “new faith” that was being discussed by a group of scientists and mystics (think of a PBS documentary like Nova) finally seeped its way into her world. Before you know it, she was overcoming her addictions and drawing hearts on her skin with a make-up pencil, showing that she had overcome her poor self image and was now on the path to healing and restoration.

Can I present a somewhat old-fashioned alternative view of what was wrong with Amanda’s life? It’s pretty clear that she was lonely and didn’t have any real friends. She had people all around her, but she didn’t really click with any of them. Her marriage had just ended. She met a halfway decent guy at the afore-mentioned wedding, but she just couldn’t follow-up on it. The girl was in a tailspin, with no real friends and not in a good place to make new ones. Sure, Paxil and Four Roses (it was a Polish wedding) are clearly not the answer; but I have my doubts as to whether breathing techniques and finding one’s inner light are going to cut it either.

“What The Bleep” says that you and you alone are responsible for your fate. One of the talking heads even suggested that old age is caused by bad self-image and negative thoughts. As if it is your own fault if you are weak and creaky at the age of 80. Sure, negativity and stress and loneliness surely accelerate the gray hairs . . . . but come on, get real. This is Planet Earth. You’re never going to escape negativity and stress and loneliness, although you admittedly can (and should) try to control them and deal with them.

What Amanda truly needed was some community; some understanding and caring from the people who were around her. She needed affirmation from others that she was having some tough luck and going through hard times. She needed some reassurance that we all take that lonely walk though “the valley of the shadow” at times in our life. The pop psychologists implied that it was Amanda’s fault that she didn’t have any real friends, and that as soon as the “quantum” negativity was purged from her soul she would start to make some.

I question that. Sometimes in life, you could throw a spitball in any direction and hit a person who you can really relate to. Other times, you go for months and even years without any soul mates in sight (despite being surrounded by people). Even if you’re a bit down about things, you’re gonna have friends when you’re around people you can vibe with. When you’re not, well . . . . . . at least you can expect some sympathy. And not some quasi-guru spouting quasi-science in your face about the effects of focused thoughts on ice crystals.

Final note about What The Bleep: this film is not exactly about entertainment as we usually define it, but there are in fact some entertaining moments. The Polish wedding scenes weren’t bad, at least until the psychedelic polka begins. And the depictions of the internal workings of the brain and the body’s reactions to chemical signals were right up there with the best instructional film that you ever saw in high school biology. Actually, even that stuff got humorous during the part about sex. It all came together (the Polish wedding and the endocrine system response) during a take-off on one of those videos made by the late, great Robert Palmer, to the music of “Addicted to Love”. Yea, even if you could care less about all the quantum hubris and psycho-philosophical babble, the Robert Palmer reference was probably worth the price of admission. It brought back some good memories of pop videos from the 80s. If nothing else, at least the New Age Buddhist types who wrote and filmed “What The Bleep” know a classic video when they see one!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:10 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
Sunday, December 5, 2004
Society ...

As my 2 or 3 regular readers might recall, I work for a county prosecutor’s office . . . but only as a paper-pusher. I have nothing to do with deciding who is charged with criminal offenses, and how they should be prosecuted and then sentenced if they admit to guilt or are found guilty in a court of law. (And that’s just as well.) But I stand in awe of the people do. They’re making major decisions; get it wrong one way and you let a dangerous person free amidst society (and encourage others to commit that crime). Get it wrong the other way and you can ruin an innocent life. And they’re making a whole lot of these decisions, with around 100 new criminal cases pushed into our system each day.

I really don’t have any indication just how good or bad my employer is doing in that regard. I’ve never seen or heard of any “quality control” studies of the office. I don’t even know if there’s any way of doing such a study. I’ll have to leave that to the criminology people, and to the voice of the public.

But I did read recently about a case where someone in my office made what turned out to have been the right decision regarding charges and sentencing. That was in a book called “The Pact”, about three young doctors from the badest parts of Newark, NJ who made a mutual agreement in high school to stick together and help each other get through college and grad school as to become doctors. “The Pact” is triple-autobiographical, which each doctor telling their part of the story and adding their perspective on what they did together.

In one of Sam’s chapters (Dr. Sampson Davis), he tells us how he was arrested during the summer before his senior year in high school (in 1990). He and the other two pact members (Dr. George Jenkins and Dr. Rameck Hunt) had already taken their vows by then and were about to apply to college. But during summer break, Sam fell in with some other pals from his neighborhood who came up with a money-making idea: they’d drive around at night with a gun and rob drug vendors on the street. Sam was the get-away driver. Of course, it worked for a while and the money flowed in; but one night the local police just happened to stumble upon their little venture. Sam was soon in the youth lock-up, charged with armed assault.

Sam’s family was poor, but managed to scrape up enough to get him a lawyer. The lawyer started bargaining with our Juvenile Division and Family Court. Before too long, they had an agreement: the kid will serve one year. Unbeknownst to anyone at the time, that would have removed Sam from the pact hardly a year after it’s making. You really have to wonder if George and Rameck would have carried on after that early setback, despite their best intentions. Had this decision held, perhaps none of them would be doctors today. As they tell you in the book, the call of the streets was loud and incessant for all of them.

However, after a while, the Juvenile Division in the Prosecutor’s Office agreed to a different outcome: suspended sentence and probation. Sam would be back with the other two pact members by opening day of senior year and would apply for college right along with them. With 20/20 hindsight, it was clearly the right decision. Sam was the driver, he didn’t possess the weapon, didn’t have a record, was doing well in a special high school for university-bound students (this is Newark, remember), and was otherwise ready to apply for college. Was Sam a threat to society, or did he just make a knucklehead decision under the stress of a bad environment, one he was on the verge of leaving?

Someone in my office knew how to frame that question and correctly answer it for Sam. And they were able to answer it quickly, given the case volumes we handle; they couldn’t leisurely read a book about his life and times, as I recently did. I have no idea who the Assistant Prosecutors were who handled Sam’s case; I wasn’t working there at the time and hardly anyone from those days is still there today. But I thought I’d add something about those anonymous lawyers as a footnote to the story behind “The Pact” (which is a good book, definitely worth a read). Had those “APs” made the wrong call back in 1990, the book may have never been written, and George Jenkins, Sampson Davis, and Rameck Hunt might have just been three more lives lost to the cruelties of Newark’s streets and jails.

So . . . I wonder if there are any ghetto kids out there making pacts to go thru law school together to become prosecutors?

◊   posted by Jim G @ 1:55 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
Thursday, December 2, 2004
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Nuthin’ much here, just an old building in an old city (good old Newark, New Jersey). Looks like it had an old gasoline advertisement painted on one wall. It’s a picture that was messed around with so as to make it look a little more like a painting. The Central Ward, in still life. Hey, art is where you find it … or not.

More next time on some urban drama.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:37 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
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