Monday, March 27, 2006

Cinderella's Superstition...

When you follow sports closely you eventually find that superstition often plays a role in your hero’s sports psyche of winning. We’ve all heard of athletes who always eat the same meal before going into competition or carry a lucky token or charm during contests. Many of these superstitions or “lucky habits” are related to clothing.
Some pitchers when on a winning streak will wear the same undershirt until they lose. Tiger Woods for years has been notorious for wearing “blood red” clothing on the final day of a golf tournament (the tradition started as a tribute to his friend Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bull’s colors), this year the color has taken on a “pink” tint but he’s still winning.
Bursting on to the national sports scene this past weekend is Jim Larranaga, Coach of the George Mason Patriots, an eleven seeded participant in the NCAA Basketball Tournament which has made it to the Final Four by defeating the University of Connecticut yesterday. What is Larranaga’s supersition? He never wears any of his opponents’ colors on the sideline during a game. One can already predict there will be no orange or blue in his tie or suit next Saturday when he faces Florida.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Home Free...

I’m back from my jury duty obligations. I didn’t make it through the voir dire phase of the proceedings where the opposing attorneys and the judge or his representative exclude/select the jury panel and alternates. I was put into a group of 39 persons who were considered for a high profile local murder case. All of us were required to fill out a standard questionnaire which was supposed to examine our beliefs, attitudes and fitness to serve.
I truly expected to be excluded by the defense on the basis of my background as a relatively well educated former teacher, investigator and officer of the court.
I wasn’t surprised however, when the prosecutor wanted to know the nature of my physical disability and medications I was taking. After I answered him completely he informed me “We’re going to do this without you.” and excused me from service for this trial. A couple of hours later when I was being excused completely from jury duty it was obvious nearly everyone in that group had been excluded. Sometimes it takes several days to empanel a jury and this trial isn’t expected to begin until next Tuesday.
One of the clerks stated that due to a new policy that was being implemented it was unlikely that any of us would ever be asked to serve in Allegheny County Courts again.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Jury Duty...

I’m tentatively scheduled to have jury duty tomorrow. I received a summons several weeks ago which says this afternoon I’m supposed to call an Allegheny County Courthouse number after 4:00 PM whereupon an answering machine will tell me whether to report or not.
I have a little trepidation which I haven’t had before. What if the bathroom breaks aren’t frequent enough for my over sixty bladder? What if the lawyers are boring and I nod off during a trial?
My sister told me she was called for jury duty twice in her life, once here and once in Philadelphia. Neither time did she actually sit on a jury..just in a waiting room they were drawing prospective jurors from. Maybe that will happen for me.
I served on a Federal Grand Jury for about 18 months in Key West back in the late 70’s while I was still teaching kindergarten. We met four or five times during that period.
We only had two serious cases come before that Grand Jury. One was the notorious Audubon House burglary case where the one of only four existing sets of the Audubon Elephant Portfolios was stolen and the culprits needed to be indicted. The other was a gun running case.Most of our time was taken up handling the most common cases in Federal System then, the theft of senior citizens’ social security checks, usually from ones mailbox. Almost all of these cases were the same. An Assistant US Attorney would appear with several Miami based FBI agents. (none of these cases ever came from the Florida Keys or Key West during this period).
A person would report that they hadn’t received their Social Security Check and would discover after complaining that it had been cashed. The FBI would retrieve the check from the SS Administration and inspect it for fingerprints. They would discover the fingerprints of the daughter, niece, son-in-law, next door neighbor etc. on the check and bring the evidence to us for the indictment. This happened dozens of times during my jury tenure. It doesn’t occur as much today because the SS Administration has gotten most people to have their checks directly deposited.
I hope that if I do actually wind up on a jury it will be an interesting case.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Contemplating the Universe...

Astrophysicists from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland announced yesterday that data from the WMAP Satellite launched in 2003 supports the decades old “Big Bang Theory” of the origin of the Universe. The new information based on the study of background radiation glare indicates that the Universe is vastly larger than previously thought.
Other significant findings:
1. The study supports the theory of "inflation", that is that the Universe expanded outward at a rate faster than the speed of light.
2. “Normal matter” the kind of stuff humans can sense with their eyes like Planets, Stars, comets, each other etc. makes up only about 4 % of the combined matter and energy of the universe. The rest is made up of “dark matter”, invisible and exotic physical particles and “dark energy”, a gravity defying force behind the continuing expansion of the universe.
3. Stars first appeared 400 million years after the Universe’s origin.
4. At the moment of origin the whole process started from something the size of a “marble”.
I would be totally lost at this point except for the fact that my son as a seventh grader explained to me that my thinking was limited to what I could physically sense with regard to density and that the space between molecules, atoms and particles was a lot larger or smaller than one would normally contemplate.
I’m the only person I’m acquainted with who both bought Steven Hawking's Book “A Brief History of Time” and actually read it from cover to cover.
Even so would someone please explain to me…Where did that “marble” come from?

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Et Tu Brute...

Today was the 2050th anniversary of the assassination of Julius Caesar. That would be “Caesar” as in a root word important enough from which European leader words were derived from it like Kaiser and Czar.
When I was in high school we learned about Julius Caesar in three places:
1. World History where the Roman Empire was given an overview.
2. Latin Class (the language the Romans spoke) where Caesar’s letters from Gaul were introduced.
3. 10th grade English where every student in Pennsylvania was exposed to Shakespeare’s play “Julius Caesar" and required to commit to memory a given number of lines from the play that reciting any one Marc Antony speech was not quite enough.
On March 15, 44 BC Julius Caesar, the Ruler of the Roman Empire was murdered in Pompey's theater as the Roman Senate convened a meeting there by a group of conspirators led by Cassius and Brutus. When the murder of the populist Caesar was not well received by the public both Cassius and Brutus fled to Greece where they ultimately committed suicide 2 years later when on the losing side of the Battle of Phillipi.
A key element in the assassination was the betrayal of Brutus toward Caesar who had saved the former’s butt on more than one occasion. For many years historians thought
Brutus was Caesar’s son because he was the son of the Emperor’s longtime mistress Servilia Caepionis and the Latin translation of Caesar’s final words were “and you too, Son”. However, eventually someone took the time to do some calculations and figured out that Caesar was an unheard of 15 year old when Brutus was born. Clearly though Brutus enjoyed a favored status with Caesar.
I still remember the two Marc Antony speeches I learned 44 years ago..

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Happy Birthday to Me!

I turn 60 years old today..
As I face my seventh decade I find myself reflecting back on my past. I would like to think I've made a positive contribution to this world chief of which is having sired two wonderful children whose leadership will influence the world for the next forty years.
That's enough reflecting. Let the party begin!

Monday, March 06, 2006

Thanks Art...

I thought I’d take a stab at writing about somebody before they died.
The first newspaper columnist I remember reading on a regular basis was Art Buchwald. Art’s columns have been syndicated around the world for at least half a century.
I remember as a 10 year old child having my mother hand me the opinion section of the Pittsburgh Press to read a column skewering then Vice President Richard Nixon for some DC faux pas that was the news of the day. If you chose politics as a profession in this great country you were fair game for the wit and satirical sabre of the raspy throated Buchwald who dished it out without favor to Democrats and Republicans alike.
Art recently made a decision to allow himself to die with dignity. He doesn’t appear ill, but he has decided to forego thrice weekly dialysis treatments that would prolong his life. He stopped taking the treatments about 5 weeks ago and is currently living in a Washington DC area hospice. He is 80 years old.
In 1982 Art Buchwald won the Pulitzer Prize for Outstanding Commentary.
In 1989 he successfully sued Paramont Pictures whom he maintained stole his script idea for the movie “Coming to America” with Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall. The lawsuit set the precedent that a Motion Picture Company couldn’t hide behind the industry’s widely prevalent “no profit bookkeeping” to evade damages in a civil action.
Throughout his life Art has been compared to the famous satirist Jonathon Swift. Unlike others who plied the trade Buchwald has never been mean spirited in his writings.
Now he faces death with the same grace he has lived his life.

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