Monday, April 27, 2009

Stuck in the Tread of the Wheel of Justice

I'm thinking about a criminal trial that happened a few years ago, here in Shasta County.

A woman was accused of altering her child support checks. Her first court-appointed attorney yelled at her that her only choice was to plead guilty. She sought the advice of another attorney. Her new attorney believed her story. She had a polygraph administered, and the client passed convincingly. The attorney hired one of the top handwriting analysts in California to determine whether the alterations had been done by the client. She determined that the alterations almost certainly weren't done by the accused, and probably were done by the ex-husband, who was unhappy with the child custody arrangement.

The attorney presented the polygraph results and the handwriting analysis to the D.A.'s office. She was dismayed to learn that the D.A.'s office had every intention of going forward with the prosecution of her client, even though the D.A.'s office had used the same handwriting analyst to prosecute cases. The case went to trial.

The jury came back with a "not guilty" verdict after thirty-five minutes in deliberation. The judge stated, on the record, that he was surprised that the jury had taken more than five minutes.

The Deputy D.A. was unmoved. "Your client is guilty," he hissed at the defense attorney. Our tax dollars at work.

Still, it all came to a happy ending, right? No, not really. The accused woman was a teacher. Simply being accused of a felony is enough to have a teacher's credential stripped away in California, and a "not guilty" verdict isn't enough to prompt the restoration of the credential. No, the accused must be found "factually innocent" of charges to resume his or her livelihood.

As far as I know, the woman was never declared factually innocent, and is thus still banished from her chosen career.

Today on the website A News Cafe, there was an article about the former CEO of our local Haven Humane Society, who is accused of taking money from the animal shelter. I wrote a comment: I hope the guy gets a fair trial. I often think that publicity can create some really rocky detours on the path to justice.

Perhaps in response to my comment, another reader wrote: . . . It’s about time that Mr. Ryan faces the charges against him. The wheels of justice move way too slow in metting out a sentence against the accused.

That sentiment disturbed me, because it provides one more example of how many in our nation feel that the notion of innocent until proven guilty is just a pesky impediment to slamming people in jail. I thought about responding to Mr. Law and Order, but thought better of it. My gut feeling is that nothing I could write would sway him. I feel reasonably certain that the wheel of justice will always turn too slowly for his liking.

Sadly, he's only likely to be swayed should he find himself or a loved one caught in the tread.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Night on Shasta Lake

I was a day later than usual getting home from Louisiana, due to water survival training. Rhonda and Dylan were chomping at the bit to go camping on Shasta Lake, so the day after my return, we loaded up our forty year-old pontoon boat and headed for Greens Creek camp, a boat-in only camp located up the McCloud arm of the lake.

The plan was to spend one night. The lake was just beautiful. The big "bathtub ring" is still there due to the low water level, but at least many of the inlets have water in them again. The temps reached a record for the date, in the high nineties, and Dylan and I spent quite a bit of time in the water. But sheesh, it's still April, after all, and the water was COLD. I seriously doubt our family will ever live in a nudist colony, but if that ever happened, I'd sure hate to encounter water that cold. That would be embarrassing. "Hey, why is Hal wearing that towel?"

Dylan was bummed when it came time to break camp. "Can't we get up early, and go home in the morning?" Rhonda and I looked at each other. We'd done the early morning commute-by-boat thing before, when Dylan and I had dropped Mom off to go to work. We'd have to leave at dawn, but we could do it.

That night, Rhonda woke me. "I think there's a bear outside the tent." I listened, but heard nothing, at first. After a few minutes, I heard the footfalls of whatever it was moving away, back up the mountain.

Luckily, black bears tend to be decidedly less aggressive than grizzlies. In fact, they're usually big chickens, and they don't like confrontation. One ranger told me that about fifty people a year are injured by black bears in California, but the injuries are usually minor, and they usually happen when people try to do dumb things like hand-feed them. Once in a great while, you'll hear or read of a fatal black bear attack, but the perpetrators tend to be large animals from deep in the woods, and have had little or no contact with humans.

Still, it is a little unnerving to hear a bear nosing around the tent.

It was chilly and gorgeous the next morning as we made the hour commute to the marina. Rhonda, Dylan, and Gomez the bear-fighting (if we were to let him) half Chihuahua huddled together under a blanket, smiling at the beauty going by. At least I think Gomez was smiling.

I got Dylan to school with minutes to spare. Two of 'em. That afternoon, we trailered the boat again to the lake, and set off to Greens Creek to retrieve our camping stuff.

Now, my wife is a smart, educated woman. But she tends to be unrealistic about how much time it takes to do things. Dylan is pretty much the same way, but hey, he's eight years old. First off, we were later getting to the campground than I'd hoped. Then Dylan wanted to go swimming. I didn't want to disappoint him, so I joined him in the cold lake.

Afterward, I suggested that we cook dinner and eat it on the boat while heading back to the marina. Rhonda and Dylan looked wounded at such a suggestion. I looked at the lowering sun, and I looked at the clouds forming to the west, and thought about what an overcast condition would do to the ambient light after sunset.

Still, I thought we had a chance to make it back before total darkness wrapped us. I was wrong. Halfway back to the marina, I had to slow down, because I could no longer see obstacles in the water, and with recent torrential rains, lots of tree branches and small logs floated about. I hit the switch for the headlights, since no other boats were in sight.

The headlights didn't work. Quick troubleshooting did not lead to a fix. I had a mask and snorkel on the boat, but without a waterproof headlamp, finding a loose wire running between the pontoons wasn't likely.

We slowed to a crawl across the water, with Rhonda holding two flashlights to spot obstacles. At that moment, I was not happy with myself for leaving the rechargeable spotlight in the garage. I was also not happy with myself for leaving the hand-held GPS in the car. Boy Scouts all over America would be ashamed for me.

Thankfully, Dylan fell asleep. With the overcast, it got harder to navigate by landmarks. Rhonda occasionally called out "left" or "right" so we'd miss floating wood. It was getting stressful, and Rhonda and I were both getting tired.

Finally, I could barely make out the Jones Valley inlet. We continued to motor toward the marina, at speed slower than a walk. Slower, even, than my walk.

Rhonda did a heck of a job maneuvering the boat trailer down the ramp in the darkness. I put Dylan and Gomez in the car, and we headed for home. Rhonda and I laughed at ourselves, feeling relieved that we were making it home. I felt pretty stupid for not keeping track of time, and for forgetting a couple of key items, but I laughed anyway. It had taken us forty-five minutes to boat to Greens Creek, and three hours to boat back to the marina.

It's about a three hundred foot walk from where we park the boat to our front door. I carried Dylan down the driveway, realizing that carrying a hundred-pound kid down a sloped driveway amounted to a pretty fair workout. Dylan was out. When Dylan is out, he's out. I lowered him to his bed, covered him, and kissed his forehead. His eyes didn't open, but he murmured, "The bed feels good, Daddy." I smiled. Most of the time now, I'm "Dad," but the occasional "Daddy" still slips out.

Dylan was right. The bed felt really good.


Brian is a former coworker, now employed by a different operator on an Emergency Medical Services (EMS) contract. His wife Katie is a fine writer with her own blog. Read this.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

An Emotional Elixir Song

I admit that I'm feeling a little blue. It's Easter, and I'm missing Easter dinner with my family. But, I talked to them, and they're having a good time. It helps to know that. Songs like this one help too: Eric Clapton performing a tasty version of a Bob Dylan song.

Friday, April 03, 2009

A Tale of Two Johnnies

Work for the same employer for going on three decades, and you'll go through some rather distinct passages. I think about the beginning of my career, when I was the youngest in my Army flight school class. Later, I was the youngest pilot stationed at Fort Ord, California. In fact, for a time in '76 and '77, I was the only pilot on the post who couldn't legally buy a beer off-base.

But things have, duh, changed. The first time it hit me that I was getting to a mature stage of my career was several years ago. I was talking to one of our new pilots, a guy named Tim, from New Zealand. He asked, "When did you hire on with PHI?" I answered, "In 1979." "What month?" "September," I answered. An evil little smile lit upon Tim's face. "What's so amusing?" Tim chuckled, and replied, "I was born a month after you hired on with PHI."

Whoa. And to think, I used to like that little effer.

Another passage came with new blood in our training department. Three years ago, I took my first checkride with a company instructor who happened to be younger than me. The dude didn't even have gray hair. The nerve. I thought about buying gray hair coloring for him.

The corker came when I saw a name on the crew lineup one day. The name "Johnny Cope" leaped out at me, and I assumed that a guy I'd met soon after I hired on had returned from an EMS job to the Gulf. I called out into the pilot lounge: "Hey, does anyone know if Johnny Cope is out flying?" A fairly young-looking guy piped up, "That would be me." "Wow. I knew a Johnny Cope when I first hired on." The young-looking guy, who I later learned was a retired Army pilot, answered "He's my dad."

Whoa. How did all this happen when I'm not yet eligible for the Denny's senior discount?