Thursday, October 28, 2010

Michael Smith Settlement

A case settled recently - Michael Smith v. Department of Social and Health Services. It was a case of a child in need of supervision, whose care was given to our state's government, and who ended up in the hands of a convicted pedophile. I wasn't Michael's lawyer - Bill Gilbert and Garth Dano are - but I helped on his case. Ultimately the case settled for $1.925 million (with a value of $2.25 million, since some costs to the state were waived).

It is a heartbreaking case, that the State fought vigorously. It was embarrassing for the State to be so litigious and aggressive in a case about a boy, now man, who was raped repeatedly by his foster dad (and gang raped by that man's friends). Here was a child most at risk, and the State chose - negligently or otherwise - to have him in harm's way. This is the kind of child that we ask our State to protect. And look what it did instead, in our names.

Michael is a brilliant writer - poetry, prose. I see him defining his life according to who he is, regardless of what the State did - or tried to do - to him. It has been a long road for Michael. No one would wish to go through what he went through. For all the tragedies related to child sexual abuse, having those tragedies imposed on a child by the State itself is just horrifying. Good for Michael, that he has survived. Not too many people would have.

Bill Gilbert, Michael's primary lawyer, did stunning work in the morass of this matter. This does not surprise me. Bill is just that way. And beyond money, beyond litigation - Bill got one more thing. An apology. The State will be issuing an apology to Michael Smith, for all that was done. I hope they say, "on behalf of the State and all its citizens..."

Restoring Sanity

This Saturday, from noon to 3 p.m. ET, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are hosting a rally on the Mall in Washington D.C. entitled "Restoring Sanity and/or Fear" (Colbert's preference is "fear").

What a great idea.

The rally is for all of us out here who have opinions but shy away from name-calling and stomping on opponents' heads. (Oh, I'm sorry. I mean "shoulder, which crunch into the head, and might as well have been stomping on the head itself.") Poster slogans will include "I disagree with you, but I'm pretty sure you're not Hitler."

I am one of the many who gets news from the Daily Show because it is about the only delivery style out there (television, anyway) that is tolerable. That doesn't mean I don't watch "Morning Joe," or sometimes flip on other news shows. And I do like Rachel Maddow - she's smart, and careful with her facts. But I just as often turn the channel than stay with a particular news show, even though I'm tuning in specifically to get headlines from a talking-head perspective. These days, it is just a lot more palatable to get my current events information from the Internet, where I can choose the source - where I can exchange vitriolic spew for even-handed delivery, where I can get the same story from three different viewpoints in an effort to get the full story and not just a part of it.

And then there's the Daily Show. They are - well, just funny. Pithy. And they get to the point of the craziness right away. It's hard not to watch the Daily Show.

So this idea that there are others like me out there - who just want the rhetoric toned down while hearing the news - well, it's so exciting!

And the other very-cool thing: Comedy Central is going to air a live version of the rally for those of us who can't actually make it to the Mall. In Spokane, there's a viewing party at Isabella's (near Main and Division), starting at 9 a.m. I might go.

The Daily Show has been airing in D.C. all week long. It's been really funny, especially for me since I lived in D.C. for years, before coming to Spokane. On Monday, they had their "on-the-street" reporters in various places in D.C. Jason Jones was supposed to be standing out in front of the Supreme Court, but when Jon Stewart caught up with him, he was still fake-driving his car. When Stewart asked him where he was, Jones said, "I'm in a six-lane traffic circle that leads to an underpass! And then that leads to another g-damned traffic circle! I mean this Frenchified city layout makes no f**king sense! How hard is it to lay down a grid!" When Stewart told him that all he needed to do was get to the Supreme Court on Second Street, Jason Jones said, "There are four Second streets! They don't even intersect! And the columns — everywhere! The indistinguishable columns. This town is simultaneously magnificent and useless. It's like they designed the whole thing as a metaphor."

This is very funny, especially if you have spent any time in D.C., because it all is true. Metaphor included. In fact, the D.C. audience roared. They knew exactly what he meant.

The next night was also very funny. Jason Jones went supposedly to the "legendary Avenue of Lobbyists - K Street" but when the camera panned on him, he was standing in front of what appeared to be a dump. Jon Stewart looked quizzical as he said, "Actually Jason, it looks a little more down-market than I imagined." Jason Jones said how the lobbyists "must be true believers - they're spending all their money on advocacy and not on aesthetics..." Stewart asked him, where are you, exactly? And Jones read the "gang-tagged" street sign as saying "K Street S.E." - which, of course, is gang-torn southeast, not lobby-town northwest. Stewart points this out to Jones, who says, "There's more than one K Street, too? Motherf**ker, I hate this town! It's so broken!"

Then last night - and on a more serious note - President Obama was on the show for the entirety of it. In my opinion, it is absolute-must viewing, regardless of party affiliation. For me, it helped put things in perspective. Take a look:

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Getting Better ... ?

I woke up this a.m. thinking it would be impossible for me to still be sick. This will be the tenth day. Say it isn't so! But alas - sigh - here I sit, on the couch, preparing for yet another day of this dastardly cold. My energy level is fine, as long as I don't move. It's the moving that gets in the way. So I feel either really bad, or really bored. Sigh.

Yesterday, as I stretched out on the couch, resigned (by 11 a.m. or so) to another day of yuckiness, my two cats Annie and Alex stayed close and kept me company, in rare peace with each other (usually Alex is plotting Annie's demise). This is the view I had, of the two of them - those are my legs, under the comforter, with Alex stretched out with me and Annie curled up on the sofa pillow. They just hung out with me like that for most of yesterday afternoon. Aren't they sweet? to be my friends like that, when I feel so sick...

Monday, October 25, 2010


Well, I've been sick this past week, with a cold that kept me down but not away from the television (well, maybe it kept me exactly in front of the television, now that I think about it, since I was not really feeling well enough for much else). Am still not 100 percent...

If ever there was a week to be sick, however, it was this past one - with a lot of excellent baseball to watch. In the end, it's the Texas Rangers and the San Francisco Giants that are going on to the World Series.

I was sort of rooting for Philadelphia... no matter. The Yankees lost. And to the Rangers, no less - a competitor with the Mariners, but the major league team with whom the Spokane Indians are affiliated, so - fun.

It's great to watch Ian Kinsler in particular on the Rangers team, as he played here in 2003, which is the year that I started writing the baseball novel that I have ("Until the End of the Ninth," based on the true story of the 1946 Spokane Indians team). I remember watching him play in Spokane that year, and remember that 2003 team fondly. They won the league title that year. It's pretty exciting to imagine that the kid playing Single A ball here in Spokane in 2003 has been able to go on and play in the ACLS, and is part of a team that is going on to play in the World Series. And he's been playing well, too - having clutch hits at just the right time.

Congratulations to both teams. It should be a fun World Series. I can hardly wait for Wednesday.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Hosting Angels

I know I haven't written in awhile, but I've been here! It's just been a busy time. I've had a lot of law to do. And then there are the angels, who have been here since Tuesday. I'm hosting them. It's a long story. Well, it's not all that long. A friend of a friend... okay, so already it's getting complicated. Suffice to say I agreed to have five archangels at my house for five days (before they head, in five days, to the houses of three friends of mine who have agreed to host them after me). In exchange, I - well, I get to have them here. And I get three wishes - one for the world, one for my family and one for me. It's been a miraculous time. And I don't use that word lightly. Plus, it's been fun. They're fun, these angels. And very - universal. Big-picture sorts. Well, they're archangels. That's what they do.

They leave tonight at 10:30 p.m. It's been like Alaska in the summer time, when the sun never really sets. You have so much energy that you think you don't really need to sleep. But you do. That's how humans work - we sleep! Perchance to dream. And it's the dreaming that's kept me up at night - and where the universality has really been the most noticeable. I did get three wishes - one for the world, one for my family and one for myself. Each night the dreams would really - educate me about those wishes, and life in general. And while I often dream, this time my dreams would continue throughout the night. If I woke up from a dream three times, I went back to the same dream three times. That part was amazing. The messages have been a bit cryptic - a little buried within the dream. But - well, here's an example. My wish for the world is "compassion." So on the second night, I had three different dreams symbolizing three different circumstances in my life. I came away from those dreams thinking that, if I want compassion for the world, I need to start out with having compassion and forgiveness for the people in my own life. Which I normally do. But I have a couple of places where I don't. And these dreams suggested that, for the world to have compassion, I needed to release all my own sticking points, not just some. The theme emerged: "Think globally, act locally." Or, "Compassion begins in your own back yard." Or, "Compassion begins at home." So I resolved to do that. After all, I want compassion for the world, don't I? So why hold on to grudges? Why not at least see the situation from the other person's point of view - while still maintaining my own? And then I wondered - what if we all did that? Imagine.

Someone asked me if I think the angels have actually been here this week, or if I'm more just using the idea of them symbolically to help get myself focused. It's a good question. And for me, well yes, I believe there are angels here. But I'm also the one who's written about baseball men's souls surviving the aftermath of a bus crash - having time to complete a final ninth inning. I love mysticism in any form. It draws me in. So I think that I would be the kind of person that would choose to imagine that they truly are here. But even if they are here only symbolically... well, that's an opportunity in itself, where my mind can fathom the possibility of miracles because it is in that frame of mind that I can believe in them. So, it's a good question. But it doesn't really matter which answer I choose. However they are here - truly or symbolically - it's been a good time.

The cats have been going crazy. All week long, Alex has wanted to sleep in the house, curled up next to me all night. And Annie keeps laying on the table, next to where I have the candle, white flower, apple and wishes (yes, there were things like that to do!). Just now, Annie jumped from my couch to the top of a built-in bookshelf in one corner, across to the mantle, and then off to the top of the other built-in bookshelf - my favorite corner in the entire house - because she just couldn't help herself. They're big jumps, and she's 15 years old. But she had to get to that beautiful corner of the house - the one with the shot glass that I got one night on our Alaskan cruise in 2007. (Ah - Alaska!) And once she was there, she stretched up and reached high into the corner, as all the talismans around her wobbled from her force. I rushed over and gently picked her up and helped her back down. And then I took a scarf with butterflies on it, that had dropped from the candle table just minutes before, and hung it on the tiny nail that was hidden in the woodwork right above where she had stretched. Apparently the corner needed one more talisman.

UPDATE: I decided to get them a second time. Here's the post on that experience...

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

"Deliver Us From Evil"

I just saw this documentary, "Deliver Us From Evil," directed by Amy Berg. My friend and neighbor Matt told me about it a couple days ago - I thought I had seen it, but the way he described it, I wasn't sure. Yesterday, he came by the house, library dvd in hand. That's how strongly he felt about me watching it. Here it is, Beth. A seven-day rental. Be sure to watch it this week.

It is about the Catholic church - sex abuse in the Church. It was out in 2006. I'd confused it with a book by a similar title.

I've seen a different documentary - a really good one - filmed in Boston. This one, though - based in Los Angeles, about Cardinal Mahoney and abuser Oliver O'Grady - pulls together all the pieces in such a masterful way. The children, their parents, an abuser willing to be interviewed, the hierarchical cover-ups... The lawyers, the expert... All the pieces. I listened to the interviews and could see the spontaneous comments as though part of a script. Sadly, it is a part of a script - a bigger story - the same story, over and over... of valuing appearances over the protection of children, of covering up the cover up... The details in this documentary only emphasize what I've said before - the surprise isn't that the abuse scandal includes behavior by the Pope. The surprise is that people are surprised by that.

It was interesting to see men that I know, in the film. There was John Manly, and the Manly Law Firm from the Los Angeles area, who have co-counseled cases with me. There was Patrick Wall - I love Patrick - who is a former Benedictine monk and an expert in canon law, and who is on staff at John's law firm. And there was Tom Doyle - Father Doyle, a Dominican priest, the whistleblower. A rock star, in this world of SNAP (survivors network of those abused by priests). It was Father Doyle who told the U.S. bishops back in the mid-1980s that they had a crisis on their hands - that they needed to address sexual abuse by priests before it got really out of control. They didn't listen to him. Indeed, they demoted him. And then - nothing, until Boston erupted in 2002...

Most powerful, for me, was Bob Jyono, whose daughter Ann, now an adult, was one of the 100s abused by Oliver O'Grady. Mr. Jyono speaks little through much of the documentary. His wife does much of the talking for them. But then is his description of how he called his daughter Ann to ask her - after O'Grady had been arrested for abusing other children - if O'Grady had ever touched her. She said yes. His face crumples in tears as he remembers, and then it sets deep in defiance as he describes the details of that conversation, and its aftermath. He is a man who converted to the Catholic faith, who was betrayed by his adult choices. At one point, he explains that he asks his daughter why she never told him about the abuse. She says it was because he had always said that he would kill anyone who harmed her - that she remembers asking a friend what would happen if her father killed someone, and the friend saying that he would go to jail forever, and how she resolved right then not to tell anyone about the priest's abuse, because she knew her father would kill the priest if she told. "I was wrong," her father says, to threaten life like that, even in hyperbole. "I feel guilty," he confesses, for having unknowingly erected that barrier to truth. But then he says what we all know - that it is not his fault to want to protect his daughter. It is the fault of the church, for ever exposing his daughter in the first place to this known pedophile.

The creepiest moment comes when Oliver O'Grady, the pedophile priest, speaks of wanting to bring the abused children - now adults - to his home in Ireland so that they all can sit down and talk. I know O'Grady is doing something that he thinks is the right thing to do. But it's just so creepy and controlling the way he goes about doing it, like he wants to hold court one last time. He writes letters to the victims, explaining what he wants from them - wants from them, as though he has any rights here. Had he put the letter in the context of an offer to do whatever the children-now-adults want, including meeting with him (rather than telling them that meeting with him is the solution)...

But the thing is - he's sick. He can't see it any other way. Or so I imagine. (It turns out that, as a child, he himself was abused by priest, as well as by his own brother.) This is why my anger for the abuse suffered by people at the hands of sick priests has almost uniformly been reserved for the hierarchy. The pedophile priests are sick, under a compulsion. It was the hierarchy that knew better, and had the faculties to do better. (This documentary helps demonstrate all that.)

The documentary ends on a discouraging, while simultaneously uplifting, note. (There are silver linings to dark clouds.) Watch it and see. And I love, love the music at the end - "Hallelujah," by Leonard Cohen. In fact, I have been playing Justin Timberlake's version of that song - that he played at the Hope for Haiti Telethon, back in January - as I type this summary. Here's a link to it. The song always makes me cry. This documentary - it has the same effect. Song or no song. The heartbreaking stories, the missteps that led to 100s, 1000s, to be abused.... and those same men, being still in power... with no real consequences to their actions.... as though they lack not just compassion, but the capacity for it...

It makes eminent sense when Mr. Jyono - the father I describe above - says near the end of the film that he does not believe in God. How can anyone go through all that, and not at least wonder? And yet - I wanted to cry with his daughter Ann, as he said it. I too wanted him to have at least some hope, still, that there's a God. To not let those men steal that too.

it's not a cry that you hear at night
it's not somebody who's seen the light
it's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah

hallelujah, hallelujah
hallelujah, hallelujah

Monday, October 4, 2010

Thomas - I promise!

Well, I'm back. From a week in Chicago, with my two nephews. Ages almost-3 and 3 months. I babysat. For the week. By myself. And the two of them. The little one is not yet, quite, sleeping through the night. And the two-soon-to-be-three-year-old is, as I have said before, in constant motion. The Whirling Dervish. So not only did I have my hands full, but I was functioning on limited sleep. Aunt Beth is very tired!

But it was a blast. The best week ever. (I did sleep the entire weekend though, after I got home on Saturday...)

The baby is such a sweetie pie! And smiling a lot. He is a little colicky, with the afternoons being hardest on his poor baby belly. I felt so bad for him, then. But he's sweet and interactive and very present. He watches his big brother a lot - watches him move around the house, eat meals - all of it. He loves the activity - luckily, since his big brother is always active! From interactive alphabet games on the computer to a posse of balls on the back porch, and everything in between, there is no slowing down the toddler.

We had our ups. We had our downs. Mostly ups - though there was the Penny Incident (as it always shall be known), when the older one wondered if the younger one would like to eat a penny.... Crisis averted (thanks to all humans and angels who might have had a hand in resolving that one...)

It was a little different than usual. Usually, when I babysit, it's been just my older nephew and me. We have bath time and play time - which is like study time, since he loves learning so much - nap time and meal time... Lots of things, all centered on his activities. With the addition of a cooing baby, though, my time was split. This was a new experience for the older one. He seems so aware - in a positive way - of the baby - once spontaneously saying, "He's so cute!" - but he is also, I think, noticing the changes in his life due to the increase in little ones around the house.

Luckily my sister and brother-in-law arranged for me to have help in the afternoons. I decided to use those daily three hours to go on short adventures with my toddler nephew. The first day though, we never could get far from the house because the baby needed extra help... so we played balls outside in the yard. One got lost. (I'm not pointing fingers or anything, but let's just say that I am not the one who kicked it into the wooded area behind the house.)

The next day, I had a plan. We would go to the Learning Experience store, and then the grocery store. The Learning Experience is a great children's store, with hands-on stations for the kids to play. My toddler nephew is in love with Thomas these days. You know - Thomas the Train. And his friends Percy, etc. In the past, we have played with a train track at the Learning Experience, with Thomas Trains everywhere. So as we drove to the store this time, I kept saying, "Let's go play with Thomas... Thomas is waiting for you!" Very exciting.

Until we got to the store. And saw that the Learning Experience had taken down its train track table. Uh oh. "But I promised Thomas," I told the store clerks. "I promised."

They suggested my nephew play with the doll house. Um - I don't know if I mentioned - but I had promised him Thomas. I didn't think he would be distracted from that.

And he wasn't. He just kept wandering around the store, looking hopefully in every corner for the train tracks, and the Thomases that must be sitting there. I couldn't stand it. So I bought him a Thomas. Oh, he was so excited! His very own Thomas! I was hoping that he would use the toy shelves as a train track - play with his new train for awhile, and then we'd go grocery shopping.

He was having none of it. He wanted a train track. He needed a train track!

So we built one. Right there, in the middle of the store. Using train track pieces that were sold there, piece by piece. We built a bridge, and we circled the track to come back under the bridge itself. This is how we started it (that's my hand, keeping the bridge up):

To the store's credit, they did not try to stop me. Under normal circumstances, they might have halted my initiative. But they knew - they knew - I had promised Thomas. And had expected a train track table. They couldn't really say "no," could they?

I told my sister of the event. She remembered that Toys 'R Us had a train track.

The next day, my nephew and I got back in the car during the babysitter hours and drove to Toys 'R Us. This time, he knew. As we drove into the parking lot, he knew. "Thomas!" he said, his face shining with excitement...

And this time, the train track table was still there. Whew! Only now, there were no Thomas Trains. There was one Percy (a green train, Thomas' friend). And a little girl was already using him.

So I bought my second Thomas, in two days.

But you know what? My sweet nephew was in heaven. It was worth the $12, to see him moving Thomas up one hill and down another, playing with that train. He would do this for hours, if he could. And now we had two Thomases, for his train track at home. Nothing like a little train activity to keep a child happy.

And now - if I could just figure out how to help that baby from getting a belly ache in the afternoons... Such a smiling baby, when his belly doesn't hurt. And a brave one, when it does. Beautiful boys, the two of them. Two peas in a pod. I can't wait to see what adventure is in store for us, the next time I'm in town.

photo credit: Ween Nee, found here