Jury duty could pose a significant challenge for some bloggers

I recently got a questionnaire about eligibility for jury duty.  In fact, because I will be moving to an adjacent county very soon, the event is probably moot point.

States vary in the frequency registered voters are summoned for potential jury duty.  But typically many states are coming to a “one day one trial” concept, which, for example, Texas has followed for years. Less frequent is the possibility of jury duty for a federal trial.

Juror conduct has long been a subject of controversy, as can be seen from this US Courts Manual. Jurors are not allowed to discuss a case of subject matter related to a case outside the courtroom, or “research” it, even in newspapers.  In the past twenty years, the likelihood of finding related material on the World Wide Web or through social media sites has obviously increased exponentially.  The AP has a major story in the Los Angeles Times in April 2016 on the problem.

In a cursory look at the problem, I didn’t find any evidence that most juror duty episodes wind up with jurors being required to cut off all Internet access.  But if you think about it, the likelihood of this sort of the thing in the future seems to increase. It is true that most actual cases are obscure and are likely to be unknown to a juror and not obviously conspicuous even on the Internet.

The greatest danger, of course, is sequestration, which is pretty rare, although it may happen more frequently in the future, given the controversy of many cases. Changes in venue could become more common, but one could argue that Internet coverage makes venue change less effective.

However, if a juror is denied all Internet access for a significant time, he or she can face significant losses, such as even of social media accounts or followers or even of hosted accounts if not able to respond to a problem, and if not having an employee or proxy person who can handle questions (I do not).

People can get out of duty if old enough (in some states, over 70), or if having sole custody of minors or disabled persons, or if the sole person with certain work responsibilities.  Blogging alone, even given the risk to it, would not qualify unless it paid its own way.

But a news blogger could possibly “ get out” of being selected in a voir dire by having blogged in the pst about the subject matter.  An interesting, if evasive, strategy.

This is an area where the fundamental right to a fair trial can live in tension with free speech.

(Posted: Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017 at 11:30 PM EDT)

Volunteering usually needs to get personal

Conservatives often prompt the idea that the needy can be served by volunteerism even better than by publicly owned and run services (as we can see right off from the health care debate).

It’s rather logical to ask, then, if volunteerism, working in service to others for free, is to be expected on moral grounds from those who are able.

Right off the bat, I call to mind some passages in the 2007 book “The Natural Family” by Carlson and Mero, where the authors maintain that only within the nuclear and somewhat extended family can a determination “from each according to his ability and to each according to his needs” be made. I remember how that quote of Karl Marx was thrown around the barracks of Fort Eustis back in 1969 when I was in the Army.  Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum has voiced similar ideas, that “It Takes a Family” (his 2005 book) to socialize people into meeting real needs.

But you can encircle the family with communities, and those with a country, so you can imagine how a moral expectation of service can fan out.

I can imagine, however, a mentality, where the poor could view some sort of structured personal attention or care from “the rich” as a moral entitlement, even in a “free” and conservative society.  Off hand, that doesn’t strike me as particularly encouraging for developing healthful self-concepts among the disadvantaged.  I’m recalling a time in kindergarten, in early 1949, when the teacher (who ran the class in her home) separated the class into “brownies” (who stayed downstairs – and I was one, despite that everyone was “white”) and “elves” (who got to sit in the living room upstairs).  I felt like I was put into a defined underclass, yet entitled to expect attention.  Maybe that did help shape some of the development issues I would have in the grade school years.

We don’t start out on life in the same place in line, to be sure.  OK, we can get into the whole debate on the role of “privilege” in setting up moral expectations of people. There are different kinds of disadvantage.  Of course, being born into poverty or in a totalitarian culture normally hurts once likely future station in life.  But there is a perpendicular situation:  within a particular family, which may be well-off, one is born with disability or a general lower level of capacity.  It can happen between twins or multiple births in the womb, or just among siblings.  So the social conservatives are right in saying that inside the “natural family”, if it is about the right size, people learn to develop affection and bonds to others in the family or group who may be less capable.

The tendency to look at some people as “better” than others relates to the real concerns about the outside world knocking that practically everyone in my generation dealt with.  Less capable people could become a drag on the group if faced with security problems.  Among men, the biggest and strongest often stepped up to defend the clan and took the casualties.  There was not a lot that could be done about most disabilities, so there wasn’t a lot of talk that helping those with disabilities was an expected thing to do.  On the other hand, the expectation of adhering to the personal discipline of confining sexuality to heterosexuality marriage was seen as a personal equalizing force, giving stability and sustainability to a families, tribes and whole countries that faced external perils.

Obviously, today things are a lot different.  Many people (myself especially) are not tied to families, and see pleas online to get involved personally with the needs of others in a way that would have been seen as inappropriate or unwelcome in earlier generations.  “Gofundme” has become a social norm today, when it strikes an older person like me as grating and self-indulgent.

Practically all communities have organizations that serve the poor.  Many are faith-based.  They offer services like healthful food preparation and delivery (sometimes owning their own gardens for fresh foods), various monthly community assistance (like groceries, clothing, HIV testing,, as well as meals), to specialized services needed by specific communities (elderly, some LGBTQ, asylum seekers and refugees, single mothers, those with mental health or substance problems).  Often the communities ask for lots of volunteers for special events (Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, monthly assistance).   Sometimes there are home-building or rehab events (as with group homes for the disabled, or with Habitat for Humanity) The interaction between the volunteers and those being helped will vary, not always being encouraged. Sometimes it seems that the purpose of the activity is more to build social capital among the group (often faith-based).

Volunteering has become more subject to bureaucracy.  Now there are usually automated background checks of volunteers, especially for those who will drive vehicles or work with minors.

I do find that occasional volunteering to be problematic.  I don’t accomplish much or make much difference when I am there.  Further, there are situations where unexpected personal risk is involved, like driving into unfamiliar and dangerous neighborhoods to make deliveries.

I think it should be more promising to look for more specialized opportunities where one can use one’s own expertise.  With my background, for example, I could perhaps direct chess tournaments attracting low income youth.  Or I could do something with my classical music background, although that can become problematic if it involved pandering to notions about popularity.  If I were involved with music, I’d be more interested in seeing some particular neglected works(not just my own as I composed) performed. As a self-published book author, I do get questions about being more supportive of community book stores (hard copies instead of Internet and Kindle) and of literacy initiatives.

But actual interaction with clients will often be problematic for me.  That is something I did not learn through familial socialization the way others have.  I didn’t learn to place emotional value on having someone depend on me. In the decades of my own upbringing, you would learn that partly through heterosexual courtship leading to marriage and parenthood within it.  Otherwise, my own somewhat “sheltered” upbringing really didn’t require me to interact personally with people with earthier temperaments;  some of it was avoided by placing unwelcome interaction in the category of teasing or even bullying, avoidance of somewhat physical competition on other people’s terms.  That artificial isolation and introversion continued during my long-track information technology career as an individual contributor, where I basically interacted with just “the choir”, people with cognition similar to mine. This diffidence really showed up when I worked as a substitute teacher in the mid 2000’s, and, with low-income or disadvantaged students (especially middle school) encountered interpersonal demands that one normally needs to have been a parent to encounter.  Or perhaps one would learn it through helping raising younger siblings (I had none) or raising as sibling’s children after a family tragedy, something which sometimes happens in inheritance situations (like “Raising Helen”). It’s notable and ironic that when I was growing up, eldercare was not seen as a challenging issue because our grandparents didn’t live as long as they can now.  My own eldercare situation from 1999 on to 2010 had aspects (how old even I was as well as Mother) that would not have happened often in earlier times.

Focused interaction with clients requires commitment to a narrower set of person-related goals than I have experienced until now.  I like being the public person who forces others to “connect the dots”.   The level of personal commitment needed requires (as the character Ephram on “Everwood” once wrote in a fictitious essay) the “ability to change” and share an outcome for a group. The one time I was the most personally engaged was in the mid 1980s when I volunteered with the Oak Lawn Counseling Center in Dallas as an AIDS “buddy” (rather assistant), although somewhat on my own terms.

On a couple of occasions, both in the early 1990s, I got feedback from two different organizations that I would not be effective unless I was more involved with the group, including spending more time with it and being more integrated to the group’s specific goals.

(Posted: Wednesday, May 17, 2017 at 10 PM EDT)

A few good links about service, resistance, and civil disagreement — and engagement

Here are a few links today that have to do with the general area of “giving back” when you are privileged, or perhaps the “Pay It Forward” idea (like the 2000 movie).

The first is a blog post from the “Mental Health Wellness Blog” of the Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington VA.  Yes, this congregation certainly has more than its share of high performers, in high school and college students, and grownups.  It’s generally mainstream liberal (more or less Obama and Clinton).  Maybe some (like the Steve Bannon crowd) would see some elitism, but in the past the pastor has introduced ideas like “radical hospitality” (right before Hurricane Sandy, which did little damage here), which might arguably matter today in the immigration (refugee and asylum seeker) issue. In fact, the congregation has sponsored one refugee family (which is thoroughly pre-vetted and housed in a regular commercially rented townhouse or apartment in northern Virginia).  Some of the congregation participates in community activities like “Lotsa Helping Hands”, which do build social capital.

The blog posting title is titled “Talking Politics”.   The tone of the post presumes that most people with “real lives” (families to raise) need to focus narrowly on things and have limited interest in the abstraction of political issues that you see all the time on CNN (most of all in the age of Donald Trump).  A couple of points stood out.  One idea is to be focused on one or two issues.  I started out that way two decades ago with “gays in the military” (in the early days of “don’t ask, don’t tell”) but, partly because of background and my own approach to “retirement”, I spread out into most policy issues, concentrically, over the years, in my books and blogs.  So I’ve been breaking that rule for a long time.  The other point is in item 3, to “volunteer” and to make sure some our your work is “offline” and uses your “body” as well as your mind.  That could get dicey.  Yes, it can start with the practical issue of service, being efficient in meeting the real needs of other people as, (in the polarity speak of the Paul Rosenfels Community – formerly Ninth Street Center  — demands on “feminine subjectives” – unbalanced personalities like me., which I wound up doing dishes for their Saturday Night potlucks back in the 1970s). But it could extend to allowing your own body and its external trappings to become fungible – like the “Be Brave and Shave” fundraisers at the Westover Market in Arlington a few years ago (for cancer).

The next point is an edgy piece on the Foundation for Economic Education, by African-American columnist TJ Brown, “Fight for a More Civilized Bigotry”.  Maybe this sounds like an oxymoron. Brown talks about the  development of his own attitude toward transgender (or non-binary gender) people. But he correctly (and with writing far gentler than from people like Milo Yiannopoulos) notes that the “radical Left” demands obedience to its demands from those who have been in some privileged class.  His column fits well into the discussion of campus speech codes, as well as violent protests.  Note the recent statement from the James Madison Program at Princeton after the unrest at the appearance of libertarian Charles Murray (“The Bell Curve”, “Coming Apart”) at a campus event in New Hampshire – let alone Milo.

Then I note a Facebook posting by Jack Andraka (Stanford University sophomore, known for inventing a simple blood test for pancreatic cancer, as chronicled in his 2015 book “Breakthrough“) today,   He writes “Development is complicated and these issues don’t lend themselves to ‘silver bullets’ If you’re thinking of going into development or really any non-profit/social entrepreneurship venture read this”.  That is, an article by Courtney Martin, “The Reductive Seduction of Other People’s Problems”, here.   Now the word “development” in this context usually means “fund raising”, or it may mean going to a hardship area to serve.  The writer asks young adults particularly to think twice about the idea that going overseas is the best way to serve.  It certainly may be riskier (like Doctors Without Borders and Ebola recently – or the 2003 film “Beyond Borders” by Martin Campbell.

.The last reference for the day concerns “resistance”.  I think that the boundaries between service, activism, and resistance are getting blurred these days, which may be disorienting to many people contemplating their own actions (me, for one). The Invisible Team has published a handbook on Google Docs, “Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda”.  First, the word “agenda” catches my attention.  For a few months in 2009-2010, the Washington Blade newspaper called itself the “DC Agenda” when its parent company folded, until it got the right to use its trademarked name as an independent paper. Anyway, the Guide refers, of course, to community organizing (in the style of Barack Obama, maybe).  There is the appropriate focus on local issues, but one point stood out, to act defensively, rather than make your own policy proposals (which I do).  It sounds like saying its OK to pimp the victimhood of members of your own marginalized group.  Say how much you’re oppressed!  That never sits well, with me at least.

I do think it is very hard to make a difference with service — beyond the political value of “paying your dues” as an answer to inequality — without belonging to a group and sharing your life in some substantial, interpersonal way with others in the group, with some sense of proprietary loyalty to those persons.

(Posted: Wednesday, March 15, 2017 at 9:45 PM EDT)


The artificial and apparent conflict between mainstream charity and LGBTQ: the World Vision incident

I sometimes experience various kinds of pressure to support or become involved in specific programs at various charities.

A few years ago, I got a Saturday phone call to support the “30 Hour Famine” (as I think it was still called then) from a local church that I often attend.  In fact, several churches I know have supported it.  The famine is a 30-hour exercise run by World Vision.

My immediate reaction was to decline.  I think a teenager’s decision to participate in a past is strictly between that teen and his or her parents.  I should not be involved.  Yet I know the double edges, about having one’s skin in the game when one is a visible pundit.

World Vision was involved in controversy in March 2014.  Apparently it announced it would not exclude from employment persons who had engaged in same-sex marriages.  This event occurred over a year before Obergefell in the US was decided, but same-sex marriage was recognized in many states and other western countries.  There are various accounts that claim that World Vision had banned all gays, or all people who would not commit to limiting sexuality to heterosexual marriage.  I think as a practical matter the policy was probably more like “don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t pursue” (even as Bill Clinton had once meant it).

Under extreme pressure from some evangelicals, World Vision reportedly reversed itself in a couple days (Huffington account).  But during that time, supposedly, a large number of overseas child sponsorships were canceled by “evangelical” supporters (patheos account).

In fairness, there are other accounts that say that World Vision quickly replaced the sponsors and that this had little quantitative impact on worldwide child sponsorship as a whole. Here’s a balanced blog post.

I support Save the Children (which is secular), and back in the late 1970s I actually “sponsored” individual children for a while    Sometimes I got letters.  I was at a loss to reply.  (It’s the “skin in the game” thing again.)  I don’t sponsor individuals now.  I think this is something you either put a lot of time in to or not.  But I have Facebook friends overseas who constantly send emotion-laden sponsorship pleas.

There are many critics who think individual child sponsorship is a deceptive model.  This used to be said a lot in the 1980s.   There are legitimate questions as to the direct connection of the child to the money.  Charities do end sponsorships and switch people.  But other reports relate people having the same child for as long as ten years and being able to visit the child overseas.  That’s what I think if appropriate to expect;  sponsorship ought to be a step toward adoption and custody.  I’m not aware of any issues with gay sponsors.

I had at one time tried to include World Vision on my own charitable contribution list that I run through Wells Fargo.  I had received mailers from them.  But oddly the contribution was returned.  I don’t know why, but some charities seem unable or unwilling to work with automated systems at banks.

Churches often send older teens and college students on missions overseas, to Central America and sometimes to Africa.  Faith-based organizations help run infrastructure projects overseas.  Sometimes these organizations need to employ engineers as to do many major US companies (such as oil companies).  Dealing with countries hostile to personal practice of homosexuality can present a problem for companies and charities, as to deploying .  Many countries in sub-Saharan Africa  have hostile anti-gay laws (Nigeria is one of the worst) and in some cases American evangelicals may have participated in provocation overseas, in largely Christian countries separate from the Muslim world.

Anti-gay laws and practices overseas to result in some migrants to the US requesting political asylum, sometimes after lawful visa periods (for students or for work) expire.  It is unclear whether the current Trump administration with attorney general Sessions will try to narrow how the idea of “particular social group” may be interpreted with asylum requests.  But they probably cannot do so based on personal beliefs alone.

The local (liberal) church I know recently observed a “30 Hour Fast”, but that is renamed (from “Famine”) because the church switched to “Charity Water” as a sponsoring charity in 2014 after some teens (and even parents) objected to the controversy at World Vision.

Is fasting really an effective way to approach charity?  Of course, the libertarian leaves this to individual conscience.  Some faith-based organizations admix the service experience with one of specific religious belief. (Teens can prepare or deliver food while fasting, or even make short films.)  I don’t personally live in a zero-sum world where charity depends on giving up a Starbucks latte.  But “doing without” (as for Lent) sometimes does help people to experience walking in others’ shoes and helps build emotional resilience.   So does giving time to some organizations, even given their pimping appeals, bureaucracy and sometimes lack of transparency.  You can’t always be prepared for someone else’s bullets and then get up again.

There is tension among all these elements.  Is it more important to take care of the poor in other countries (because they have less opportunity to help themselves), or to “take care of your own” in an “America first” world?  Do personal lifestyles (appropriating personal sexuality to personal satisfaction before taking on procreation and having families) contradict the mission of charity?  You could look at the history of domestic charities like Salvation Army, too.

Older supporting legacy blog posting of mine.

(Posted: Sunday, February 26, 2017 at 3:45 PM EST)