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Everybody’s Looking for Something

Everybody’s Looking for Something

So, this is how I got tricked into my new unintended optimism:

With the coronavirus, we are confronted with a new “new normal” yet again. I am again surprised at how fast our world can suffer catastrophic change and how quickly we accept it and adapt and —yet again — take no notice that disaster recovery as a way of life may be in our DNA.

Yesterday, quite by accident, when I was deep in quarantine and grumpy, I discovered some old travel photos I had taken ten years ago and my mind played a trick on me.

I was thinking about how years ago, there were no security checks in our airports and how now they are an accepted part of our lives.

I noticed that each picture looked like it could have been taken today, but history makes that impossible.

Look at the picture of the sister bending to be photographed with her little brother and how instantly it was interrupted by two of their playmates who wanted to be part of the fun.

It was taken in Aleppo, a city which was totally destroyed several years ago during the war in Syria.

The second photograph is of a market in Luang Prabang at the edge of the Mekong River in Northern Laos. Since that picture was taken, Chinese civil engineers have changed the flow of the river and thus the life of that little waterfront Buddhist city.

But finally, the picture which is the cause of this my unexpected optimism:

It was taken by total accident in a street market in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I realized the surprise of an unexpected discovery:

“Everybody is looking for something-at the same time.”

All of a sudden, I was surprised by the present that I thought was the past.

The people are so alive despite their futures and their past. We put our best face forward. We are, by nature, resilient. It lives in the acceptance of people in these photographs, whether these people are now alive or dead.

It is who we are.

The Claustrophobic Philosopher & The Tiger King?

The Claustrophobic Philosopher & The Tiger King?

Being quarantined is like driving with your family at night when the government turns off your headlights.

First, you realize you must pull over because you don’t want to be stopped by an invisible tree or police officer.

The rest is endless waiting and the push and shove of group activity in a very contained space.

The driver instantly loses authority and the backseat gets more and more unruly. (This is an absolute truth.)

Actually, the seat belt is unbuckled for everybody.

There can be no consensus about the radio so it gets turned off.

Out come the cell phones, as people start thinking for themselves rather than for others, but there is no privacy so out come the headphones and the binge watching begins in strange existential silence.

Am I really watching “The Tiger King”?

The world outside the car is the enemy anyway, because no one can dress up to confront it. And worse, if they do, they must wear face masks and plastic gloves, which ruins the grooming and manicure.

As hope for alternatives disappear (“alternatives” are recognized to no longer be available), as a last resort we are confronted by our family and friends and the question:

“How did they happen?”

and

“Why did we end up in this car?”

It is not by accident.

Back when I was growing up in New England, the entire Northeast had a black out and nine months later the birth rate spiked!

You chose it. I don’t mean birth order—I mean you chose to get in the car. Is this car the architecture in which we chose to spend our precious time? Maybe? What are traffic jams anyway?

So why do cars have backseats? For procreation and the storage of loose children?

And this is who we end up with when the lights go out?

Oddly, as if by miracle, these strangers must be eventually confronted and recognized.

At different times for each of the people in the car, during their own moment of silence, something is recognized.

It is that you belong to them and they belong to you.

It happened to me. I am fortunate, and a little surprised to realize the “unexpected” has broken my status quo and given me an opportunity to get out of the car as a different person than when I got in it.

I am fortunate to have the friends and the wonderful extended family which I have.

But I had my moment.

I learned I don’t just want to travel with them. I want to appreciate them and not take them ever for granted and forget for a moment how much I love them again and again and again…

And why The Tiger King should probably end up in solitary.

There Will Be At Least One Lawyer in Heaven

There Will Be At Least One Lawyer in Heaven

There is only one lawyer I know who will go to heaven — Mike Millemann. He recently wrote a law review article about a theater class aimed at teaching law students how to be better lawyers, which we taught together several years ago at The Carey School of Law at University of Maryland. The class was both bizarre and beautiful.

The students were tentative at first but, by the end, definitely loved it. In almost every case, the students were amazed by a third dimension this class offered to their law school education: compassion as it is embodied by our professional responsibility.

One of the students commented:

“Ten years from now, I am certain that when I am asked to share my most eye-opening class in law school, I will mention this class. It has been a learning experience that no other law school class that I have taken can come close to in comparison.”

The model for the class came from the stories of African American males incarcerated and serving life sentences in Maryland, who were later exonerated because they were determined to be completely innocent.

At the first class, one of these innocent men who had spent most of his life incarcerated under a life sentence, was introduced to the class. He quietly answered the student’s questions, remarkably without anger.

Each of these men had been through hell and had escaped it unexpectedly, and they shared that experience.

Throughout the writing and performing process, the students learned in a way that is completely different than the traditional law school education.

After going through trial transcripts, appellate briefs, the underlying facts and the law of each case, the students wrote a play. They collaborated, they wrote the roles of corrupt prosecutors under public pressure and eager for a conviction and incompetent defense lawyers who took $300 from the family of the defendant and provided only half-day trials in capital cases without prior research or exonerating witnesses. But also, the students wrote the story of the diminished hope and desperation of family members who were in shock by the verdict, and who over time grew despondent about American justice.

And then the students lived the roles which they created as they performed their play before a live audience.

In one case, Michael Austin, who had been recently released and had taught himself music during his incarceration, stayed with us throughout the class and was asked to join a class member at the side of the stage to add musical accompaniment.

In the last scene, the governor of Maryland announced publicly that Michael Austin was to be released. On stage, the student playing Michael Austin was asked: “Are you angry about what has happened to you?”

To the extreme surprise of the audience, Austin, barely noticed previously, took center stage and announced: “I am Michael Austin and I am thankful for the lawyers who accomplished my release and for the efforts of this class and this law school for telling my story.” From the surprise, came tears in the audience.

But more importantly, the class had learned what law school doesn’t teach: that a lawyer, when he or she takes the oath required to be licensed, has a greater responsibility to the society than almost everyone else. The oath is not a license to make money. It is a responsibility to “protect the Constitution” and the democracy in which we live.

The brilliant Elliot Rauh, a founding member of Single Carrot Theatre and I worked together on this class, but the suggestion and support for the project came from Professor Michael Millemann. He is going to heaven for his lifetime commitment to public justice and the unfairly incarcerated, and for this class.

Professor Michael Millemann’s article has already been accepted by one law review for publication and others are expected to express interest. When it is published, I will post where it can be read.

Featured in the photo: Michael Millemann, Michael Austin, Robert Bowie, Jr.

No, Lindsey, You Can’t Do That!

No, Lindsey, You Can’t Do That!

We deserve better than this.

Senator Lindsey Graham just announced that the Senate might change its rules to require Nancy Pelosi to submit the Articles of Impeachment to the Senate so that the Senate can have a trial (and McConnell now claims to have the votes to prohibit testimony and new evidence).

There are two problems with Senator Graham’s analysis.

First, the Constitution won’t allow it. Senator Graham apparently has not read Article 1, Section 2: “The House of Representatives… Shall have the sole power of impeachment.” And Article 1, Section 3: “The Senate shall have the sole power to try all impeachments.”

The House is the prosecutor and the Senate is the jury. So, until Nancy Pelosi decides to present the Articles of Impeachment to the Senate, the Senate can’t do anything but wait.

Second, the situation does not allow it. Every day new evidence comes out that has been withheld by the President and should have been part of the impeachment articles.

The House should reopen the impeachment hearings, subpoena the witnesses and documents, hold those that do not comply in contempt, and wait until they comply.

As I have written previously, the Speaker of the House in an impeachment proceeding has a duty to every citizen of the USA to ensure that the constitutional requirements of an impeachment trial will be carried out before she proceeds to the trial in the Senate. She is the lead prosecutor. That is her duty.

It would be a dereliction of that duty, a violation of the Constitution, and an acquiescence to obstruction of justice to proceed with a trial knowing that the defendant is withholding witnesses and documents, and that the jury has predetermined a verdict of acquittal before the trial begins.

She must wait for the federal courts to enforce the Constitution and order the witnesses appear and the documents be produce and are available for consideration at the trial before the Senate. She must not compromise . She must put the spotlight on the head-on collision between fascist partisan politics and the clear violation of our Constitution . The politicians are in control and we deserve better than this.

The senators will take their oath “of objectivity” and for many the hypocrisy quite possibly can’t be stopped. (It might be fun if the prosecution asks Chief Justice Roberts, the judge in this case, for the right to voir dire the jury to determine if there is pre-existing bias, which should require disqualification of senators who have publicly stated that they have made up their minds and are working for the defendant.) No matter what, however, Pelosi must wait for the federal court’s rulings requiring the testimony of witnesses and production of documents.

We can wait. Time is not the enemy of the country in all of this, but it is the enemy of an obstructionist defendant.
President Trump and Senator McConnell will show their hand if they lambast Pelosi for waiting for a court ruling, because they will show that the court and the delay is what they really fear.

They want to force a vote by a biased jury so they can declare victory in the President’s campaign. But if they are forced to wait, and they lose in the courts (as they will) before or even after the election, they will not be able to sweep their obstruction under the rug. It will be a historical record. It will be irrefutable.

Time is not the enemy! Given the time and a chance to talk together, more people will have a chance to understand and get it right. Nixon was elected by every state of the union except Massachusetts. Two years later, he resigned when it became clear he was about to be impeached by a bipartisan vote.

So, in fact, time and the Federal Courts are Pelosi’s ally. The more she waits out the storm and requires that the Constitution be respected, the more President Trump and Senator McConnell will be punished for their stonewalling and other violations when the courts rule against them.

Even though it is presently unsubstantiated, I fear that the President may attempt to use a foreign conflict to unify the country to avoid further focus on the impeachment. If that turns out to be true, that would be both frightening and further grounds for impeachment.

This must not be about election politics. It is about whether we can hold on to our Constitution and who we are as a country.
The question is: Does Pelosi have the guts to withstand the storm and represent all the people of the United States, not just the Democrats?

These are horrible times for all of us. The politicians must not control and divide us. We deserve all the facts and an unbiased jury. We are all Americans and a fair trial is the very heart of what keeps us free.

We Will See Soon Enough

We Will See Soon Enough

Regardless of how partisan things seem, Nancy Pelosi’s duties no longer run exclusively to the Democratic Party.

As Speaker of the House in an impeachment proceeding, she has a duty to every citizen of the USA to ensure that the constitutional requirements of an impeachment trial be carried out before she proceeds to the trial in the Senate. She is the lead prosecutor. She is an officer of that court.

It would be a dereliction of her duty, a violation of the Constitution, and an acquiescence to obstruction of justice to proceed with a trial knowing that the defendant is withholding witnesses and documents, and that the jury has predetermined a verdict of acquittal before the trial begins.

She must wait for the federal courts to enforce the Constitution. She must not compromise for anything less. She must put the spotlight on the head-on collision between fascist partisan politics and the clear violation of our Constitution, and have the Federal Courts confirm the Constitution and her protection of it.

The senators will take their oath “of objectivity” and for many the hypocrisy quite possibly can’t be stopped. (It might be fun if the prosecution asks Chief Justice Roberts, the judge in this case, for the right to voir dire the jury to determine if there is pre-existing bias, which should require disqualification of senators who have publicly stated that they have made up their minds and are working for the defendant.) No matter what, however, Pelosi must wait for the federal court’s rulings requiring the testimony of witnesses and production of documents.

Time is not the enemy of the country in all of this, but it is the enemy of an obstructionist defendant.

President Trump and Senator McConnell will show their hand if they lambast Pelosi for waiting for a court ruling, because they will show that the court and the delay is what they really fear.

They want to force a vote by a biased jury so they can declare victory in the President’s campaign. But if they are forced to wait, and they lose in the courts (as they will) before or even after the election, they will not be able to sweep their obstruction under the rug. It will be a historical record. It will be irrefutable.

No, time is not the enemy! Given the time and a chance to talk together, more people will have a chance to understand and get it right. Nixon was elected by every state of the union except Massachusetts. Two years later, he resigned when it became clear he was about to be impeached by a bipartisan vote.

So, in fact, time and the Federal Courts are Pelosi’s ally. The more she waits out the storm and requires that the Constitution be respected, the more President Trump and Senator McConnell will be punished for their stonewalling and other violations when the courts rule against them.

It is not about the election. It is about whether we can hold on to our Constitution and who we are as a country.

The question is: Does Pelosi have the guts to withstand the storm and represent all the people of the United States, not just the Democrats?

No guts, no glory, Nancy. Weakness won’t work. “Oh, say can you see?” We will see soon enough.

A Bathroom Museum and a Late Commitment to Christmas

A Bathroom Museum and a Late Commitment to Christmas

Perhaps because I am older, or perhaps because I am now a playwright and a recovering lawyer, I decided I would make a commitment to a more spiritual Christmas this year.

I committed to finding a passage out of the comfortable consumerism, “Jingle Bell Rock” on the radio, Alvin and the Chipmunks and the hula hoop, and into a less self-deceptive and more spiritually aware holiday.

My problem is I excel at self-deception.

In the past, I have always believed that I was sufficiently into the festivities to fool myself, and I would let the transformative spiritual moment gently pass.

No, in truth I am a wizard of self-deception.

I fool myself in little ways all year long as I artfully keep my “spirituality” — like my “modesty“ — at bay.

For example, I have a room right next to my study that contains the framed memorials of the important accomplishments (of which I am so very proud) from my life as a lawyer and playwright.

When I enter this room, I am reminded that I don’t take myself too seriously, because it also contains a sink, a toilet and extra toilet paper. But of course, it is not a private bathroom. If nature calls, our guests are forced to see what I am proud to believe I have made of myself, framed and on the walls when they lock the bathroom door behind them.

I have employed this same gift of willfulness and self-deception when I have prepared myself to let the holidays gently pass by each year.

But as I have said, I think things have changed now that I’m a playwright and recovering lawyer.

I have been forced to see things less as an advocate and more as an observer.

A judge or jury renders a verdict, but there is no redemptive celebration thereafter. Rectifying and resolving social wrongs, if that happens at all, offers no thought of spirituality and in my case, may regrettably explain the bathroom.

But as a playwright, I have come to observe that my plays are meaningless unless the actors commit to giving them life and the audience commits to embracing the performance and the work.

So I have observed that some ethereal things do not come to pass at all unless there is belief, commitment, and then action.

This year, I will find the time for that individual commitment and action on Christmas Day. After I celebrate the joy of being with my family, I will take a walk — perhaps just a little walk — out by myself alone and consider the universe, which I do not understand. I’ll stop for a moment and realize that even if I have no belief in a heaven or a hell, I accept that cold hand of “grace,” which is what so much of religion and spiritual faith is about. And then when I return back home, I’ll try not to see if anyone is locked and reading in the bathroom.