Update: Here, There and Everywhere (PLUS SURVEY)

Alan Partridge running

As ever, a few items of business in place of a proper update. BUT READ ON ANYWAY BECAUSE I AM LINKING TO SOME THINGS WHAT I WROTE AND YOU WILL LIKE THEM MAYBE.

Please take my readers’ survey! Click here to do so. Seriously. This will help a lot, and it will give you a chance to let me know what you do and don’t like about this blog as we move into year two. It should take around 5 minutes at most to fill this out, so please, please, please do take the time. Again, that survey can be found here. And it’s as mandatory as a voluntary thing could ever be.

Spam is outta control, and it’s not unique to my site at all. In fact, I’m sure I get a relatively small amount of it by sheer virtue of the fact that nobody knows this site exists. (See? I know it would come in handy!) Anyway, the long and short of it is that I will no longer be sifting through the spam queue to find legitimate comments. I’m sorry for that to be the case, especially since I have found actual comments buried in there, but as of right now I have over three thousand comments waiting for review, and there’s no way I can get through those, followed tomorrow by another three thousand. So if your comment doesn’t post, please try again, or email me about it specifically and I’ll dig it out. In the absence of someone contacting me specifically though, it won’t be happening. I apologize.

Reviews of self-published and indie artists should be happening here more frequently now. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do with this blog, in order to give small writers a platform for review — I know how difficult it is — so expect to see more of those. If you know someone whose work could use a review, or if you have something you yourself would like me to review, please contact me. I’ll be adding a tab to the main navigation bar soon explaining my policy and linking to past reviews, but there you go.

I wrote about Bob Dylan for Ben Likes Music and you can find that post right here. It’s called Blood on the Tracks and the Emotional Paradox of Talent, and it’s my way of thanking Ben for all the great stuff he’s contributed to this blog right here, and also writing about Bob Dylan. I hope you enjoy it.

I also wrote about Terry Pratchett for Dave Wrote This, which is available for your snobby reading pleasure at this place. It’s called On Reading Pratchett as a Massive Snob, which explains why I phrased the previous sentence the way I did. So while it may look like I haven’t been writing much, that’s just an illusion. I’ve been writing SHITLOADS and just not putting it anywhere that you would see it. You idiot!

Anyway, thanks as always to Dave and Ben for their great stuff here, and I hope these pieces both repay them for their work on this site, and make up for any lack of updates. As always there’s some great stuff in the pipeline, so stay tuned!

Judges, Juries and Executioners

Empty Courtroom

It’s my birthday today. I am thirty-two. I hope you don’t mind because there isn’t anything I can do about it. (I’ve tried.)

When I started this blog one year ago (it’s my blog’s birthday, too) I very deliberately did not want it to be a record of personal things. I’ve done that before, several times, and it always leads to unfocused rambling that can’t possibly be of interest to anybody other than myself. So I decided to focus on pop-culture instead, and I told myself that if I ever felt the need to use the “personal” tag when categorizing a post, then it didn’t belong on this site. I’ve now broken that rule 16 times.

I can’t speak for the others, but I think number 16 is important, because I went through a transformative experience just last month. I’m still processing it. Maybe writing about it, and opening it up for discussion, will make something more clear about it.

Maybe not. But I wanted to talk about it anyway, because it’s important to me, and I don’t know what else to do with it.

I served as jury foreman for a domestic violence case. And it was an experience I’d like to share with you here. Why? I don’t know. Maybe you can tell me.

I’ve often grappled with what should be a very easy question to answer: am I a good person?

I don’t know why I’d grapple with that. The answer should be yes. Right? Well, why? If I’m a good person, then why am I a good person?

Because I don’t do bad things, I guess.

Except I do do bad things, sometimes. I tell a lie or I hurt somebody’s feelings or I don’t volunteer my seat on the train to an old person. I’m a real bastard.

And besides, even if I didn’t do that stuff, is it enough to not do bad things? “Good” shouldn’t be a neutral category; you shouldn’t end up there simply because you didn’t do the opposite. It should be an active category. It should be something you earn.

And what have I done to earn it?

I’ve thought about the ending of It’s a Wonderful Life many (many, many…) times. Jimmy Stewart runs through the streets of Bedford Falls positively bursting with the sheer joy of being alive, not because anything is going right for him — it sure as heck isn’t — but because he’s just been shown how important he is to the world around him. If he hadn’t saved all of these people — he actively saved all of these people — they wouldn’t be around anymore, or would be far worse off. He did that. He wasn’t a nice guy because he sat quietly and didn’t bother anyone…he was a nice guy because he changed people’s lives for the better. He could see that if he was never born, things would have gone much worse without him.

But what have I changed? Certainly I’ve been important to many people, but if I hadn’t been there, would their lives really be worse? Did I change anything, or was I just party to their decided trajectory? I think people would miss me if I’m gone, and that says something, but would anything really change? If it didn’t, then can I really be good?

It’s an interesting thing to ponder. And now I actually do know somebody whose life would have changed without me. He doesn’t know my name and I’m already starting to forget his, but I did something. I actively did something. And because of that, a switch got flipped somewhere along the track, and he’s in a different place because of me than he would have been without.

He was the defendant in a domestic violence case. If I understand correctly I am actually able to discuss details of the case now that it’s over, but I’m choosing not to, as I don’t think it’s worth making anything traceable for those involved.

I’ve been chosen for jury duty before, when I lived in Florida. For those unfamiliar, a large number of potential jurors are first chosen from a pool of registered tax payers. From there that number is whittled down the day before your scheduled court date, as they have a better idea then of how many jurors they need. You call the night before to find out if you even need to show up. Often you don’t.

From there the pool that shows up is divided into smaller groups who are called into court rooms to serve. If you’re not called, you get to go home…and that’s as far as I made it in Florida.

Once you get to the court room that group is further whittled down when the judge asks questions of each individual and determines whether or not there are any reasons they shouldn’t serve on a jury. And then after that the prosecutor and defense attorney both get to ask questions and discharge any juror they like (without having to provide a reason) until only the required number of jurors remains.

I remained, and so did seven others. At every step of the process I expected to be sent home, but I never was. I remained.

The defendant was accused of physically abusing his wife, and also disturbing the piece, though obviously that latter charge was much less serious and the prosecutor hardly argued it at all.

The real meat of the case was the domestic violence. It was alleged that the defendant returned home to find his wife in bed, and she woke up with his hand around her throat. She ran outside and called 911. The police arrived, and before any questions were asked the man said to the police, “I didn’t touch her. I didn’t do anything.”

That — in tandem with a recording of the 911 call — was the entire case. There was no other evidence, and only two people gave their testimony: the wife, and the police officer who responded.

The defendant was a black man who spoke very little English.

There was a recess about 2/3 of the way into the case. The judge dismissed us to a small room with only a coffee pot and some old issues of Readers’ Digest. As might be expected, I kept to myself…doubly so when I heard the others talking. I don’t wish to paint them all with the same brush, but I heard enough talk about him being “obviously guilty” and a few people who “think he did it” that I knew I didn’t want to participate. I kept my head down until we were allowed back into the court room.

Here’s the thing: justice works in a very specific way in this country. At least, it’s supposed to. See, we were reminded many times — and would later be given documentation reminding us of this fact as we went off to render our verdict — that the burden of proof was on the prosecutor. That is to say that we were to consider the defendant innocent, until proven guilty. It was not up to the defendant to prove his “innocence,” and it never was. It was up to the prosecutor to prove the defendant’s guilt…and if the prosecutor failed to do that beyond a reasonable doubt, then we must find the defendant not guilty.

That’s why we find them “not guilty” instead of “innocent.” We’re not being asked to declare whether the defendant did or did not commit the crime…we couldn’t possibly know that. We are instead being asked to determine whether or not it was proved, beyond a reasonable doubt, that he did commit the crime.

What I heard from my fellow jurors was that he must be guilty, because why would his wife lie? I heard that he must be guilty, otherwise why wouldn’t he testify for himself? I heard that he must be guilty because people had a bad feeling about him. I heard nothing of the evidence, or of any serious consideration. I heard people speaking from the heart…the part of them that hears that a woman has been beaten and reacts to that statement, rather than trying to assess how much truth is behind it.

I understand the impulse. I had a hard time fighting it as well. Spousal abuse is a touchy subject, and one that triggers floods of emotions. I’d imagine that crimes against children or even animals would do the same thing, and people want to render a guilty verdict just to show that they are not fans of these crimes…as though that even needs to be demonstrated.

When we walked into the small room for the final time to deliberate, one fellow juror was outright convinced he was guilty. The others were all leaning guilty. I was the sole holdout for a verdict of not guilty.

And when we left that room, we were all in agreement: the man was not guilty.

I still don’t know how I did that, but I know that I did. That’s not the kind of thing I can usually do. Getting my own life together is hard enough most of the time, but then, with something very serious and immediate on the line, when it was a man who was about to go to jail even though the prosecution had not proven that he did anything, I was able to fight. I was able to pull it together…and fight.

And I fought with the only thing I really had on my side: logic.

Because there was no evidence.

Nobody saw them argue. Not then.

Other times they saw them argue, witness reports state that the defendant walked away from the conflict. He shouted, just as his wife did, but ultimately he walked away when he was asked to.

The 911 call revealed the woman shouting repeatedly, “He’s going to kill me! Come over now, my husband is going to kill me!” Yet there are no sounds of him anywhere, and by her own testimony she was outside while he sat on the couch in the living room waiting for the cops to come. He could clearly hear her shouting these things, so it’s no surprise that he said “I didn’t touch her,” as soon as the police showed up. I certainly would have said the same thing.

The woman’s testimony — and she was the only witness, apart from her husband of course — contradicted itself on large issues. For instance at first she claimed that she woke up with his hand around her throat. Later she claimed that she was awake and heard him come in. A relatively small detail, but later on she was asked how much time passed between his coming home and the attack. She didn’t know. She first said that he came right into the room and grabbed her, then later said that he might have taken a shower, made dinner, eaten it, and then grabbed her. And there’s a big difference there, especially if she claimed to hear him come in…it’s not a detail.

Additionally, the logic of the actual events wasn’t sound. He was clearly strong enough to overpower her physically, there wouldn’t have been a surprise there, but evidently he grabbed her throat out of nowhere — no argument — then released it just as suddenly, and made no attempt to interfere with her calling 911 on him. When the police arrived, there were no marks on her, and the husband was calm. I have a hard time believing a flash of violence like that could occur out of nowhere, and just as quickly disappear into nowhere, without there being any history or any evidence that anything even happened.

Do I think he did it? Here’s my answer: it doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter, because based on the available evidence and testimony, we can’t prove he did it. And because of that we can’t find him guilty. We simply don’t have any choice other than to find him not guilty.

Several of my fellow jurors protested to the end that they felt he was guilty. That’s okay, I let them know. They can think that. But we weren’t called to let the judge know what we felt; we were called to render a verdict based upon the judicial system we have established in this country.

Americans like to make their own calls. Americans like to tailor the law to whatever it is best suits them at the time. That’s how Trayvon Martin got killed; he violated the law that existed in one man’s head, was found guilty, and was summarily executed. That’s how Bernie Goetz killed four teenagers who attempted to mug him in New York. That’s how black men who don’t speak very good English get sent to jail for crimes nobody actually saw them commit.

It was scary. It was scary because, one day, that could be me. I could well be on trial for something I didn’t do, something that would similarly cause an emotional response in jurors. And I’d hope that a complete lack of evidence would mean that the jurors would know better than to listen only to their hearts and their hatred of awful crimes…but what I saw in that room convinced me that I can’t rely on that. And neither can you. Nobody can. The heart makes decisions today that the brain may regret long after the deal’s been done. By that time, we’re already gone.

I stopped a lot of hearts from making that decision that day. If I hadn’t been there, he’d be in jail. And he’d be in jail for a crime that nobody managed to prove even happened.

I don’t know what to make of the experience. I really don’t.

I’m equal parts proud and baffled by it. Justice was served, as it should have been. It was my job to see that that happened. But what if he did do it? It wasn’t our job to determine that…but what if he did? Did the other jurors have a point? Is it better to put a man who you believe did a bad thing behind bars than to let him go free simply because nobody could prove it? Of course not. But what if he did?

I argued for justice, and justice was served. Does that make me a good man?

Again, I don’t know. I did the thing I was asked to do, and I fought to make sure others did it as well. The wheels of justice turned, and the only fair verdict was read aloud in that courtroom in mid-January.

A man went free, because I changed things.

Maybe that doesn’t make me good, but that does make me responsible.

And that’s not a bad thing to be, I suppose, moving into year 32. I just really hope that if I’m ever in that situation, somebody will be willing to risk feeling like an outcast, will be willing to risk dying of anxiety, will be willing to risk fighting a terribly lopsided battle, to help justice — rather than passion — be served.

I know I can’t rely on that.

The defendant that day couldn’t have relied on it either.

But for better or worse, I made it happen. And I can only hope, for better or worse, someone would make it happen for me.

Thanks for listening.

Update: Radio Silence

The Twilight Zone: The Movie

An explanation of why things are quiet around here is probably due, along with a few other items of housekeeping. To wit:

– It’s quiet. The holidays were busy for me, both in personal and professional terms, and if you didn’t notice we had a grand ol’ time around here in the runup to Christmas. Now, however, I’m definitely enjoying some recovery time. I get to focus on other things, read some books, brainstorm creative things I’ll never get around to doing, and having nightmares about that zombie game on Wii U. That doesn’t indicate a lack of interest in the blog, but it does speak to the seductive comfort of downtime. Also, coincidentally, this blog was started last February, which means I also missed out on January of last year. Owing to this coincidental nothingness, I think I’ll plan on always setting January aside as my holiday break. Doing one in December would make more sense, but then I couldn’t put together any more awesome Christmas features so NUTS TO THAT. Anyway, expect normal service to resume in February.

– Steve Zissou Saturday had its first interruption due to the aforementioned downtime. Never fear! It will return in February and continue on the first Saturday of every month from there. If I’m counting correctly I think we’ve nearly made it through fourteen seconds of the movie. I have lots of general things I want to cover that haven’t been fitting into my scene by scene breakdowns though (such as a discussion of the individual members of Team Zissou, and what “redemption” means in Anderson’s worlds) so maybe I’ll prepare some additional supplements.

– The Friday Musical Interludes are gettin’ all stubbornlike. Don’t ask me why. I upgraded my WordPress template recently and it prettied up a few things and uglied up some others, but the main difference seems to be that it hates Friday Musical Interludes. See, what I normally do is prepare about a month’s worth of them in advance, and just schedule them to post. When I view them in the backend they look fine, but the past two or three have autoposted with the youtube embed code stripped out. Don’t ask me why…I have no idea. It’s there the night before, but gone when it posts. It’s annoying, and I really hope I don’t have to discontinue the series, since it’s the only thing I’ve ever done that people have said nice things about.

– Thomas Pynchon is releasing a book sometime this year, apparently. It’s called The Bleeding Edge. I already have a space cleared on my bookshelf for the first-edition hardcover. As with the runup to Moonrise Kingdom, expect way more Thomas Pynchon material coming your way than you’d ever actually be comfortable with. Additionally, please do let me know what you’d like to see here in the new year. I have a pretty wide berth of things I can cover (art, music, books, television, video games and film are pretty vast subjects IF YOU HAVE NOT NOTICED) and plenty of specific things I’d like to do as well (more Compare and Contrast features mainly, particularly in terms of the recent series of Red Dwarf, and something about the emotional episodes of Futurama) but I’d like a better indicator than number of comments on what it is that you do and don’t enjoy ’round these parts. So please do let me know.

– Finally, friend of the website (and friend in general) Andrew Edmark had his Kindle Fire stolen recently. He’s located in Iowa, and he has footage of the theft, which I have embedded below. Please watch it and contact him (or me, and I will relay your information) if you recognize the thief. He’s a good guy and the Kindle has sentimental value to him, so please help if you can. See you in February.

In Retrospect: The 12 Days of Christmas

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, everyone! I just wanted to take a moment to thank all of my friends, collaborators and readers for your help and contributions during my 12 Days of Christmas feature.

I was a bit nervous about it since 12 articles spanning multiple collaborators was a daunting prospect, but not only did everyone deliver as promised, but the writing was fantastic and the episode selections were wonderful. Thanks to everyone who wrote or read anything…I genuinely appreciate it, and I thank you so much for helping me to make this the blog that it is.

The feature ended yesterday because…well, I figured nobody in their right minds would bother to visit Noiseless Chatter on Christmas. (There’s a lot of porn you should be watching instead. And family time, I guess.)

But just in case you’re here, I’d like to offer a sincere and warm thanks for being such a great audience. Here’s to lots more growth in the new year.

And in case you missed it, or would just like to relive some of the great submissions, here’s the 12 Days of Christmas in its entirety:

Day 1: “A Christmassy Ted,” Father Ted, by David Black
Day 2: “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire,” The Simpsons, by Zach Kaplan
Day 3: “Christmas Special” Pt. 1 and 2, The Office, by Ben Gallivan
Day 4: “Rapture’s Delight,” American Dad!, by me
Day 5: “The Strike,” Seinfeld, by Ryan
Day 6: “The Constant,” LOST, by Jacob Crites
Day 7: “Don’t Bring Your Guns to Town, Santa,” The Partridge Family, by Jeff Zoerner
Day 8: “Christmas Special,” The League of Gentlemen, by David Black
Day 9: “Pee-wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special,” Pee-wee’s Playhouse, by me
Day 10: “Jazz Records,” Everybody Loves Raymond, by Ryan
Day 11: How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, by Zach Kaplan
Day 12: “Blackadder’s Christmas Carol,” Blackadder, by Ben Gallivan

Thanks again to everyone for your support over the past year. See you in 2013!

Announcing: The 12 Days of Christmas!

Merry Christmas everyone! And welcome to what I hope will be a very special new article series here on Noiseless Chatter: The 12 Days of Christmas!

Starting Thursday, and continuing daily through to Christmas Eve, we will be spotlighting special Christmas episodes of our favorite — and not so favorite — television shows. Each day of Christmas will be spent with a different fictional family, and we’ll make the most of the time we spend with them.

I’ve assembled a group of friends to help me along as well. Some of the names will be familiar to readers here and others will be new, but they’re all excellent writers, and we’ll come together to turn this series into one big, long Christmas party…consisting solely of the nerds who stand alone in the corner talking about television shows.

I won’t tell you which episodes of which shows are being covered — you’ll have to tune in daily to find out — but I will say that there’s a great cross-section of programs here, and we’ll explore a lot of very different approaches to celebrating Christmas along the way.

So remember, that’s Thursday, December 13, with a new article going live every morning through Christmas Eve. I hope you’ll join in the discussions and the good cheer, and that you’ll enjoy some of the selections we’ve made.

A sincere thanks to everybody out there who’s seen this blog through its first year. Here’s to many, many more.

Oh, also, I’m aware that the fucking A.V. Club beat me to this. BUT WE’RE DOING IT ANYWAY.

We start on Thursday…celebrating Christmas with three men of the cloth. What could possibly go wrong?

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