question everything


Have you ever stopped to consider what your key chain says about you?

If a stranger looked at mine they would know that I own a foreign vehicle — based on the manufacturer’s symbol on the car keys and door lock remote.

By the mini silver abacus, which also includes a small gender symbol, one might surmise I have some interest in Asian things and/or math and that I’m a female.  All except the math image would accurate.

I also have two library cards,  a CVS card, a grocery store card and AC Moore Rewards card attached. From this you might guess that I like books and crafts and shop at a chain grocery store.

Finally I have a three fairly indistinguishable keys (house and office) attached and I’m not sure whether this tells anything about me unless you have Sherlock-like sense of observation.

What is on your key chain and what might it say about you?

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Ever since the Supreme Court recently ruled that a suspect must speak up to invoke his or her right to be silent, I’ve been mulling over whether I should start carrying a Miranda rights card a friend gave to me last year.

The card essentially states that the person (suspect) who hands this card to the police officer is invoking his or her Miranda rights to remain silent, to an attorney, to not be questioned without the presence of an attorney, to secure his/her belongings (if I am to be taken into custody) before being arrested, and more.

I’ve been raised in a culture that teaches its children to trust the police. We’ve been taught they are our friends.

While the police are to be respected and treated as such for they carry out a very important role,  it is even more important to protect yourself from being charged, and even convicted, for a crime you did not commit. Those rights are just as important even if you did commit a crime. You should know your rights, including what the police are allowed to do to you or tell you while in custody and how long they may hold you without charging you with a crime.

The police have a duty to assume you are guilty until proven innocent because their job is to find criminals and get confessions.

I was riding with a friend a few weeks ago when we were pulled over.  My friend offered to let the police search the vehicle — thankfully they did not search the vehicle.

In the moment, it seemed like the right thing to do, especially since it caught the police off guard and probably led to them letting us go. But in retrospect, no matter how innocent we were (and we were), it is my belief that we should not have given up those rights so easily.

Innocent people have been known to be convicted, even executed, and later found innocent thanks to DNA tests alone.

According to the Innocence Project, there have been more than 250 post-conviction exonerations in the US due to DNA tests.   Seventeen people have been proven innocent and exonerated by DNA testing in the US after serving time on death row.

Even more shocking is a list of 138 people who were sentenced to death and their conviction was either subsequently overturned and they were acquitted or all charges were dropped.  Some people on the list were given an absolute pardon by the governor based on new evidence of innocence. The list runs from the early 1970s through November 2009. Also, more than a dozen people who have been executed were later found to be innocent.

These facts make it clear that our court system is unable to make an accurate determination in every case as to the innocence or guilt of a suspect.

Here are links to two sites where they have printable cards to hand to police if arrested or pulled over.

http://www.norml.org/pdf_files/freedom_card.pdf

http://blog.motorists.org/wp-content/uploads/aor.pdf

It might be wise to have a copy of one of these laminated and in your wallet and a second copy in your glove compartment paper clipped to your registration.

When was the last time you stopped and observed anything? I mean really observed.

When was the last time you stopped your mind from thinking, rushing, heading toward the next task, and stopped to be present to what’s around you in all its glory and ugliness?

It’s easy to stop and smell flowers and their sweet perfume, or to notice when a sewage drain on your block has been left open. But have you ever paid attention to the underlying basic smell of DC?

I’ve been on a bit of a spiritual journey lately and I’ve come to realize that I had numbed myself from paying attention to the world I live in: the sounds, smells, taste, physical vibrations and texture, among other things. I have a lot to work on personally, but this is an area where I believe change will be easier for me.

I was surprised how different my world appeared the other day when I took my “non-smoking break” and walked around the block where I work. I’m easily distracted by people when I make eye contact, so I fixed my eyes at a point on the ground a short distance ahead of me and walked, making sure to listen, feel and smell what was around me and pay attention to my body at the same time.

As I stood outside my office, it was like someone had turned up the volume on all of my senses. Seriously, as I stood there and made myself present to the moment, the volume on the sound I heard moved from a five to an eight. I inhaled and realized the city didn’t smell like cars or body odor, but more like hot, moist yet dusty, neutral yet somewhat car exhaust-tainted air. Then I smelled the spicy meat of the hot dog vending machine before I turned the corner. I tried to be aware enough to smell the potted flowers along the sidewalk but I couldn’t discern them from the other smells.

I turned to paying attention to my body as I walked. I felt my feet sink into my black heels and the pressure of my toes pushing off the concrete with each step.

The ground shook a little when groups of people walked by and their voices were clear in my mind, but not their words. I heard the tones of the voices.  Some were louder and dominated the conversation with high-falutin-tootin voices saturated with inflated egos, some were rushed and tired, some were hurt and needy and some were plain and uninspired.

I heard the ding of a bell as a door opened at a cafe I was passing.  And I thought to myself, “I didn’t know that door had a bell,” as the rush of cold air escaping the cafe pushes against my exposed arms and legs.

My bones moved and creaked with each step.

I didn’t want to return to the office but I had to. So I went inside, listened to the sounds of the elevator and slunked back to my desk to turn my mind back on and get some work finished.

Lately, I’ve also left my screened-in windows and door open at night to listen to the crickets, birds and other sounds of nature. It’s very calming to sit on my couch and read a book, or journal, sip some tea or other liquid with the soft background sound of the outdoors.

I don’t know how I lived before without that extra connection to nature and I am scared that all too soon, winter will come and I will be forced to keep those doors and windows closed all day. Perhaps when that day comes, I will take my dog on longer walks in the early morning and at night, just to be outdoors a little longer.

I don’t know which way is up right now.

My mind is all a jumble of emotions and I’m having trouble sorting through how I feel about one issue and how those feeling should not leak into how I feel and react to another issue.

I can be melodramatic, I know. But right now I’m tired of crying for the potential loss of my choir, the Master Chorale of Washington. I’m tired of drama among those I love and mad that I allowed myself to be sucked in and, as a consequence, to question things about myself and people I thought I knew.

There is an unintended consequence of getting close to a tight-knit group of people. If a rift occurs among them and you are not a part of the cause, you are left to decide which side you are on. I never thought I’d have to decide and I hope it will never come to that. If called on, loyalty comes with a high price tag.

But right now my heart and head hurt because I’m being forced to acknowledge things about myself that I don’t like to see, that I didn’t think existed and that I thought I’d eradicated from my life. On top of that I’m having to come to terms with the life-changing event of loosing my choir.

So I decided yesterday that when the choir season ends in May I’m going to take a week off and disappear in the woods or some place where I can be alone and silent, cut off from all distractions including adult beverages, music, books (other than some spiritual scriptures), cell phones, email and human interactions. I need to do it so I can re-evaluate things with a clear mind and perhaps reboot my system.

I was driving home to DC from a work assignment in Richmond, Virginia, when I happened to flip to a radio channel playing Bush’s speech about the economic “crisis.”

I have to admit he made a pretty compelling argument. I almost was impressed and I might have been convinced if I didn’t remember another time you told us a BIG decision had to be made in a rush.

Let’s flash back more than five years, shall we. Back to when Bush said we needed to act immediately to prevent Saddam Hussein from using weapons of mass destruction against us.  

Do you remember this phrase? Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised. —George W Bush, March 18, 2003.

If you need a short refresher check out this blog Weapons of Mass Destruction: Who Said What When posted in 2003. 

Being a reporter whose job is to write about companies such as Lehman Brothers, I’m finding it VERY hard not to get politically involved and tell my Congressional Reps what I think they should do about the financial situation. But this time I can’t resist saying just a little.

So here’s my message to Bush.

How can I believe you?

How can I believe the boy who cried wolf about WMD? It doesn’t matter whether you knew or didn’t know WMD was a lie. What you told us about WMD was a lie.

Please, don’t use trigger phrases meant to invoke panic like “millions of people will loose their jobs.”

And would it really be a bad thing if it became harder to get credit? Weren’t easy lines of credit what got us here in the first place?

Please, Mr. President, please.  How can I believe you when your advisers used to work for the very companies that you seek to rescue?

How can I believe you when you’ve given me a foundation of sand on which to stand.

Yesterday I learned that you should never leave a body shop lot until you’ve check out the “repairs” done to your car after a car accident.

I picked up my dark blue/green Nissan Sentra from a body shop in Silver Spring yesterday. My car had been rear-ended at a stoplight.

After looking over the bill and lifetime ownership warranty, I went outside to check the car.

The car had been repaired seven days ahead of schedule and that made me nervous.

I checked out the car using a rule of thumb an old auctioneer once told me. “Handle the object and you’ll know if someone is trying to pass off a replica for the real thing.”

I glided my left hand along the inside and outside of the back doors, the hinges and locks on the doors and trunk. I lowered my line of sight to look along the the roof and outerbody of the car where the doors were supposed to align. I opened the trunk, which had been replaced.

There was a small puddle of water on the inside of the trunk. I sighed and walked back into the repair shop office.

When the car was again fixed I went out and checked the car again. I tried opening and closing all of the doors and rolling up and down the windows.

This time the back right door wouldn’t open. It was unlocked and wouldn’t open from the outside. I was getting tired of finding errors.

The woman at the repair shop tried to tell me the door wouldn’t open because I had the child lock on. “Then why does it open from the inside but not the outside?” I asked and demonstrated by reaching through the open front door window and opening the back door by pulling on the interior handle.

“That is odd,” she said.

“It certainly is.” I said. “Are you sure you guys didn’t cut corners to get the car done as fast as you did? I mean, I know you are a really good repair shop but what I’ve found today hasn’t exactly made me feel confident.”

She started to reply but then stopped, blushed and looked down at the paperwork in her hands. 

About 10 minutes later they called me out of the waiting room. The repairman said something about the lock to the door not coiling properly. I nodded as if I understood. At that point I just wanted to go home.

As I drove the road home I took my hands from the wheel for a couple seconds on a straight stretch of asphalt. The car drove straight. Well, at least I had that. 

The good news is the repairs are under warranty for as long as I own the car.  I guess it’s a good thing I picked a body shop near my apartment.

There is a restaurant in the Washington, D.C. area that hires illegal immigrants and treats them like crap. 

Why? Because they can.

I have a friend who is an illegal immigrant from El Salvador who is working as a waiter in a local family-owned restaurant.

I eat at this restaurant almost weekly. And I’ve always considered the owners (two brothers) to be nice guys. That was, until last week.

I’m going to say for the record that I have great sympathy for illegal immigrants. That applies especially to people who were infants when their parents immigrated.

What really got me angry was what my friend told me last night. Sitting outside with me on a faded green bench, he explained his dilemma.

The restaurant had not paid him a base hourly waiter’s salary for 11 weeks. Eleven weeks!!! As he said this, he hunched over, ran his fingers through his dark curly hair and stared at the concrete bellow him.

For the last 11 weeks, my friend had to scratch together his living from the tips he got serving tables.

“Why did they do it?” I asked.

“Because they can,” he said. “They know I’m stuck, just like the other guys they’ve hired.”

The restaurant doesn’t appear to be having financial problems. They installed all new tables and chairs just last week.

“I’m going to stand up to them tonight,” he said. “I’m going to tell them I’ll quit if they don’t put me back on salary.”

As we went back into the restaurant I gave him a hug and wished him luck. I also made sure to write down a fat tip on the credit card slip.

When I checked my bank account the next morning, the restaurant had charged me only for the price of the meal. I’m guessing that they kicked him out without even giving him his credit card tips.

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