Saturday, September 23, 2023
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Déjà vu

Some things and some people just don't change.

Several decades ago, when I was a youthful reporter for the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, I got a plum assignment: cover a national racing pigeon convention.

What more could an aspiring muckraker want?

I did as I was told and found myself wandering among birdcages and reading descriptions of assorted winged heroes.

Then I happened upon a large meeting room where the real action was. It seemed as if some sort of auction was taking place and I started taking notes.

I thought that was what I was supposed to do.

Pretty soon some large, menacing people were looming over me and asking me to leave. Serious bodily harm seemed implied.

Turns out that the pigeon enthusiasts were also serious gamblers - the auction was for the right to bet on the best birds in an upcoming race.

It was probably illegal.

This was the only time in my illustrious reporting career that I actually felt threatened.

Fortunately, I had the good sense to flee the auction room immediately.

So I was not surprised last week to spot a lawsuit in L.A. Superior Court against, among others, the National Pigeon Association, for an assault and battery that allegedly occurred at a convention.

Apparently, a bunch of pigeon trainers (allegedly) didn't like the look of the plaintiff.

The violent underbelly of bird racing hasn't changed.

Keep your children away from disreputable winged daredevils.

Not surprisingly, the chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court hasn't changed either.

Last week, he penned a letter to Alabama's governor - cc'd to the rest of the universe - asking him to ignore a federal judge's ruling allowing gay marriage.

It's so refreshing to see a judge who isn't vague about issues that may come before him.

But this seemed strangely familiar.

Oh, yeah. This was the same Alabama Supreme Court chief justice - Roy Moore - who got thrown out of office in 2003 by a state judicial panel after he refused to obey a federal judge's order to remove a 5,200-pound granite Ten Commandments monument from the lobby of the Alabama Judicial Building.

Moore got his job back via election in 2012. That state judicial panel may have to go back to work.

Picking juries: There's been a lot of hand-wringing of late about picking unbiased juries, and I have no idea why. This is a problem easily solved by technology.

The trial of Dzokhar Tsarnaev, the alleged Boston Marathon bomber, is probably the weirdest one. The defense says most of the prospective jurors have admitted bias, and the prosecution says most of them can set aside their opinions.

And the judge, as of this writing, seems to really want to keep the trial in Boston.

So how do you make this trial fair - or at least look fair?

Put the techniques of corporate America to work. You may not be able to spot biases and moods of jurors, but that doesn't mean a computer can't. Check out, for example, a recent fascinating piece in The New Yorker titled "We Know How You Feel."

Apparently, software and video cameras now can understand your every need and desire by analyzing the twitches of your brow and the corners of your mouth.

You don't want to play poker with anyone with a marketing firm.

So divining juror bias should be a snap.

For that matter, divining judicial bias ought to be pretty easy too.

And figuring out if a guy is guilty.

There may no longer be any need for trials.

Unless evil counter-programmers figure out how to train faces to fool the mood programs.

Computer-assisted cosmetic surgery may soon be a major industry.

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