Monday, 17 April 2017

REVIEW: "The Wrong Carlos: Anatomy of a Wrongful Execution" by J. S. Liebman, S. Crowley, A. Markquart, L. Rosenberg, L. White, D. Zharkovsky

Book Review by Sapphire Ng

The Wrong Carlos: Anatomy of a Wrongful Execution
by James S. Liebman, Shawn Crowley, Andrew Markquart, Lauren Rosenberg, Lauren White, Daniel Zharkovsky
Columbia University Press
Copyright July 2014
Paperback, 448 Pages

Exceptionally tragic and heart-wrenching. This book comprehensively documents an extremely maddening and painful case of injustice as facilitated by a flawed criminal justice system. This progressively disheartening narrative culminates in the botched and wrongful execution of Carlos DeLuna.

This is a compelling book for readers from all walks of life, within or outside the American criminal justice system. Well-researched and easy-to-read, this book illustrates and expounds upon a very real and consequential problem in the criminal justice system. It is almost unimaginable that a reader could finish reading this book without experiencing an intense mix of anger, frustration and disappointment at the cruel injustice served to an innocent man. 

This book provides an excellent and rather thorough examination of mishandled elements in the case that in aggregate led to DeLuna’s wrongful conviction and execution. By skillfully bringing DeLuna to life within the pages of the book by highlighting his vulnerability, fears, flaws, thoughts, and innocence, as juxtaposed alongside the excruciating incompetence and apathy of supposed professionals who wield tremendous powers over DeLuna’s life and fate, this book furnishes one of the most disturbing and devastating exemplification of the ways justice can go wrong. 

The book aptly provides a comprehensive background to the case by providing a frightful and heart-thumping recount of the brutal killing of Wanda Lopez, and detailed the life histories and psychological profiles of both Carlos DeLuna and Carlos Hernandez. Whilst DeLuna should not be excused for his prior run-ins with the law, “jail stints,” “constant stealing, lying, and huffing paint,” it is certainly unjustifiable that he became the scapegoat for a murder Hernandez committed. Hernandez, a “dangerous” man of a violent demeanor with a violent criminal history, a “history of knife crimes,” an established criminal modus operandi, and a penchant to commit acts of domestic violence and abuse. 

It is especially infuriating to learn of the various aggravating parties involved in DeLuna’s capital murder case, especially the painful incompetence of both DeLuna’s defense counsel and the on-scene investigative team of Lopez’s killing. It is beyond exasperating to read of the ways DeLuna’s defense demonstrated glaring inexperience with their disastrous in-court performances, lack of preparation, and unwise decisions, and who in the latter sentencing stage of the trial literally resorted to a strategy of inaction and surrender—failure to engage in even minimal cross-examination of witnesses, and “didn’t call a single witness or put on any mitigating evidence”—which in aggregate effectively sealed DeLuna’s hapless fate. The ineptitude and faults of the crime investigator was also laid bare—her amateurish and slipshod investigative work, faulty judgements, laughable careless oversight, and even irresponsible claims of ignorance and lack of knowledge.

It is almost disgusting to learn of the extent the prosecution, in conjunction with law enforcement, were willing to go in order to convict and put to death a man to whom there is a dearth of implicating evidence. Highlighted was the familiar mantra “ends justify the means” to which the prosecution was alleged to follow. The book systematically documented efforts where the prosecution intentionally hid and conveniently ignored evidence not in service to its self-serving cause, and where it habitually allowed its short-sightedness and stubbornness to lead its efforts. 

The lack of professionalism on the part of law enforcement is also extremely regrettable—the false confidence and lack of fact-checking in the arrest of the suspect, the professionally-unsound decision to use the error-prone procedure of “show-up identification,” the reluctance to admit mistakes, and other missteps. With more findings related to the case that came to light, the more it makes the reader question the efficacy of the law enforcement and justice system. The fact that Hernandez was able to get away unscathed and publicly brag about the failure of the law to prosecute him for his cold-blooded murders despite the availability of evidence against him is an appalling testament to the state of the criminal justice system.

Amidst such turmoil, DeLuna’s sentiments of acceptance, peace and forgiveness were thus even more admirable. Far from harboring hatred or resentment, he even “tried to find some justice in his situation and found it in the bad things he’d done,” by justifying his conviction and impending execution for a murder he did not commit as nonetheless absolving him from his past guilts and wrongdoings. Considering that DeLuna might even be possibly mentally retarded, his resilience and optimism as perfectly captured in his last words before his execution—“I want to say I hold no grudges. I hate no one. I love my family. Tell everyone on death row to keep the faith and don’t give up”—appear all the more astounding. 

This book might have seemed repetitive at times with regards to critical details and evidence neglected or botched in the case. Considering however the gravity of the case at hand, and the atrocious incompetence displayed by the various parties involved in the case, such repetition would almost seem mandatory in order to impress upon the insufferable injustice inflicted upon DeLuna, and to right an abominable wrong. 

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated to the publisher nor the author of the book. This book review is the result of my personal reading and honest opinion.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

My Message to Dad

My Dad passed away from lymphoma at past midnight Sat Apr 8th Malaysian time [afternoon Fri Apr 7th Boston time]. He was 58. It was only around 2 years since he was diagnosed with lymphoma.

He was the most analytical person I've ever known. Insanely industrious and resilient, and extraordinarily patient with me. He did everything for me and never expected anything in return but just for me to be happy, to be the best I can ever be, and to be his daughter.

I owe all I have today to him.

My Message to Dad:

Hi Dad. I always naively thought that I could make it back to see you after I graduate from Berklee in May 2017. Early this year I told myself, this is my very last semester at Berklee, I would be able to make it back in time to see you in person. And then April 2017 came, and I thought to myself, only 2 months remaining and I will be able to return to Malaysia and see you before anything might happen. I had been too naive and optimistic.

I was thinking and reflecting, and realized that I could have seen you in the summer of 2016, I could have flown back home for the approximately 3-month summer vacation and would have been able to spend precious time with you. Dad, you and mom had constantly asked me questions like “When are you coming back to Malaysia?” ever since I began my studies in the US, both through phone and email. You and mom continued to persistently ask me through emails, “When are you coming back to Malaysia?” trusting that I would make the right decision that might possibly take into account your love for me, or that might actually signal that I heard and acknowledged the sentiments you and mom expressed about missing me tremendously. I was however insensitively unresponsive. I mostly never responded directly to these questions and always found ways to convince you that it could have been more worthwhile and constructive should I choose to remain here in the US for summer breaks considering new things I could potentially do, learn and experience in this new environment. I always prioritized myself, my own needs, wants and preferences over you and my family. With my persistent push-backs against your questions that lovingly implore me to make trips back to Malaysia just so you and mom could have a glimpse of and spend time with your beloved daughter, you and mom gradually stopped asking me questions of this nature.

I told you and mom that should I stay in the US for summer 2016, I could gain by getting many free books from American publishers, and I did. I spent the entire summer of 2016 continuously receiving free physical books, reading them within days and writing book reviews to accompany these readings. There is no doubt I learned alot, and dad, I distinctly remember you saying that these opportunities might not be present in Malaysia. I always held to the belief that since I’m already here in the US, and considering that this is the first time that I’ve stepped foot in this country, I ought to seize this opportunity as much as possible by being here and doing things here.

With this line of thought, I realized that what I’m left with today is a bunch of book reviews on my blogs, a meagre amount of extra money from selling these physical books to local bookstores which mostly paid only around USD3 for each book, and probably some new knowledge which value in my future is not known. The opportunity cost is that I lost the only and last chance to see you in person and tell you all the things I had planned to tell you only less than 2 months later when I would return home after graduating from Berklee. My decision to not return to Malaysia at all ever since you were diagnosed with cancer around 2 years ago basically meant I traded off the chance to show you I care with other things that might not have mattered much at the end of the day.

I was unbelievably thoughtless. Mom and KK told me that you stopped being able to speak from around Tuesday the week you passed away. How could I have never thought of calling up with Skype even before then to talk to you, or just to hear your voice? I still naively thought that I could make it back to Malaysia in time, and that you would be alright. I never would have known that your condition would deteriorate so much suddenly. I was so careless and inattentive that I never even thought of calling you or mom up in the months before your passing to talk to you. Considering I’ve been using your personal Skype account to dial up local US numbers, how incredible it is that I’ve never even considered video-skyping KK’s account so that I could talk to you.

I realize that this potentially started with me, when I decided to stop paying for the phone plan in the US that costs around USD50 a month. It thought it was a good idea since I barely used the number, and that most correspondence here in the US for me, school or otherwise, is through email anyway. Because of my feeble attempts to save money, we ended up communicating regularly through email rather than Skype calls, whether video or not. Our correspondence turned into faceless and voiceless email. To make things worse, I clearly remember that I mostly failed to answer the very last phone calls you ever made to me a few years ago when you and mom tried so hard to call me just for the simple pleasure of talking to and possibly see the face of your only daughter.  

You and mom made huge sacrifices to come to the US with me around 2.5 years ago to make sure that everything went smoothly for me. But I wasn’t appreciative. Back then I was less than vaguely aware of the financial implications of my Berklee education. I never realized how insanely lucky I was, and took everything for granted. It was only within the past 12 months or so that I realized that I am indeed very lucky. I discovered to my surprise that I had American classmates at Berklee who had to take out student loans even for their very first undergraduate degree, and of course, their families earned USD. In my case, you had to grapple with the abysmal MYR to USD exchange rate. But yet you funded my undergraduate education without a word of complaint, and even with high hopes for me. Even more astounding, you even recently agreed to fund a second undergraduate degree in law for me in the UK. I have been exceptionally lucky to have you as my Dad but I have unfortunately been too stingy with expressing my gratefulness and appreciation for all you have done and ever did for me.

I have been rather mean to you and mom when I was back in Malaysia, and especially so to you. When I came to the US, mental health professionals diagnosed me with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and chronic depression. I started to get help right here in the US, and am surely getting much better because I haven’t been this happy for at least a decade or so, and I daresay even for my entire life. I considered this last Spring 2017 semester at Berklee to be a time where I can continue to improve from my condition. And I would have then be more than ready by the time I return home end of May this year to show you that I really appreciate you and mom for all both of you have selflessly done for me.

I do not want to seem like I’m blaming most or all of my bad behavior on my PTSD and depression, but after much reflection, I’ve come to realize and acknowledge that I was mostly a slave to my mental condition in the past. These conditions largely dictated my behavior, reactions and impulses, and only magnified my hostility toward you, when all this while all you really deserved was respect. I was absolutely looking forward to telling this to you in person less than 2 months later, and I really would have loved a chance to prove to you that I am indeed appreciative of you.

Several weeks before you passed away, I’ve noticed that you stopped replying my emails. It was mom and only her who responded to me since then. Somehow I didn’t take this as a warning sign. When I stopped seeing email replies from you, I suspected you might need more time to rest, and that you had to put more effort into recuperating from your chemo treatments. You did mention to me in an earlier email that you started to get dizzy really quickly just by looking at the computer screen for really short durations of 5 to 10 minutes or so. I just assumed that your condition only got slightly but harmlessly worse, and that mom decided to take over the email correspondence to ease your discomfort.

Even when we emailed, I mostly emailed you only when I needed help for something, needed your advice or something else. It was never to ask you personally for details about the condition of your lymphoma. The most I did was to end my emails to you and mom with brief comments like “hope you are okay and doing well.” I did not do my part to actually actively learn how you are doing, whether you are coping well with your cancer treatments, or even show my concern in return. From what I hear from KK, you suffered alot. I cannot imagine how horrible it must have been for you. For me, I would feel so horrible even with just fever and cold that I can’t imagine ever feeling worse. You were really brave with your lymphoma.

But yet, mom, KK, DeiDei, Ah Ma and Gong Gong were there with you when you were going through this tremendously challenging and difficult times, and probably even the scariest time of your life. DeiDei told me that he returned to Malaysia around March 11 this year, which means he still spent around a month with you before you passed away. KK took care of you the entire 2 years ever since you were diagnosed with lymphoma. Mom is definitely always by your side, and she cares so much for you. I was your only immediate family member, your daughter, who failed to be by your side when you were going through the toughest part of your life. And yet I am one of those who benefited the most from all you ever did or ever worked hard for in your life.

You always worked hard and gave your best even when you noted that conditions at work were less than pleasant for you. You even continued to work at your cargo freight company after you were diagnosed with lymphoma. Additionally, even though finances were tight and you frankly revealed to me that your company wasn’t doing very well, you continued to be the most unbelievably supportive dad you can ever be, and even agreed to support my pursuit of a law degree after I graduate from Berklee. You always wanted me to be the best I can ever be, and you would be so proud if I were to become a lawyer. You agreed to fund my pursuit of yet another academic degree despite you and mom having previously mentioned several times that my Berklee undergraduate degree in the US would be the very last degree you would sponsor me for; total expenses for my Berklee education is undoubtedly exorbitant, further amplified by the MYR to USD exchange rate that mercilessly and astronomically shrunk all your hard earned money.

Studying at Berklee have indeed helped me mature alot, and I realize that I am incredibly lucky, Other children in this world could never have been as lucky as I am to be the beneficiary of the unbelievable hardwork and care of a loving Dad. You very supportively financially sponsored my scarily expensive education in the United States, continued to support me in silent but concrete ways and did not disown me even after I’ve consistently shown to be unreasonably mean to you, and worst of all, unappreciative of all you have done for me.

In my emails to you and mom, I often mentioned that I managed to cut down food expenses remarkably. When I first came to the US, I didn’t know how to cook and never did. You were okay with me dining out almost daily even though it is incredibly expensive to do so and certainly not economical, nor would it have been a mindful use of your money that you have so judiciously worked your entire life to earn. All you cared about was that I had enough money for food, necessities and other expenses, that I ate well and stayed healthy, and took good care of myself. I finally stopped dining out totally in the last 1.5 years, and I managed to shrink my food expenses down to around USD3 per day, I was only starting to grasp the real value of money, and I thought it was a big deal on my part. I was so proud of it, and constantly mentioned this in emails to you and mom as if it was a huge achievement. I thought I was doing “so much” to help you.

Regretfully, I didn’t do what seemed to be most important and that probably would have meant the world to both you and me: to tell you directly that I care for you and that I am thankful for all you did for me. I continued to take everything you did and were doing for me for granted, as if I was entitled to this privileged treatment for the sole reason that I am your daughter. That had always been the way though, I did spend the majority of my life thinking that you are obligated to do all the things you did for me because you are my dad. I was selfish, ungrateful and entitled, and only did the minimum ever since you were diagnosed with lymphoma. All I ever did was to add a brief, almost careless, and cold line at the end of emails saying “I hope you are okay.” Maybe I refused to confront the reality that you had lymphoma, or I thought that if I didn’t ask or learn much about your cancer, it might not turn out to be something even remotely life-threatening or even potentially life-robbing.

When I looked back at our emails where you wrote to me things like “see you home soon” after we made arrangements that I would be returning to Malaysia end of May this year, I honestly can’t believe I actually missed you by around 2 months. I’m heart-broken. At this point I had been in the US for slightly more than 2.5 years and I’m graduating so very soon. My very last semester at Berklee is coming to an end. But I still didn’t manage to make it home in time.

In one of our emails, I remember telling you that one of my best friends in Singapore, Madeleine wanted to start a company with me. You’d seen her before when she joined us for a wedding event involving someone close to Auntie Gwen. And then I mentioned that I wanted to find out all about how you started your cargo freight company, and all other details related to finances, your business decisions, and more. I distinctly remember that you replied that you would share all these with me when I return home June this year. I was looking forward to that. I didn’t expect that I wouldn’t actually have the chance to have you share those details with me face to face. When you said see me soon, I really believed that I could make it home in time and you would still be here, and everything would be like how it was last time, that I would be home and that you would be around.

I also recalled that I’ve previously blocked you on social media platforms such as Google Plus and Facebook. At that time I just felt like you and mom were stalking my online profiles. Now I only feel deep regret that I’ve been so thoughtless to brush you off even in the online sphere. You have been insanely patient with me my entire life. You face extraordinary pressure from work and other aspects of life, but my adversarial behavior at home and during the 6 years in Singapore only made things much harder for you, never easier.

The very last time I saw you in person was when you and mom made the trip to the US with me when my semester at Berklee was about to start. You and mom were not obligated to chaperone me, your grown daughter, to the States for my undergraduate degree, but both of you chose to do it anyway. It was so important to both of you that everything got sorted out for me so that it could be as easy a transition as possible for me to study in the US.

You and mom literally did everything for me, including bringing me around to several restaurants near Berklee to familiarize me with the locations that I could choose to dine at during the school semester, showing me how to use a washing machine, and even getting basic things such as a table lamp and a trash can for me. Basically above and beyond what any parents might have done for a grown child above age 18. And guess what, I was actually about to turn 21 that year. All you and mom cared about was that things were made as easy as possible for me and that any and all outstanding issues to be resolved on my behalf so that I can direct all my attention and focus toward my studies without unnecessary distractions or worries. But back then all I cared about was that both of you left Boston. I felt uncomfortable and was still mad at how you used to raise your voice and shout at me. I thought you were an aggressive person and I was afraid of you, and this dominant thought and emotion I have of you and toward you blinded me to the genuine love and care you showed me through your actions.

What would I have given to actually have the ability to know that this first week of April would be the last week you were alive. If I had known back then in January when you were still corresponding with me and able to reply my emails with alot of advice that it was going to be approximately the last 3 months of your life, I could have done much more rather than just be a passive observer to your struggles with cancer. I mostly did not ask you directly for details about your condition and potential suffering. I only told you details pertaining to my studies right here in the US. I never took the extra step to find out more about your condition, I only shared with you details regarding the things I was studying and doing. You patiently listened to me and responded to me according to my needs and to what I was asking or telling you.

Even after I found out that you passed away, I had to ask to find out how old you were. KK said 58. I didn’t even know your age. This almost encapsulates the degree of concern I’ve showed you the entire time you were fighting the hardest battle of your life. You did everything you could for me to the best of your abilities since I was born and for the entire 23+ years of my life. But in these 2 years when you were courageously fighting for your life, I did nothing for you, except to email you and ask you for checks to pay for my school fees and rent.

I had the impression that countless people battle cancer for years, some even for decades maybe, and there are always uplifting stories of cancer survivors who beat the odds. I really never expected that your lymphoma would take your life just 2 years from when you were diagnosed with it. Yet again, I wouldn’t have known better because I have been overseas this entire time throughout your battle with lymphoma. When you were trying your best to bravely battle your cancer and at the same time remain responsible for my financial and emotional wellbeing here in the US, I was only single-mindedly concerned with studying more just so I could get smarter, and maybe possibly smarter than other Americans. All I thought about throughout my time here in the US was myself, my insecurities, my fears and my dreams, but never much about you. I only thought of you when I needed you for something, and only considered vaguely the possible suffering and pain you might be going through because of your lymphoma.

KK told me that our family got you a wheelchair last Tuesday, around the time you suddenly stopped being able to talk. He said you had continued to use the walking stick for as long as you could. But KK also said that there wasn’t much of a chance for you to use the wheelchair, because apparently mom, Deidei and himself were very surprised at how quickly your condition deteriorated from that day onward up till you passed away in less than a week. They said they really could not have expected it.

I really wished I could know how much pain and suffering you were going through the last 2 years, and especially the week after you lost your ability to talk. Were you scared? You had mom, KK and DeiDei by your side that last week of your life, but did you think that you could actually pull through until I returned from the US in slightly less than 2 months’ time? Or that you knew you would hardly be able to make it for another 2 months? What did you want to say to me face to face?

Dad, are you reading this?

Monday, 3 April 2017

BLOG TOUR: "Epic Measures: One Doctor. Seven Billion Patients." by Jeremy N. Smith

Book Review by Sapphire Ng

Epic Measures: One Doctor. Seven Billion Patients. 
by Jeremy N. Smith
Harper Wave
Copyright March 2017
Paperback, 368 Pages

Absolutely engrossing, profoundly inspirational and a highly enjoyable book. One is left marveling at the revolutionary, formidable and ambitious Global Burden of Disease study, its extraordinary success, and its ingenious mastermind, Chris Murray. On a personal and significantly transformative level, one is heartwarmingly inspired by this beautifully written narrative of a man who utterly and selflessly dedicates himself to such a meaningful enterprise in service of humanity. 

An effortlessly readable and masterfully written book that transforms a potentially distant and dry subject matter—global health, and related research and policy making—into one strongly and even strangely compelling and relevant to the general reader. The very human narrative of resilience and perseverance in face of difficult setbacks in the book is also relatable to the everyman. This book doubles as a rather effective and engaging educational tool with its plentiful eye-opening trends, statistics and information pertaining to the global health landscape. 

Aspiring trailblazers of diverse backgrounds and disciplines might find the book especially irresistible. Budding intellectuals and academics will also feel right at home reading the book; the very essence of the narrative is about a fiercely vigorous intellectual and his highly competent team, and their cerebral undertakings and navigation within a commanding analytical world.

The book engagingly charts Murray’s journey to founding and leading the Global Burden of Disease study and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). The reader is informed and often reminded of the unprecedented scale of the Global Burden of Disease study—its ambitious endeavor to amass and analyze “all available details about the health of every person on Earth” and document “every disease, every country, every age group.” Murray was said to pursue seemingly “impossible” projects, and the original Global Burden of Disease study was even conditionally analogized to “the first map of the world.”

The reader could potentially find himself or herself in awe of distinctly ingenious concepts and tools devised in the Global Burden of Disease study—the innovative concept of disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) and its summation formula; the “infinitely customizable” online dynamic data visualization tool, GBD Compare; and the “early burden of disease disability severity weighting” on a 0-to-1 scale, clearly illustrated in a bordered section listing corresponding “sample conditions” to differing ranges of “severity weights.” Yet again, the reader is invited to intellectually ponder the comparison of DALYs—in its capacity to be formulated “by cause,” “per capita by region, age group, or sex”—as “the health equivalent of gross domestic product.”

It is also particularly fascinating to learn of surprising revelations related to inner workings of the likes of the World Health Organization (WHO), supposed recognized authorities in the global health landscape in areas such as health measurement and evaluation. The contrast established between the seemingly more rigorous processes and more superior workings of IHME’s Global Burden of Disease study against the bureaucracy of WHO, its lack of central oversight, its publication of work with potential subjection to political influence and lacking in peer review is certainly mind-blowing. 

The subsuming of galvanizing life lessons in the narrative makes it all the more enriching and compelling to the individual reader. One of Murray’s personal mottos is “Do good work that matters.” I really appreciate the author’s professional decision in opting to highlight the wellspring of Murray’s innate drive and obsession for relentless improvement, painstaking accuracy and accumulation of inexhaustible knowledge, in addition to his prolific embrace of competition. Far from being self-serving, Murray was said to be “compelled by a sense of the relative insignificance of one individual’s personal life measured against the urgent needs of the rest of humanity.” To him, it was none other than “the men, women, and children served by health programs who mattered” most. 

In the face of the initial success and expansion of IHME into a “juggernaut,” Murray preciously retained his judiciously pragmatic perspective, and professionally evaluated the necessity of competition—“Competition is a safety on being wrong”—and even conceded the possibility of mistakes being perpetuated should there remain “just one monolithic source.” In a flawless conclusion to the book, Murray expressed his heartfelt desire for his young daughter to “understand that there’s a bigger world out there.” And this might just be the single most important takeaway for the reader.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from HarperCollins and TLC Book Tours for this review.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

REVIEW: "Mistrial: An Inside Look at How the Criminal Justice System Works…and Sometimes Doesn’t" by Mark Geragos, Pat Harris

Book Review by Sapphire Ng

Mistrial: An Inside Look at How the Criminal Justice System Works…and Sometimes Doesn’t
by Mark Geragos, Pat Harris
Copyright October 2013
Paperback, 288 Pages

An exceptionally entertaining book that beautifully concludes on an inspirational note. Replete with engaging legal anecdotes, this book provides a pricelessly candid look at the American criminal justice system. This book is delightfully hilarious at times and fittingly interjected with personality. Most importantly, the defense attorneys’ indomitable dedication to, and unrelenting pride toward, the practice of their profession, and their insistence upon the upholding of principles, along with their electrifying mission to meaningfully serve society through the law, would turn out to be very much indispensable to the narrative of the book.

This book is perfect for the general reader; it is easy-to-read, straightforward and enjoyable. Given the range of consequential issues pertaining to the criminal justice system as addressed in the book, every American citizen would almost have a civic duty to read the book, to be acquainted with and to educate themselves about the related pertinent issues, and if possible, to even venture beyond into conducting independent research or actively engaging in awareness-raising activism.

The empowering messages delivered in the book with regards to the defense attorney profession make it unsurprising should any aspiring lawyer thereafter wish to emulate the authors and even seriously consider specializing in criminal law and becoming defense attorneys. This book has definitely piqued my interest in criminal law. Seasoned legal practitioners could surely enjoy this book; their presumed familiarity with the cases and matters discussed however might mean time better spent on more challenging, educative and unfamiliar material.

Of the multitudinous legal anecdotes told in the book, several cases are decidedly intriguing. The Scott Peterson case is fascinating but heartbreaking. One indeed cannot imagine the harrowing circumstances that befell the defendant; he not only tragically lost loved ones, but also had to grapple with an unrelenting tsunami of public opinion campaigning against his innocence. To add fuel to flames, and as a poignant exemplification of the dubious qualifying criterion of “he didn’t act right,” the defendant got convicted and put on death row for a murder conspicuously lacking in concrete evidence implicating him. The “Japanese O.J.” case was also particularly engrossing. In addition to an eventual unexpected twist of events concerning the possibility of police misconduct and brutality, the case also necessitated the consideration of a foreign jurisdiction. The People of California v. Will Lynch case is also markedly the most touching case in the book. 

The book lucidly addressed an eclectic range of issues pertaining to the criminal justice system. The jury is one of the most interesting subject matters discussed. The recommendation in the concluding chapter pertaining to professional jurors and jury schools is assuredly refreshing. The reader would also probably not require extra prodding to be convinced of the immense challenges involved in jury selection particularly for highly-publicized and highly-charged trials. One might find oneself puzzled however by the supposed legal procedure and mechanism related to jury nullification. Despite the availability for the jury to exercise the finding of jury nullification, apparently “under the law, its existence is not to be acknowledged. The lawyers are not allowed to argue it, and the court cannot tell the jury it has the right to do it. If the jurors ask about it, the court is to tell them that it goes against their oath as jurors.” 

As with any reasonable attempt at furnishing an unvarnished behind-the-scenes look at the criminal justice system, it necessarily implies an unavoidable discussion of rather unsavory and even disheartening flaws that plague the system’s workings. One can only imagine the tenacity displayed by defense attorneys in their continual confrontations with the myriad scenarios of prosecutorial immunity and privilege, in witnessing the unjustified rewarding of prosecutorial misconduct, and even facing instances where remorseless prosecutorial unethicality resulted in wrongful convictions. As one of the authors poignantly expressed, the prevailing legal climate seemed to indicate that “it is better that ten men be wrongly convicted than that one guilty man walks free.”

The authors also rightly highlighted the poignant burgeoning trend of the “angry blond white women”—an embodiment of “faux hysteria”—that disproportionately target the defendants of criminal cases. The book also lucidly illustrated the concept of the politicization of the criminal justice system, and effectively exemplified instances of forced false identification and forced confession through compelling anecdotes. Included in the narrative as well are firsthand accounts of the overblown hubris and display of arrogance of personalities within the criminal justice system. 

The book remains greatly inspiring. The signification of such principled utterances—“You don’t become a defense attorney to win Miss Congeniality;” “We are defense lawyers. We represent people who are not popular;” and “the day we quit taking cases because the defendant is not popular is the day we shut the firm’s doors”—to the reader should not be underestimated. A personal lesson one of the authors learned as a young lawyer also feels undeniably invaluable, that “the worst single thing a judge can do is to wound your ego a little and make you walk out of the courtroom a little embarrassed,” nothing more.  

Humor is suitably and occasionally effectively utilized in the book. One cannot help but chuckle with amusement upon reading a strategically humorous episode where the authors shrewdly engineered the ensnaring of a third and particularly cunning stealth juror during the jury selection  process of the Scott Peterson trial. The lighthearted manner to which humor is injected into the discussion of a very real problem within the criminal justice system also made the issue that much more palatable for those involved—the clever dubbing of the term “police memory syndrome” (PMS) along with the use of highly suggestive words “magic” and “spell” in describing it. Humor is similarly rather shrewdly used in another instance to comment on snippets of truth that might be especially hard for veterans of, and those highly vested in, the industry to stomach. In outlining the ironic counterproductive effects of the hardline stance of being tough on crime, the authors wrote, “The rest of the country looks at California and wonders how it is that whatever current Hollywood ‘it girl’ gets in trouble and is sentenced to jail, she instead ends up at home within days of sentencing. Why? Because California is tough on crime.”

The authors could have expanded upon certain promising observations or statements made with further evidence or corroboration. The statement “there is a definitive correlation between a dry wit and judicial excellence” is indeed intriguing and represent a potentially riveting area of research-driven exploration. The lack of follow-up corroboration however, in addition to the lack of supporting evidence makes the assertion rather forgettable and even dubious. The book could also have been improved or made even more instructive should the authors actually furnish appropriate substantiation upon making interesting statements such as “cops are allowed by law to lie to suspects,” or “we, on the other hand, mock Texas, where a death penalty case is shorter than most California traffic ticket trials.” 

Sarcasm is employed considerably in the book. Only at one particular instance at the beginning of the book that the sarcasm used seemed to overstep the boundaries and chip away at the authors’ credibility. Consider the following, “The capper (we hope) was when [Keith Ablow] announced in 2011 that parents should not let their children watch Chaz Bono on Dancing with the Stars because they might turn gay. Parents should probably be more worried that their children might watch Dr. Ablow on Fox News and turn stupid.” This particular instance of sarcasm seemed unduly blunt and on the offensive, but it surely would not seem to be too perturbing considering the plentiful merits observed in the rest of the book. 

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated to the publisher nor the author of the book. This book review is the result of my personal reading and honest opinion.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

REVIEW: "Rights Gone Wrong: How Law Corrupts the Struggle for Equality" by Richard Thompson Ford

Book Review by Sapphire Ng

Rights Gone Wrong: How Law Corrupts the Struggle for Equality 
by Richard Thompson Ford
Copyright October 2012
Paperback, 288 Pages

This book is uncannily shrewd; it is in a league of its own with its plentiful offerings of unorthodox perspectives, profound arguments, piercing observations and refreshing legal reasoning. The prospective reader might need to perform mental gymnastics to successfully navigate through this book—an absolute treasure consisting of intellectually stimulating analyses and discussions of legal instances which the author considers illustrative of “rights gone wrong.” 

This book is indeed exceptionally entertaining and enjoyable in the hands of the right reader. This book also laudably makes one think—a rare and precious quality. The reader has to get his or her mind churning in order to fully appreciate the cerebral arguments raised. Certain intellectual discoveries to be made turn out to be so astonishingly unexpected that they could thus be seared memorably in one’s mind. 

Knowledge of or a background in law is not necessary to peruse this book; the easy readability and great accessibility of legal concepts and arguments make the title ideal for the general reader, who will enjoy a privileged and occasionally fun glimpse into the seemingly elusive legal sphere and its battalion of noteworthy cases. The reader is offered a pragmatic look at the complex mechanism of the law, the formidable extent to which the discipline of law could be, and the challenges of formulating effective legislations. The general reader could surely further benefit from reading this book by gaining the opportunity to gauge one’s affinity for, or even to acclimatize oneself to, seemingly idiosyncratic legal reasoning.

This is a fascinating read for pre-law students, and potentially invigorating for future law students. The selection of legal cases cited and examined in the book whets the appetite and provides ample fodder to jumpstart personal research into the law. The sound analyses and evaluations of legislations and phenomena in the book also make the book serviceable to aspiring students of politics or policy; the analytical process underlying the arguments is an art and skill in itself. Those seeking a reasonably challenging academic workout for the mind ought to consider this book as well. 

Discussions of the convoluted legal implications of the Ricci v. DeStefano case, the counterproductive Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), and the engrossing details of the class action suit Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes are representative of the delightfully interesting content in the book. It is certainly curious that the Wal-Mart plaintiffs insisted “decentralization and subjective job criteria”—supposedly “legitimate and effective management styles”—to be “inherently discriminatory.” The Ricci case brought forth a labyrinth of incongruous circumstances—the City of New Haven got sued for violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 upon carrying out a series of actions intended to actually avoid such a violation; a decision borne out of the intention to avoid committing disparate-impact discrimination was in fact distorted into a case of allegedly having committed disparate-treatment discrimination. 

It is beyond astounding to learn of well-intentioned but potentially counterproductive legislations such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the previously mentioned ADEA. One is left speechless to learn that the ADEA, in its purported aim to protect aged job seekers, in fact “probably encouraged employers to discriminate against older job applicants” due to the greater risks and costs hereby involved in such a hire, and encouraged litigation amongst the presently employed elderly over issues of promotion and termination, and more. It is also somewhat disturbing to be made aware of instances where self-serving members of society have attempted to abuse the IDEA, therefore perversely turning a law designed “to help the disabled and needy” to “a giveaway for the rich and greedy.” Yet another excellently addressed concept in the book pertains to the legal defense bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ), of which was interestingly illustrated through cases involving companies such as the Playboy Club and Hooters, and corresponding decisions that determined whether sex is or is not a BFOQ for the jobs of Playboy Bunnies or Hooters Girls.

Commentary in the book on unexpected ramifications of prominent rulings or legislations are comparably outstanding. Given the prevailing consensus of reverence shown toward the historic Brown v. Board of Education ruling, one might never have imagined that Brown could ever be referred to as “a cautionary tale of the limitations and hazards of legal rights, a story of rights gone wrong,” a position which the author convincingly corroborated. Similarly, the author boldly supported his conviction that rights to women’s equality have sometimes only unfortunately reinforced “chauvinistic condescension and women’s isolation.”

A handful of observations noted in the book strike one as being distinctly astute, thus further perpetuating the intellectual vibe of the book. It was an absolute joy to read the author’s elucidation of certain peculiar or even provocative statements he made such as “poor schools are inherently discriminatory,” and “cheating an [elder] employee of his pension doesn’t involve anti-elderly bias,” or even his efforts at highlighting what he considered a contentious logic, “discrimination is discrimination,” by offering an analogy that equated the harm of “offering your seat on the bus to a woman because of her sex” to “making black people stand in the back of the bus because of their race.”

In addition to excellent analyses of the “aimless activism” of, male chauvinism and contradictions that plagued the Million Man March demonstration, or the engaging discussion of the black identity crisis that Barack Obama seemed to embody, this book certainly consistently delivers and surpasses expectations. 

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated to the publisher nor the author of the book. This book review is the result of my personal reading and honest opinion.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Sapphire Ng | Berklee Guitar Styles Skills - Jazz (Week 15) SPRING 2016 [Class Materials & Concepts]

Guitar Styles Skills - Jazz

Berklee College of Music
SPRING 2016 Semester

Class Teacher: John Baboian

[Week 15]

Today we will be jamming over "Freddie The Freeloader" by Miles Davis. And John posed us a question: Since the melody of the tune is really simple, what could we do to make it more interesting. One of the answers was harmonization, yes we could harmonize the melody; or even play the melody in different octaves. And the goal for this tune is to play the "out" sounds.

We played the melody through the form of the tune, and then every student in the class got 2 choruses to solo over. John's feedback for me, after our first round of improvisations was that I needed to play more "out" sounds. For another student, John also gave the feedback that it seemed the student appeared a little hesitant to go into playing "out" sounds, and the student replied by saying that he did not want to play "out" sounds just randomly, he wanted to "practice more" before he did it.

And then we were asked to attempt a second round of solos, each of us getting only one chorus of the tune this time. Haha after our first solos, I heard a student say that he just moved a half step up or down to get the "out" sounds, so this time round I tried that method instead of the one I was using. To get the "out" sounds, I would play using the dominant 7th arpeggio fingering for B7 instead of Bb7 in order to get the "out" sounds, and then only returning and "resolving" back into the sound of Bb7. 

After our second attempts at soloing to "Freddie The Freeloader," John told me that I sort of started playing the "out" sounds a little too early in my solo. Haha so apparently I over-compensated, because I wanted to play more "out" sounds, I ended up started playing them too early even before I really established the diatonic sound for the Bb7 chord in the progression. Next time I should dwell on the diatonic sound longer before I start playing using, for example, the B7 arpeggio. There was an upside to my second improvisation though, John said the "last four bars" of my solo was really nice hahaha LOL.

It was interesting to hear other students solo over the same tune and using their own unique ways to create "out" sounds. John later highlighted a student who did something really interesting: In order to magnify the degree of "out"ness, not only the student played out-sounding notes, he combined those notes with rhythms that created an effect of rhythmic polyrhythm against the groove of the accompaniment rhythm that further emphasized the "out"ness of the sound. It was really cool.  

John actually used an analogy that is pretty fun and funny to illustrate the degree of "out" sounds we are comfortable with and want to incorporate into our solos. He compared it to how much salt you want to add into your food, certain people prefer more, others prefer less. It is up to us to decide the amount and degree of "out" sounds we want in our solos, our freedom and our choice. 

Concepts/content covered in class:

~ We were given the handout "Stella By Sustain," which is actually a title spin from the tune "Stella by Starlight" composed by Victor Young. "Stella By Sustain" contains rhythm slashes to the progression of the tune. John mentioned as well that for any chords we see here, we are free to add any tensions we want to embellish the chords, though we would have to ensure the tensions work well with the melody of the tune. For this case however, we are not working with melodies, so we may not need to consider the melody when considering tensions. Immediately, we were asked to play the rhythms as notated together as a class. 

[An interesting thing John mentioned was that we could use an exercise like this to practice specific chord types or voicings. To practice specific chord voicings systematically, we could set rules for ourselves, for example:
—We would play through all the notated rhythms in the handout using only drop 2 voicings occupying the first four strings of the guitar, i.e. the 1st string to the 4th string.
—We could play using only drop 2 voicings in the middle set of strings of the guitar, i.e. the 2nd string to the 5th string.
—We could also choose to practice drop 3 voicings, and force ourselves to only play the voicings that have a bass note on the 6th string of the guitar, and the rest of the notes on the 4th, 3rd and 2nd strings. 
This practice method will allow us to discover and play voicings that otherwise we would not play on a routine basis. 

[John also drew our attention to the F13(b9) chord found on bar 30 in the lead sheet. He immediately held the chord at the 1st fret of the guitar, and then every student in the class followed. We may choose to omit the bass note on the 6th string if we prefer, and just play the voicing on the first 4 strings of the guitar. Play the "Gb" note equivalent to the b9 on the 2nd fret of the 1st string, "D" note which is the 13th of the chord on the 3rd fret on the 2nd string, the "A" note which is the 3rd of the chord on the 2nd fret of the 3rd string, and then the "Eb" note which is the b7th on the 1st fret on the 4th string of the guitar. Otherwise, we can also choose to insert the bass and root note of the chord, the "F" note on the 1st fret of the 6th string.]

~ "Large Intervals & Important Notes - Stella By Starlight." John said that apart from two instances within the notation (in bar 2 where the "D" note comes after a "C" note, and in bar 5 where the "C" note comes after a "Bb" note), all other intervals written are greater than the minor 3rd interval. Again John refreshed our minds that when we practice scales, we merely become good at playing intervals of 2nds, and when we play arpeggios we practice playing intervals of 3rds. Along with a previous lesson where John focused us on practicing intervals of 4ths, he said this exercise is an augmentation to that and covers a range of greater intervals that we otherwise might not play so often. 

[John asked the class to just play a simple bassline over which he will demonstrate playing what was notated, and we can focus on the sound of the notes. I really love the sound, it is rather unusual and I think the unusual is really cool. After that John drew our attention to the interesting triplets in bar 14 which contains the chords E-7(b5) and A7(b9).

[Moving onto the "Important Notes" part of the handout, John very swiftly called out notes from the bars and asked us to identify the tensions relative to the respective chords. At the second bar, the "D" not is the 11th of A7b9; In bar 3, the "D" note is the 9th of C-7; In bar 4, the "D" note is the 13th of F7, and the "G" note is the 9th; In bar 5, similarly the "G" note is the 9th of F-7, while the "Bb" note is the 11th of F-7; Moving onto bar 6, the "G" note is the 13th of Bb7, the "C" note the 9th, and so on.]

Class Homework:

Final exams on the following Tuesday:
~Prepare a solo transcription; 
~Practice improvisation to a tune (that is not a blues—John initially said that since "Freddie The Freeloader" is a blues tune, it will not be allowed to be chosen as an option. He however changed his mind and said that if we highlighted very clearly the Ab7 chord that stands out in the tune, we can play that tune.)

Class Materials/Handouts:

~ "Stella By Sustain"

"Large Intervals & Important Notes - Stella By Starlight"