February 23, 2011

Jury duty comes but once a year

Posted in Between Us column, Politics at 11:56 pm by dinaheng

You know the feeling. You get a jury summons, and your first thought is,”Oh…”

Of all the notices we get in the mail, being invited to a court date probably ranks right up there with filing your income taxes, getting an annual mammogram, or signing up for a prostate exam. You know you’ve got to do it, but you don’t have to like it.

I’ve been called for jury duty often enough that I no longer postpone it whenever possible. In Los Angeles County, like much of the country, we have a one day of service or one trial system. You get assigned to a court, show up for one day, and if you’re not picked for a jury, your service is done for 12 months. If you get picked, you serve the length of the trial, and you’re done for 12 months.

Whenever I tell anyone I’ve got jury duty coming up, they invariably give advice on how to get out of being picked for the judgment box. I’ve been told everything from “pretend that being in the courthouse is making you sick,” to “wear a t-shirt that advocates capital punishment.” In other words, act as biased as you can toward everyone, and try not to be embarrassed about it.

It’s ironic that in a society where we’ve fought for a justice system that allows us to be judged by a jury of our peers, no one wants to serve on a jury. We love watching others get judged on everything from “Judge Judy” to “Law & Order: SVU,” but when it comes to participating in the process for real… well, we’d rather not be bothered.

Every time I’ve gotten a jury summons in Los Angeles, I’ve always been assigned to the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center downtown, where sitting in the juror waiting room makes you feel like you’re in the doctor’s office… for the whole day.

People sit in rows of chairs, waiting for their names to be called. You can bring books, magazines and your laptop to work on, but no talking above a whisper, please.

This year, I was surprised to find myself assigned to the Beverly Hills Courthouse for the week of Valentine’s Day. Since I didn’t have anyone to spend Valentine’s Day with, maybe I’d meet someone in court that Monday. (How romantic would that be?)

So I cleared my work calendar for the week, ready to serve. Imagine my surprise when I called in the night before, only to be told by the recording that I didn’t have to report on Monday, and that I must call in Monday night to see if I’m needed on Tuesday.

Long story short, I ended up calling every night, hoping that I’d be drafted the next day so that I could get my service over with. But it was not to be. Finally, on Thursday night, I was dismissed for Friday and told that my jury service was now complete.

After scheduling a week of my life so that I could be available at the court’s whim, I didn’t even get called in.

I almost felt cheated. Since I had no deadlines to meet for work that week, I got a lot of errands done, and the house is spotless for the next guest. But it was no fun living day to day with a cloud of obligation overhead.

Oh well, that pesky summons will show up in the mailbox again soon enough. Maybe next time, I’ll get a better column out of it.


February 17, 2011

What’s in a lyric?

Posted in Between Us column, Entertainment at 1:16 am by dinaheng

Being a music lover, my fondest memories of junior high school were singing in the choir under the direction of Marilyn Miller, a teacher whose personality sparkled like fireworks on the Fourth of July.

Of all the songs we used to sing, performing “The Star-Spangled Banner” was the hardest. It isn’t easy to sing a song with a range of one and a half octaves, or enunciate the lyrics, which come from “Defence of Fort McHenry,” a poem penned by Francis Scott Key in 1814.

Miss Miller used to say, “Stand tall, and when you sing ‘banner yet wave,’ there’s no breath between ban and ner. It’s one word, so don’t breathe in the middle of it!”

Christina Aguilera is no doubt mortified that her performance of the national anthem at Super Bowl XLV will be remembered more for her botching the lyrics than her breathy interpretation. I just wish those who sang the anthem at such events would sing in ways that honor the song and what it stands for, rather than try to perform renditions to call attention to their wind pipes.

I have no problem with giving the notes a pop, soul, or country twist now and then, but concentrating on style over substance had to have contributed to Aguilera forgetting the words, “O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming,” and substituting “what so proudly we watched at the twilight’s last (unintelligible words)” instead.

While the first stanza of the anthem is usually the only one sung, the fourth stanza is actually my favorite. The words speak about the true hope of democracy, and the challenges that face every generation in this country.

“Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand

Between their loved home and the war’s desolation!”

We may hold differing opinions on every issue that exists, but we are free to speak our minds. Today, uncertain economic conditions reveal a growing divide between the rich and the poor, with a middle class that no longer feels secure. Racial prejudice seems to be on the rise, along with disrespect for spiritual beliefs that are not our own.

These words are a reminder that war is not just waged between countries over differences. The greatest battle we will ever fight is against the fear in our hearts. If home is truly where the heart is, we need to be at peace within ourselves before we can find common ground with others.

“Blest with victory and peace, may the heav’n rescued land

Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.”

We can’t know what our Founding Fathers truly went through to leave us this legacy of a democratic republic, but we are charged with preserving those freedoms and a nation that is united for future generations. We must look at our actions, and be honest about whether our decisions benefit the many, or a select few.

“Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,

And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”

Everyone always thinks that their cause is the most just, and that their opinions and values are best. These words are a reminder to stand up for what we believe in, but to remember that human judgment pales besides God’s wisdom. The first question we should always ask ourselves is, “Am I acting out of love, or out of fear?”

For it’s only when we act out of love, that…

“…the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!”


February 10, 2011

Imagination Movers teach kids to brainstorm

Posted in Between Us column, Entertainment, Television at 3:37 am by dinaheng

“Reach high, think big, work hard, have fun!”

The advice may be aimed at youngsters, but the Imagination Movers’ motto clearly speaks to adults, too, as the New Orleans-based rock band for preschoolers returns for its third season on the Disney Channel next week.

The season opener, which airs Monday, Feb. 14 at 1:30 p.m. Eastern, is part of the launch of Disney Junior — aimed at kids ages 2-7 — that replaces the Playhouse Disney brand. Disney Junior, which will offer learning-focused programming on several platforms, will expand to a basic cable and satellite channel in 2012.

“Our goal was to make a live action TV show that combines the old fashioned style of ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’ and ‘Captain Kangaroo’ with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Beach Boys,” explains Rich Collins, the drummer who’s also the father of five young children. “We want to model a creative problem-solving process, and show kids that there’s no bad ideas in brainstorming.”

Creativity and problem-solving is a big part of the Imagination Movers identity. The idea for the Movers began in 2003 when Scott Durbin, then an elementary school teacher, noticed a lack of male role models in children’s programming. Durbin talked with his friends — Collins, a journalist; Dave Poche, an architect, and Scott Smith, a firefighter — about starting an act they’d want their children to watch.

The quartet began writing songs, playing local gigs, and released their own CD. With the support of New Orleans fans, they  started to gain regional recognition. Then Hurricane Katrina hit. Three of the guys lost their homes, and the fourth, firefighter Smith, was part of the search and rescue effort during the disaster.

“One of the things Katrina showed us is that we’re survivors,” says Durbin, who wears the “wobble goggles” on the show. “One day, you’re going about your business, the next, you have no home and job, but you survive. The Movers helped us to recover and give back to the city that helped us survive and get to where we are now.”

In the aftermath of the 2005 hurricane, fans sent the band everything from clothing to e-mails, thanking them for giving children a sense of normalcy amidst the devastation. When the Movers played at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Nancy Kanter, senior vice president of Playhouse Disney Worldwide, was in the audience. Before long, the four neighbors who started out with an idea for entertaining and teaching kids were on national television.

“We wanted it to be a smart show for kids, to energize them to be creators, rather than consumers,” Durbin says. “Our early songs were all based on the early years with our own children. Kids can see and sense that we’re truthful with our music.”

The “blue collar brainstormers” have now taken their act on the road with a rock concert that brings their Idea Warehouse to life, along with appearances by Nina (Wendy Calio) and Warehouse Mouse (Kevin Carlson). An Imagination Movers concert special will air in early March.

“What we’ve done is what we’re trying to teach,” Collins says. “If you work hard, you can create your own reality. You can make a whole new world for yourself and the people around you. It’s a message of hope.”



February 3, 2011

Just consider it done…

Posted in Between Us column, Business, Women at 2:04 am by dinaheng

For most people, life is a never-ending to-do list.

We have things to clean, errands to run, information to research, gifts to buy. Those who can afford it hire someone to help. Those who can afford more, turn to Julie Subotky’s company.

Subotky, founder and CEO of Consider It Done, a high-end lifestyle management and personal concierge company, is an expert at solving problems and saving time for busy clients.

After graduating from college, Subotky headed to Aspen to ski for the winter season. She started out as a personal assistant for hire, and created a business that has boomed. Today, her company operates primarily in New York City, “home to some of the busiest and most time-starved people on the planet,” as she writes in her new book “consider it done…Accomplish 228 of Life’s Trickest Tasks” (Three Rivers Press, $15).

In the book, she shares tips for everything from how to organize your closet in 20 minutes to how to sneak an elephant into a public park. While not everyone will need to know how to do these things, you never know when such advice will come in handy. But what’s most valuable is learning the secret to every challenge.

“To me, not much is crazy,” says Subotky, who brings an unstoppable attitude to every problem. “Whatever it is, you have to think about the bigger vision. What’s the end result that you want? Then go after it.”

For example, one client asked her to send an unusual soup to a friend as a get well gift.

“It turns out that no one had ever heard of jellied madrilene soup before,” Subotky says. “I asked people at specialty food stores, and someone finally said, ‘My grandma used to make it.’ I got the recipe and had it made by a chef, and sent it with a big bowl, large spoon and a napkin. Could we have found another soup that would have conveyed the message of get well soon? Sure, but it’s about not giving up.”

Whether it’s tackling mundane tasks or seemingly impossible dreams, not giving up is the key to success. Subotky says solving problems often requires learning new things, and stepping back to look at the bigger picture.

“If I need something done, I look for the experts in my life,” she says. “You don’t have to have a lot of money to do this. If I’m too busy to bake cookies for my son’s class, I may call a friend who loves to bake and ask for her help. In a couple of weeks, she may need her closet organized. We can all look for the best connections in our relationships with people.”

She notes that most of us put off personal tasks and needs, unless something is urgent. In effect, we put ourselves at the bottom of our to-do lists.

“Why should your own needs wait?” Subotky asks. “Get with a friend and hold each other accountable for what each of you wants to do each week. If that’s what it takes to schedule your own personal time, then that’s what it takes.”

And if you want to know how to sneak an elephant into a public park… well, you’ll just have to make time to read Subotky’s book.