January 10, 2017

‘Patriots Day’ brings out the best in us

Posted in Entertainment, Politics at 3:52 am by dinaheng

Only those who have been in the middle of a terrorist attack can truly know the shock, fear and anger that such acts cause. But if you watch CBS Film’s  “Patriots Day,” you’ll come closer to the pain involved, and be inspired by the goodness that can emerge from fear.

The story of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and subsequent manhunt, meticulously researched by director and writer Peter Berg (“Deepwater Horizon,” “Lone Survivor”), is a suspenseful account of a true crime that manages to grab you from the start and never let go.

More than entertaining, the film brings a deep understanding of how the attack affected the City of Boston, and how citizens, first responders, and law enforcement officials banded together to catch the terrorists four days after the bombs went off.Dinah Eng

While many of the characters are based on real life people, the central figure of Sgt. Tommy Saunders of the Boston Police Department (played by Mark Wahlberg) is a composite of several actual Boston police officers and first responders. Through his eyes, we see the horror of the event, and the determination of law enforcement to find the perpetrators.

While many acts of acts of heroism occur in the film, the unexpected hero is Dun Meng (Jimmy O. Yang), a Chinese immigrant and tech entrepreneur who, after being kidnapped by the terrorists, risks his life to call 911 and report their whereabouts.

Meng, and other real life survivors like Patrick Downes (Christopher O’Shea) and Jessica Kensky (Rachel Brosnahan) — both of whom lost legs in the bombing – are shining examples of the spirit of those whose lives were forever changed by the incident.

For even after losing so much personally, they continue to face the future without malice in their hearts. Listen to these words from the real life people who are portrayed in the film:

* “I think that day…the bombers took lives and limbs, they took some of our sense of security,” Former Governor of Massachusetts Deval Patrick says. “But they took a lot less than they intended. And they gave us back some things they didn’t intend…they gave us a stronger sense of community, a common cause. And I think we’ve seen that in some other examples, in other cities around the world.”

* “When we see the news that another attack has happened, in Brussels, in Islamabad, Nice… Orlando, San Bernardino, Paris,” survivor Patrick Downes says, “I think it’s important we think of these people around the world, not as victims of violence, but ambassadors for peace.”

* “This has been the absolute worst and lowest time in our lives, as well as the best,” survivor Jessica Kensky says. “After being the recipient of such incredible care and kindness, the very least I can do is get out of bed and try again, and try and make this world a little bit better for someone else.”

To try again… to make the world better for others, and ourselves… this is what “Patriots Day” is about.





January 3, 2017

Random Acts… Past and present connect in new tales

Posted in Books, Politics, Women at 10:09 pm by dinaheng

Everything in life is connected. The things we do today affect what happens tomorrow. The things we did yesterday affect what happens today.

Two authors explore that concept in different, intriguing ways in their latest novels.Dinah Eng

James Rollins, whose adventures often combine historical mystery and scientific exploration, has penned a thriller about an ancient plague that could wipe out the modern world in “The Seventh Plague” (William Morrow, on sale now).

In the book, which features characters from Rollins’ Sigma Force series, the leader of a British archaeological expedition stumbles out of the Sudanese desert, two years after vanishing with his research team. He dies before he can share what happened to him, and reveal who had begun to mummify his body – while he was still alive.

When the medical team who performs the archaeologist’s autopsy dies from an unknown illness, Painter Crowe, the director of Sigma Force, summons his team to investigate. Helping the team is the archaeologist’s only daughter, Jane McCabe, who discovers a connection between what is happening in the present and a historical mystery involving the travels of Mark Twain, the research of Nikola Tesla and the fate of explorer Henry Morgan Stanley.

"The Seventh Plague" by James Rollins. Book cover courtesy of William Morrow.

“The Seventh Plague” by James Rollins. Book cover courtesy of William Morrow.

Rollins explores the question of whether a virus could have caused the Biblical plagues, and whether today’s society is really ready to deal with global pandemics. Noting in the book that the Zika virus originated in a monkey in Uganda, the organism in the book is in the same family of viruses, causing birth defects and death, but only in male children.

The author, whose parents recently passed away from complications secondary to Alzheimer’s, dedicated the book to them. One of the main characters in the book, Commander Gray Pierce, grapples with the challenge of caring for a father whose Alzheimer’s has worsened throughout the series, and clearly reflects an experience felt by all who have aging parents.

When it comes to understanding the complexity of scientific issues, Rollins does a great job of using facts to keep readers guessing as his plot unfolds. Whether humanity is truly ready to face the crises that climate change and potential pandemics will bring is anybody’s guess.

Facing crises of faith and magical battles is at the center of “Heartstone” by Elle Katharine White (Harper Voyager, on sale Jan. 17, 2017), an absorbing reimagining of Jane Austen’s classic “Pride and Prejudice.”

In this tale, White weaves an historical fantasy with characters who live in a world where gryphons and direwolves battle dragonriders and wyverns. The heroine, a headstrong Aliza Bentaine, is as resourceful and brave as Austen’s Lizzy Bennet, facing both the demons that threaten the kingdom and her fears about falling in love with the haughty dragonrider, Alastair Daired (known as Mr. Darcy in Austen’s world).

"Heartstone" by Elle Katharine White. Book cover courtesy of Harper Voyager.

“Heartstone” by Elle Katharine White. Book cover courtesy of Harper Voyager.

Despite its connection to “Pride and Prejudice,” this story stands on its own with a well-crafted plot, passionate characters who come to life, and themes exploring class lines and what true love entails.

When Anjey, Aliza’s sister, falls in love with Cedric Brysney, a dragonrider and Alastair’s friend, the two seem destined for each other. But when duty calls, Cedric must leave, and the separation tests the faith each has in the other. Little do they suspect that someone is scheming to break them apart.

When Aliza is called to help an aunt and uncle who live near the Daired estate, she investigates why Cedric has not replied to any of Anjey’s letters. The answer to this romantic mystery unfolds as an even greater threat to humanity surfaces. (There are monsters aplenty in this realm).

As in all things, past connections bring present crises to the fore in this tale, which affirms the power of love to heal all wounds. For those who love classic romance and stories set in magical settings, “Heartstone” is a tale worth reading.







November 10, 2016

HE is now “The Queen of Blood”

Posted in Books, Diversity, Politics, Women at 6:27 pm by dinaheng

Everything has a spirit… from the land that is parched by drought to the sea that rises like a tsunami when angry. In human beings, the spirit that has driven Americans through this presidential election has been fear and loathing.

Now that Donald Trump has won the contest, the true test of leadership begins.Dinah Eng

I couldn’t help but think of our presidential candidates as I read Sarah Beth Durst’s insightful fantasy, “The Queen of Blood” (Harper Voyager, 350 pp). In Durst’s novel, the realm of Renthia is ruled by queens who must prove that they can control the spirits that inhabit the world around them.

While we live in a nation that has yet to elect a female president, all those who hold the office get there by convincing voters that they are the best candidate to control the forces that determine our economy, our nation’s defense, and our foreign policy. Of course, no one can control anything except the way we behave toward others.

The heroine in Book One of this saga is Daleina, a young woman whose village was destroyed by rampaging spirits when she was a child. Determined to prevent the carnage from happening to others, Daleina trains to become a potential heir to the throne of Aratay, learning to use magic to bend the spirits to her will.

The spirits in this world are easily understood. The spirits of the trees want to grow. The spirits of the air want to fly. Whatever the element, plant or animal, its wish is to fulfill its natural inclination and purpose. At the same time, the spirits want to kill human beings.

Courtesy of Harper Voyager.

Courtesy of Harper Voyager.

So it is that Trump has used great showmanship to persuade a society that worships celebrities and tawdry gossip to choose him for our leader.

America has voted for change, and we must be grateful that change is always possible in a democracy. Let us hope that Trump ends up doing more to bring us together than his campaign rhetoric did.

For too long, partisanship has divided us. It took a shocking election wake up call for those long in power to hear the deep-seated anger of those who feel powerless and in pain.

What people in pain don’t always realize, though, is that change for change’s sake is never enough. When Trump supporters see that he will not fulfill the campaign promises that were only designed to win protest votes, will they grow even angrier? Will those who voted against him stretch the partisan divide even more?

Or will we all come to understand that Hillary Rodham Clinton’s message that we are stronger together really is the only way to make America great again?

In “The Queen of Blood,” Daleina is not the smartest or strongest potential heir, but she is a young woman who, above all else, wants to do the right thing. It is only after many spirits and humans are slaughtered that she rises to take the throne.

None of us really know what is in Donald Trump’s heart. We can only hope that the Office of the President of the United States challenges him to be better than anyone imagines.

In Renthia, each queen is chosen by the spirits when the previous queen dies, and must keep the world thriving with natural forces while taking care of the needs of the people.

Clinton’s concession speech showed the kind of leader she is, gracious and inspiring, even in defeat.

Trump must now show what kind of spirit truly lies within him.


September 19, 2016

Tales of terrorism all too real

Posted in Books, Politics at 4:40 pm by dinaheng

If you’ve never been the target of a terrorist attack, you probably have no idea how thin the veil of safety is that separates your sense of normalcy from constant fear and death.

Stories about ISIS and Al Queda attacks in different parts of the world dominate the news, but most of us really don’t think much about the politics and poverty behind the tragedies that occur daily. Until, perhaps, the attacks hit home on U.S. soil, like the New York and New Jersey bombings this last weekend.Dinah Eng

Read Daniel Silva’s “The Black Widow” (Harper, $27.99), and you’ll begin to realize that whatever happens across the world is bound to find its way to our doorstep.

Silva, a best-selling author of spy novels, fills his books with history, politics, and a look at what really happens behind the scenes of terrorism in the news. “The Black Widow” is an entertaining and intelligent primer on the chaos roiling the Middle East.

We join master spy Gabriel Allon, who’s about to become the chief of Israel’s secret intelligence service, as he leads the fight against a man named Saladin, whose terrorist network hides in the shadows of the Internet.

Photo courtesy of Harper.

Photo courtesy of Harper.

To penetrate that network, Allon recruits a brave Israeli physician to pose as a vindictive “black widow” who’s ready to die for ISIS. The operative’s travels from Paris to Greece to a training camp in Palmyra to Washington, D.C. reveal how vulnerable, disenfranchised people are recruited for extremist causes.

The trail of terror is told with details of the failures of Western Europe security forces, the lure of jihad, and the path to attacks on U.S. soil. Silva’s narrative is a page-turner of moral issues and geopolitical conundrums that bring home how connected we all are, whether we want to see it or not.

If Silva’s spy novels seem too close to home, the fantasy and folklore in the Jackaby novels by William Ritter will distract, yet teach, important life lessons. The supernatural mysteries, which feature the sleuthing adventures of paranormal detective R.F. Jackaby, as told by his intrepid assistant, Abigail Rook, are intriguing tales of life in a 19th Century New England town called New Fiddleham.

Courtesy of Algonquin, Workman Publishing.

Courtesy of Algonquin, Workman Publishing.

“Ghostly Echoes” (Algonquin, $17.95), the third book in the Jackaby series, explores the murder of Jenny Cavanaugh, the ghost who lingers in Jackaby’s house on Auger Lane. Jenny, who has become a dear friend to Abigail and Jackaby, learns that a great evil was responsible for her death, and even though she no longer exists on the Earth plane, she is far from powerless.

There’s romance for Abigail with Charlie Barker, a shape-shifting police officer; a trip to Annwyn, the land of the dead; and encounters with a vampire and a nixie (otherwise known as an evil water nymph).

Jackaby, who has the Sight, long ago learned to ignore the world’s skepticism, for he knows that the things we do not see are often more important than the things we do. He tells Abigail that we all make our own luck in life, and that real power lies in “finding something to believe in.”

Both Silva’s spy novel and Ritter’s fantasy explore the nature of fear and the choices that determine the kind of human beings we want to be. Terror and darkness exist in both genres, as they do in real life. Thankfully, so are the heroes who fight for the Light.


June 27, 2016

Random Acts… Brexit and the “Free State of Jones”

Posted in Business, Diversity, Employment, Entertainment, Movies, Politics at 8:06 pm by dinaheng

Life can sometimes seem like a never-ending cycle of unresolved conflicts.

Great Britain surprised the world last week by voting to leave the European Union. The campaigns of the presumptive GOP and Democratic nominees in the U.S. Presidential election mirror the conflicting sides of the Brexit debate. A new movie about the Civil War – STX Entertainment’s “Free State of Jones” — reflects the intractable partisan politics of today’s Democrats and Republicans.

It all comes back to the power of fear versus the power of love.Dinah Eng

Fear of losing cheap labor (in the form of slaves) tore this country apart in the early 1860s. Fear of losing jobs to immigrants is a cornerstone of Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign and Brexit’s “leave” campaign today.

What we need is more Newton Knights in the world. Knight (played by Matthew McConaughey) in “Free State of Jones,” was a little-known figure in Civil War history whose contribution to this country proves that every action we take ripples through time.

Knight, a Mississippi farmer, led an unlikely band of poor white farmers and runaway slaves in breaking away from the Confederacy to form the region’s first mixed-race community. Refusing to fight a “rich man’s war,” Knight became a Confederate deserter, hiding in the swamps of rural Mississippi and inspiring a ragtag army to fight injustice and prejudice.

After the Civil War ended, Knight advocated for the right of freed slaves to vote in Jones County, Miss. and fought the Klu Klux Klan. He fathered five children in a common-law marriage to Rachel, a former slave, and while they could not legally marry, he deeded his 160-acre farm to her, making her one of the few African-American women to own land in the South.

Knight also fathered children by his first wife, Serena, who left him during the Civil War. After the war, Serena returned to the Knight farm, where both wives and their families lived.

Eighty five years later, Knight’s great-grandson Davis Knight, who looks Caucasian, was indicted for violating Mississippi law by marrying Junie Lee Spradley, a white woman. While Davis Knight was convicted of miscegenation in 1948, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the verdict.

Prejudice and economic inequality seem to go hand in hand in humanity’s history. No one knows what will happen when Britain formally leaves the EU. Since last week’s referendum, Scotland is considering the possibility of leaving Great Britain to stay in the EU.

Republicans who can’t stand Trump’s rhetoric will no doubt look for ways to oust him at the GOP convention, or break away to form a new party of their own.

Politically, we can always move from one party to another, or leave a block of countries to stand independently. What people seem to forget is that no matter where we go, if fear is the driving force, we will just end up under another label, afraid of something else.

Brexit’s “leave” faction won the referendum because the positive reasons for remaining in the EU got lost amid the shouts of fear against other cultures, a view held mostly by an older generation that feels left out and left behind in a global society. The same dynamic has driven Trump’s rise in the United States.

Today’s Republicans and Democrats have an opportunity to defeat the prejudice that divides us. We must realize, though, that the only way to end any partisan divide is to face our fears, build bridges, and let the power of love heal our wounds.








May 5, 2016

Random Acts… “War Hawk” possibilities all too real

Posted in Books, Politics at 8:20 pm by dinaheng

We live in a world where drones are capable of killing an enemy, and information cyber attacks are increasingly being used to blackmail corporations for money and more.

With that reality as the backdrop, James Rollins and Grant Blackwood have written a thriller that could be tomorrow’s headlines, putting a spotlight on the dangers of using technology without working out the moral consequences first.Dinah Eng

In War Hawk, (William Morrow, $27.99) Tucker Wayne, an ex-U.S. Army Ranger, works with the help of his military war dog Kane to figure out who’s killing cyber experts on a top secret project, and unravels a web of digital warfare that could end up toppling targeted governments.

Imagine a media mogul, manipulating the flow of information in publications and social media by using drones to secretly gather information and change what’s reported. Add in other drones to target and kill those who stand in the way of making profits to fund this man’s vision of a better world.

The tale reflects the military expertise of Blackwood, a U.S. Navy veteran who spent three years as an Operations Specialist, and the perspective of Rollins, a former veterinarian whose thrillers combine scientific breakthroughs, historical secrets and fast-paced action.

Beyond the taut suspense of a thriller, “War Hawk” explores the questions of who will control future drones, and the consequences of psychological warfare in an era where digital information spreads faster than our ability to discern the truth.

What’s frightening is that the technology cited in the story is already in play.

The concept of telling the story through the eyes of a former Army Ranger and his dog came from a two-week trip Rollins made to Iraq and Afghanistan in 2010 as part of a USO author tour.

“Since a lot of the military were reading thrillers, the USO asked five of us who were members of Thriller Writers International to visit some bases,” Rollins says.

"War Hawk" book cover courtesy of William Morrow.

“War Hawk” book cover courtesy of William Morrow.

“We talked with the men and women there, and tried to encourage them to write about their experiences – whether through journaling or recording thoughts — so that events would be preserved, even if it was for personal family histories.”

Prior to going on the USO tour, the authors visited the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. There, Rollins met soldiers who had PTSD and who lost limbs.

“Moral injury is something they’ve been talking about in the last couple years, and the treatment regimens are different,” Rollins explains. “When it comes to PTSD, treatment may include drugs and psychological therapy. With moral injury, the better treatment is talk therapy. It can become a manageable condition over time.”

As a former veterinarian, Rollins was curious about military handlers and their dogs. He researched the emotional connection between the two, and decided to create the Tucker Wayne and Kane duo, writing parts of the book from the behavioral standpoint of the dog, and giving Wayne the little discussed condition of moral injury.

After returning from the USO tour, Rollins founded Authors United for Veterans, a group that raises money for USA Cares and its efforts to support veterans. He also supports the US4Warriors Foundation, which helps veterans and their families who have specific needs.

While doing research for “War Hawk,” Rollins learned that drone technology has advanced to the point where drones can act autonomously, with the capability of shooting without orders.

“A lot of this is being developed by corporations who are becoming more involved in running wars and the military, which is disturbing,” Rollins says. “It has me worried because drones make it easier to go to war, and as killing becomes impersonal, the likelihood of choosing aggression over diplomacy grows.”

And that’s a headline none of us want to read.






June 6, 2014

Random Acts… “Talker 25” more than a dragon’s tale

Posted in Books, Politics, Women at 2:42 am by dinaheng

There aren’t a lot of successful male writers in the Young Adult genre of book publishing, and Joshua McCune aims to break that gender ceiling.

McCune, formerly a telemarketer, SAT instructor and robotics engineer before taking pen to paper, says he’s always been a writer at heart. His first story, written in third grade, was about World War II, “complete with pictures,” he notes.

His first YA novel, “Talker 25” (Greenwillow Books, $17.99), is also about war, only this time it’s humans vs. dragons. The first of a planned trilogy, the book tells the story of Melissa Callahan, a military brat who becomes entangled in humanity’s fight against dragons who’ve come to Earth from an unknown realm.Dinah Eng

The first half of the book reads like a standard fantasy of girl in danger, girl meets boy, girl meets dragons who aren’t as bad as she imagined, and… well, the standard fantasy ends there.

When Melissa is captured by humans who want to kill the dragons, she must learn to survive a culture where people like her (who can “talk” to dragons) are forced to help find “the enemy” and kill them. In telling a nightmare of torture and a reflection of Big Brother’s worst deeds, McCune clearly steps out of the conventional tale into a dark story that not everyone is going to enjoy.

“I grew up reading epic fantasies, and it was always the farm boy who became the hero,” McCune says. “I turned that on its head, and made the farm girl the hero.”

While that idea isn’t new, being a male author writing a female protagonist isn’t the usual, and McCune turned to his wife and other female readers for feedback on his work.

“Girls are able to have a greater emotional arc than boys,” McCune says. “Melissa’s a flawed character, like a young Sarah Connor from the early ‘Terminator’ movies. She has to be strong, and becomes a little crazy in the process. Trying to get the emotions right, especially with the romantic point of view, was hard.”

Photo courtesy of Greenwillow Books

Photo courtesy of Greenwillow Books

While McCune makes a valiant effort, emotional connections fall by the wayside in the second half of the book, which reveals that “Talker 25” is really a book about war and the loss of innocence in young people who are caught in its grasp.

Male readers love it, the author says, while the reaction among female readers has been mixed. “A lot of readers go into it thinking it’s a dragon book, and when they come to the second half of the book with darker elements and torture, they’re surprised,” McCune explains.

Is that a good thing? Each reader will have to decide for himself or herself. Personally, I found the message a good and thoughtful one. War is never black and white, and there is good and bad in everyone (dragons, too).

Did I enjoy finding that in this tale? No. The message gets lost in the overly dark tone and mechanics of war. By the end of book, I was mildly curious as to what happens to Melissa, but felt no emotional connection to her. From a female’s perspective, I have no burning desire to read the sequel.

But in a world where men don’t always get what really matters to women, kudos to McCune for tackling a genre that requires that kind of understanding.

May 21, 2014

Millenial-minded Pivot seeks network niche

Posted in Business, Entertainment, Politics, Television at 12:46 am by dinaheng

Nine months after giving birth to Pivot, an entertainment network aimed at inspiring Gen-Y viewers to push for social change, network president Evan Shapiro is one happy programmer.

While Pivot (like Netflix) is not rated, Shapiro says viewership is ahead of projections, and advertisers and cable companies are clamoring to get Pivot’s research findings on the coveted demographic every network wants.

To read the complete story in USA TODAY, click here.

June 7, 2013

Jury duty sobering experience

Posted in Between Us column, Politics at 1:17 am by dinaheng

Every year or so, a jury summons comes in the mail. Most of us dread getting called for this civic duty, resenting the interruption to our daily lives, our schedules, and… well, our daily lives. We dream up excuses why we can’t serve, and accept the sympathies of others who are just glad it’s not their turn to go to court.

Each time I’ve been summoned, I‘ve sat in a juror assembly room for the Superior Court of Los Angeles, reading until I was dismissed at the end of the first day. It was always a total bore. But this year was different. I got picked for a jury, and the experience was not what I expected.Dinah Eng

The Monday I reported for duty, it wasn’t long before the first group of 35 prospective jurors were called to a courtroom. We were sworn in, and introduced to the judge, the prosecutor from the city attorney’s office, and the defense attorney from the public defender’s office — all women. Clearly, we were not on the set of “Law & Order.” I was curious to see how things would unfold.

The preliminaries… Not surprisingly, one by one, jurors asked to speak to the judge in private, offering reasons why they should be excused. What was surprising was that 18 of the 35 prospective jurors asked for an audience before the judge put a stop to the parade of pleas. She called us all in and gave a lecture she’s no doubt given many times before.

To paraphrase her point, we live in a free country where people are not drafted to serve in the military. The only civic obligation we must fulfill, other than paying taxes, is to be available to serve as a juror once a year. Our system of justice depends on trial by a jury of our peers. If you think your schedule is too important to accommodate this, shame on you.

Her words apparently didn’t sway everyone. As we started the process of voir dir, where the attorneys ask questions to determine the backgrounds and biases of jurors, a few whiners still tried to get themselves dismissed. The worst was a former TV writer for “Desperate Housewives,” who said his sister was an attorney who’d been a prosecutor, then changed paths to become a defense attorney. SInce he’d heard horror stories from her, he didn’t think he could be an unbiased juror.

Again and again, the judge asked if he could be fair.  The best he could manage was, “I can try.” Clearly, he wasn’t interested in trying. When the attorneys dismissed him, you could hear his triumphant whisper of “Yes!” as he left the jury box. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who was glad he was dismissed.

Now for the case…  (All names have been changed to protect people’s privacy and reputations.) Walter, an African-American male, and his wife Sara, a Korean immigrant nurse, were live-in caretakers for an elderly man in Los Angeles. Also living in the home were Patty and Cindy, Sara’s two teenage daughters from a previous marriage. Visiting them that day was Henry, a Caucasian college student and Patty’s boyfriend. Walter and Sara were arguing, and Walter didn’t feel like talking. That evening, Walter took his spaghetti dinner to the couple’s bedroom to eat in front of the TV. That didn’t set well with Sara, who wanted to talk, so she started throwing clothes out of Walter’s closet at him. He ignored her until she decided to leave the room.

As she walked out, she turned to go back into the room, and Walter, a strong heavy-set fellow, closed the door on her arm. When Sara couldn’t get her arm out of the door, she screamed for help. Her daughters and Henry came running. It took 11 minutes or so for four people on one side of the door to push it open. Walter ordered Henry to leave the house. Henry refused, fearing that the women could be harmed. Walter pushed Henry, and in the ensuing tussle, Henry was slammed into a wall, leaving him with a bruised neck and bloody back before Sara screamed at Patty to call the police.

The charges… There are three misdemeanor charges against Walter. Count 1 is simple battery committed on his wife Sara; Count 2 is a lesser battery charge committed against Sara and Count 3 is simple battery committed against Henry. Reaching a verdict required unanimous agreement by the jury.

Fast forward to the witnesses… Henry’s testimony is consistent with the photos of his injuries at the crime scene. Sara denies that Walter did anything wrong. The only thing she confirms was that Henry was trying to help her. Patty says she doesn’t remember what happened, but confirms that Henry was trying to help. Walter says he was strong enough to hold the door open against four people without the door ever touching his wife’s arm, and that he had every right to defend his space against Henry’s intrusion.

The jury… Our jury of seven women and five men is a cross-section of ethnicities (Caucasian, Hispanic, Asian), professions (secretary, veterinary tech, executive director of a non-profit) and economic backgrounds. The trial concluded on Thursday afternoon, and as we sat down to deliberate, Gary, a boat repair business owner, volunteered to be the foreman. We took a vote on the three counts to see where we were. It was 6-6. The room was shocked. Here we all thought we’d be on the same page, and it would be easy to reach a verdict.

The deliberations… You can learn a lot about people after sitting with them in a room for a day. As we discussed the case, some of the guys thought Sara was to blame for her own injuries by pestering Walter to talk when he didn’t want to. David (bless his heart) insisted that there was no reason, ever, for a man to lose his temper and injure a woman. Half of the women thought Walter was guilty, and half voted him innocent of the charges.

The next day, as we all shared our opinions, some changed their minds, and the votes against Walter moved to 9-3, guilty on Counts 2 and 3. In order to get those guilty votes, the group agreed to find him not guilty on Count 1, the more serious of the charges against his wife, voting 11-1 not guilty, with David, the lone holdout. As we talked, disagreements emerged about various points, and the court reporter read back testimony from the transcript for us. More questions emerged, and the judge’s response was, “You have all the information you need.”

The frustrations… When it comes to standing in judgment of another, we can never really be totally objective. Regardless of what evidence may show, our judgments of others are really a reflection of who we are, what we have experienced, and what we believe. After a day and a half of deliberations, the votes against Walter climbed to 11-1 guilty on Counts 2 and 3.

The holdout was Gary, the foreman, who insisted that Walter had acted out of self-defense, protecting his space. Gary said that he, too, had once been the victim of an unprovoked attack, but as another male juror noted, “Come on. Walter was defending a bowl of spaghetti.” Even if the defendant was guilty, Gary argued, “I don’t think this should go on the guy’s record.” The more Gary talked, the more evident it became that he had probably done something in his own life that he had not taken responsibility for. To admit that Walter was guilty would mean admitting to himself that he had been wrong, too.

As Gary pushed the idea of self-defense, two young women began to agree with him. Both believed that if you were pushed, you should push back. Never mind the idea that there are instances where pushing back is not necessary or justified. One of the women said she found the defendant “funny,” laughing at Walter’s one-liners on the stand. In the end, we could not reach a unanimous vote, deadlocked at 11-1 not guilty on Count 1, 9-3 guilty on Counts 2 and 3. We had no idea that that 11-1 vote would be interpreted by the judge as meaning the majority leaned toward acquittal for Walter, when it was actually the opposite.

The judge… Judges try so many cases, it must be hard to bring a fresh perspective to each one. Our judge clearly had no patience with jurors trying to get out of jury duty. She also seemed to have no patience with jury questions. Instructions were read to us in a bored monotone. When we asked for clarifications, she gave few. We had no idea that we would have had to find Walter not guilty on the first count in order for the second, lesser charge to apply.

After hearing that we could not reach a unanimous decision, the judge declared a mistrial. Two months later, at a trial review, she threw the case out, over the objections of the People. It would have put the family through more turmoil, and it would have cost more money to try it again. But if the judge had given better instructions in the first place, the jury could at least have sent the message that most of us believed Walter was guilty.

Serving on a jury was not fun, but it was an important reminder that we live in a democracy where people hold differing opinions, and the only way to reach a common goal is to work together. We all tend to hang out with people who think and believe as we do, creating cocoons of comfort in our everyday lives. But it’s only when a cocoon opens that you really see the world.

Rather than dreading that jury summons, be grateful that you’re not the one on trial. We all have private lives that we don’t want to put on hold. But if we want a justice system that’s as fair and impartial as possible, we all must participate. In the process, we may just learn that other people’s opinions matter as much as our own.

November 1, 2012

Design forecasts more than fashion

Posted in Between Us column, Politics, Women at 5:44 pm by dinaheng

How we look says a lot about us. It can give clues to our personality, our economic status, and how we want to be seen. When it comes to political statements, most candidates dress conservatively and speak liberally about opinions they think will please the voters.

As we near the end of this year’s Presidential campaigning, it’s interesting to see the impact that opinions about First Lady Michelle Obama and the GOP nominee’s wife, Ann Romney, have on their husbands’ candidacies.

The First Lady was a working mother of two girls, accomplished in her own career. Romney was a stay-at-home mom of five boys, who’s fought successful battles against multiple sclerosis and breast cancer. Both have qualities that the public admires. When it comes to their taste in fashion, there are clear differences.

“They’re both classic women,” says Vince Camuto, founder of the Nine West brand, who  now runs a line under his own name in 28 categories ranging from shoes and handbags to dresses and jewelry. “Michelle Obama is tall, elegant, and secure within herself. She’s got great style. One day, she can wear J. Crew, and the next, up and coming American designers like Jason Wu.

“Ann Romney is beautiful, and she wears a lot of classic clothing. I don’t see much in the way of designers on her, but she has a beautiful face, and red is a great color for her. Both women have a passion inside that American women can look up to.”

In today’s uncertain economy, Camuto says women are looking for great style at affordable prices.

“Women are smarter than ever before,” Camuto says. “They’re more educated, more informed, and you can’t fool them.”

When it comes to footwear, the designer says 50 percent of female buyers will pay full price for fashion footwear, but want great prices. Twenty percent look for shoes at the first markdown, and the remaining 30 percent will shop only for deep sales prices.

Vince Camuto

“The cheapest fix for a woman is to buy a pair of shoes,” Camuto says. “She can make her outfit look fresh, and it’s instant gratification. If the economy isn’t great, buying a metallic evening sandal can be fun. Today, it’s amazing how very expensive things sell, but the customer wants high-low dressing. Maybe she has a Chanel bag from three years ago, so she buys a new pair of shoes to go with it.”

Emerging from a recession has made consumers wary of what they spend their money on. Maybe that’s reflected in today’s trend toward more medium-heel shoes, flats, and single sole shoes, rather than those with platform heels.

“Bright blues are the hot color of the moment,” Camuto says. “Houndstooth is refined and lady-like. Metallics and glitter, classic pumps are in. Women love the long skirt, which is a trend, and they love a shorter skirt, so it’s a mixed bag.”

What will the trends for spring include?

“We like salmon, muted pastels, black and white, and a touch of red,” Camuto says. “We’re in a difficult period now with a lot of people still unemployed, but a down economy also represents opportunity. You better be on your game.”

Given the partisan tenor of the times, whichever candidate is elected to the White House next week will have to bring his A-game to the Oval Office in order to move the country — and the economy — forward.

Hopefully, the style of the First Lady who partners with him will inspire us all to be more open to new perspectives as we look toward the future. That, after all, is the definition of truly being fashion forward.

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