Monday, April 25, 2011

Not Proven

I checked out this verdict on Wikipedia, chiefly to see if it is still in use in Scotland. Apparently it is. Despite the negative comments posted at the head of the Wikipedia article, I believe that it is accurate, as far as it goes. Personally, I wish that the verdict were available in other English-speaking jurisdictions.

If you check out the internet by entering "Not Proven" in your browser, you can learn much more about the verdict: for example, that it is still not quite 300 years since it was first in use, and that in Scotland, it is "Not Guilty" that is the newcomer.

One aspect of the verdict that I had long believed was that a Not Proven verdict enabled the accused to be retried if fresh evidence were discovered. Apparently that is a misconception: the legal effect is identical with that of "Not Guilty".

A cynic has suggested that the subtext of a Not Proven verdict is "Not Guilty--but don't do it again".

These musings have arisen because of the farcical trial of Barry Bonds, whose already brilliant baseball career was boosted by steroid use. He was found guilty of obstruction of justice, but the jury was divided on the other charges alleging perjury when he denied having knowingly used steroids. I suggest that Not Proven would have been the ideal verdict, ending the matter. As it is, the disappointed prosecutors may insist on a second trial. I sure hope not: this matter has cost us taxpayers millions of dollars and dragged on too long as it is. IMHO, it is time to let go of this sorry episode.

Monday, April 18, 2011

What happened to the "Near East"?

I grew up distinguishing the Near East from the Middle East. There were no lines on the map, but the division seemed logical. Egypt, Libya, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Palestine (Israel) were Near Eastern countries.

Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iraq, Persia (Iran), Afghanistan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and the other sultanates in south-east Arabia, were in the Middle East.

Then came India, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Sikkim (now absorbed into India), Bhutan, (Pakistan, Bangladesh), Borneo, Sarawak, Brunei, Burma (Myanmar), Indonesia, Malaya, Nepal, and Tibet--all in the East, but not the Far East.

Finally, Japan, Formosa (Taiwan), China, the Philippines, Siam (Thailand), and parts of the Soviet Union, could properly be called the Far East.

I may have omitted a few past and present nations, but I'm sure you understand this breakdown, from a pre-WWll British perspective. But few (if anyone) in the US today speaks of the Near East. I checked this out recently, asking a well-educated American-born cotemporary what the expression "Near East" meant to her. It didn't resonate. So I am giving up my grouchy reaction when an announcer speaks of a country bordering on the Mediterranean (meaning in the middle of the world) as being in the "MIddle East".

Many Californians, and most of their parents or grandparents, came from the eastern side of the Mississippi. They continue to say "Back East" and "Out West". Since I reached California from a more distant shore, I have occasionally referred to the other coast as "Out East", but that hasn't caught on. Many a native Californian says "Back East", and I usually let it go! All I ask is that folk try to understand when I refer to (say) Lebanon as being part of the "Near East".

Monday, April 11, 2011


Barbara & I enjoy the one-hour Poirot adaptations on PBS. One, which we have enjoyed a couple of times, is How does your garden grow? A side plot has Poirot's hapless sidekick, "Captain Hastings", messing up Miss Lemon's payment system, by overpaying "Trumper's". There really was a fashionable West End "Gentlemen's Hairdresser" by that name. The incident triggered an early memory, although I never patronized that establishment. My Bond Street hairdresser was "Robert Douglas".

When I was about 6, my mother would take me in the train from Redhill to Victoria, from there we could catch a bus to the West End. Her objective was often the up-market store known as "Marshall & Snellgrove". She would "have her hair done", sometimes a "perm", sometimes what I dimly remember was a "wash and set". I was allowed to sit and read while my mother's hair was being worked on, and when I was a little older, I was permitted to explore, checking out other departments. We would have lunch in the restaurant: in those days, a plate of Roast Chicken and vegetables was quite a treat for me. When my mother bought something in another department, she would simply tell the shop assistant to "put it on my account: Mrs Lindsey-Renton, Dovers, Reigate." This was before the days of credit cards: no I.D. was needed.

On occasion, we went to Harrod's, my favorite store, instead, and even patronized Selfridges: I think my mother preferred not to shop there, since it was owned by an American...

When I was considered old enough to have a London haircut, I didn't need to make an appointment. I don't remember ever having to sit and wait for a empty chair. I soon learned to pay the modest price and include a suitable tip.

Years passed, and in 1957 I had my first American haircut somewhere in the journey by car from Chappaqua, NY, to Los Angeles. The price shocked me: it was close to the same number of dollars as I was used to paying in shillings! I certainly remember paying $5 later, and thinking it extortionate...

For over forty years now, I have gone every few weeks to the same barber's shop on Shattuck Avenue, about a mile from our home. First, the barber was Tony, an amazingly fast cutter. I used to go on Saturday mornings, as I usually didn't go into the office on the weekend. His advertised starting time was probably 9 a.m., but I soon learned that he arrived before then. I was one of his customers who would line up until he arrived, in order to be early in line. Tony only made appointments for Thursdays. He could cut six heads in an hour, so the wait wasn't too long.

Tony had a hobby, investing in the stock market. I think he received tips from some of his customers. He would talk of his successes while cutting hair. He also enjoyed golf, so he spent much of his waking life on his feet. I suppose I began paying about $8 for a haircut.
In due course, another fine barber (Dale) took over the second chair in the same shop. One day, when Tony must have been about 50, he decided to retire. Dale then became my barber. He had been in one of the concentration camps during WW ll.

Slowly the price of a haircut rose as the years passed. An interesting young woman, Nina, took over management, and brought in her own customers. Nina is the daughter of a Pakistani army officer and a Thai mother, and doesn't look her age (late forties). Dale continued to rent the second chair. When Dale in turn retired, Nina began cutting my hair, and she has probably been my barber for close to twenty years now.

The price continued to rise, and my friend Nina says that she only raised it when her rent went up. Fora few years it has been $30, and I pay it ungrudgingly. Nina is the only person who calls me "Mr. Nigel". She does an excellent job with my very conventional hairstyle. I still have plenty of white hair, and I was secretly delighted when she found it necessary to thin it, on my last visit.

There are other branches of Peet's, where I buy my coffee. We even have a Trader Joe's in the neighborhood. But there's only one Chez Panisse, and one "Nina's Place". Can you wonder that I prefer to live in the home I share with Barbara? Who needs a retirement home?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Smart Meters

At both our Berkeley and Boulder County homes, there's a program in progress to install so-called "smart meters". I imagine that the same is true in many other parts of the country. Instead of sending a meter reader out every month to determine electricity usage, the readings are obtained by radio contact. This reduces labor cost, human error, weather-related inaccessibility (such as snow covering the meters), and the homeowner's need to avoid covering the meter with vegetation.

My initial reaction to the howls of protest was that the protesters were a bunch of Luddites, hostile to change and unwilling to embrace technology. There were people calling it an invasion of privacy, and I didn't agree with that.

Then we began hearing of some family being billed for their neighbors' usage. Also, someone in a large apartment building claimed that all her electronic devices were being affected because there were scores of meters in that building.

It may take some time to investigate such claims and eliminate problems. "The jury is still out" on smart meters, but I do think that they are the right answer, after such problems have been solved. I await developments with interest.