Sunday, December 29, 2013

A Final Gem of Truth from Frank Schaeffer's 2013 Novel: AND GOD SAID, "BILLY!"


This post will explore a fifth and final gem of truth from Frank Schaeffer's 2013 novel: And God Said, "Billy!" Please note the SPOILER ALERT before proceeding.


On page 288 of And God Said, "Billy!" Father Tryphon asks, "Do we follow what the  bible says or what it means?" and then explains:

The underlying logic of the teaching of Jesus is that no matter what else is "in" the Bible, freedom, dignity and emancipation is the final message of faith and prophetic destiny of the human primate's evolution. . . . I acknowledge the racist teachings in the Bible implicit in the biblical endorsement of slavery and yet I override these timebound "directives" in favor of the deeper eternal and ever-evolving, ever-expanding truth that - by implication - demands that Nelson Mandela be released from prison and that I - a black man - am a full human being and that many homosexuals seeking refuge here in our community be healed of their guilt-feelings not of their sexuality and be told that they are normal, equal and welcome members of God's family.

This makes so much sense to me! The Bible contains a deep message of love at the heart of the universe, at the heart of God. That message, however, is delivered by human instruments, the writers of the Bible, so that the message comes filtered through the highly patriarchal worldview of those writers. Because the writers of the Bible saw the world through the lens of the culture in which they lived, we find that the Bible portrays God as exclusively male, envisions a hierarchical society with women subordinated to men, endorses slavery, condemns same-sex intimacy, demonizes adherents of pagan religions, and glorifies war. Some of what God is made to say and do in the Bible contradicts the core message of love. I believe that we are to use our minds and our hearts to distinguish what in the Bible conforms to the deep universal message of love and what is culture-bound.

We have abolished slavery, recognizing that its supposed endorsement by God in the Bible does not conform to the Bible's deeper message of love. I long for the day when we come to see that the condemnation of same-sex unions and any restrictions placed upon women are also contradictory to the love at the heart of the Bible. I long for the day when we evaluate any particular directive that the Bible gives by the deeper meaning that the Bible as a whole proclaims.

Two More Gems of Truth from Frank Schaeffer's 2013 Novel: AND GOD SAID, "BILLY!"


This post continues my reflections on Frank Schaeffer's 2013 novel: And God Said, "Billy!" The misadventures of ultra-fundamentalist Christian film-maker Billy Graham (named after the famous evangelist) culminate in four chapters containing exquisite gems of truth. I explored two such gems in my previous post, and here I will explore two more, saving a fifth and final gem for a post of its own. I reviewed the novel two posts ago.

Note the SPOILER ALERT for this post: this post could spoil the ending of the novel for someone who hasn't yet read it.


Atheism has a place on the continuum of belief. Frank Schaeffer makes this point in And God Said, "Billy!" and I believe it is true. It can make perfect sense for a person not to believe in God. It certainly makes sense for Billy to turn away from the judgmental, wrathful, rules-bound God to whom he has devoted so much of his life. Belief in this God has been extremely harmful to Billy. Father Tryphon recognizes this, and even performs an unbaptism, freeing Billy from this tyrannical God. Billy's unbaptism is described on page 298:

I guess I first really woke up the moment that you (very unexpectedly!) poured a stream of dry silvery sand over my head that you'd just scooped from the cave floor. It was so dry and powdery that it flowed like water over my head and shoulders. You said, "I unbaptize you in the name of truth, love and beauty! You are free!" and Miss Honeychurch swooped over us and you laughed and said, "A dove for Jesus and a crow for you, Billy! Perfect!"

I can imagine an unbaptism being very freeing and healing for someone like Billy, whose life has been so cramped by belief in a confining God. An unbaptism forces you to make your own conscious decisions about how you really and deeply want your life to be. You no longer simply obey God's orders without thought. Since you no longer rely on God, you are free to look deep into your own soul to decide how you will live. I think that most people will find a well of goodness there, deep within themselves.


I really like Father Tryphon's views on liturgy. Liturgy provides continuity for our faith, connecting us through time across the ages and through space across the globe. Father Tryphon, on page 289, speaks of "our wonderful liturgies and traditions which bind our communities together with blessedly familiar and comfortable predictability." I agree. I do believe, though, that changes need to be made in those places of the liturgy where we have come to a different understanding of our faith. For example, I believe that the language of liturgy should not suggest that God is exclusively male, nor should it curse people who practice certain behaviors (such as same-sex intimacy) or hold certain beliefs (such as paganism).

My next post will explore a fifth and final gem of truth in Frank Schaeffer's And God Said, "Billy!"

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Two Gems of Truth from Frank Schaeffer's 2013 Novel: AND GOD SAID, "BILLY!"


In my previous post, I reviewed Frank Schaeffer's latest novel: And God Said, "Billy!" In this post, I will reflect further on And God Said, "Billy!" -- possibly in ways that could spoil the novel's ending for anyone who hasn't read the book. My aim is to explore two gems of truth offered by the novel. Subsequent posts will explore additional gems of truth.


Billy's twisted logic shows how easy it can be to convince oneself that one is above the law. Billy truly seems to believe that he is an exception to moral laws. When he runs out of money and thinks of an easy way to steal what he needs, he believes that this idea is a directive from God and that his managing not to get caught is proof of God's blessing on his action. He seems to think, "Because I am showing extraordinary obedience to God by undertaking this special film-making mission, I stand outside the laws of basic morality, which are for less dedicated humans." With this way of thinking, one can justify a lot of wrong behavior.


Doctrine does not point us toward God, or if it does, it does so only faintly. Facts that we learn about God just don't take root in our souls. Some doctrinal systems can even create a harmful image of God, as is the case with Billy. Billy's God requires him to endure a years-long separation from his wife and daughter, preventing him from being the husband and father he longs to be. Billy's God also requires him to direct a film with no artistic merit as a "stepping stone" to his real film mission, to tell lies in order to keep up appearances, to judge harshly any person whose behavior puts him or her into the classification of "sinner," to see an eternity in the fires of hell as a real possibility, to squash his ability to think so that he can embrace a narrow view of biblical inerrancy. What Billy believes about God diminishes him and causes him much pain and suffering.

Later, Billy begins to experience God more authentically through his experience as a giver and as a receiver of love. As a giver, Billy deeply loves his daughter, Rebecca. He is truly pained by the years-long separation from her, necessitated by his film-making mission. As the Russian Orthodox Father Tryphon (Billy's rescuer) points out, surely God (if God exists) has far greater love than do we. If we want to know what God is like, we need only look at the best within ourselves. If Billy can love Rebecca with such pure aching longing, how much more does God love us. Billy also experiences love as a receiver when he is rescued from an extremely dangerous situation by Father Tryphon and the other Russian Orthodox monks of the Monastery of Saint John of Kronstadt, who put thenselves in danger to help Billy. Billy has done nothing to deserve the love freely offered to him by Father Tryphon and the monks.

The love Billy feels for Rebecca and the love Billy receives from Father Tryphon and the Russian Orthodox monks point him toward God far more clearly and strongly than any facts about God could ever do. Our souls respond to love, not to facts. I should add, though, that our minds respond to facts. Facts that provide mental support for what our soul knows through experience can be very enriching.

In this post, I have explored two gems of truth from Frank Schaeffer's novel And God Said, "Billy!" In my next post, I will explore two additional gems.

A Review of Frank Schaeffer's 2013 Novel: AND GOD SAID, "BILLY!"

I have just read Frank Schaeffer's latest book: a novel titled And God Said, "Billy!" This post will present a review of the novel.

First, a summary. The main character of And God Said, “Billy!” is an ultra-fundamentalist Christian who believes that God has instructed him to leave his wife, Ruth, and their three-year-old daughter, Rebecca, in New Hampshire and move alone to California to make a film about the end of the world, when Christians will be raptured into heaven. His name is Billy Graham—his parents named him after the famous evangelist. As the novel opens, Billy has been away from home for three years without seeing Ruth and Rebecca, who is now six. Although he misses his wife and daughter terribly, Billy believes that obedience to God requires him to concentrate fully on his film-making mission. However, no one in Hollywood has expressed any interest in his apocalyptic film script. Eventually, Billy is persuaded that he must first make a more crowd-pleasing film as a “stepping stone” into the Hollywood film world—and he finally finds someone who engages him to direct a “sexy thriller” in South Africa. This turns out to be a very shady business deal and multiple problems ensue. Billy finds himself trapped in an extremely dangerous situation, from which he is rescued in an amazing way that I won’t reveal in this post. The rescue is not only physical but also spiritual—for Billy’s narrow fundamentalist views have been sucking the very life out of his soul.

And God Said, “Billy!” is Frank Schaeffer’s answer to the question “Who is God?” through a novel-length story. While acknowledging that no definitive answer can be given to this question, Frank Schaeffer has nonetheless found a satisfying answer that embraces the mystery, love, and paradox at the heart of the universe.

Frank Schaeffer dealt extensively with the question “Who is God?” in his 2009 non-fiction book Patience With God: Faith for People Who Don’t Like Religion (or Atheism). In Patience With God, Frank Schaeffer very effectively inter-weaves stories and explanations to show that it is through giving and receiving love, rather than through any system of doctrine, that we experience God. And God Said, “Billy!” makes this point in another way—through fiction. Here, we have a whole novel in which to engage with the main character, so that what the main character learns, we also learn at a deep level because of that long-term, novel-length engagement.

And God Said, “Billy!” is extraordinary in showing the machinations of the human mind in justifying wrong behavior. Sometimes we hear of Christian pastors who have sex with prostitutes or who embezzle church funds, and we wonder how someone who purports to follow Jesus and to lead others in the ways of Jesus could do such wrong things. And God Said, “Billy!” shows precisely how. Frank Schaeffer takes us inside Billy’s mind, where we listen to Billy’s thoughts as he justifies lying, stealing, attending a night club featuring nude women, and directing a film full of sex and violence with no artistic merit whatsoever. Frank Schaeffer takes us through the twists and turns of Billy’s “logic” as Billy convinces himself that these actions are actually God’s directives. Some of this is quite funny, and I found myself laughing aloud at some of Billy’s mental gymnastics.

And God Said, “Bllly!” is also extraordinary in showing how our view of God will result in suffering or in freedom. The novel illustrates the intense suffering inherent in seeing God as a judge who sends people to hell for wrong beliefs and wrong actions. We really “get” that suffering because we see it up close as we walk through the novel with Billy. And God Said, “Billy!” also opens the freeing possibility of seeing God as a mystery of love. We “get” this, too, as we walk with Billy through the aching love he gives to his daughter, Rebecca, and the gratuitous love he receives from his rescuers. Could it be that the love we experience—both as giver and as receiver—is a stronger and clearer indicator of who God is than the body of doctrine put forth by any religious institution?

To fully appreciate And God Said, “Billy!” I think we need to see it as a satire, perhaps even a lampoon, of ultra-fundamentalist Christianity. Frank Schaeffer stretches the exaggeration inherent in this type of writing almost to, but not beyond, the breaking point. As a result, I found certain sections of the novel a bit tedious, though the novel as a whole offered more than enough intrigue for me to continue through the rough patches. I’m very glad that I did, because the last four chapters of the novel contain exquisite gems of truth that ring all the truer for me because I stuck with Billy through all that he endured in order to learn them.

Frank Schaeffer is in a unique position to write And God Said, “Billy!” As a young adult, he himself earned his living as a Christian fundamentalist speaker and writer, but eventually he became deeply dissatisfied with this worldview and converted to Greek Orthodoxy, where the mystery of God (rather than facts about God) is emphasized. Frank Schaeffer has also directed several films, at least one of them in South Africa. And God Said, “Billy!” is enriched by Frank Schaeffer’s own inside experience as a film director, as a former committed Christian fundamentalist, and as one who has adopted a deeper but less defined view of God.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Interesting Legal Machinations in the Film THE DALLAS BUYERS CLUB

I recently saw the film THE DALLAS BUYERS CLUB, directed by Jean-Marc Vallée and starring Matthew McConaughey. The film is based on the true story of Ron Woodruff (McConaughey) - a very straight, very masculine, and very homophobic rodeo guy who is diagnosed with AIDS in the 1980s. If you remember anything about AIDS in the 1980s, you will recall how strongly the disease was associated with the homosexual community. Because of his AIDS diagnosis, Woodruff's acquaintances decide that he must be gay - and he is FURIOUS. One remarkable aspect of the film is Woodruff's transformation from an utter homophobe to a compassionate friend of homosexuals - without ever losing his tough-guy edge.

Another remarkable aspect of the film is the amazing legal machinations of Woodruff and the FDA. Woodruff rejects traditional medical treatments, which are not working for him, and turns to alternative treatments that have not been approved by the FDA for the United States but that are available in Mexico and other countries. In fact, after initially being told by traditional doctors that he has one month to live, Woodruff succeeds in keeping himself alive for seven additional years! In using these alternative treatments, however, and in sharing them with others suffering from AIDS, Woodruff runs afoul of the FDA - and the legal machinations of the Woodruff / FDA conflict are fascinating to watch! I will detail some of these legal machinations, based on my understanding of what I saw in the film.

First, of course, it is illegal to possess, consume, or distribute illegal substances. However, Woodruff is very clear that the substances he is using are not illegal. They are simply not approved by the FDA.

Second, it is illegal to sell for profit in the United States any substances that have not been approved by the FDA. Woodruff, again, is very clear that he is not selling any substances at all. He is selling MEMBERSHIPS. As for the substances - he gives them away. Here is how it works. You can buy a membership in the Dallas Buyers Club for $400 a month. If you are a member, you are GIVEN as many of the AIDS treatment substances as you want.

Third, the FDA clamps down with rules about availability of FDA-unapproved substances in the United States. Woodruff decides to sue the FDA for refusing to make available these effective treatments that actually work for people with AIDS. The judge who decides the case ends by making these statements: (1) he expresses compassion for Woodruff and his plight; (2) he berates the FDA for its mean-spiritedness; (3) he must, however, dismiss the case because there is NO LEGAL FOOTING on which Woodruff can make a claim.

This, to my mind, is the terrible limitation of our rule by law. Rule by law may be better than rule by the whim of a monarch or dictator, but it is by no means ideal. With rule by law, a person or corporation can commit a heinous action that causes immense harm, but if there is no law against this particular action, the victims have no legal recourse because no law has been broken.

I remember, a number of years ago, reading about one of the very first victims of identity theft. No case could be brought against the identity thief because there was no law against what he had done. There was no law against identity theft because no one had ever thought of such a thing before.

It seems to me that a more advanced civilization would not operate by rule of law but by rule of principle. The question to consider would be whether the principle of justice had been violated in any given situation, not whether there were a specific law against a particular action.

Such are my thoughts after watching the intriguing film THE DALLAS BUYERS CLUB.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Reflections on the Holocaust VI: WHY--Projection and Scape-goating

My previous post ends with a view of the Jews as the quintessential Other in Europe. Many Jews, especially in Eastern Europe, actually were outwardly different: they differed from their majority Christian neighbors in physical appearance, dress, language, religion, self-government, and dedication to learning. In addition, the pseudo-religious and pseudo-scientific beliefs promoted by the Nazis painted the Jews as the devil incarnate and as parasitic insects—as a menace to be eliminated.

This quintessential otherness marked the Jews as targets for the unhealthy psychological processes of projection and scape-goating.

Projection is an unhealthy psychological process that can happen when one refuses to recognize one’s own negative traits. Instead of acknowledging these negative traits as one’s own, one may unfairly “project” these traits onto another. For example, a person may have within himself a snobbishness that he hates and refuses to recognize as his own. He may, however, see that very snobbishness magnified in his quiet and shy neighbor, who is perhaps not a snob at all.

In A History of the Holocaust, Yehuda Bauer explains how the Jews became the targets of Nazi projection. The Nazis wanted to dominate the world. They invaded and took over country after country in Europe, and then exterminated the weak, the dissidents, and the non-Aryans. Yet this domination by force is exactly what the Nazis accused the Jews of plotting: the Nazis actually believed that a council of Jewish elders was plotting to take over the world and exterminate all non-Jewish people and that this plot was revealed in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a document that had been exposed as a forgery in the 1920s. Bauer expresses it very well on page 91: “The Nazis, then, accused the Jews of wanting to do what they, the Nazis, were out to do themselves: control the world and annihilate their enemies. In this inverted picture of themselves, they described the Jews as the demonic force of evil that Nazism itself was.”

The Nazis even became victims of their own projections. Bauer explains how this happened during the Nazis’ plan for a permanent boycott of Jewish businesses in Germany in 1933. The boycott was to begin on April 1. On March 27, Jews in the United States held a mass rally in Madison Square Garden to protest. To the Nazis, this Jewish rally in New York City was evidence of a (non-existent) international Jewish plot to overcome the world. In fear of international Jewish reprisal, the Nazis cancelled the permanent boycott and held a token one-day boycott instead—on April 1, a Saturday, when Jewish businesses were normally closed anyway for the Sabbath. Again, Bauer expresses it eloquently on page 99: “In the Madison Square Garden rally they [the Nazis] saw the expression of that mysterious international Jew they had invented, their all-consuming fear. In calling off the permanent boycott in fear of the counterreaction of the Jews, the Nazis yielded, in effect, to the figment of their own imagination.”

So the Nazis projected onto the Jews their own desire for world domination. Thus, they could justify destroying the Jews before the Jews had a chance to destroy them. In the Nazi mind, the Jews came to symbolize everything evil, revolting, and impure.

This projection of evil onto the Jews was reflected rather oddly in the views of the average citizen. Nechama Tec, a young Jewish girl in Poland at the time of the Third Reich, encountered this in the Homar family, a Christian Polish family who had agreed to shelter Tec along with her sister and parents until the war was over. In her memoir, Dry Tears, Tec explains how puzzled she felt when the Homars expressed hatred for Jews and yet also expressed real affection for Tec herself and her family, whom the Homars knew to be Jews. On page 121, we see how the Homars explained this by assuring Tec, “You know that you are not a real Jew. You are not really Jewish.” Somehow, the Homars were able to separate their hatred for “real Jews” (an evil abstraction that did not exist in the physical world) and their affection for Tec and her family (who couldn’t possibly be real Jews since Tec, her sister, and her parents were so likable).

Anyone who becomes the object of projection can soon find himself in the role of the scape-goat. The scape-goat carries the blame for the sins of the group. The term scape-goat comes from the Bible, specifically Leviticus 16:21-22, where we find these instructions: “Aaron [the high priest] shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins; and he shall put them upon the head of the goat, and send him away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. The goat shall bear all their iniquities upon him to a solitary land; and he shall let the goat go in the wilderness.”

In the Bible, the Israelites placed their sins with the attendant blame and guilt upon the head of the scape-goat and sent the goat into the wilderness, bearing away their sins. Scape-goating today is the name of an unhealthy psychological process in which a group blames and punishes a certain person or group of people for the society’s ills. The Jews were convenient scape-goats. Bauer again has an apt description of the scape-goating process on page 330: “In periods of crisis, instead of searching for the solutions of such crises within the majority culture, the majority will tend to project blame for the crisis on a minority which is both familiar and weak.”

In his lecture “The Jews of Western Europe," our Coursera Professor, Peter Kenez, explains that the Jews were blamed for the ills of industrialization. The change from an agricultural to an industrial society, from the close community of rural life to the more impersonal character of urban life, was often painful. Kenez points out that the Jews—although they certainly had not created industrialization—were nonetheless the first to take advantage of the opportunities in an industrial world. The Jews were, therefore, unfairly associated with and blamed for the pains of industrialization.

I would say that the Jews were the ones taking the healthy course of action in the face of industrialization. The Jews looked closely at industrialization, took stock of how they could best adapt, and made the necessary changes so that they could thrive in an industrialized world. Others did not adapt, suffered the pains that attend those who are slow to change in a changing world, and blamed the Jews for the uncomfortable consequences of their own inertia.

To wind up this series of reflections on the WHY of the Holocaust, I would say that the Holocaust was the product of craziness run amok. The Jews were seen as the killers of Jesus Christ and as the murderers of children so that their blood could be used to make matzoh—thus, the Jews were the devil incarnate. The Jews were believed to possess an inferior language and inferior racial traits—thus, the Jews were non-human parasites. From this followed the obsession with racial purity and the fear of possessing the slightest taint of non-Aryan blood. The Nazis’ will to dominate the world and to exterminate all others was projected onto the Jews—and there followed the need to get rid of “them” before they get rid of “us.” All of this culminated in an escalating and all-consuming paranoia that led to the ghetto, to forced emigration, to pograms—and finally to the gas chambers of Auschwitz.

This is mass craziness. Unfortunately, it is not unique. Similar craziness had happened before, as seen in the Inquisition of the 15th and 16th centuries, and it has happened since, as seen in the attempt at ethnic cleansing during the War in Bosnia of the 1990s. I don’t know how to prevent such craziness from happening, but seeing it for what it is does constitute a first step. I don't know when we will take the next step—prevention.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Reflections on the Holocaust V: WHY--Pseudo-Scientific Beliefs

To the centuries-old pseudo-religious beliefs in Jewish responsibility for the death of Jesus Christ and in the blood libel, the Nazis added quite a bit of modern pseudo-scientific nonsense of their own. Perhaps this pseudo-science appeared all the more respectable because Germany was the center of true science in the first half of the 20th Century. In his memoir Survival at Auschwitz, Primo Levi, an Italian, explains that he knew German (a great advantage in the concentration camp, which was run by German Nazi officers) because of his university degree in chemistry. In Italy, Levi had had to study chemistry in German, the language of science.

Side by side with legitimate science, however, there existed a number of pseudo-scientific beliefs, all promoted by men calling themselves scientists of one kind or another. Yehuda Bauer lists several of these on pages 42 and 43 of A History of the Holocaust. Christian Lassen “proved” that Yiddish was an inferior language. Houston Stewart Chamberlain held that each race carried its own benevolent spirit (Aryan) or malevolent spirit (non-Aryan). Eugen During and Paul de Lagarde taught that a person’s blood held indelible characteristics of pure race (Aryan) or impure race (non-Aryan).

None of this was based on the results of true scientific inquiry, experiment, and observation, but rather on reading into nature what the pseudo-scientists’ own prejudices had conditioned them to see. This type of pseudo-science was also prevalent in the United States, where pseudo-scientists “proved” that black African-Americans were inferior to white Caucasians.

On page 43 of A History of the Holocaust, Bauer quotes Paul de Lagarde equating the Jews with a repulsive image, that of the insect, the parasite. Speaking of the Jews, Paul de Lagarde says, “With trichinae and bacilli one does not negotiate, nor are trichinae and bacilli to be educated: they are exterminated as quickly and thoroughly as possible.”

Bauer further points out on page 90 that these pseudo-scientific beliefs led to a crazy classification of peoples. At the top were the fully human peoples—Aryans of Germanic blood. Aryans of Germanic blood included the Germans themselves as well as the English and the Scandinavians, who were considered worthy to be allies of Germany. Next in line were the sub-human peoples—Aryan peoples whose blood was not Germanic. These were the Latin peoples and the Slavic peoples, who were to be ruled by and to become servants of the Germans. At the bottom came the non-humans—the non-Aryans, namely the Jews. The Jews—equated with the devil himself and with parasitic insects—were to be exterminated for the good of the rest of the world.

The Jews, thus, became the quintessential Other. Our Coursera Professor, Peter Kenez, points out in his lecture “The Jews of Western Europe,” that the Jews were in fact visibly different from other Europeans, especially in Eastern Europe. They were different in their religion, their language, their physical characteristics, their dress, their occupation, their self-government, and their dedication to learning. Kenez says, “After the expulsion of the Muslims from the Iberian Peninsula [in the late 15th Century], the Jews were the only non-Christian Other in Europe.” Second, as we have seen, the Jews were believed to be different in crazy and fantastical ways: they were believed to be the devil incarnate, something non-human.

As the quintessential Other, the Jews were prime targets for the unhealthy psychological processes of projection and scape-goating. This will be the subject of my next post.

Reflections on the Holocaust IV: WHY--Pseudo-Religious Belief #2

Besides capitalizing on the ancient belief that the Jews of all time were responsible for killing Jesus Christ, the Nazis capitalized on an equally crazy centuries-old belief that Jews kidnapped and murdered Christian children to obtain their blood for use in making matzoh. This crazy belief is called the blood libel.

The blood libel was not just crazy talk among uneducated people. Courts of law actually tried cases in which Jewish individuals were accused of killing particular Christian children to use their blood in matzoh! An example of this occurred in the early 1900s in Russia with the Beilis Trial, described to us by our Coursera Professor, Peter Kenez. A Jewish Ukrainian factory superintendent named Menahem Mendel Beilis was tried in court for killing a Christian boy in order to use his blood in making matzoh. Beilis was found not guilty; the boy had been killed by a criminal gang who were at enmity with his family. However, Professor Kenez explained, the records state that, while this one individual Beilis had been found not guilty of this one particular crime, it was nonetheless well-known that Jews do indeed murder Christian children to use their blood in matzoh. One must go back to the witch trials of the Inquisition, where women were tried in law courts for the crime of killing their neighbors’ cattle by casting an evil spell, to find comparable nonsense.

With courts of law seriously trying blood libel cases, it is sadly not amazing that Nechama Tec, an eleven-year-old Jewish girl in Poland during World War II, encountered this belief among her neighborhood friends. Tec was passing as a Christian in a distant Polish town during the war; a Christian family had agreed that she could live with them as their orphaned niece. On page 144 of her memoir Dry Tears, Tec tells of her distress at hearing a neighborhood friend express belief in the blood libel. Tec asked her friend this very sensible question: “Have you seen it happen?” Her friend replied, “How strange, Krysia [Tec’s Christian name], that you should ask such a thing. Everybody knows Jews do that, but they’re smart, they do it secretly! So how could I have seen such a thing?” Sadly, Tec’s friend was a thirteen-year-old Christian Polish girl who believed the blood libel—and who refused to be dissuaded, even when Tec pointed out that no one had ever seen it happen. Clearly, this girl was parroting a widespread belief that she had heard from her elders.

The Nazis, then, capitalized on two crazy but widespread beliefs among Christian Europeans in the first half of the 20th Century, beliefs that had been passed down through centuries: the belief that all Jews everywhere and throughout time were responsible for killing Jesus Christ, and the belief that Jews murdered Christian children to use their blood in making matzoh.

These beliefs served to demonize the Jews. In fact, Nazi propaganda equated the Jews with the devil. Yehuda Bauer, on page 89 of A History of the Holocaust, explains that traditional pseudo-religious beliefs had held that the Jews were possessed by the devil, but that under the Nazis, the Jews were the devil himself. Anyone who would kill God in the person of Jesus Christ could hardly be considered human. And anyone who would kill a child to make matzoh was definitely not human, was indeed the devil incarnate. The devil had to be eliminated. The devil was the Jew.

My next post will look at the Nazis’ pseudo-scientific beliefs about the Jews.

Reflections on the Holocaust III: WHY--Pseudo-Religious Belief #1

Pseudo-religious nonsense about the Jews, unfortunately, goes back to the early Christian church fathers, who saw the Jews as the murderers of Jesus Christ. Because a crowd of Jews in 33 CE cried out, “Crucify him!” when the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate presented them with Jesus, some Christians in every age have persisted in blaming all Jews everywhere and throughout time as guilty of killing Jesus.

Several of the early Christian church fathers are quoted by Yehuda Bauer on pages 8 and 9 of the main history text for our course, A History of the Holocaust. The words of these church fathers are horrifying.

For example, church father John Chrysostum states, “The synagogue is . . . a place of meeting for the assassins of Christ,” and, “It is the duty of all Christians to hate the Jews.” I might point out that John Chrysostum lived in the 4th Century CE, at which time no Jew in the crowd before Pontius Pilate in 33 CE could possibly have been alive. I might also point out that the Jews of 33 CE did not, in fact, kill Jesus Christ. The Roman procurator Pontius Pilate issued the order for Jesus to be crucified, and the order was carried out by Roman soldiers.

Yet, 900 years later, in the 13th Century CE, we have church father Thomas Aquinas saying, “It would be licit, according to custom, to hold Jews, because of their crime, in perpetual servitude.” Thomas Aquinas believed that the Jews of his time were responsible for an event involving their ancestors 1200 years previously! I find this unbelievable.

I also find it unbelievable that these men are canonized saints in the Roman Catholic Church: SAINT John Chrysostom and SAINT Thomas Aquinas. After Vatican Council II in the 1960s, some canonized saints lost their sainthood because it was found that their stories were legends and that they probably never actually existed. One such is Saint Christopher, patron of travelers, who is said to have borne the Christ Child across a deep river on his shoulders. I think that saints should also lose their sainthood when they are found to have held extremely anti-Christ-like views and to have promoted hate-filled actions.

Protestant leaders, unfortunately, have followed in the same vein as the Catholic “saints.” Here is what Martin Luther had to say about the Jews, quoted by Bauer on page 22: “First, their synagogues or churches should be set on fire,” and “Secondly, their homes should likewise be broken down and destroyed.”

The Nazis, being anti-religious, were perhaps not much interested in blaming modern Jews for having killed Jesus in 33 CE, but they certainly capitalized on the fact that many European Christians did. Amazingly, in 20th Century Europe, this crazy belief was widespread. Surely, it is the height of nonsense to blame the Jews of the 20th Century for something that was done nearly 2000 years previously!

My next post will look at a second crazy pseudo-religious belief.

Reflections on the Holocaust II: WHY--Overview

As part of my Coursera course The Holocaust, I am required to write three papers, of which I have completed the first. In my first paper, I chose to examine the “reasons” for the Holocaust. After all, the horror of the Holocaust compels the question: WHY? Why did so many human beings plan, carry out, cooperate with, or turn a blind eye to acts of unspeakable cruelty against other human beings—human beings who were Jewish?

I am finding that the answer that makes the most “sense” to me is that the perpetrators, their supporters, and even many bystanders were CRAZY. By “crazy,” I mean that they embraced beliefs with no basis in reality, beliefs that were not at all helpful to themselves and that were disastrous for their targets, the Jews. In fact, our Coursera Professor, Peter Kenez voices this explanation himself in his lecture “The Jews of Western Europe.” Speaking of the Nazis, Professor Kenez says, “The party taking control of the machinery of a modern state was lunatic, aside from the vicious aspect—they were crazy—what they were after did not serve their interests, no matter how you define their interests."

We tend to view craziness as an aberration—but considering the numbers of people involved in enacting, supporting, or allowing the Holocaust, we have a huge number of aberrant people. In other words, it is possible for millions of people to be crazy, or out of touch with reality, in ways that cause extreme harm.

I would say that it behooves us to analyze this craziness, to see it for what it is, and to prevent it from happening again. Here, I echo Primo Levi, a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp, who says of the Nazi hatred for Jews, “We cannot understand it, but we can and must understand from where it springs, and we must be on our guard. If understanding is impossible, knowing is imperative, because what happened could happen again.” (“Afterword” to Survival in Auschwitz and The Reawakening, page 394)

To this end, I will first examine some of the crazy beliefs that led to the Holocaust and then consider them in light of what we know about healthy and unhealthy mental processes.

Crazy beliefs about the Jews during the time of the Third Reich combined traditional pseudo-religious nonsense with modern pseudo-scientific nonsense. In my next post, I will turn my attention to the first crazy pseudo-religious belief.

Reflections on the Holocaust I: Pre-Reflections

I am taking a fascinating free online course with Coursera on The Holocaust. This is the first of several posts in which I will share some of my reflections on what I am learning about the Holocaust. I have sub-titled this first post “Pre-Reflections” because here I will simply introduce the Holocaust, Coursera, and The Holocaust course.

THE HOLOCAUST. Just in case someone may read this who is unfamiliar with the term Holocaust, I will begin with a definition. The Holocaust refers to the extermination of millions of Jewish people by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime. This was done largely in gas chambers, but Jews were also shot, hanged, beaten, starved, and worked to death in concentration camps. The Nazis’ extermination campaign was aimed at Jews, but other undesirables were eliminated as well, including the physically disabled, the mentally ill, homosexuals, Gypsies, and political dissidents.

COURSERA. Coursera is a wonderful entity that offers free online courses taught by respected university professors. It is very easy to sign up for a free Coursera course at this web address.

THE HOLOCAUST COURSERA COURSE. My present Coursera course, The Holocaust, is team-taught by two professors from the University of California at Santa Cruz: Peter Kenez, Professor Emeritus of History, and Murray Baumgarten, Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature. The course lasts for 10 weeks; thus, there are 10 modules. Each of the 10 weekly modules includes these elements:

  • Online lectures by the professors
  • Supplementary readings: historical accounts, memoirs, novels, short stories, poems
  • Supplementary films: documentaries, films based on a true story, fictional films
  • Three papers to write, which are peer evaluated
  • Online forums in which to engage in discussion with classmates

I am finding The Holocaust Coursera course to be excellent! I appreciate the scope of the lectures, the wide range and richness of the material, the in-depth thought required by the papers, and the opportunity to interact online with classmates from all over the globe. I also love the way the Holocaust is approached both from a historical perspective and from the perspective of its literature. Not only are we reading historical accounts of the Holocaust, but we are also reading memoirs, novels, short stories, and poems. I hadn’t realized that there is Holocaust poetry, but there is.

This completes my pre-reflections. My next several posts will reflect on what I am learning about the Holocaust.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Two More Knitting Projects

Here are two more of my knitting projects, very recently completed.

The first is a scarf in four shades of blue: blue, wedgewood, aqua, light blue. I used 25% wool / 75% acrylic yarn in 143-yard skeins (100 grams, or 3-1/2 ounces, per skein) -- 2 skeins each of wedgewood, aqua, and light blue, and 3 skeins of blue. I used the knit stitch with double strands of yarn all the way through, with size 17 needles, getting 3 stitches and 2-1/2 rows to an inch. Each blue-shade block has 18 stitches per row and 12 rows. There are 9 blocks in all, 2 each of wedgewood, aqua, and light blue, and 3 of blue.
Scarf in shades of blue
The second project is a shawl in primary colors: blue, red, and yellow. I used 25% wool / 75% acrylic yarn in 143-yard skeins (100 grams, or 3-1/2 ounces, per skein). The shawl took 9 skeins of yarn, 3 of each primary color. I used the knit stitch with triple strands all the way through, with size 17 needles, getting 3 stitches and 2-1/2 rows to an inch. There are 30 stitches per row.
Shawl in primary colors
I am really enjoying knitting scarves and shawls!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Four Recent Knitting Projects

I would like to show you my four recently completed knitting projects. All of these simply used the knit stitch all the way through, using two strands of yarn, each often of a different color to produce a tweed effect.

The first two projects are shawls knitted with 25% wool / 75% acrylic yarn. Each shawl used three 200-yard skeins (100 grams, or 3-1/2 ounces per skein) of each color. I used size 11 needles and got about 4-1/2 stitches and about 4 rows to an inch.

The first such shawl is blue and maroon. It has 45 stitches to a row.
Blue and maroon shawl
The second such shawl is light blue and white. I started with 45 stitches to a row, but I ended up with 46! I must have inadvertently picked up a stitch along the way!
Light blue and white shawl
The next project is a Mardi Gras-colored shawl knitted with 100% Icelandic wool yarn. It used three 110-yard skeins (100 grams, or 3-1/2 ounces per skein) of each of the three Mardi Gras colors: purple, green, gold. I used size 17 needles and got about 3 stitches and about 2 rows to an inch. Each row has 30 stitches.
Shawl of Mardi Gras colors: purple, green, gold
The fourth project is a teal and magenta scarf knitted with 100% Icelandic wool yarn. It used two 110 yard skeins (100 grams, or 3-1/2 ounces per skein) of each color. I used size 17 needles and got about 3 stitches and about 2 rows to an inch. Each row has 15 stitches.
Teal and magenta scarf
My current project, just begun, is a teal and rose shawl. I also have yarn for two additional shawls: one in pastels of blue, lavendar, green, and yellow, and another in the primary colors of a stronger blue, yellow, and red. I will show you these once I have completed them!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Jury Service: Reflections--What Exactly IS the Responsibility of Jurors?

This post is my third and final reflection on my recent experience of a voir dire during a term of jury service in Orleans Parish Criminal Court. During a voir dire, potential jurors are questioned to determine who will be the best jurors for the particular trial. Although the judge and attorneys at this particular voir dire were polite and friendly with us potential jurors, I still found aspects of the system to be disturbing. This post will focus on the responsibility of jurors.

What exactly IS the responsibility of jurors?


According to the judge at the voir dire in which I participated, jurors are judges only of the FACTS. Jurors are to set aside any consideration of whether the law in question is a fair law or not or whether the sentence (if the defendant should be found guilty) will be a reasonable one or not. The jurors must simply consider the facts by answering this question: Has the evidence presented by the prosecution proved to me, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant did the actions of which he or she is accused? If the answer is yes, the jury is to bring a verdict of guilty; if not, a verdict of not guilty

The case under consideration for this particular voir dire involved a charge of possessing cocaine two years ago in an amount between 28 and 200 grams. Therefore, the jury would be asked to determine whether or not we were convinced beyond a reasonable doubt by the prosecution's evidence that (1) the defendant possessed something on the date in question, (2) the something possessed was cocaine, and (3) the amount of cocaine possessed was between 28 and 200 grams. If yes--guilty. If no--not guilty.

Our feelings and beliefs about whether or not cocaine should be a legal or an illegal drug or  what sentence would likely be given if the defendant should be found guilty were not to enter into our deliberations. We were only to judge the FACTS. The law was the province of the legislature, and any sentence was the province of the judge. The province of the jury was limited to the facts.


I had some serious concerns about the possibility of a prison sentence in the case of a guilty verdict, which I expressed to the judge when I was questioned during the voir dire. Consequently, I was not chosen for the jury.

I strongly suspected that the sentence for possession of between 28 and 200 grams of cocaine would include time in prison, probably the infamous Orleans Parish Prison (the O.P.P). Sending a person to the O.P.P is like sending that person to criminal school. I find this an unreasonable punishment for someone convicted of cocaine possession in this amount. The charge did not include any violent offense and was two years old. In no way did I want to see someone sent to prison, and definitely not the O.P.P., simply for possessing cocaine two years ago.

If the prosecuting attorney were to prove to me beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did indeed possess between 28 and 200 grams of cocaine two years ago, I (as a juror) would (according to the judge) be obliged to find the defendant guilty, even though this would lead to (for me) the unacceptable sentence of a prison term in the O.P.P.

And I have since found that my suspicions about the sentence were right. The website, on its "Louisiana Cocaine Laws" page states:

Any person who knowingly or intentionally possesses twenty-eight grams or more, but less than two hundred grams, of cocaine or of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of cocaine or of its analogues as provided in Schedule II(A)(4) of R.S. 40:964, shall be sentenced to serve a term of imprisonment at hard labor of not less than five years, nor more than thirty years, and to pay a fine of not less than fifty thousand dollars, nor more than one hundred fifty thousand dollars.

Thus, I was correct. In fact, a prison sentence of between 5 and 30 years at hard labor is MANDATED for possession of between 28 and 200 grams of cocaine. I believe that a far more effective sentence for this non-violent offense would be some combination of community service, participation in a drug rehabilitation program, and fine.

Even though the judge had explained that the jury is in no way responsible for sending someone to prison--the sentence being the province of the judge and not the jury--I disagree with this chopping up of responsibilities. If I bring a verdict of guilty for a non-violent drug-possession charge, knowing that the sentence will likely or definitely be a term in prison, then I have most certainly participated in sending someone to prison.

So, again, what exactly IS the responsibility of jurors?


There exists a broader view of juror responsibility--the view said to have been held by the authors of the Constitution of the United States and of the Bill of Rights. This view is presented on the homepage of the Fully Informed Jury Association website:

The primary function of the independent juror is not, as many think, to dispense punishment to fellow citizens accused of breaking various laws, but rather to protect fellow citizens from tyrannical abuses of power by government. The Constitution guarantees you the right to trial by jury. This means that government must bring its case before a jury of The People if government wants to deprive any person of life, liberty, or property. Jurors can say no to government tyranny by refusing to convict.

I believe that we do see government tyranny today when people are charged with crimes for engaging in civil disobedience to protest government injustice. I believe that we see government unreasonableness when people are sentenced to prison for non-violent offenses like drug possession.

The Fully Informed Jury Association explains that it is the responsibility of jurors to exercise their conscience and their judgment beyond the bare facts. Jurors are to be judges, not only of the facts, but also of the law (Is the law a just law?), the sentence (Will the defendant, if found guilty, receive a reasonable sentence?) and any mitigating circumstances (Even if guilty according to the facts, are there mitigating circumstances that lessen or eliminate guilt?). A jury may find a defendant not guilty by virtue of the fact that the law has been found unjust, or the defendant undeserving of the mandated sentence, or the mitigating circumstances sufficient to lessen or eliminate the defendant's guilt.

This seems to me to be the correct understanding of the jurors' responsibility. It is certainly preferable to the narrow understanding promoted by the judge at the voir dire in which I participated. The judge was, in effect, asking us to put aside our consciences and to decide guilty or not guilty solely on the basis of bare facts, regardless of the law's rightness, the sentence's reasonableness, or any mitigating circumstances. I believe that I, as a juror, have the responsibility to refuse to convict in a case of a non-violent drug-possession with an unreasonable mandated prison sentence, in a case of civil disobedience to protest government injustice, in a pre-Civil War case of refusal to return an escaped slave to his or her southern "owner."

I believe that it is extremely important for jurors to use their consciences and their judgment far beyond the bare facts of the case. That a judge would not so instruct the jurors is, to me, highly disturbing.

Jury Service: Reflections--Late Hours

This post continues my reflections on jury service, based on my recent experience as a potential juror in a voir dire in Orleans Parish Criminal Court. Although I felt that we jurors were treated in a respectful and friendly way by the individuals with whom we interacted at the courthouse, I also noticed that the system itself has several disturbing elements. My previous post focused on the prohibition against juror note-taking. This post will focus on late hours.

I was disturbed to find that jury service in Orleans Parish Criminal Court may require hours that are (to my mind) unreasonable. Jury service may require hours that go well into the evening or even well into the night. No one goes home until dismissed by the judge, and the judge may decide to keep going, even though it may be past 10 p.m.

Although I myself was not subjected to late hours during my recent jury service (the latest I was at the courthouse was 3 p.m.), others were subjected to late hours. I find this disturbing, and especially so since the preliminary information one receives from the Orleans Parish Criminal Court about one's coming jury service says NOTHING about the possibility of these late hours. Potential jurors can show up for jury service expecting the day to end by 5 p.m. and find that they are not dismissed until much later. This can pose a serious problem for single parents or for anyone with responsibility for others' care.

Although I am not responsible for the care of others, I see two difficulties for myself with these late hours. First, I am very much a morning lark--not a night owl. The later it gets, the less well I function. If I were expected to deliberate as a juror at 10 p.m., I assure you that the quality of my deliberations would be greatly diminished by fatigue. I find it unreasonable to expect quality work from jurors at such a late hour.

Second, Orleans Parish Criminal Court is located in a dangerous neighborhood. I would have safety concerns about walking back to my car after dark, especially at such a late hour as 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. This concern in the back of my mind would very likely affect the quality of my deliberation. Of course, one can walk to the parking lot together with a number of other jurors and an accompanying deputy, but still, there is the drive through the dangerous neighborhood to get home. Also, not everyone has someone waiting at home to insure that they arrive safely or that a search is conducted immediately if they don't. For some, if they don't make it home safely, this won't be discovered until they don't show up for work the next day--or even later, if they are retired or don't work.

I believe that jurors' days should end at a reasonable hour, such as 5 p.m. Going later into the evening should be a rare occurrence, and going into the night simply shouldn't happen at all. Most important, jurors should be TOLD, in the preliminary jury service information, about the possibility of late hours.

Jury Service: Reflections--No Note-Taking

My previous post provided information about jury service, based on my recent experience as a potential juror at a voir dire in Orleans Parish Criminal Court. During a voir dire, the judge and attorneys explain the case to be tried and question the jurors so that they can choose the best ones for the particular trial. While I found the judge and the attorneys to be polite and friendly with us, I was nonetheless disturbed by some aspects of the system. 

This post will begin a deeper reflection on those disturbing aspects, beginning with the fact that Louisiana law does not allow jurors to take notes.

In Louisiana, jurors may not take notes but must rely on their memories. I find this disturbing. It might be okay for a trial that lasts just a few hours, but some trials go on for days or weeks or even months. Even in a trial of a few hours, though, I believe that notes would greatly improve the effectiveness of the jurors. Here are my own reasons why.

FOCUS. First, taking notes helps tremendously in focusing my attention. If I have to listen for an extended period of time, my mind is apt to wander. Note-taking prevents this.

VISUAL BIAS. Second, I am a very visual person, so seeing something written down, especially if I have written it myself, helps me tremendously in remembering. I remember far more readily what I have seen in print than what I have only heard spoken. When I used to take tests in school, I would often remember the correct answer by visualizing it printed on the page of my textbook or written in my notebook. I would see, for example, a mental image of the correct answer printed in the last paragraph of page 42. Also, when I would memorize piano music, I would actually memorize the printed score; as I played a piece from memory, I was actually reading the score in my mind.

RELIANCE ON NOTES IN DAILY LIFE. Third, my memory is not as good as it was when I was younger, and I find that, in my life in general, I rely more and more on notes. If I want to remember something, it is important for me to write it down.

STRAIN, RESENTMENT, INDIFFERENCE. Fourth, not being allowed to take notes in something as important as serving on a jury would probably have a negative effect on me that would unfold like this. I would be apt to strain very hard to remember what was being said because remembering what unfolds in the trial is so important to the fate of the person on trial and to society in general. That is, it would be horrid to find an innocent person guilty and subject that person to undeserved punishment, and it would also be horrid to find a guilty person not guilty and subject society to the presence of a dangerous individual. So I would work very hard to remember, and this would be mentally and emotionally exhausting. This exhaustion would lead me to resent the system that required me to work so hard to remember when it would be so much easier if I were simply allowed to take notes. This resentment could have some unconscious effect on my perception of the trial. Alternately, I might find the process of remembering without notes to be simply too much and so decide not to try so hard to remember. My attitude in this alternative scenario would be, "Well, if they don't consider a trial to be an important enough occasion for note-taking, why should I strain to remember?" I would just sit back, listen passively, and whatever I remembered, I would remember, and whatever I didn't remember, I wouldn't remember. None of this is conducive to good juror-ship.

I understand that the prohibition against juror note-taking used to be much more widespread, but that now many states allow jurors to take notes. Louisiana, however, does not. One reason given is that note-taking prevents jurors from observing the facial expressions, gestures, and body language of witnesses. Well, an experienced note-taker like myself can easily take notes and observe those things as well. In fact, those non-verbal communications would be an important part of my notes! Another objection to note-taking is that, during jury deliberation, jurors might tend to trust one juror's notes more than another juror's memory. Well, jurors simply need to be reminded that notes can be mistaken just as memory can be mistaken.

To my mind, the reasons in support of juror note-taking far outweigh the reasons against it. I believe that Louisiana law needs to be changed to allow jurors to take notes. When you have an important event where memory is crucial, YOU TAKE NOTES!

My next post will continue my reflections on my experience with jury service.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Jury Service at Orleans Parish Criminal Court: Things to Know

Recently I had my first experience of jury service. This was in Orleans Parish Criminal Court. My schedule required me to show up for four days in a row and to wait in the jury pool until called. On Day 1, I was called for a voir dire but was not chosen for the jury. (During a voir dire, the judge and attorneys explain the case that will be tried and question the potential jurors to see which jurors would be the best ones for this particular trial.) On Days 2, 3, and 4, I simply waited in the jury pool and was dismissed about mid-day. On Day 2, I ran into a colleague who had the same schedule as mine, so we passed the waiting time pleasantly by chatting.

This post will list some things to know about jury service in Orleans Parish Criminal Court. Since I was not chosen for a trial, my experience and information are limited to waiting in the jury pool and attending a voir dire. My next post will reflect more deeply on jury service itself.

INITIAL SUMMONS. I received an initial summons to appear in the jury room to receive my jury schedule. Since I teach and would have been scheduled for the middle of the academic semester, I requested a postponement. This was easily granted. I did have to show up very briefly on the scheduling day, but this could be accomplished during lunch time. I appreciated the friendly and accommodating nature of the staff in providing me with a less disruptive time for jury service.

SCHEDULE. Orleans Parish Criminal Court requires four days of jury service, usually twice a week (Monday & Wednesday or Tuesday & Thursday) for two weeks, but there is also the option (which I was given) to serve all four days in one week. Of course, if one is chosen as a juror for a trial (I wasn't), one may have to serve longer, depending on the length of the trial. In addition, one has to serve all four days. For example, if one is chosen on Monday for a trial that lasts through Wednesday, one will have completed three days of jury service and must still appear for the fourth day to wait in the jury pool.

PARKING. I received a juror parking permit in the mail to hang on my rear view mirror so that I could park for free in one of the nearby parking lots.

ENTRANCE. Entrance is MUCH quicker if one enters through the side door on South Broad Street instead of the main door on Tulane Avenue. At the main door, one will nearly always find a long line and harried guards. 

WAITING ROOMS. There is a large and a small waiting room, where jurors wait to be called. The smaller room is usually designated as a quiet room, but it wasn't quiet while I was there. The larger room was actually quieter. Upon arrival, one signs in and then finds a seat and just waits.

COUNT-DOWN. There are twelve courtrooms in criminal court. In each juror waiting room, there is a screen that initially shows the number 12. As each courtroom acquires the jurors needed for the day or reaches an out-of-court settlement, the number on the screen goes down. When the number reaches 0, the jurors still in the waiting room are dismissed for the day. When this happens, a cheer goes up from the waiting jurors! 

FOOD AND BEVERAGE. Food may be taken into the juror waiting room, but not beverages. Beverages (including water) cannot be taken into the building at all. There is a water dispenser where you can get free water. There are also machines where you can purchase bottled water, soft drinks, and junk food. I heard that there is a sort of cafeteria on the second floor but that the food choices aren't very healthy. It's probably best to take one's own food.

HOURS. This is important because it is not included in the preliminary information sent to potential jurors by mail. It is important to know that there is no clearcut end of the day during jury pool wait time, voir dire, or trial. Potential jurors and jurors can be required to remain at the courhouse until well into the evening or even into the night. It is NOT necessarily the case that one will be able to leave by 5 p.m.

VOIR DIRE. While waiting in the jury pool, one may be called for a voir dire. I was called for a voir dire on Day 1, along with 50 potential jurors, from whom 12 jurors and 2 alternates were to be chosen. (The alternates must attend the entire trial so that they can step in should any of the jurors become incapable.) During this voir dire, the judge and attorneys explained the case to us and questioned us to see who would be the best jurors for this particular trial. I felt that the explanation and questioning were done in a friendly way.

NOTE TAKING. I learned that jurors are not allowed to take notes during voir dire or during a trial. Jurors are required to rely on their memory. I find this odd.

JURY SERVICE VERIFICATION FOR EMPLOYER. If needed, a juror can receive a jury service verification slip to give to his or her employer. This must be requested and obtained at the end of each day of jury service.

STAFF. The staff in the juror waiting rooms were friendly and helpful.

This post has provided some information about jury service in Orleans Parish. My next post will reflect more deeply on jury service.