Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Dreaming in Stress

This week I have been anxious in my dreams.

From the mild- dreaming that I arrived in Madison to visit my sister and realizing that I hadn’t packed any makeup or my pills. Or dreaming that I got an adorable new kitten but then realizing that my socially-challenged, special needs, 8-year-old cat would flip out at the introduction of a sibling.

To the more moderate, dreaming that my teeth are falling out.

To extreme levels of anxiety. Two separate dreams last night: in one my father was arrested and charged with murder. In the second Mohammad was arrested and charged with murder.

Perhaps its related to current stress levels associated with the final days of the Georgia General Assembly.

Last week with no warning, the House added the worst possible death penalty language to a bill moments before it was to be voted on. We managed to get the bad language removed the following day, but the stress of that 48 hours likely shaved a year or two off of my life.

Today in a committee meeting, a crazy legislator tried to amend a bill about dog-fighting to turn it into a horrendous anti-abortion measure that would provide for the death penalty for doctors who perform abortions.

No wonder I’m having nightmares.

Monday, March 24, 2008

25 years later and I'm still Thrilled

A great surprise this weekend came in the form of a gift of my very own copy of the 25th Anniversary Edition of Michael Jackson's Thriller.

I love the remixes - Akon's Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' and Fergie singing along with Michael's old vocals on Beat It. But's PYT remix by far takes the sequined glove.

Listening to those old songs (the album got played four and a half times through just on Saturday) was wonderful. I remembered listening to the old record at the house in Skokie that my parents rented when we were so young. In our shared bedroom, Reem and I had a hott poster of Michael wearing the red zipper Beat It jacket on a neon purple background.

I had exactly the same experience this weekend that I had as a child when I felt terror creep through my body at the opening notes of Thriller and the sound of Vincent Price's voice. I shudder now thinking about it. I screamed for a while. And then when I realized that this special 25th Anniversary release included a bonus DVD featuring the Thriller video I screamed a whole lot more knowing that it must now live in my house.

Those scary cat-eye contacts that he wears at the end of the video are permanently branded in my brain and the zombie dance still makes me feel like running out of the room.

Different from the old days of listening to this album now is a new understand of some of the lyrics due to recent events. For example, I now have absolutely no doubt that Billie Jean, was in fact, not his Michael's lover. And the true story comes clear in that Michael was simply being Paul McCartney's wingman and indeed not interested in that doggone girl.

I absolutely still do get a choked up at his sweet soft vocals on Human Nature. Michael will never lose that for me. Even if he is more like one of our clients than the King of Pop these days.

More Tornado Damage

This building catches my eye each time I go to my office. It's the Westin Peachtree Plaza Hotel, the second tallest building in Atlanta. The view here is from Cone Street.

The black spots all over the building are windows that were knocked out by the tornado last week.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A Great One from the US Supremes

On December 4, 2007, I had the great privilege of traveling to Washington DC to witness my wonderful colleague and mentor, Steve Bright, brilliantly argue a death penalty case to the US Supreme Court.

Steve was representing Allen Snyder, an African American man who was sentenced to death by an all-white jury in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana in August 1996.

I marveled and choked back tears as Steve made friends of usual enemies, Justices Scalia and Alito. It was by far one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

I’m happy to share that this morning the US Supreme Court came back with a 7-2 decision in Mr. Snyder’s favor!

Getting the Supreme Court to reverse a death sentence is reason enough to jump up and down in the halls, but not only did Steve get Kennedy, but he got both Alito and Roberts as well. What’s more, Alito’s decision is written in such a way that it will be widely applicable to future cases. Alito’s decision followed Steve’s oral argument step by step and found that the prosecutor’s justification for striking Mr. Brooks from the jury were ‘highly speculative’ and ‘suspicious’.”

The New York Times quotes Steve commenting on the ruling that

“the court has resoundingly told judges and prosecutors throughout the country that the practice of striking people from jury service based on their race must cease.”

“This decision tells trial judges not to allow prosecutors to strike most or all people of one race in selecting juries,” Mr. Bright said. “And it tells prosecutors that if they discriminate in selecting juries, any conviction they get may be reversed on appeal.”

Nina Totenberg with NPR’s All Things Considered did a pretty great piece that can be listened to here.

I am so grateful to my coworkers for their dedication to fighting the death penalty, and for making this wonderful victory possible. I am so proud, so honored to be part of this great work.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Goodbye Two-Headed Pegasus

Its no secret that I love street art. I am drawn to the ones that are pink, blue, and are designs that make me smile. One of my favorite pieces - besides the Blah Girls of course - is this two-headed pegasus/donkey/kangaroo playful beast that was wheat-pasted on the Marta wall on Wylie Street in Cabbagetown. Its been there for at least 6 months and I grin every time I drive by it.

Just about two weeks ago I finally pulled over to take a picture of it:

I had meant to document it ages ago and despite always having my camera in my purse, just never stopped the car to shoot it.

I'm so glad I stopped that afternoon a couple weeks ago, because as I drove down Wylie Street this afternoon, I saw that the Two-Headed Beast got blown away with the tornado.

Goodbye, Sweet Beast! Thank you to your creator for the many, many Cabbagetown smiles you brought me.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Tornado in Cabbagetown #2

Thank you so much to all of you, my darling friends and family who have called and emailed to check on me and my Atlanta friends after last night's tornado. I deeply appreciate your concern and loving words. I'm grateful to say that I am fine, my house is fine, and (clearly since I am blogging) my neighborhood even has power.

It's not as good in other areas very close to me though. I can't even imagine what Katrina must have been like. What happened in Atlanta last night is a teeny-tiny fraction of what NOLA dealt with, is still dealing with. Yet the damage here blows my mind.

My wonderful friend and co-worker Charlotta wrote of her experience being downtown last night when the tornado hit:

We were at a play at Theatrical Outfit - right around the corner from the office on Luckie Street. We left the play a few seconds before the storm hit, having just taken a few steps down the street. We had an extremely difficult and dangerous time getting around the corners to our office. As we were trying to unlock the door, tables and chairs from Slice were tumbling down the street. The awning from the Mark, flew off and landed across the street in the "moat" which is around the 11th Circus. [11th Circuit Court of Appeals]

Precious Mica's roof blew off; she is okay, thank goodness. The top floor of the Fulton Cotton Mill lofts is demolished. Everywhere you look in Cabbagetown roofs are missing in in some of their places are tarps. Trees block streets every which way.

I've had a migraine since yesterday morning. Despite the handfuls of ibuprofen I've taken, I can't seem to shake it. There is this strange strange energy in the air and I just can't shake this nervous feeling. My body is so tense.

When it has been sunny today the sunlight has been crazy through the storm clouds. Like in these pictures taken in Grant Park early this afternoon:

And then the strange dark sun would disappear and it would rain again. The the sun would emerge but the next thing we knew there was hail. It's a strange day in Atlanta.

Some lyrics are rollin in my head: "what if all tomorrow brings is ashes and glass..."

The Tornado in Cabbagetown

I'm having a hard time making sense of last night's tornado that plowed through downtown and Cabbagetown. Walking and driving around today showed me how extensive the damage is in our neighborhood. These pictures do not do it justice; I took most of them out of a car window. For far better pictures, check out the AJC's Cabbagetown Gallery.

The first place I wanted to check was Oakland Cemetery.

This is taken from the front gate- the Cemetery is totaly closed due to trees being down and debris everywhere.

A closer shot of the many trees blocking the path into the Cemetery.

On Memorial Drive, there is damage everywhere. Where windows didn't explode from the windows, they were shattered by flying debris.

The repairs are beginning in some places. Corkboard and pywood is replacing what used to be windows that were destroyed by the tornado.

Every little street you peek down in Cabbagetown looks like this- trees barricading the road, people trying to make sense of the damage.

This is the same wall pictured in the banner at the top of my blog. Notice the tree pulled up by its roots and the Blah Girl on the emergency call box.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Possum Love?!?

My friend Lori is a crazy person I think. Like Bjork or Amy Sedaris or maybe my sister during long Wisconsin winters.

Lori writes lovingly about her own encounter voluntarily petting a possum on what would have otherwise been a lovely trip to North Georgia.

When I call her out on this sick, sick behavior and point her to my own personal experience with marsupial americans, she posts this picture in response. Not just petting the possum, but hugging it.

I just vomitted a little in my mouth. Sick dude, sick.

And now to change the subject from giant rodents to something far more pleasant for both me and you, my dear readers, here's a brand new Blah Girl shot by the lovely Ela on Wylie Street in Reynoldstown. I can't wait to see her live!

The Sad Side of the Capitol

In addition to political, geographic and faith-based distinctions between folks at the Georgia State Capitol, those of us who spend the legislative session under the Gold Dome are also defined by which side of the Capitol we inhabit. The Mitchell Street side is where the corporate, rich, for-profit lobbyists spend their days. The MLK side –by the double elevators of course- is where my folks, the progressive nonprofit types hang.

I learned today from a republican legislator that the side of the Capitol where my allies and I spend our time is known as the “sad side of the hall.” Apparently we are known for standing in front of the monitors while watching what’s going on inside the chambers with big ol’ frowns on our faces. Hell, can you blame us? We spend our days watching perfectly good legislation tank and awful, hurtful legislation crossing the finish line faster than Dale Earnhardt Jr.

I never felt like our side was sad at all- I love the people I’m surrounded by on a daily basis on that side of the building: women’s advocates, environmentalists, advocates for gun safety, immigrant rights folks, people who watch out for the well-being of children’s education, safety and healthcare. Essentially, the folks that share my own values and views.

These are the people who do not have teams of people keeping their eyes on their legislation, interns to fetch bills or beverages, or assistants back at their offices keeping their practice running while they are gone for 3 months. They spend hours upon thankless hours advocating for what is right but likely doesn’t have a chance in hell of getting anywhere under our current conservative regime. There is incredible solidarity on our side of the hallway; I’ve been lucky enough to make wonderful friends there.

Not sad at all, really.

Today was the 30th day of the Georgia legislative session- the notoriously long crossover day that is the deadline for bills to pass out of the House from which they originated from. At around 8pm after many hours of debate, the Speaker announced that they would break for dinner for 30 minutes. Shelley and I quickly run out of the building to find some sustenance to help us make it through the final hours.

Much to our dismay, the one place that is open within a block of the Capitol closed at 8. As we watched the guy lock the door I could here the sad, mocking music in my head “wa, wa, waaaaah”. So we schlep another few blocks to awful Atlanta Underground and wait too long for too expensive too greasy sandwiches that we have to get to-go and then run back up the hill to the Capitol. At least we got cocktails in to-go cups too. A girl’s gotta take care of herself in these difficult times you know.

We get back to our side of the hall which now seems quite dark. Our comrades are splayed about on metal folding chairs dragged underneath the monitor so we can rest our tired feet. Everyone looks exhausted and yes, a little pathetic.

From where we settle down to eat our crappy dinner, we can see through the center of the Capitol on The Other Side. And then we hear music. And see musicians. And dancers.

The Other Side has an effing bluegrass band playing for entertainment and there are children dancing in circles for the amusement of lobbyists- to keep their spirits up, you know. How lovely for them.

Upon further exploration, we also determine that there are boxes from the Varsity filled with hot dogs, hamburgers and fries being passed out to all the folks standing around. You can almost see a golden orb circling the dude in the paper Varsity hat who stands on top of the mound of bright red and white boxes, tossing them out like Santa Clause sharing gifts. Ice is clinking in cocktails. Angels are singing for god’s sake. Okay so maybe I’m exaggerating- but its my blog so suck it.

On my side of the hallway, people are eating chocolate-covered raisins that the sweet House aide who pities us passed out, referring to them as “fruit”. And I reflect on our ridiculous journey to get food and make it back in time to make sure that our bills don't get hijacked by sneaky legislators. Oh, yes. I see it now. We ARE sad!

Jeez, yet again a Republican tells me accurately what my reality is – before I even know it to be true- during this m-effing Georgia legislative session.

I could speak from my heart and say something sappy that would wrap up this blog nicely. Something along the lines that I would take chocolate-covered raisins, metal chairs, and Shelley, Sandy and Alice a million times over free food and politics for profit.

But I think I’d rather remind folks that Rep James Mills thinks there’s a country called Irania. And that half the people up here use the words “fiscal” and “physical” interchangeably. And that they want to pass laws to allow them to bring their guns to church. And ban birth control pills for all women.

Yeah, I’m happy by the double elevators.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

A Blah Girl in Athens

I was so excited to recieve evidence of the existance of a new Blah Girl from my darling friend Red-Handed Jill.

Jill found her in Athens. Makes me think its probably time that I go east to visit Athens and two girls that I love indeed.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Grizzly Bears and Ring Mistresses

On a couple different occasions lately I’ve seen programs about Alaska’s polar and grizzly bears. I learned that when they are ready to hibernate, they actually dig a den out of snow. I had always assumed that they found a pre-existing cave or something.

Both grizzlies and polar bears pick a spot and use their massive paws to shovel out a cocoon for them to lie in. As they sleep for the winter, the snow falls and covers their top side enveloping the bears completely. Eventually, they break through their shell and emerge skinny, hungry and eager into spring.

I felt like a grizzly bear waking up this morning.

I slept almost 15 hours last night- a huge feat for a girl who usually sleeps about 5 hours a night. I got home and dove under my down quilt, covered myself completely and slept instantly- also a rare occurrence. When I woke up I rubbed my eyes open (sealed by black eyeliner not snowflakes) I saw that my Cranberry, my inhaler and the remote were all in the exact same spot that I laid them, indicating that I slept all 15 hours without moving. My stomach growls loudly; I look in the mirror and note that I am a bit more pale than usual.

This is what the legislative session does to me. This week it was exacerbated by having to cope with being sick and not having the opportunity to rest and get well. I have been running nonstop for the last two weeks; I didn’t get to take more than a couple hours off last weekend. This is because one of our highest priority pieces of legislation was being considered in the House this week.

This issue is one that is defined by those who have spent far more years than I have struggling. Their work was to move to Georgia to a place where the State would fulfill Gideon’s 35 year-old promise and provide for poor peoples’ constitutional right to an attorney when accused of a crime.

We passed huge legislation to reform the public defender system in 2003, one of if not the most significant victory in my life. However now just five years later, we are faced with an indigent defense crisis complete with forces that want to destroy this good but young and struggling system by bankrupting it and tearing down its structure.

I’m moderately happy to share that they only got half as much of the bad stuff they wanted this week as a result of our efforts. The nature of my work is one that my victories are often defined less by outright wins like that of the new public defender system, but more often by successfully making horrible proposals slightly less horrible.

The coalition of people involved in this effort is unreal. High-powered, rich, white male lawyers, high-powered moderately rich, white male legislators, law professors, civil rights leaders, families of people whose lives have been deeply broken by the criminal justice system, my beautiful coworkers and me.

I find myself once again in the position I was in 5 years ago of conducting this out-of-tune, out-of-practice orchestra. Last time I was more of the stand-in substitute Conductor, like the one who would run rehearsals leading up to the big show while the real Conductor made out with the star violinist in the dressing room. This year though it’s come down to just me.

I think I’d rather be a Ring Mistress running a three-ring circus that certainly resembles the Legislature, though. The costume would be way better than a Conductor's. I’m thinking red sequins.

Anyway, in addition to learning about hibernation practices of Alaskan bears this week, I also learned the exact combination of over-the-counter drugs that will allow a sick person to stay on her feet and well enough to fight the Man (both her opposition and her supposed allies).

The recipe is a revolving cycle of Musinex D (the kind that you have to sign for behind the counter because it contains pseudoephedrine that can be used to make meth) every 10-12 hours, Sudafed every 3-4 hours, Advil as you need it (around 3-4 times a day) and a 2-3 packets of Emergen-C. I swear by this magical potion. I would not have gotten through this week without it.

So like a bear coming out of my slumber today, I yawned big and stretched big. I not only found that an Op Ed I had ghost-wrote was published on the front page of the Macon newspaper (Justice for Some is Not Justice at All), but that it is almost 60 degrees out! I woke from my sleep with a day of my own and it is Spring.

Time to go to the Vortex for a burger with Tiffani!