How Will Marijuana Use Affect Your Child Custody Case

How Will Marijuana Use Affect Your Child Custody Case in New York State?

How Will Marijuana Use Affect Your Child Custody Case in New York State by Joshua Katz

A lot of people don’t realize that New York State became the 23rd state to legalize the medical use of marijuana. We still don’t know – and probably won’t know for a couple of years – who will be allowed to prescribe it and for what illnesses. Medical marijuana will only be prescribed as a pill or through vaporization, and will not be legal to smoke.

A proposal was made by Senator Liz Krueger earlier this year to legalize recreational marijuana in New York. This would mean you could:

  • enjoy marijuana;
  • grow up to six marijuana plants at home for personal use; and
  • possess up to two ounces of marijuana.

The reason this is important is that marijuana has been prohibited in New York for over forty years – prohibition lasted only thirteen years – and over those forty years, the use of marijuana has not declined. It has resulted in 20 million arrests, costing the state tremendous tax dollars and losing the taxes which could have been charged, like the taxes charged on liquor.

So people are smoking marijuana, and it’s not a big deal to the point that the state may legalize it. So then, what’s the big deal if a mother or a father tests positive for marijuana while going through a custody dispute?

The answer: “It’s really not a big deal.” Marijuana is now treated very similarly to alcohol. A positive test is insufficient proof of any sort of neglect.

Brooklyn Family Court recently dismissed a child neglect case filed by ACS. Despite a positive drug test for marijuana, the court ruled that there was no proof of intoxication and no proof of any danger to the child. Therefore, the neglect was dismissed.

If you’re going through a custody dispute, and marijuana use is alleged, in order to be important, you must prove that the other party smokes, ingests or vaporizes marijuana to the point of intoxication; and that they do so while the child or children are entrusted in their care.

** Joshua Katz does not endorse the use of marijuana or any other recreational drugs.

Tax Time 2015

For all of you who do your own accounting here is a link from the IRS explaining the most commonly asked questions for divorcing parents during tax season.

Disclaimer: This is not tax advice and we never give tax advice.  Contact your accountant for important filing information.


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Anything You Say on Facebook Can & Will Be Used Against You in a Court Of Law

How Facebook Could Ruin Your Case

facebook, twitter, social media, blog

Like the perpetually feuding families the Hatfields and the Mccoys, attorney Mitch Jackson’s client and his neighbors were involved in an ongoing dispute since September 2007. The neighbors had dumped trash into the client’s yard on a number of occasions and verbally harassed them while crossing paths within the community. The last straw was when the abusive neighbors injured the client’s dog, resulting in some hefty vet bills. Jackson’s clients decided to sue.

To win the case, Jackson, who is a senior partner at the Jackson and Wilson law firm in Orange County, would need to show the jury that the neighbors had a history of harassing his client with vulgar threats. But when the defendant took the stand, he testified that it was not in his character to use such crude and profane language. That’s when Jackson pulled up the defendant’s Facebook page.

“We had photocopied his Facebook wall, where he had posted general derogatory comments,” Jackson says. “When we did that, he tried to explain how that could not constitute the type of language we had attributed to him earlier.”

  • Attorneys can mine your Facebook and Twitter accounts for evidence.
  • Deleting your social media accounts during trial can result in penalties.
  • Your lawyer should counsel you on how to use social media while your case is ongoing.

The jury ended up awarding Jackson’s plaintiff more than $430,000 in damages. Speaking to the jury after the trial, Jackson discovered the Facebook wall postings were a key factor in diminishing the defendant’s credibility.

Jackson’s case illustrates how social media, like Facebook and Twitter, are changing the legal landscape for defendants and plaintiffs alike. With so much personal information voluntarily being made public, it’s no surprise things like wall posts and Tweets are showing up as evidence in court. And Jackson says this is something that all lawyers and consumers need to be cognizant of.

Be Careful What You Post

Over the last few years, social media sites have blown up in a big way. According to Facebook, there are more than 800 million active users on the site’s network, with more than half of these users logging into the site each day. On average, more than 250 million photos are uploaded to the site each day, while the average user is connected to more than 80 community pages, groups and events. Meanwhile, Twitter sees more than 1 billion Tweets posted per week, with an average of about 140 million per day.

“Anytime you are trying a case, it is the trial attorney’s obligation and duty to accumulate as much information as he or she can to support the client’s case or defend against it,” Jackson says. “Many trial lawyers today are learning as much as they can about the parties and the witnesses through social media sites. And what people need to understand is that this information doesn’t simply evaporate into thin air after it leaves your screen. It can be mined, analyzed and reviewed in civil and criminal cases.”

Jackson sites an example where a high school varsity football playersuffered brain injuries during the course of a game. The player had alerted a coach to a malfunction with his helmet before taking the field, but the coach allegedly brushed off the problem and instructed the student to play. The case was complicated by the fact that by the time the player sued, he had gone to college where pictures of him fraternizing and partying were taken and posted to his Facebook page.

“These pictures gave the wrong impression as to the severity of his diagnosed brain injury,” Jackson says. “But I happened to know he was seeking extensive care for those injuries, which affected a number of things including his ability to concentrate in school.”

Jackson was careful not to instruct the student to take down his Facebook photos, a measure which could be construed as tampering with evidence. This kind of evidence tampering is referred to asspoliation in many states and can result in serious penalties. Instead, Jackson counseled his client to not post any new information on his Facebook page while the trial was ongoing.

Making Social Media Work for You

This proliferation of evidence isn’t all bad, says Jackson. Plaintiffs and defendants can use social media sites to their advantage by using these networks to promote their side of the case.

“People can use social media sites to share their stories accurately and truthfully,” Jackson says. “As long as you have a message to share and it is honest, social media can actually have beneficial ramifications.”

Jackson encourages his lawyer colleagues to consider leveraging the power of social media sites to benefit their clients. As Internet access becomes more ubiquitous with the rise of smartphones, the public, and even jurors, are more likely to conduct their own research into a case. Jackson says you may as well put forth your side of the story.

“This is something that lawyers need to look at for planting seeds for truthful information so that if somebody, for whatever reason, chooses to go online and research facts and issues concerning a case, you may be able to direct them toward accurate information,” he says.

Jackson says that although individuals need to be aware of the consequences of posting to social media sites, the obligation to remind them of these ramifications falls on the shoulders of their attorneys.

“Lawyers need to counsel their clients about social media and to instruct them to either stop posting or to update their accounts with honest information about their case,” Jackson says. “Also, people should not post anything that references their injury, accident or dispute without first talking to their attorneys.”



SEPTEMBER 10, 2013



No one joins Facebook to be sad and lonely. But a new study from the University of Michigan psychologist Ethan Kross argues that that’s exactly how it makes us feel. Over two weeks, Kross and his colleagues sent text messages to eighty-two Ann Arbor residents five times per day. The researchers wanted to know a few things: how their subjects felt overall, how worried and lonely they were, how much they had used Facebook, and how often they had had direct interaction with others since the previous text message. Kross found that the more people used Facebook in the time between the two texts, the less happy they felt—and the more their overall satisfaction declined from the beginning of the study until its end. The data, he argues, shows that Facebook was making them unhappy.

Research into the alienating nature of the Internet—and Facebook in particular—supports Kross’s conclusion. In 1998, Robert Kraut, a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, found that the more people used the Web, the lonelier and more depressed they felt. After people went online for the first time, their sense of happiness and social connectedness dropped, over one to two years, as a function of how often they used the Internet.

Lonelier people weren’t inherently more likely to go online, either; a recent review of some seventy-five studies concluded that “users of Facebook do not differ in most personality traits from nonusers of Facebook.” (Nathan Heller wrote about loneliness in the magazine last year.) But, somehow, the Internet seemed to make them feel more alienated. A 2010 analysis of forty studies also confirmed the trend: Internet use had a small, significant detrimental effect on overall well-being. One experiment concluded that Facebook could even cause problems in relationships, by increasing feelings of jealousy.

Another group of researchers has suggested that envy, too, increases with Facebook use: the more time people spent browsing the site, as opposed to actively creating content and engaging with it, the more envious they felt. The effect, suggested Hanna Krasnova and her colleagues, was a result of the well-known social-psychology phenomena of social comparison. It was further exacerbated by a general similarity of people’s social networks to themselves: because the point of comparison is like-minded peers, learning about the achievements of others hits even harder. The psychologist Beth Anderson and her colleagues argue, in a recent review of Facebook’s effects, that using the network can quickly become addictive, which comes with a nagging sense of negativity that can lead to resentment of the network for some of the same reasons we joined it to begin with. We want to learn about other people and have others learn about us—but through that very learning process we may start to resent both others’ lives and the image of ourselves that we feel we need to continuously maintain. “It may be that the same thing people find attractive is what they ultimately find repelling,” said the psychologist Samuel Gosling, whose research focusses on social-media use and the motivations behind social networking and sharing.

But, as with most findings on Facebook, the opposite argument is equally prominent. In 2009, Sebastián Valenzuela and his colleagues came to the opposite conclusion of Kross: that using Facebook makes us happier. They also found that it increases social trust and engagement—and even encourages political participation. Valenzuela’s findings fit neatly with what social psychologists have long known about sociality: as Matthew Lieberman argues in his book “Social: Why Our Brains are Wired to Connect,” social networks are a way to share, and the experience of successful sharing comes with a psychological and physiological rush that is often self-reinforcing. The prevalence of social media has, as a result, fundamentally changed the way we read and watch: we think about how we’ll share something, and whom we’ll share it with, as we consume it. The mere thought of successful sharing activates our reward-processing centers, even before we’ve actually shared a single thing.

Virtual social connection can even provide a buffer against stress and pain: in a 2009 study, Lieberman and his colleagues demonstrated that a painful stimulus hurt less when a woman either held her boyfriend’s hand or looked at his picture; the pain-dulling effects of the picture were, in fact, twice as powerful as physical contact. Somehow, the element of distance and forced imagination—a mental representation in lieu of the real thing, something that the psychologists Wendi Gardner and Cindy Pickett call “social snacking”—had an anesthetic effect‚ one we might expect to carry through to an entire network of pictures of friends.

The key to understanding why reputable studies are so starkly divided on the question of what Facebook does to our emotional state may be in simply looking at what people actually do when they’re on Facebook. “What makes it complicated is that Facebook is for lots of different things—and different people use it for different subsets of those things. Not only that, but they are alsochanging things, because of people themselves changing,” said Gosling. A 2010 study from Carnegie Mellon found that, when people engaged in direct interaction with others—that is, posting on walls, messaging, or “liking” something—their feelings of bonding and general social capital increased, while their sense of loneliness decreased. But when participants simply consumed a lot of content passively, Facebook had the opposite effect, lowering their feelings of connection and increasing their sense of loneliness.

In an unrelated experiment from the University of Missouri, a group of psychologists found a physical manifestation of these same effects. As study participants interacted with the site, four electrodes attached to the areas just above their eyebrows and just below their eyes recorded their facial expressions in a procedure known as facial electromyography. When the subjects were actively engaged with Facebook, their physiological response measured a significant uptick in happiness. When they were passively browsing, however, the positive effect disappeared.

This aligns with research conducted earlier this year by John Eastwood and his colleagues at York University in a meta-analysis of boredom. What causes us to feel bored and, as a result, unhappy? Attention. When our attention is actively engaged, we aren’t bored; when we fail to engage, boredom sets in. As Eastwood’s work, along with recent research on media multitasking, have illustrated, the greater the number of things we have pulling at our attention, the less we are able to meaningfully engage, and the more discontented we become.

In other words, the world of constant connectivity and media, as embodied by Facebook, is the social network’s worst enemy: in every study that distinguished the two types of Facebook experiences—active versus passive—people spent, on average, far more time passively scrolling through newsfeeds than they did actively engaging with content. This may be why general studies of overall Facebook use, like Kross’s of Ann Arbor residents, so often show deleterious effects on our emotional state. Demands on our attention lead us to use Facebook more passively than actively, and passive experiences, no matter the medium, translate to feelings of disconnection and boredom.

In ongoing research, the psychologist Timothy Wilson has learned, as he put it to me, that college students start going “crazy” after just a few minutes in a room without their phones or a computer. “One would think we could spend the time mentally entertaining ourselves,” he said. “But we can’t. We’ve forgotten how.” Whenever we have downtime, the Internet is an enticing, quick solution that immediately fills the gap. We get bored, look at Facebook or Twitter, and become more bored. Getting rid of Facebook wouldn’t change the fact that our attention is, more and more frequently, forgetting the path to proper, fulfilling engagement. And in that sense, Facebook isn’t the problem. It’s the symptom.

Maria Konnikova is the author of the New York Times best-seller “Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes.” She has a Ph.D. in psychology from Columbia University.

Photograph by Luong Thai Linh/EPA/Corbis



Alimony…Once More With Feeling

Understanding the intersection of human emotion and economic theory will help you serve your clients better as they navigate disagreements during marriage and during divorce.

Justin A. Reckers and Robert A. Simon, 08/15/2013

Psychological, financial, and legal professionals who work with clients going through the divorce process recognize the importance of assisting them to think strategically about financial decisions and how to avoid allowing emotions to unduly and inappropriately cloud their vision. Emotions readily and often inappropriately influence rational decision-making, and divorce evokes profound emotions that often de-rail economically rational decision-making in the midst of the upheaval.

Experience in practice as well as attention to the divorce literature results in more insight into the kinds of disagreements that lead couples to divorce in the first place. We now have research-derived empirical evidence that disagreements over financial matters are the leading cause of divorce across all socioeconomic levels in the United States. It turns out disparate values around money and the meaning attributed to money are more difficult to navigate than arguments about sex, household chores, child rearing, or offensive in-laws. More often than not, the disagreements had during marriage will spill over into divorce negotiations and possibly persist long after the judgment of dissolution is entered and spouses are officially divorced.

Understanding the intersection of human emotion and economic theory will help you, the advisor, to serve your clients better as they navigate disagreements during marriage and during divorce.

Couples often make an economic decision to have one party postpone the development of their career in the interest of rearing the children at home. It saves day-care costs and hopefully allows hands-on parenting. The decision of who will be the stay-at-home parent is also an economic one based simply on comparative advantage. Whoever has a more stable job, a more promising career path, and/or and the ability to make more money is probably going to be the one working. The individual staying at home is likely to be the person whose income prospects are not as bright as the working spouse.

When the marriage ends this joint arrangement, interesting and complex things can happen. The non-working or stay-at-home party will probably find that he or she can no longer afford to remain out of the work force.  Thus, this parent must return to the labor market after being a stay-at-home parent.

For many, this is a recipe for disaster. They may need to go back to college to retrain in order to find work or take a position working for minimum wage. On the other hand, for the spouse who has been working, there is often a feeling of being exploited. They have worked and earned an income. Because of this, they now are in the position of having to pay a portion of that income to their soon-to-be former spouse. If the working parent happens to be someone who owns their own business, they may also end up having to buy out their spouse’s portion of the value of the business and support the spouse as well. No wonder many couples choose not to get divorced due to the negative financial consequences.

Enter alimony.

Alimony is a simple economic concept. It acts as an extension of the lifestyle that was enjoyed during marriage in order to protect individuals and families with disparate incomes. Alimony is not just for full-time homemakers. Working individuals are often awarded alimony in circumstances where their former spouse earns considerably more.

When making an alimony award, courts are asked to look at statutory factors (aka the law)–including, but not limited to, the “battlegrounds” detailed below–then develop, as the State of New York puts it, “nuanced treatment of the parties’ individualized circumstances.”


1. Income available for support payments. The more money a person makes, the more difficult it becomes to determine what they really have available. Are stock options available for support? How about an automobile allowance from an employer?

2. Ability of supported party to earn an income of their own. Should a party who spent 18 years as a full-time parent and homemaker be expected to re-enter the workforce? If so, when, and how much can they earn?

3. Needs of the supported party. Just how much does a middle-class Midwestern homemaker need? How about a Los Angeles socialite? Does the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage play a role?

4. Duration of the payments. How long will the payments last? This is usually the most contentious conflict. In many states it could be “permanent” in the case of a long-term marriage.

As you may have guessed, the payer wants to pay as little as possible for as short a time period as possible. The payee wants as much as possible for as long as possible. Every dollar moved to one party is a dollar the other party loses. Interestingly, there is research that suggests that women who are in a position to be the alimony payer (i.e., who are the higher earner) fight far harder to keep their obligation in check than their male counterparts.

The Ambiguity Problem
The entire process of determining the amount and duration of an alimony order is rife with ambiguity and a lack of precision. What does “nuanced treatment of the parties’ individualized circumstances” mean?

It basically means that a judge is required to look at all the factors presented by the lawyers on each side of the case and make a judgment call. Leaving this judgment call in the hands of the judge scares most people and leaves them hoping the judge will get it right (that is, see things their way). We should all educate our clients from operating on this assumption, because what they think is right may not resonate with their spouse or the judge. This ambiguity and the long-term nature of alimony payments can make it the most difficult piece of a divorce to settle.

Practice Tips
Following are some strategies you may consider employing as you help clients through this difficult process:

1. The Installment Sale: We find it helpful when working with clients to think of alimony as payment for the non-working spouse’s interest in a “partnership” that was developed during marriage. They are being bought out of the “business” they helped create via an earn-out style installment sale. Note that this concept is not meant to imply a real business partnership or going concern. Instead, we suggest that you help your client conceptualize the marriage as if it were a business partnership or going concern.

2. Considering Options: We find it helpful when working with clients to remind them that, if they both choose, their settlement can be different than what a judge would order. We then help to develop creative options for their consideration. The strategic thinking required in the creation of these options helps to draw a client out of the minutiae of the statutory guidelines and remove the ambiguity. In fact, there is abundant empirical evidence showing that when people create their own outcomes and are the authors of their own decisions, conflict decreases and feelings of efficacy, empowerment, and well-being increase.

Remember, clients can choose to settle their case however they wish. The dictates of the law only come into play when matters are put directly before the court. When negotiating divorce settlements, including alimony, consider the law as a potential guide but not a book of “musts” or “rules.”

3. Taking Control: Many clients have feelings of helplessness when leaving their future in the hands of a judge. Engaging clients in settlement discussions and helping them conceptualize long-term outcomes remove feelings of helplessness. We often couch it as taking control of your financial future. Part of taking control is taking the decision-making power out of judges’ hands. Alternative dispute resolution models such as collaborative divorce and mediation are great options for divorce proceedings. These processes have self-determination at their core. Clients can also take control of a litigated process by engaging in settlement conferences.

Over the coming months, we will take a more detailed look at some real life decision-making processes that unravel during a divorce, including cash-flow management, small business management, financial infidelity, retirement planning, and legacy planning through the eyes of clients navigating the most chaotic time in their lives.


Divorce and the Grieving Process

Divorce and the Grieving Process

Posted: 07/08/2013 7:39 pm
While there may be disagreement regarding whether or not divorce in and of itself is damaging to children, the more the adults argue, especially about the children, the more likely it is that the children will be unnecessarily harmed by the divorce. The accumulated research in the field of divorce indicates that what takes place during and after a divorce can damage children. The adversarial process has a much greater potential of causing parental conflict or otherwise exacerbating it both during and after the divorce process. To the extent that parental conflict, especially about the children, harms children, the adversarial process can be seen as presenting a greater risk to children than other methods of becoming divorced. In essence, by using an adversarial approach, we increase the likelihood and level of conflict. Meanwhile, constructive and cooperative co-parenting is far less likely with ongoing conflict.

As with death, divorce brings in its wake stress, grief, fear and loss. In fact, the psychological community views divorce as a stress or grief process. They recognize that a cycle of conflict is predictable, when someone fails to grieve the losses associated with divorce. They also know that it is much more likely that the conflict will persist unless and until the grief has been resolved. As a result, such individuals are more likely to litigate intensely and repeatedly. Unfortunately, by emphasizing the legal battle, the divorce process tends to interfere with the grieving process.

In her book titled The Good Karma Divorce, Judge Michele Lowrance states “Moving forward with your life is critical to the process of healing. A court battle requires freezing at the stage of blame and fault. The debate escalates in court, focusing on who did what to whom. Character maligning becomes the focus rather than problem solving. This has an effect on you (and your relationship with your former spouse) that will last well beyond the end of the trial. Many people have told me years later that they wished they had never gone to trial because of how much it hurt them and their family.”

It occurs to me that many lawyers believe that the conflict will be resolved once the parties reach an agreement or the Court otherwise makes its orders. This is a distinction between dispute resolution and conflict resolution and it is more than semantics.

In Germany, after the role of attorneys in family law changed from escalating conflict to deescalating it, the results improved significantly. As the level of conflict decreases, so does the level of anger and distrust between parties. The manner in which parents communicate with each other about the children both during and after the divorce improves as the level of hostility diminishes. There also appears to be a relationship between the conflict level and incidents of serious domestic violence, as well as parental alienation. Not surprisingly, the percentage of cases resolved outside of court increases as discord wanes. Since issues pertaining to children and support tend to be the most litigated and re-litigated matters, as the level of conflict dwindles, so does the need for court involvement in family law related cases.

All of this suggests that lawyers involved in the field of family law should have a better understanding of grief and loss. It also suggests that lawyers should recognize that spouses in high conflict divorces tend to distort reality in order to avoid grieving. Therefore, families benefit if matrimonial attorneys understand the sources of ongoing conflict between divorcing and divorced spouses. This would help to positively impact parenting during and after the divorce process, which in turn would benefit the children of divorce.

Attorneys need not be trained in psychology in order to reduce conflict. Rather, they merely need to understand the psychological stages their clients are experiencing. The five stages of grief are as follows: (1) denial; (2) anger and resentment; (3) bargaining; (4) depression; and (5) acceptance.

As my esteemed colleague, Pauline Tesler told me, “the most significant variable affecting whether a divorce will be managed well or whether it will slide into high conflict litigation is who the parties select as their lawyers. Lawyers who understand the nature of human conflict and who aim to help people resolve it, right from the start, handle their cases entirely differently from lawyers who may have reasonably positive views of mediation, but who treat it as just another way of getting to a legal-template deal and who see their job as preparing for maximum measurable gain at trial.” This is entirely consistent with the psychological research which shows the benefits of early intervention to reduce levels of parental conflict and potential litigation to divorcing families. Conflict is reduced by appropriately addressing the grief and loss from the very beginning. Doesn’t it therefore make sense that lawyers involved in the field of family law should have a better understanding of grief and loss?

Source :

How Reading Makes Us More Human

How Reading Makes Us More Human

A debate has erupted over whether reading fiction makes human beings more moral. But what if its real value consists in something even more fundamental?
Mary Cassatt, The Reading Lesson, 1901

A battle over books has erupted recently on the pages of The New York Timesand Time. The opening salvo was Gregory Currie’s essay, “Does Great Literature Make Us Better?” which asserts that the widely held belief that reading makes us more moral has little support. In response, Annie Murphy Paul weighed in with “Reading Literature Makes Us Smarter and Nicer.” Her argument is that “deep reading,” the kind of reading great literature requires, is a distinctive cognitive activity that contributes to our ability to empathize with others; it therefore can, in fact, makes us “smarter and nicer,” among other things. Yet these essays aren’t so much coming to different conclusions as considering different questions.

To advance her thesis, Paul cites studies by Raymond Mar, a psychologist at York University in Canada, and Keith Oatley, a professor emeritus of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto. Taken together, their findings suggest that those “who often read fiction appear to be better able to understand other people, empathize with them and view the world from their perspective.” It’s the kind of thing writer Joyce Carol Oates is talking about when she says, “Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul.”

Oatley and Mar’s conclusions are supported, Paul argues, by recent studies in neuroscience, psychology, and cognitive science. This research shows that “deep reading — slow, immersive, rich in sensory detail and emotional and moral complexity — is a distinctive experience,” a kind of reading that differs in kind and quality from “the mere decoding of words” that constitutes a good deal of what passes for reading today, particularly for too many of our students in too many of our schools (as I have previously written about here).

Paul concludes her essay with a reference to the literary critic Frank Kermode, who famously distinguishes between “carnal reading” — characterized by the hurried, utilitarian information processing that constitutes the bulk of our daily reading diet — and “spiritual reading,” reading done with focused attention for pleasure, reflection, analysis, and growth. It is in this distinction that we find the real difference between the warring factions in what might be a chicken-or-egg scenario: Does great literature make people better, or are good people drawn to reading great literature?

Currie is asking whether reading great literature makes readers more moral — a topic taken up by Aristotle in Poetics (which makes an ethical apology for literature). Currie cites as counter-evidence the well-read, highly cultured Nazis. The problem with this (aside from falling into the trap of Godwin’s Law) is that the Nazis were, in fact, acting in strict conformity to the dictates of a moral code, albeit the perverse code of the Third Reich. But Paul examines the connection of great literature not to our moral selves, but to ourspiritual selves.

What good literature can do and does do — far greater than any importation of morality — is touch the human soul.

Reading is one of the few distinctively human activities that set us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. As many scholars have noted, and Paul too mentions in her piece, reading, unlike spoken language, does not come naturally to human beings. It must be taught. Because it goes beyond mere biology, there is something profoundly spiritual — however one understands that word — about the human ability, and impulse, to read. In fact, even the various senses in which we use the word captures this: to “read” means not only to decipher a given and learned set of symbols in a mechanistic way, but it also suggests that very human act of finding meaning, of “interpreting” in the sense of “reading” a person or situation. To read in this sense might be considered one of the most spiritual of all human activities.

It is “spiritual reading” — not merely decoding — that unleashes the power that good literature has to reach into our souls and, in so doing, draw and connect us to others. This is why the way we read can be even more important than whatwe read. In fact, reading good literature won’t make a reader a better person any more than sitting in a church, synagogue or mosque will. But reading good bookswell just might.

It did for me. As I relayed in my literary and spiritual memoir, the books I have read over a lifetime have shaped my worldview, my beliefs, and my life as much as anything else. From Great Expectations I learned the power the stories we tell ourselves have to do either harm and good, to ourselves and to others; fromDeath of a Salesman I learned the dangers of a corrupt version of the American Dream; from Madame Bovary, I learned to embrace the real world rather than escaping into flights of fancy; from Gulliver’s Travels I learned the profound limitations of my own finite perspective; and from Jane Eyre I learned how to be myself. These weren’t mere intellectual or moral lessons, although they certainly may have begun as such. Rather, the stories from these books and so many others became part of my life story and then, gradually, part of my very soul.

As Eugene H. Peterson explains in Eat this Book, “Reading is an immense gift, but only if the words are assimilated, taken into the soul — eaten, chewed, gnawed, received in unhurried delight.” Peterson describes this ancient art oflectio divina, or spiritual reading, as “reading that enters our souls as food enters our stomachs, spreads through our blood, and becomes … love and wisdom.” More than the books themselves, it is the skills and the desire to read in this way which comprise the essential gift we must give our students and ourselves. But this won’t happen by way of nature or by accident.

Maryanne Wolf, director of the Center for Reading and Language Research and author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, has studied “deep reading” in the context of the science of the brain. She describes the fragility of the brain’s ability to read with the kind of sustained attention that allows literature to wield its shaping power over us:

The act of going beyond the text to analyze, infer and think new thoughts is the product of years of formation. It takes time, both in milliseconds and years, and effort to learn to read with deep, expanding comprehension and to execute all these processes as an adult expert reader. … Because we literally and physiologically can read in multiple ways, how we read–and what we absorb from our reading — will be influenced by both the content of our reading and the medium we use.

The power of “spiritual reading” is its ability to transcend the immediacy of the material, the moment, or even the moral choice at hand. This isn’t the sort of phenomenon that lends itself to the quantifiable data Currie seeks, although Paul demonstrates is possible, to measure. Even so, such reading doesn’t make us better so much as it makes us human.


Police dashcam videos are open records

Police dashcam videos are open records, Oklahoma appellate court rules

The ruling won’t affect video taken by the Oklahoma Highway Patrol. Special legislation was passed several years ago that specifically exempts troopers from turning over dashcam videos.
By Michael McNutt Published: June 1, 2013

Videotapes of arrests made by police officers and sheriff deputies no longer should be considered secret, an Oklahoma appellate court ruled Friday.

“It’s a good day for the citizens and a good day for the press that helps keep the citizens informed,” said Josh D. Lee, a Vinita attorney who filed a lawsuit in Rogers County three years ago seeking videotapes taken from a dashcam mounted in a city of Claremore police cruiser. “It is the most accurate reflection of what actually occurred. Unfortunately, too often, I will read police reports and then I’ll go watch videotapes and what the police reports say happen didn’t happen the way they say it did.

“The only thing that is the saving grace for the citizen accused is to have an actual recording,” he said.

“This is a victory of the public’s right to know and for common sense,” said Joey Senat, a media law professor at Oklahoma State University.

“All of these dashcam videos do is tell the truth and the facts about the arrest,” said Mark Thomas, executive vice president of the Oklahoma Press Association. “No law enforcement agency should be afraid of that.”

Dashcam policies vary

The ruling by the Oklahoma Court of Civil appeals does not affect video taken by Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers. An Oklahoma County District Court judge also ruled in 2005 that patrol video of arrests should be open to the public, but the state Public Safety Department since then succeeded to get legislation passed that specifically exempted troopers from turning over videotapes.

Phil Cotten, executive director of the Oklahoma Association of Chiefs of Police, said his group’s board of directors will likely discuss the opinion during their annual conference later this month.

“If there’s nothing to hide, there’s nothing to hide,” said Cotten, who retired as Norman’s police chief two years ago. “Most of the recordings that I had reviewed over the years supported the officer the vast majority of the time.”

Police department policies on the release of dashcam videos vary, Thomas said. Some, such as Oklahoma City, don’t have cameras mounted on police cruisers.

Mark Myers, spokesman for the Oklahoma County sheriff’s office, said several of the department’s cruisers are equipped with dashcams.


“Barring something that was considered investigative in nature, we’ve generally always released our dashcam videos and pursuits or whatever had been requested of us,” Myers said.

Lee, a former Vinita police officer, said the city of Claremore at one time turned over video copies of arrests. But in recent years, the police department developed a policy that the videos were not subject to Oklahoma’s Open Records Act and those wanting a video would have to make the request with the Rogers County district attorney’s office.

The district attorney’s office released copies of the video, he said.

“But the problem is they can only give me what they’re aware of,” Lee said. “They can only give me what they’ve been given. Say, there’s two or three different police cars on scene …. Claremore will choose which videotape to give to the DA to give to me but there might be other videotapes available.”

‘Video is a record’

Lee filed a lawsuit in Rogers County District Court, saying the video falls under the Open Records Act; the judge upheld the city’s policy, ruling that dashboard camera video is a direct piece of evidence and does not fall under the Open Records Act.

Lee appealed, and the Court of Civil Appeals ruled 2-1 that video of someone’s arrest “constitutes a public record subject to inspection under the Open Records Act.”

“The dash cam video at issue here is a recording created by and under the authority of public officials in connection with the transaction of public business,” wrote Judge Robert Bell in the majority opinion. “Thus, the arrest video is a ‘record’ as defined by the Act.”

Lee said he is concerned city police departments will approach lawmakers about giving them the same exemption that troopers have.

“There will be some sort of an amendment that they’ll try to run up the pole to legislate this opinion to be ineffective and it to be pointless,” he said. “I hope that it doesn’t pass.”


Despite DNA, Dad’s Paternity Denied

By Michael Lindenberger Tuesday, Apr. 29, 2008
For nearly two years, James Rhoades, a university librarian in Tallahassee, has been fighting to establish in law what science and fact already have shown beyond any doubt: He is the biological father of the boy dubbed J.A.R. He’s got DNA tests to prove it, and videos and loads of pictures of him with the boy. In the photos too are the boy’s mother, J.N.R., whom Rhoades met while taking an online graduate course. She was — and still is — married to another man, who was stationed at a Pensacola-area Air Force base during their affair in 2005. And that’s the problem.

Last week, in a decision that underscores the tense relationship between science and law, a divided Kentucky Supreme Court told Rhoades that he could not press his paternity claim, no matter what evidence of fatherhood he might have, because J.N.R. was, and remains, a married woman. When it comes to defining fatherhood in the Bluegrass State, where Ricketts and her husband now live, the marital “I do” mean a lot more than DNA.

The 4-3 decision splintered the court, which issued five separate opinions. The majority was itself divided evenly among two camps, one that said Rhoades might have prevailed had he been able to show the J.N.R.’s “marital relationship had ceased at least 10 months” prior to the boy’s birth, and another that said no “stranger to the marriage” can ever attack the legitimacy of a child’s birth. “As long as marriage is on the books, it must mean something,” wrote Justice Bill Cunningham in one of two concurring opinions. “… We are in need of a bold declaration that the marriage circle, even one with an errant partner, will be invaded at one’s own legal risk.” He added: “While the legal status of marriage in this early 21st century appears to be on life support, it is not dead.”

The decision has left Rhoades devastated. “What I wanted was not just to see my son but to participate in his life,” Rhoades told TIME. “He is my son and I love him.” Kentucky’s ruling is firmly grounded in the history of the law, however. In fact, the so-called marital presumption has barred attacks on the legitimacy of children for centuries. Courts have forever held that allegations of fatherhood by third parties can only disrupt the family, confuse or embarrass the child, and unsettle the social order.

But unlike the past, such allegations these days are often backed by science, introducing certainty where none before existed. As of a result, the prohibition on third-party challenges to paternity has begun to weaken. By 2000, at least 33 states had adopted rules that allowed challenges by fathers with genetic proof of their paternity, usually restricting such efforts to the first two years of a child’s life. The advent of DNA testing has tread a similarly disruptive course in other areas of law, including criminal cases where exonerations once thought impossible are becoming routine. A few states have even begun allowing ex-husbands to present DNA evidence that they were duped by cheating spouses to avoid child support obligations.

For Rhoades, the changes are coming too slow, however. Unable to present proof of his paternity, he won’t be able to seek custody or visitation rights. As a result, he’ll be a stranger to his son until such a time as the boy’s legal parents decide to tell him, if ever. “My son is going to find out the truth eventually,” he said. “Is he going to find out when he is 13, 14 that everybody in his life has lied to him?”

Justice Lisabeth Hughes Abramson raised just that point in a fiercely worded dissent attacking the majority’s notion that the boy will be better off not knowing the truth about his parentage. “Our world is full of inconvenient truths. We accomplish nothing for families, the broader community and our justice system when we deny those truths.” she wrote.

Rhoades said he plans to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court on constitutional grounds. But he faces long odds there, given that the high court has already ruled once, in 1989, on the same issue, upholding California’s explicit bar against paternity challenges like his. That decision too was divided and contentious. The biological father in that case did not get to see his daughter till she had turned 21. “Well, obviously I am not going to give up and say, ‘Oh well I lost,'” Rhoades says. “I believe I have a fundamental right to be in my son’s life.” The trouble is: nature’s law isn’t the law of the land.

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