Saturday, August 22, 2009

Granite State Getaway

It may seem strange that having a weekend at home--albeit in mid-August, a time when many in Washingtone traditionally go away, or pretend they have gone, to escape the steaminess--I'd choose to travel. And this year, it's often been in the 80s rather than the 90s in D.C., so all the more reason to stay pat. But last weekend I was back in Westchester for a family wedding and this weekend, or part of it, I'm in New Hampshire to take part in a surprise 75th birthday party for a colleague of whom I'm very fond.

He's definitely a young 75, since much of the time now he's off running a justice improvement project in Haiti. He's one of the few I've known in this field who's in it to do some good for people as well as himself or a corporate entity. He also has an unusual attachment to Haiti--one which may find me going there before long to help him out--that has led him to persist in trying to make a difference there despite much resistance. Much of that resistance has come from funding agencies ostensibly intended to support efforts such as his. Now, their skepticism may stem from his having exposed their incompetent and at times illegal behavior in a leadoff segment of 60 Minutes some years ago, telling his story to Mike Wallace, no less.

Not that it did any immediate good. It did help that a key aide in Congress--also present at last night's surprise party--helped delay funding until the agency in question did the right thing. I've also worked with the guest of honor in Armenia, Bangladesh, and Georgia. In each place, he used his amazing facility to establish good working relationships with working-level people in the local courts and other offices to advance the goals of any project with which he was connected. He also brings a brio and spirit of fun to what could be dry tasks that spreads to all those who retain any semblance of a sense of humor.

Sometimes his long experience--he was one of the first people in the justice field to utilize computers, based on his success in installing some of the first systems in the U.S. Justice Department--and emphasis on obtaining empirical data enables him to reach logical conclusions others miss. In Haiti, for example, another organization favored by the development agency conducted a closed-case study that produced the perfectly valid finding that in most cases, defendants spend rather short times in jail. The problem with just looking at closed cases, however, is that in Haiti, there are prisons full of defendants awaiting trial, often for long periods of time. If you only look at closed completed cases, you miss these thousands staring you in the face from the squalid places in which they are kept. The eventual conviction rate is very low, which makes the time they are held the effective sentence, a sentence that offends all logic except that of the Red Queen who kept shouting at Alice, "Sentence first, trial later!"

North Conway, up in what's known as the Mt. Washington Valley, has lots of New Hampshire charm and genuine local craft, such as that on sale at the local shop of the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen. It also has sale outlets--the kind run by famous brands--out the wazoo, and traffic that ties up the sorely overstressed main road through town. Somehow I was upgraded to a room with a jacuzzi--a first for me--which made taking a bath quite delightful.

The "casual dinner" featured barbecued brisket, hitherto not the first menu selection I have associated with the Granite State. But just as with Dinosaur Barbecue in upstate and downstate New York, Yankees now are taking on the Southerners at their own game. And given their team's loss, 20-11, last night at the Fens to the hated Yankees--the ones in baseball uniform--the current Sawx rooters are a bit subdued here right now at Manchester Airport. Until the club started to fade of late, they had been behaving like Yankee fans of old.

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