Archive for May, 2011

31
May
11

alex king update

I received an e-mail last night from a reader asking for an update on Alex. To tell you the truth, I’ve been keeping that story in the background because we’ve entered a quiet stretch in the legal process, and while I feel comfortable talking about the legal stuff as it happens, I do not feel comfortable talking about prospective legal plans and events.

I can summarize his situation as follows:

Alex is being held without bail (in solitary confinement) on a probation violation charge initiated by the Florida Department of Corrections based upon two facts: Alex is charged with leaving the scene of a traffic accident on foot, and opiates were detected in a urine test the day after the incident. Alex suffered a cracked or bruised rib in the crash and had taken a single hydrocodone pain-killer the previous night. At the time FDOC filed the VOP (violation of probation) they did not consider or even know that Alex had a valid prescription for this medication. Nor did they apparently consider that, as a result of all the threats and abuse Alex has suffered over the years (many of them while incarcerated by the state and under its control), Alex suffers from a form of post traumatic stress syndrome which would predict and explain his flight response after the accident. He simply did not have the capacity to think about it in the same way you or I would, and this is to some degree of the state’s making. Flight was an automatic, non-volitional response.

When I raised these facts with his probation officer I asked her, “When are you going to withdraw the VOP?” And she answered that her department would not be withdrawing the charge. “We are leaving that decision to the courts,” she said. Pass the buck. Spoken like a true bureaucrat.

In other words, I thought, FDOC can de-rail Alex’s education and cause him to be jailed on the basis of charges made as a result of a flawed process in which FDOC failed to consider relevant information and failed to exercise the judgment and discretion one would consider to be benchmarks of basic competence and fairness.

Alex has already been in jail 103 days—3⅓ months, more than ¼ of a year—and his VOP case is still a long way from being heard. The longest jail time to which Alex can be sentenced for fleeing the scene is only 60 days. From the time that prosecutor David Rimmer decided to prosecute an abused child as an adult criminal instead of the confused victim that he truly was, the State of Florida has consistently subjected Alex to excessively cruel treatment. This is just more of the same.

Alex’s case is procedurally complicated. The VOP charge was filed with the court in Okeechobee County based in part on a traffic charge in Escambia County which must be heard in that county’s own court. Two courts, 546 miles (8 hours 41 minutes) apart. This naturally leads to screw-ups, delays, and longer incarceration. Alex has already missed two court dates—one in Escambia County and one in Okeechobee County—because the state held him in custody in the wrong jurisdictions for him to make timely court appearances. Alex’s next court appearance in Escambia County is June 14th (unless the state transfers him back to Okeechobee before then—it all depends on the state’s intent).

Because of the complexity, distance, expense, and hassle involved, we have not been successful in getting a top-flight private attorney involved. So for our defense we’re relying on the public defenders in each jurisdiction and, based on Alex’s assessments, we have a high degree of confidence in each public defender’s competence and potential effectiveness.

And remember, we’re not talking about an offense that would normally violate one’s probation. It’s not like Alex robbed a convenience store or was snorting cocaine at a rave. He’d been working hard at school and was doing well in a whole bunch of challenging subjects. He was doing what the state supposedly wanted. Now the state is screwing with him over a technicality with an excess of willful negligence and maybe even malice.

Thus far the state is giving every indication that it is less interested in supporting Alex’s rehabilitation and return to society than filling another prison cot somewhere within its money-making prison-industrial complex. But that’s just my take on what’s happening. I could be wrong and I hope that I am. Only time and events will tell.

While Alex’s legal ordeal slowly grinds on, my job right now seems to be mainly serving as a communications hub between Alex and his support network. I forward mail and messages back and forth in an attempt to help Alex keep his spirits up. Now that he is being held at the Escambia County jail, I am able to keep him in a steady supply of books and Ramen noodles.

The thing you may not appreciate is if you’re incarcerated, being in communication with people on the outside—your family and friends, your lawyer, with anyone at all—is like trying to thread a needle while wearing welding gloves. It is also very expensive. A fifteen minute phone call with Alex costs me about $20. Not everyone can afford that. Communicating with prisoners takes a lot of extra time and effort, too. The state’s control over a prisoner is so total, it can effectively prevent that prisoner from mounting an effective defense. Abuses happen. Florida is not a compassionate state.

That’s about as much as I can tell you about Alex right now without sliding into an outraged diatribe about Florida justice. Nobody likes a whiner or complainer, anyway. Alex doesn’t ever whine or complain and does a pretty good job at keeping me from doing it too much.

I need to live up to his good example and be patient.

۞

Groove of the Day

Listen to Carly Simon performing “Anticipation”

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30
May
11

sweet war

Being a generally law-abiding guy, I’d originally thought I’d observe the legal holiday and not do a post. However, I drove down to town for provisions and saw no sign of the law on the highway today. Most of the shopkeepers were open.

While driving home I thought, what-the-hell, I’ll open for business, too. (That’s why this post is so late.)

I guess the one thing that’s on my mind (because it was the one thing on the radio) is how much we do seem to love our wars. It’s so irrational. A mother who lost her son in Iraq said as the centerpiece of their finding a “new normal,” she and her husband need to redefine themselves now as “the parents of a fallen soldier.”

All I can think is what a waste, not only of their son’s life, but of that family’s future. However you try to dress it up as something noble, heroic, patriotic, etc., in my book it’s still a waste. There’s nothing redeeming about kids dying in unnecessary, inept, and immoral wars based on official lies. It’s still meaningless death and pointless human suffering.

Sorry, Mom.

۞

Groove of the Day

Listen to Césaria Évora performing “Doce Guerra” (Sweet War)

29
May
11

sweet death

While we’re on the subject of death, there’s one more thing I’d like to say before moving on.

We are brought up being taught not to speak ill of the dead, but in some cases it’s damned near impossible to not to say, “Saved by the knell.” I see it time and again in my work.

Another case in point: Osama bin Laden… on the same day he was killed, a man who figured prominently in one of the more significant setbacks in my life also died. He was a mean, jealous, ego-addled man who had not a single noble bone in his scrawny little body. While I did not wish him ill when he was alive, I did smile as I read his obituary. I can’t tell you what I enjoyed more: all the sanctimonious horseshit people were saying about him, or the thought from the serendipitous timing of his death that God must have a fondness for batch processing.

Last week one of my best friends told me that his daughter likes me more than any of his other friends. For the life of me, I could not understand it because his daughter and I have had so little contact over the years… and then, ah-ha! I figured it out.

You see, my friend’s second wife was a difficult woman who drove away every one of my friend’s friends and family members except me. It wasn’t that I had any fondness for the woman; in fact, I viewed the oppressive social isolation she brought down on my popular friend as sad. Yet he loved her, and I respected his feelings. I did not judge, and was obstinately determined to remain loyal.

There was a time when he had finally had it, and disappeared for a few days after a fight with his wife. She was frantic and, because I was his last remaining friend she could turn to, she began calling me… two, three, four calls per hour, sometimes in the middle of the night.

I figured her husband was AWOL for a well-deserved respite, but she was convinced he was in a morgue or hospital emergency room somewhere. So I humored her and called every hospital in Minneapolis and St. Paul to see if he’d been admitted. I reported back to her repeatedly as I learned more non-news.

She never forgot that kindness, and misinterpreted my loyalty to him (in supporting her) as loyalty to her. I never disabused her of this misapprehension and, until the day she died, I was the only one in her husband’s legion of friends of whom she approved.

After I moved to Texas, my friend’s wife finally died after a long illness. I have always thought it was ironic that I missed the funeral for which all my friend’s friends returned. I called his house that day and spoke to his daughter (the one who likes me best) and she told me the place was packed with people she hadn’t seen in years.

And then I did something which today I think is the reason why she likes me so much: I began singing this song into the phone.

Click here to satisfy your curiosity. 

She laughed. She said it was good being back again in her childhood home with so many old faces, and that now she’d have her dad back again.

Death is not always sad, but sometimes a sweet thing.

۞

Groove of the Day

Listen to The Kinks performing “Till the End of the Day”

28
May
11

memoria

Fifty-five years ago, today would have been the day when my grandmother, my mother, my brother, sister, and I would spend most of the day, driving from cemetery to cemetery, decorating graves. We always planted potted red geraniums that filled the back of the car.

Because my family was of a decidedly matriarchal bent, it never struck me as odd until I was an adult that we only visited the graves of ancestors on the maternal side of our family.

We visited the run-down 19th century City Cemetery where my great-great grandmother’s family is buried (and which was by that time surrounded by a poor urban neighborhood). We visited the heavily wooded, turn-of-the-century Riverside Cemetery, where my great-grandparents and now my maternal grandparents are buried. Riverside has always seemed like our ultimate home turf… a kind of country club for dead people. Our Memorial Day tradition was one of the principal ways family history was related to us and a powerful point of connection with ancestors we never knew but who became our familiars.

I vaguely remember asking about visiting the graves of my grandfather’s parents who were buried at the Notre Dame Cemetery, only to be told that Aunt Hildegarde always took care of those. To this day I never have visited their graves… a grievous omission I shall have to remedy before I die. My mother is buried there now, but I never did learn how to find my great-grandparents’ graves.

I recall regretting, too, that the women of our family never took us to visit our paternal grandfather’s crypt across the road at the Highland Cemetery. “Daddy Jack” died when I was eight and is entombed in the mausoleum there, an intimidating marble building with Greek columns and hallways that echoed. It was a scary and thrilling place to visit.

Yet visits there would have to wait until we’d go with Nana, our father’s mother, a cross between Gracie Allen and Miss Daisy and a terrible driver to boot. I remember Nana always had trouble working the lock to the heavy bronze doors. Nana also insisted that we must never run inside that somber place, and never ever test its echoes. (Now that I have my own key to the place, it’s not nearly as big nor as exciting as I remember it, and the urge to hear HELLO-Hello-hello reverberating off of marble has long since passed.) Nana and my dad are both interred there now.

As happy as I am living at Estrella Vista, on Memorial Day weekends I do feel sad that no one in our family is left back home to keep up the geranium-planting tradition. I’m sorry I’m not there to do it (but not enough to move back). More than anything else that’s still there from the old days, on this day I miss the cemeteries.

I also regret that I cannot visit Holly’s gravesite on the hill at Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis where she is interred next to her dad and her maternal grandparents.  I used to spend many quiet hours there alone, remembering. Before moving here I always took extravagant bouquets of cut flowers there for Memorial Day as a token of my remembrance.

As families become so much more scattered and our culture becomes so much less place-based, I wonder if this will contribute to the amnesia of coming generations about their roots. The ancestors are never completely dead unless they are forgotten.

Yet I have so many family relics and mementos with me here, Estrella Vista is a place where my ancestors still live. Hell, I am an all-in-one genetic relic myself.

My ancestors live in me as long as I remember them.

۞

Groove of the Day

Listen to Elvis Presley performing “I’ll Remember You”

 

(postscript)

As a run-up to writing this piece, I had to call my sister Christine to be reminded of the name of the potted flowers we used to plant. (No, my mind’s not going now that I’ve reached ‘official’ old age; I’ve never been able to remember the names of plants and trees.)

We got into a conversation about how our mother would lay out a picnic lunch at the cemetery and I would always refuse to ‘desecrate’ the graves with such frivolousness and spent picnic time exploring other families’ graves. Chris remembers partaking in several graveyard picnics and I remember none.

I’ve just now heard this story about the Southern tradition of Decoration Day, presented by Scott Simon on NPR. I think you will enjoy it.

Listen to “Decoration Day”

As told in this story, the practice of picnicking among headstones is cherished in many parts of the South. My mom always scolded my inflexible rectitude saying, “They do this in New Orleans.” I guess some of my Southern friends who read this piece may think I was a regular Cotton Mather as a kid. Damned Yankee.

I wasn’t.

“You always had strong ideas,” says Chrissy.

 

(post-postscript)

Christine reminds me that we did visit our great-grandparents’ graves at Notre Dame Cemetery around the time our mother was buried there. Now I do vaguely remember… I could probably even find my way there again. I obviously was not “all there” that day. 

Memory is a tricky thing.

27
May
11

embarrassment

Were you offended as I was by the public dressing-down that Benjamin Netanyahu gave Barack O’Bama a week ago in the Oval Office in front of  a worldwide television audience, lecturing his host like a teacher shaming a bad schoolboy?

And were you as embarrassed as I was two days later (after he was warned his re-election campaign is in danger of losing the financial support of Jewish contributors) when our shamefaced schoolboy then trotted over to the AIPAC meeting to “clarify” what he’d said that had so infuriated Bibi?

I’ll probably be wrongfully labeled as an anti-Semite by someone out there for posting this map, but it shows you in red and blue what O’Bama was talking about and what Bibi wants you to forget: that over the last 44 years the Zionists have effectively obliterated the Palestinians’ capacity to exist as a nation—while all along howling about some Palestinians’ denials of “Israel’s right to exist.”

Who are the real victims here? Who are the real oppressors?

Rhetoric versus Reality… isn’t it time we all get real about what’s really going on? Americans are shedding precious blood and bucks in mislead service to confounding myths and illusions which are not of our making and which will lead to our undoing.

And speaking of illusions, how real a force is anti-Semitism in the world? Here is a fascinating film by Israeli filmmaker Yoav Shamir which explores this question and draws some surprising conclusions.

 

Think for yourself.

  

۞

Groove of the Day

Listen to Fleetwood Mac performing “What Makes You Think You’re the One?”

26
May
11

criminalization

Once again our state’s brilliant politicians have passed a law criminalizing human nature—this time outlawing “fish stories.”

Texans’ fabled fondness for tall tales came under attack when Texas senator Glenn Hegar (R-Katy) introduced a bill making it a crime to misrepresent the size, weight, or provenance of fishes caught in a tournament. His bill passed the state senate unanimously and is expected to be signed into law by governor Rick Perry.

Hegar got the Legislature all stirred up over a story about how a guy at a tournament had stuffed his catch with a one-pound lead weight to tip the scale in his favor.

The new law applies to fresh and saltwater fishing, and telling a tall fish tale is now a Class A misdemeanor unless a tournament is offering cash or prizes worth more than $10,000, in which case it is a third-degree felony with the possibility of up to ten years in prison.

In his blog (http://jonathanturley.org/) legal commentator Jonathan Turley commented, “Once again, politicians increasingly view criminalization as the only way to show the importance of their cause. Such fish tales could always be charged as fraud, but Hegar wants a crime added to his legislative resume. As this trend continues, every infraction in our society from schools to fish holes is becoming a matter for the criminal justice system.”

All I can say is, if this trend continues there will be a lot more Texans serving time as their bragging rights are violated.

 

 

On the other hand, maybe this will encourage everyone to be a little more honest and realize that it’s real size that matters.

    

۞

Groove of the Day

Listen to Marva Wright performing “Mr. Big Stuff”

25
May
11

old coots’ club

Yesterday a group of dead old coots welcomed me into their society: “The Northern Sonoran Desert Eccentrics.” Their notification from the other side of the veil was delivered through my friend Emmett, the son of their leader.

“My dad, the guy holding the Moses’ staff, would want me to bestow membership on you; no dues will be collected, as all members are deemed to have already paid their dues in one form or another,” said Emmett’s e-mail…

…adding that he would have sent this notification as a comment to yesterday’s post except he couldn’t figure out how to upload the picture. (Hell, I don’t know how to do it either in the comments. I need a 10-year-old to show me how.)

If you’ll put yourself in my position, you know a guy who works on parricides all day has to think twice whenever anyone compares him to their dad. But based on past evidence of Emmett’s admiration for his father I could only regard it as the highest compliment. I take it seriously. Thank you, Emmett.

Anyway, I do want to thank the Academy for this honor… but to tell you the truth, I don’t quite know what to think of it. I live in the Chihuahuan Desert, not the Sonoran, and I’m not dead yet.

Also, it’s unclear whether Emmett is in actual communication with these dead old coots, or if he is the last living member of their club. Emmett never did specifically claim to have the powers of a spirit medium; he  just may be a closeted eccentric himself. Workdays he’s an attorney who speaks to large groups of judges and other lawyers. Emmett  owns a lot of neckties.

Either way he’s authorized to have conferred the membership. So it’s official.

I’m a harmless old coot.

Emmett said the thing that put me over the top in my audition was sailing through the checkpoint with an exaggerated waive by the cops; “Such a waive is a demonstration by the cops to you and the world that you are a bona fide weirdo, they know it, and are broadcasting as much to the world,” he said.

“The benefit of such a broadcast is that there is no interest or reason in stopping you because you are liable to launch into some sort of diatribe that is not offensive in tone but simply irrelevant to their TAH [task at hand]; and also because they fear that you might smell as they are uncertain of your bathing habits.”

Emmett is a helluva analyst, don’t you think? He also offered some “continuing education” suggestions for technical refinements based on the club members’ collective wisdom. (Being a cardholder does have its benefits.)

“You will be waived through checkpoints throughout the Big Bend as your ability to radiate ‘simply harmless’ grows. It’s the next best thing to being completely invisible; in fact, once you become ‘simply harmless’ even a bag of weed on your dashboard won’t get you into trouble because they won’t notice it,” he said.

I like the way this guy thinks. He’s got the Jedi thing down pat.

Emmett also warned me about the Kaczynski Effect. “Be careful not to become too reclusive as it arouses suspicion. Best way to put a damper on possible Kaczynski projections is to speak to anyone at any time who will listen to you, especially cops. Next time you see a roadblock, head straight for it as though it was a surprise party being thrown in your honor. Nothing like hiding out in the wide-open.”

Emmett should be my lawyer. He gets it. His advice could keep me out of jail.

Emmett said something that has got me to thinking: “All of those guys were driving before insurance was compulsory, including Orville who never drove nothing but his mule.”  

Old coots remember what it was like before the governmental authority began encroaching on our personal freedoms.

They know nonsense when they see it and can shun it off… maybe even getting away with operating only within the constraints of what we know to be common sense, regardless of whatever some gerrymandered law might say.

The main thing is to avoid friction and conflict. Conflict will only draw unwanted attention.

Yet avoiding conflict does become more difficult when the authorities begin working at cross-purposes with things into which you’re investing your limited time and energy. If you will read Val’s comment to yesterday’s post, you’ll see a good case in point.

I’m trying to encourage Val to invest himself in our particular dot on the map, and the Sheriff’s deputies are creating an environment hostile to young people like him. Patrick so wants to see things in a certain way he can literally smell it. If he knew Val as I do, the thought of making a pot bust would never have entered his mind, much less his nostrils.

We need bright, hard-working, ethical young people to invest themselves in this place and its traditions. What the deputies are doing with their authority here is bad politics and bad economic development. Plus it’s incompetent community policing, which is based on knowing people on your beat and working in friendlier, more informal, and more effective ways.

As a harmless old coot I have learned to sideslip the thorns by denying authority its power. The young, however, cannot avoid the lacerations so easily. They have a greater tendency to defy authority, which creates friction, which unfortunately creates more intrusion and contraindicated heavy-handed policing.

(Or, in a place like this, when they’re old enough the young people simply move away to someplace else where they can become lost in a crowd and explore their limits. It’s usually the best and the brightest who leave first.)

I’m an old coot. I can see it all.

۞

Groove of the Day

Listen to Brad Paisley performing “Mr. Policeman”