Archive for August, 2012

31
Aug
12

love songs 13

I’ve saved the best for last. (Lucky number thirteen.) My “adopted” daughter Sarah is the one living female in my life whom I love the most.

Her approval means everything to me. It was only after she decided that my work for kids is “God’s work” that I felt it had been green-lighted and I could give it my all. So if you like what I’m doing, thank Sarah. (And if you don’t approve, just keep her out of it!)

I asked Sarah what her favorite love song is, and without hesitating a beat she answered “Stand By Me.”

“That certainly isn’t a very mooshy song, is it?” I challenged gently.

“Well, no… but I’ve liked it since I was young, because of the film and all that,” she explained.

“I guess it also has to do with the fact that you place such a high value on loyalty,” I ventured.

“Well, yeah,” she agreed.

We had talked about this before. Faithfulness is not so much a ball-and-chain obligation, but a decision to freely commit to someone or something, and to keep making that same free choice again and again, no matter what new circumstances or obstacles may stand in the way. It provides for permanence without staleness.

We are family. I’m grateful that, if everyone else in the world were to abandon me, Sarah would remain.

I love you, Sarah.

۞

Groove of the Day 

Listen to Ben E. King performing “Stand By Me”

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“Nothing is more noble, nothing more venerable, than fidelity. Faithfulness and truth are the most sacred excellences and endowments of the human mind.”

~ Marcus Tullius Cicero

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30
Aug
12

sleepyheads

For the last couple days the Republican National Convention has been playing in the background on the radio, and I’m hearing absolutely nothing hopeful or honest coming out of Tampa. I’m sure my reaction will be the same when the Democrats meet next week in Charlotte. The Republicans’ failure to treat Ron Paul’s delegates with respect and fairness underscores just how phony these choreographed performances really are.

These elaborate and costly affairs have always papered over the essential truth of the matter: that freedom has long since slipped through the fingers of us Americans, like a last sip of water at a desert oasis many miles behind us.

Left wing, right wing, liberal or conservative, blue or red—it doesn’t matter anymore. It’s all an illusion. Whichever party prevails, the end result is exactly the same. The obedient masses will always be controlled by the Big Money, now and forever more.

The process of control begins in the schools where children are conditioned to be malleable and compliant. In the schools of the poor, discipline is zero-tolerant and enforced heavy-handedly by law enforcement officers stationed in the halls. In the schools of the rich, zero-tolerance is enforced by the parents and students themselves through rather more elegant methods of control. (Remember, it was at Cranbrook Academy that a homophobic young Mitt Romney gave my nonconformist friend a haircut and never did get in trouble for it.)

Either way, we are taught at an early age to be intolerant of individuality and mindlessly obedient to the authority of our social “betters”—which, of course, is defined by money and the power it confers.

The process of control continues in the ranks of the military and corporations, where people are used (and used up) until they are no longer of value to the institutional aims of their overseers. In the broader society, a wide range of normal human activities have been criminalized to the point that you can be thrown into jail for just about anything you do that rubs the authoritarians the wrong way. (Remember the guy in Phoenix who was jailed for holding prayer meetings in his home.)

If you are indigent and taken to court in America for any reason, you may as well kiss your ass goodbye. It is more likely than not that society will determine that your “highest and best value” is to serve as a slave laborer in one of America’s burgeoning prison industry facilities—corporate America’s latest scheme for avoiding the real costs of outsourcing American jobs to offshore markets.

If you are not indigent and toe the line at work, you will probably be left alone as long as you pay your taxes, do not draw attention to yourself, and spend most of your earnings at Target, Wal-Mart, and other temples of consumerism. If you carry an unpaid balance on your credit cards and make only the minimum monthly payments, you can avoid being labeled a “deadbeat” by the banks. (“Deadbeats” are those who pay off their charges every month and thereby avoid paying the banks’ confiscatory fees and interest.)

The “American Dream” is attainable mainly to those sleepy folks who allow themselves to be molded into the kinds of geeky guys in bow ties (or glamour gals in gaudy baubles) who show up at national political conventions in silly hats.

Not for me, thank you. I am awake and not dreaming.

If we are to achieve our cherished American Ideals, we must ignore authority, be self-responsible, take matters into our own hands, and create Freedom, Justice, and the American Way any way we can, starting in our own lives and families. You’ve gotta be wide awake to do this.

Wake up, sleepyheads.

The politicos and their money masters don’t care about you.

۞

Groove of the Day 

Listen to Prince Albert Hunt’s Texas Ramblers performing “Wake Up Jacob”

29
Aug
12

nine olde rules

۞

Groove of the Day 

Listen to The Shins performing “Sleeping Lessons”

28
Aug
12

bad movie

Yesterday’s sentencing hearing played out like the end of a B-movie that we had long ago decided was beneath our standards of decency. Even though we knew the thing was a waste of time and an abuse of good taste, our eyes remained glued to the screen up ’til the pathetic, bitter end.

“Twenty-two years with no parole,” said the sorry actor who played the part of the unworthy judge. “We are pleased,” said the hack who played the sell-out defense attorney.

“Who the hell is ‘We’?” I muttered under my breath, still thinking of the eight bucks I’d wasted paying to get into this stale-air place with crummy seats and sticky floors.

The only performance which seemed to have any legs whatsoever was that of the young boy who played the part of the accused. “Listen! I promise I did not rape or beat Neily Shea. Please listen to me once. I don’t know who did it, but there were a lot of people in that house that night. Why doesn’t anyone check them?” he implored. “Justice has not been done.”

He’s right. This was a classic travesty of justice.

The house lights come up, I look around, and there is only one audience member whose gaze is still transfixed on the blank screen—a sad, solitary figure who I know will be back for the next screening, and the next, and the one after that. He is obsessed with one of the characters in this miserable film and cannot get enough.

Me—I’m out of here and never looking back. The next movie features an actor—a star—who plays a real-life Atticus Finch, and I hear this time the Tom Robinson character receives a fair trial and is freed.

۞

Groove of the Day 

Listen to The Blues Brothers performing “B Movie Boxcar Blues”

27
Aug
12

all my trials

All I could do on Sunday was sleep. I was exhausted, and I became even wearier as people called and we discovered how much we have all been lied to about everything, large and small. (The man is still lying. That and breathing is all he does, apparently, between bathroom breaks.)

People wanted to talk and talk about it, and I just wanted to return to my naps which I enjoyed in peace until the phone rang again.

The two most delightful things about the day were (a) a cool breeze that wafted across the sofa where I slept contentedly (except when the breeze caused my long beard to slap me in the face) and (b) the warm afterglow of a visit I paid on Saturday evening to my friend Michael, who had returned to town the night before after learning he has stage four cancer.

He and his partner Lynn are in town, for only about a week or so, to take care of some necessary business. They will return to Wichita for a time where Michael intends to throw a wake while he can still enjoy it with his close friends. “We’re going to play all my favorite music,” he said, “and have lots of good food and drink. It’s kind of a Marine thing,” he said.

He won’t show his friends even a hint of anger or sadness. The man is in constant pain so severe it would debilitate a war horse. But not Michael. He’s the toughest guy I know. When you ask how he’s feeling, he invariably smiles and says, “Part of me is great.” Unfortunately that part of his body is shrinking rapidly. But you’d never know it because his smile persists.

It was a privilege being with Michael on Saturday, who was surrounded by a loving family circle consisting of Lynn, her sister, and two of Michael’s sisters. I had the foresight to show up just around mealtime, which was well rewarded.

But the best thing is that I was assured that Michael, and not his doctors, is firmly in charge of “the rest of his life.” He has weighed the risks and benefits of various treatment modalities, and has established unambiguous boundaries of what he will and won’t allow the doctors to do to him. Michael has a clear idea of the circumstances which will tell him when it is time to return here to die, and he is not afraid of that eventuality.

Inspired by Michael’s example, I slept yesterday with an easy heart. Weary as my trials may make me, they are nothing compared to his. In a curious way I am strengthened and reassured that he and his family have allowed me into their circle to share their burdens and love.

۞

Groove of the Day 

Listen to Anita Carter performing “All My Trials”

25
Aug
12

the predator

Lately things haven’t been right behind the scenes at The Redemption Project. In fact, there have been days when things seemed like they couldn’t be more wrong.

Beginning with the “disappearance” on July 27 of evidence that was to have been provided to me to confirm the allegations of the mysterious informant I had been calling “Deep Throat,” I’ve been living with a growing sick feeling in my stomach that we have been played and taken advantage of.

Stephen Sydebotham had claimed to be in possession of photographs and audio recordings which would prove beyond all doubt that the Deep Throat allegations he was providing to us were true. But the evidence never got into my hands. There had been a full week of frustrating delays, supposedly caused by technical difficulties created by cyber-attacks. Audio recordings were e-mailed to me, but the voices in them were electronically modified and there were puzzling inconsistencies in the content.

Based on Stephen’s word, I had scheduled a Friday afternoon interview with a child sex trafficking investigator at Homeland Security to arrange for the turning over of this evidence as required by law. On the morning of the scheduled interview, Stephen called and said, “We have a problem.” The file with all the evidence in it had been stolen, he said.

How convenient, I thought. As I discussed this strange turn with colleagues who have known Stephen longer than I have, we discovered many inconsistencies in the stories he had been telling us all along. We realized that Stephen had continually mediated contacts between us in such a way that we would have limited opportunities to compare notes.

One of the first things I did was to send James Prindle a postcard suggesting that we begin communicating directly, and not through Stephen. I gave him my phone number and put $25 on a prepaid calling account.

On July 29 I had all references to Stephen, the accounts he managed for Blade and James, etc. removed from The Redemption Project websites.

After I received a message from the Homeland Security investigator that they would not be pursuing an investigation because they did not consider the audio recordings and other leads to be credible, I sent Stephen an e-mail on August 2 formally severing our relationship based on the fact that I no longer had confidence in him or the information he was providing. A copy of this e-mail was sent to James’ new attorney Mike Scholl.

We launched an internal investigation of Stephen, his identity, background, claims, and practices. Background checks had been run previously but had turned up nothing to raise our suspicions. But this time we dug deeper, interviewed people who had previously worked with him, and we found troubling evidence of a pattern of lying and fraud. Our investigation is continuing, but on the basis of what we have already learned, we have concluded that we’ve been the victims of an elaborate deception which has endangered the welfare of the young people for whom Stephen has been advocating, as well as our other work.

I have raised and disbursed a little more than $30,000 for Blade Reed and James Prindle (most of it paid directly to lawyers and other third parties) based in part on information provided to me by Stephen—information which I now believe to be questionable and unreliable.

This is very serious, and I have informed our largest donors most directly affected. (The first donor I informed not only expressed his continuing confidence in The Redemption Project, but raised his commitment to James’ defense. This experience has been repeated.)

On August 12 I finally received a call from James Prindle and I learned that at least one of my blog posts was based on reports that were not factually true, so I took down that post right after I got off the phone with James. I have also taken down two other July posts about which I no longer have confidence in their basis in fact.

I now believe the very existence of “Deep Throat” was an invention, and that the revelations reported in the two posts titled “Allegations” 1 and 2 are a blend of fact, theory, and fiction which can now be sorted out only with great difficulty. All post deletions now appear as white dates on the July calendar appearing in the right-hand column of the blog.

Because these allegations were revealed after the guilty verdict in James’ trial, I believe that Stephen’s motive must have been to create more “reasonable doubt” than had been available for James’ defense in the trial and to influence the actions of the judge through public pressure. But remember, Stephen has never admitted to me that Deep Throat and his revelations were an invention; in fact, Stephen has even tried to convince me that someone matching Deep Throat’s description was in Stephen’s Wisconsin hometown after July 27 making inquiries about Stephen. Lies buttressing lies—or so it appears to me.

As I explained to James, the introduction of any falsehoods into his defense could undermine everything.

Dishonest prosecutors regularly get away with spinning innocuous things into damning evidence. But for the accused, the truth is the only source of exculpatory evidence. It is bad enough when a kid who is wrongfully accused of a crime tries to lie his way to exoneration, but for an adult advocate to facilitate any deception for that purpose—well, that is simply beyond the pale.

Now we have discovered that certain disbursements made directly to Stephen for the benefit of his kids were never used for their intended purposes. For example, nearly a year ago I sent him two payments totaling $1,650 that were have to been used to pay a paralegal named Torm Howse to prepare a writ of habeas corpus for Blade Reed. I was told by Stephen that the work was completed by Mr. Howse and utilized by Blade’s attorneys. E-mails from Mr. Howse were forwarded to me to pressure our prompt payment. Now we have doubled back on Stephen’s representations, checked with Mr. Howse, and are dismayed to learn that: “I recall the sporadic email conversation, but nothing really happened eventually, so I don’t believe an actual price or time required was even figured out. The guy writing about doing something for Blade never took it that far, as best I can remember–yes, clear back sometime last year.” Blade’s attorneys have also told me they never had anything to do with the presentation of a habeas corpus writ.

In other words, Stephen tricked me into raising $1,650 to pay for legal work for Blade Reed which was never done. The money was deposited into a UGMA account ostensibly for Blade Reed’s benefit, but it was apparently not disbursed from that account for the purpose that Stephen said it was. This is likely not the only such instance.

In the June 15-July 18 time period surrounding James Prindle’s trial and last two court dates, Stephen spent a little more than a month in Memphis on The Redemption Project’s dime. Originally Stephen was to have spent only about a week in Memphis and then returned for the sentencing hearing.

However, with the appearance of “Deep Throat” and the revelations he was supposedly sharing, it seemed to make all the sense in the world to keep Stephen in Memphis if the information he was developing there might exonerate James, so I kept  transferring cash to him through MoneyGram. Now we see that this hope—and the rationalization for sending him money—was a chimera.

We provided Stephen with a total of $3,500 to cover his expenses, not including phone. While there, we calculate that his motel bill was only something like $1,000. He claimed to have been eating at Burger King and other modest venues, but because of car trouble and other purported problems, he kept running out of money. Now we have learned that Stephen also borrowed money from James’ grandparents and owes them about $300. Where did all our money go? I have asked for an accounting of Stephen’s expenses including receipts, but the deadline I set has come and gone.

This is adding up to only one reasonable conclusion: that Stephen has likely been engaged in fraud. Instead of helping the kids for whom he has been advocating, it’s more likely he’s in fact been using them—and us—for his own personal gain and who-knows-what other nefarious purposes. The staff at the Shelby County Jail have nicknamed him “The Predator.” Indeed, the man does give every appearance of being a predator, and a smooth and cunning one at that—as long as he is working the phones and Internet.

By all accounts, Stephen creates a much different impression when you meet or see him in person. People who observed him in the courtroom in Memphis have said that, based on his personal grooming habits and the way he was dressed, he looked to them like a “homeless person.”

When James’ dad Sam Prindle and I discussed this recently, all Sam had to say is that Stephen seemed so caring, competent, and convincing. Sam was taken in, too.

Stephen Sydebotham needs to be sidelined so he can never again do damage to the kids and families who trust him. I keep thinking about the profound disappointment and sense of betrayal James and Blade will experience when they learn the truth. Theft of money is a serious offense, but taking advantage of vulnerable kids is the worst of all possible sins in our work.

Even if we never recover any of the money he has apparently stolen from us and from the kids we serve, it would be worth it to see this predator taken out of circulation. Or at least, that is how I am rationalizing it right now.

We have reported all of this to the authorities in four states, and we will see (in this instance, at least) if the System is capable of dispensing honest and appropriate justice. Unfortunately, we are not off to a promising start.

The sheriff’s department in Sauk County WI, for example, wants to see the financial fraud as a civil matter and has declined to pursue it as a criminal offense. The FBI declined to get involved because the amount of money involved does not cross a six-figure threshold. So far just about everybody says Sydebotham is another jurisdiction’s problem. Nobody seems to give a damn about the damage being done to the kids, who (to them) are seemingly of the throw-away variety.

Only in Tennessee is there a shred of hope that law enforcement will open an official investigation. Several days ago we heard from someone close to Shelby County officials that the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is looking into the Prindle Case and Stephen Sydebotham’s role in it. I contacted the TBI investigator I had spoken to earlier to check on this rumor. “At this time the TBI does not have an active investigation on the Prindle matter,” she said. “However, the information you provided has been forwarded to the proper authorities for review.”

Looking at this from law enforcement’s perspective, the bottom line is that the amounts of money involved are relatively small and the complexity (because of the multiple jurisdictions involved) is high—and most people, even cops and prosecutors, are basically lazy.

As I said to the agent I talked to at the FBI, it looks like we may just have to take matters into our own hands. There are plenty of perfectly legal things we can do. “Outing” Stephen as a wolf in sheep’s clothing through this post is one of them.

We are taking concrete steps so that this will never happen again.

One way or another, justice will be done.

We will see to it.

۞

Groove of the Day 

Listen to rubyrough performing “Smooth Predator”

24
Aug
12

love songs 11

Do people ever write love letters anymore? Unless you’re stuck in prison or dodging bullets in Afghanistan, chances are slim that you’ve ever even seen one if you’re under 35.

Today’s personal communications environment is all about efficiency and convenience, and it is thus characterized by cheap and easy phone service, mass-produced greeting cards, soulless emails, and incomprehensible text messaging (e.g.: I ❤ U. I mean, wtf?  Isn’t something as important as love worth the four key strokes it takes to spell it out?).

We almost never commit our most important thoughts and emotions to paper anymore.

As a result, spoken language dominates and even smart people are losing their ability to spell words that sound alike (e.g., “Your the girl for me.”), let alone master the fine points of punctuation and other elements of grammar. But this isn’t the worst of it.

When people lose their ability to write, they lose their ability to organize their thinking and—in the case of love letters—their ability to make commitments that will withstand the tests of time and changing circumstances.

I’m no social scientist, but I’m sure there’s a direct correlation between modern courting methods (including the passage of the love letter into historical obscurity) and today’s high marriage failure rates. Statistics show that 50% percent of first marriages, 67% of second, and 73% of third marriages end in divorce in the US.

If the right-wingers want to pass an act which will truly defend marriage, rather than establishing hateful gender-based restrictions about who can love and commit to one another, they should require lovers to produce a sheaf of love letters to prove they’ve thought things through and mean what they promise.

۞

Groove of the Day 

Listen to Gerry Wiggins performing “P.S. I Love You”