Monday, June 29, 2009

The "B" Word, Part II

One of my less-agreeable clients was a fourteen-year-old boy named (I am not making this up) Keon Pleasant. The first time I met the young Mr. Pleasant, I counseled him by telling him, “Seeing as how your mom threw you out of the house and your grandmother was nice enough to take you in, if your grandmother tells you to mop the floor, do NOT hit her with the mop. Besides that, Keon, do not call her ‘bitch.’”

“Furthermore, when two female Columbus Police Officers show up, do not call them ‘bitch’ and do not threaten them with a mop. I don’t care what you saw in Jackie Chan movies, I don’t think it’s a good idea to bring a mop to a gun fight.”

I thought that was some excellent advice. Unfortunately, I neglected to tell him that before Magistrate Woodrow Hudson asked Keon if he had anything to say before he passed sentence on the assault conviction, it would be a bad idea to call Magistrate Hudson (who happens to be a black gentleman) a ‘bitch.’ Yes, that’s what Keon, a teenage black kid called a middle-aged black man in court. The Judge recognized the young man had some serious issues and placed Keon in a special ninety-day program.

When I learned that that would mean a ninety-day delay in me getting to submit my bill, I thought, but did not say, “Let me at that little bitch; I’ll straighten him out.”

I represented Keon on two other occasions. The first charges: One, truant. Two, jaywalking. And three, in possession of *half* a bottle of vodka. The second time was for a felony account of assaulting a teacher. I told fifteen-year-old Keon that he needed to clean up his act, or he was going to get permed, and put into Juvenile Hall.

I could tell by his contemptuous expression that I wasn’t getting to him at all. He had heard that speech so many times. Ironically enough, shortly after that incident, I left Ohio and was gone for more than six-and-a-half years. When I returned to Columbus in 2005, my curiosity got the better of me and I did a bit of research about what had happened to Mr. Pleasant. I was not the least bit surprised to learn that he was not only behind bars, but was doing time at Lucasville, Ohio’s maximum-security prison for aggravated armed robbery with a gun specification. I can’t say I’m eager to see Keon Pleasant again. Since he was a pretty scrawny kid, I think it’s far more likely than not that he has a cellmate who is a whole lot bigger and stronger than him. I suspect that man now calls Keon ‘bitch.’

The "B" Word

When I was working at Meade Data Central in 1990/1991, I answered phones and helped people extract information from the LEXIS/NEXIS database. I would tell callers that if they could put it into words, I could search it for them. One day, I got a call from a guy who told me that a supervisor at work had referred to one of the cleaning staff as a “black bitch.” He said that the other cleaning women were so incensed that they demanded that the foulmouthed supervisor be fired, or they would quit. The man asked me if there were any similar cases on record.

I got into the NLRB database. (During the Roosevelt Administration, Congress authorized the creation of special courts to hear labor-related cases. Appeals from the NLRB go directly to the Circuit Court of Appeals and from there to the Supreme Court.) So I searched “b-l-a-c-k w/1 b-i-t-c-h” to pick up any reference in an NLRB case to the term. I was a bit surprised when I found that the number of “black bitch” cases numbered in the teens. Some people might hear this and conclude that Americans are overly sensitive. That’s one point of view. The flip side of the argument is that, in the past generation, language that might have been tolerated fifty years ago is now grounds for a lawsuit.

Personally, I think that the only acceptable place for the term, “black bitch” would be at a gathering of the American Kennel Club.”

Speedy's Big Mistake

Back in the early 1960s, there was a black kid named Joe in Temple Texas in ninth grade. His mom was having a tough time of it with four children after the father abandoned the family. A local kid named Speedy figured it was a good idea to tease the kid from the broken home and began tormenting little Joe every day. Dear little Joe’s mom told him what moms have said for time immemorial: don’t go down to his level.

One day, Speedy did something I consider a violation of the Geneva Convention of Schoolyard Bullying. He took five dollars from Joe’s mom’s purse and told Joe about it. Joe went totally ballistic, cleaning up the floor with the guy. Of all the people on God’s green earth that you would not want to provoke, Speedy picked about the worst guy I can think of. Want to guess what Joe’s last name was? Green.

For the benefit of non-football fans, Joe had not yet reached his adult playing weight or height, but Mean Joe Green had a formidable physique. During his thirteen years in the NFL, he was a perennial All-Pro and is a current Hall of Famer.

I seriously doubt that Speedy will ever ask for a rematch.

Blakey on Corruption

One of the neatest things I learned from Professor Blakey at Notre Dame was, “some of you are going to become public officials. Some of you are going to take bribes. If you want to know which public officials are corrupt, go through their bank records and look for the checks made out in round numbers. When was the last time you got a paycheck for precisely $1,000? The really smart crooks put money in safety deposit boxes.”

I called Professor Blakey when I learned that Hillary Clinton had made $100,000 off of a 1,000-dollar investment. He just laughed.

Blakey on Adultery

When I was at Notre Dame Law School, I once heart Professor G. Robert Blakey comment on the all-too-frequent phenomenon of politicians cheating on their spouses. He said something that has stayed with me for more than twenty years. He said, “Adultery is no longer considered beyond the pale.” He added that it certainly wasn’t the way he led his life. Incidentally, Professor Blakey and his wife have eight children, so I doubt he has the time, and he obviously adheres to the Catholic Church’s policy on birth control.

He continued by saying that it’s one thing for a man to fall in love with a woman other than his wife, but a man who cheats on his wife incessantly shows a lack of human empathy, both for his wife and for the other woman. I simply have to agree with him.

The Mormon Corpsman

George Whalen was a Mormon kid from Utah. Shortly after the outbreak of WWII, he enlisted in the United States Navy and was trained as a corpsman. For the benefit of life-long civilians, a Navy corpsman is a vital part of a Marine combat unit. Any time a Marine is wounded, he was scream, “Corpsman!” at the top of his lungs. He will expect a corpsman to come running. A retired Marine Corps Sergeant Major once explained to me that the last person in the world you want to get in a fight with is a Navy corpsman attached to a Marine platoon. If you mess with the corpsman, there are going to be a whole bunch of thoroughly ticked off Marines looking for you. Years later, he said that he feared he would spend the entire war cleaning bedpans. He was assigned to a Marine infantry platoon. On the 19th of February, 1945, Whalen’s unit hit the beach at Iwo Jima. On Iwo Jima, Japanese soldiers were told that corpsmen were especially desirable targets because of the services they provide. From the first day on, casualties were horrendous. Whalen, a few days after the landing, while treating a wounded comrade, was wounded himself. A piece of shrapnel temporarily cost him his sight in one eye. Whalen patched up the Marine, then patched himself up, and refused evacuation.

A few days later, Whalen was wounded a second time. Again, he stayed with his buddies and refused evacuation. A few days later, still, his platoon got the word that the corpsman in the platoon beside theirs had been so badly wounded that he had to be removed and that they had about a dozen wounded Marines in need of immediate care. Whalen crawled over a hundred yards under enemy fire, treated a dozen wounded Marines and then crawled a hundred yards back, again, under enemy fire, to return to his buddies. Toward the end of the battle, Whalen was wounded a third time, so seriously that over Petty Officer Whalen’s objections, his buddies evacuated him to the rear.

Whalen survived Iwo Jima and was shipped home to the States to recuperate. About a month later, when he’d fully recovered, he got an order to get on a train to Washington, D.C. That day, he was ushered into the Oval Office, where President Harry Truman presented him with three Purple Hearts, two Navy Crosses and the Congressional Medal of Honor. After the war, Whalen had no use for people calling him a hero. Indeed, rather than live off of his laurels, he enlisted in the US Army and retired twenty years later as a major.

As of this writing, George Whalen is still alive and in his late eighties. There are people who argue that the federal government cannot provide quality health care. HA!!!

Try telling that garbage to George Whalen’s shipmates.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Ian Fleming and President Kennedy

In the 1960s, as President Kennedy enjoyed a level of a level of slavishly devoted adoration from the press corps, not to be equalled until the present day. (For example, he once claimed to be able to speed read at the rate of 1,000 words a minute- and the reporters took him as his word.) About a year into his Presidency, someone asked for a list JFK's favorite books he'd read recently, and the White House dutifully released a list of ten titles- one of which was Ian Fleming's James Bond novel, "From Russia With Love." (Yep, that's the one where Bond stepped into his hotel room to find a beautiful Russian spy waiting for him in bed. No wonder JFK liked it!)

As a result of that Presidential endorsement, bookstores could not keep it in stock, and the publisher went through several new printings. So Ian Fleming's publisher was quite pleased. Ian Fleming's agent was quite pleased. And Ian Fleming was quite pleased too. And in 1964, in the last James Bond novel that Fleming wrote before his death, there is a scene where there is a lull in the action- Bond gets into bed, and picks up a copy of "Profiles in Courage." Obviously, that was Fleming's way of saying, "Gee, Mr. President, thanks for plugging my book, so I guess I'll plug *your* book."

Kentucky Bridal Suite (Rated: Just a Little Salty)

I heard this one from a Kentucky friend who wishes to remain anonymous. (Kentucky is, of course, famous for it's horsebreeding farms.) Anyhow, a guy walks into a hotel room in Kentucky and announces "I just got married- I want a suite."

The clerk replies, "Bridal?"

And the guy replies, "Naaaah...I'll just grab her by the ears until she gets it right."

Shipmates: SA Jeske

When I went through Navy boot camp at Great Lakes, Illinois, back in the summer of 1980, one of my least favorite people was a very tall, scrawny guy named Jeske. (He was one of two guys in our eighty man company who was taller than I was, so I got to march next to him.) It wasn't just that he was considerably less than clever- he figured it was fun to get in my face and then loudly belch. I would have liked to have punched his lights out but figured Jeske was not worth going to Captain's Mast for. After a few weeks Jeske got set back in training, but I figured I'd never have to look at his dumb, obnoxious face again.

In June of 1982, I was assigned to the USS Coronado, the flagship of Commander Middle Eastern Forces, as an Arabic linguist. At one point, another 'Arling' and I got temporarily sent out to the USS Sims. I'd just gotten onboard when I heard an announcement over the ship's PA system, "Seaman Apprentice Jeske, Seaman Apprentice Jeske, report to XO screening *immediately*" (XO screening is for someone who has messed up pretty seriously, and is about to go to Captain's Mast- just one down from a court martial.) I thought it couldn't be. It was. I later found out that Jeske was a regular at Captain's Mast- if anybody had listened to me, they would have sent him straight home from Great Lakes.

My Angel Client...and Representing America

I am in the habit of saying that I don't have any Angels as clients...well, I can no longer say that. Recently, I was appointed to represent, as Guardian ad litem, a young woman named Angel. I read a report that her stepfather had taken a swing at her with an ax handle and that she had retaliated by hitting him with a baseball bat. Sounds like a charming family. I wonder if I can get an invite to Thanksgiving dinner.

The prosecutor dropped the case the same day I got it, and I figured that the least I could do would be to give a call to my client. So I called her house's number and insisted on speaking to her. When she finally got her on the line, she said (this is a direct quote) "I'M ALIVE! NOW DROP DEAD!"

Last month, I got to represent America. Yep, America Browning. I managed to get her a Consent Decree against her nogoodnik ex-boyfriend. Last week, I got another member in my memorable name club. I went to see a client and her Foster mom. I was *mildly* surprised that a young white kid had a black foster mom, but no problemo. I found that Foster Mom was a very sweet lady. Exactly *how* sweet? She was sweet as chocolate. 'Cuz her name was Chocolate Lee. (If you want everybody to like your kid, what better name could you give them? I mean, who doesn't love Chocolate?)

Mark Sanford

I see that Governor Mark Sanford has managed to completely destroy his political career by having an affair. I must say, I find *one* aspect of this episode refreshing: for *once* a politician has facing the music without dragging his wife along to stand by his side. Just *once*, just *ONCE*, I would like to see a politician's wife in that position wait until he gets to the part where he says, "I have betrayed my wife and children..." then break in with, "Don't worry, dear; they're not yours."

On This Day In History

133 years ago today, George Armstrong Custer got his at the Little Big Horn, and Trooper Guiseppe Martini established himself as the luckiest guy in the 7th Cavalry. When Custer saw the enormous Indian camp, he ordered Trooper Martini to take a message back to Captain Benteen- so while all his comrades were dead within the next half hour, Trooper Martini lived another 45 years- he died in Brooklyn in 1921.

29 years ago, Yours Truly arrived at Great Lakes Recruit Training Center, for my first day of a four year hitch with the United States Navy. One of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen was Great Lakes RTC in the rear view mirror of the bus taking me out of there. While I decided not to make a career out of the Navy, I met some really extraordinarily fine people while I was in the service, some of whom I'm still friends with. So to all my shipmates, Fair Winds and Following Seas!

A Sad Story on Father's Day

When I get to the courthouse, I tell people that I try not to use the expression, "Now, I've seen everything," because it is *very* bad luck. A few weeks ago, I got a Civil Protection Order for a woman whose baby daddy (call me old fashioned, but I think it is an *excellent* idea for people to get *married* before bringing children into the world) was causing some *very* serious problems. The judge ordered that he had to stay away from my client, but still had the right to see his kid one day a week. Baby momma was to drop the kid off at the nearest police station, baby daddy picks the kid up, and drops the kid off eight hours later. On Father's Day, well before noon, I got a call from the baby daddy. He informed me that he was not interested in seeing his kid any more- and that it was all my fault. His logic completely escapes me. Io all fathers reading this who have *not* abandoned your kids, give yourself a pat on the back.


I just watched a documentary by Michael Palin (yes, of Monty Python fame). It was NOT a comedy. Rather, Mr. Palin did a documentary on the British Commonwealth personnel killed on November 11th, 1918--the last day of World War I. There were *863* of them. That's for *one* of the allies on *one* side, of *one* day of a war that lasted over 50 months.

I think General Sherman was on to something when he said, "War is hell."

Friday, June 19, 2009

The “H” Word

I have a brother by the name of Bruce, for whom I have absolutely no use. (That’s a pretty good start for a limerick, now isn’t it?) One day, Bruce went into see the doctor. When the Doctor tapped him on one knee with a mallet, Bruce said, “Raise taxes.” When the doctor tapped the other knee, he said, “Cut the defense budget in half.” Astonished, the doctor tapped his first knee again, to which Bruce replied, “Raise taxes again!” Just to see what would happen, the doctor tapped the other knee one more time, Bruce said, “Cut the defense budget in half again.”

Six months later, when Bruce returned to the doctor, Bruce asked him if the doctor was a Republican. After the Doctor said yes, he tapped Bruce’s right knee with the mallet. Bruce said, “You’re a racist.” The other knee: “You’re a hypocrite.” The doctor was so angry that he punched Bruce in the nose. When he recovered consciousness, he said, “And you’re a sexist, homophobic imperialist, too!” No doctor actually punched Bruce in the nose, although I think that is a wonderful idea.

One of the great things about my life is my long memory and my sense of irony. Way back in the winter of 1979/1980, Debbie Boone had a monster hit called “You Light Up My Life.” You couldn’t turn on the radio without hearing it. Believe it or not, the good reverend, Jesse Jackson, actually gave a speech criticizing some of the lyrics of the song, including, “It can’t be wrong if it feels so right.” Of course, Reverend Jackson achieved such success as a moral exemplar that when Bill Clinton was going through the Monical Lewinsky Scandal, he brought Jackson to the White House for advice. What people didn’t know is that the Reverend brought his pregnant mistress with him. That was not the first time. She had aborted a previous pregnancy. When this came to light, the good reverend Jackson made amends by retiring from public life…for all of three days. To be brutally frank, the same conduct that would ruin a white man’s career is no big deal in the black community. If Jesse Jackson manages to father four more illegitimate children, he might manage to become head of the NAACP or get the Democratic nomination for the Senate in Maryland. (Think I’m kidding, look up Kweise Mfume.”)

My all-time favorite bit of liberal hypocrisy is the Valerie Plame kerfluffle. Is a law prohibiting revealing the exposure of an undercover CIA operative constitutional? In Great Britain, the Official Secrets Act would apply. In the United States, it’s much more of an open question. Second, do liberals care about the life of a CIA agent? (My collaborator wonders if that statement is fair.) My reply is that if one of the planes on 9.11 had hit CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia, a sizable segment of the liberal intelligentsia would be either ecstatically happy, or, a the minimum, would shed crocodile tears about America’s chickens coming home to roost. Vice President Cheney’s Chief of Staff, Scooter Libby, did NOT leak the identity of Valerie Plame to the press. The investigation showed definitively that Libby was not the leaker. It was proven, however, that Libby lied to the FBI about a number of matters and was convicted of perjury. President Bush subsequently commuted his sentence, though Libby did lose his license to practice law. (And, as an attorney, I disagree with those who say that wasn’t punishment enough.) I hope my liberal friends will take note of this point: after the events of 1999, I’m never going to take liberals seriously when they get outraged about a Republican committing perjury. And after the events of January 2001, I most assuredly will laugh out loud at liberals being shocked about misuse of the pardon power.

Bethel Adoption Irony

For a sizable portion of the five years and four months I spent as a public defender in Bethel, Alaska, the woman in the office next to me happened to be gay. No problemo. She and her partner/significant other/wife (take your pick and I won’t fight about it) had custody of a child from a previous relationship. Again, no objection from me. Several years back, after I’d left Bethel, I heard that Liz and Heather decided that they wanted to have a child and asked Heather’s brother to provide the necessary contribution. Upon hearing the news, I realized that no one wanted to hear my opinion on the matter. (In response to my collaborator’s question, I don’t think it’s the state’s business where a woman gets a sperm donor. I also don’t think that something is legal, that it’s the right thing to do. “Welcome to world, kid. One day, you’ll learn that your father is a complete jerk-off.”)

Ironically enough, fate took a hand, and no pregnancy resulted. The brother’s contribution did not result in the desired effect. So Liz and her partner/significant other/wife adopted a Yup’ik infant. Having considerable knowledge of the conditions that all too many Yup’ik children grow up in, and the extraordinary requirements necessary to have parental rights terminated, I would say that Yup’ik kid completely lucked out and that those two women did something I find quite admirable admirable.

There are people who believe that having two mommies and two daddies are as good as the traditional way; I don’t buy it. There are also people who don’t think gays should be allowed to adopt under any circumstances. With this essay, I have quite possibly ticked off both groups. I am very proud of myself.

Beauty Pageant Runners-Up

Some people get upset about beauty pageants on the grounds that they exploit women. To a certain extent, I agree with them, but I find the whole idea of the pageant rather silly. Many years ago, Halle Berry was first runner-up in the Miss USA pageant and opined that the only reason that she didn’t win was because she was black and the judges were racist. I have to chuckle. Maybe the judges thought the other girl was just a little bit hotter. Besides, if they were really racists, would they have allowed her in the pageant, much less make her first runner-up?

I’ve been reminded of that tempest in a teapot in the past few days, when Miss California finished first runner-up after opining onstage that she believed marriage was something between one man and one woman. This was not a particularly politic position to take when two of the judges were openly gay. (My collaborator just wondered if Perez Hilton is “openly” gay or just “obviously” gay. I have to believe that the answer is BOTH!) I see that Fox News has taken up has taken up her plight. (My collaborator just wondered how that counts as “reporting the news.” I say that it just gives Fox News the opportunity to show the young woman walking across the pageant stage in her white bikini. Nothing like a nice piece of cheesecake, is there?) I think the real value of a beauty pageant win is to provide publicity as a foundation for a future career. By that criteria, Miss California has won the battle. Quickly, can anyone name the current Miss USA or any of her predecessors? Proves my point.

I take the attitude that the world doesn’t particularly care about her opinion. I would much rather hear about her plans to achieve world peace. I am, of course, deeply concerned about Miss California’s future prospects. I fear that being first runner-up will have the same negative effects on her as it did for Halle Berry.
I’d much rather hear about her views on establishing world peace…and quantum physics.

The Anti-Limbaugh

I maintain e-correspondence with a wide variety of people, both in terms of geography and ideology. Last week, I got an e-mail from a woman who has been my friend since law school, V, that excoriated Rush Limbaugh, asking the difference between Limbaugh and the Hindenberg. The answer, of course, is that one is a fat Nazi gasbag and the other is a dirigible. I also got an e-mail from an old friend, a retired Marine in San Diego, announcing that he might get a chance to start a radio talk show. This is officially too funny. I wish my good friend the First Sergeant all the success in the world. Indeed, if he should supplant Rush Limbaugh as the number one radio personality in America, I believe this would result in several positive developments. Along with V’s many fine qualities, she has served as “fairy dogmother” and has adopted rescue dogs from the shelter. She’ll be pleased to know that if the First Sergeant becomes as influential as Limbaugh, stray animals in America will become unknown as long as every household follows his example and adopts three stray dogs and three stray cats. No more strays. Problem solved.

Second, Americans would stop swearing if they followed the First Sergeant’s good example. They would eschew the “f” and “s” words and learn to express themselves in a more eloquent manner. More than a decade ago, when the First Sergeant was selected to be a drill instructor, he informed me that then-current Marine regulations forbade the use of the “f-bomb” in front of recruits. I was amazed by that. In my mind’s eye, I saw thousands of Marines ready to storm Iwo Jima in February 1945 being informed that they were forbidden from using that word. I imagined them all, bellowing as one man, (Foxtrot) this (Sierra), and everyone would have gone home. He said that he had modified his vocabulary by using the terms, “freaking,” “friggin’” or “fricken.” (My collaborator informs me that that last term has the same meaning in German, allowing our German friends to be offended.) Fortunately, the First Sergeant is blessed with such an imposing presence and demeanor that he could make “fiddlesticks” sound intimidating. If Americans followed the First Sergeant’s example, that would be freaking awesome.

Third, while the First Sergeant may not be able to find a cure for cancer, but by god, he most assuredly does have a cure for Type 2 diabetes and our dependence on foreign oil. If everyone in America rolled out of their racks at oh-dark-thirty and followed half of the First Sergeant’s exercise regimen, there wouldn’t be a single new case of that malady anywhere between Mexico and Canada. Furthermore, if Americans got off of their collective sixes and ran a 10k a day, the Saudis could go back to riding camels, an outcome to be wished.

Fourth, no one in the world will be making anymore snide comments about fat, out of shape Americans. Everybody in the USA will have a body fat percentage a shade under five percent and will be too busy training for triathlons to get into any trouble.

Furthermore, on foreign policy, if someone is going to opine over the best way to deal with Kim Jong Il, who would you rather listen to? A lardass who never wore the uniform, or a lean, mean fighting machine who has been within a kilometer of the demilitarized zone wearing a Kevlar helmet and lugging an M-16? Several months ago, I asked everyone in my e-mail list what they thought was the best way to deal with Kim Jong Il. Only the First Sergeant responded and he had exactly the right answer.

Finally, whatever you might think of the great family values debate, who would you rather listen to? A man with 26 years of marriage (to the same absolutely awesome woman) and three beyond adorable children, or a guy with three ticked-off ex-wives?

Best of luck, First Sergeant!

Eugene Robinson and Archie Bunker and Tigers, Oh My!

Almost forty years ago, Ebony Magazine put the actor Carroll O’Connor on its cover, asking the question: Is Archie Bunker the Face of White America?

The character of Archie Bunker raises the question of what the success of the TV show All in the Family said about America. Archie’s creator, the producer Norman Lear, was a McGovern Democrat and depicted Archie as a mean-spirited, bigoted buffoon. Personally, I saw All in the Family as a heavy-handed exercise in left-wing agit-prop depicting everyone on the right-wing side of the political divide as in need of a stay at a Reeducation camp.

I’ve read other people argue that Archie Bunker was, in fact, the face of much of right-wing America and that a sizable portion of the audience saw his racist diatribes as giving them a voice. Something that stays with me almost 40 years later is that in the introductory paragraph of that Ebony Magazine article is a quote from Archie stating that the reason that so many black athletes are great sprinters is that, back home, they had to run through the jungle with a tiger on their (heels.) (At the urging of my collaborator, I am cleaning this up a bit.) The article continued to state the obvious: that the only tigers in Africa are in zoos. Tigers are native to Asia.

This year’s Pulitzer Prize for Journalism went to a black man named Eugene Robinson. Last year, he wrote a column defending Michael Vick. After reading it, I did not know whether to laugh or spew. Robinson engaged in a bit of “everybody does it” moral relativism, pointing out that millions of people watch racehorses compete and a horse that breaks its leg is going to be shot. (Reality check, Mr. Robinson: they don’t shoot the losing racehorses.) Robinson continued stating, “after all, don’t we like to watch tigers eating zebras?” Yes, he actually said that. I believe this should serve as a reminder to newspaper readers. Number one: don’t believe everything you read. Number two: sometimes even a Pulitzer Prize winner can be as much of an ignoramus as Archie Bunker.

p.s. I seem to be the only person who noticed Mr. Robinson’s gaffe. I can only imagine how many column inches that story would have received if Sarah Palin had made a similar statement.

The ‘T’ Word

When I was studying at New College at Oxford, one of my classmates was a black woman named Linda Bailey. One of the subjects we discussed was the promotion of Benjamin “Chappy” James to be the Air Force’s first black four-star general. She said, quite dismissively, “He’s probably just a token.” My retort was that General James was going to be the CO of NORAD (North American Air Defense), which does not strike me as a responsibility you want to give to a man you’re using only as window dressing. I’ve thought of Linda’s comment many times over the years. When Benjamin O. Davis, Sr. became the US Army’s first black brigadier general in October of 1940, was he a token? I would say, definitely yes. Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall made him Inspector General of Colored Troops. A bit more than twenty-five years later, when Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. became the Army’s first lieutenant general (three stars), was he a token? While some people might think so, I would disagree.

Once, while attending a weekend drill at an Indiana National Guard armory in 1985, I happened upon an Indiana Army National Guard yearbook from the late 1940s. Apparently, it contained a photo of every Indiana National Guardsman serving that year. As I leafed through page after page, I couldn’t help but notice that every face was white. That is, until I came across one, yes one, all-black unit of about forty men. They were stretcher bearers. I distinctly recall that they had one black first lieutenant and one black second lieutenant. Were those men tokens? Definitely.

A decade later, I was drilling with a unit of the Ohio Army National Guard when I met a young black man, a Captain Alexander. I asked him if he had ever met the adjutant general of the Ohio Army National Guard: Major General Clifford Alexander. (Sometimes referred to as “Alexander the Pretty Darn Good.”) His reply was, “all the time; that man is my father.” I would find it very difficult to see how anyone could argue that Major General Alexander is a token.

By the same token (there’s that word again), when I was in high school, I often heard of some black community leaders advocating greater representation of minorities in the ranks of the Columbus Police Department. For more than a decade, the Columbus Chief of Police has been a man named James Jackson. Unless someone can demonstrate to me that he has no authority of responsibility, I don’t see how you can call him a token.

Some time ago, when I pointed out that, while there are plenty of valid criticisms to be made of George W. Bush, if you want to call him a racist, I find it hard to reconcile that position with him having picked not one, but two blacks as Secretary of State, the first two to ever hold that position. (When Ronald Reagan picked Samuel Pierce to be Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, a charge of tokenism might very well have been justified.) But if you’re going to call Bush a racist, think about this: The Ku Klux Klan would not have approved of his appointments.

I got an e-mail from a high school classmate dismissing Powell and Rice as tokens, adding, “They’re as black as I am.” Since this is an old friend with a temper that is, at times, as volatile as mine, I will try to adapt a mellow and only mild sarcastic tone when I enquire when she got certified as the authority as to who is and is not a token and who is and is not black. Mild sarcasm: she did, after all, grow up in a small shotgun shack on Halsted Road, picking cotton until her fingers bled, wuhkin’ foe da man every night and day. If, in fact, Powell and Rice were both tokens after each had served as both National Security Advisor and Secretary of State, would someone please be so kind as to enlighten me: was Henry Kissinger a token Jew? And if Condoleezza Rice is a token woman, then why can’t the same label be attached to Madeline Albright and Hillary Clinton?

I’m trying very hard to take a conciliatory, non-inflammatory tone here, but I wonder if anybody who calls Condoleezza Rice “not really black” is familiar with the story of Leslie McNair and reconsider their position. Leslie McNair was a grade-school classmate of Ms. Rice who was killed in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in 1963. Condoleezza Rice was close enough to hear the explosion. If she hadn’t had the fortune to be the daughter of a Presbyterian minister, she might have been killed in the explosion herself.

I’m afraid that the slur of “not really black” is a boilerplate slur used by left-wingers against any black person whose politics disappoint them.

Bill Wilson’s Trip to Akron

On Armistice Day in 1934, Bill Wilson, a New York stock broker, had a visit from an old friend and drinking buddy. Wilson had done a great deal of drinking over the previous six to ten years, much to the dismay of his wife. He had tried many times to quit without success. That day, Wilson’s friend declined the offer of a drink and informed Wilson that he’d found something that enabled him to stay sober. Something miraculous started that day. Bill Wilson started reaching out to other drunks, urging them not to drink. For the next six months, Wilson did not succeed in getting a single one of his buddies to go on the wagon, but to Wilson’s amazement, he managed to stay sober himself for the first time in 16 years. In May of 1935, Wilson took a business trip to Akron, Ohio in hopes of closing a deal that did not pan out. One evening, at his hotel, he had an almost overwhelming urge to drink, so he called a local clergyman and asked to be put in touch with another drunk that he could talk to.

Later that evening, he met Doctor Robert Smith. Doctor Smith was a long-suffering alcoholic who knew very well that he was very close to drinking himself to death. Initially, Doctor Smith said that he could only speak for five minutes. They talked for six hours. The next day, both men were still sober and they both realized they were onto something. They went to a local hospital and asked if they could meet with a patient being treated for alcoholism. The man they spoke with was a lawyer who told them that he had been through treatment half a dozen times and had most recently gotten drunk on his way home from the hospital. He said, sadly, in exactly so many words: “I’m a goner.” Bill W. and Doctor Bob told him that they had happened upon something that might enabled them all to stay sober. That was the first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, which has millions of members in dozens of countries all around the world. All three of those men stayed sober for the rest of their lives.

Eric Von Manstein

General Eric Von Manstein, a Prussian nobleman, gave outstanding service to a very bad cause. He helped formulate the attack in May of 1940 that broke through the Ardennes that knocked France out and almost won the war for Adolf Hitler. Later, on the Russian front, he led the attempt to relieve Stalingrad that came very close to succeeding. In the early months of 1944, he handled his forces brilliantly. He would allow Russians to break through the front lines, wait until they had penetrated deeply, then would attack them on the flanks, cutting them off. He and his men were seriously outnumbered, but because he was so skillful, he inflicted serious defeats on the Russians.

Manstein lived until 1973 and insisted to his dying day that if Hilter had listened to him, he could have won the war on the Eastern front. This is a common failing of Wehrmacht generals. They have a complete blind spot as to what would have happened if the war had endured until August 6, 1945.

Bottom line: Manstein was a brilliant commander. In the Spring of 1944, Hitler removed him from command and adopted a rigid policy of no withdrawals or retreats. Manstein received a very generous stipend. He soon realized that Hitler would not call upon him to save Germany.

Guess what Manstein did with that big pile of money? In October of 1944, Manstein purchased a huge country estate in East Prussia. 3 months later, the province is overrun by the Red Army. The brilliant military man made a serious tactical error with his investment.

A joke for WWII geeks: What do you call an East Prussian woman who has been raped 100 times in the last day and will be raped 100 times for each of the next 10 days? Luckier than most. (Obviously, I don’t find rape funny. The joke illustrates the comparable brutality of the Red Army.)

Left-Handed Studies

James Garfield, Harry S Truman, Bill Clinton, George Herbert Walker Bush, Ross Perot and Barack Obama all are left-handed. Tell me, is there any such thing as left-handed politics? Do these men have anything else in common?

I’ll be the first one to admit that I do not know everything there is to know about human sexuality. I certainly do not remember the day I decided that I found women attractive and men…well, not so much. In recent years, gay activists have raised the issue of whether not not sexuality is a choice. Is it something innate, just like being left-handed. I tend to support this view. It would be counterproductive and cruel to force a southpaw to be a righty. Furthermore, more guys who are interested in one another, the more women who are available for me.

I take the attitude of “live and let live.” If it’s innate, it seems patently absurd that gay activists try to promote gay history or gay studies.

Fred Phelps

The so-called reverend Fred Phelps is a horrible person and a disgrace to Baptists and clergy everywhere. He is also a disgrace to the legal profession. He was an attorney until the Kansas Supreme Court disbarred him a few years ago for unethical conduct. He and his minions at the Westboro Baptist Church have nothing better to do than to go to funerals all over America proclaiming that America is going to suffer divine retribution because our laws tolerate gays.

I completely fail to follow his logic. I will opine that he is a horrible, hateful human being. Surprise, surprise, he worships a horrible, hateful god. Recently, the British government refused to let him and his people enter the country. To the question: do we have freedom of speech in this country? I would say yes, and the only freedom that matters is for people whose opinions are ones you absolutely despise. I have two stories about how Americans deal with Fred Phelps and his crowd.

In Kansas, there is an organization called the Freedom Riders. The Freedom Riders are bikers, many of them veterans, who go to the funerals of military personnel. Phelps disrupted some of these funerals with signs and chants about how “god hates fags.” The Freedom Riders would position themselves on their Harleys between Phelps and the churches where the funerals were taking place and simply gun their engines. Now, I ask you, who wants to try to bodily cross a line of bikers? No doubt, lots of those bikers would have enjoyed putting Phelps and his crowd six feet under, but no. This is America and we have freedom of speech.

The second story is set in San Diego. As some of you know, San Diego is home to one of the world’s largest Naval bases, and Camp Pendelton, a large Marine base is nearby. When word got out that Phelps’s people were going to appear outside a church and protest at a serviceman’s funeral, a local DJ put the word out and when Phelps’s people tried to take their position outside the church, they found several thousand veterans already standing on the site between them and the church.

Seriously. How touching is that? Phelps and his crowd like to think that he and his crowd are destined for eternity and paradise. The fact that they did not get physical with that crowd of Marines shows they were not too eager to get there.

G. Robert Blakey

G. Robert Blakey is an extraordinarily arrogant man who has two saving graces: he will freely admit that he is arrogant and he is altogether entitled to be arrogant. If anyone has heard a news report of someone being charged with racketeering, that is almost certainly a reference to 42 United States Code 1961, the Racketeer Influence Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). RICO was largely Professor Blakey’s work. He got his start as one of Robert Kennedy’s right-hand men in the early sixties. He has forgotten more about prosecuting organized, syndicated crime than most people will ever learn. RICO was a revolutionary development in American jurisprudence. Here’s the deal: at common law, there is a distinction between civil and criminal law. Criminal law is designed to prosecute one person committing one crime on one day. As anyone who ever watched The Godfather knows, just as modern business organizations have become more sophisticated and diversified, so have syndicated criminals. RICO is designed not to attack individuals, but organizations. Whereas the common law treats crime like an individual atom, RICO deals with entire molecules. Anyone who has committed to predicate offenses within a ten-year period can be prosecuted, not only for those two offenses, but also for being a member of that organization. A RICO conviction carries a 20-year sentence in addition to the sentences for the predicate offenses.

The Notre Dame Law School snack bar had a special sandwich called The RICO, with the slogan, “everything comes under it.” I happened to be sitting next to Professor Blakey at a table in the snack bar in 1985, when the television news announced the indictments of the heads of the five New York crime families. Blakey was grinning like a Cheshire Cat. I’d often heard him say in class, that the Sherman Anti-trust act was passed in 1890, but it took the government 15 years to figure out how to use it, and it would take federal prosecutors a similar period to fully utilize RICO.

Ever since Lucky Luciano formed the Commission in the 1930s, the mafia (or more properly, La Cosa Nostra, “this thing of ours”) has worked to create an aura of invincibility. That only the small fish get convicted and serve short sentences. With that in mind, it’s interesting to relate what happened to the 11 Commission defendants. One, Anthony Delacroce, died of cancer before the end of the trial. One had his case severed and went to prison in a separate trial, serving all but three days of the rest of his life in prison. (The feds let him go home to die.) A third Commission member, Big Paulie Costellano, was whacked outside Sparks Steakhouse in Manhattan. (This indirectly caused Professor Blakey great annoyance. On the evening of December 16. 1985, he was lecturing on RICO to a group of FBI agents and federal prosecutors when he was interrupted by an audience member’s beeper. Then another. And another. Until the hall was filled with the chorus of beepers going off. The attendees of his seminar were all getting the news of Big Paulie’s whacking and he lost about half of his audience. I know from personal experience that Professor Blakey gets notoriously snappish at students who arrive late to his 8 a.m. lectures. (My best guess is that he does not use the same tone while addressing FBI agents who are packing .357 Magnums.) Of the eight remaining defendants, all were convicted and received lengthy prison sentences. In a last meeting before being shipped off to prison, one of the Mafioso offered their traditional toast, “centane.” (One hundred years.) Since four of the men had received one-hundred-year sentences, one suggested they might need to get a new toast. Of those eight men, four have died in prison and three are still there. Carmine “The Snake” Parsico is now seventy-five, and I’m sure he’s looking forward to his parole date…in 2050. The eighth Commission defendant, Antony Indellicato was released after thirteen years, returned to prison twice for parole violations, for nine months and two years, respectively. Last year, he accepted a plea agreement to serve a twenty-year sentence for murder.

I once heard Professor Blakey comment that the movie, The Godfather, played up the power and glamour of the mafia lifestyle, while The Godfather 2 depicted the horrendous human cost.

My Multicolored Clients

I have had three clients named “White,” two clients named “Black,” and one client named “Brown.” All of the Whites were black, all of the Blacks were brown (Yup’ik Indians), and Mr. Brown was white, so go figure.

My first client named White was a woman I represented in a noncontested divorce. She disapproved of her husband threatening her with a gun. I remember seeing her intake information and, noticing that her father was listed as “unknown.” We were just about to wrap up the whole thing without a hitch when she announced the divorce could not go forward. When I asked why, she informed me, “I’m pregnant.” So that particular piece of pro bono work was extended for nine months. I remember thinking, “Welcome to the world, kid. You are so screwed.”

My second White client was a woman who asked me to get her a civil protection order. When I asked what her husband’s address was, so he could be served, she told me he was homeless, but for the time being, he was in Franklin County Correctional. When I asked what he was charged with, she informed me that her former paramour was awaiting trial for aggravated robbery and first-degree murder. He was, however, gentlemanly enough to agree to a consent decree to stay away from her for five years. I encouraged Ms. White to form somewhat higher standards for boyfriends. (Those of you with teenage daughters might tell them that story!)

My most recent White client is a new father whose newborn tested positive for cocaine. I have informed mom and dad that they can be parents or partake in cocaine, but they can’t do both. There’s a very real possibility that kid will soon be up for adoption.

I remember my first Black client was a Yup’ik Indian, a 17-year-old girl who I had met at the Tundra Center, Bethel, Alaska’s halfway house. I forget exactly how many prior convictions she had for public intoxication, but she was in double digits. When we finished our interview, I was thinking, “Where were her parents while she was getting falling-down drunk?” (I’ll leave it to the reader’s imagination what sometimes happens to passed-out drunk Yup’ik girls at parties.) I got my answer a moment later, when her father entered, who needed defense against his own alcohol-related charge. Perhaps he was handing her the bottle.

Mr. Brown, who happens to be white, told me the tale of a guy who, perhaps, dreams of qualifying as one of America’s dumbest criminals. Just released from jail, he walked out the front door and into the jail parking lot. He started going through the cars parked there, including one belonging to a local badass named Virgil Mitchell. (Absolutely, positively no relation whatsoever.) This proved to be bad judgment on his part because the jail parking lot is under constant video surveillance. The arresting officers had a very short trip taking him back to jail. This is possibly a Delaware County record.

I try my level best to treat all my clients with respect, regardless of their name or color, because as long as I submit my paperwork on time, eventually, I will get to see Mr. Green.

The Pitchfork Problem (Rated R)

This essay concerns the difficult issue of dealing with society’s most dangerous offenders. While everyone is welcome to comment, I’ll be especially interested to hear from a British lawyer with whom I’ve been communicating.

In one of England’s most famous criminal cases, an English baker named Colin Pitchfork was convicted of raping and murdering two schoolgirls in their early teens. The conviction was the first to be aided by DNA evidence and was the subjected of the Joseph Wambaugh’s book, The Blooding. Mr. Pitchfork received a life sentence in 1989. I recently learned that Mr. Pitchfork will be released in 2019. Does anyone think that is a good idea? Mr. Pitchfork will only be 57 years old. I think a 57-year-old man could still pose a terrible threat to any teenage girl unlucky enough to cross his path.

Isn’t it troubling to know he’ll be back out on the street?

If an offender makes a living as a purse snatcher, about the time he turns 40, he is going to conclude that he should get into another line of work. Likewise, some people argued that Reggie, the surviving member of London’s notorious Cray Twins could have been released before the end of his 30-year term without endangering the public. In his twenties and thirties, he and his twin brother Ronnie terrorized the city. In his sixties, he would have been good for a laugh.

Bottom line: I find the thought of Colin Pitchfork ever breathing free air again absolutely terrifying. I wish the ODCs would perform a PSH and make the world a better place.

There was a guy in Pennsylvania by the name of Joseph “Jo-Jo” Bowen who got a life sentence for killing a police officer. A few years later, he attempted to escape. In the process, he and his accomplice knifed a warden and assistant warden to death. What do we do with a guy like that?

The famous author, Joseph Wambaugh, who spend 14 years as a Los Angeles police officer, once spoke to a group of inmates at San Quentin. When asked of his view on capital punishment, he replied, “I think a man in prison ought to have the right to do his time in peace. I’ll give you all the crimes of passion you want, but if you contract a murder, both parties ought to be subject to the death penalty. Particularly if you get unanimous support from the inmates around.” (One inmate noted that his colleagues on death row wouldn’t like that.)

I am with Wambaugh on the death penalty. We have to be harsher when inmates kill each other.

Robert “Bonsai Bob” Vickers was serving time in an Arizona prison for a series of burglaries. One day, he discovered his cellmate had drunk his Kool-Aid. Mr. Vickers expressed his disapproval by strangling the man to death, then used a cigarette to sign his work by burning the word “Bonsai” into the sole of the late, lamented’s foot. When the guards investigated, Mr. Vickers ordered them, “Get this piece of shit out of my cell.”

After he’d been convicted of that murder, Mr. Vickers was on janitorial duty when another inmate made a lewd remark about his niece. (At this point, my collaborator asked, “Why would he DO that?” To which I replied, “I have no idea.” If I’d been anywhere near Mr. Vickers, I would have kept a low profile.) Mr. Vickers constructed a firebomb out of janitorial supplies and threw it into the man’s cell, with grisly results. While I believe it’s possible to strangle someone in a fit of passion, I don’t think that constructing a firebomb qualifies.

On trial for his life for the second time, Mr. Vickers made a partially successful escape attempt. He made it out of his cellblock onto the roof of a prison building, where he and an accomplish discovered, to their intense chagrin, that there was no way to get down off of the roof and the building was too high to take a chance on jumping. They consoled themselves by performing a striptease for the female tower guard, who was holding a rifle on them. After his second murder conviction, Vickers did not make things easy for his defense team. He sent a letter to the court, announcing that if the state of Arizona did not execute them, he would “spill more blood than they could ever mop up.”

When he learned that Governor Bruce Babbitt was considering commuting his sentence to life without the possibility of parole, Vickers wrote the Governor a letter, demanding to know what the holdup was. He said, “Hurry up, I’ve got a date with the Devil’s wife.”

The state of Arizona finally did get around to executing Mr. Vickers. Personally, I think he made a great argument in favor of the death penalty.

Remember the Shakespearean quote, “Beware MacDuff?” I’ll never forget the case of Kenneth Allan McDuff. In the mid-sixties, McDuff was convicted of raping and murdering a teenage girl, as well as killing two of her male companions. He was sent to death row. In 1972, the United States Supreme Court found the death penalty to be unconstitutional. McDuff served more than twenty years in a Texas maximum-security prison. Then, a Texas judge mandated that prisoners be released to alleviate overcrowding. McDuff was released, with predictably ghastly results. In a few years, McDuff was back on Texas’s death row, after having been convicted of murdering two Texas women. How many additional murders he is responsible for is a question for speculation. As I say to my English friends, I hope Colin Pitchfork doesn’t end up being another Kenneth Allan McDuff.

Woody Hayes and Butterflies

As I have mentioned many times, I knew Woody Hayes fairly well, and I learned something from him that I find useful in counseling the clients I assist in obtaining personal protection orders. Many of these clients have suffered terrible abuse, and are therefore fearful about appearing in court. On those occasions, I am quite fond of sharing a bit of wisdom that Woody Hayes often imparted to players before big games, knowing that even the toughest and most talented teenage boy was likely to be experiencing severe stage fright at the prospect of taking the field in front of 85,000 screaming fans, and possibly a nationwide television audience.

He would ask them, “Do you have butterflies in your stomach?” Upon hearing “yes,” he would reply: “Great. Tell them to fly in formation.” I’m happy to say that I have quoted Woody on a couple of dozen occasions now, and it always seems to help. So thanks, Woody.

Incident at Vichy

In Arthur Miller’s play, Incident at Vichy, a group of men have been arrested by the French police. All but one of them are Jewish. While they wait to be questioned, they talk and talk and talk and talk and talk about what is likely to happen to them. For anyone familiar with what actually happened to French Jews deported to Nazi Germany, you want to scream, “Run! Attack the guard if you have to, because once that train arrives at a death camp, it will be thirty minutes for the time the cattle car door slams open until the door on the crematorium slams shut and you’ll be part of a dirt pile in Poland!”

Family story: My uncle Terry served in the 104th infantry division in WWII. In late April 1945, his unit went through a recent liberated concentration camp. He took some pictures of what he saw there and I happened to see them when I was still quite young. They made quite an impression on me. In 1975, when Phnom Penh fell to the Khmer Rouge, I remember arguing with my father about the absolutely horrendous events that were taking place. My father was quite dismissive when I said that they were marching hospital patients out of their beds and into the countryside at bayonet point. He commented, “Well, maybe they’re only doing that with people who have rested up.” The point to all of this? It’s part of my worldview. Most people like my father and the detainees in Incident at Vichy, have no idea of how bad things can really get.

The only Americans who truly understand this are very elderly Jewish folks with blue tattoos on the inside of their left arms and Cambodian-Americans old enough to remember 1975. We have no idea how good we have it. I’m afraid of what is headed our way.