Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Palin and Penguins

My collaborator loves to hate former Alaska governor Sarah Palin. Indeed, he takes the Matt Damon position that former Governor Palin does not believe that dinosaurs and man were separated by millions of years.

As the last word on this, Palin has declared in her biography, Going Rogue, that she does believe in both divine Creation and evolution and that evolution is part of the divine plan. I’d say that seeing evolution as a divine plan is the thin end of an absolutely enormous wedge. My own position can be summed up with the story of the male penguin who, after waddling fifty miles over an ice field in sub-zero temperatures, says to his mate, “Intelligent design, my ass!”

Arkansas Politics

My father was born in Osceola, Arkansas on December 28, 1919. For anyone who saw the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line, Osceola is a county seat town in the north of Arkansas, about fifteen miles from Dyess, Arkansas, where Johnny Cash grew up. In the film, there is a scene where the entire Cash family is picking cotton and someone says it will be one hundred and two degrees by noon. Speaking as someone who made a dozen week-long visits to visit my paternal grandmother in Osceola, always in the summertime, my reaction was, “Goodness, they’re having a cold spell.”

He was thirteen years old when FDR took office and told me the following story about the impact the New Deal had on the region. A popular joke had a new teacher asking her grade schoolers who built this new school. The children would chorus, “Roosevelt!”

“And who got us our new textbooks?”


“Who made heaven and Earth?”

A newcomer child says, “God?

His classmates got together and decided, “During recess, we’ll beat up that Republican.”

I did some research and learned that FDR carried Arkansas with 82% of the vote in 1932. Four years later, he actually improved his score, moving up to 86%. (Across the river in Mississippi, FDR did even better, with 94 and 97%, respectively.) Arkansas voted Democratic in every Presidential election from 1836 until 1968, when George Wallace carried the state as an independent.

I once asked my father which would have astonished him more: to see a man walk on the moon or to see a Republican win election to the governorship of Arkansas. He laughed and said that latter. This leads to the story of one of the great electoral flukes of American history. Back in the 1930s, John D. Rockefeller’s five sons all seemed destined for great things. Nelson wanted to be President of the United States. David wanted to run the Chase Manhattan Bank. Winthrop, however, appeared to be an utterly hopeless alcoholic. He managed to get himself expelled from Yale. (Exactly how bad to you have to be to get expelled from college when your name is Rockefeller?) The family sadly concluded that Winthrop was a lost cause and they shipped him off to a treatment center in Arkansas where they were certain he would drink himself to death.

Wonder of wonders, Winthrop sobered up after a few years. He had spent enough time in Arkansas that he’d grown to rather like the place. He went into politics as a Republican in a state that had been solidly Democratic since day one.

Winthrop was extraordinarily fortunate in his opposition. Arkansas had a four-term governor by the name of Orval Faubus, who was utterly corrupt and a vociferous racist. It was he who had forced President Eisenhower to send fifteen thousand troops to Little Rock to protect black students integrating in the local high school. Winthrop Rockefeller was a reasonably intelligent man and, as far as I can tell, an entirely honest man. (Exactly how do you bribe a Rockefeller?)

He won election in 1970 and won reelection four years later. I believe he was the only Republican my father ever supported in his entire life.

Beauregard's Flag

Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard was one of the leading Confederate generals during the American Civil War. If the South had won the war, Beauregard would certainly have been one of the Confederacy’s greatest heroes. He is supposed to have fired the first shot at Fort Sumter in April of 1861. He took over command of the Army of Tennessee after General Albert Sidney Johnston’s death at Shiloh in April of 1862. He commanded the coastal defenses of the Eastern Seaboard for much of the war and was credited with helping to defend Petersburg in 1864. While reading Gone With the Wind, I came across a short story that described General Beauregard’s popularity with the Cajuns in Louisiana. The story goes that, when a Cajun hears another Southerner praising General Lee, he is silent for moment then says, “General Lee? General Lee? Oh, yes, I remember now. General Lee is the gentleman General Beau regard speaks so highly of.”

General Beauregard’s fame comes from his design of what became the Confederate battle flag. In the early stages of the war, the Confederate “Bonnie Blue” flag (13 white stars on a blue field with one red and one white stripe) was so similar to the American flag as to cause confusion. Beauregard came up with the idea of creating a flag with a blue St. Andrews cross against a red background. After the war, Beauregard went into politics and used his flag in his political campaigns. I recently learned a detail that astonished me. Beauregard’s political platform provided for complete equality between the races. Needless to say, Beauregard’s platform did not enjoy unanimous support.

My question for the present day is, does Beauregard’s flag stand for disunion and slavery, or can it merely be a symbol for Beauregard’s subsequent political platform. As Alice said to Humpty Dumpty, can you make a word (or a symbol) mean what you want it to mean.

Representing Decamom

The Octomom has been much in the news lately. This wretched creature, after having six illegitimate kids, managed to get fertility treatments and had eight more in one shot. In my legal career, I have represented two sextomoms (six children), and one septomom (seven kids). This past year, I met Decamom. Yes, that’s right, ten children.

In response to my collaborator's facetious question about why the state would want change of custody on her youngest, after having already received Permanent Changes of Custody on numbers five, six, seven, eight and nine, the answer is that the tenth was found to have cocaine in her bloodstream. By the time I got to the case, I learned that Decamom had failed two drug screens and had failed to appear for over 100 others. I discovered, to my considerable surprise, that, legally speaking, her children were not illegitimate. She is married and her husband is doing a lengthy prison sentence in the federal system for drug trafficking. I met her paramour and did not inquire as to his thought process in choosing such a woman as the mother of his child. (After all, she only has one conviction for soliciting prostitution.)

I did everything I could think of as a professional to represent her. However, she lost her case. If the child hasn’t suffered permanent brain damage as a result of her mother’s drug use, maybe it has a decent chance in life. What I find terrible disturbing is the thought that I am one of 260 lawyers doing assigned counsel work in Franklin County. I find the long-term implications for our civilization to be cause for despair.

(A friend of mine once asked, upon hearing about this case, “That’s stupid! (expleteive deleted) Hasn’t she thought of having an abortion?” Let’s not have a discussion about abortion. I should, however, point out that after her second or third or fourth illegitimate child, I’m pretty sure that Decamom knew exactly what she was doing.)

The Sullivans and the USS Juneau

The five Sullivan brothers grew up in Waterloo, Iowa. Before World War II, two of the boys had served hitches in the U.S. Navy. After Pearl Harbor, the five brothers agreed to enlist in the Navy on the condition they be allowed to serve of the same ship. When notified about the possible danger, the brothers said, “if we go down, we go down together.”

Unfortunately, on November 13, 1942, their ship, the USS Juneau, which had already been damaged in the Naval battles around Guadalcanal, took a torpedo from a Japanese submarine that set off a massive secondary explosion. Astonishingly, the Juneau sank in twenty seconds. The commander of the Juneau’s task force decided that there could not be any survivors. Rather than risk losing another ship to submarine attack, ordered the ships in the task force not to make any attempt at rescue. For that decision, Admiral Halsey later relieved him of his commission. The task force commander had ordered a message sent for a plane search of the area. Unfortunately, that search was conducted ten days later.

Over 600 men died immediately. They might have been the lucky ones. Eighty men made it into the water, where all but ten died of thirst, exposure or shark attack. At least two of the Sullivan brothers were in that group.

Back in the States, Hollywood made a 1944 film called The Fighting Sullivans. This film, to a modern viewer, comes across like Ozzie and Harriet Go to War. The very last shot of the film depicts the fifth Sullivan brother, the one who was always left behind, scrambling upstairs to the Pearly Gates, “Hey! Wait up for me!”

The truth about what really happened out the South Pacific was far more than Hollywood could handle. Only years later did the ten survivors relate that George Sullivan managed to survive for five days in the water. As horrible as that experience was, one of the worst aspects of this was hearing George call out the names of his four brothers, never getting a response.

The USS Juneau

My Encounter With a Rogue Psychologist

When I was attending Arabic language classes at the Defense Language Institute (DLI) in Monterey in August of 1980 to August of 1981, the dropout rate was close to fifty percent. One day, the sailor who sat next to me in class had an anxiety attack and was sent back in training. At the time, the thought of being dropped from language course and being sent out to sea as a nonrated seaman terrified me. Furthermore, after seeing Seaman Zimmerman completely freak out, I was scared of getting too scared. I found out that the Presidio Monterey Dispensary had a counseling center. Upon discovering that it was FREE, I decided I would see a counselor once a week after class so I could, in effect, count my marbles and make sure I still had all of them.

For a while, I was seeing an Army Captain by the name of Frank King, who seemed to have a pretty good idea of what he was doing. One afternoon, I got to the Dispensary and Captain King was not there to greet me. After a minute or two, I had the orderly on duty page him, but there was still no response. The two of us went back to Dr. King’s office and knocked on his door. A few seconds later, Captain King opened the door just slightly and told me that he was working on a stress case and that he would be with me shortly. We had our usual session, and I didn’t think anything more of the incident until the next day, when I got back to the Navy Barracks. I had received a message that there was a call for me from the Criminal Investigation Division. I immediately called the CIE personnel, wondering what they wanted. Shortly thereafter, I learned I’d be talking to a different counselor. It was not until several weeks later that I learned that Captain King was under investigation for making improper advances on his female patients.

I graduated from DLI in August 1981 and went off to Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas for four months of additional training. One day in late October, I was taking care of some paperwork at the Navy admin center when I heard I’d been subpoenaed to testify at Captain King’s court martial. I was on the next flight, and arrived in Monterey on Thursday evening, which made for one of the best four-day weekends of my life.

When I took the stand, the defense tried to get me to say that I had seen everything that had been going on, and that everything had been above-board. That’s not what I saw and that’s not the testimony I gave. On cross examination, the prosecutor asked me why I’d been seeing Captain King. I told him, “Academic stress.”

The prosecutor asked, “Did Captain King ever tell you that you needed ‘relaxation therapy’?”


“Did he ever tell you to lie down on the sofa?”


“Did he ever dim the lights?”


“Did he ever touch you?”

“Uh, I think we might have shaken hands.”

I found out later that six servicewoman had testified that Captain King had made improper advances during counseling sessions. My brief testimony was just one more nail in Captain King’s coffin. The court martial convicted him on all counts, and he was shipped off to Leavenworth. After leaving the Navy in June of 1984, I attended Notre Dame Law School and occasionally told the story of the Captain King Court Martial. In December of 1987, just as I was about to take my last final exam at Notre Dame, I got a call that I’d been subpoenaed to testify at Captain King’s retrial. I was flabbergasted to learn that he’d managed to get a new trial on appeal. While out on bail, he had allegedly committed date rape. So he was on trial for all of his previous charges in addition to the alleged rape. I learned a few days later that the defense had stipulated to my testimony so I was not going to have to fly to Leavenworth, Kansas in December. Captain King was convicted on all charges a second time, but a military appellate court reverse the rape conviction and, ultimately, he was released on time served.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion. Mine is that six years and a few months in Leavenworth does not strike me as a lenient sentence. To this day, I enjoy the irony that Captain Frank King managed to totally trash his career through his egregious, unprofessional conduct, and I managed to get a five-day weekend in Monterey.

A lawn at the DoD Center at Monterey.

Hirohito’s Conversion

In the aftermath of his surrender in August 1945, General of Army Douglas MacArthur acted as shogun. He had a virtual free hand from Washing to put in place any Constitutional reforms he saw fit. For example, making over a million tenant farmers into landowners, legalizing labor unions, institution a free press (with just one restriction: no criticism of MacArthur) and giving the vote to Japanese women. I must admit to feeling a certain malicious glee when I point out to certain feminists that MacArthur may be history’s greatest Suffragette. (Suffrager?)

MacArthur was a devout Episcopalian and saw Christianity as a positive influence on Japan. He encouraged missionaries (indeed, requested) to come to Japan to spread Christianity as a bulwark against Communism. The recently discovered diary of Defense Secretary James Forrestal relates that MacArthur told him he considered ordering Emperor Hirohito to convert to Christianity. Had he done so, many interesting questions would have been raised.

Until Hirohito renounced his divinity, he was the head of the Shinto church. This did not prove an insurmountable obstacle; the Vatican reached an understanding with the Shinto authorities allowing a sort of hybrid Shinto/Catholicism in Japan. (While I find that a bit bizarre, it’s much more sensible than some of the horrendous sectarian strife that has occurred in the past millennium.)

One of the first questions would be: If Hirohito converted to Christianity, which denomination would he convert to? Would the divine descendants of the Sun Goddess accept the Pope as head of his church, or, if he became Anglican, would he accept the monarch of England as the head of his church? Unfortunately, there was no option to convert to “white-label” Christianity, so that moment passed.

A Troubling Thought in the Vatican

When I visited the Vatican fifteen years ago, while walking down a broad, high-ceilinged hallway near the Sistine Chapel, I noticed that the structure was literally wall-to-wall old masters’ paintings for the length of the hall. I can only guess there might have been a thousand of them. I recognized a few of them. One of them was of the Pope in the early fifth century warning Attila the Hun not to advance upon Rome. (Attila did as the Pope advised. Some people see this as divine intervention. Others suspect Attila was wary of leading his army into a city that was suffering from an epidemic at the time.)

Another painting depicted the Massacre of the Innocents from the Book of Matthew. Herod had (allegedly) ordered the killing of all boys under the age of two in Bethlehem. I found that painting very disturbing. Happily, there is no non-biblical source for such a deed. Furthermore, while King Herod could be a thoroughly unsavory character, the Roman occupation authorities were extremely jealous of their power and did not look kindly on anyone else exercising it. What I found disturbing about that painting was that (allegedly) God warned Joseph in a dream of Herod’s plan and, the Good Book tells us, Joseph, Mary and the Christ child made a rapid exit to Egypt for two years. This raises a very disturbing question if you accept that story as being historically valid. (I certainly do not.) How could an all-loving, all-merciful god only warn Joseph, ignoring all of the other families of Bethlehem? Or, did the Angel warn Joseph, but screwed up big time by not ordering Joseph to spread the warning. (Or maybe Joseph made a flawed moral decision by not letting others know?)

It also disturbs me that I’m the only person who seems to have noticed this.

Presidential POWs

If John McCain had been elected President, he would have been the third American president to have done time as a prisoner of war. The first was George Washington, who was forced to surrender to French forces at Fort Necessity near present-day Pittsburg back in 1754. His actions managed to touch off a world war. Quite an accomplishment for a twenty-two-year-old.

The second story is less well-known. In 1780, a thirteen-year-old boy who was serving as a courier to a South Carolina militia unit was captured by British forces, along with his older brother. (A third brother had already been killed in action the year before.) At one point, a British officer ordered the young fellow to polish his boots. The teenager’s exact words are lost to history, but they so enraged the officer that he struck the boy repeatedly with his saber, leaving him with scars on his head and left hand. There was no Geneva Convention in those days and the life of a prisoner of the British was a hard one. Both brothers nearly starved to death while in British custody. The younger brother contracted smallpox and died a few days after his release. That teenage boy had had a tough year. His widowed mother had been tending to wounded American soldiers, contracted smallpox herself and died. Who would have believed that that orphaned thirteen-year-old boy who had lost his entire family would become Andrew Jackson.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Movie Recommendation: MOON

I just got back from seeing the film "Moon". I HIGHLY recommend it.

P.S. For the benefit of one of my friends in London, the movie is *not* about an adorable English bulldog. :)

USMC Commandants and the MOH

Since we're celebrating the 234th birthday of the United States Marine Corps, I thought I'd share a bit of trivia: while web-surfing recently, I happened upon a list of the USMC Commandants. I happened to notice a small notation (MOH) next to some of their names- indicating that they'd been awarded the Medal of Honor. (Kindly note: the majority of Medals of Honor are awarded posthumously) Of the last *twenty* USMC Commandants, *four* were Medal of Honor winners. US Marines have a very well-deserved reputation for bravery under fire.

Nov. 9th in Germany

It appears that in the past century in Germany, *everything* happens on November 9th. On that date in 1918, Kaiser Wilhelm abdicated his throne, one indication that the end of World War I was at hand. 11/9/38 was "Crystal Night" in Nazi Germany-a grisly episode of mob violence which portended the onset of the Holocaust, and on 11/9/1989, the Berlin Wall came crashing down (one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen).

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

My Great-Aunt Hazel, Suffragette

When my Great-Aunt, Hazel Blecha died in late October 2006, she was 111 years old. She was only thirteen months short of becoming a teenager for the second time. She was born November 30, 1894, back when there were only 44 states in the Union. She also was one of the very last women in America to be denied the right to vote because she was a woman. The presidential election of 1916 was held four weeks before her twenty-second birthday. Great-Aunt Hazel did manage to make up for that by voting in the next twenty-two presidential elections. During election season, it is important to remember how precious the right to vote is.

$188 History Lesson

Several years ago, Bill Cosby’s only son, Ennis, was shot to death by a Ukrainian immigrant. Mrs. Cosby was understandably devastated. I was saddened to hear her declare that America had “made Mikhail Markhasev a killer.” She said that America was such a racist society that we put slaveholders on our currency. For anyone interested, here is the truth about America’s founding fathers. It’s a lot more complicated than you might think.

George Washington is on the one-dollar bill. Revisionist historians love to bring up that he was one of America’s wealthiest landowners, with many slaves on his plantation. What most people don’t know is that most of the slaves at Mount Vernon were not Washington’s property. They either belonged to his wife, Martha, or were part of a trust that he’d inherited. Even before the Revolutionary War, Washington had strictly forbade his overseers to buy new slaves. He also declared that all young male slaves on the plantation be taught a useful trade. Before the end of the war, Washington had become what you might call a lukewarm abolitionist. A person on his staff suggested that Washington that the states institute a policy of granting freedom to any slave who volunteered to serve in the Continental Army. That officer went back to his home state of North Carolina with Washington’s encouragement and put the proposal before the North Carolina legislature, where it did not enjoy much support. As President, Washington continued to be a slaveowner and to advocate the abolition of slavery. He was well aware that he could not press the issue too hard, as the American Union was a shaky thing in those early years. After Washington’s death, his will instructed in iron-clad terms that no Mount Vernon slave was to be sold for any reason. He also mandated that after Lady Washington’s death, the slaves would have the option: they could be manumented or be provided for at Mount Vernon until their deaths. Washington’s estate was still making payments to elderly slaves in the 1830s, more than three decades after Washington’s death. Washington had a better retirement program than most current-day corporations.

Thomas Jefferson is a paradox and a tragedy. The same man who ringingly condemned slavery in his first draft of the Declaration of Independence was a slaveholder for his entire adult life. Contrary to popular belief, it is still somewhat in doubt whether he fathered Sally Hemings’ children or whether it was one of his brothers.

Critics of Abraham Lincoln love to cite an 1858 speech he made during his campaign for the Senate against his great rival, Stephen Douglas. Real students of history learn of the evolution of Lincoln’s views mere opposition of the extension of slavery to his later signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. In early April 1965, he endorsed suffrage to blacks who had served in the Union Army. One of the people in the audience that day was a young actor who commented about Lincoln, “He’s a dead man.”

Alexander Hamilton was running his own business in his early teens in the West Indies, an economy built on slavery. By the time he was twenty, Hamilton became one of the founding members of New York’s Abolition Society.

Andrew Jackson was a slaveowner and Indian fighter. I’ll bet you don’t know that, after one battle with the Indians, he found a small Indian child on the battlefield. When he inquired of the survivors whose child it was, the Indians said that they should let the child die because its parents were dead. Jackson and his wife raised the child as their own.

Ulysses S. Grant executed Lincoln’s orders to end slavery. You could fault him because he didn’t follow through on Reconstruction. Perhaps he figured that we had already fought one horrendous civil war and didn’t need another one. Ironically, Grant had owned a slave through an inheritance from his wife’s family. He was a black man named Jones and came to him in the 1850s. Although Grant was in such dire straits that he was selling firewood on the street, he simply let the man go.

Benjamin Franklin is another paradox. As a young man, he was a slaveowner. Yes, in Philadelphia. However, his views underwent a sea change when he visited a school for freed black children. He came to the conclusion that the facility of blacks were as great as those of whites, and became one of Philadelphia’s abolitionist society.

Malevolent Marquan

Last year, I had a teenage client named Marquan. He was a black kid whose father is not in the picture. (Gee, there’s a surprise!) He was charged with menacing. He had shown up on school property after he’d been ordered to leave the premises and made threatening gestures toward another student. While that charge was still pending, he informed me that he had picked up another menacing charge, so he had two cases. After I had received the discovery packets on both cases, I met with Marquan and his mom, who was adamant that her son had never done anything wrong.

During that meeting, Marquan told me that he had picked up another charge. I told him I knew. He said, “no no.” Darling Marquan had picked up a third menacing charge. I would like to note for the record that, having visited Marquan’s residence, I can attest that he lives in a very nice house in the suburbs. What terrifies me is his that he is convinced that he’d done nothing wrong; he just had a “I gotta keep it real” attitude.

The ending of my dealings with Marquan came as a surprise. He had managed to pick up a fourth charge for possessing marijuana. The prosecutor offered to dismiss those three menacing charges if he would plead guilty to marijuana possession and agree, as a term of his probation, to avoid the people he had menaced. While my appreciation for irony helps keep me sane (would people think I was racist if I thought this case was full of black humor?), Marquan’s attitude simply terrifies me. I fear that, someday, he will hurt someone really badly or else menace someone who is prepared to respond with lethal force.

Visiting Bristol Cathedral

Back in the summer of 1986, I attended the Notre Dame Law School’s summer program in London and I managed to go on quite a few bus tours. That’s one of the nice things about England; you can see an awful lot of it within a three-hour drive of the capital. One weekend, a busload of us visited Bristol, and we toured the cathedral. For the record, I found my classmates to be a very pleasant bunch (we had several students from Baylor Law school we affectionately referred to as the “wackos from Waco”). There’s only one of them I wouldn’t want to see again. That exception was a guy from Berkeley Law School who, I understand, had graduated from Harvard as an undergrad. (That sound you hear in the background is the three Yalies on this mailing list laughing.)

His name was William Holman, and he was a real piece of work. He was about 6’6” and was morbidly obese. He was at least 100 pounds overweight. He had unruly hair, a bad complexion, wore extremely baggy jeans. (He looked like he stole them from Dumbo the elephant. ) He smoked unfiltered cigarettes and was given to wearing unbuttoned white dress shirts over t-shirts with either obscure or obnoxious slogans on them. While walking through the cathedral, I discovered, to my horror, that Holman had picked that day to wear a t-shirt that proclaimed, in large letters, “born again atheist.” At this point, let me say that while I am not of the Anglican faith, I believe in showing a modicum of respect. If I walk into a synagogue, I will certainly put on a yarmulke. In a mosque, I would take off my shoes. If this had taken place in the United States, I would have, perhaps, not been so outraged at Holman’s swinish behavior. However, we were a group of Americans in a foreign country and I take a great deal of pride in being a good ambassador for my country.

I was doing a slow burn, working up to a full boil. It occurred to me both that Holman’s behavior in wearing such an obnoxious t-shirt was beyond the pale and that the man was such a pig that if anyone said anything to him, he might just make a scene that would make the whole sorry matter a whole lot worse. I thought the next day’s Sun might bear the headline; Yabbo Yanks in Bristol Cathedral Brawl. I pondered that dilemma for a moment, then I realized that when the summer program was over, I was planning on paying a visit to a couple of whom I am very fond. The man of the house is a career United States Marine who spent four years as a drill instructor. The thought occurred to me that I might recount this incident to them. It then occurred to me that I might tell my friend that a fellow American so utterly disgraced himself before not only his classmates but before the whole world and I was too chicken**** to do anything about? How would a Marine drill instructor handle the situation.

Armed with that thought, I walked over to Holman until I was so close until my mouth was two inches from his ear. I snarled, “You button that shirt up. You look like a caricature of an ugly American tourist.”

He replied, in a goofy voice, “Oh, yes, sir.” And he buttoned up his shirt. It’s just as well that he did, because I was so livid that I was ready to Holman through one of Bristol Cathedral’s walls. Immediately thereafter, two of my classmates came over to shake my hand and pat me on the back for my cojones. Less than a minute later, the resident rector came out to greet us, said a few nice words and even offered one of those oh-heavenly-father-help-us-to-be-good prayers. At the time, I was quite skeptical of signs of divine approval, but that sure appeared to be one.

Yahya Abdul Kareem

In view of recent events in Fort Hood, Texas, I thought I’d tell of my experience with a Moslem shipmate of mine named Yahya Abdul Kareem. I should note that Yahya was black and he was Muslim, but he was not a Black Muslim. We worked in the same office at Fort Meade, Maryland. We had a supervisor who neither of us could stand and NOTHING builds friendships better than having a common enemy.

Yahya and I got along so well that he started calling me “Kunta Kent.” (Instead of Kunta Kinte from Roots.) He even told me once that I might have all the honkies fooled, but I was a brother passing for white. I took it as the good-natured ribbing it was, and slipping into my best Kingfish impersonation, replied, “Yahya, I have carefully considered de situation, and seein’ how much I love barbecue, basketball and god knows I always be chasin’ de white women, you must be right.”

In all the time I knew Yahya, I never heard anyone say a single negative word to him about him being Moslem. I also never heard him mention anything like that, either. If someone had made a religious slur about him, I would have gone ballistic. In my four years of active duty, eight years in the reserves and slightly over two years teaching on board US Navy ships, I never heard any friction between servicepeople over religious matters. I can’t say anything about how Major Nidal Malik Hasan was treated. I can only say that I never heard anything like that.

My Bailiff Theory

On the sixth floor of the Franklin County Courthouse in room 61, the Honorable Judge Dana Preisse has a bailiff named Jerry who is rather hard to miss. He is 6’7”and looks like a slightly paunchy ex-NFL lineman. For the record, Jerry is a very pleasant fellow who does his job quite well. I’ve never heard him say a cross word to anyone. Somewhere in that courthouse (I won’t say where) is another bailiff who, you might say, is quite vertically challenged. This person (I won’t mention name, race, gender or religious affiliation) is notorious for going off on people for good reasons, bad reasons, or no reason at all. I am always walking on eggshells when in that section of the courthouse.

I recently told Jerry that I had developed a theory on bailiffs. I had come to the tentative conclusion that the niceness of bailiffs seemed to be in direct proportion to their size. Jerry got a good laugh out of that.

Hollywood Riddle

In 1970, there was a movie that earned Golden Globe nominations for both the male and female leads, as well as an Oscar nomination for the male lead. Surprisingly, the actor playing the title role in that film did not speak a single word and never appeared in another film. Can anyone name him? (I see that I have my collaborator stumped.)

The film was The Great White Hope, starring James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander. Jim Beattie played the kid who ultimately defeats Jones’ character to become Heavyweight Champion of the World. In real life, Jim Beattie had been a much-hyped, but only moderately talented, heavyweight boxer. (At 6’9”, he was an impressive-looking guy, similar to Jess Willard.) So after failing at being the Great White Hope in real life, he managed to play one on the screen.

Writing Fiction...and Sleazy Frenchmen

A while back, I wrote a screenplay entitled “The Zambezi Conspiracy,” which was my pipe dream/wish-fulfillment fantasy of what should have happened in Rwanda. I have one character who is a sleazy Frenchman who happens to be a priest. If you’re wondering why I conceived such a character, it’s because Rwanda was once a Belgian colony where French was the first language. Further, even as I write this, there is a priest and a couple of nuns doing time for having assisted those who committed genocide. While considering what to name this sleazy French character, I thought, “what the heck; why not name him ‘Petain’,” though I knew some readers may find that too obvious a name for a Frenchman who collaborates with doers of unspeakable evil.

A few months later, I happened to read James Webb’s novel, Lost Soldiers, which takes place in present-day Vietnam. I got a very good chuckle when I discovered that Webb had given the name of Petain to one of his characters, who also happened to be a sleazy Frenchman.

The Perfect Undergraduate Major for a USMC Lieutenant

I’ve mentioned before that when I was stationed at Fort Mead, I knew a very sharp Marine Lieutenant named Eileen Finkle-Hering. She told me that she graduated from Rutgers and I once (politely) teased her that she had earned a degree in the perfect subject to prepare her to become a Marine officer.

While at Rutgers, she studied Animal Behavior.

Robert Stroud’s Parole Hearing

Robert Stroud (1890-1963) is better known by his nickname, The Birdman of Alcatraz. The 1962 film by that name, starring Burt Lancasater in the title role, depicted Stroud as a sensitive, misunderstood fellow. Incredibly, some of the theaters that showed the film set up tables featuring petitions in favor of the commutation of Stroud’s sentence.

The real Robert Stroud was an extraordinarily vicious sociopath. As a young man, he was a pimp in Anchorage, Alaska, who murdered one of his patrons. Since Alaska was then a territory and not a state, Stroud was sent to prison, where he murdered a guard. That ensured that he never drew another free breath. (When he was being transferred from one federal prison to another, the guards discovered that he had been inventive enough to construct a still out of equipment he was supposed to be using for his aviary studies.)

Shortly before he died, Stroud represented himself at a parole hearing. When the board asked him why they should release him, Stroud stated, “Well, I’m getting to be an old man and I’ve got so many people I want to kill that if I don’t get released pretty soon, I’ll never get around to killing them all.” People who were there state that Stroud was not joking.

Theodore Geisel’s Extraordinary Economy of Words

Theodore Geisel’s friend, Bennett Cerf, once bet him that he could not write a book using fewer than fifty words. Geisel took the bet and won it while creating a literary masterpiece. The result of the bet was Green Eggs and Ham.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Down the River, Up the River

The term "to sell down the River" dates back over 150 years. In the antebellum South, slaves in the "Upper South" tended to have a *much* easier lot than field hands in the Deep South, who spent a lifetime working dawn to dusk six days a week. That's why the Mark Twain's character of Jim in Huckleberry Finn fears that his new master might "sell him down the (Mississippi) river".

The term "Going up the river" is just as old, and originated due to the fact that clear back in 1825, the state of New York decided to locate its maximum security prison at the town of Ossining, (or Sing Sing) up the Hudson River from New York City.

Anyone "going up the river" to Sing Sing was going to serve a *very* long sentence.

Miss United Kingdom Yvonne Ormes

Back in December of 1971, a young lady named Yvonne Ormes, who'd won the title of Miss United Kingdom, joined Bob Hope's Christmas Show as it toured American military bases. I have no information as to her motivation; in any event, I'm sure that a whole lot of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines were *quite* happy to see her. Bob Hope's writers did manage to give her a very good line.

Hope: "So, what's it like being Miss United Kingdom?"
Ormes: "Well, it sure beats Miss Common Market!"

Saffron Burrows' Fancy

Saffron Burrows is a very talented actress and (IMO) a very beautiful woman from Great Britain. She also, I understand, either is a switch-hitter, or bats from the left side of the plate. (Sad to say, I lack any direct information.) I suspect she has absolutely no shortage of prospective boyfriends and girlfriends. I really saw her give an interview in which she was asked about having once announced that she 'fancied' Hillary Clinton. She commented that she'd figured that that would be a much more interesting thing to say than Brad Pitt.

I suppose it's only a matter of time before she gets a call from Chappaqua, New York...................from Bill, asking if she 'fancies' a threesome.

P.S. I thought Ms. Burrows was excellent in "The Bank Job". I also thought, Jeeeez! When Princess Margret went slumming, she did NOT go halfway, now did she?

Richard Palmer

A few days ago, I happened to speak with an attorney named Richard Palmer. I asked him if he'd ever heard of his California namesake- who spent a number of years married to Raquel Welch. I told him that being named Richard Palmer probably built his character in high school- and that I hoped that the California RP managed to take Raquel to at least one of his high school reunion ("Hey guys, look who I'm palming now!")

The Ohio Richard Palmer laughed and told me that years ago when he'd been dating his wife, she announced that she needed to "go put on her face"

He replied, "If you're going to put on a face, see if you can make it Raquel Welch's."

Well, they *did* wind up getting married, didn't they?

Anne Hayes on Family Relations

Many of my friends know that I knew Woody Hayes, Ohio State's great football coach, fairly well. I also knew his wife, Anne. She was a great lady. Despite Woody's fame, the Hayeses never got an unlisted number. One evening after an Ohio State loss, a disgruntled fan called up and yelled at Anne, "Your husband is an idiot!"

"Well, what husband isn't?" was her reply.

Once, when Anne was shopping, a woman approached her and said, "Tomorrow is Woody's birthday. What are you getting for him?"

Anne said, "Make me an offer."

One question Anne got over and over was "Are you ever going to divorce Woody?"

She always explained, "Woody and I have been married for over forty years, and in all that time, neither one of us has *ever* used the word divorce. (pause) *Murder* on *many* occasions, but *never* divorce."

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Sinophobia and Anti-Semitism

This is a story that illustrates the total folly of racial and religious prejudice:

Once there as a Chinese guy sitting next to a Jewish guy on a park bench, and the Jewish guy says, "I don't like you Chinese."

The Chinese guy says, "How come you don't like Chinese?"

"Because you Chinese bombed Peal Harbor!"

"That wasn't the Chinese, that was the Japanese!"

"Ah, Chinese, Japanese, they're all the same!"


Finally, the Chinese guy says, "That's OK, I don't like Jews."

"Why don't you like Jews?"

"Because Jews sank the Titanic!"

"That wasn't Jews- an iceberg sank the Titanic."

"Iceberg, Goldberg, Greenberg- they're all the same!"

Nuns In Decline

In 1965, there were 180,000 nuns in the United States; today, there are 60,000. Back in those days America had a population of under 200 million people; now that figure is over 300 million, so in absolute terms, the number of nuns in America has declined by 67%; per capita, the figure is a bit more than 78%. Furthermore, the average age for American nuns is 70.

Some people see this as a crisis. I see it as a slow outbreak of common sense.

Ted Ginn Did Everythin'!

Way back in 1967, the Green Bay Packers' great Travis Williams returned two consecutive kickoffs for touchdowns. In the next 42 years, no one in the National Football League matched that feat- until last Sunday, when the Miami Dolphins' Ted Ginn (from Ohio State) returned a kickoff for 100 yards and a few minutes later, returned another for 101! Mr. Ginn is a spectacularly athletic young man, as anyone who views this highlights can see. Also, he inspired the musical group The Dead Schembechlers to compose the following ditty:

Who built the Sphinx and the Pyramids?
Who built the Eiffel Tower?
Then who knocked down the Berlin wall
with Marvel Super Power?
Who battled giant asteroids
to keep the earth from dyin'?
Who lead the troops in World War II
and then saved Private Ryan?

Ted Ginn! Ted Ginn!
Ted Ginn did everythin'!
Ted Ginn! Ted Ginn!
Ted Ginn did everythin'!

Who made the earth?
Who made the sun?
Who saved the baby seals?
Who was the first in history to put a suitcase on wheels?
Who built the ark while Noah slept?
Who turned lead to gold?
Who got your cat down from a tree
when you were four years old?

Ted Ginn! Ted Ginn!
Ted Ginn did everythin'!
Ted Ginn! Ted Ginn!
Ted Ginn did everythin'!

Wrigley at the Movies

Once upon the time, I had the chance to dogsit for my coworkers’ beagle, Wrigley, the Wonder Beagle. When I put on a DVD of Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Wrigley started barking and wagging his tail at Brad Pitt. When the heroine, Angelina Jolie, showed up, Wrigley started panting and howling. And when the villain showed up, Wrigley started growling. When Wrigley’s owner got back into town, I told her that I had been very much surprised at exactly how much Wrigley had enjoyed the movie. She said, “So am I. He hated the book.”

Candidate Jones’ Guest

I once had lunch with a Marine Captain at The Ohio State University’s Naval ROTC. He told me that, after his class of officer candidates had finished their course and were about to participate in their graduation ceremony, their senior training officer asked them if anyone had any VIP guests.

Candidate Jones spoke up and said, “Yes, my father will be attending.” That’s when he mentioned his father was General James Jones, Commandant of the United States Marine Corps.

It made me proud to be an American. Going through Marine OCS, the Commandant’s son got the same training as everyone else.

Beyond Perfect?

One of the rewards of being a sports trivia geek with a long memory is getting to see how long-term predictions turn out. Clear back in 1980, Esquire Magazine published an article on perfect performances. The article, “What’s Merely Great and What’s Perfect,” made three predictions: 1) The best possible distance for a shot put would be 100 feet. 2) The longest possible long jump would be 29’ 5” (just a few inches past Bob Beamon’s epic jump in the 1968 Olympics) and 3) No human being could run 100 meters faster than 9.6 seconds. 29 years later, no one has come remotely close to 100 feet in the shot put. Michael Powell’s long jump record is just longer than Beamon’s. Usain Bolt, however, has managed a time of 9.59 seconds in the 100 meters. According to the aforementioned article, this is impossible. It’s amazing how times change.

One politically incorrect detail: the fastest any white guy’s ever run is 9.997 (unofficial).

Woody Hayes’ Sense of Humor

Woody Hayes was notorious for having a hair-trigger temper. Once, Columbus Monthly Magazine posted a short item entitled, “If You Want To Get Punched in the Nose By Woody Hayes, You’re Going To Have to Wait in Line Like Everybody Else.” (Kindly note that they ran this item before he was fired after the 1978 Gator Bowl.) Those of us who knew Woody fairly well recognized that at least 90% of his fits of temper were play-acting. The other 10%, admittedly, caused him some real problems. In the 1968 Ohio State/Michigan game, the Buckeyes gave their archrivals a spectacular whuppin’ with a final score of 50-14. After Ohio State’s last touchdown, the squad responsible for kicking the extra point made a mistake and had to improvise on the point after touchdown play, which failed. After the game, when reporters asked him why he’d gone for two, Woody decided he did not want to embarrass his players after they’d played such a great game, so he growled, “Because I couldn’t go for three!” People who didn’t know Woody thought that he was running up the score, which was not Woody’s style at all.

In the late 1970s, Woody had to have surgery for gall stones. Major abdominal surgery must be a real trauma for a man in his mid-sixties. After the doctors at the Ohio State Medical Center removed the gallstones and sewn Woody back up, they counted the sponges and came up one short. Later that day, the chief of surgery had to visit Woody on his sickbed and endure the embarrassment of telling Woody they were going to have to open up his abdomen a second time. Woody was silent for a moment, then commented wryly, “That’s strange…in 28 years as a football coach, I never made a mistake.”

The reader can answer for themselves how much they would sue the hospital for. Woody wouldn’t give the matter a second thought. He really loved Ohio State. Once, one of his players kidded Woody that he would never retire and that he would, no doubt, die standing on the sideline of an Ohio State/Michigan game with the score in the Buckeyes’ favor. And if Ohio State wasn’t winning, he wouldn’t die. Woody thought that was hilarious and later retold that joke at a sports banquet. People from outside Columbus thought that Coach Hayes was serious and concluded that Woody had completely lost his mind.

I’m very proud to say that I once had the priceless experience of telling a Woody story to Woody himself. The story that I told Woody was that, one night, Woody was walking across campus when a student came rushing out of a dorm. He said, “Coach Hayes, can you help us? There’s a kid on the roof threatening to jump. Woody immediately runs to the roof where, indeed, there was a kid standing on the ledge.

Coach Hayes said, “Look, son. Don’t do anything rash. Think of this wonderful institution you’re attending.”

The kid replied that he was flunking out.

“Well,” Woody said. “Think of the people who care about you. Your parents. Your friends.”

The kid said, “Why do you think I’m here?”

Woody said, “Okay, so things aren’t too good for you here or at home. But I’ll bet you that this year, the Buckeyes will go undefeated, win the Big Ten and the Rose Bowl and are named National Champions. Won’t that be terrific?”

To which the kid replies, “I’m a Michigan fan.”

At that point, Woody Hayes interrupted my telling of the story to shout, “Jump, you little sonofabitch! Jump!”

That's Woody in the center during World War II.