Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Short Clip from “Band of Brothers”

The Stephen Spielberg-Tom Hanks miniseries production of Band of Brothers impressed me as one of the best depictions ever of American fighting men in WWII. The men of Company E of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division had an amazing experience during WWII. They jumped into Normandy during D-Day, June 6 1944, jumped into combat again September that year at Eindhoven in Holland, and then were called upon in December to defend Baston in the Battle of the Bulge. After all that, they caught an incredible break at the end of the war: on VE Day, May 8 1945, they had just occupied Hitler’s HQ “The Eagle’s Nest” in Bertha’s Garden in Bavaria, where they helped themselves to the contents of Herman Goering’s liquor cabinet.

It was a wonderful film about some extraordinarily fine men, and there was one small bit which I wonder if most viewers missed: At one point, when the 101st has entered Germany, one of the paratroopers spies a very attractive young German farm girl and calls out to her, “Hey Fraulien! I got nylon stockings!” She runs off, and he takes off in hot pursuit. He returns and his buddy asks, “How’d you do?” He replies, crestfallen, “Ah, she slapped me cross the face.” No doubt he soon was looking for a young lady with more of a dedication to fashion.

The reason that vignette stays with me is that if there were ever a large group of young American men who could have misbehaved spectacularly with very little fear of consequences, it was when the US army entered Germany in 1945. Those young men had guns and the police were either dead, in captivity or in hiding. True, some US soldiers did commit terrible crimes, and some of them suffered court martials, and in some cases were even executed. And of course, that sort of crime is frequently unreported. However, anyone with any sense of proportion would be well advised to read Cornelius Ryan’s book The Last Battle for a description of how Red Army soldiers behaved as they entered Eastern Germany around the same time. At Vienna, the Red Army insisted on erecting a statue of a red army soldier in that city’s main square. The locals, to this day, refer to it as “the statue of the unknown rapist.” In another part of Germany, the French Moroccan troops were so notorious that German civilians coined the term “to Moroccanate,” a synonym for gang rape. Anyone who wants a better idea of how French Muslim troops behaved might want to observe Sophia Lauren’s Oscar-winning performance in “Two Women.”

One more small tribute to the men of Easy Company: for the benefit of lifelong civilians, if you want to know what kind of men become paratroopers, consider this: a paratrooper is a man who **volunteers** to make a living repeatedly jumping out of perfectly well-functioning aircraft at heights hundreds of feet off the ground to expedite their arrival at a firefight where they can expect to be outnumbered, outgunned, and surrounded.

Letter to England: W. Horton

I occasionally correspond with an English attorney: it’s frequently useful to get a completely different perspective on current events. So anyone interested on a completely different perspective on American affairs, kindly read on.

Dear Glyn,
A while back I asked you if you’d ever heard of the Willie Horton case, and you said you hadn’t. Well it’s like this: clear back in 1974, 3 young punks decided to rob a filling station. Who would’ve believed that 14 years later, it would be the decisive factor in an American presidential election? The filling station attendant, a terrified 19 yr old named Joseph Fournier quickly gave thugs all the cash in the register, which totaled, $60. However, they felt the need to stab him 19 times and stuff him into a garbage container, where he bled to death. As one of the criminal geniuses walked away with his $20 take, he commented, “That’s another dead honky.” All three were arrested and convicted. One of those three men was 21-year-old Willie Horton. He was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.

That’s exactly where Horton’s life story should have ended. However, because he had the luck to commit his crime in the commonwealth of MA, he soon became eligible for a weekend furlough program (that is not a misprint, in MA, even prisoners serving life without parole can get furlough on weekends). In 1987, Horton decided not to go back to prison and managed to remain at large for 6 months until he was arrested several hundred miles south in Maryland for raping a woman and pistol-whipping her fiancĂ©. I once read an interview in The Nation magazine in which Horton maintained his innocence. I guess it’s just extraordinary bad luck on his part that when he was arrested, he was driving his victim’s car. After a MD jury convicted him of aggravated rape, aggravated burglary, aggravated assault, and grand theft auto, the MD judge sentenced Horton to life in prison w/o possibility of parole. The MA requested that MD extradite H back to them so he could continue serving his life sentence, but the MD judge indignantly denied their request. So Willie Horton is still in prison 23 yrs later, and his chances of ever being released are slim to none with slim out of town.

Mr H never would have achieved a fraction of his notoriety except for the fact that he committed his second crime after the MA state legislature had passed a law excluding inmates serving life without parole form the furlough program and Governor Mike Dukakis. After the MD incident, Fournier’s family spoke out publicly about their outage that their son’s killer had been eligible for a furlough program. At that point, Mike Dukakis might conceivably have saved his electoral chances by meeting with the family, apologizing, and ending the furlough system. Instead he declared the furlough system had been “99% successful.” The next year, Dukakis won the Democratic nomination for President. During primary season, Senator Al Gore was the first to bring up the Willie Horton fiasco, and in the final months of the campaign, the Bush camp harped on it nonstop. The democratic response was predictable: since Willie Horton is black and both his murder victim and his rape victim are white, they screamed racism, racism, racism 24/7.

Usually that mantra works. It certainly did not this time. Election night 1988 was a nightmare for democrats. Horton is now in his 60s, serving in a maximum security prison in MD in solitary since he was responsible for the end of furlough programs in MD as well as MA, he’s not going to win any popularity contests with his fellow inmates.

An Echo in the Onion Field

Anyone who read Joseph Wambaugh’s book or saw the film based on it is unlikely to ever forget it. March 9, 1963, two plainclothes LA police officers made what they thought was a routine traffic stop when one of the suspects, Gregory Powell, put a gun to the back of Ian Campbell, one of the officers, and ordered his partner Carl Hettinger to disarm. Powell and his accomplice, Jimmy Smith, took the two officers hostage and drove them to an onion field far outside the city where Powell shot Campbell to death. Officer Hettinger managed to escape.

Horrible as the events of that night were, LAPD’s treatment of Officer Hettinger was even worse. They attempted to make him an example of exactly what an officer should not do in a hostage situation. Hettinger was later fired from LAPD after being arrested for shoplifting. Anyone who has taken a single course in freshman psych could see that he was a deeply wounded individual who needed support and understanding rather than persecution and contempt from his comrades. Hettinger ultimately drank himself into an early grave. This whole episode appalled and intrigued a young vice cop called Joseph Wambaugh, who later wrote the account. Jimmy Smith was parolled from prison in 1982 and lived another 10 years without once managing to stay out of prison more than 12 months at a time. He was a man destined to “do life on the installment plan.” This past March 9 marked the 48th anniversary of Powell’s arrest. He is still incarcerated and is unlikely to ever be paroled.

I sometimes wondered what could cause a person to become such a cold-blooded murderer as Gregory Powell turned out to be, and in reading Wambaugh’s book, I got a partial answer. In the process of interviewing Powell, J W learned that in the first 30 years of Powell’s life he spent 17 of them incarcerated in one institution or another. He also learned that at 13, Powell was raped by a priest (my opinion, any adult who has sexual relations with a 13-year-old is committing rape, regardless of whether or not it is forcible). At this point, I’d like to point out that I do not believe Powell deserves a pass because of his early experience, nor am I alleging that all priests or clergy are child molesters. I would like to say that I wish the priest who molested Powell had spent the last 48 years sharing his cell.

Housework (Among Other Things)

A dear friend of mine of long acquaintance once told me what some might regard as a “chick joke”. It’s the story of a woman handing an attractive man a 100-dollar bill and saying “Paint my house.” OK ladies, yuck it up, but I say to my friend, “Maybe you just don’t know the right guys.”

It’s funny how my Aspergian memory ranges from being occasionally horrendous in the media present to being phenomenally clear for events that I’ve managed to “lock in”. One of my favorite memories was a visit I paid friends of mine in San Diego 20 years ago. When I walked in the door, as Barbara greeted me I couldn’t help but notice that in the living room her husband, who at the time was a marine drill instructor, was ironing one of his shirts. I asked does he always iron his shirts and she said, “Oh he won’t let me get near them.” (for the record, you could shave yourself with the creases in his uniform and use his spit-shined shoes for a mirror). That night at dinner (which was an out-of-this-world pasta dish), I kid Barbara that her husband probably decided to propose to her shortly after the same night she cooked for him the first time. Their two daughters, at that time aged 6 and 3, were doing the “eat like little girls routine,” the twirl your fork around on the plate, put down your fork, stick out your lower lip and wear an expression that says, "I am NOT hungry."

At this point, Dad said, “I want you girls to clean up your plate. Barb when you’re done eating if they haven’t cleaned up their plates they’re going to bed and don’t eat slowly to give them more time.” At this point I tried to do some discreet cheerleading for the girls: “Come on kids, Mom’s cooking in wonderful.” A few minutes later, when Barb had cleaned her plate, Erin (the six-year-old) had cleaned her plate, Seana (the 3-year-old) had cleaned her plate, and furthermore, **I** had cleaned up **mine**. And if anyone is snickering, you can knock it off, because if you had been there, you would have cleaned up your plate too.

The next day dad and I walked in the living room where the two kidsters had been playing with playthings strewn over a considerable portion of the living room. At this point dad says “Girls, you’ve made a mess on the floor.” At this point the three-year-old looks at the six-year-old, the six-year-old looks at the three-year-old, and they look back at daddy with an expression that seems to say, “So what daddy-o, that’s our job.” Dad then said, “You girls are not going to sea world until that mess is cleaned up.” In 12.4 seconds, the family living room was ready for a photo shoot for better homes and gardens.

That night, I once again got to enjoy Barbra’s cuisine, and when we were finished, Dad did the dishes as he had the previous night. I was mildly surprised and very politely asked Barbara if her husband always did the dishes. A voice from the sink replied, “No but I do more than my share, don’t I **dear**?” To which Barb replied “He does, he really does.” Pause. I guess I quite involuntarily raised an eyebrow at that bit of news, to which Barb got an almost dear in headlights look and said, “But he does them so much faster than I do!” Sorry folks, I had to chuckle at that one. Barb had got a husband an awful lot of women would envy, and she has to come up with alibis for her husband doing the dishes? Come on, that’s funny.

So what do you get when you have a husband who is conscientious about helping out with housework and keeping his kidsters on the straight and narrow? In this case, some absolutely beyond amazing children, and a marriage that lasts. This past Valentine’s Day, Barb and her husband celebrated their 28th wedding anniversary. Congrats to them, and may the next 28 years be even better.

What it Takes to Tick Me Off

In dealing with my clients and some of the opposing parties, I need to develop the hide of a rhinoceros and try to keep as sense of humor. Recently I represented a Mr. Mudd in his request for a protection order against his ex-girlfriend, a Ms. Hay. The judge denied his request, and I didn’t even receive a brick for my troubles. I recently had a client who wanted d protection order against her ex who, she informed me, had given her a VD that would seriously affect the health of the two children they had together. I refrained from asking her why she was associating with such a man, and if he had received a note to philander from his wife.

Anyhow, last month I had just gotten my client her ex parte order form the judge when the news came out that five OSU football players were going to be suspended for five games for having violated NCAA regulations against accepting gratuities. My client started jumping up and down and clapping with excitement, proclaiming, “Goody goody, I’m a Notre Dame fan!” I thought to myself, I’m about ready to either strangle her or throw her out the courthouse’s 3rd story window, or both. Instead, I refrained, and did not even bother telling her that if she ever dreamed that she would qualify for admittance to ND, when she woke up she had better call Tedd Hessburgh and apologize. I also refrained from admonishing my client for a woman of her obesity should not jump up and down on any level above the ground floor—it might have dire consequences. I was grinding my teeth so hard I feared I might need to make an emergency trip to the dentist.

A few days later, that same client actually managed to **seriously** tick me off. I managed to get her consent degree from her former paramour and his girlfriend (which means eventually I will get paid) and at the last moment the new girlfriend insisted that the protection order include her unborn child who is due in a few more months. I was driving my client home when she proclaimed with the utmost vehemence, “I hope that baby dies!” At that point, I blew up. I yelled, “Sit down in the car and shut up. I do not want to hear **one** (expletive deleted) word out of you. I signed on to get you a protection order, and I signed on to driving you home, but I did not sign on to hear you use that kind of language on a newborn baby. Now if I hear one more word out of you I’m going to pull over and you can walk back.” She managed to say not a word on the way home. If I never see that hateful woman again it will be much too soon.

Thunderball’s Villain and the Wagner Act

Back in 1965, I was absolutely awestruck by Sean Connery’s performance in the James Bond adventure film Thunderball. Almost half a century later, I have a much different perspective. Granted, the plotline of an evil organization obtaining a nuclear weapon and holding a city hostage is a chilling one. What strikes me most today is that Thunderball’s villain Emilio Largo (played by Adolfo Celli) would have all kinds of complaints from the unions’ shop steward of Henchmans’ Local 217 for violations of the local Wagner Act (I guess that’s why Largo sets up his nefarious HQ in the Bahamas).

First off, he sends a single henchman to kill Bond in his hotel suite, a plot that predictably goes awry. When Bond sends him back to his criminal mastermind to report his failure, Largo demonstrates what en evil character is by having his other henchman throw the hapless underling into an enormous pool of sharks. When I think about that now, having studied Labor Law at Notre Dame, I can only imagine the shop steward’s indignation: “Now see here Mr Largo, our collective bargaining agreement clearly stipulates that hotel assassinations are a 2-man job. And then you throw the guy into a shark tank! This gives a whole new meaning to the term unlawful discharge!”

Even more egregiously, when Bond is attempting to infiltrate Largo’s HQ he is tackled by a Largo henchman and knocked into the residence’s swimming pool. When Largo shows up a few seconds later with a whole crowd of henchmen in tow, does he a) have his other henchman jump in to lend the first guy a hand in handling Bond, b) fire a warning shot to let 007 know the jig is up, or c) flip a switch to make a metal screen cover the pool and open a secret compartment connecting the shark tank to the swimming pool? It was c), never mind that this ensures another one of Largo’s henchman will certainly die as a result. (I’ve read that during filming, Sean Connery got a whole lot closer to one of the sharks than he wanted to, and he voiced his displeasure to the director). Again, I can just hear Largos’ builder saying: “Uh-huh, You want a passageway built from the shark tank to the swimming pool. You wanna explain your reasoning on that Mr. Largo? You really need to find another outfit because if our company did it, imagine the possibility for personal injury lawsuit.”

While Thunderball did have several moments that strike me as hokey, it’s still one of my favorite Bond films because it contains my all-time favorite Connery line: at the film’s climax, Largo is attempting to make his getaway in this yacht, the Disco Valente, which can take off at what seems to be 40 knotts (never mind that chasing it down would be a piece of cake for any aircraft or helicopter). Bond engages in a serious brawl in the ship’s pilot house with the ship’s captain, Largo, and another henchman, and does quite well fighting at 3:1 odds. However, he finds himself staring down the barrel of Largo’s pistol and with blood running down his face, it looks like Bond’s luck just might have run out. Then there’s a sudden thunk, Largo’s eyes glaze over, and he does a slow fall to the floor. When he’s fallen, we see there’s a spear gun projectile in his back, and Largo’s ex mistress, Domino (who’s taken up with Bond) steps over her ex-lover’s body and says, with breathy French accent, “I am glad I keelled heem.” With blood dripping from one corner of his moth, Connery replies, “**You’re** glad?”

A Visitor to Xenia

Many years ago I served in Company A of 1/166 infantry brigade of the Ohio National Guard in Xenia Oh, and the unit sometimes participated in Xenia’s 4th of July parade. I once cracked up my 1st sergeant by suggesting we invite actress Lucy Lawless to be the marshal of the parade. What could possibly generate better headlines than “Xena visits Xenia?”

Reggie Jackson and the Queen

Anyone who has seen the 1988 Leslie Neilson movie The Naked Gun will recall the plot, a comic variation on The Manchurian Candidate: an assassin is programmed through post-hypnotic suggestion to carry out an assassination. In the film, the assassin’s target was “the Queen”. Although the queen’s country was not specified, seeing as how she’s a lady of a certain age with interesting taste in hats, the implication was pretty obvious. The films “assassin” was none other than baseball great Reggie Jackson, who is supposed to perform the assassination in the middle of a baseball game.

Ironically enough, when Queen Elizabeth visited the States in 1991, she did attend an American baseball game, and Reggie Jackson was a coach on one of the teams. Before the game, Mr. Jackson told his players there were to be absolutely, positively no mention whatsoever of the fictional cinematic assassination attempt. I guess that’s one of the drawbacks to being a monarch: you miss out on a lot of good laughs.

The Irony of Jon Thomas Freeman

As my readers are no doubt aware, I often find irony in the names of some of the parties in the cases I handle. I’m currently serving as guardian ad litum for the daughter of a man named Jon Thomas Freeman. This individual had several ironies in his name. First Mr. Freeman is not a free man. He is doing an 18-month stretch at Southeastern Correctional near Lancaster, Ohio. This is not his first time living in government housing. As my British correspondents can understand, Mr. Freeman is in the habit of acting like a total John Thomas. For my readers knowledgeable of Yiddish, I put it slightly differently: Mr. F is a schmuck, a putz, and a total no-goodnik to boot.

This is a relatively happy story in that Mr. F’s mother has stepped up to the plate and is doing a very fine job of caring for his nine-month-old baby girl. I haven’t met Mr. Freeman, since he’s currently serving time on a theft charge. If I ever do I’ll be very tempted to ask him exactly what was so tempting to steal that he gave up the chance to be around for the first year and a half of his beautiful daughter’s life.

Ingrid’s Sneaky Song

When I was in grad school I was friends with a German woman about fifteen years older than me. She had a very interesting family background. The family had a summer home in the Berghof Gardens Bavaria. Guess who their next door neighbor was? Their primary residence was in Dresden, and Ingrid had an incredible stroke of luck a fateful night in Feb 1945—she and her family were out of town when the RAF came knocking. She didn’t get to see her father much for the next 10 years—he was a POW in a Russian camp held incommunicado, so they didn’t even know he was alive.

When Ingrid grew up, she married an American Army officer and came to the US. When her husband was stationed at Fort Knox, the armor school had a competition to select a song for the Second Armor Division and a friend of hers, also a German service wife, made an entry. They won the competition only to have their prize revoked a few days later when someone figured out they had translated the lyrics of the Wermacht’s “Der Panzerleid” into English. I think that’s kind of a shame, actually: Der Panzerleid is a very stirring song.

Scary Statistics II

As a serious student of history, I’m often appalled at the blind spot most people, even those with college degrees, have for what happened in the Ukraine in the early 1930s during Stalin’s forced collectivization. The Soviet government and their sympathizers in the West went to great lengths to hide the evidence of their crimes from the West. I’m appalled that 80 years later, it seems they have largely succeeded. I read Robert Conquest’s Harvest of Sorrow, which he wrote in the 1980s. He concluded that between Stalin’s terror famine and the liquidation of the gulags, the death toll was almost 15 million. Recent sources indicate the estimate may have been conservative.

I recently happened upon a chilling statistic from the Soviet Union’s Education ministry. In 1930, there were 4 times as many kindergarten students in the Russian Republic of the USSR as there were in the Ukraine. Five years later, there were eight times as many. The full implications of those two statistics chill my blood.

Scary Statistics I

As a history buff occasionally I come across a simple statistic that has mind-boggling implications. For example, since I was very young I’ve always made the argument that as dreadful as the use of the atomic bombs were, the loss of life from an invasion of the Japanese home islands would have been unimaginably horrendous.

I recently happened upon a news item that confirms my view. On the island of Okinawa, the local government built a memorial to all those who died in the fighting on that island from April to June of 1945. The memorial lists 240,734 names. More than half of the dead were Okinawan civilians. The US forces had assembled such massive firepower that they could kill about 9 Japanese soldiers for every American fatality. Anyone who bothers to do the research can find that Okinawa’s garrison was two reinforced divisions with 77,000 army troops. Hushu, the target of the planned US invasion of the Japanese home islands set to start December 1, 1945, had a garrison of over 14 reinforced divisions and over 900,000 troops (that’s what was available in August of ’45 when Emperor Hirohito gave the surrender order, no doubt they would have received additional reinforcements had the invasion actually gone forward). I encourage anyone who condemns the use of the atomic bombs to consider those figures and do the math.

One of the best books I’ve ever read about the fighting in the Pacific was William Manchester’s Goodbye, Darkness, which gives a stunning account of his experience as a sergeant in the 26th marine division on Okinawa. We’ve already mentioned in the fight for Okinawa, Manchester was wounded twice and his unit took 81 casualties. His conclusion: “Thank God for the atomic bomb.”

Teaching High School

Luann Johnson once wrote a book entitled My Posse Don’t Do Homework about her experiences teaching at an inner-city high school. She knew her subject and showed a great deal of dedication to her students. She was also quite lucky to be a former US Marine officer. Once early in her teaching stint, it looked like things might get physical between her and one of her students, which is a very bad thing. She assumed a martial arts defensive stance and then caught a major break: one of her would-be attackers’ friends happened to be a sometime-viewer of the history channel, so he yelled out, “Back off man! She was a marine! They can kill you with their bare hands!”

Hollywood later made a movie about Ms. Johnson’s experiences starring Michelle Pfeiffer (although they succumbed to political correctness and renamed it Dangerous Minds). If anyone asked me what I find the most serious problem in American education, I would have no hesitation in saying the title of Ms J’s book was spot-on. In some communities there is considerable social pressure not to succeed academically, and the consequences of that pressure are long-lasting and ghastly.

Believe it or not, in 2000 I spent most of a semester teaching 11th grade English at Simon Sanchez high school Hagatna, Guam. It is an institution that admits 600 ninth graders and graduates 240 twelfth graders .A dear friend of mine form law school predicted, “Kent, those kids will eat you alive.” I am happy to report I did not succumb to cannibalism. However there were times I was grateful that I’m over 6 feet tall and clock in at over 200 lbs. It didn’t help that the high school had a policy of no detentions.

There are many things that make me pessimistic about the future of American education and its implications for our society as a whole. However, I can report one bright spot. A dear friend of mine who’s a retired Marine First Sergeant has informed me that after he finishes putting his own children through college he intends to finish up his degree and get certified to teach history. I would dearly love to be a fly on the wall watching one of his classes. I seriously doubt he will ever have any discipline problems.

Something I Learned in Jerusalem

I have been to Jerusalem three times now and I’ve seen the Western Wall (sometimes known as the Wailing Wall, which is something of a misnomer: the reason it got the name is that when Orthodox Jews pray at the wall, they do so with their eyes shut and rock back and forth so as to keep their balance). The Western Wall is all that remains of the Second Temple. King Solomon built the first Temple, and the Babylonians destroyed it centuries later; after the Babylonian exile, the Persians permitted the Israelites to reconstruct the Temple. The second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. Almost 600 years later, the Muslims built the Dome of the Rock mosque directly on top of the Temple site. The Dome of the Rock, Muslims believe, was the spot where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven. To put it mildly, I’m skeptical of the veracity of that account. It seems to me Jerusalem is not particularly important to Muslims for its own sake. It’s more important insofar as it’s something they want to deny to Jews and Christians.

A Tripartite Religious Joke (Rated G)

There’s an old joke about a guy who’s an incorrigible lush who finds religion and becomes A) a Muslim B) a Mormon C) a Baptist (take your pick). He’s informed that in that faith, the use of alcohol is strictly forbidden. He asks if there might be an exception for medical emergencies, and he’s told, you may drink to save your life. That night, he’s out in the swamp yelling “Here, snake! Here, snake!”

Jethro Pugh/ Unlucky Name, Very Lucky Genes

Some people have names that make them veritable abuse magnets. One of my good friends from law school is a nice lady named Maureen Cunningham. I cringe to think of the number of nasty comments she must have received in middle school and high school. One fellow I’d consider unlucky is Jethro Pugh, as in rhymes with “few.” I can hardly imagine how many grade schoolers amused themselves by calling him “stinky.” However, fate and DNA conspired to give Jethro a break. By the time he graduated high school, he was well on his way to his full size of 6’6”, 220 pounds. His hulking frame combined with fast reflexes served him well playing twelve years as a defensive tackle for the Dallas Cowboys. I can only imagine that by the time he graduated high school, his grade school detractors, his teachers, and probably his principal were addressing him as “Mr. Pugh, Sir.”

Johnnie Gibson’s First Case

Johnnie Mae Gibson was the first woman to serve as a special agent in the FBI. She did quite well on her first case. She was assigned to a task force tracking down a bank robber who happened to be a very bad actor and who happened to be black. The FBI knew the identity of the robber’s girlfriend, and some very fine agents had questioned her, but she had adamantly refused to cooperate. Agent Gibson looked through all the interrogation transcripts and noticed at one point the girlfriend had made some statement to the effect of, “I don’t care what you say, I’m not giving up my honey-bunny!” or some other term of endearment.

At that point, a metaphorical light bulb went off in Agent Gibson’s head. She dressed herself up to look like a gangster’s girlfriend, stomped into the girlfriend’s workplace and demanded to know, “Where is she?” Upon meeting the girlfriend, she sneered, “I bet he calls you honey-bunny too.” Approximately two minutes later, the girlfriend was on an (FBI-tapped) phone shouting at her boyfriend the bank robber, and by the close of the day, the FBI had wrapped up a multi-year investigation. That bank robber then spent the next 50 years of his life ruing the fact that hell hath no fury like a woman who thinks she’s been scorned. I wonder if he was calling her honey-bunny when he got out? Kinda doubt it.

Animal House Trivia

I recently saw a “Where Are They Now?” special on the movie Animal House more than 30 years after its release. Watching it turned out to be almost as fun as watching the movie. For example, just before the climactic trashing of the homecoming parade, the character of Flounder (played by Stephen Furst) walks into a store and asks to buy 10,000 marbles. He wound up marrying the woman who played the salesgirl. In the film, the band performing at Delta House’s toga party was Otis Day & the Nights. This was not the singer’s real name, but the film was so successful that he changed his name to Otis Day. My favorite bit of trivia: during the film-ending riot, there’s a short scene where a little boy sits on a bed reading a copy of Playboy when a baton-twirling cheerleader gets hurled through his open window and lands on the bed next to him. The little boy casts his eyes skyward and says, “Thank you God!” I learned in the documentary that the boy grew up to be a minister. When people ask him about his bit part in the film, he replies, “30 years later I’m still praising God.”

I have no wish to enter into a theological dispute with anyone as to the existence or nonexistence of God; however, if there is a God, that story tends to indicate that he has a sense of humor.

What Would You Do? (ABC & Me)

There is a program on ABC called “What Would You Do?” John Quinones will set up a camera in a public place and watch people’s reactions to actors performing some outlandish or egregious scenario. In one episode, they set up a camera at a fast food restaurant. They had a young actress dressed in Middle Eastern garb trying to make an order while another actor depicting the cashier insulted her with comments to the like of “How do I know you’re not a terrorist?” The responses were striking. Half the patrons ignored the situation completely, about 1/6 made rude anti-Islamic comments themselves, and about a third told the cashier exactly where to get off. I found it quite touching that one middle-aged gentleman read the cashier the riot act informing him he had a son fighting in Iraq and he simply couldn’t treat people like that in America. The young actress playing the customer was quite touched as well. As a lawyer, my reaction would be slightly different from any of those listed. I would be handing her my business card, telling her we were both going to be very rich, because under the civil rights act of 1994 that sort of behavior is grounds for a lawsuit. So if anyone reading out there sees this kind of situation, call me immediately.

The second scenario I found quite dramatic was an actor and an actress sitting at a bar. When the young woman excused herself to use the restroom, the actor put a powdered substance in her drink. Reactions were striking. There were two yahoos who did everything but congratulate the pretend perpetrator on his cleverness, while one gentleman who was with his wife had a complete conniption fit. Ironically enough, the man’s wife was saying, in effect, dear let’s not get involved, while the man proclaimed: “I seen what I seen!” The actress playing the would-be victim was quite touched at the concern some bystanders showed. She even mentioned she had had a bad experience sometime before. If I were in that situation, I’d like to think I would immediately tell the bartender to call the police, I would inform the young lady, I might even offer to buy the drink from her for $100 so as to build a criminal case against the guy. All else fails, I’d be looking for a ketchup bottle or a chair to break over his head.

I don’t expect to see such a scenario in real life, however just to do my good deed I’ll share some good advice I hope parents will pass along to their daughters: WATCH YOUR DRINK, WATCH YOUR DRINK, WATCH YOUR DRINK.

Some of the Reasons I Love the Aussies

There is an old story that back in early 1942, the US first marine division was sent to Australia to prepare for the invasion of the Guada Canal. Since a great many Australian army units were still in North Africa, and the Australians quite understandably feared Japanese invasion, they gave the marines quite a welcome. Indeed, the month after the marines left Australia, the division’s postal clerks discovered a clear majority of both incoming and outgoing mail was either from or to Australia. I think that’s quite a tribute to Australian hospitality. Since one of my readers grew up in Melbourne, here’s a story I think she’ll appreciate, especially if she knows anybody in Brisbane: After the end of the Guada Canal campaign, the fist marine division was sent to Brisbane. Apparently the marines were not particularly impressed. Indeed some of them found the climate and location so displeasing they asked to be sent back to the Guada Canal. Somehow the higher-ups decided the situation was safe enough for them to be relocated to Melbourne, which went over very well indeed.

During my time in the US Navy, I heard the saying amongst American sailors that if you lead a good life, when you die, you will get to go to Australia. Once while teaching onboard a US Navy ship, we pulled into Panang, Malaysia and I got to talking with an Australian lady of a certain age old enough to have vivid memories of the spring of 1942. When she learned that I had some connection with the US navy, I got the impression that she figured I was personally responsible for winning the battle of the Coral Sea and saving the country from Japanese invasion. I have not yet managed to make it to the land down under, but I can honestly say I have never made an Ozzie I didn’t likem and I’ve met quite a few. Any country that can produce Elle McPherson, Nicole Kidman, Naomi Watts, and Rebecca Hassock is clearly **not** to be taken lightly.

Extreme Client Counseling

I frequently regale my friends with stories about how difficult some of my clients are. However, at a seminar I attended ten years ago, I heard of one client who was completely off the charts. One of the speakers at the seminar was a career public defender from Minnesota, a black gentleman who was built like a defensive tackle for the Vikings. The story he told was that earlier on his career he’d been partners with an elderly gentleman who’d been his friend and mentor for many years. They were defending a client on a murder charge, and this guy, their client, was a really bad actor. Apparently, he was a con man who was not above murdering potential witnesses against his swindles. What made him an especially difficult case was that he was on trial for having murdered his previous attorney. The gentleman telling this story related that his elderly mentor came back to their office one day, ashen-faced, saying, “I’ve got to withdraw from this case. Our client just threatened to kill me.” I must say that while we had an excellent legal ethics professor at Notre Dame, he certainly never described a scenario like that.

So the speaker continued that he went to see his client and confronted him about the threat that he’d made. He told his client “Look, nobody likes you. Nobody—not me, not the prosecutor, not the cops, not the guards. The guards have known me for years. Tell you what—make one more threat against me or my partner, I’m gonna come back here, I’m gonna tell the guards to ignore the call button, and I will kill you.” Considering the speaker’s considerable bulk, that struck me as an entirely credible threat. He continued his story, “We got along great after that.”

The post-script is that his client was not convicted of first degree murder. He later was convicted of additional murder charges, so he’s unlikely to ever draw a free breath again. I heard years later the speaker had died, so there’s no possibility of him getting any flack from the state disciplinary counsel.

I’ve never used that particular manner of client counseling, although the thought has crossed my mind on numerous occasions.

Doug D’s Defensive Dilemma

A Doug D is a good friend of mine. We practically qualify as diaper buddies. We first met in 1960 in Mrs. Richtner’s morning kindergarten class at Barrington Road Elementary School. Doug is a fun fellow and one of the best domestic relations attorneys in the business. To be effective, he has to exemplify Rudyard Kipling’s ideal of keeping his head about him or losing theirs. When I asked him if I could post this story, he said fine, but don’t use his last name—He thought some people might not approve. I hope readers will understand he was doing his job in a very difficult case.

Occasionally Doug gets assigned to do criminal defense work, and several years ago he got the call to defend a man accused of rape. His client emphatically maintained his innocence. Doug told me he wasn’t sure whether to believe the guy or not, but it was his duty to provide the guy with the best representation, which he did. I’ve told Doug on more than one occasion that I hope never to be on trial for my life, but if I was, he’d be on a very short list of attorneys I’d want defending me. Doug did a bang-up job for his client and got an acquittal, and afterwards wondered, occasionally, if his client was innocent. That’s the thing about being a defense counselor. There are some things you’ll never know with absolute certainty.

A year later Doug got a call from his old client who told him that since Doug had done such a wonderful job defending him earlier, would he please defend him against another rape charge? Doug replied, “I’m not interested,” and hung up.

If you’re looking for a moral, I think in this case it’s that if lawyers are professionals, we’re human beings too.

Hector Bywater’s Prescient Prediction

Clear back in the early 20s, a British journalist named Hector Bywater wrote a fictional account entitled The Great Pacific War which described a conflict between a conflict between the US and Japan set in the 1930s. Interestingly enough, Bywater imagined the war beginning with a sneak attack by Japanese on the US naval base in Pearl Harbor, and it featured the US marine corps suffering horrendous casualties trying to take the Bonin Islands in the later stages of the conflict (I can only wonder if any marine vet of Iwo Jima ever read Bywater’s account and thought, “Why didn’t we just listen to this guy and bypass the damn place?”) Bywater was not infallible as a prophet—the climactic battle of his war ended with a battleship versus battleship gunnery duel off the island of Yap. Ironically enough, I spent 9 months on Yap. Happily enough, the natives were spared the experience of being innocent bystanders in a Pacific Armageddon.

Lieutenant Lane’s Lucky and Remarkable Rendezvous with Rommel

When I saw Quentin Tarantino’s recent film Inglorious Basterds, I’m afraid I didn’t like it at all. First, and some people might find this ironic, it contained a great deal of what I found to be gratuitous violence (I found myself thinking, “Whoever fights monsters should take care in the process not to become a monster himself”), and while I understand that it works as a Jewish revenge fantasy, I know enough WWII history to know what would actually happen if there was a unit operating behind German lines doing the sort of things Brad Pitt’s outfit does. German occupation authorities would round up 10 leading citizens for every man Pitt’s Basterds shot and machine gun the bunch of them. Finally, it has been my experience that for every outlandish Hollywood fantasy, there is a true story that is a whole lot better.

During WWII, the British army actually did put together a small unit of Jewish refugees who served as commandos. As I recall, there were about 88 of them. A fourth of them were killed, a fourth were wounded, and a fourth were given officers’ commissions. One of the best was a young man from Hungary who anglicized his name to be George Lane. He was an extraordinarily, smart, athletic fellow (he had represented Hungary in the 1936 Olympics).

Contrary to what you’ve seen in Hollywood B movies, commandos concentrated far more on reconnaissance and intelligence gathering than trying to take on the entire German army by themselves. In early 1944, Lieutenant Lane had the bad luck to be captured by German troops. They blindfolded him, put him in a car, and took him for a long drive. Lt Lane was fully aware that Hitler had personally ordered that all captured commandos were to be summarily executed. Since he was Jewish, I wonder if he was thinking “What are they going to do, execute me twice?” At the end of the drive he was shown into a luxurious French chateau and ushered into a large study where he found himself face to face with none other than commander of Army Group B, Field Marshall Erwin Rommel (I have already written about Rommel here for those who care to read). Rommel’s first words to him were “So, are you one of those gangster commandos?” Lt Lane replied, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m a soldier and commandos are the best soldiers.”

Rommel laughed out loud and told Lt Lane to sit down. He then asked the lieutenant “Don’t you think it’s a shame that Germany and Britain are fighting against each other instead of the common enemy of all mankind?” Lt Lane asked, “Who do you mean?” Rommel responded, “Why the Soviets of course.” (and there can be no doubt in the mind of anybody who knows anything about Rommel that that was exactly what he believed in his heart of hearts.)

Lt Lane said, “I’m sorry, Field Marshall, but I don’t think there’s any chance our countries can become allies” When Rommel asked him what he meant, Lt Lane said, “For example, the way your government treats Jews.” Rommel cut him off by saying, “Now you are talking politics. We are soldiers, we don’t concern ourselves with politics.” They spoke for a few minutes more, and when Rommel dismissed Lt Lane, he told his aide that the lieutenant was a prisoner of the Wehrmacht and was not to be harmed. Some of my readers might not fully appreciate the risk Rommel was running in disobeying a direct order from Hitler. Ironically enough, in 1944 the safest place for a Jew to be in Germany was in a Wehrmacht POW camp. After the war, when Lt Lane was debriefed on his experiences as a POW, his superiors initially found his story too strange to be believed until they happened upon a German interrogator’s report that told exactly the same story.

Before the end of the year, Rommel was dead, forced to commit suicide because of his role in the July 20 plot against Hitler. As best as I can determine, Lt Lane was still alive as of 2 years ago, living in London in his early 90s. He’s lived more than 60 years due to Erwin Rommel’s gallantry.

Auto-Didactic Adlerian

This is story from very long time ago, right about the time of my 30th birthday, in fact when Ronald Regan was president of the United States. I was in Baltimore for a job interview, and I took the opportunity to visit some friends of mine who lived near Fort Mead and had recently become parents. Mom was working at NSA, Dad was assigned to Marine Corps HQ, and their daughter, Erin Nicole, was 19 months. I’d always wondered how the sergeant was going to turn out as a father. It turned out, he took to it like a duck to water, which is entirely appropriate (after all, ducks are tri-phibious now aren’t they?) Erin’s dad and I were sitting on the sofa talking (He might have been giving me tips on the finer points of bayonet drill) when his daughter fell off her plastic tricycle, smacked her head on the linoleum, and voiced her displeasure in a voice that I’m sure could be heard beyond the tri-state area.

Her dad immediately picked her up and sat her on his lap so she was looking directly at him with their noses just a few inches apart. I heard Erin say plaintively, “Nee na na na nee noo noo,” to which her father replied, “Nee na na ne na noo?” There was silence for a moment, and Erin made a sound of complete satisfaction: “Noo.” Dad then smooched her where she had bopped her noggin, put her back on the bike and she rode off happy as can be, There was silence in the living room for a moment, then he said, “You know… what worries me… is I understood every word we just said.”

No need to worry Sergeant, I understood every word too. She said “I have fallen down, I have bopped my noggin, and I am unhappy about that fact.” Dad’s response was, “I hear you saying you have fallen down, have bopped you noggin, and are unhappy about that fact.” That and the smooch took care of the problem completely.

Years later, I had occasion to talk with a clinical psychologist with a PhD. I repeated that story and said, “Dad really handled that in a very Adlerian manner, didn’t he?” His response was, “Exactly, that was very Adlerian.” A few years after that I asked the Sergeant if he’d ever heard of Professor Adler. He said no. I said, “Don’t worry, you seem to have figured out his system on your own.” I think Erin is very lucky to grow up with a father who is an auto-didactic Adlerian.

Thank You Billy Crystal

As an Aspergian, I sometimes find making small talk an absolutely nightmarish experience. In conversation, I sometimes feel like I’m walking through a minefield in the middle of the night blindfolded. Over the years, I have occasionally tried to pay a woman a compliment on her appearance and had the compliment blow up in my face. After decades of trial and error, I have hit upon a compliment that never gets me anything but smiles and thank yous. That is to ask the lady in question “Do you know what Billy Crystal would say if he were here today? (some of the younger ones need to be reminded of his work in When Harry Met Sally and City Slickers) I then say, “I’m sure he would be saying, ‘You look maaaaaaaaahvelous, simply maaaaaahvelous.” Thank you, Billy Crystal.

Soviet Chauffeurs

In any large hierarchical organization, very high ranking officials are likely to have a personal assistant to drive them. In the film 12 O’Clock High, Gregory Peck demotes a young sergeant for having failed to check his identification at the front gate, only to, shortly afterward, inform the same airman that he has his stripes back because he’s going to be his driver (general officers rate sergeants as drivers). During WWII Patton had an aide who was a sergeant when Patton became a brigadier general. Every time Patton got another star, his aide received another stripe. He retired a master sergeant.

In the Soviet Union, cabinet-level officials tend to have high-ranking officers as drivers. For instance, Lorencia Beria, head of the secret police, had **two** drivers. This also reminds me of an old soviet era joke. The story goes that Stalin is out in his chauffeur driven limousine when he gets sideswiped by a speeder and indignantly orders all speeders are to be sent to gulag. The next day, Stalin discovers that he’s running late for meeting so he tells chauffeur to put pedal to metal. At this point, chauffeur starts to cry, saying “Great leader, if I disobey your command, I’ll surely be sent to the gulag. But if I speed I’ll be sent to the gulag as well!” Stalin says, exasperated, “Shut up and pull over, I’ll drive.” So the driver does, and Stalin gets in the driver’s seat and starts driving like a bat out of hell. Shortly after two police pull over the speeding limo. One of the officers walks to driver’s compartment, doess double take and hurries back to squad car. His companion says to him, “Aren’t you going to write that guy a ticket?” The officer says “No way, he’s too important.” When his partner asks, “Who’s that important?” he says “I’m not sure, but Stalin is driving him.”

The True Story of My Dad’s 75th Birthday

Clear back in the spring of ‘95, my father celebrated his 75th birthday. On his actual birthday I had been teaching onboard the USS Detroit out in the Persian Gulf, so we waited a couple months til I returned. My brother Boyd flew in from CO, my brother Bruce came in from Athens, Ohio and my younger brother Mark drove in from Kansas (I was in an apartment awaiting another teaching assignment, so I just drove across town). We managed to get thru 3 meals without a single fistfight, which is a Mitchell family record.

A week or two after that, my three brothers and I all received a Xerox of a 3x5 index card. Dad had written one note and then Xeroxed it—there’s nothing that quite produces family warmth like receiving a Xerox, now is there? Dad informed us he’d given it a lot of thought and had decided to share his feelings that what he got in the way of a birthday celebration was so different from what he expected that he was never going to mention birthdays again until his 100th. He added a postscript that he was enclosing a check to reimburse two of us (Boyd and Mark) for their travel expenses. To this day, I do not know what my father expected in the way of a birthday celebration. Maybe we all should have jumped from our seats and yelled “Hallelujah!” 25 times every time he walked through the door. In any event there are just two things I am certain of: 1) dad will still be around in 2026 for his 107th birthday, and 2) he will no doubt be even more temperamental then than he is now.

Seeing Art Schlichter Again

A few weeks ago, I had a client arraigned on the third floor of 375 South High Street and much to my surprise, who did I see among the prisoners but Art Schlichter. We didn’t speak, but I’m sure he doesn’t remember me from over thirty years ago.

For people not familiar with Columbus or the history of Ohio State football, thirty years ago Art Schlichter was a very big man on campus (I’ve written about him here (insert hyperlink)). He was starting quarterback for four years and was repeatedly a candidate for the Heisman Trophy. Thirty years ago, if you’d asked me to make a prediction I’d have guessed Art was destined to rewrite the NFL’s record book. Instead, he’s spent the last third of a century establishing himself as perhaps America’s most notorious compulsive gambler. My insurance agent was Art’s roommate at OSU, and he’s told me there were signals even then that Columbus’ media darling had a major problem. I gamble occasionally, and it gives me a bit of a rush. Apparently, for Art Schlichter that rush is as powerful and irresistible as a shot of cocaine.

In 1982, the Colts made Art their first round draft pick. He turned out to be a terrible bust. Apparently he was so obsessed with gambling that he couldn’t concentrate on football. I understand he made almost $1 million on his contract and signing bonus. Less than halfway through the season, he had blown all that and was almost $1 million in debt. When his creditors started threatening him, he turned himself in and set up his ex-bookies for an FBI sting. The NFL suspended him for a year, and both Buckeye and Baltimore fans were hopeful he’d straighten out. No such luck.

Over the next 25 years, Art went to rehab 4 times and prison six times. I must admit Art Schlichter has some real gifts as a con man. During his first stretch in prison, he befriended a fellow prisoner, a doctor. When both were released, the doctor told investors he’d found a sure cure for compulsive gambling and needed capital for a chain of treatment centers. Art agreed to be his accomplice by testifying, “The good doctor has cured me, so help him save the world.” Of course, Art gambled away his share of the scam money and got sent back to prison.

I once spoke with Schlichter’s federal defender, who told me that Art is extremely convincing. She should know: Art convinced her to bring him a cell phone in prison. He’d tearfully claimed he wanted to speak with his children when in fact he wanted to talk with his bookies. When she was found bringing in a second phone, she lost her job. In 2007, when I heard Art had been granted parole, I wondered what the over-under was on him going back. After a year, I was surprised he hadn’t returned to jail, after two, I was amazed, and after four, I’d begun to hope he’d finally straightened out. Silly me. It has now come to light that he managed to win the confidence of a wealthy widow and convinced her to help him make amends to some people he’d wronged—translation: the local bookies. He managed to take her for something close to a mil.

I remember a conversation I once had with Anne Hayes, Woody’s widow, where I asked her if she thought Art would ever get his life on track. She shook her head and said Art has had so many chances. I can understand a 1st, 2nd, 3rd, maybe 4th chance, but Art Schlichter is going to jail for the 7th time, and if it were up to me, it would be for life.

SC’s B-day/ Dealing with Mr. Pigot

One of the great joys of my life is my honorary niece, Seana Christine, her sister, her brother, and her parents. Those three children, in my never-to-be-humble opinion, represent the gold standard for kidsters (though now that they’re college-age, I might have to start calling them something different. SC just celebrated another birthday, and as well as finishing up her first year at veterinary school, I’m proud to say she’s using a stethoscope Uncle Kent got for her). To appreciate the story that follows, I need to mention SC’s dad is a retired USMC sergeant. I decided more than a quarter-century ago that I would not arm wrestle the man on a bet. Furthermore, the last time I visited I shook hands with Brian Edward, who apparently has closed the 2-meter mark, and must get his mail at the weight room. This kid pumps iron! After the handshake, I decided I would not thumb wrestle that kid on a bet. His plans are uncertain, but officer candidacy school may be in his future.

Last month I was in domestic court getting a woman a civil protection order against her boyfriend, a thoroughly unpleasant thug named Mr. Pigot. She told me he’d roughed her up in front of witnesses, and I figured we had a good case. I called Mr. Pigot to explain his choices: he could represent himself or engage council, he could have a contested hearing or agree to a consent agreement in which he would not be able to approach my client within a 500-foot radius. He taunted me that my client would never show up in court and called me everything but a precious child of God. It occurred to me that perhaps his name was appropriate. Pig-OT—overtime pig. Is it that he works extra hours to become the pig he is, or was it that after a tie at the Franklin County Pig Contest, he pushed through in overtime to win the award of biggest pig in this part of Ohio? I suspect both are true.

The day of court, my client showed up with her witnesses: her father and brother. When Mr. Overtime Swine showed up, he saw that his ex-girlfriend/ex-punching bag had finally stood up to him. He again demonstrated his comprehensive knowledge of every profanity in the English language—I don’t think his vocabulary includes words with more than four letters. I resisted the impulse to ask him to meet me in the parking lot so we could do the man-dance. I didn’t care if he was 70 years younger than me—I wanted a piece of that guy.

My client was victorious, and elated, and I am enjoying the thought that the state of Ohio will be sending me a check for my efforts. When I got the final judgment form, I saw something that made my jaw hang slack. By remarkable coincidence, my client had a birth date exactly one day before my honorary niece SC. It occurred to me exactly what would have happened if Mr. OT Swine had either laid hands on SC in the presence of her father or younger brother. Most likely, he’d be wearing a tag on his toe. I hope my readers won’t think I’m a bad person when I say I wasn’t angry any longer, but I did have a good laugh.

Thank you Seana, thank you Mark, thank you Brian. Barbara and Aaron, thank you too.

President Obama, Reverend Wright, and My Dad

During the last presidential election, Republicans tried to make political hay over the fact that Barack Obama spent many years attending a church whose minister, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, is prone to using extreme language. My personal favorite Wright line: he denounced December 7 as the day Americans killed millions in Hiroshima. I was appalled no one in the congregation laughed: doesn’t that moron know that’s when the German bombed Pearl Harbor? (my favorite line from Animal House).

I’ve never met President Obama, nor have I met Jeremiah Wright. However, people who question how our president could attend a church whose minister is such a race-baiting extremist should consider the story of John B. Mitchell Jr, my father.

My dad has been a member of the First Communion Church (associated with the United Church of Christ) for slightly over a half century now. He has been an usher and a member of the Board of Governors. He has also been an atheist for his entire adult life. Many years ago, he even saw fit to serve on a search committee to find the church a new senior minister. I indignantly asked him why he doesn’t offer his services to local synagogues. “Because I’m not Jewish,” he replied. I then pointed out he wasn’t Christian either. Dad always wore a look of complete incomprehension when I called him a hypocrite.

With regard to President Obama, is he a) a wild-eyed, racist extremist like Wright, b) a narcoleptic in the habit of sleeping through sermons, or c) an opportunist who wanted connections? Take your pick.

Bill Clinton in Warsaw

I pride myself on rooting out historic truth rather than accepting rumor. In 1992 there was a scurrilous rumor that while Clinton was a Rhodes Scholar, he took a side trip to Moscow and was filmed by the KGB in a sexually compromising position, then forced to become a Soviet agent. Utter nonsense. Clinton must have, however, made a secret trip to Warsaw and been filmed in a similarly compromised position by the Polish secret police (exactly what Clinton could be blackmailed with is beyond me). Some might find it hard to believe that the president could be the agent of a foreign power. But in the last ten years has Clinton ever done anything other than what the Poles told him to do? (OK, that one works better told out loud.)

Jimmy Carter in Tokyo

If Jimmy Carter is still alive at next year’s end, he’ll have spent more time living as an ex-president than any other in US history (he’ll break Hoover’s record of 31 years). Well I tend to be strongly red state, I hope he’s alive, not just for the 2012 elections, but for 2016 and 2020, so he’ll become our longest-lived president. I suppose it would be too much for Republicans to hope he’ll receive the Democratic nomination for all three elections, har har. The memory of election night, 1980 is not a fond one for Republicans. I do applaud Carter’s Habitat for Humanity work; his attempts to act as unofficial Secretary of State, not so much.

As an appreciator of irony, I’ll always treasure his response to a question following a Tokyo speech he gave while in office. A woman asked him, “Would you have married Rosalynn if she was black?” and he answered in the affirmative. Remember, this is the same Jim Carter who said, “I’ll never lie to you.” Pardon me while I have a giggling fit. Somehow, I rather doubt Carter’s parents, Mr. Earl and Lillian Carter, would have been happy about their son bringing home a black fiancĂ© in July of 1946, though it would be a great idea for a comedy sketch.

Just to show generosity of spirit, I’ll salute the Carters for having the second-longest marriage in presidential history—George HW and Barbara got hitched six months sooner.

Brother Mark among the Rastas

Many years ago, my younger brother Mark went on a Jamaica trip and was having a talk with a group of Rastafarian men when one started passing around a hash pipe. When it was passed to him, Mark politely declined. At which point one of the men asked, “You no smoke the gange?” To which Mark replied, “No, I do not smoke the gange.” Pause. “Never?” “No, never.” The man’s mind seemed rather blown. He became angry, demanding, “Why you no smoke?” The others told him to settle down, that Mark was fine. There was a long pause. Then the man exclaimed: “Oh, you smoke the cocaine!” I am glad Mark is a man of such excellent habits.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Catching Up with Jonathan V

A few weeks ago, while fooling around on, I happened upon the name of a law school classmate of mine named Jonathan V. I called him up and spoke to him for the first time in over 20 years. Jonathan told me that he’s not practicing law, and I told him that since he had enjoyed considerable romantic success with a classmate of mine who was one of the great unrequited crushes of my life, I wholeheartedly envied him. I also told him I was pleasantly surprised he had not managed to drink himself to death, which is what I honestly suspected had happened to him—in law school, he was a horrendous lush. (yes, I can be a very plainspoken so and so can’t I?) He told me, “Jesus Christ is keeping me sober.” I was delighted to hear that Jonathan is alive and that he’s sober, and whoever he wants to give credit to is fine by me. I did not enquire as to whether the Jesus Christ he was referring to had his staff headquarters in Rome, Canterbury, Salt Lake City, or any other place—I’m glad he’s sober.

This reminded me of something fascinating I recently learned about Bill Wilson, the founder of AA. For 15 years after he returned from his service in WWI, Bill Wilson was a horrendous drunk. He had sought assistance from his friends, his family, especially his long suffering wife, from clergy and from doctors, all to no avail. Wilson knew he was in very real danger of drinking himself to death, and he asked a doctor who specialized in treatment of alcoholism what were his prospects. The doctor told him bluntly that at that time there was no effective treatment for alcoholism. The only exception was when the patient experienced a spontaneous spiritual rejuvenation. In effect, Wilson needed a miracle.

By coincidence, on Armistice Day 1934, Wilson got a visit from an old friend of his with whom he had done some serious drinking. The friend told him that he’d managed to stop drinking because he’d got religion. Wilson’s friend was involved with what was known as the Oxford Movement, which was an explicitly protestant organization. Something clicked. Wilson started reaching out to other drunks to try to persuade them to stop drinking, and as the months passed, he noticed something extraordinary: he did not succeed in getting any of his friends to sober up, but he, for the first time in 15 years, was off alcohol himself.

It was in May of 1935 when Wilson made a business trip to Akron, Ohio, where he met Dr Bob Smith, another longtime alcoholic. They hit it off immediately, and the next day, they visited a third drunk, a patient at a nearby hospital suffering from alcoholism. That day marks the beginning of AA. I wonder if anyone today reading this more than 75 years later can appreciate exactly how desperate and alone Bill Wilson must have felt. He was very much on his own, without the possible support system we know of today, While both he and Dr. Bob were familiar with the Oxford Movement, they were more interested in helping other drunks and keeping themselves sober than proselytizing. One day, Wilson visited a hospital patient who admitted that he was a near-hopeless alcoholic, and he suspiciously asked Wilson how much his scheme cost. Wilson replied nothing at all, which got that man’s attention. However when he mentioned the spiritual side of the program, that man called him everything but a precious child of God and accused him of evangelizing for some religious cult.

My best guess is that the fellow was Catholic. There’s an old joke in AA: any time you find four Irish Catholics, you’ll soon find a fifth.

It was shortly thereafter that Wilson, Smith, and their small group of alcoholics broke with the Oxford Movement. They introduced one of the most important of AA’s traditions of turning your life over to God as you understand him. So what’s the result? Is there room in AA for Protestants, Catholics, Christians of every stripe? Jews and anybody else? Definitely. Shortly before his death in 1971, Wilson revealed that he had corresponded with Buddhists who said that they would prefer the tradition read “Good as you understand it” rather than “God”, but it did not turn out to be a problem.

I much admire the work of Penn and Teller, but I once saw a segment of their TV program Bulls**t which was an “expose” on AA. Penn commented, “either there is a God in AA or there isn’t.” I think Penn Jillette is a brilliant man. Why the hell can’t he figure out if you have 2 million members in AA you can get 2 million definitions of a God or a higher power? Jillette also commented that AA still used Bill Wilson’s “big book” to help its members stay sober. He sneered, “If you used a medical textbook from 1935 for any other malady, wouldn’t you be committing malpractice?” That comment really made my blood boil. If a med textbook from 1935 recommended that people suffering from influenza bundle up, stay in bed, and avoid close contact with others, does that mean it’s a good idea for modern flu sufferers to get naked, run around in the snow, and exchange lingering open-mouth kisses with friends and family? I think not. He also commented that AA by itself has a low long term success rate. That is a dangerous half-truth. Alcoholics who use only AA meetings have a low long-term success rate, as do alcoholics who go though formal treatment and do not stay active with a 12-step support group. However, as my more clever readers will have by now figured out, those who do both enjoy very high success rates. This past week I spoke with a treatment specialist at a Continuing Legal Education seminar who told me that recovering alcoholics who use both treatment and 12-step and manage to stay sober for 2 years have a better than 80% chance of retaining sobriety for the rest of their lives.

One acquaintance of mine who is not so much atheist as, I would say, theophobic, said he found it objectionable that AA meetings end with the Lords’ Prayer. While that is a tradition, it is not an iron-bound law. Once, while reading some AA literature, I saw that one group met in the basement of a synagogue. I haven’t had the chance to ask any of my Jewish friends how they would feel about a bunch of recovering alcoholics reciting the Lord’s Prayer in the basement of the synagogue, but I figure most of them would figure that if it helped keep a bunch a drunks sober, there would be less chance that drunk would kill them or their loved ones in a drunk driving incident.

When I was in Alaska, I once saw a notice about a guest speaker, a Yup’ic man who promoted “mushing for sobriety.” He went from village to village with his bobsled team speaking in favor of staying sober. I never met him, Perhaps mushing was his higher power. When I first read about him I was a bit bemused by his choice of methods. Then I found out he grew up in a family with 8 children. He had buried 7 of his siblings, all of them dead from alcoholism.

So who then is could possibly have a problem with being in AA? The answer is anyone who is an atheist who can’t go 30 min without shouting that fact from the rooftops , and fortunately enough there are sobriety programs, i.e. Rational Recovery, which have a specifically atheist ideology., If they keep anyone sober, I think that’s a very good thing. Some promoters of rational Recovery have attacked AA as being a cult. I think that’s terribly inaccurate. I’m happy to report AA takes a very mellow attitude.

If anyone wants to know how I came to be such an expert on alcoholism, although I’m a teetotaler myself, the answer is I spent five years as a public defender in western Alaska, where I sometimes represented clients with alcohol-related priors that numbered in the triple digits. If everybody west of Anchorage stopped drinking, 90% of all public defenders would be out of a job, and the ones who weren’t unemployed would have to work one morning every other week.

Allen & Lucky’s “Good Deed” Goes Awry

Tom Dewey is remembered today, if at all, for being the unsuccessful Republican nominee for president in ‘48 and for Truman holding up a headline announcing “Dewey defeats Truman.” What most people don’t remember is that in early 1930s, Dewey was a superlative prosecutor. He caused organized crime in New York so much grief that Bronx gangster “Dutch” Schultz, aka Arthur Flegenheimer, called a meeting of the syndicate heads and demanded that they give him the green light to have Dewey assassinated. The other bosses, led by Charles “Lucky” Luciano, refused on the grounds that the mob did not kill honest lawmen or innocent citizens, as it would be bad for business. Schultz was adamant that he would have Dewey “whacked” with or without the other bosses’ approval and stormed out of the meeting.

Underworld legend has it that Luciano then instructed Al Reles, head of Murder, Inc., to have Schultz whacked before he could bring down any unwanted heat on his mob colleagues. On October 23, 1935, in a scene that has been portrayed many times in cinematic history, Rele’s triggerman caught up with Shcultz in the Palace Chophouse and shot Schultz, 2 of Schultz’s bodyguards, and Shultz’s accountant. Ironically enough, once Schultz was dead, Dewey shifted his main target to Luciano, and in 1936 convicted Luciano on multiple accounts of forced prostitution, which got Lucky 10 years in Sing Sing before he was deported back to his native Italy. Dewey’s staff ultimately convicted Al Reles of murder, and in an event of poetic justice, the head of Murder, Inc. died in the Sing Sing electric chair.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Gurkhas

I recently read in a news story that one of the political questions in Great Britain today is: should Gurkhas retiring from the British army be allowed to spend their pension-collecting days in the UK? For the benefit of anyone who is not an expert in military history, Gurkhas tend to be very small men who carry very big knives called kurkis, which they wield quite expertly. While I do not have a vote in the matter, I would suggest to my English friends that it might be an extremely good idea to figure out which neighborhoods in the UK have the most serious problem with knifings and gang violence. Once you’ve identified the locations, set up small public housing projects for the gurkhas and inform them that while HMG disapproves of the use of cookeries on innocent bystanders, it is the greatest possible honor to defeat an opponent in an evenly matched knife fight. I suspect that in well under a month, the criminals of Britain would be fighting for a chance to get out of the country.

Counter-History: A Buckeye Fantasy

Recent news reports indicate that the OSU football program might be in for a very rough time as a result of NCAA rules violations, a prospect that fills my Buckeye-fanatic heart with dread. This is shaping up to be the worst scandal of my lifetime. So I will indulge in a bit of counter-historical speculation.

I once learned that from 1933 to 1936, OSU’s football team went 5-3, 7-1, 7-1, 7-1. Of those six defeats, only one of them was by more than a touchdown. OSU’s coach, Francis Schmidt, achieved a great deal of fame by using a complicated, razzle-dazzle offense.

I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if he had had the prescience to reach out to a young man from Cleveland who, ironically enough, never played football, a young man named James Cleveland “Jesse” Owens. Owens achieved undying fame for once breaking five world records in one hour (in sprint events and in the broad jump). He made a brief appearance on the world stage when he won four gold medals in the Berlin Olympics in 1936. Popular legend has it that his victories convinced Adolph Hitler to stop attending the games. Owens later commented, “Hitler didn’t snub me, Roosevelt did. He didn’t even send a telegram.” Sadly, Owens was forced to run exhibitions to support his wife and young child. It’s a scandal that a man who accomplished all that should be reduced to those circumstances.

I wonder if somebody had pointed out to Francis Schmidt the impact a player of Owens’ speed could have. To put it another way, what happens when you take a great football team and add the world’s fastest human? “Bullet” Bob Hayes made a real contribution to the Dallas Cowboy teams in the 1960s after setting a world sprinting record in the 1964 Olympics. What could Jesse Owens have accomplished?

I did a bit of research and found out that JO’s times in the 100 meters were almost exactly the same as Ted Ginn Jr’s. Viewers can see for themselves what Ginn did to the best defensive programs in the country. What could Owens have done to teams that didn’t have a single player who could run a 100 yards in under ten seconds? Allow me to indulge in a bit of what might be called Buckeye football fan porn: four straight undefeated seasons, Owens a four-time All-American and two-time Heisman trophy winner (the Heisman was introduced in ‘35). Could the NFL have possibly ignored a man with that much impact? I suspect not. It’s possible that if JO had played football at Ohio State, he might have had a comparable impact to what Jackie Robinson had with the Dodgers a decade later.

Rick Palaus’ Lucky Night

When I was stationed at Presidio of Monterey Defense Language Institute back in 1981, one of my shipmates was a guy studying Farsi named Rick Palaus. One night Rick was walking back to the Navy barracks from the NCO club when he heard the sounds of a struggle and a young woman crying out. He investigated and found a man trying to force himself on a young female soldier. Rick intervened and pulled the guy off her. I wasn’t there, but apparently the perpetrator’s intent was nothing less than rape. He got himself a court martial and a suite at Leavenworth for ten years. Rick became unofficial King of Monterey after that incident. The entire staff of the Defense Language Institute got to stand at attention while Rick was awarded the Navy Commendation Medal. And everybody I heard express an opinion envied his luck at being the right man at the right place at the right time. The only bit of gaucherie I heard was one guy asking Rick, “Did she thank you?” and Rick replied “Of course she did.” The guy then said, “No, did she **thank** you,” and Rick said “Come on, man.”

I never heard anyone say “I bet she was asking for it,” but I did hear one guy say “10 years, and that guy deserves every day of it.”I offer this story since I sometimes hear some hard-line feminists opine that all men are rapists or in sympathy to rapists. Indeed, I think the perp got off relatively easy. Rick Palaus is a slender fellow; I know some guys stationed there who would have been inclined to beat the miscreant to death on the spot. Rick did what I hope that 99% of the guys at Monterey would have done. Based on that experience, I think young men in general have a bit more decency than they sometimes get credit for.

Vhen Ahnold Met Dino

In the seventies, Ahnold decided he wanted to make a career change form bodybuilding to being an actor, and he managed to set up a meeting with producer Dino De Laurentiis, and supposedly the conversation went like this:
Ahnold: I vant to become a movie star.
Dino: (his first language was Italian) You cannot-a be a movie star because you speaka de English with an accent and-a you got a funny sounding name!
Ahnold: Vhat about Gina Lola Brigda?
And the rest is history.

Rexx “Hits for the Cycle”

Yesterday I managed to get a client a consent decree against her now ex-bf on the grounds that he had repeatedly threatened to kill her. There was no difficulty locating her former paramour seeing as how he was locked up at the Franklin Country Workhouse on Jackson Pike. I admit surprise when I learned of the charges he was being held on: any baseball fan knows that if a player hits a single a double a triple and a home run in one game, that extraordinary feat is known as hitting for the cycle. I learned that Rexx, her ex, was being held on four different felony charges, a 4th degree, 3rd degree, 2nd degree, and 1st degree felony. That was the first in my experience: Rexx the ex is hitting for the cycle.

Columbus Day Should be on February 29

Recently, a friend of mine told me that she was a big fan of astrology and figuratively I bit my tongue. I then reminded myself that as long as she isn’t practicing human sacrifice, I don’t see how it does me or anyone else harm. I just hope that she doesn’t make any important life choices based on that particular body of knowledge. My own opinion is that astronomy begins where astrology ends, and that good knowledge of astronomy can be a lifesaver, as Chris Columbus demonstrated more than 500 years ago.
Everyone knows that in 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Few people know that in 1502, Columbus made his fourth and last trip to the new world, and on June 25, 1503 his ship ran aground on the north shore of Jamaica. For the next eight months, Columbus and his crew managed to stay alive due to the largesse of the local Indians. By February 1504, the indigenous population had grown tired of their uninvited guests, and Columbus feared for his safety. Fortunately for Columbus, he had a copy of Johannes Konigsberg’s book of lunar tables, which came in very handy.

On Feb 29th, 1504, Columbus informed the local chiefs that their inhospitality had angered the Christian God (and the Christian God’s mother!) and as a result, the Christian God was going to blot out the moon that night as a warning of what would befall them if they didn’t change their attitude. Sure enough, shortly after moonrise that night, the natives were horrified to see the moon turn red then disappear altogether. Columbus waited for 50 minutes before telling them that he had convinced the Christian god to restore the moon provided they stopped skimping on their food deliveries. That managed to keep Columbus’ party safe for another 4 months until another ship picked them up on June 29th, 1504. Columbus managed to return to Spain in December of that year, where he faced an irate Spanish board of inquiry over his lack of results in the new territories.

Fun at the Courthouse with Sarah Connor

One of the security guards at Franklin County Courthouse is a young woman named Sarah Connor, which was , coincidentally, the same name of Linda Hamilton’s character in Terminator. This means I get to have all kinds of fun every time I see her. When I pass through the metal detector, I get to yell out “Goot morgan, Sarah Connah,” much to the amusement of her coworkers.

Royal Names

Whenever an American hears his middle name, it almost invariably means he is in serious trouble with his parents. When I learned that the Prince of Wales’ full name is Charles Phillip Arthur George Mountbatten-Windsor, I thought, if I’d ever heard one of my parents yell that at me when I was a kidster, I would jump on my tricycle and seek asylum at the nearest foreign embassy.

Prince Charles’ younger brother is, properly speaking, Andrew Arthur Chalres Edward. He’s a helicopter pilot; does that mean he’s an ace?

Kate Middleton’s soon-to-be husband is William Phillip Arthur Louie. Does that mean inside, he’s really a pal?

Then there’s Prince Henry, who is William Charles Arthur David. Hope that doesn’t mean he’s a cad.