Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Stan “The Man” Musial

I was recently amazed when my collaborator admitted he had never heard of Stan Musial. My father has always told me that it’s OK for men to cry, but his advice is a little more enlightened than his actions. If my father cries it’s almost always because a member of his immediate family has died. The only exception to this I remember was the day in September 1963 when Stan Musial played his last game with the St Louis Cardinals. Copious tears were running down my father’s cheeks. Since he and Stand are almost exactly the same age, over 90, I’m sure it was wrenching for my father to say goodbye to a piece of his youth.

Stan Musial played 22 years with the Cardinals. His lifetime batting average of .331 is one of the best ever, and he hit 275 home runs. At the time of his retirement, he led the National League with a career total of 3,630 hits. Amazingly, that total included 1850 at home and 1850 on the road. Those figures would be even higher if not for the year he spent serving in the Navy in WWII. It wasn’t just that Musial played well. The reason why he is a living legend in St Louis is the way he conducted himself. In 22 years, Musial was never ejected from a game. Henry Aaron enjoys telling the story that when barnstorming down South, he frequently had to eat his meals in the team bus. Stan Musial was the only white player who would grab a plate and join him. Aaron and Musial had an excellent relationship as part-time teammates. I’m sure the thought of facing Musial and Aaron at successive at-bats was enough to make pitchers wake up screaming.

There’s one other Musial story that’s still told almost half a century after his retirement. In one game, the Cardinals were trailing by 2 runs in the ninth inning during a tight pennant race. They managed to put two men on when Musial came up to bat and hit a screaming line drive down the right foul line good for what seemed like at least double when the umpire unexpectedly called the hit foul. While Musial was rounding second base, the entire Cardinals bench emptied, and 24 enraged Cardinals and their manager were screaming at the umpire calling him everything but a precious child of God.
Slightly bewildered, Musial ambled in from second base, and when he heard what had happened, he raised his hand and said, “Guys, he called the ball foul.” Shamed into silence, the fuming cardinals returned to the dugout and two of his teammates returned to their bases. On the next pitch, Musial hit another screaming line drive that cleared the fence for a home run and a Cardinal victory. There was only one Stan “The Man” Musial.

A Case of Yapese Justice

The recent stories about Dominique Strauss-Khan’s legal difficulties reminded me of a case I read about on the island of Yap in the Federated States of Micronesia. The whole issue of sexual assault is a hot-button issue in the last decade. It seems to be a problem in every known society. Jane Goodall’s studies of chimpanzees indicate that males of that species are capable of egregious, aggressive conduct towards females. That’s why I believe socialization of young males by their families and communities is so important.

I once knew a very attractive young woman named Ann Marchant who had traveled a great deal throughout Europe in her teens. I once told her that she had the makings of a good doctoral dissertation on how different European nationalities respond to cute blonds. The Norwegians, she told me, were polite, and had a mellow, almost androgynous, outlook, the Italians were vocal, if in a friendly way, but she found Greeks to be vocal and downright nasty.

My younger brother Mark once attended a community college in Kansas where he informed me there was no friction at all between blacks and whites. They were united by a common enemy: Arab exchange students who had got their ideas about American women from watching too many episodes of Dallas. They seemed to think any woman who was bearing as much as her ankles was asking for it. Their attitude caused serious tension and several fistfights.

But back to Yap. I have passed the bar for Ohio, federal courts for the southern district of Ohio, and in 1999 I passed the bar for the Federated States of Micronesia. While studying for the bar in Micronesia, I read about 2 cases of sexual assault on the island of Yap, where I once served as public defender. In both cases, some very ill-mannered young men had assaulted a Yapese. The retaliation of the woman’s family was swift and severe. Every male relative of the victim—fathers, brothers, uncles and cousins—got together tracked the guy down, jumped him, and took turns beating him within an inch of his life. One guy had his hand smashed with a 2x4, one guy was beaten with fists until he could no longer stand, used as a soccer ball until he wasn’t moving, and then the assembled multitude used him as a public urinal.

As a trained lawyer, I’m supposed to deplore lynch mob justice, but in this case, I rather wonder if in Yap it doesn’t make perfect sense. If you attack a woman, retribution will be swift, certain, and severe, an object lesson not only to the perpetrator and any would-be wrongdoer, but also as an object lesson to young boys: not only do you not mistreat women, it is both your right and affirmative duty to personally punish anyone who does.

Academic Stress in Perspective

I spent 45 weeks as a student at the Defense Language Institute at the Presidio Monterey from 1980-1981 studying Arabic. The workload was heavy and the dropout rate was about 50%. The thought of being dropped from the course and shipped out to sea as a non-rated seaman terrified me. One day in class, the guy sitting next to me, a really strange guy named Goegre Zimmerman, had a complete anxiety attack and got sent back in training. So not only was I afraid, I was afraid of being too afraid. I learned that the Presidio Monterey’s Health Center had a counseling center that I could visit gratis. I figured I would do a little bit of what in the Navy is called “preventive maintenance”—that’s when you fix a part before it is due to break down. I would visit the counselor each week and count my marbles to make sure I wasn’t losing them.

Some of you may know the name of the counselor I saw was a bad actor named Frank King who was court-martialed for making advances on his female patients and spent 6 years in Leavenworth. I also saw a man named Frank Thompson who gave me some good advice. When I told him about my anxiety over not completing the course (at that time, the date of June 4, 1984 seemed to be an eternity into the future), he told me that years before, while completing his doctorate, he had been in an academic program so intense that the joke was if you could complete it, you really don’t need it. He looked around and saw a great many bright graduate students who were training to be able to help other people who appeared to be coming apart at the seams themselves. He went to see the departmental chairman, a gentleman well-up in years who told him a story that’s a real doozy.

This departmental chair had served in the navy during WWII, and on Feb 19, 1945, he was in charge of a landing craft headed towards Iwo Jima. As a landing craft approached the beach, he could see that not all the gunfire was headed inland. Japanese machine guns were firing out at landing craft any way they could and he was quite understandably terrified. The thought occurred to him that he had been that terrified once before. Years before, in grad school, he’d had a prof notorious for assigning voluminous readings and then assigning essays on an unrelated topic. Before took that exam, he was absolutely terrified. He made a resolution that when he got back from the war, he would never let any professor scare him as badly as a Japanese machine gun and artillery fire. He pointed out to me then that 3 years at sea would be scary, but not that scary, and if I could accept that, I’d be well on my way to completing the course, which I did.

The Misadventures of Stephen Foster

Some of my readers might have heard me mention a client named Stephen Foster who is, at this moment, doing his *fourth* stint in the Ohio correctional system. I represented Stephen on one of his cases. In a conference with the visiting judge, the judge commented, “He should have stayed in his Old Kentucky Home.” I said, “I gotcha beat judge: he should have stayed on the old Swanee River.”

The paradox of Delaware County’s Stephen Foster—he’s a white guy, shaved head who stands somewhere over 6’6” and probably weighs over 300 lbs, but he’s never been convicted of any act of violence, and I’ve never once heard of him committing a violent act. He’s a mellow fellow who just wants to enjoy shooting up heroin, and he would be in no trouble at all if folks could just understand his need to pass bad checks to pay for his supply. At this point, I think Stevie poses more of a threat to himself than he does to society. During one stay in Delaware County Jail, he was so badly injured (under mysterious circumstances) that his civil attorney managed to win a settlement of over 100,000 from the county. That 6-figure windfall actually lasted Stevie a little over a month before he either blew it on women or shot it up his arm.

During his current stretch in prison, he was approached by the local chapter of the Aryan Brotherhood about becoming a member. Apparently, they liked a guy who had a tattoo across his midsection that read “Corn-fed Honkie.” While I do not approve of prison gangs of any race or ethnicity, I can certainly see how an inmate would like to have other guys watching his back. Unfortunately for Stevie, one of his hometown buddies showed up in the same prison and said something that really put Stevie behind the 8-ball. He said to Stevie, “What are you doing with the Aryan Brotherhood when you’ve got a black girlfriend and a half-black kid?” Within an hour, Stevie’s status changed from the Brotherhood’s newest prospective member to its top target for a shiv. Apparently, when the Brotherhood says “F*** N(egroes)”, that was not what they had in mind.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

How Cousin Reginald Saved the World

If Reginald J. Mitchell was a cousin, he was VERY distant one.

Very good article from Slate.

OBL's Funeral and Nietzche

I've heard some commentators question why the US gave Osama bin Laden a Muslim funeral. I think Nietzsche has the answer: "Whosoever fights monsters should take care that they not turn into one."

Of Lions and Lawyers

Here's a tip of the hat to my classmate Jean Box, who told me this one.

Once upon a time, a young lion woke up at dawn and headed out to hunt. On his way out of the Pride's den, he passed the oldest lion in the Pride, who was busily licking the lower terminus of his alimentary canal. That night, when he returned from hunting, he again saw the old lion, still licking the lower terminus of his alimentary canal.The next morning,he saw the same thing. So, the young lion says,"Hey, Grandpa, what's going on?"

To which the old lion replies, "It's awful. Last week, I got so desperate, I ate a lawyer....and I'm *still* trying to get the taste out of my mouth!"

The Batusi?

Remember kids, don't drink and dance!

PS yes, that is Jill St. John.

Captain Kirk Throwing Stones

I guess that martial arts is not a major part of the cirriculum at Starfleet Academy. That's Ted Cassidy (a.k.a."Lurch") as Gorn.

PS After sending the link to this video to friends and family, I received a reply from my friend Susan Miller(whom I call "Lady Haha")that read, "I'm on the right track baby, fighting Gorn this way hey."

I *Weep* for NicolaTHEGREAT41's Generation

A group of American students in Greece put President Truman on trial for war crimes and convicted him (with a simulated Hirohito as part of the prosecution.)


Subject: Reply from nicolaTHEgreat41 on "Hiroshima: Right or Wrong?"
From: service@youtube.com
To: kentamitchell@hotmail.com
Date: Mon, 16 May 2011 08:19:41 -0700

nicolaTHEgreat41 has replied to your comment on Hiroshima: Right or Wrong?:
look I am a student in an American school in Athens, Greece
Right today we had an event called the Truman trial. I was part of the prosecution, as I was Hirohito.
the trial went on from 9 am to 3.30 pm, and Truman was found guilty for war crimes...
haven't u heard of the Hague convention of 1889, where it was clearly stated that bombs that killed by sufficating [sic] the targets & have a radioactivity were illegal.
The a-bomb kills various generations, whereas hirohitos killings only1


Irony is dead.

I'm Glad My Parents Didn't Name Me "Peter"

....because in 1986, that was the names of the characters played by *both* Tom Cruise in "Top Gun" and Tom Selleck in "Three Men and a Baby".

Tough Day in Court?

My fellow members of the bar: if you had a tough day in court, at least Cardinal Richelieu didn't show up.

I wonder how many people know that John Cleese started out as a solicitor, only to discover that he could make LOTS more money as a comic and actor.

Kangaroos in Jerusalem???

I've been to Jerusalem twice,and I never saw a kangaroo. :)

PS Michangelo did not paint "The Last Supper"; Leonardo da Vinvi did. Now we know why!

Ms. Stevens' Lucky Evening at Hillel

Way back in the late 70s (when I earning my B.A. and M.A. from Ohio State), a young Jewish gal from Cincinnati named Shelley Stevens majoring in art at OSU had a part-time gig selling tickets at the local Jewish center, the Hillel. One evening, she met a nice Israeli doctor named Herschlag, and one thing led to another. They got married, moved to Jerusalem, and thirty years ago this June 9th, had a daughter they named Natalie. She grew up to be beautiful, smart, and talented, and decided, for professional reasons, to use the last name Portman.

I often wonder why the Hillel Foundation doesn't ask Ms. Portman to use her name in promoting social events, as in, "We can't guarantee that you'll met the love of your life here, but you never know.”

Randy "Macho Man" Savage's Columbus Connection

Somehow, I would find it *very* difficult to imagine that many of my readers would be much fans of Professional Wrestling. (What has 100 arms, 100 legs, 200 teeth and a combined IQ of 100? 50 professional wrestling fans). I was saddened however, to hear that Randy "Macho Man" Stevens died recently in a car accident at the age of 58. Who would have imagined he was a nice boy from Columbus, Ohio named Randy Poffo would become one of the biggest names in the history of professional wrestling? (The again, with a last name like that, no wonder he turned out to be a tough guy.)

My younger brother Mark was a very good high school wrestler, and he hates, hates, *hates* pro wrestling. I just accept it as a lowbrow artform- a cartoon with human, rather than animated, characters. Anyhow, I always enjoyed the Macho Man's showmanship—one writer once speculated that Savage's wardrobe designer must've been a *longtime* user of LSD. (Sad to say, apparently both he and his stage “manager"/real life wife "the lovely Elizabeth" had problems with cocaine. "Elizabeth" died of an overdose several years ago.)

I never met Randy Stevens, but early one morning in the Fall of 1987, I learned he *definitely* had a sense of humor. I was finishing up my law degree at Notre Dame, and Stevens was on a South Bend radio station's early morning show promoting a "Wrestlemania" event that was to be held at the Notre Dame Atheletic & Convocation Center. He did his usual shtick, which was to sound like a guy who has just ingested a gallon of Turkish espresso: OOOOOOHHHHH YEEEEEAAAAAH!!! After doing the promo, the DJ asked the Macho Man if he'd like to do the weather report. Which he did—in character. "There's a COOOOOOOLD FRONT comin' down from CAAAAANAAAAADAAAAA!!!.."

It was with some difficulty that I managed to keep from falling out of bed laughing.

RIP Randy

A Long-Delayed Hug

One of the great joys of my life is my honorary niece Erin Nicole. Everybody else refers to her by just her first name, but I figured after visiting her when she was a grade schooler, that it might be helpful to remind her that her middle name is not “Stop-Running-Around,” as in “Erin-stop-running-around,” or my personal favorite, “Erin-if-you-don’t-stop-running-around-you’ll-trip-over-Uncle-Kent’s-legs-and-hurt-yourself-and-Uncle-Kent-will-feel-bad.”

The first time I ever saw Erin Nicole was on a late day in May when Ronald Regan was still president. I had just returned from a Navy deployment onboard the USS LaSalle on the Indian Ocean. Her dear old Dad, a career United States Marine, was gently rocking her on his knee and softly crooning to her. To anyone who didn’t speak English, I’m sure it would have sounded like a lullaby. Ironically enough, while the tune was by Johann Brahms, the lyrics would have made Jerry Bruckheimer cringe. He was telling her, in the most graphic detail imaginable, what he would do to anyone who might harm her: “I’ll rip their living guts out, yes I will.” The effect was simultaneously touching, totally hilarious, and downright scary all at once. I thought to myself, If I hold that kid, I better not drop her.

During the course of my visit, I asked Mom if it was OK if I held Erin Nicole. She said OK. I asked Dad if I might hold Erin Nicole. He said OK. Unfortunately, I had not asked three-and-a-half month Erin Nicole if it was OK. A fraction of a second after I’d picked her up, she voiced her displeasure with a decibel level that made me think she might have a bright future as an air ride siren. I was amazed that a child that young could be that strong. She began to squirm right out of my arms. Happily enough, I returned her to Mom before any lasting damage was done.

I didn’t get to see Erin again until almost four years later when I was in LA for a training seminar. I went down to see my friends, where Dad was stationed at San Diego RTC. I had a wonderful time catching up with my friends and admiring Erin’s collection of stuffed animals (Years before, when she was pregnant with Erin Nicole, I’d heard Erin Nicole’s mother express concern that Erin Nicole’s height might cause her some grief. Erin’s mom, who is six feet tall barefoot, told me that she reached her full height very young, and the other kids used to tease her and call her giraffe. That Christmas, a friend and I were in a mall shopping, passing a Toys R Us when we spotted an enormous stuffed giraffe. We purchased “High Pockets” and gave it to Erin’s parents, explaining that kids might call her giraffe someday, but if a giraffe was her favorite toy, it wouldn’t hurt her feelings. Upon viewing Erin Nicole’s stuffed animal collection, it occurred to me that her parents must have an awful lot of friends who thought the same thing, because apparently everyone at the Fort Mead Navy detachment and US Marine Headquarters had had the same idea. Her collection almost constituted a stuffed version of the San Diego Zoo. I tried to count the number of stuffed toys she had, but gave up counting when I reached the eighties).

Erin’s family and I had a great time catching up, and that morning, I figured I’d try to be a low-maintenance breakfast guest—I just helped myself to a small carton of yogurt. Big mistake on my part. I discovered that Erin had thought of the carton as her yogurt, and she voiced her displeasure with a volume that probably startled some on the other side of the Mexican border. Erin’s mom showed up and told Erin to go to her room, which she did. Five minutes later, Erin emerged from her room. Mom asked her, “Erin, can you say you’re sorry?” Dead silence. Erin Nicole gave me the fiercest glare I have ever seen on the face of a four-year-old girl. Erin’s mom said “Erin, go back to your room.” A few minutes later, Erin emerged a second time, and when her mother asked her, “Can you say you’re sorry?”, Erin said, “I’m sorry.” Mom asked, “Can you give Uncle Kent a hug?” Erin once again fixed me with another withering glare. She didn’t say it, but I’m certain she was thinking, You low-down, dirty rotten, yogurt-stealing so-and-so. You steal my yogurt, and then you want a hug? I don’t think so.

I didn’t manage to make it out to San Diego again until March of 1990, when the USS Cape Cod, the ship I was teaching on, pulled into San Diego. When I responded to a dinner invitation, I was touched beyond words when I saw six-year-old Erin and her almost three-year-old sister Seana Christine (off to the side was baby Brian, not quite four months at the time of my visit), jumping up and down and yelling, “It’s Uncle Kent again! It’s Uncle Kent again!” I thought to myself, all the President gets when he arrives somewhere is the marine band playing Hail to the Chief. Personally, I think I was better off.

As always, I had a great time with Erin and Seana, and I happened to be present when bedtime rolled around. What I saw, I could not possibly make up. Dear old Dad called a “Family Formation” and said, “OK Erin, give your father a hug.” Erin gave her dad a hug. “Give your mother a hug.” She gave Mom a hug. “Give your sister a hug.” She gave Seana a hug. “Give Brian a hug.” She gave her three-and-half month old brother a hug. Then Dad asked, “Do you *want* to give Uncle Kent a hug?” Erin tilted her head 45 degrees to one side, tilted it back 45 degrees the other side (I later told her parents I thought she might be a Foxtrot Lima India Romeo Tango—spell it out), and after careful consideration, she gave her Uncle Kent a big hug.

I had been waiting for that hug for darn near six years. It was well worth it.

I’d been quite impressed up to that point, but then Dad pulled off a bit of bedtime showmanship that astonished me. He picked up his daughter in his arms and said, “One for the money,” he swung her nearly up to the ceiling, then back down to waist level, “two for the show. Three to get ready—” another gentle swing up to ceiling level—“And four to go!” And in a fraction of a second he gently laid her in her bed, smooched her on her forehead, and turned out the light.

I often think of Erin, her brother, and her sister. It is my opinion that when fate picked out their parents, they hit the jackpot twice.

Monday, May 16, 2011

They Didn't Get to Keep the Gold, but They All Got Silver Stars

Frank Fenno was one of the finest American submarine commanders to serve in the Second World War. During the course of his career he was awarded the Bronze Star, the Silver Star, the Distinguished Service Medal and *three* Navy Crosses (that’s just one down from the Congressional Medal of Honor). He retired as a Rear Admiral and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. I read of his most amazing mission many years ago, and I’ve often wondered why no one made a film about it.

In early 1942, Fenno was Lieutenant Commander of a new submarine, the USS Trout (SS-202). He was ordered to carry a load of 25 tons of anti-aircraft ammunition to the besieged island of Corrigador in Manila Bay. Since the Japanese had that island completely surrounded, it’s hard to imagine the courage it took for the captain and crew of the Trout to approach Corrigador under cover of darkness and unload their cargo of desperately needed supplies.

Once they’d finished unloading, Commander Fenno discovered he had a new problem: the Trout needed over 20 tons of ballast to enable it to quickly submerge. Believe it or not, the US Army authorities on the island denied him permission to take on that many tons of sandbags because sandbags were in short supply. Fortunately, an aid to the Philippine High Commissioner had a solution. Before evacuating government offices in Manila, the American authorities had transferred over 20 tons of gold and silver to Corrigador. They loaded 5 tons, over 10,800 lbs of gold and close to 15,000 of silver. The gold alone was worth 6 million (by 1942’s standards; today it would be worth aprox $200 million).

The next night, the Trout stealthily slipped past the blockading Japanese ships and headed for Honolulu. There were between 60 and 70 men on board the Trout. I can only wonder if any of them thought, “What the hell?” The Portugese are neutral. Let’s head for Macao and see if they take gold bars at the casinos!” They managed to make it to Honolulu unscathed, sinking a Japanese freighter along the way, and after unloading their precious cargo, they found they were exactly one gold bar short. After a thorough search of the ship, they found one of the cooks had been using one of the gold bars as a paperweight.

The crewmen of the Trout did not get to keep any souvenirs. However, the Army was decent enough to reward each and every one of them the Silver Star.Commander Fenno was soon transferred to another submarine, where he was awarded 2 Navy Crosses for his aggressive leadership.

Sadly, the Trout was lost, with all hands, 1944. I haven’t been able to find out much about the future Rear Admiral Fenno’s post-military career. I often wonder why one of the major political parties didn’t encourage him to run for office.

The Entirely Apocryphal Story of the Queen Lady Di, the Ring, and the Rolls

Over the years, I’ve learned from my English friends that while you don’t ever tell any nasty jokes about the Queen, Lady Diana and Prince Phillip are a different story. Prince Phillip had a career in the Royal Navy, which was a much better job for him than being a royal diplomat. He has a half-century record of making some pretty spectacular gaffes. The (entirely apocryphal) story goes that the Queen and Lady Di go out for a drive in their Rolls when a highwayman jumps in their path and demands their valuables. At this point, Lady Di says “Do you really think we’d be out at night wearing our jewelry?” At this point the highwayman curses his luck and consoles himself by driving off with the Rolls. As Her Majesty and Lady Di walk back to Buckingham Palace, The Queen notices that Di is in fact wearing The Sapphire Ring on her finger. The Queen asks how Di managed to hide it, and Di says “I just popped it into my mouth.” Queen says, “Pity the Duke of Edinburgh couldn’t be here. Then we could have saved the Rolls-Royce”

P.S. There is another version of this joke featuring Princess Margaret which isn’t half as nice.

Bonnie Parker’s Prescient Prediction

When I was in law school more than 20 years ago, one of my professors told me what was a very old story even then in the eighties. Once, an elderly Texas judge had been chided by some of his colleagues in other states that in Texas, the prescribed penalty for horse-thieving was more severe than that for 2nd-degree murder (if you kill someone in a fit of rage in Texas, you are quite likely to only serve 5 years). The elderly Texan’s rejoinder was, “Yep, we have some people down here that need killin’, but we don’t have any horses that need stealin’.” After giving the matter a great deal of thought over the years, my version of that statement would be, “There’s some people that need killing (or executing), but there aren’t any people that need raping.” This heinous crime has destroyed countless lives, and it had also given us some of our nation’s most notorious criminals. Case in point: look no further than Clyde Barrow, better known as one half of the infamous crime duo Bonnie and Clyde.

Clyde Barrow was a scrawny kid who was sentenced to prison in the late 1920s. In the words of one of his sisters, Clyde “went into prison a schoolboy and came out a rattlesnake.” Clyde was barely out of his teens when he killed a man for the first time: he beat another inmate to death with a lead pipe. There was no official action taken. I could make a pretty good guess as to why Barrow killed that man.
Clyde Barrow was no criminal genius, but he had a good understanding of two things: mobility and firepower. On Christmas Day, 1932 a man named Doyle Johnson and his wife came upon Clyde Barrow in the process of stealing Johnson’s new Ford V8. When Mr. Johnson tried to stop him, Barrow shot Johnson in the neck at point-blank range before driving off. He died of his wounds the next day. All things considered, that was a pretty lousy Christmas for the Johnson family.

Some outlaws are notorious for wielding pistols, and Prohibition-era gangsters are notorious for their Thompson machine guns. Clyde Barrow was a whole lot craftier in that regard. He went to great lengths to steal Browning Automatic Rifles from national guard armories. For readers not trained in the use of firearms, while serving in the Nay I qualified with both the M-16 automatic rifle and the Colt 45 pistol. Anyone who can hit a moving target with a pistol shot at more than 20 yards is either very good or very lucky. With an automatic rifle, I can hit a man-sized target at 200 yards just about every time.

So in case anyone reading this has ever wondered how Clyde Barrow and his gang managed to stay at large for so long, consider that most police officers in the 1930s drove their own vehicles and carried nothing more than pistols. Would you really want to take a six shooter into a gunfight with a man who can fire off 20 round-bursts in a couple seconds, reload, then fire another 20 rounds? I think not.

One of the chapters in Clyde Barrow’s life that stands out to me is that of all the outlaws I’ve read about, there has only been one who had such an abiding hatred of the prison he served time in that he actually went back to that institution and sprung a friend form work detail, killing a prison guard in the process.

Clyde always said they’d never take him alive, and he was as good as his word. In the course of his gang’s activity, he and his gang were responsible for killing 8 police officers, about as many kidnappings, and being in possession of three browning rifles, each of which carried a life sentence.
The 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde, starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, tended to glamorize Barrow and Parker. The reality is far different. On one occasion, Barrow and an accomplice shot a store clerk to death to attain 20 dollars and a bag of groceries.

One aspect of the film that is accurate is that the Barrow gang was, at least partially, a family affair. Three weeks after Clyde’s brother Buck got out of prison, Buck and his wife Blanche joined in on their crime spree. Buck was shot to death in a police ambush in which Blanche lost the sight in one eye, and she wound up serving six years in prison. Blanche Barrow is one of the few people I have ever heard of who lived long enough to watch an actress accept an academy award for portraying her on the screen. Estelle Parsons won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 1967. Blanche did not enjoy the portrayal at all, claiming that Parsons sounded like a “braying jackass.”

About the only thing I can say for Bonnie and Clyde is that they did not kill Ford LaFonda. He didn’t kill for the fun of it. He wouldn’t have hesitated to kill anyone he viewed as a threat, but he never murdered for sport. On a couple occasions they took hostages and released them unharmed.

One of these hostage incidents proves to me that true stories are better than anything you’ll ever find in fiction.
One evening, Parker and Barrow carjacked a young woman in Louisiana named Sophia Stone who was a young home demonstration agent, as well as her boyfriend Dillard Darby. I felt a chill when I first learned of this—a few years later in a nearby state, my mother was a home demonstration agent. Stone and Darby were terrified, but Bonnie Parker was quite cheerful. She made conversation, asking young Mr. Darby what he did for a living. When he told her his occupation, Bonnie Parker had a complete giggling fit, and when she finally stopped laughing, she said, “Mr Darby will probably be giving us some business here soon.” Mr Darby was an embalmer.

Bonnie and Clyde released the immensely relieved couple unharmed. Bonnie instructed them to tell the world that she did not smoke cigars (she did chain-smoke cigarettes, but there’s some question as to whether the infamous picture of Bonnie with a cigar in her mouth was the result of a gag or the newspaper’s unscrupulous re-touching).

Less than a year later, a posse of lawmen armed with BARs, tommyguns, shotguns, and pistols, riddled Barrow’s car with bullets. Clyde was killed instantly, but Bonnie had a few seconds to realize this was the end of the line. It’s likely the posse did not give them any warning. In view of Clyde’s past record, I can’t say that I blame them in the least. Young Dillard Darby from the car-napping a year before was summoned first to identify the bodies, and secondly to assist in the embalming., He found, however, that since both Bonnie and Clyde had suffered up to 25 gunshot wounds apiece, that it was extremely difficult to keep the embalming fluid in their system.

Bonnie Parker did have a gift with rhyme. She left behind a poem that ends:

Someday they’ll go down together
They’ll bury them side by side
To few it’ll be grief,
For the law, relief,
But it’s death for Bonnie and Clyde.

Ironically enough, the Parker family insisted on burying Bonnie far from her gangster boyfriend.

Laura Vikmanis

Laura Vikmanis was a registered dietician in her late 30s whose husband left her for another woman. She was devastated. However, on a whim she tried out, at the age of 39, to become one of the Cincinnati Bengals’ cheerleaders. She made it to the finals on her first try, and the next year she made it on the squad. Currently, at the age of 42, she is the oldest cheerleader in the NFL. Ms. Vikmanis is soon to be the subject of a TV movie, which will no doubt help her support herself and her two daughters, aged 14 and 12. I wish her all the best, but I would dearly love to be a fly on the wall when she tells her daughters, “Do you really think you’re leaving the house dressed like that?”

14th Time’s the Charm

After some of the things I’ve seen recently, perhaps it’s time for me to share a hopeful story.

I’ve never had a problem with alcohol, but I’ve often found the 12 steps to be a very useful program. I attended quite a few open AA meetings in Dayton back in the early 90s. One evening about 20 years ago, I heard a grey-haired gentleman give a “lead”: a description of how he started drinking, what it was like, and how he came to sobriety. After he finished, I asked him if it was OK if I shared his story with others, and he gave me the go-ahead.

This man was an extraordinarily intelligent fellow. I believe he was a self-employed engineer. However, he was convinced he was much too smart to be an alcoholic, even after he repeatedly picked up drunk driving convictions. Back in the days he was describing, judges weren’t as eager to give out jail time as they are now. In most jurisdictions today, a third DUI conviction in five years gets you a felony and over a year in prison.

A few weeks ago, I talked with an alcohol counselor at a continuing legal education seminar who told our group that if a person gets a drunk driving conviction, it’s about 50-50 as to whether they’re an alcoholic. If they get a second conviction, they’re much more likely to be an alcoholic. If they get a third, it’s just about an absolute certainty. I hope my readers will forgive me my slightly sketchy memory 20 years later, but the number of his drunk driving convictions was in the teens, somewhere between 13 and 19.

This guy found the repeated loss of his license and thousands of dollars in fines quite annoying, and while still convinced he was not an alcoholic, he finally concluded he didn’t want anymore drunk driving convictions. So he put a great deal of thought into his drinking and planned his bouts very carefully. He figured that he was not an alcoholic as long as he didn’t get another DUI, but if he did in spite his best efforts, he would have to admit that he was indeed an alcoholic. Lo and behold, one night driving home from the bar he saw flashing red and blue lights in his rearview mirror, and when the officer who had handcuffed him helped him into the paddywagon, he said aloud, “Oh ****, I’m going to have to go to AA.”

At the time I met him, he had been sober for over a decade. The lesson I take form this story is, there is no such thing as a hopeless alcoholic, as long as that person is still breathing (and has not suffered permanent brain damage). There are people for whom the odds are long, but after 22 years as a defense attorney, I have learned you never can tell who is going to die a drunk and who is going to see the light and achieve sobriety.

Kentrell Mitchell (A Very Sad Story)

Until last month, I didn’t know that there was a Kentrell Mitchell living in Columbus on E 16th Avenue. Ironically enough, decades ago, when I was a student at Ohio State, I’d lived on 17th Avenue. Kentrell, it turns out, had much better luck than his half-brother Jayden Mithcell. Jayden was only three months old November of last year when his biological father, Quindell Sherman, got in a terrible argument with Jayden and Kentrell’s mother and decided to express his displeasure by picking Jayden up and slamming him to the floor of their house’s porch. He then picked his three-month-old son up and hurled him into the middle of the street. Finally, he picked the child up and threw him headfirst onto the pavement. A few hours later the Columbus Police found Quindell holding his son’s body, hiding in a dumpster.

This past week, a judge sentenced Quindell to life in prison with the possibility of parole in twenty-five (young Kentrell was in court with his great-grandmother, who was about 50 years old. Do the math). For the sake of my sanity, I am profoundly grateful that I was not involved in his family’s case. Quindell agreed to plea guilty in exchange for the prosecutor’s office taking the death penalty off the table. I hope Quindell Sherman never makes parole, I hope that Kentrell’s mother exercises a bit more discretion in selecting her next “baby daddy,” and I hope Quindell is never anywhere near a child ever again.

Some of my friends occasionally express concern that I sometimes have a rather bleak outlook on life. Perhaps the story of the 16th Avenue Mitchell family will help explain why.

“..Hard to Even Take Its Measure”

One of my favorite lines from the Coen brothers film No Country for Old Men is when Tommy Lee Jones’ character, a Texas sheriff rapidly approaching retirement, says “The evil you see these days, its hard to even take its measure.” I know exactly what he was talking about.

I occasionally correspond with an English solicitor who told me that while William and Kate were tying the knot, he was stuck being assigned counsel to two Lithuanians charged with “coming prepared” (in Ohio, it would be called “possession of criminal tools”) and a drunken woman who says that three cops were lying when they swore under oath that she had kicked one of them. My only advice in those two cases were: 1. See if the court would be amenable to the two Lithuanian chaps buying one-way tickets back to Vilnius (in Alaska, that’s what’s known as a “blue-ticket special”), as for the drunken, would-be place-kicker, you might want to ask if she’s ever heard of Alcoholics Anonymous (who knows, there’s a one in 10,000 chance she might look into it and get positive results).

This past week, I found myself fervently wishing that I could trade cases with my distinguished English colleague at the bar. I was appointed guardian ad litum for someone I’ll refer to only as a young lady from Kenya. She is in her mid-teens, and sometime ago, she fell into the hands of human traffickers. I have visited her at the psychiatric ward of Ohio State’s medical center and learned that she has refused to take medication. This is not surprising because, apparently, her former kidnappers used to drug her before subjecting her to abuse.

I make a living on the basis of my use of the English language, but I have a really hard time expressing the horror of what I’ve had to face and my frustration that I can’t do more to help my client. Right now, YLK has very serious difficulty trusting anyone, much less anyone who has a Y chromosome; I’m going to talk with a magistrate to see if I can withdraw to see if she can receive a female guardian at litum. On the other hand, YLK does not like meeting new people, so who’s to say what the best course of action is? I firmly wish I could establish enough rapport with my client that I could persuade her to cooperate with the police and FBI, and perhaps, in some far future date, I will. I’d also offer the opinion that anyone complicit in human trafficking deserves to be locked up in a maximum security prison until the sun burns out.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Exonerating Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow

Popular legend has it that the Great Chicago Fire of October 1871 was the result of Mrs O’Leary’s cow kicking over a lantern in a straw-filled barn. This legend was immortalized by that song of Boy Scouts everywhere:

One dark night when the world was all in bed
Old lady Leary took a lantern to the shed
When the cow kicked it over she winked her eye and said
They’ll be a hot time in the old town tonight!

A few words on behalf of the innocent bovine: As dreadful as that fire was (look up mileage burned) it is not the worst fire in American history. That was the Great Peshtigo, Wisconsin Fire that took place the same day less than 100 miles north. That fire burned out 1800 square miles (an area more than half the size of the state of Rhode Island) and killed over 2000 people. I thought it was an extraordinary coincidence. Students of astronomy would say it was no coincidence since there were several other terribly destructive forest fires in several other Midwestern states that same day. The most likely explanation is a series of meteorites hitting the earth simultaneously. The possibility of meteorites doing even more severe damage than that is I believe one of the best arguments in favor of continuing the space program.