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    Saturday
    May232015

    A Haunting Portrait of War

    I know I have published this before, but, in my opinion, it will never lose its importance. Each time, I try to bring it up to date. We should forever keep the memories of our lost soldiers alive in our hearts and minds…

    There isn’t a day that goes by when the thundering echoes of war escape us. Today, we live in a world rife with radical extremists like al Qaeda and daesh, defiantly justified to maim and kill in the name of their god. The following story is my hideous wake-up call. It came at a time when most wars were fought over more mundane causes - nationalism, patriotism, democracy, communism, bigotry and territorial rights. This was back when building a bigger and more powerful bomb was all the rage, and nations proudly strutted their massive hardware in shows of strength and unity in order to intimidate their neighbors and perceived threats. Today, our enemies use IEDs or strap a bomb to their chests and blow themselves up.

    On a distant morning in 1967, one of my classmates at East Amwell Township School was quietly asked to get up from his desk and follow the administrator out of the classroom. I remember that day and wondering why. Did he do something wrong? Of course not, and it didn’t take very long before the principal announced on the P.A. system that his cousin, Van Dyke Manners, was killed in action in Vietnam. He was one of the first from Hunterdon County, New Jersey, to die in the line of duty. I didn’t know him personally, but I remember it well because it was a solemn day. My friend had lost a loved one. Greg did not come back to class that week. To a 14-year-old, those echoes of war were a distant sound that lightly flickered in our young minds. We never thought of death then. We were invincible, but with each passing day, the reverberation grew louder and louder, and reality hit us fast and hard. The Vietnam War was in full boom.

    Back then, what was going on in our own back yards seemed more important than anything else, but the Vietnam war was lurking out there - somewhere in our heads. Despite our youthful dreams and aspirations, the war never escaped us. We saw it on our black & white television sets. We heard it on our AM radios. It made headlines in the daily newspapers. Everywhere we went, the specter loomed large and cut deeply into our subconscious minds.

    §

    Early in 1968, a girl who lived up the street from me asked if I would be interested in creating a portrait of her boyfriend. Back in those days, a small town was just that; there was no city in sight. Windows were left open to let air breeze through because air conditioning was a luxury. We weren’t afraid to leave our doors unlocked, and neighbors knew all the gossip. I was known as the left-handed artistic kid. Ask Dave. He knows how to draw.

    She was a little older than me, and her boyfriend had enlisted in the Army. She offered to pay me and I accepted. I asked her to round up whatever photographs she could so I had something to work with. I asked her if I could meet him. To an artist, it’s good to know something about a subject that photographs alone cannot tell you. In the flesh, you get to know the person. Because of that request, I got to know Mike Baldwin. At 21, he was a man. At 15, I was not. He was old and mature. I was still a kid. He shaved, I didn’t, and with a war raging, I was in no hurry to buy my first razor.

    His girlfriend asked me to draw the portrait as big as I could. When I went to the store to buy materials, my old “Be Prepared” Boy Scout lessons taught me to have a back-up plan, so I purchased two giant drawing boards, just in case I messed up. I couldn’t simply up and go to the store back then because I was too young to drive.  Fortunately, I didn’t mess up, so I decided to draw another one, identical to the first. The original BOGO! I don’t know what compelled me to do it, but I’m glad I did. Maybe I thought if the relationship didn’t work out years later, at least he would have one to share with his family. That must have been the reason. Maybe the death of Van Dyke put apprehension in my heart. You know, one for his mother, just in case.

    When I finished the drawings, I made a date to deliver the artwork. My neighbor had invited Mike and his mother to “attend” the presentation. Everyone was very pleased with the job I had done, especially his mother, who was honored to have her son’s portrait captured by a local artist.

    Soon afterward, he left for Vietnam. He went because he believed in a cause. He believed in America and freedom. In school, we were taught about the Domino Theory. Back then, it meant that if one country falls under the influence of communism, then the surrounding countries would follow. Red China didn’t exist on any of our maps and globes. It was just a grayed out mass of nonexistent land, but it was still a major threat because North Vietnam was one of the countries under their grip. South Vietnam was not, and we came to its defense. Today, Vietnam is one country but, by the end of the war, 58,000 red-blooded Americans gave up their lives. Michael Baldwin was one of them.

    Nearly 46 years ago, he became a statistic. His body was zipped up in a bag and shipped home. That was the day I woke up to the horrible tragedy of war. It was my first experience. Someone I knew personally was dead because of it. 

    One of the things I learned, and it’s very important, was that Michael Baldwin put his country before his life. We lost so many and what did we gain? I know I gained a whole lot of respect for those who march off to war. Michael Baldwin was a man and I was a boy when we met, but I still look up to him and I will soon be 45 years older than he was on the day he died. To this very day, I wonder what would life be like had he lived. Would he have married my neighbor or someone else? Would he be happy? Or would he be mourning the loss of his children or grandchildren because of our brutal and self-inflicted world of terrorism, home-spun jihadists and plain, old weirdos? The more violence changes, the more it remains the same. Death is still death and the loss of loved ones over religion and politics is still just as senseless as it was the day Michael Baldwin died.

    On July 19, he would be turning 68. I will remember him as a true American hero; a very proud young man. As for the identical pictures I drew, they are lost and gone, but not forgotten. In my mind, the memory of them will forever remain a haunting portrait of war.

    Sgt. Michael Richard Baldwin (7/19/1947 - 9/12/1968) KIA - Binh Long Province, South Vietnam, ambushed while on reconnaissance 5 kilometers Northeast of Loc Ninh, along with:
    Ssgt. Phillip Kenneth Baker - Detroit, MI
    Pfc. Eugene Russell Boyce - Spartanburg, SC
    Sp4. Wayne Daniel Jenkins - Bryson City, NC
    Pfc. Kenneth Leroy Martin - Los Angeles, CA
    Pfc. Marion Luther Oxner - Leesville, SC
    Pfc. Dale Arden Palm - Toledo, OH
    Pfc. Kurt Francis Ponath - Cudahy, WI
    Sp4. J C Williams Jr. - Muncie, IN
    Pfc. William Wittman - Binghamton, NY

    September 12, 1968, was a long and sad day for Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division.

    Pfc. Van Dyke William Manners (11/10/1945 - 2/15/1967) KIA - Kontum Province, South Vietnam

    To all our brethren lost in wars, rest in peace. Your deaths will never be in vain.

    I first published a different version of this story in 2006. Michael Baldwin’s cousin searched his name on Google and found my blog about a year later. She wrote me and said, “I just found your website and read your article about Mike.  I just wanted to say thank you…  It touched me and helped me remember my cousin very fondly.  He was a good guy and the last of the Baldwin men in our family.  He is remembered fondly by many of my friends who still [live] in Flemington, as well as my family.

    “I also wanted to let you know that Aunt Peg didn’t handle Mike’s death very well.  She couldn’t even bring herself to go to the funeral.  I do remember that both she and my Uncle Alvin (Mike’s Dad) did attend the memorial at Ft. Dix after his death.  That was really all she could handle.  She always said she preferred to remember people while they were alive.  I can’t say that I blame her.  I didn’t understand it in 1968, but I get it now.

    “Mike left a large impact on me.  The memorial service was really something and I can still remember the 21 gun salute at his funeral in the cemetery in Flemington.”

    Mike’s mother passed away in 1993. His sister contacted me right after her cousin got in touch with her. Here is what she told me:

    “My cousin called me and told me about your blog.  She had seen Michael’s name in it and read the story.  I read it too and also your reply to her.  I am Mike’s youngest sister.  You made me cry—but it was a good cry.

    “My family and I are so pleased that we are not the only one’s who remember Mike.  Looking through your blog and your e-mail to Mary, I found it so interesting that there are so many things we are connected through.

    “I go to church at Kirkpatrick Memorial Presbyterian church in Ringoes. Van Dyke’s mother went there before she died a couple of years ago and there is a stained glass window dedicated to him.

    “My father worked for the Forans in the foundry they owned in Flemington.  My father was friends with Walt Foran. [My friend Frank’s father.]

    “When I read your blog, I could feel that you knew Mike well.  He was a great kid and we loved him.  You talk about my mother—you may not know it but I had a brother who was older than Mike—his name was Alvin—we called him Skip.  He died in a car accident on Sept. 13, 1958.  No, I didn’t confuse the dates, it was one day short of 10 years later that Mike was killed.  It was a blow that my parents never recovered from.

    “I am so glad that you wrote about Mike, it makes me feel that we are not the only ones who remember. Thank you again for keeping his memory alive.”


    Please see: NJ Vietnam War Memorial - Michael Baldwin

     

    Posted on Daily Kos

    Tuesday
    May192015

    Melon Melange

    I generally take the interstates when I visit my best friend’s homestead near the west coast of Florida. That means, I-4 west to I-75 south. I get off on one of the Bradenton exits and head east until I arrive at my destination. When they’ve had enough of me and kick me out, I usually take back roads home. There are many possibilities. I visited this past weekend and, when I left, I took State Road 64 east through Ona and Zolfo Springs until I got to US 27 north in Avon Park. 27 took me back to I-4 and home.

     

    Along 64, I passed a lot of 18-wheelers carrying all sorts of loads, mostly produce. Just before I got to Zolfo Springs, I saw a number of rather interesting looking pickup trucks; the likes of which I had never seen. They were retired school buses. The cabs were left intact, but the remainder of the roofs were chopped off and the seats were removed. That turned them into makeshift pickups. Call it repurposing in today’s lingo. But what were they hauling? As I continued heading east, I found my answer.

     

    Upon entering Zolfo Springs, I stopped at a roadside restaurant that caters to locals and truck drivers. It was morning still, and I was sure they served eggs of the chicken variety. Even though, as I approached the town, a sign appeared that said Entering Zolfo Springs City Limits, I pretty much felt as countrified as a barnyard denizen. 

    What surprised me about the menu was that it offered scrapple, a staple in the Pennsylvania/western NJ area. Scrapple has Pennsylvania Dutch roots. I grew up eating the stuff. What was a mom & pop joint like that, in the middle of nowhere, doing offering scrapple – mixed up pork parts and cornmeal? We’re talking about backwoods territory without the woods. AHA, I thought! It was probably to cater to the OTR drivers from the northeast. Perhaps, they have a hankering for it every so often when they’re far away from home. Sadly, I didn’t see pork roll on the menu, not that I would have been inclined to order it.

    Anyway, I saw truckloads of watermelons. Watermelons EVERYWHERE! I had no idea. Could Zolfo Springs be the watermelon capital of the universe? Well, it might be pretty darn close when the season is right. Too bad it raises my sugar so much. I like it, but can’t eat it.

     

    When I looked up the demographics of Zolfo, as of the 2000 census, the Hispanic/Latino population was about 54%. Nothing should surprise us there; however, I wonder how many of them are illegals, and does anyone in the town care? Probably not, and neither do I, because there’s no way anyone else would be out working the fields all day in stifling heat, picking watermelons (or any other fruits and vegetables the companies grow and sell wholesale.) This naturally, organically, leads me to a couple of thoughts. Suppose we legalize them, which is what President Obama wants to do. Then, we turn those “seedy” migrant workers seedless by paying them $15.00 per hour, which will surely be the minimum wage by that time.

    Fertilize that thought for a moment… because your now $10.00 store-bought watermelon will jump to $50.00 a pop, but, what the heck, all of them will be Gallaghering all over the place with money! Right? Wrong. Why? I’d be willing to bet the farm that those companies will lay them off as more illegals enter the country to do the work they no longer want to do. Why should they? They will move uptown while the farmers will want to continue maximizing their profits. Uptown will eventually lead to unemployment claims.

    Maybe they’re all praying it won’t happen that way. Maybe they don’t know any different. Maybe I don’t know, either. Perhaps none of us do. Only the bus has the answer…

    Friday
    May012015

    From the Department of WHERE'S A COP WHEN YOU NEED ONE?!!

    My aunt is visiting from New Jersey and it’s great having her here. This morning, I decided to play social director so I asked her and my mother if they wanted to go to Kohl’s and Dollar Tree this afternoon. My mother needed something from a department store and you can’t go wrong at dollar stores when it comes to things like household cleaners.

    The stores are side-by-side in Altamonte Springs and I had to drive a fair stretch along FL-434 from the Longwood area. I hit a traffic snag near a busy shopping center and that didn’t surprise me at all. Suddenly, a lowrider came rumbling along side me, rapidly weaving in and out of traffic. This was probably a late model, pimped-out Buick with low-profile tires and tinted windows. I may have detected a hint of hip hop pumping out of the heavy bass speakers. I could not see the driver, but his car couldn’t have been more than two inches off the ground.

    This was a three-lane highway and I was in the middle. He cut right in front of me from the left lane, darted into the right, and dangerously maneuvered his car like a NASCAR racer on a mad mission, not caring about anyone around him. Everyone else was slowly and patiently moving forward. He was the driver from hell.

    As I approached a side street, I saw a motorcycle cop waiting to merge into the roadway. The Buick was now out of sight, absorbed somewhere in the traffic ahead. I wondered…

    In a flash, he lit up and someone let him in. My aunt, mother and I were hoping aloud. Wouldn’t it be nice..? We waited and waited… Aha! It wasn’t all that long before I saw the jerk turn onto a side street with the police officer close behind. As I passed by, I could see the cop cautiously approach the vehicle.

    I think the odds of lightning striking the same place twice are greater than law enforcement being at the right place at the right time. Finally, I saw it happen, and it couldn’t have happened to a nicer or more deserving guy.

    Sunday
    Apr052015

    Feeling Loansome

    Once upon a time, many years ago, I was in the fast food restaurant business in Flemington, New Jersey. It was called Weiner King and our claim to fame was a specialty hot dog with mustard, chopped onions and the best homemade chili you ever had. Called a Texas Weiner, the chili was made with finely ground beef. No beans! It was brown gold.

    We had a very faithful base of clientele; people who had come into the place since it opened in 1962. Many of them remained loyal right up to the very end, and tons of old customers from that area will tell you they still crave Texas Weiners and King Burgers. And chili cheesedogs with onions.

    One of our faithful customers was a guy named George. George came in to eat every day, including weekends. Sometimes, he’d come in more than once. Twice. Three times in one day. He was such a good customer, he was almost like family. One afternoon, he approached the counter with a relatively serious look on his face. Usually, he was quite happy and talkative. On this particular day, he just asked for Jack. Jack was my boss, the owner of the place, and the best boss you’d ever work for. He asked me if I would cover the burger grill so he could walk up to the front counter…

    “Hey, George. What’s up?”

    “Jack?”

    “Yes, George…”

    “I’m getting married on Saturday and I want to have our wedding reception here.” I had met his fiancée many times before. Clearly, George wasn’t playing with a full set of teeth, if you know what I mean.

    “Certainly, George! I’d be happy to accommodate you!” Jack responded. “We’ll make sure you have reserved tables. How many people and what time?”

    I don’t remember the incidentals, but Jack offered free ice cream for everybody. Maybe, they brought a cake, too. When the wedding party arrived, right on schedule, George was beaming! They drove around the parking lot several times, tooting their horns in excitement. George was a married man! When they came in, he said they cruised down the main drag and around the three traffic circles, something Flemington is famous for, beep, beep, beeping away!

    I know it was a big hot dog party. Hamburgers, cheeseburgers and fries. Milkshakes and Cokes. The orders kept flying. Plus we had to wait on other customers. After all was said and done, his entire bill came to just over $13.00. But you have to understand that, back then, in the early 70s - if my memory serves me correctly - a hot dog was 35 cents and a quarter pound burger was 50 cents.

    Yup, ole George did all right that day. Everyone had a great time, including us.

    “Where are you going on your honeymoon, George?” Jack asked as the affair wound down.

    “The Ringoes Drive-In,” he responded. The following Monday, George was back in for lunch. I don’t think anyone asked about the movie.

    §

    Two or three years later, George came up to the counter and, one more time, asked to speak to Jack. He had that same serious look on his face. This time, though, he wanted to talk privately, so the two met around the corner, by the side door between one of the dining rooms and the back room where we did our prep work. They spoke quietly, but, afterward, Jack said he needed to borrow $50.00. He was in a real bind. Of course, Jack immediately reached into his pocket and handed him the money because that’s just the way he was. “Is $50.00 enough?”

    Sadly, it was the last time George came into the restaurant. It’s as if he fell off the face of the earth.

    One day, many years later, Jack was on Main Street and he ran into him.

    “George… George… where have you been?” The poor guy desperately tried to hide his face to avoid the encounter. Too late. “Listen, don’t worry about the $50.00. I want you back as a customer. We like you! We’ve missed you! Forget the money!”

    “OK, sorry, I’ll be in,” and he scurried off. Maybe he thought that Jack was privileged. (He certainly wasn’t.) Maybe he felt Jack was rich because he could simply dig into his pocket and pull out $50.00 and he resented it. Perhaps he knew, when he borrowed it, that he’d never be able to pay it back. I just don’t know, but Jack never saw George again. None of us ever did.

     

    Monday
    Mar162015

    The Durst Case Scenario

    Have you ever been accused of something you didn’t do?

    “You ate that last piece of cake, didn’t you?!!” or “I’ll bet that car accident was your fault, wasn’t it?”

    You might mumble under your breath, “Yup, it was me. I ate it,” or “I ran right into that car on purpose,” knowing fool well you didn’t do anything of the sort. Some people mumble louder so the other person might hear that you said something, but…

    “What did you say?”

    “Awww… Nothing. Forget it.” You know what you meant, and all you were doing was being sarcastic with yourself. What irony it is that someone would have the audacity to accuse you, you think, disgustingly.

    Some people, like Robert Durst, have been known to talk to themselves. Intelligent people sometimes do. So do nutjobs. Occasionally, I do it, although I don’t know which category I would fall under. Without being presumptious, I think it’s easy to guess which checkmark Durst would get.

    But to be fair, I think it’s important to note that, perhaps, he was simply mumbling under his breath when he said, “What the hell did I do? … Killed them all, of course.” That could possibly be part of a solid defense. I was merely being sarcastic with myself. It’s certainly no confession. I knew what I was doing when I said it.

    We already know he enjoys playing with people’s minds. He could have uttered those words on purpose; to see where it goes from there. He does, after all, seem to thrive on skirting the law. Facing murder or the trial itself might be a perfect game to him. Another challenge. Why not? God knows he can afford the best attorneys. What a thrill!

    What a weirdo.

    Please see: Heir Robert Durst says he “killed them all”

    Sunday
    Feb082015

    The Most Interesting Guy In The World?

    I covered two murder trials in central Florida as a credentialed journalist. I did some rather intensive investigative work and diligently reported on what I found out. I’ve written, quite possibly, millions of words. I shot videos from locations pertinent to the alleged crimes, right down to the tree where Caylee’s skull was found and where Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman. Why? Because I wanted people to understand as best as they could. I live in central Florida. Most of my readers don’t. It was my desire to give viewers as much information about the cases as possible. I was very detailed in everything I did. I lined up timelines and distances. I interpreted statutes as they arose in motions and responses and how they played out in court. My heart was embedded in those cases. I loved reporting what was going on inside courtrooms during hearings and trials. It was in my blood and I felt I was quite good at it or I wouldn’t have done it. I could feel the intensity; the raw emotions and hidden expressions, as if I could sometimes read minds, and I did my utmost to be as candid as possible. To say I was at my best and in my element would be an understatement.

    God knows, I tried to get answers from everyone. Every day, I talked to attorneys directly involved in the cases, both the prosecution and defense, the witnesses willing to open up, and many of the seasoned journalists that helped educate me. One TV personality (a three-time Emmy winning reporter for WESH, the local NBC affiliate) introduced me to national reporters as Orlando’s own version of Dominick Dunne. I felt humble, yet very proud of that distinction, although I haven’t lived up to the name since Zimmerman’s verdict was rendered. To be honest, I don’t think I ever came close to Dunne, but I sure did appreciate the lofty compliment.

    I must say I savored every moment. I proved my worth as a writer. At my all-time high, I got over 200,000 hits on my blog in a single month. One day, I peaked at nearly 20,000 visits. I was hired by Orlando magazine to write on their Website about the Casey Anthony trial from inside the courtroom atop the Orange County courthouse. Am I bragging? Yes. Am I embellishing? No. Have I ever embellished? Kinda, sorta, no, not in the classical sense, but every professional writer elaborates a bit. Maybe it’s a mild form of embellishment. I don’t know, to be honest, so I will give you an example instead…

    I can’t remember, word-for-word, every conversation that takes place on a given day because I write from either notes or memory. This means that, when I type a part of my article from a conversational point of view, I’m not quoting verbatim. In order to help make certain thoughts clearer, I take what’s referred to as journalistic license to build a story, but I keep the gist of it intact. That’s most important and the bottom line is, I would never make anything up or change the facts to suit me in any way, shape or form. I would never add details that are not true. I believe in honesty because it’s my nature, and I learned a long time ago from experience, you do not write the news to promote yourself!

    There are ways to perk up stories without going over the line. It flows forth in writing styles, be it alliteration or rhetorical effect. You know… Onomatopoeia. Hyperbole. Metaphors. Similes. Euphemisms. That’s all acceptable, but there will never be a day when I have to clear up a “bungled attempt” at a fictional account of the truth.

    I am going to tell you flat out that I would distinctly remember whether my helicopter had been hit by a rocket-propelled grenade OR NOT, no matter how many years ago it took place. Being shot at is something you never forget, so there’s no excuse for being vague about it. Every degreed journalist is trained to make distinctions between real and imagined. If you’re not sure, don’t say it, because, once you lose your credibility, you will NEVER regain it. Many reporters have lost their jobs over it, but a network news anchor?

    “… the fog of memory over 12 years made me conflate the” experience, Brian Williams said in his apology. Over the years, his nose grew and grew and, by Saturday, his apology wasn’t enough, so he took a leave of absence. In my opinion, it was an easy way to nudge him out the door. I don’t think he’ll be back.

    On the other hand, times are different. Today, lying is an art form. Skewing the truth takes no talent. Politicians do it all the time and we either buy it or ignore it. But news anchors? Reporting the news from a left or right slant is commonplace and a lot of it is pure entertainment. We expect that these days; however, it’s still mostly about the story, not the personality relaying it. That is, until the personality becomes the headline. Once Williams crossed the threshold and became the news, his anchoring days flew out the High Density window. The main question now becomes: Is he telling the truth? His integrity is toast. He has become the Lance Armstrong of the news industry. In his day, the impeccable Walter Cronkite would have been canned for lesser things. Sure, he was entitled to his opinions, but he never let his ego get in the way of what he reported each weeknight. 

    I never had any disdain for Williams. I liked him, although I didn’t put him in the same league with Tom Brokaw, whom he replaced at NBC. Unfortunately, this sad twist soured me on him, and I think he needs to be replaced.

    I tasted this business and I know the difference between bragging and stretching the truth. Hey! I just bragged about myself, but all of it was true. No exaggeration! I hated doing it, but I want you to know the difference. I don’t like liars and I don’t want to be the most interesting guy in the world. I simply prefer to be an interesting guy. One you can trust.

    Saturday
    Jan312015

    Let Us Spray

    From the Estate of Samuel W. Knechel, Sr.

    §

    I found something in his collection of things…

    When my father owned a front end alignment business in Flemington, NJ, his father, Warren, used to stop by to chew the fat. My father would be working on cars and pay close attention to detail. He was a consummate professional. All the while, my grandfather would be talking up a storm, generally speaking of his grandiose accomplishments in life. Eventually, my father would get out his can of repellent and spray it around the bay and lift. Ol’ Warren would take the hint and, without skipping a beat, promptly turn away and walk out without a word. Off his car would go until he decided it was time to come bragging again.

    What’s most interesting is that my father was just as bad, if not worse than his father. As a matter of fact, it seems to be a family trait, although I was quite fortunate that I did not inherit the Knechel knack for bullshit. 

    What perplexes me, though, is that people I have known a long time will sometimes remind me that I sound just like my late father. I have no idea why someone would think such a thing! How could anyone EVER insult my good character like that? As if I have the gift of gab. HAHAHAHAHA!!!

    SHOCKING! The NERVE of some people!

    Monday
    Jan122015

    THE GEORGE ZIMMERMAN DUMP

    Last Monday, January 5, George Zimmerman supposedly threw a bottle of wine at his erstwhile girlfriend after she broke up with him and attempted to flee his house, where she had been living for the past two to three months. Apparently, he demanded that she return one of his paintings and an argument ensued. He threw her cellphone to the ground, smashing it to pieces. Sound familiar? She may have called him a psychopath, which would have infuriated him to no end. She told the police he was. When she left the house, she was pulled over by Lake Mary police for not having her headlights on. A nearby officer had heard the sound of glass breaking. She was a total wreck, panicking and crying. The reason, just in case you’re not aware, why Zimmerman wasn’t arrested the night of the alleged incident is pretty simple.

    When police went to his house to investigate that night, the hot-tempered cop-wannabe was nowhere to be found. All week long investigators attempted to contact him, to no avail. He wasn’t home and he refused to answer his phone. It wasn’t until Friday that police found him at his residence, but he refused to come to the door or respond to phone calls for nearly two hours, and that was only after his attorney, Don West, was contacted. From what I understand, police could hear someone quiet the dog from inside the home prior to answering the door. He was then placed under arrest and charged with aggravated assault. Sadly, the victim claimed she didn’t want to pursue charges against him on the night of the incident, and she still doesn’t. Why? More on that, but…

    Saturday morning, he easily bonded out after Circuit Judge John Galluzzo set it at $5,000. He was ordered to turn his guns over to a family member or friend and to stay out of Volusia County, where the woman now resides. He’s still in Seminole. He cannot have any contact with her, either. True to typical Zimmerman form, he denied everything. She threw the wine bottle at the garage door after he refused to let her in. Her five-year-old son was the one who broke her phone long ago. He dumped her, not the other way around. Sound familiar? Nothing is EVER his fault. Poor boy, and you know something? He’s going to get away with it again. Why?

    The victim is refusing to cooperate with investigators and the prosecutor’s office. There’s a simple reason for that, so don’t misunderstand or condemn her. George Zimmerman is toxic, to say the least. She wants nothing to do with plastering her name all over every newspaper and TV station across the country, including TMZ and whatever gossip show picks up on it. Would you? Odds are, Zimmerman would get away with it anyway, since he always does. After all, like OJ, his name is synonymous with ‘getting away with murder,’ and after calling him a psychopath to his face, she’s got to be frightened to death of him now.

    Sunday
    Jan042015

    Acerbic Redux: Absolute proof that Barack Obama was not born in Hawaii

    When Barack Obama announced his candidacy over six years ago, a ruckus stirred over his birthplace. Was it in the USA or Kenya? At the time, I knew that Hawaii had been one of the fifty states, so anyone from there was an American citizen through and through. But was he actually born there??? My interest piqued, so I decided to do some investigative work. Initially, I had no idea what I’d uncover, but I never gave up, and true to my craft, it didn’t take very long.

    The so-called “Birthers” went on and on for years, led by Mr. Donald “You’re Fired” Trump. No, he wasn’t born here, they emphatically stated. They still do. Very early on, I held the unwavering position that he had been properly vetted by federal services, as any legitimate candidate would have been. To think otherwise would be to proclaim the FBI, CIA, Department of Homeland Security, Secret Service and a multitude of other agencies complete farces and total failures in every worldwide arena. And remember who was president at the time. (No, I’m not looking for political critiques.)

    In 2008, I decided to put an end to the speculation before it spread by proving that Obama was, in fact, NOT from either country. Sadly, I failed miserably, but I still have my proof. You can choose to believe it or not…

    Here is a Moai statue of Baracku at Rano Raraku on the Polynesian island, Rapa Nui, better known as Easter Island, where they weren’t Muslims, either:

    Sunday
    Jan042015

    When Barack Obama announced his candidacy over six years ago, a ruckus stirred over his birthplace. Was it in the USA or Kenya? At the time, I knew that Hawaii had been one of the fifty states, so anyone from there was an American citizen through and through. But was he actually born there??? My interest piqued, so I decided to do some investigative work. Initially, I had no idea what I’d uncover, but I never gave up, and true to my craft, it didn’t take very long.

    The so-called “Birthers” went on and on for years, led by Mr. Donald “You’re Fired” Trump. No, he wasn’t born here, they emphatically stated. They still do. Very early on, I held the unwavering position that he had been properly vetted by federal services, as any legitimate candidate would have been. To think otherwise would be to proclaim the FBI, CIA, Department of Homeland Security, Secret Service and a multitude of other agencies complete farces and total failures in every worldwide arena. And remember who was president at the time.
    In 2008, I decided to put an end to the speculation before it spread by proving that Obama was, in fact, NOT from either country. Sadly, I failed miserably, but I still have my proof. You can choose to believe it or not…Here is a Moai statue of Baracku at Rano Raraku on the Polynesian island, Rapa Nui, better known as Easter Island, where they weren’t Muslims, either:

     

    Wednesday
    Dec312014

    Happy New Year!

    Thursday
    Dec182014

    No Baloney

    I was shopping in a grocery store the other morning. It’s one of those chains with a decent variety of organic foods. Sometimes, I like that kind of stuff. Sometimes, some of it is rather silly. Take this, for instance. While looking at the bread selections, I happened to see organic hot dog rolls. ORGANIC HOT DOG ROLLS???!!! Huh? What do you put inside a hot dog bun? HOT DOGS!!! What’s good and healthful about hot dogs? No… please don’t tell me about vegetarian weiners because they are probably as exciting as sex with blow-up dolls. What’s the point?

    It reminded me of a car I saw with my friend, Stewart, in the Sarasota area a while back. We were sitting at a red light. VROOM! VROOM! Or was it ZHHH! ZHHH!? It was a Toyota Prius Sport. SPORT???!!! We laughed. For some reason “Prius” and “Sport” go together like salt and sugar, and “organic” and “hot dog,” don’t you think? Anyway, I don’t believe we’ll be seeing any Prius Sports on the NASCAR circuit any sooner than I’ll be eating a vegetarian hot dog on an organic bun. With ketchup.

     

    Monday
    Dec082014

    Whiskey River and the 3 Marlboro Omelet

    This is a piece I wrote in February, 2006, although I did edit it a little the last time I published it on Dec. 27, 2012 because my writing style improved. Today, I left it intact.

    Here we are, eight years after this story, and where are we? I see more racism now than I did in 2006, and I see it on both sides of the fence. If anyone thinks it’s a one-way street, they are blind to society. 


    When I was doing design work for a local printer, we had a film stripper who set up our work to make plates for the presses. He was a really good guy and we got along quite well. I was from New Jersey and he was a Florida native. A lot of people from here have a fair amount of resentment towards people from other parts of the country, especially northerners. If you were from Alabamee or Mississippa, you were OK. The northeast? Eh. Not so much.

    Ron and I used to tease each other about northern and southern differences - the Civil War, the South Rising Again! That sort of thing, but it was all done in a good natured, friendly manner with no implied intent. Whenever he brought up some Yankee thing to tease me about, I always had a standard reply; one he could not defend, “Well, at least I didn’t have a hangin’ tree in my back yard.”

    Ron lived in Apopka, which is a relatively rural town northwest of Orlando. Plenty of the deep south has areas of racial hatred, including parts of Apopka. I’m not trying to single out any community. They’re everywhere, and most of the town is not like that, but there’s a long history steeped in racial bias and, yes, hangin’ trees that should have been chopped down a long time ago. Ain’t been no hangins’ around these here parts in a long time, yet there still exists a small faction of folks who believe the old rules of the deeply segregated south should never and shall never change.

    When I moved here in 1981, I found a place in Winter Park called Harrigan’s. My sister used to work there. It’s been gone a long time now, but one of the bartenders ended up buying an established business in downtown Orlando on the corner of Orange Avenue and Pine Street called Tanqueray’s. It used to be part of a bank and housed the vault. You walk down a flight of stairs from street level, step inside, and immediately feel the warmth of the friendly crowd.

    Many of the regulars from those days were professionals who worked downtown and stopped in for a drink or two to unwind and socialize. It was known as a hangout for attorneys and it always seemed to be a well mannered, intellectual group. That’s where I met John Morgan, but he has nothing to do with this story. I seldom go downtown anymore, but if I do, I try to stop by, since I’ve known Dan a long time and he always has a few good jokes to tell, plus he’s an all-around great guy.

    One time, I dropped by for happy hour. I had to go into the city for some reason and, I figured, why not go see Dan. I took a seat at the bar, near the front door, and we exchanged some friendly banter. The place was quite busy, so we didn’t have much time to talk. Moments after I arrived, some guy was standing to my immediate left. Talk about rough around the edges, he didn’t quite fit in with the rest of that crowd. He ordered a draft beer and said to me, “Yup, I was at Whiskey River at 7 o’clock this morning.”

    Whiskey River is a liquor store on S. Orange Blossom trail. It’s certainly not in one of the nicest parts of the city. There are a few scattered around and they have a reputation for catering to hardcore drinkers - the labor pool and unemployment collecting types who live off their pay buying cheap booze and cigarettes. Such was this particular fellow. I have no idea why he chose me out of the crowd to enlighten, but there we were…

    “Whiskey River? At 7 AM? So, tell me, what did you have for breakfast?” I asked.

    “I had me a 3 Marlboro omelet,” he responded in his gruff, seasoned and rather pickled sounding voice.

    “Hmm. Sounds delicious.”

    “Yup. It was.” Suddenly, out of the blue, he blurted, “I’m a card carrying member of the KKK.”

    “No. No way.”

    “Yup.”

    I had never met anyone with any sort of affiliation to a white supremacy organization. You know, you always hear stories, but have you ever met anyone like that for real? “OK. Let me see your membership card.”

    “Ain’t got one. Don’t need one.”

    He didn’t come across as some sort of nasty fellow. He didn’t seem to have gone in there to start trouble. I think he just wanted someone from the “big city” to talk to. Maybe, I looked slick enough. I seem to collect those types, anyway, but I don’t mind. I guess I have a friendly demeanor that people pick up on.

    After telling me he lived in the outskirts of Apopka, I thought to myself, why not give the guy a chance to speak his mind. I would try to rationalize everything he says and come back with an appropriate response. I asked him how he could feel this way and have so much hatred inside?

    “They’re animals. Damn n*ggers are monkeys.” I think he really wanted to test me, yet I sensed sincerity in his statement and a certain curiosity on his own part, like he was questioning his own tenets; the ones he was most likely raised on.

    “Animals? What if you had sex with a monkey, could you get her pregnant?”

    “Nah, of course not. That’s stupid.”

    “What if you had sex with a black woman, could you get her pregnant?”

    “Yeah, of course.”

    “Well, what you are accepting is that if black people are animals and you could get that type of animal pregnant, then you are a monkey, too. You are an animal. We’re ALL animals.” He had no smart answer.

    With every racist claim he made, I had a response. At one point, I asked him, “What if you were in a horrible accident and needed a blood transfusion and found out later you now have the blood of a black man inside. A BLACK MAN. A NEGRO. AN AFRICAN-AMERICAN. What would you do? Would you try to return it? Would you tell your card carrying KKK members that you are now tainted with the blood of an animal? Would they hang you from the highest tree?”

    No responses to my queries made much sense. He didn’t necessarily agree with me, but I could tell he was grasping, if not absorbing, everything we were discussing. He really was trying to understand the other side. I brought up the “be they yellow, black or white, they are precious in his sight” song from Sunday School days of my youth. He knew the song, but many southern racists are born into religious families that adhere to odd and distorted interpretations of the Bible, as if Jesus was lily-white and black folk dangled from olive trees.

    I asked him about black heroes who had saved plenty of white hide during the war, World War II in this case. A lot of us wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for good ol’ blackie.

    The conversation had taken on a kind of flow. It was never a heated exchange and we showed each other respect. I couldn’t judge him for his status in life, but I surely did question his morals and prejudices with a vengeance. Our discussion began to wind down without ever really unwinding. The conversation had just taken its natural course. At the end, I had one final question to ask.

    “What if we were on a deserted island — just you, me and a really good looking black woman…” Suddenly, the door opened up and a group of very good looking women sauntered in, one of whom was black. “HER!” I exclaimed, looking right at her. She didn’t see or hear a thing. “What if it was just you, her and me?”

    “I’d kill YOU, not HER. A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.” I knew what he meant. Sex. Ain’t no way this dude was gonna go for me, Deliverance-style.

    “You mean to tell me you’d kill a white man to save a black woman? Wait a minute. Doesn’t this go against your entire credo? People you’ve hated all your life? What would the KKK say about that? Kill a WHITE to save a BLACK?”

    “You’re confusing me, man, you’re confusing me!” Aha! Gotcha, I thought to myself. “You know, you’re right.” he continued, “Yup, you are, but I’ll never tell my friends about it. I can’t. They’re my friends and they’d kill me.”

    I guess I felt some satisfaction in thinking I had gotten through to the guy, but did I really? He had listened to enough, I reckon, and I’ll never know for sure.

    “Thanks for the talk. Gotta go.” And off he went.

    What surprised me the most was that the patrons sitting at the bar had listened intently to our conversation, unbeknownst to me. After the guy walked out the door and it shut behind him, they broke into a loud applause. They, too, thought that, maybe, just maybe, I had gotten through to him. Perhaps, I did, but that was then…

    Occasionally, I think about him — the KKK man who sucks Marlboros for breakfast — the guy who returned to the hangin’ trees that only sway in the wind these days; back to the recollections of fiery crosses from days gone by. I hope and pray those days will one day be burned from all of our memories forever and that warm southern breezes of kinship will sweep through the minds of people like him everywhere. Gone with the wind.

    We can still have a dream, can’t we?

     

     See it HERE or:

    Saturday
    Nov292014

    Expert Textpert. Goo Goo Goo Joob...

    My editing skills have improved since the original version from four years ago. This is a fresh sychronization of The Beatles audio and Styx video versions of “I Am The Walrus” - from today, November 29, 2014.

     

     

    Wednesday
    Nov262014

    I want to thank the prosecutor's wife

    In light of Ferguson, I was reminded of an experience I had with a couple of local police and a prosecutor back in the 1970s. While there are no comparisons, it’s still something that came to mind. Everyone handles situations their own way. This is how I handled mine.

     

    INTRODUCTION

    In 1975, I was 23 and the spirit of youth was still in full bloom. It was a great time in my life except for one harrowing experience with the Delaware Township Police Department, located in central New Jersey. I had gone out that night with a friend of mine, Ken [Redacted.] We hit a couple of bars and settled in at a place in New Hope, PA, called John & Peter’s. There’s a café in front and a small listening room in the back. As small as it was (and still is,) they had some pretty big name bands perform, like Iron Butterfly and The Chambers Brothers. One of the local favorites back then was a group out of Philly called Johnny’s Dance Band. Some nights, you just didn’t know unless a barmaid let you in on the secret of who it would be. It didn’t matter who was playing the night we showed up. We didn’t go out for that. We didn’t even go out to drink much. We just went out to have a good time until he dropped me off at my apartment…

    THE BUST

    My place was right in the center of Sergeantsville, a very rural community with one blinking light. You were in and out town before you knew it. Directly across the street was the municipal building and home of the police department. We sat there for a few minutes discussing what the rest of the week was looking like, sort of like planning another night to run around, drink a few, and hit on some babes. Slowly, a police car crept up across the street and parked. Two officers got out and started to walk towards us. I wasn’t afraid of anything. Neither of us were drunk and we certainly weren’t doing anything wrong. I recognized one of them, Rich [Redacted,] from my high school days. I got out and stood at the front of my friend’s Dodge van. Rich and I greeted each other, shook hands and talked about what we had been up to since those earlier times. The other officer went over to the driver’s window. Both Rich and I were oblivious to what was transpiring until we both heard, “I smell marijuana. Get out of the van right now! You are under arrest!”

    Rich and I looked at each other with surprise. I turned to face the other officer and said, “Hey, what are you doing?”

    He stared at me and said, “You are under arrest, too!”

    He made my friend get out of the vehicle and ordered us over to the police car, where he demanded that we empty our pockets. I didn’t respond in the split second time he wanted, so he thrust me down on to the hood of the car, knocking the wind out of me. In two seconds flat, I was in handcuffs and he was emptying all of my pockets, where he found a frog, a couple of marbles and a secret agent compass. Maybe some pocket change, too, but absolutely nothing illegal. As a matter of fact, nothing of interest was found in my friend’s pockets, either. I asked this overzealous cop what we were being arrested for. He hesitated and said, “For being drunk and disorderly!”

    I knew right then and there we were being charged with something trumped-up. We weren’t drunk and we weren’t disorderly. Had we been drunk, this stupid officer, Jack Demeo, should have been smart enough to charge the driver with a DUI (or DWI back then.) The keys were in the ignition.

    The cop commandos marched us up the stairs and into the police station.

    “Watch them,” Demeo said to Rich, giddy with delight, as if he had just apprehended serial rapists or something. He went outside and returned with the ashtray, dumped it on his desk and went picking through the tightly packed butts. Lo and behold, he pulled out a marijuana roach that amounted to…

    2/10 of a gram!

    Whoa! The biggest bust of the century! “Ha, ha, ha…I gotcha now!!!” An obvious glee and an evil grin had overtaken him, as we were soon to be facing life in prison in his eyes. “So, on top of being drunk and disorderly, I’ve got you on a CDS charge, too!”

    “What’s CDS?” I asked.

    “Controlled Dangerous Substance,” he snapped back, with a sarcastic snarl. That roach could have been in the ashtray for weeks, for all we knew. The ashtray was packed with butts, but had we known it was there, we would have smoked it long before the cops showed up.

    After sitting for what seemed like an eternity, I had to pee. I asked Demeo if I could go. “NO!” I asked him several times and got the same commanding response. Finally, I pulled something out of my head…

    “As a U.S. citizen and subject to rule number 17 of the U.S. Constitution, Section C, Part 203, I am allowed to use a restroom facility when I consider it necessary, under penalty of law.”

    “Take him into the men’s room,” he ordered Rich, “but watch him.”

    As I was peeing, he was apologetic. “Hey, Dave, I had nothing to do with this.”

    Demeo was filling out paper work interrogating my friend when we returned. He looked at me and attacked like a junk yard dog. “Where’d you get this stuff?”

    “I don’t know.”

    “Tell me!”

    You’re going to bust us with that? You’re a joke.”

    After about a half hour of brutal questioning, he realized he wasn’t going to get anywhere, so they loaded us into the back of the squad car and drove us to the Hunterdon County Jail. The entire ride consisted of Demeo making wise cracks and telling us we were the lowest and vilest sub-humans of the community. We laughed. Oh, how it angered him more.

    DELIVERANCE

    Finally, we arrived to the fanfare of the hungry jailers. They took our mug shots and fingerprints. One of the guards was a high school teacher who moonlighted at the jail and remembered us. He took us upstairs and put us in a holding cell, It was just me and Ken.

    “I’ll come back and put you in a better cell as soon as we get rid of these asshole cops,” he said, and he did. When we awoke the next morning, the TV was showing an old science fiction movie. Yes, it was high-class. Color, too. There was another guy who was already there. We introduced ourselves, shook hands and I asked him what he was in for.

    “Murder.”

    “Oh.” I didn’t want to pursue that conversation, so we just settled in. At one point, he got up and switched the channel to American Bandstand. I wasn’t about to say, “TURN IT BACK! I WAS WATCHING THAT MOVIE!”

    Later that morning, the jail doors were opened to freedom, fresh air and sunlight, and our nightmare was temporarily over. $50 later.

    THE PLOT THICKENS

    We knew we had to get legal representation. My friend got a lawyer and I talked to an attorney friend of mine, Jay Thatcher. We were in the JAYCEES together. I told him I didn’t have money to hire a lawyer. He asked me to tell him what transpired that evening. I told him. He said, “Dave, this is the most ridiculous injustice I’ve ever heard. I’m going to represent you for free.”

    Jay was a great guy and a very good friend. I was so glad he decided to help out someone in need. He got in touch with the other attorney and they both agreed to file a Motion to Suppress Evidence, a request to a judge to keep out evidence at a trial or hearing, often made when a party believes the evidence was unlawfully obtained.

    The judge at our arraignment hearing was Thomas Beetel. Years earlier, my Aunt Bertie worked for him when he was in private practice before being appointed to the bench. We shared the same last name and they didn’t get along. I think he might have fired her. I wasn’t aware of any connection at that time - I was told later - but he should have recused himself on grounds of prejudice. He did not. Our respective attorneys requested that both officers not be present in the courtroom together when each was to give their own testimony. The judge did allow that. Both cops gave conflicting reports of what transpired that fateful night. I assumed my old high school “friend” would set the record straight. He did not. He lied through his teeth even more than the arresting officer did. I could not believe what I was hearing. Then, Demeo told the judge he was trained by the Marines to smell marijuana better than a dog. When I took the stand, I noticed the judge was doodling stupid little pictures, as if he wasn’t paying attention, and had already made up his mind. I guess he did because he sent it on to trial. Motion to Suppress Evidence denied!

    THE TRIAL

    On the morning after our arrest, the judge we were going to be facing, Jacob Chantz, was attending a funeral with my grandfather, Reverend George W. Landis. They were very close friends. He should have recused himself, too, because of that friendship, but he didn’t, and I guess I am thankful for it. The evening we went to trial, it was one big family; the two officers, the prosecutor, our respective attorneys and us. My close friend, Frank Foran was sitting in the gallery, along with my parents. Our trials were to be handled separately, but together, if that makes sense. Our attorneys approached the prosecutor to work out plea deals. 

    After minutes of whispering, Jay came back to me and said, “Dave, this is what the prosecutor wants. He’s willing to drop the drunk and disorderly charge if you plead to the CDS charge. It means that after a year, you can apply to have your record expunged and it’s completely erased. It’s as if you were never arrested. You pay a fine now and there is no jail time. What do you want to do?”

    “No way am I going to plead guilty to anything. I didn’t do anything wrong.”

    “Great! That’s exactly what I was hoping to hear you say.” He went back to the prosecutor with my response.

    “Oh no,” the prosecutor told him, and there came a very special AHA! moment. You see, prosecutors can be moved around to different jurisdictions if the need ever arises. The need arose that particular evening. 

    “What do you mean?” my lawyer asked.

    “My wife is 99.9% pregnant. I came up from south Jersey. I’m filling in for the regular prosecutor, who’s on vacation. She could have the baby any minute. I just want to get this over with and go home. How long is this going to take?” 

    “At least seven hours as far as I’m concerned. I’m going to pick every legal trick out of my hat on this one.”

    “You’re kidding, right?”

    “No, I am not. My client is 100% innocent of these charges and I intend to fight it all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary.”

    “This isn’t all that important of a case to me. Let’s just drop the charges.”

    That was it. It had absolutely nothing to do with my guilt or innocence. Case dismissed. All on account of the prosecutor’s wife being pregnant. Now that was justice.

    My friend had the drunk and disorderly charge dropped but the prosecutor said someone had to take the rap for the 2/10 gram of Mary Jane. It was his vehicle, so he did and a year later he did have his record expunged.

    So went my first foray into the legal system. The judge later told my grandfather it never should have reached his courtroom. It should have been dropped at the Motion to Suppress stage and, if not, he had planned on dismissing the charges against me anyway.

    AFTER ALL THIS

    Oh, yeah. Good old Jack Demeo. He got himself into a little trouble about a year or so after our trial. He was accused - on several occasions - of flashing his badge out of his territory and for trying to pick up women he pulled over. He should have been dealt with for breaking the law but he wasn’t. Cop. Good old boy syndrome, I guess. I also heard he had been planting pot in cars to make busts, but had he done that to us, I’m sure more than 2/10 of a gram would have been found. The clincher that finally sealed his fate and brought his law enforcement career to a screeching halt was when he was in Atlantic City inside a casino, Unfortunately for him but lucky for the rest of the country, he flashed his badge at the wrong people at the wrong time. He told a dealer he was with the NJ Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control and he was doing an investigation. What kind of favors can you do for me? The manager of the casino got involved and promptly called his brother-in-law, who worked for the ABC. Why is one of your guys trying to bribe me?

    The agency launched an investigation faster than a poker player folds on a five high hand, and dispatched agents to the scene immediately. Jack Demeo was arrested on the spot. Because of that, his credentials were stripped and he was told he could never be a police officer again. The former police chief of Delaware Township, where I was arrested with my friend, told me he did try years later, but the retired chief, the late Warren Peterson, put the screws to that. My guess is that he’s probably assistant head of security at a Dollar General store somewhere in Podunk, Arkansas. I did run into Rich a couple of years later and he wanted to extend an apology for what had transpired. I told him that, “as an officer of the law, you were there to tell the truth. You didn’t. I’m having a tough time with what you put me through.”

    Quite obviously, that experience was still on my mind. One day, he approached me at the Weiner King in Flemington, where I was the manager, to tell me he could get me a really good deal on a Jaguar XKE. He had hung up his gun and went to work for a car dealer. The car had just come in and it wasn’t even prepped yet. I took him up on the offer, it was a great deal, and I forgave Rich after all. I think he just got caught up in the cop ego trip thing and eventually let it go. All was well between us and I know it ate at him all those years. He really wanted to make things right, and he did. I don’t hold a grudge.

    EPILOGUE

    I learned my lesson that you can’t always trust a man with a badge and prosecutors don’t always work for true justice. I’ve known a lot of police officers and a few prosecutors over the years and most of them are honest and hard-working. Never again have I run into a bad cop like Jack Demeo, but that one time was all it took to keep me on my toes. Fortunately, most guys like him are eventually weeded out of police departments, but not always.

    Oh yes, one more thing. The guy we spent the night in jail with who was charged with murder? He was found not guilty. He had a different prosecutor, too.

    Tuesday
    Nov252014

    FerGRRRRRason

    As a credentialed journalist, I covered two trials extensively - both the Casey Anthony and the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin cases. I wrote about the “alleged” murders long before the trials began, too. I say alleged because, prior to trial, that’s exactly what they were. A trial is intended to determine guilt or innocence. Sometimes, situations arise where where there is no cause to move to trial. I know nothing about the St. Louis County grand jury other than what was reported on the news from August 9 through what prosecutor Robert McCulloch stated at the press conference. I do intend to read what’s made public, though, due to Missouri’s sunshine law, which is similar to Florida’s.

    Because I am not familiar with the Ferguson case, I will proffer no opinion one way or the other. Not until I know something more. (If I ever say a word.) This was an extremely sad event. For four-and-a-half years, I witnessed the twisting of news as it was told from all sides. I was part of the system. Not to mention the trolls. I took down a judge. I slept with Casey. I fathered bastard children. I had STDs. I was a drug addict. You name it, I was the scourge of a handful of online derelicts. But in my writing - in the real world - God knows I tried to be fair; however… deep down inside, I had a real soft spot for Caylee and true compassion for Trayvon. Sometimes, it showed. My heart poured out in the words I chose. In the case of Michael Brown and Darren Wilson, I just don’t know enough about the case to offer any kind of opinion, and if I do, it would surely upset the other side. Please don’t even try to second guess me. WHICH ONE IS THE OTHER SIDE, DAVE???!!!

    You see? There are no winners here. We all lose, and I never want to be an attacked messenger again. This one would be like walking into an active volcano wearing a backpack filled with gunpowder.

     

    Thursday
    Nov202014

    What's Age Got To Do With It?

    I’m not a violent man. Never was. I know that, as I get older, I’m supposed to be more temperamental. Maybe I am. Perhaps I am quicker to anger. Old codger stuff. Is it just a male thing?

    Today, I had an urge to eat French fries. Why? I don’t know. I don’t usually crave them. Call it a “hankering.” I knew that, if I were to order them at the nearby McDonald’s, I’d have to ask for them without salt. Would they do that?

    As I wheeled into the parking lot, some a-hole cut me off. Zoomed in right in front of me! I almost hit him. Just who did he think he was? JERK! He quickly pulled into a parking spot and I soon followed into a nearby one. He jumped out of his car in a flash and ran toward the side door. I really thought about giving him a piece of my mind as I exited mine, but three things stopped me from saying a word…

    #1 Age. I was a lot older, wiser and more experienced. Patience goes a long way. Or, it should.

    #2 He was a construction type dude. Bigger than me, in other words. He would have kicked my you know what. Plus, he was a lot faster than me.

    #3 He made a bee-line to the men’s room.

    That third one (#3) told me he was in a hurry to do a number two, probably, without going into further detail, and that gave him license to get where he needed to go as quickly as humanly possible. That’s where #1 came in. There may be circumstances beyond someone’s control that cause something to happen. (Imagine if he had come along a second or two earlier. BAM! He would have hit me and there would have been two accidents.)

    As he disappeared into the restroom area, I went through the main door and waited near the front counter to order. A minute or two later, I was able to ask for them without salt. Yes, I was told, and they come out fresher that way, but it took a little longer.

    That guy? As I left, he was still in there somewhere, I’m sure, but I had no desire to go reprimand him for anything. Actually, I didn’t give him a thought at all. Instead, I learned a simple little lesson about maintaining a level head. Self-control prevailed. I’m sure we’ve all been there before - old and young.

    Cross-posted on Daily Kos

     

    Saturday
    Nov152014

    I JUST DROPPED IN TO SEE WHAT STATE MY STATE WAS IN... YEAH, YEAH, OH-YEAH

    One of the definitions of the word “state” is the particular condition that someone or something is in at a specific time. Skip that definition for now. Let’s move on to another one.

     

    STATE: a nation or territory considered as an organized political community under one government.

     

    Robert Owen Paxton (1932 -) is an American historian who specializes in Vichy France, fascism and Europe during the WWII era. He wrote that fascism is:

    “… a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.” 

     

     

    What is the definition of Islamic State when there is no nation under one government? For that matter, why is state capitalized at all? There is no “State.” Instead of IS or ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) or ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), what should we call this group of butchers? They are savages, indeed, straight out of the 7th century; save their leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who has expensive tastes in modern-day accoutrements like watches, and sports dazzlingly white, perfectly-formed teeth (for an otherwise third-world slaughterer.) Or is he? Most are hypocrites at best. Yes, his followers are pretty high-tech, but they rape, murder and pillage at will. Very low-class. They force themselves upon their own version of disbelievers. If they don’t like you, you’re an infidel. Naked women. Young children. Men dropped to their knees. Off with their heads! That’s what they capitalize on. TOTAL FEAR. Annihilation. Devastation. Their goal is violent cleansing and expansion throughout the world. They want total domination of the world in the name of religion. I suggest calling them islamifascists. No capitalization because the majority of Muslims disagree with what they do in the name of their god - I think; however, no one in Syria, Iraq or Turkey has ever lived under a democracy and most Muslims remain quiet. Is it out of fear for their lives or is al-Baghdadi the one true caliph, a descendant of the Islamic prophet Muhammad as he claims, and they don’t know what to believe?

     

    Whatever. These islamifascists want their convoluted religious law to spread like cockroach infestations and beyond. We will never rid ourselves of their kind, but we must contain them by any and all means possible. Except palling around with Sayyid Ali Khamenei. He’s a fire ant. Bashar al-Assad is a killer bee. I am a most passive man, but these are two men we should never trust. 

     

    Like the islamifascists, Saudi Arabia likes beheadings, too, yet when the kingdom drops its cost per barrel of oil (is it due to cheap black market IS oil?) and our gas price goes down at the pump, we’re happy. Just in time for America’s Thanksgiving and the Christian world’s most commercialized holiday! Praise the..! Oh my… I’m most definitely in a STATE OF CONFUSION! All capital letters! Will any good ever come of this? Why are conservatives still so up in arms over alternative energy sources?

     

    Cross-posted at Daily Kos

     

     

    Sunday
    Jul062014

    Cheney Mason Jars the Truth, By George!

    It’s hard to believe that Casey Anthony was found not guilty of first-degree murder three years ago, but she was. My coverage of the case began in November of 2008 and continued in earnest until the verdict. That’s when it ended. Many people wanted me to resume writing about her — the lawsuits and bankruptcy — but my job was finished. Those news stories were of little relevancy to me, so I never wrote about her again. Until now. Something (or someone) has piqued my interest. Most assuredly, it must be of major importance to stir me from my restful, peaceful, crime-free, post-Zimmerman Rip Van Winklish sleep, right? Yes, and it’s Cheney Mason. Just as the Casey Anthony saga began with a flurry of horrible lies, the nest of iniquity continues.

    Certainly, I have reasons to seek vengeance on those who took down the presiding judge at my expense, but I’m not a begrudging type, and the years have softened my stance to some extent. Jose Baez apologized years ago. It was nothing personal against me, he said, but he didn’t feel Casey could get a fair trial, especially in light of the check fraud pleas. That’s a different story and I understand more about the incident after years of study and reflection; however, I firmly believe the idea was the brainchild of a vindictive Cheney Mason. Mason had it in for Judge Stan Strickland and you are just going to have to trust me on it with no further explanation at this time. Asking the judge to recuse himself from this case is not the reason why I decided to pick up my pen. It’s to set the record straight over what I consider to be a persistent and perpetuating lie perpetrated by Mason — that poor, little Casey is innocent of any and all wrongdoing, and that the media and prosecution are guilty of everything. 

    In his book, Presumed Guilty | Casey Anthony: The Inside Story, Baez wrote:

    Casey and I had discussed her sexual abuse, and I felt it was only a matter of time before she would tell me the truth about what happened to Caylee.

    This was immediately followed by:

    The day I had a major breakthrough with Casey came in the early months of 2009 […]

    He continues to explain what Casey told him about the drowning and her father’s involvement:

    “Don’t worry. I won’t tell anyone. I’m taking care of it. Don’t say a word of this to anyone, especially your mother,” and he walked away.

    Believe what you want. My point is that for over two years, until the onset of the trial in downtown Orlando, her defense team maintained an oblivious facade about the cause of Caylee’s death, and the public and many facets of the media were eschewing whatever Baez, et al, spit out. If she was so innocent, why not come forward much sooner than the trial? To be Nancy Grace-like, it would have been a BOMBSHELL and it would have sent the prosecution reeling into a downward, spiraling tizzy… momentarily, at least, until it had a chance to regroup. Instead, the young woman sat in jail from October 14, 2008 to July 17, 2011.

    (I think it’s important to remind you, before I go on, that Baez was not death penalty qualified, so Mason was hired, pro-bono, in March of 2010, a year before Casey opened her mouth about the death of her daughter, as cited above. Mason had collaborated with Baez prior to officially joining the defense, too, so he was aware of his new client’s alibi and the accusation of sexual abuse. Unfortunately for George Anthony, he was going to be the defense scapegoat and he didn’t have a clue. If I was a minor target, George was huge.)

    §

    Presently, I know precisely what Mason is spewing. It’s called marketing propaganda and he’s doing it to promote his new book, Justice in America: How the Media and Prosecutors Stack the Deck Against the Accused due out soon. I think it’s important and fair to first note that Mason does come with credentials. He’s a highly regarded veteran of criminal defense trials, as CNN’s Jean Casarez just pointed out in her interview with him, What life is like for Casey Anthony, updated July 4:

    A former president of the Florida Association of Criminal Lawyers, Mason, who just that year had been selected by Florida Monthly magazine as one of Florida’s top lawyers, was disgusted with the local media coverage about the relatively inexperienced Baez.

    That’s great. What a hero. Definitely, Baez was treated with contempt by the public and press, but it came with the territory of representing the most reviled woman in America and Baez knew that. What he needed was help forming a strong and capable defense, not a pompous ass press secretary/superhero. For now, though, let’s continue with the version Casarez wrote and elicited from Mason:

    Shortly before jury selection was to begin, Mason got word that Anthony’s handwritten letters describing sexual abuse at the hands of her father were going to be made public under Florida’s open records law.

    He believed it was only right that Anthony’s parents, George and Cindy, were warned. He called them to his office late on a Friday afternoon.

    “We had them one at a time come into my personal office and made the announcement: ‘Monday’s going to be a bad day for you George. I felt man to man I would tell you in advance.”“

    Mason said George Anthony’s reaction was “basically none.” “He looked at me … I turned sideways a little bit, he clapped his hands down on his thighs — let out a big sigh but didn’t say anything,” Mason said.

    “He never admitted doing anything,” Mason said. “All we had were the letters and (separately) the statements Casey had made to the psychiatrist.”

    According to Mason, he then called Cindy in to inform her.

    Next it was Cindy Anthony’s turn. “We called Mom in, Cindy, and told her and she immediately welled up with emotion, cried, was very upset,” Mason said.

    This is not what I recall from my experience with the case. Please note that Mason said George and Cindy Anthony went to his personal office after he got word, yet in his book, Baez wrote something contrary to Mason’s revelation.

    Two psychiatrists evaluated Casey for the defense, Drs. Jeffrey Danziger and William Weitz. Danziger was initially appointed by the court in 2008 following her arrest. For the defense, he met with her four times in November and December of 2010. Weitz conducted two interviews in February and March of 2011. According to Baez:

    After the prosecution took the depositions of the two psychiatrists, both sides agreed they should be sealed because they contained medical information as it related to Casey’s mental health, and there were issues of sexual abuse by George and Lee, which was protected under state law. Perry immediately sealed them, saying that he wanted to review them before deciding whether they should remain sealed.

    Baez continued:

    A couple of days later, Cindy called me to say she and George had an appointment the next day at the state attorney general’s office to discuss the depositions of the shrinks.

    I lost it. I smelled the skullduggery of Ashton and immediately contacted Perry, telling him that the state was planning to meet with the Anthonys to discuss the information that he had sealed. 

    Perry had a clear response: “Sealed means sealed.” Despite this clear message from the judge, the prosecution went ahead and had its meeting anyway. That was the arrogance of Ashton, whose attitude was, “I can do anything I want because I can get away with it.”

    And get away with it he did.

    In fact, according to Baez, the prosecution didn’t show the Anthonys the depositions, it showed them the notes they took during the depositions:

    […] The benefit to the prosecution by making sure the Anthonys found out what was in the shrinks’ depositions, of course, was that when the Anthonys found out that Casey was revealing George’s sexual abuse, they would turn on Casey, no longer support her, and became [sic] state-friendly witnesses.

    I thought Cheney was going to have a heart attack. […]

    This is proof that Mason did not individually call George and Cindy into his office to “warn” them. Instead, Baez warned Mason about what the Anthonys learned from prosecutors. But wait! There’s more…

    Before Presumed Guilty was released, then assistant state attorney Jeff Ashton published his book, Imperfect Justice | Prosecuting Casey Anthony. He had something to say about this matter, too, and it offers a third view, far removed from Cheney Mason’s.  Beginning on page 215:

    Even though the witnesses had been withdrawn [Danziger and Weitz], Linda [Drane Burdick], Frank [George] and I wondered how much of this George and Cindy knew. Just because the defense had dropped the witnesses didn’t mean they were abandoning the argument completely. There was still a chance that George could be dragged into this.

    One evening around the time that all this was happening, Mark Lippman, the attorney who by then was representing George and Cindy, filed a strange press release. It said something to the effect that George Anthony had nothing to do with the disappearance of Caylee.

    Ashton contacted Lippman, assuming that Baez had spilled the beans:

    Mark told me that a few days earlier, Baez had asked for a meeting with just Cindy. When she arrived at his office, Baez, Dorothy Sims, and Ann Finnell via the phone were waiting for her with important news. Baez proceeded to tell Cindy that Casey had authorized him to say that Caylee had died at the house and that her death had been an accident. Baez also told Cindy that the state was investigating George’s involvement with Caylee’s death. Baez claimed that the authorities had information from a witness who said that George’s phone records held valuable clues.

    I was speechless. Poor Mark only knew the tip of the iceberg. It was the cruelest thing I have ever seen an attorney do. […] To tell this grieving woman…

    To say that Ashton was outraged would be an understatement. This is what pushed him to tell the Anthonys the whole story — to warn them.

    I told Mark we weren’t investigating George, although sadly, there was more bad news. But I had to get back to him about it. Linda and I discussed the best way to handle the therapists’ reports and we decided to invite Mark, Cindy, and George to our office. I gave Mark a call.

    “Are they saying that George disposed of the body?” He responded by telling Lippman it was worse than that. 

    When Baez found out that Cindy was coming to our office to see what the doctors had said, he immediately shot off an e-mail to Judge Perry, essentially accusing us of violating Perry’s order.

    Linda said that Judge Perry’s order indicated only that the transcripts would not be made public documents; it never restricted our ability to investigate the story, and there was no way we were going to let Jose’s lies go unchallenged. Baez would later attack us on this point, but the judge agreed with us.

    The prosecutors decided to discuss their notes and recollections with the Anthonys since the depositions were, in fact, sealed. Caylee’s grandparents needed to know the truth about what was actually going on, despite the inherent risk of possible witness tampering accusations.

    George and Cindy were visibly upset when they arrived at the state attorneys office, Ashton pointed out.

    Before the meeting, we’d told Mark that we would speak to him privately and share what we knew with him. Then it would be up to him to decide what to tell the Anthonys. We put George and Cindy in the conference room and took Mark into the office with us.

    Lippman heard the entire story…

    Mark left and went to the conference room to talk to the Anthonys for what seemed like twenty to thirty minutes. Linda and I were in a nearby conference room when Mark came to find us. Cindy and George had questions, and we accompanied him back to the conference room. Cindy was sitting at the table just looking down. George was next to her, his face bright red. Cindy looked angry. George looked like he had been crying, like someone had just killed Caylee all over again. He was just devastated.

    “I just want you to know that none of this is true,” George said to us.

    Cindy patted him on the hand and said, “It’s okay, George. Nobody believes this.”

    His words would catch in his throat as he assured us one more time, “I just want you to know that everything I told you is the truth and I am not changing any of it.”

    I remember Cindy saying something like, “I don’t know what’s wrong with her,” referring to Casey. At least she was finally willing to admit that there was something not right about Casey. How it would affect her testimony at trial, though, was anyone’s guess.

    There you have it. The rest is history. But is Cheney Mason rewriting the history books to glorify himself? To give himself most of the credit for saving poor, innocent, child-like Casey? Sometimes, certainly in this case, when someone keeps telling himself the same thing over and over and over again, he begins to believe it. Mason is, after all, one of Florida’s BEST attorneys, as I’m sure he would quickly remind us and his mirror. And if Washington chopped down the cherry tree, he chopped down the giant Ashton tree. And didn’t tell a lie. Yes, man-to-man, he gently pulled George into his office to softly break the news. What a kind and compassionate father figure. Only, I wouldn’t buy a used lemon from the man.

    The amazon.com Website promo intro of Mason’s book says, “He shares never before revealed media bias, and enough case secrets to make readers re-examine their conscience and the quick path to judgment and personal conviction of Anthony.”

    I am deeply concerned about the honesty of those “case secrets,” especially coming from a man with so much documented bias against the media. Until he needs to use us.

    § 

    I think it’s important to mention something more enlightening about the defense psychiatrists, Drs. Danziger and Weitz. They were most likely removed as witnesses out of fear that the judge would have granted the state their own psychiatrist, who would have interviewed their client. That would have been problematic for Casey and the entire defense. It’s also necessary to say that Danziger was highly uncomfortable with being a mouthpiece for these “very, very serious allegations against someone in a situation where there is no other evidence he actually did anything.” (Imperfect Justice, Page 210.)

     

    Monday
    Jun232014

    Knock Knock

    I have neglected my blog for a long time… Almost a year. WAY TOO LONG! I will start writing again because I have a lot of things on my mind. I hope you understand that I cannot cover news stories outside of the Orlando area. I need to get inside the courtroom. I need to go to the scene of alleged crimes. I need to sense and feel what’s going on inside the minds of those involved. Until then, I may just go back to human interest stories for now.