Archive for January, 2010



Well friends, it’s official: we have an almost-working chicken coop. 

Yesterday afternoon neighbors Julie and Whitebear decided three of their roosters had to go. Julie rounded up and caged all but one which escaped and is probably some coyote’s meal already. Whitebear brought by the remaining two roosters and installed them in our coop. 

I asked Whitebear if they have names. “Yeah,” he said, “Lunch and Dinner.” 

Maybe I wasn’t hungry at the moment, but somehow they don’t strike me as very appetizing. Anyway, we have other plans in mind. I’m thinking of naming one of them Casanova. Maybe you have an idea of what I might name the other. I’m all ears.

Today I was greeted by that “G’morning” sound you either love or hate. (I kinda like it.) The timing seemed a little early. The light had not even begun to glow beyond the mountains to the east.

 “Cock-a-doodle-do!” crowed one. “Cock-a-duh,” crowed the other. They kept it up until sunrise. 

I wasn’t exactly planning on this fowl development, so today I must go into town again and buy some chickenfeed, as well as some hardware supplies to secure weak-points in the coop.

I’m not so concerned about keeping the roosters in as keeping predators out (though the birds do need to remain confined for a week so they will imprint on the coop as their “safe place”).

We want all our animals to be safe and happy. Speaking of which…

The vet did confirm that Otto has suffered a small stroke, and that there are only slight residual effects that will likely go away. He pronounced Otto in excellent overall health (especially for an old guy), and we agreed on a dietary supplement approach to managing his health for longevity.

In his current state of health and living here with me, Otto has an excellent quality of life. I have long suspected he is still alive because he enjoys it so.


new morning

We will be leaving in a few minutes to see the vet. Happily this morning’s situation is much improved over yesterday’s.

Within an hour-and-a-half of the (stroke?) incident, Otto regained his legs well enough to make it to the front door, where he rested most of the morning.

We walked about half the distance together, with me holding up his hindquarters and he reluctantly moving forward on his front legs. Otto finally became impatient with the whole affair and insisted on just being left in the road.

I left him and returned again in twenty minutes.

On this second try, Otto let me lift his hindquarters again but then began using his back legs. His right rear paw dragged in a way that’s known (for people) as drop-foot. He made it about a third of the remaining distance before he lay down again.

I left him alone, and when I looked around, he lay at the front door, panting as if he’d just undergone a strenuous effort. He rested there for an hour and then came into the house and slept at my feet for most of the rest of the day.

Otto made a few ventures outdoors on wobbly legs to “take care of business,” and by evening his walk seemed almost normal.

Otto is eleven-and-a-half years old—80 in people-years. He is a happy soul with a gentle disposition. When he was young he was the most athletic dog I’d ever known, and it was difficult seeing him incapacitated, if only briefly.

It was also heartening to see Otto’s determination to get back to the house. He never gave up.

It’s sobering to remember this is a harbinger of things to come. In the meantime, though, we will enjoy the happy return of spring and the warmth and comfort shared only between old friends.


dear old dog

This will be a short posting today. Otto is not well and needs my attention.

This morning I awoke to Otto’s bark: the particular one when he’s not barking at something but calling for me to come. When I got to him I could see he had lost the use of his rear legs. He was covered in dried plant material, which leads me to think his legs had gone out from under him so suddenly he had taken a tumble.

The veterinarian is out of town today, so we will not be able to get Otto in for an examination until tomorrow morning. Based on the symptoms I described by phone, Doc thinks Otto may have suffered a mini-stroke.

I have a sinking feeling that this may be the beginning of the end of my time with this friend I love so much. He has already outlived the typical life span for his breed.

I only hope the end does not come too soon for either of us.


hurry up and wait

With the launch of the Jordan Brown Trust Fund on temporary hold, this is a particularly frustrating moment. A crucial hearing is scheduled for the end of next week at which Jordan’s defense team will ask the court to decertify Jordan as an adult and remand his case to the juvenile court; reporters are calling and e-mailing me to learn when we’re going public.

Until the launch of the Trust and its website, Jordan’s side of the story will not have been told. Jordan’s attorneys have kept a lid on almost any information whatsoever being released to the media.

Lawyers understandably have a tendency to believe that the courtroom is the axis mundi of their professional world and that whatever they can do to limit the number of variables and wild cards in a case is desirable. “I don’t want a lot of reporters poking around and making trouble,” one of the lawyers told me. They cling to the comforting illusion that judges care only about evidence and testimony, and are unaffected by public opinion surrounding a case.

Father Val Peter, executive director emeritus of Father Flannigan’s Boys Town, told me about a friend of his, an attorney who successfully defends kids, who always tries a case in the media before the case goes to trial. Given the way that justice really works, he says this is the best way to go.

From a public relations perspective, withholding information from the media has not been a successful strategy. Too many people believe (erroneously) that Jordan confessed to the crime (he didn’t). In fact, Jordan has consistently asserted his innocence.

Without physical evidence, and relying on a statement that was likely coerced from Jordan’s stunned and confused seven-year-old stepsister, the prosecutor wove a speculative fantasy about Jordan which the media lapped up and sensationalized.

But why shouldn’t they have? There was never any push-back from Jordan’s side.

There was never any disclosure that the police had botched the crime scene, failing even to dust for fingerprints. There has not been disclosure that all the evidence sent by police to the state crime lab is failing to connect Jordan to the murders.

The public does not know that the police failed to follow up on numerous leads pointing to the victim’s former boyfriend as the real murderer. He made death threats against the victim in the months leading up to the crime. The police have never been asked to explain why a documented paternity and child support conflict between the victim and the former boyfriend, plus protection orders on file, should not be reason enough for them to at least investigate the possibility that a violent adult with a motive to kill might be a more likely suspect than a happy, well-adjusted child without a motive.

The only picture of Jordan that’s out there now—taken at two in the morning after the poor kid, exhausted and grieving, had been dragged out of his bed and taken into custody—is a mug shot that makes Jordan look like an Addams Family kid. Jordan is a cute boy with a warm smile and soft bright eyes. His school pictures make the prosecutor’s claims seem ludicrous. Yet none of these pictures have been released to present a counterbalancing impression. 

This will all change when the Trust website goes live. But the question remains whether releasing our side of the story can, at this late point in time, dislodge all the lies and misinformation which have been allowed to take root in so many people’s minds.

Only time will tell.


Justice Delayed

Events in Haiti are having impacts in unexpected places.

We have been preparing for months to launch the Jordan Brown Trust Fund and “Save Jordan Brown” defense fundraising campaign—the launch had been scheduled for the end of this week with an appearance on ABC’s Good Morning America. Now it appears the launch may be delayed because our story would be crowded out by developments in the Caribbean and ignored.

Jordan Brown is a 12-year-old fifth-grader who has been wrongly accused of the February 20, 2009 double homicide of his father’s fiancée and their unborn infant son. The crime was likely committed by the victim’s former boyfriend, but incompetent police work and a (now former) prosecutor needing a sensational shot in the arm for his failing re-election campaign conjoined in a rush to judgment which has resulted in a little boy being imprisoned for something he didn’t do.

It is an outrageous situation which confirms my worst fears and dislikes about an America controlled by people like Dick Cheney. The election of our first Hawaiian president has changed nothing but the front men.

The Universe has been involving me with some of the youngest people in America to have been charged as adults for first-degree murder by law-and-order states: First, Derek and Alex King of Florida, and now Jordan Brown of Pennsylvania. What I have known from the beginning is that what’s required of me is not outrage, but creative positivism. As I told one of the trustees for Jordan’s trust fund, “When I see a pile of manure, my first impulse is to look for the pony.”

The setbacks in my life have taught me to wring every advantage from life as it is, manure and all. But not everyone is prepared and able to embrace a bad situation and think creatively about its possibilities and potential.

Our system of law is especially hard on people who are down. People who are down do not have many options and even fewer resources and reserves. The authorities know this and take advantage of it.

In a crisis involving the arrest of a child for a violent crime, the best most average families can hope to do is merely cope with the bewildering choices and decisions thrown at them by an unfamiliar, all-powerful system. The sum of these choices usually results in sub-optimal outcomes which place the child at a grave disadvantage and compromise his future welfare and redemption. Too many kids are defended by court-appointed public defenders of dubious quality or some family member’s divorce lawyer. Too many kids consequently find themselves in prisons for juveniles and young adults where the overriding message and punitive ethos is that you as an individual are human garbage and that you do not matter to anybody.

Such a vile system threatens to suck all hope from a young person’s life and will surely consume that young person’s soul if allowed to. What I learned through my experiences with Derek and Alex is that the system can be thwarted by even a small group of people who devote themselves intensively and unshakably to individual young people ensnared in the system. What the experiences with Derek and Alex taught me, especially, is the decisive impact that raising people’s sights can have on outcomes.

Now the eyes of the world are on the devastation in Haiti, and unlikely to take notice of a 12-year-old boy languishing in a Pennsylvania detention center. At least Jordan has food and water, and the concrete roof over his head has not pancaked. Jordan feels the torment of his detention no less now than before the Haitian tragedy; every day his deliverance is delayed is an additional abuse.


henry on my mind

As on every Sunday, Henry and I spoke by phone yesterday for more than an hour and a half.

You old-timers out there may think this is such old news to you, but I am observing this for the first time in my life: it is a remarkable thing to have adult conversations with a grown child for whom you have changed diapers, endured tantrums, and wondered repeatedly over the years whether this one would ever figure out how to make it in the world.

It is a day I so often feared would never come.

Mark Twain famously wrote about his relationship with his father from the son’s perspective: “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”

Henry is 21 plus almost nine years old. He will observe his 30th birthday in March, and both of us—father and son—are apparently continuing to learn and grow, because our weekly Sunday phone conversations reflect a deepening friendship as adults and equals.

For me as the parent, it is necessary to let go of years of conditioning to react to Henry in automatic ways based on how he was as a developing child. Woody Allen’s staple jokes about mothers who won’t let sons grow up remind me that I am not the only man whose mother assumed I was doomed to perpetually think like a twelve-year-old. I don’t want to be like my Mom in that respect.

Old friends who remember Henry as a toddler so bright he could have been a circus act will be pleased to know he is figuring out how to thrive as a free and moral person in an imperfect world that dismays his sense of logic. Henry is engaging with the real world with curiosity, ability, fearlessness, and extraordinary self-discipline. He has money in the bank and a near-perfect credit score. He’s self-responsible and happy (though not yet content) in his life.

He works for a financial services firm in Orlando, where he is the top performer in his department. On the job for just over a year, he has created a simplified manual for working with his company’s complex systems, and is training co-workers in how to perform his function.

He seems to be developing a keen professional interest in high-performance business systems and cultures. I am encouraging him to consider making a search for companies where he can better put these interests to work and be recognized and rewarded for his contributions.

The amazing thing is: he’s listening. I think if Holly were here, she’d be pinching herself, too.

But it’s real, true enough: As parents we didn’t do such a bad job after all. Even if everything else in our lives together had failed (which was not the case), Henry’s successful coming-of-age would be sole reason enough to judge our marriage and family life a success.

I hope you will not think this posting tastelessly self-congratulatory, but readers have consistently encouraged me to share what’s most important and on my mind—and today it’s Henry and the pride and satisfaction of being his father.


weather report

Yesterday was a cold gray day with intermittent showers.

This morning, though, I awoke to a clear, sunny sky and a soft breeze from the northwest. It is cool now (yet not too cold for shorts) but the temperature will likely hit the sixties this afternoon. Paul reports the forecast for the next week is for temperatures to return to the seventies and eighties.

I understand that Minnesota, too, is experiencing a relative heat wave. Their temps are in the thirties after weeks of below-zero days and nights.

Thanks to all of those who offered so many excellent ideas for solving the mouse problem. I appreciate your feedback.

One suggestion was that I stop feeding Sadie, and she’ll start mousing soon enough. Another was that I just forget about the dog and play Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Freebird at full volume (mice reportedly hate it). Abe wrote saying that dealing with mice is just a normal part of life at Estrella Vista, and that he commiserates. A cat would be best, he said, but traps are second-best. Two mice bit the dust last night. Peanut butter is irresistible.

This morning the first houseflies returned after our long cold spell. They’ve obviously heard the same weather reports as Paul. I took a swipe with a flyswatter at a big fat specimen on one of the windows, and the glass is so old and brittle it shattered.

It’s always something.