Archive for March, 2010

31
Mar
10

tradition

I got a call yesterday from a woman in New Castle whose son, a classmate of Jordan’s, wanted to write Jordan a letter and needed an address. We talked for a long time and in the course of our conversation, she told me about an old saying in Lawrence County that her dad told her: “If you want to get away with murder, Lawrence County is the best place to commit the crime.”

There’s a long history there of wrongful accusations, railroading, and killers remaining free, she said.

Mind you, she is the third person to have told me this, and all three are unconnected except for the fact they all live in Lawrence County. There must be something to it, don’t you think?

I am fifteen hundred miles away from Lawrence County, I’ve never been there, and I am connecting dots derived long-distance from some widely-spaced sources, but it does seem clear from what people have told me that this part of Pennsylvania has a tradition of corruption in its justice system.

Not exactly something the local Chamber of Commerce would want to crow about, yet an angle the world press could easily emphasize in its already-outraged coverage of the persecution of this child. Unless there’s a change of venue, the town of New Castle is going to be a circus in May or whenever the case finally goes to trial. I’m wondering if Lawrence County can stand so much light?

This caller told me about her circle of moms from the school who know Jordan and believe him to be innocent. They are dumbfounded by the judge’s ruling. She told me that if this is happening to Jordan, then all their kids are at risk. She said she has been second-guessing her family’s decision to return to Western Pennsylvania.

Jean-François Millet's "Good Samaritan"

“I feel like we have to do something,” she said. She told me that a circle of her friends from church are meeting regularly to say the rosary for Jordan.

I said I was so glad her son would write to Jordan. I told her people reaching out to Jordan and his dad means everything to them.

It exemplifies the best in our American tradition of helping a guy when he is down. Those are the friends who are always remembered.

If you have not done so already, please visit Jordan’s website at www.savejordanbrown.com to learn how you can assist.

Your help is now needed more than ever.

30
Mar
10

political fix is in

It took all day yesterday for the enormity of Jordan Brown’s predicament to sink in. I was at a loss to understand the judge’s decision. The defense attorneys had told me he was a straight-arrow; in their experience Judge Dominick Motto had a reputation for fairness. Yet he had gone along with the prosecution’s absurd argument that Jordan cannot be rehabilitated unless he stops maintaining his innocence and admits to the crime before it has been proved whether or not he even committed it, and that failing an admission of guilt, Jordan must therefore be declared an adult.

Does this mean that children in Pennsylvania do not have the right to plead innocence when wrongfully accused of murder? Whatever happened to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty?

And how could this judge have been persuaded by the state’s inconclusive “evidence” that Jordan could have even committed this crime? What can have been the judge’s real motivation?

“I just don’t get it,” I said to myself. We met the statutory requirements for proving Jordan’s “amenability to rehabilitation,” and were supported in our arguments by Dr. Kurt Heilbrun, possibly the leading adolescent psychologist in the country. The prosecution is remaking the rules to suit themselves, and has apparently gotten the judge to go along.

Chris called me on his way home from Erie, where he’d gone first thing after hearing the news of Judge Motto’s decision. He wanted to be the first one to tell Jordan. Chris said Jordan “cried and cried.”

“How is Jordan putting it all together?” I asked. “What does he think is going on?”

“He’s trying to understand. He asked some good questions about whether there would be a fair jury, but the whole situation is even beyond my comprehension. How can you expect a kid to understand what’s happening when we don’t even understand?” he replied. “There’s something else at play that we don’t know about.”

“I’ve been thinking about this all day, Chris, and the only thing that makes sense to me is that there’s been a political fix agreed to. Unless they’ve fabricated some kind of ‘bombshell’ evidence we don’t know about (and they’re not allowed to withhold evidence), they know and we know they’re empty-handed of proof. The state knows it’s screwed up and they’re trying to force us into accepting a plea that will be face-saving for them and will prevent us from going after the state and its officials when the truth comes out,” I said.

Sure enough, by day’s end KDKA was reporting that the prosecution had signaled that they’re willing to be flexible about the penalty they’ll go for if the defense will deal.

Jordan’s attorney Dennis Elisco was quoted as saying that he and David Acker are considering making an interlocutory appeal of the judge’s decision.

According to Wikipedia: An interlocutory appeal is an appeal of a ruling by a trial court that is made before the trial itself has concluded. Most jurisdictions generally prohibit such appeals, requiring parties to wait until the trial has concluded before they challenge any of the decisions made by the judge during that trial. However, some jurisdictions (including Pennsylvania) can make an exception for decisions which are particularly prejudicial to the rights of an accused.

This judge is obviously no longer impartial and should have his decision reviewed and overturned by a court not influenced by politics but guided by the law.

There is more riding on the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s getting this right than just young Jordan Brown’s future. People in all parts of the country and from all walks of life are sensing that something has gone horribly wrong in our country when the rights of an innocent child like Jordan can be trampled, and when that child can be designated as a sacrificial lamb and railroaded to perpetuate a broken and corrupt system.

There is a spirit of rebellion spreading in America. Tea Party activists are just the tip of the iceberg. The authorities in Pennsylvania are playing with fire and may unintentionally spawn a firestorm in the streets.

29
Mar
10

big week, quiet days

Last week things were thankfully quiet enough for me to devote days on end to my landscaping and rock work. The time slipped away from me like small change in a big city.

Yesterday I spent most of the day planting some ground cover–creeping juniper, sedums, parsley, and candytuft–in the garden between the house and the future kitchen. I also began creating a rock footbridge over one of the new spillways. I hope to finish it today if the phone remains quiet.

The judge is scheduled to rule later this week on whether Jordan Brown will be tried as a child or an adult, so at some point I know my gardening and stonework will have to wait when events demand.

In the meantime, however, I’ll remain absorbed in the peaceful task of assembling my jigsaw puzzle of stone.

(postscript)

The phone just rang, and I guess it will not be a quiet week. Lawrence County PA Judge Dominick Motto has just handed down a ruling that Jordan will be tried as an adult. This is simply unbelievable. I’m still trying to get my head around it.

 

27
Mar
10

reefer madness

Yesterday Paul had been having a bad enough day already.

Working with three different pH testing devices he finally figured out what is wrong with his new hydroponic system: the stoners from whom we’d bought our supplies on the Internet had screwed up—again. They’d sent us two bottles containing what looks like salt or sugar. One was labeled “pH Up” and the other was labeled “pH Down.” These substances are added to the water to regulate its alkalinity/acidity. Plants need to be in a pH “sweet spot” to grow.

“They’re both pH Down!” he exclaimed. “Those stoners mislabeled the bottles. I’ve lost a week-and-a-half of work and time, my solution is ruined, and all my seedlings are fried!

“I wish I were smoking what they’re smoking. Then maybe I wouldn’t care.”

That was in the morning.

In the afternoon I had just returned from a run into town to do some banking when Paul told me, “Dan, I think the puppy has gotten into some poison somewhere. Just look at her.”

The poor thing was having trouble standing on her feet. Sadie was swaying, bobbing, stumbling… it reminded me of how she had reacted a month before when we had put a tick collar on her that was apparently too much for her tiny body. She was punch-drunk then as now.

Every once in a while she issued a plaintive yelp which seemed to say, “Help me!” Sadie was scared.

I called Dr. Sam the vet, and he suggested I bring Sadie in right away. So I scooped her up and rushed her back into town. On one particularly bumpy stretch of road she went tumbling head over heels and vomited in the back of the vehicle.

“If she’s poisoned, that’s probably a good thing,” I reasoned.

Through the whole half-hour trip, Sadie’s balance seemed to worsen. She collapsed on the seat and became more subdued. Then she passed out.

I thought she might be dying, and pictured myself lifting her stiff and lifeless body out of the back seat, only to have Dr. Sam say, “Too late.” I pictured myself having to call Derek to say that the puppy he had picked out and trained had died. I imagined having to write a sad entry to share with you today.

As I neared Terlingua I placed my hand on her body to see how she was doing. She didn’t move. I was sure I’d lost her. But when I looked back at her a few seconds later, her eyes were open. No, not yet.

Maybe there was still time…

Dr. Sam was mystified. No visible stings or bites… she wasn’t licking anything. Her gums were pink, her temperature normal, heartbeat good, but her eyes were dilated.

“Set her down on the floor and let’s watch her movements,” said Dr. Sam. After a few minutes of observation he said, “It almost reminds me of Parkinson’s,” he said.

“Funny you should say that,” I said. “I was just thinking of poor Michael J. Fox.”

In case she had been stung or bitten by some venomous creature, Dr. Sam gave Sadie a shot. “This is normally the first thing I do for snakebite,” he explained.

“But I’m stumped,” he said. “Are you sure there was no rat poison or anything like that she might have gotten into?”

No.

“Well then,” he said, “the only thing to do is to just watch her and call me if there’s any change.”

Paul was surprised when Sadie walked in the door. His day had started off so badly that he was sure it would end even worse.

Sadie stumbled over to where Otto was sleeping and curled up beside him. As Sadie slept, Paul and I began running through all the possibilities again of what might be the cause.

Then I had an idea.

“Hey Paul,” I said. “You know those Alice B. Toklas brownies (name redacted) made for us? I put them into the trash and burned them. But yesterday I noticed they hadn’t burned completely.”

Paul ran out to the fire-pit to make an inspection. A couple minutes later he returned saying, “You’re right! The end of the brownie loaf is chewed off. Sadie’s been stoned!”

I called Dr. Sam to tell him the mystery had been solved, and we had a good laugh. “There’s a lot of that going around,” he said. “Just yesterday I had a dog in here with the same symptoms. He had gotten into someone’s stash.”

Only in Terlingua, ‘where even the dogs are stoned.’

The coincidences of a day can have much to teach us.

If I’ve drawn one lesson from yesterday’s experiences, it’s probably best stated in the words and voice of Francis McDormand in Almost Famous:

“Don’t take drugs!”

26
Mar
10

slopeside developments

I am building my octagon kitchen on a gentle slope to the east of our house which, several times a year, can be awash in runoff from heavy rainstorms. When our rainwater catchment tank at the crest of the slope overflows and all the rain that’s shed off our large roof is concentrated at the overflowing water tank, the runoff can become a torrent.

In the last months I have been sculpting the slope above the future kitchen into a naturalistic feature incorporating rock-faced spillways capable of diverting water around the kitchen in the heaviest downpours.

Part of the process is, and will continue to be, restoration of the slope to its previous state before foundations were dug for a pair of domes the previous owners Abe and Josie had planned to build. Earth-and-stone-rubble mounds surround the site, and I have begun to process these into stone for the kitchen foundation and walls and soil to level the floor before we pour a pad. To the greatest extent practical, I’m focused on rearranging stone and other materials closest to the building site before bringing in new resources from farther away. In the process, we will restore the landscape to its pristine state right up to the outer edges of our buildings and other structures

The kitchen will use the smaller of Abe’s two foundations, which is located closest to the house. The diameter of the interior space will be twenty four feet. The walls will consist of a solid rock knee-wall with adobe walls above it. The larger of the foundations, a forty-foot-diameter circle, will be covered over by a circular shaded deck of approximately the same color as our gray sedimentary ledge-rock. The decking material is made from recycled plastic bottles.

It seems to me if we are going to buy and ship in building materials from the outer world, they should be recycled materials whenever possible. When the time comes, I have found roofing tiles made from recycled tires. They look like classic clay tiles and are guaranteed to last for fifty years, even in our brutal desert sun.

Our development concept for Estrella Vista is to build several small-footprint adobe structures in combination with larger temporary and “soft” structures like tents, arbors, and decks, which will dramatically increase our available livable space at a fraction of the cost of enclosing the same functionality in “hard” structures with walls, doors, windows, and roofs.

Here you can spend most days of the year outdoors as long as you’re dressed for conditions and protected from the sun and wind. The thing that’s different about our climate from most other places is that it fluctuates so widely within a 24-hour day. Nights can be extremely cold and days can be extremely hot.

In a sense, we experience the conditions of two or three seasons in each 24-hour period. In springtime, for example, we might experience winter temperatures at night, summer temperatures around midday, and spring conditions in early morning and late afternoon.

Shade, windbreaks, and amenities like outdoor fireplaces can make outdoor living spaces comfortable for longer periods within each day.

By summer and the expected arrival of guests, we will have built deck platforms just inches off the desert floor upon which our German Kohte tents can be pitched. The decks will “harden” our tent campsites without damaging the sites’ natural features. With the construction of these decks, we will then begin experimenting with various groundsheet, padding, and bedding systems to optimize creature comforts in these tents with a minimal use of heavy and costly materials.

Paul is also committed to building us an enclosed shower and toilet by summer. We will design it so it can be added onto and absorbed into a larger and more luxurious bath house which will eventually be one of two bath houses, one for men and the other for women, each of which will be able to accommodate three people at any given time in privacy and comfort.

I am doing most of the work on the kitchen myself; Paul is so motivated to have a working toilet and shower here, he will spearhead the work on the bath house.

“We’ll never be able to have any women staying here without one,” he says.

25
Mar
10

dem eyes

I was watching the ABC story on the Internet for the first time on the day the story broke. This was the first time in over a year that Chris is speaking out publicly about Jordan’s innocence, and I was eager to see how he’d done.

The story had just been set up with a few establishing sequences of Kenzie, Jordan, the house, and the prosecutor, when from behind my shoulder Paul bursts, “Stop! Stop it and go back! Look at his eyes! He looked down-and-to-the-left. That prosecutor just lied!”

“Yeah, thanks man, but this is the first time I’m seeing this. Can we see it again at the end?”

“Sure.”

At the end of the story—and I thought Chris did great—we replayed it again.

(Now former) Lawrence County Prosecutor John Bongivengo says, “You wouldn’t even think in your worse nightmare that you’d have to charge an eleven-year-old with homicide,” he turns his head from the camera, looks down and to the left, and moves backwards. Big deal.

“It is a big deal,” Paul protests. “Interrogators who watch the eyes can know when a witness is lying by the eye movements and body language,” he said. “That guy’s moves said that he just lied.”

Well, I haven’t read the same books as Paul and can’t say for sure from a several-second clip whether Bongivengo lied and the idea of prosecuting this case with no credible evidence and destroying innocent people’s lives did, in fact, come to him in a nightmare.

However his plan came to him, it is now beginning to emerge that Bongivengo may have had a larger part to play in the breach between the Houk and Brown families than may generally be appreciated.

Last week one of the local newspapers quoted someone in the Houk family as saying that Chris had never once reached out to them in the year since Kenzie’s murder. This is simply not true. More than a dozen times Chris had reached out through approved channels defined by the prosecution and the defense attorneys (which in this case was Bongivengo himself). Chris pleaded to be allowed to see the girls and their family, and Bongivengo always denied his requests.

More significantly, Bongivengo never informed the Houk family of Chris’ intentions and efforts, much less their relentless frequency. I confirmed yesterday with a close Houk family friend that they had no knowledge of this until my phone call. Apparently it better served the prosecutor’s purposes to keep a highly visible and destructive conflagration going between two families.

“Yeah, that’s the ticket,” you can almost imagine him saying. “Hatfields and McCoys. That’ll raise the temperature.” (Remember, he was trying to get re-elected.)

This is consistent, as well, with what now appears to have been Bongivengo’s prosecution strategy: to win over a jury with emotionally prejudicial stunts and tricks.

All his evidence says the kid didn’t do it; the only way to win this one is to keep stirring the coals and inflaming people’s passions. Nice job, John. Proud of yourself?

Chris read this quote about his “not reaching out” and asked a victim’s rights advocate if the Houks knew how steadfastly he’d tried to be with them. “No way, Chris,” he was told. “They don’t know.”

Chris called me yesterday and told me he’d been thinking about everything again, and trying to imagine what it would have been like for the Houks, over all this time, to think that he didn’t care enough about them to have reached out. All this time, he told me, Chris thought the Houks knew he was trying to contact them, and that he was being rebuffed.

He said he wanted to do something conciliatory.

Debbie Houk had objected to our use of Kenzie’s and the girls’ images on Jordan’s website and had even found a lawyer to send us a threatening letter. I had always maintained that because Jordan and Chris are blameless in Kenzie’s murder, it is therefore consistent that we acknowledge the family relationship which had been enjoyed by the five members of Kenzie’s and Chris’ household. Their family was a sacred thing that was destroyed by an as-yet-uncharged killer.

Anyway, I argued, those pictures are splashed all over the Internet. It’s fine to use Kenzie’s image to seek vengeance against a child whom Kenzie knows is innocent, and not okay to use her image as she would wish us to do? I’m sorry, it doesn’t compute.

Chris agreed with me—until now.

“Deb really has a big heart,” Chris said. If the pictures were adding to her heartbreak, he wanted them taken down.

Because I’d already had replacement pages prepared for this possibility, the change was made within an hour.

I’m happy that we are making this conciliatory move, but disappointed that visitors no longer have an opportunity to look into Kenzie’s eyes. Visitors are now prevented from making a connection with her.

If you think I am making too much of this, you may understand my perspective a little better when I tell you that for more than a decade after my wife Holly’s death I distributed thousands of new children’s books each year to schools and libraries free of charge. Oh yes, I did it for kids and reading and apple pie; but the real reason, the reason I sacrificed to do this, was to proliferate Holly’s picture, her identity, into the world and thus help ensure her immortality. A bookplate with her name, picture, and dates of birth and death was affixed to every book. Each bookplate has this marvelous portrait of Holly with her striking eyes providing a window to her soul. That’s why I did it. So she will be known and remembered.

I hope that people do not misconstrue the removal of Kenzie’s image from Jordan’s website as an attempt to sweep Kenzie’s memory or her love for Chris and her whole family (including Jordan) under the rug. I hope a day of reconciliation will come when we will put Kenzie’s picture back up on the website.

When that day does arrive, this is the picture I would put up (I found it on a Spanish-language website). I think the blue background in the picture everyone uses is kind of a downer. It doesn’t summon up the best in us. It keeps us down.

This one, I think, is more uplifting. She looks lovely, doesn’t she?

There’s hope ‘in dem eyes.’

24
Mar
10

swamped lifeboats

What if Paul is right and everything flies apart?

Thirteen attorneys general from across the country filed a lawsuit yesterday in federal court claiming the health care bill the President signed is unconstitutional. Their suit claims that the feds mandating citizens to buy health insurance they can’t afford violates citizens’ constitutional rights and state sovereignty. States represented in the lawsuit are: Alabama, Colorado, Idaho, Louisiana, Florida, Michigan, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Washington.

(You’ll be hearing a lot more about “sovereignty” in the future, even as applied to individuals.)

This lawsuit is developing against a background in which the legislatures in thirty-eight states have either passed (like Idaho) or are considering passing legislation nullifying federally-mandated health coverage for their citizens.

Eighty percent of the states are flat broke already, and are like survivors in a swamped lifeboat being pulled under by swimmers at the gunwales. To the states, the federal government is just more dead weight that can only sink them.

Cracks are beginning to show in our system of money and banking, too. It’s not just Ron Paul calling for the end of the Federal Reserve banking system. At least ten states (including California, Florida, Michigan and Illinois) are considering establishing state-owned banks like that which exists in North Dakota.

The Federal Reserve Bank is a private institution owned by six (formerly seven) of the most powerful banking families in the world. With the passage of the Federal Reserve Act in 1913, this private bank and the federal government entered into a profitable relationship in which the bank would loan the politicians as much money as they wanted, but the politicians had to secure the debt by “direct taxation” on the people. The income tax was born.

The bank would affect a monumental scam of converting of real wealth into worthless paper while transferring the real wealth to the bank’s owners. The bank would perform a traditional function of holding gold and silver for its customers, in this case, the federal government. At first, “gold” and “silver” certificates were issued into circulation and then, at a much later time, they were replaced with worthless Federal Reserve Notes. These are be printed by the federal government, “bought” by the Federal Reserve Bank, and issued into circulation by the central bank as the nation’s currency. For every dollar issued in this way, the government’s indebtedness to the bankers increases. A dollar has thus come to represent the indebtedness of America and its servitude to the bankers, not its wealth.

As a result of the politicians’ establishment of a tax on everyone’s income, an amount almost equal to all personal income tax collected goes to pay interest to the bankers. The real services provided by government are paid for by taxes, fees, and other payments received from corporate entities. This is why the Congress passed, and the President signed, a health care bill that was basically crafted by the Insurance Industry.

Now nobody is buying US Treasury Bonds except the Federal Reserve. Foreign investors have figured out they will lose forty-five cents on every dollar they invest. It’s a sucker’s game and they no longer want any part of it.

Anyway, it is possible that the states are beginning to see that our colossal national debt and worthless currency are parts of an unsustainable fraud, and are looking for ways to survive changes which may include the eventual breakup of the nation into regional governance units and economies.

It is possible that local currencies might be established by state banks and local commercial regions. Any coin collector can tell you there is a long tradition in America of currency other than that issued by a central bank. My grandfather used to collect Civil War-era trade tokens.

If necessary, we could resort to barter here. It’s something my grandfather would have done. He was nimble, resourceful, and resilient. He kept his family comfortable, well-fed, and safe all through the Great Depression.