Archive for April, 2010

30
Apr
10

time to act

Amnesty International has taken up Jordan’s cause, and on Wednesday launched a letter-writing campaign directed to Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett.

The position Amnesty International is urging letter-writers to express is that international law prohibits life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for anyone who was under 18 years old at the time of the crime; that the crime for which Jordan is accused carries a mandatory penalty of life without parole if he were prosecuted and convicted as an adult; appeal for the State to meet its international obligation to ensure that Jordan Brown not be sentenced to life imprisonment without parole; and to therefore drop its pursuit of a trial in adult court.

I ask you to please consider acting now by writing a letter along the lines Amnesty International recommends.

Here is a link to their campaign announcement, which includes suggestions for writing a letter, as well as background information on international laws and conventions concerned with the prosecution of young people:

http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/AMR51/032/2010/en/2e44b7a1-8c92-4f85-8e93-aa170b4af166/amr510322010en.pdf

My own letter will stay close to their suggestions. Though were I a Pennsylvania voter, I think I could not resist saying something about remembering his office’s actions in this case when voting for governor.

And writing here, I cannot resist reminding Mr. Corbett of what a disaster it was to John Bongivengo’s re-election when he beat up on a little boy to show how “tough on crime” he was and how it backfired. You and I both know your case is based on nothing but the speculation of lazy and intellectually dishonest cops who have failed to produce any convincing evidence to prove their impossible claims. Until now, you appear to have been making the same fatal mistakes Bongivengo did.

Mr. Corbett, now is the time for you to act and demonstrate moral leadership worthy for others to follow. Show some character and good sense and put this case right. End this cruel and absurd political theatre and tell the truth so the community can stop fighting and heal. Give back this child’s life. Do not give the rest of the world another reason to scorn us. Demonstrate wisdom and personal integrity. Admit police errors, exonerate Jordan, and reopen the investigation.

Be a statesman.

(postscript)

For a ready-made letter you can use, please see Gloria’s response to yesterday’s Diary entry, “Powerless.”  There’s some ironic humor there, don’t you agree?

29
Apr
10

powerless

Arrgh! Nothing is ever simple or easy out here.

Last night I turned on the key to raise the power windows in the car and inadvertently left it on all night. This morning the car battery was dead, so we attached jumper cables to our main battery bank but, at seven in the morning and after a windless night, it did not have sufficient charge to turn over the engine. (My fault again; last night I watched films on the Internet long after sundown and drained the bank too low.)

“Let’s just wait until the sun is higher and the solar panel charges the batteries,” Paul said. After two hours of waiting and three unsuccessful tries, the engine finally turned over and is now recharging the car battery and giving our battery bank an additional boost.

Hurray!

This morning’s snafu has been only a minor inconvenience, yet it reminds me once again what a thin margin of error we enjoy out here. If we had had an emergency this morning and needed the car to deal with it, we would have been dead in the water because of my momentary lapse of attention last night.

Yet the experience illustrates for me that, as long as the wind is blowing or the sun is shining, and as long as we are patient, we cannot be powerless for long. It is a satisfying thing to know that we are self-reliant in terms of electrical power, if only just-barely.

In time, with additions to our power system, we will keep widening the margin.

28
Apr
10

statesmen

I talked yesterday with Dianne, a friend in Chicago and an elected public official who is embroiled in a very public conflict with her colleagues about the not-so-trivial issuance since 1998 of more than $24 million in bonds improperly issued without taxpayer approval.

Even after an Illinois Appellate Court ruled last year that such a practice is improper, the Hinsdale Township High School District 86 board recently reached into a rainy-day fund for $4 million to install artificial turf at its two high school football fields.

This is not just a matter of paying out of one pocket or the other. Borrowing through the issuing of bonds out of one pocket for working capital does not require voter approval; borrowing for capital improvements—the other pocket—does. The Legislature set it up that way. It’s the law.

Because the court held that another district inappropriately used working cash bonds on a building project, the Hinsdale board didn’t transfer the money directly, but organized a 2-step dodge. This technical loophole was approved by the district’s law firm, of course: that the board could park the cash in the district’s main education fund before moving the money into its building funds. This sleight-of-hand was accomplished over my friend’s vocal objections.

“Money-laundering,” she publicly proclaimed, and ever since she has been on the receiving end of an escalating barrage of insults, threats, and ridicule. “Every meeting is worse,” she said.

Now I cannot comment on the politics of the situation because I don’t know all the people and enough of the background facts, and I was not a witness to how events have unfolded.

Like any member of the reading public, though, I’ve read story upon fact upon history about the culture of corruption and secret backroom deals which has always characterized Chicagoland politics. I can imagine it’s a punishing place to be an ethical reformer.

I can understand my friend’s distress that her board is, measured in dollars, the leader among a growing number of school districts circumventing Illinois law. She does not agree with the dishonesty and secretiveness of doing public business this way, and I agree with her principled stand.

I admire Dianne’s grit and rectitude, but I fear she is swimming upstream and may not overcome the current alone. The momentum in public life is working against high-minded reform right now. The ethic of governance in the immediate future will be all about survival, expediency, and (unfortunately) plunder.

As all sorts of jurisdictions come under increasing pressure to prop up their strained and even bankrupt finances, these will be hard times for honest public officials who resist gaming of the system for personal gain. In some places you would have everybody against you.

“There are no longer any statesmen in government,” lamented Bob, my friend and mentor, in a phone conversation a couple days ago. “I’m just glad I’m at the end of my life and won’t live to see how much worse it gets.”

I felt sad for him when he said that. As a young man in World War II he had served on an admiral’s staff. He’d built a successful corporate career living a moral code of honor he’s taught his children. He has been a conscientious and loving husband and father. He is an idealist, a lifelong environmentalist, a philanthropist, and churchgoing pillar of his community. He was, is, and always will be a gentleman of the old school.

“They drive the honest people away,” I answered.

“I can’t believe our country has come to this,” he said. I could hear a sense of hurt and betrayal in his voice. He sighed with the air of practical resignation of a man who, at ninety-two, has accepted that time has run out for him to do anything more about it.

“I can’t believe our country has come to this,” said Carolyn, a Pennsylvania grandmother who called just now. “I have a grandson who’s eleven. I know how the police and courts are out here,” she said, “and it’s a disgrace what they’re doing to this little boy. But I’m not surprised. The politics and police are so dirty here. It’s all about who you know. If Jordan were a rich man’s son, this wouldn’t be happening to him.”

I can’t believe our country has come to this, either, and yet one must believe it because you can see the rot everywhere.

The country has come to this, and it is no longer tolerable. Here and there, from top to bottom, the system is not working for any but the privileged (and too-often-larcenous) few.

Ethical and sane people and the statesmen among us must now ask: “What am I going to do about it?”

27
Apr
10

paco

If you have ever had a friend so close that you find yourself completing one another’s sentences and reading one another’s minds, then you know the kind of friend Paco is to me.

We met when he was fifteen, and today it is his 37th birthday. To put the duration of our friendship in a personal perspective, this year we will have been “family” for as long as Holly and I were married—twenty-two years. After Henry, Paco was the first of the kids in my adoptive clan. As such, he has been the gold standard against which—rightly or wrongly, consciously or otherwise—all others have been compared.

We met at a hobby shop where he worked and which Henry and I visited every Saturday to browse model trains. A few weeks later Paco asked if he could visit us on Christmas day: “I have a present I’d like to give Henry,” he said. We sat talking in my library that Christmas afternoon for a couple hours and I was astonished by his intelligence, creativity, aspirations, and drive. I was all the more impressed when Paco explained he had grown up fatherless in a single-parent home with few advantages and many hardships. After that, he began coming for more visits, for long hikes and cross-country skiing treks, and through the course of many discussions I grew to admire him and to believe in his dreams.

When Holly died and I was drawn into my long cycle of grief, Paco was the only person who dared remain close enough to me through the whole ordeal to have witnessed the suicidal depths of my despair. It is a wonder I am still alive today and that we are still so close, and I am thankful to Paco on both counts. Yes, it is literally true: I owe him my life and I am fortunate that he continues enriching it.

Happy birthday, Paco.

26
Apr
10

time out

I shouldn’t have sent that reply yesterday morning to the Angry Man.

I’ve received two more e-mails from this troubled individual, full of abusive language, and written again in all caps and with insults and exclamation marks where anyone with any measure of self control would have used periods and silence. His third e-mail was longer and angrier and more insistent than the second, and his second e-mail was lengthier and more obstinate than the first.

If I were trying to talk with this guy in person, I would probably be tempted to take a swing at him—and I haven’t been in a fistfight since I was a teenager.

This tells me it’s time for a “time out.”

No more responses. Talking to this guy only makes his behavior more extreme and is a waste of time and energy.

All I can think is that his offensiveness is all he knows because it is how he was treated by the key people in his own life. He must have been an unhappy child. All I can think of when reading his words is that here is a tortured person who is truly living a hell on earth, a dismal existence of his own choosing. He cannot imagine otherwise, and there is nothing I could do to help him even if I wanted to.

I learned a long time ago that it is unwise to invest in others based on the severity of their need; it only makes sense to invest based on positive potential. There’s no upside with this guy, no positive return. He’s a black hole.

We will not heed the voice of the stranger
For he would lead us all to despair

There is more building to be done today, more progress to be made. I’m turning off the computer and going outdoors.

25
Apr
10

green pastures

One of the things which is a constant source of kidding around here is my love of Bluegrass Gospel music. “You call yourself a pagan, yet you listen to Christian music all day,” Paul chides.

I can’t help it. The music puts me into a peaceful state of balance, a “zone.” It reminds me of Holly’s and my college years together in Appalachia. It embodies for me and reminds me of the basic decency of common people. And anyway, I don’t listen to the words of songs—any songs—though a few lyrics do occasionally catch hold in my consciousness.

I’ve recently learned that “hillbilly” is an insult commonly used in Western Pennsylvania to describe the kind of vulgar and ignorant people who are coming out of the woodwork to rail about Jordan and calling for vengeance disguised as justice. I think it is so funny that I have such a fondness for music that some people deride as “hillbilly.” It is performing as a kind of defensive shield.

This morning I awoke with the song “Green Pastures”—and a couple lines of lyrics in particular—running through my head:

We will not heed the voice of the stranger
For he would lead us all to despair

Green Pastures

(Listen to Emmy Lou Harris singing “Green Pastures”) 

This is a good thing because when I turned on my computer, an e-mail message left on the Jordan Brown Trust website was waiting for me, written in all capital letters and with exclamation marks at the end of each sentence, with a memo line which read: “YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED! THE KID IS GULTY AS SIN! HANG HIM!”

The thing which initially caught my attention was that this e-mail was not from an anonymous source; the man had actually posted it under his full name. “So this man is not a coward like the others,” I thought.

Instead of trashing the message unread, I opened it. In it, the man revealed himself as an unforgiving victim of injustice who wants a child to suffer as he himself suffers:

I AM GLAD HE IS BEING TRIED AS A ADULT! AT LEAST JUSTICE WILL BE SERVED FOR THE VICTIM AND HER GRIEVING FAMILY! I WAS ONCE A VICTIM OF SIMPLE ASSAULT, AFTER 1 YEAR BATTLING OUT IN THE COMMON PLEAS COURTS OF ALLEGHENY COUNTY, 4 WASTEFULL COURT HEARING AS MYSELF AS A VICTIM OF A CRIME, MY ATTACKER GOT A SLAP ON THE WRIST, 2 YEARS PROBATION AND WAS ORDERED TO PAY RESTITUTION FOR MY MEDICAL BILLS OF $5,000 DUE BY SIMPLE ASSAULT DONE ONTO ME! TO THIS DAY, MY ATTACKER HAS HIS FREEDOM AND PAID LITTLE OF THE RESTITUTION (MY MEDICAL BILLS) OF $5,000! POINT OF THE MATTER IS, JUSTICE WAS NOT SERVED, AS MYSELF AS THE VICTIM OF A BRUTAL CRIME! THE JUDGE WAS A SOFTIE TO MY ATTACKER! THEREFORE, JORDAN BROWN WILL BE PUNISHED FOR HIS SICK CRIME AND BE PUT IN JAIL 4 LIFE NO PAROLLE!

That this tormented soul’s logic is flawed is self-evident. It is curious that he believes the same dysfunctional system that failed to deliver justice in his case is not malfunctioning in Jordan’s case. He, of course, does not have knowledge of the same facts as we do about Jordan’s case and, in spite of his own personal experience with the system, believes its accusations alone justify his injuries, financial loss, and mental anguish being magnified and paid forward to a little boy he doesn’t even know.

The song “Angel Band” had just begun to play:

My strongest trials now are past, my triumph has begun

Angel Band

 (Listen to the Stanley Brothers singing “Angel Band”) 

I broke with my normal practice and answered the guy: “I feel sorry that you are so filled with hate and rage. If this is how you talk to strangers, then it does not surprise me you were once assaulted and it would not surprise me if you get yourself assaulted again. You are not calling for justice, but for revenge—and not for what was done to Kenzie, but to you. I hope you can find peace when you learn that Jordan did not commit these murders.”

I’m looking out the window now and it is a beautiful sunny day. My peaceful garden awaits me. The song “Keep Me from Blowing Away” is beginning to play:

So send down some sunshine

And throw out your lifeline

And keep me from blowing away

Keep Me from Blowing Away

 (Listen to The Grascals singing “Keep Me from Blowing Away”)

24
Apr
10

decency

The rude tone of some of the comments received here in the last few days has gotten me thinking.

I have found myself taking other people’s poison with me into the garden, and as I have worked away the emotion, I have wondered if I am somehow inadvertently working their hatred into the soil?

Such polluting negativity will not be tolerated here.

Right now I am sitting on several comments I have not approved because I find them so caustic and hateful. I am committed to dealing with all comments with integrity and respect, but right now I do not wish to do anything more than just skim them—let alone take the time to respond thoughtfully—when they are couched in uncivil and purposely insulting language.

Visitors must understand that when they interact with me and others here, it is like you’re in my living room. Speak your mind, but please mind your tongue. You don’t have to agree with me, but you must be courteous. Don’t shit on the carpet and expect not to be thrown out.

I live where and how I do because I reject the outer world and its everyday cruelties. I reject a culture in which so many indecent people, behaviors, and things are considered normal.

We are making another way of life here, one in which love and decency are the norm. So far we are making good progress.

This is a happy place and I’m keeping it that way.