Archive for October, 2011


a few words

It is a little after two in the morning and I have just gotten a whopping three hours of horizontal sleep before my congestion interfered with breathing. Compared with the last three days and nights spent sitting upright in a sleeping bag in a wingback chair (and catching sleep in short naps as I can), this is progress. But I don’t think it rises to the level of feeling “a lot better” as at least one reader concluded from yesterday’s post.

Maybe I shouldn’t have used such snappy music. Maybe the photo was a little too uplifting on a subliminal level.* Sometimes I do tend to exaggerate. Until he had occasion to be thankful for it, my father-in-law used to think my optimism was a fault.

Nevertheless, I did feel better enough last night to make it down to the Grub Shack for supper, but not better enough to have made a whole night of it as I usually do. I arrived late and left early, motivated mostly by the thought that if I hadn’t made it down to the Shack for the Sunday night meal, Jerry and Eva would have brought food up here to Estrella Vista and would most likely not have allowed me to pay them for it.

People have been so wonderful and caring these last few days. Seems like every time I nodded off to sleep yesterday the phone rang as one dear friend or another was checking in to see how I was doing. It is almost bracing to realize that I apparently have such uncanny powers to conjure up my friends’ voices by just closing my eyes.

The one call that made me feel best of all was from Whitebear, who informed me that what I am dealing with is probably not allergy to cats, but an upper respiratory viral thing that is making the rounds. Not that I have anything against the National Park Service and its dedicated employees, but the thing that made my spirits soar was hearing that half the park staff are down with this thing. Not only does misery love company, but I can put out of my mind once and for all Abram’s suggestion that I shoot the cats.

Well, friends, it’s now 4:45 in the morning and I am about to resume my old position in the chair and maybe even get some more sleep before someone tries to pull me back into the land of the living.

It will probably be another unproductive day. I’ll probably watch a movie or two, or stream some Public TV programs I’ve missed… or close my eyes and make the phone ring. At least I got these few words written. That’s something.


Groove of the Day 

Watch David Byrne and The Talking Heads performing “Love for Sale”


* So as to not keep foreign readers out of the joke, the guy in yesterday’s photo is a character called “Smilin’ Bob” who is well-known here in the US for his appearances in television ads for boner pills… American culture is so edifying, isn’t it?


better now


Groove of the Day 

Listen to Collective Soul performing “Better Now”



Still sick & all creativity & initiative are flatlined.


Groove of the Day 

Listen to Bob Dylan performing “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”



Sick today & sidelined & in a strange mood.


Groove of the Day 

Listen to The Stone Roses performing “I Wanna Be Adored”



Yesterday I received a message from Palani about how pleased he is that I featured his song “The Turtle” (performed with Nevergreen) in my August 14th post about Blade Reed, “Worse Than I Knew.” He said “mahalo (thank you) for making my song part of this compelling story of strength in the face of injustice.”

He was happy that his music was being used help win the deliverance of a kid who is being repeatedly raped, beaten, and otherwise cruelly treated in Indiana’s adult prison system.

Yet, under a new bill (HR 3261) introduced in Congress by Texas Republican Representative Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, the Diary could conceivably be shut down and denied access to the Internet for such practices. This bill has been criticized by some technology groups, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, privacy and civil liberty advocates, and others who argue it would undermine the integrity of the Internet’s domain-name system and also hamper innovation and free-speech rights.

I use images and music under the “fair use” doctrine of US copyright law (Title 17 USC, sections 107-118); however, the distinction between fair use and infringement is ambiguous and open to interpretation. Even though I do not sell content and even though the purpose of the Diary is educational, non-commercial, and nonprofit, some cigar-chomping rights merchant might not see it that way and move to have this site designated “rogue” under the provisions of HR 3261. In such an event, the government could potentially move to have this site blacklisted and oblige Internet-service providers, search engines, payment processors and online ad networks to block access or stop doing business with this site if what we are doing here were interpreted as engaging in “piracy.” There is a steady, relentless movement in America to shut down free speech and individual initiative.

If you think I am being unduly paranoid, I must tell you that PayPal is hassling me for some purely technical reasons and has within the last few days placed a limitation on the wandervogel account which prevents me from disbursing funds through that account for our donors’ intended purposes.

Even though I have never represented this work as being that of a nonprofit organization nor made any claim of tax-exempt status, PayPal policies regarding the receipt of donations are very restrictive. “As an individual you can receive gifts if you have cancer, but if you are disbursing donations to other cancer patients we don’t allow it unless you are a tax-exempt organization,” a PayPal compliance representative told me.

In August we completed an agreement with the Juvenile Law Society, a Denver-based tax-exempt organization that will function as the “parent organization” for the purpose of receiving donations for The Redemption Project, which will provide an umbrella for all our youth service projects. But we are still a month away from having a fully functional fundraising website that will be linked to the Diary.

The account review by PayPal was not initiated because of any donor complaint or accusation of malfeasance. Ironically it was caused because over a year ago I allowed a PayPal rep to incorrectly link together two accounts which created a technical inconsistency that flagged the account for review. Unfortunately, the account restriction must stand for the next weeks while I untangle the spaghetti. PayPal’s policies are more important than the inconvenience this restriction will cause in our work—more important, even, than the suffering of children.

There are work-arounds available to us. I’ve begun contacting donors who have given money for James Prindle in recent days to ask them if they will please contribute by other means if I refund their gifts from the frozen account. It bothers me to put these kind people through extra trouble for no good reason at all, but they’re being good-natured (and even defiant) about it. (The first person to reply doubled his donation!)

They recognize that PayPal is preventing its customers from exercising their own good judgment. PayPal is saying “We know better,” when in reality they’re only a tail that wants to wag the dog. But we are bulldogs.

I shared a copy of my correspondence with PayPal with one of our regular donors—an auditor and former tax revenue agent—so that he might tell me if there is anything we’re doing that might be interpreted as shady or illegitimate. His answer: “Where are these bozos coming from?”

What is all of this really about? In my opinion, whether we are looking at Congress’s efforts to control the Internet or PayPal’s desire to collar its customers, these developments reflect a long-term trend in our society to replace self-responsibility and freedom with mindless regulations and stifling restrictions.

Were we to submit to this vile trend, we would experience an intolerable shutdown of liberty, justice, and most other things that make life worth living. I for one remain defiant.


Groove of the Day 

Listen to Leslie Gore performing “You Don’t Own Me”


undercover man

I’ve been tied up all day pursuing information about breaking developments in Jordan Brown’s case. For now I can only tell you that I’ll have an interesting story to share with you in the next couple days. If everything goes our way, we’ll be “busting a move”—a big one. I’ll undoubtedly be asking for your help at that time.

Sometimes readers complain when I don’t publish a post and just put up a piece of music (as is the case today); please be patient with me and stand by.


Groove of the Day 

Listen to The Edgar Winter Group performing “Undercover Man”



I promise you I will never become involved again in a case where legal counsel refuses to carry out sound media relations practices.

Today’s announcement that David Acker will be replaced on Jordan Brown’s defense team by Stephen Colafella was handled with public relations ineptitude similar to that which has characterized this case from day one. All the attorneys have done with their “no comment” approach about the reasons behind this change is to create the erroneous impression that something negative is amiss with Jordan’s defense. It isn’t.

I have known about this impending change for more than a month and provided advice about how they should make the announcement—advice which of course was not followed. What would have been so bad to state the obvious: that Jordan’s defense team has been working pro bono—without any pay—but that there are practical limits to such an arrangement, especially in a case which has dragged on as long as this one has? What would have been so bad about stating that Acker has received limited compensation from the money we have raised through the Jordan Brown Trust, while Dennis Elisco has not? What would have been so bad about admitting that Acker must move on to better-paying clients, and that this is a good breaking point now that Jordan’s hard-won right to be tried as a juvenile has been upheld?

Instead of declaring a partial victory and sending off David Acker with thanks and congratulations, the defense team has implanted the unwarranted suspicion that cracks are appearing in Jordan’s case. It drives me nuts.

The irony of this situation is that a different approach to media relations would have yielded many more contributions than we have raised for Jordan—contributions which could have paid more legal fees and expenses. The legal team has consistently resisted working with the media and drawing more supporters (and contributors) to Jordan’s website. If you can believe it, they even turned down an appearance on Larry King Live that I had arranged. Their consistent efforts to keep the media at arm’s length has not only increased the level of difficulty in turning the tide of public opinion about Jordan’s innocence, but denied Jordan the resources he needs to pay for investigations, expert witnesses, etc. to prove his innocence.

If you treat the media like they are the enemy, they will inevitably fulfill your expectations and will turn the whole process of defending a kid into frustrating game of whack-a-mole in which the prosecution controls the momentum and the defense is always in a reactive mode. If, on the other hand, you treat the media like they are your friend and provide reporters with the information and access they need to create great stories, they will make the defense much easier and a more proactive affair.

This philosophy is now core to the way we are working in defense of kids. As we raise money and hire defense counsel, lawyers’ agreement with this approach is a critical requirement in the selection and hiring process (whether we are engaging attorneys on a for-pay or pro bono basis).

This approach is already yielding superior results. James Prindle’s situation is a good case in point. One of the most potentially damaging aspects of his case is that his parents have abandoned James to the wolves. This creates the impression that his parents think he is guilty. In the absence of any incriminating evidence whatsoever, their abandonment is the sole thing the prosecution has available to use to frame James for the rape and convince a credulous jury that he should be punished for it.

Yet, thanks to our publicity, his mother reached out to us through the Diary and stated, “I have always had my doubts.” (Unfortunately, she has still not mustered the moral courage to defy her abusive, drug-dealing husband and stand by her son.)

Thanks to our publicity, one of James’ cousins on his father’s side of the family has begun writing to him and has told us, “The James I knew loved family above all else. He is not capable of committing such a crime. He would not do that to his sister, or anyone else. He does not have the mindset to do that.” 

Thanks to our publicity, James’ paternal grandparents have begun visiting him. James has said his grandparents believe he is innocent.  They told him, “We know you’re not lying about this. We see your sincerity and know in our hearts that you didn’t rape your sister.” 

Because of publicity, a boy who had been abandoned by his entire family is now learning that he is not as alone as he once believed. Because of publicity, we are raising the money we need to bring a skilled and experienced attorney to his defense. Because of this new dynamic, his attorney is providing the information we need to build a greater base of support for an innocent child who would otherwise have been offered up as an expedient sacrifice.

(Oh yes… those banker boxes full of the state’s “evidence” against James? His lawyer has gone through everything, and he tells us there is not a single shred of evidence supporting the state’s case. James Prindle is absolutely innocent as we have been saying all along.)

Now we need to get the media in Memphis asking the questions that were not asked in Pennsylvania: how can an honest system justify the wrongful prosecution—the callous persecution—of a child who should be protected in a civilized society?

We have still not met our monthly goal for James’ legal defense—we are still $1,200 short. Will you please consider making a gift at this time through PayPal and direct it to info-at-wandervogel-dot-com?

With your help we will succeed in pursuing a better way to achieving justice for James and other kids who are being failed by those who should be protecting them.


Groove of the Day 

Listen to Depeche Mode performing “Never Let Me Down Again”



I learned today that The New Castle News got the story wrong in their report about David Acker being replaced by Stephen Colafella. The changes in Jordan’s legal team were actually much more orderly and less abrupt than The New Castle News led readers to believe.

Colafella was brought on board because of his extensive experience defending juvenile cases. He entered his court appearance on Friday, and it was not until after the weekend that Acker announced his resignation. As I suggested above, Acker’s commitment was to remain with the team through decertification.

It is unfortunate that The New Castle News mischaracterized the transition by incorrectly reporting the sequence of events.


alex speaks out

Alex King is the first person to take me up on my offer to provide a soapbox for a guest editorial. I have made several such offers and suggestions to others, but Alex is the first to have said yes. This seems so appropriate to me; it is almost as if it is ordained by fate… like a full circle has been drawn. Alex is the reason I first came into this work—or at least half of it. It was this photograph which first began working on my conscience. He (or at least what is happening to him now) is why I still stick with it. I take leadership from him and his brother. Derek and Alex provide my most trustworthy windows on the realities with which we deal. It is a privilege to share my window with you.

I thank Alex sincerely for sharing his insights.


I do not seek retribution; I seek reform. I do not want to attack Florida for what it has done to me, or even what it is doing to me now. Rather, I want to attack the state so that others do not suffer as I have suffered. A tyrannical power, once identified, must be broken. In the end, more harm comes from the hand of the cruel tyrant than from the process of reform. Unlike times past, this despotism does not rest with a single individual. The problem does not even rest with one group or another. I am fully confident that those in power have nothing but the kindest intentions. This time, they are not to blame. The oppressive ruler, the target of my outrage and indignation, is the system.

Evidence shows that it goes against human nature and society to defy an established order. In the past, change has been grueling and bloody. Without defiance, however, a judge becomes a king. An established order will become a ruling power without the rod of correction. It is the duty of the citizen to wield the rod. If the citizen neglects this duty, the timeless paradox goes unsolved: who, indeed, will watch the watchers? A democracy is not based on the power of a ruling class. It is based on the constant vigilance of the citizen it governs.

If you want to know the moral nature of a state, observe how it treats its prisoners. Taken from the fold of society, where an individual is obscured by the masses, the prisoner stands in a spotlight. Alone and defenseless, the prisoner is vulnerable to whatever methods of torture the system permits. In Florida, kindness is the exception that throws common cruelty into sharp relief. Obedience to the sadistic whims of the guards only increases their ferocity and determination to make another human suffer at their hand. Guards such as this are to be pitied: given more power by the system than is needed, more power than is just, they become a victim of that power as surely as the one they are torturing. Power, as we all know, has that terrible tendency to corrupt.

~ Alex David King


Groove of the Day 

Listen to Johnny Cash performing “Hurt”


expiration date

When I first moved to Texas, I met two young girls who were homeschooled by a method that did not feature any books of literature published after 1912.

They lived far off the grid with their parents without phone or TV, the family built a beautiful adobe house from scratch and by hand, and except for their vehicles and wind-and-solar power generation system, they lived a 19th-century lifestyle. The only thing that created the impression that the girls’ schooling had created unique outcomes was their quaint and somewhat formal means of expressing themselves in spoken and written words.

If you are a modernist you may recoil at the thought of restricting a child’s reading curriculum to 19th century works, but I can assure you these girls have grown up to be two of the most intelligent, well-educated, talented, and high-achieving young people I have ever met.

There is no expiration date on sound moral values and wisdom. These things can’t go sour like a carton of milk. Their shelf life is timeless.

I have been giving a great deal of thought to the influence of modern entertainment media on the ways that today’s young people think. I am convinced it will be necessary for young people who come to live at Estrella Vista to check all their personal electronic devices at the door. A kid who is wearing earbuds and listening to music while hiking to a mountaintop would be cut off from the healing and centering influences of the natural rhythms this setting has to offer. (It is a safety factor too: had I been listening to music when I encountered that Mojave in the chicken coop, I would not have heard his warning rattle and would likely be dead right now.)

We need to get kids to slow down their thinking, become more self-reflective, develop longer attention spans, and sharpen their critical thinking skills. Most kids these days are spending five to six hours a day on-screen with television, video games, and computers which are turning them into passive observers. Visual tracking skills, eye-hand coordination, gross motor skills, social skills, motivation, initiative, creativity, and problem solving abilities are all inhibited by these media.

Early last week at its national convention, the American Academy of Pediatrics again warned parents of infants and toddlers that they should limit the time their children spend in front of televisions, computers, self-described educational games, and even grown-up shows playing in the background. The Academy said there is no such thing as an “educational program” for children under age 2, and that leaving the TV on as background noise distracts both children and adults.

Renowned parenting expert John Rosemond calls television watching a “deprivational experience for the young child,” as it robs the child of the opportunity to discover and delight in his or her own potential. Television also compromises the development of cause-and-effect thinking and values development. Violent TV and video games desensitize kids to violence and increase the likelihood of kids emulating observed violence in their behavior. Rosemond says on-screen time literally causes brain damage, and I believe him.

Says Rosemond: “Today’s children have considerably shorter attention spans than did kids in the early 1950s. This is going on all over America. You could not teach fifty children with one teacher in a classroom (like you could in the 1950s) if you had kids with considerably shorter attention spans.”

I have no doubt that kids coming here to live will, by virtue of having been raised on television and video games, be accustomed to and dependent upon entertainment. There will be a role for electronic media at Estrella Vista, but it must be intelligently regulated. I am collecting used computers for a future computer lab (I’m up to four machines so far). I am also building a film library and, of course, a large library of books.

When Derek first came here, he consumed a large number of movies he had heard about in prison but had never seen. (Happily he lost interest as the outdoors lured him away from everything but Facebook.) Most of the first films that Derek viewed were movies like Silence of the Lambs and Fight Club that feature violence; I had second thoughts about this at the time and have ever since.

On reflection, I think it would be rather ridiculous to censor films as a means of trying to “protect” young people from violence after they have been raised in a prison or home setting where violence is an ever-present and pervasive feature of daily life. As I build Estrella Vista’s video library, I’m going to take a page from the book of my homeschooling friends with the pre-1912 curriculum: I’ll create a library that is dominated by older films that promote pro-social values which may seem downright quaint to modern TV-conditioned sensibilities.

A couple days ago, one such film arrived in the mailbox: Our Vines Have Tender Grapes (1945), starring iconic Hollywood bad-guy Edward G. Robinson and angelic child actor Margaret O’Brien. This wonderful but little-known film was directed by Roy Rowland and is based on the novel by George Victor Martin, about the Norwegian-descended residents of a small Wisconsin farming community. The screenplay was written by Dalton Trumbo, his last before being blacklisted for refusing to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee.

In a departure from his typical type-casting, Edward G. Robinson plays the gentle and loving father of a precocious 7-year-old daughter played by Margaret O’Brien, and the central theme of the story is the importance of communitarian sharing and generosity. The story shows the child as a catalyst and inspiration to the whole community to act unselfishly. The film models the way a rural community like ours works when at its very best and, as such, could potentially be an effective teaching tool.

Older films like this may also offer the advantage of acclimating kids to a slower, non-MTV/sound-bite pace that will encourage more reflective and deliberate thought. Yet whether or not this experiment will pan out is anybody’s guess. A lot of kids cannot adjust to the slower timing of older films.

Yet, if we are insulated here from the outside world and its insane pace and given a rich array of choices in unfamiliar entertainments and creative tools—who knows? Maybe we will even achieve the preferred ideal of creating our entertainment rather than just consuming it.

It’s worth a try.


Groove of the Day 

Listen to David Allyn performing “I’m Old Fashioned”


happy birthday franz

Today is the 200th birthday of Franz Liszt, the Hungarian composer, conductor, and teacher who was renowned throughout Europe in the nineteenth century for his virtuosic skill as a pianist. He was said by his contemporaries to have been the greatest pianist of all time and was the object of fan mania and adulation comparable to what we would associate today with rock superstars.


Groove of the Day 

Listen to Arcadi Volodos performing Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 in C-Sharp Minor”