Archive for November, 2011


occupy america

Baby, it’s getting cold outside. It’s been a nice media show and the “Occupy” demonstrators have made their point. But now it’s time for them to strike their tents, move out of the nation’s big-city pocket parks, get down to business, and help take back the whole damned country from the corporate sharks and their lap-dog politicians.

All of our major institutions have been turned into Big Business: the banks, health care, the public schools, the courts and prisons, etc. In the process they have been transformed into winner-take-all extraction machines that enrich the self-serving few at the top (and their cronies) at the expense of the people those institutions are supposed to be serving.

If you look at the big picture and not view these institutions in isolation, you will see that they are interlinked by overlapping governance boards and dovetailed policies and programs. They’re creating a Matrix of enslavement that relies on debt, addiction, dependency, enforcement, and control to put and keep you under the thumb of commerce and authority. It’s all gone too far.

The public schools, for example, feed the health care industry through forced vaccinations of schoolchildren which enrich big pharma and, by some accounts, create multitudes of chronically ill patients with once-rare maladies including autism, ADHD, and other developmental disorders (1 in 6 children!). Through zero-tolerance policies that criminalize childish behavior and remove low-scoring students from school roles to maximize federal and state funding, the schools feed the school-to-prison pipeline and fuel the demand for more future prison capacity—more and more of it provided by private prison companies.

It’s not an honest system. Third-party payers abound to obfuscate the reality of who’s getting paid and how, and nothing is as it appears on the surface. Corruption and deception are endemic. Profit trumps the public good. Our institutions do not serve their supposed clients, customers, and constituencies but high-level parasites instead.

If you follow the money, the public schools reveal themselves to be adult-centered institutions that exist for the benefit of administrators, staff, lawyers, vendors, consultants, contractors, etc., and not our kids and their families. Take a hard look at the numbers, and you’ll see that the schools’ profligate systems of administrative largesse are top-heavy with layers of unproductive overhead and waste which enrich adults while impoverishing children and their families at taxpayer expense.

According to a 2009 report by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), more than $610 billion was spent in the fifty states and the District of Columbia on public primary and secondary education and related programs—or $12,450 per student. Of this amount, only $6,966 (56%) was spent on instruction and instruction-related services such as libraries, media centers, and instructional staff development.  (Because of the way that NCES analyzes data, this does not include the cost of the school buildings themselves, nor does it include interest payments on school bonds. So it’s a safe bet that real spending on instruction is much less than 50%.) According to the Cato Institute, the public schools are spending 93% more per student than the median private school, which outperforms the public schools hands-down in terms of educational results.

This pattern of waste, largesse, and corruption is not restricted to the schools. This weekend I read a couple articles which provide further evidence about just how corrupt law enforcement and the criminal justice system have become. Like the schools, they too have become big business.

The first article, “Child Sex Trafficking Stereotypes Demolished by Research,” by Kristin Hinman (, recounts how $80 million annually is doled out by the federal government for law enforcement and social services that combine to rescue only about 200 child prostitutes every year (at a cost of $400,000-per-rescued-child).

Now, however, new research by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the Center for Court Innovation shows that these millions have been misspent all along in pursuit of a child prostitute profile that is a racist political invention bearing little relation to reality. The politicians have funded official efforts targeted to the widely-accepted stereotype of a child prostitute: a pre- or barely teenage girl whose every move is dictated by a wily pimp. What the research has shown, however, is that only 10% of child prostitutes work for pimps. In other words, 90% are self-employed and (here’s the kicker) nearly half the kids—45%—are boys, whom no one seems to want to rescue.

One might reasonably assume the agencies on the receiving end of the government gravy train might improve upon their $400,000-per-rescued-child average if they had any integrity at all and developed a clearer picture of the population they aim to save. Yet when researchers presented their findings, they were completely unprepared for the way law enforcement officials and child-advocacy groups reacted.

“I remember going to a meeting in Manhattan where they had a lot of prosecutors whose job was to prosecute pimps,” recalled one researcher. “They were sort of complaining about the fact that their offices were very well staffed but their workload was…not very daunting, let’s say. They had a couple cases, and at every meeting you go to, they’d pull out the cherry-picked case of this pimp they had busted, and they’d tell the same story at every meeting. They, too, were bothered by the fact that they couldn’t find any pimps, any girls.

“So I come along and say, ‘I found 300 kids’—they’re all perky—but then I say, ‘I’m sorry, but only 10 percent had pimps.’ It was like a fart in church. Because basically I was saying their office was a waste of time and money.”

At the behest of advocates who work with pimped girls, along with celebrities who help to publicize the cause, Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and John Cornyn (R-TX) are pushing for federal legislation that would earmark another $12 million to $15 million a year to fund six shelters reserved exclusively for underage girls who are victims of sex trafficking.

Given the political traction that the stereotype of black pimps selling white tween girls commands, says Hinman, there’s no incentive for law enforcement and advocates to bring their targets into alignment with reality “when they stand to rake in even more public money simply by staying the course.”

A similar picture of official deception and fraud emerges when the powerful “victims’ rights” industry is examined.

The second article I read this weekend is “How Victim Rights Became a Juggernaut Shaping Spending, Laws and the Future of Punishment,” by Alan Prendergast (, which discloses that—if you follow the money—the “victims’ rights” industry in Colorado is the creation of the district attorneys lobby.

According to the article, more than $30 million in public monies is spent annually in Colorado in the name of victim assistance and advocacy. Yet less than half this amount—$14.25 million in federal and state victim-compensation funds—was awarded to 7,758 Colorado crime victims in fiscal year 2010, an average of less than $2,000 per claim to cover things like medical costs, property damage, burial costs and other losses not covered by insurance. Some of the awards go directly to victim services, such as a rape crisis hotline or a safe house for battered women. But there are plenty of other uses for the cash, too. More than half of the $30 million pays the salaries of full-time victim advocates in police departments and prosecutors’ offices, purchases equipment like digital cameras and anatomically correct dolls used in investigating allegations of child sexual assault, or funds the budgets of nonprofit victims’ rights advocates and other entities that pay for cops and prosecutors to attend conferences and training, or for salaries and research that have no direct impact on victims at all.

The poster-child organization illustrating the corruption of the victims’ rights movement in Colorado is COVA (Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance). The membership of COVA is relatively small—fewer than 1,000 people—yet with annual revenues of more than $1 million, a yearly conference that draws greater attendance than two national victim-advocacy gatherings, and strong ties to the law enforcement community, COVA is the most influential victim-rights group in Colorado. Though COVA does have an emergency fund to assist victims directly when other sources have been exhausted, most of its energy is devoted to training and conferences which, aside from government grants,  provide its main source of revenue.

According to COVA’s 2010 990 form on file with GuideStar, as well as other sources, COVA brought in $623,511 in government money from VALE grants, VOCA grants, and other direct contributions that were used in part to pay the salaries of the nonprofit’s top employees, as well as an intern program operated by COVA that trains students to work with victim advocates in public agencies; $23,215 in membership dues; and $240,839 in tuition revenues for workshops on topics such as “Drug-Facilitated Sexual Assault,” “Supporting Victims of Identity Theft” and “Officer Involved Shootings and PTSD” for employees of from various government agencies, which are also funded by VALE grants. According to Prendergast’s article, VALE funds paid out $289,186 for various organizations to attend COVA conferences.

These financial relationships and shared agendas have come under criticism by other criminal-justice interest groups. Critics charge that the victim-rights movement in Colorado has become too closely allied with government to serve its constituency. “COVA has always been very clear that their mission is retribution and punishment,” said Maureen Cain, policy coordinator for the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar. “COVA’s position has always been driven by the district attorneys,” Cain said. “Their board members are overwhelmingly district attorneys and law enforcement. You almost don’t have to talk to COVA [about legislation], because they’re just going to do what the DAs tell them to do.”

COVA proved to be a formidable foe in a battle this past legislative session involving juvenile life without parole (JLWOP). In 2006 the Colorado Legislature changed the mandatory sentence for juveniles facing life to allow for parole eligibility after serving forty years, but the law wasn’t retroactive and it had no impact on Colorado’s existing JLWOP population of 48 prisoners. A 2011 House bill would have extended the forty-year parole window for current lifers, but prosecutors and COVA worked strenuously to defeat it. It died in committee 6-5, and 48 young people—including one of our own—must continue rotting in prison without hope until something changes.

The same thing is happening in other states besides Colorado.

Something big can and must change, not only with juvenile life without parole, but with the integrity of the whole Matrix. As I said at the beginning of this post, we must take back government and our institutions from the corporatists who have turned everything into Big Business that serves only the money interests and not the people.

One of the first places to start is the schools and their local governance boards. Local school boards have taxing authority and a movement must be begun through which these local boards take responsibility  not only for the operation of public schools, but for enabling educational choice and efficacy for all citizens within their taxing jurisdictions. The more removed from the local level that authority and control are imposed, the greater is the waste, inefficiency, and ineffectiveness of schooling.

Everywhere in America we are seeing the limits of one-size-fits-all education instruction, testing, and spending. Driven inordinately by national- and state-level policies like “No Child Left Behind,” the schools as currently conceived are preparing our kids for failure and lifelong slavery. School boards typically rubber-stamp strategies and decisions brought to them from authorities at a far remove from the students. School boards must take back a broader education mission and transfer control to the local level where it belongs.

The only solution, as I see it, is for local school boards to broaden their mission from facilitating only one type of K-12 public schooling, and expand their mission to include the support of home schooling, charter schools, private schooling and other free-choice options that will best meet the needs of individual students and their families. Education districts must become flexible sources of shared resources for the entire community, become specialists in tailoring education resources, and provide resource access to individual students and families, regardless of the education delivery systems families choose.

This is a revolutionary idea, but it is less revolutionary and chaotic than people taking to the streets and burning down the schools—and I do believe public disaffection with all authority is reaching such a point. Congress, after all, rightly earns single-digit approval scores today. If local school boards can reclaim and restore local governance and responsibility, there is a greater chance that the corrupting influence of the federal and state gravy trains can be nullified and orderly transition to real improvements can occur.

It seems to me that local communities must take control of juvenile justice issues, as well. So many of the practical problems we are dealing with—for example, juvenile life without parole—originate with out-of-touch, money-influenced legislatures that have removed real decision-making from the hands of local judges who are in a better position to determine what outcomes would best benefit our communities and children.

I know that a strategy of restoring local control to institutions is not a panacea. There will always be backwaters of local bossism, ignorance, and injustice. But I do believe that vesting control in local leaders who are accountable to their communities is preferable to trusting far-away authorities who can and do act with greed and impunity.


Groove of the Day 

Listen to Adele performing “Hometown Glory”




What did I tell you?

(This is sooo not cool.)


Groove of the Day 

Listen to The Velvet Underground performing “Beginning to See the Light”



A few minutes ago I awoke with a start and, after getting my bearings and establishing the time, realized I hadn’t missed publishing today’s post after all. What a relief!

It would have been a bad way to start off the new year. Yes, new year. Today is the Runic New Year.

You can read all about it at I wrote about it last year… so no need to repeat myself.

This afternoon I drove into town to do some banking and buy a few supplies. I was returning home at 4:30 when I thought to myself, “What the hell. It’s the New Year,” turned the car around, and drove to the Starlight for 2-4-1 burger night.

“Live it up, Dan.”

I opened the place at 5:00, was the first customer at the bar, blew twenty bucks on three scotches, a burger (and one to go), plus tips… and I was out the door and on the road by 6:30, home by 7:15, and asleep in the chair by 8:00.

Holy shit. I’ve entered the Geritol set. All I need is a white belt and matching shoes. Next thing you know, I’ll be streaming Lawrence Welk re-runs.

Oh, no. This just isn’t right.


Groove of the Day 

Listen to Perry Como performing “Hoop-dee-doo”


please help blade now

One of the best things that has happened to me in my work for kids is collaborating with Stephen Sydebotham, a juvenile justice advocate who is smart, relentless, and dedicated in his defense of young people.

Two of the causes I write about here—James Prindle and Blade Reed—while not parricides (and the center of my target), were cases Stephen had taken on before we began working together. I have been helping Stephen with James and Blade because I believe so strongly in Stephen and his judgment—and from the outpouring of your support for these two kids, apparently you agree.

Stephen has just returned home from Indiana with news of developments in Blade Reed’s case which must command our urgent attention, and I have asked him to provide today’s guest post. I hope you will please open your heart to his appeal for assistance for Blade. Thank you.            ~ Dan

This past Tuesday, November 22, I was able to spend the day with Blade Reed at Wabash Valley Correctional Facility. Each visit we have is special, but to spend it with him at the beginning of the holiday season, it’s that much more meaningful. Blade is in every sense a wounded bird. Each and every day there at Wabash is a struggle for him, and it is sucking the life out of him. He suffers from very low self-esteem, and is a constant target for other older juveniles to bully. He also is ground zero for predatory inmates and some power hungry correctional officers to attack on occasion, both verbally and physically. For me to give Blade a break from that, for even just a few hours, has a positive effect on him. Plus, to see Blade’s eyes light up when he sees me, and those monster hugs he lays on me, I am truly a blessed soul to have him in my life.

The only thing that Blade had to break much of the monotony and that enabled him to sort of “get away” from everything there is gone. I’m talking about Blade’s TV. His ex-roommate broke it when he was packing, preparing for his move to the adult housing unit. This kid accidentally hit Blade’s TV with some of his property, knocking it off its perch. The TV does turn on, but only gets a blue screen, so it’s basically shot. After the incident, Blade and the other individual got into a heated argument. All Blade wanted was for this other kid to make it right, but the other kid is indigent and there is no recourse except to buy Blade a new TV through the prison commissary. Without that one enjoyment, I worry about Blade all the more. That TV had a constructive effect on him and kept Blade calm during many tense days and nights. Without it, everything surrounding him will become heightened and bad situations will become even worse for him.

I had been led to believe at this time of Thanksgiving, that we would see the beginning of the healing process, with Mrs. Voland, the widow of the man Blade’s brother killed, saying publicly that she forgives what happened during the early morning hours of November 15, 2008. That didn’t happen. After all this time, Mrs. Voland and the rest of her family still feel that Bennie and Blade received proper sentences. The Voland family and much of the Brown County community have chosen to close their minds to the facts about Blade. Blade never would have been involved in this if he hadn’t been forced into it by his older brother’s death threats. Blade is developmentally disabled, and at the time of the crime Blade had the mental capacity of an eight-year-old. He now still only functions at the level of a twelve-year-old. Knowing this, how can the Volands and most of the community feel good about placing a damaged child in adult court, then giving him a 30-year adult prison sentence? Blade has been told that he is beyond rehabilitation and that the key has been thrown away for decades. What has happened to Blade is appalling, and should be rectified.  To tell a child who was severely abused by his biological parents, one who had never been in any trouble before, that he can’t be rehabilitated is dead wrong. They have sold short Blade and the rehabilitative powers of the Juvenile Justice system by sentencing him as an adult. Blade could achieve so much if he were given the opportunity. What chance will he have if made to spend the rest of his time in an adult prison, where he will continue to learn only from hardened criminals in an environment where he will continue to be subject to more attempted assaults, rapes, bullying, and physical warfare by predatory inmates and guards?   

The worst part of my trip was to find out that our pro bono attorneys, who have helped Blade so much since their involvement, have opted to drop Blade’s case due to my efforts to publicize his case and bring it to the public’s attention. To have disagreements with me over public awareness issues is one thing, but to just quit and leave Blade vulnerable and without representation is another. They had been essential to leveling the playing field with rights issues at Wabash, and had been instrumental in initiating the writ of habeas corpus. After Blade had recently been in an altercation, he called his attorneys and they refused the call. They then wrote to Blade and told him they weren’t going to help any longer under any circumstances, and listed their reasons for dropping the case. This showed an insensitivity to Blade’s developmental capacity, as well as a lack of integrity, conscience, commitment, and heart to help Blade in his hour of need and see matters through to their conclusion.

I was at first very upset about this abandonment and said some things that I shouldn’t have said, but after cooling down and thinking about it rationally, I came to the conclusion that, as civil rights attorneys, they weren’t the defense attorneys we need at this time. We need a legal representative who has trial and appellate experience. There is one who has expressed interest in becoming involved, but she is an out-of-state attorney and must first be approved pro hac vice (a legal term usually referring to a lawyer who has not been admitted to practice in a certain jurisdiction but is allowed to participate in a particular case. The right to appear pro hac vice is not guaranteed. Rather, the attorney wanting to practice in a jurisdiction within which he or she is not licensed must specifically request permission from the court to be able to appear as an attorney of record. This is accomplished with a motion to appear pro hac vice, in which it is requested that the non‐licensed attorney be admitted to practice in a particular case).

If she is approved, she will represent Blade at a reduced fee, and we will have what Blade’s case has always cried out for: a defense attorney with extensive experience in the field of law we need to properly argue the habeas writ and give Blade the best chance at winning in court. 

I will never stop this struggle and am I determined to see it through to the end.

This is not only a fight for someone about whom I deeply care, it’s about giving a youngster a second chance in life that he deserves. Blade is a child in every way, a juvenile. The court should realize what a depraved, immoral, catastrophic mistake it made by trying and sentencing Blade as an adult, and giving him a long term sentence in adult prison.

Blade has nothing but us. He hangs on, hoping for a brighter future.

Your financial support is urgently needed to help defray Blade’s legal expenses.  These will probably total about $10,000-$12,000.

US residents wishing to make tax-deductible donations to Blade Reed’s appeal please use this link:, and enter “Redemption-Blade Reed” in the memo line.

International contributions may be made through PayPal to; again, please enter “Redemption-Blade Reed” in the memo line.

You can reach us and learn more at, or via snail mail at: Blade Reed-UGMA / PO Box 742 / Spring Green, WI 53588

The greatest journey is the one that leads you home. Please help us lead Blade home. Thank you.

~ Stephen Sydebotham


Groove of the Day 

Listen to Colm Wilkinson performing “Bring Him Home” 


“At first do what is necessary, then do what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”

~ St. Francis of Assisi


desolate day

The weather outside has turned ugly. A cold wind is bearing down on Estrella Vista from the northeast and has stirred up so much brown-gray grit and dust that the surrounding mountains are ghostly silhouettes.

I’ve been hiding out all day in the warmth of my little house, napping and procrastinating the five-minute round trip to the chicken coop to feed the birds. It was sunset by the time that I’d finally worked up the courage to venture outside, and the scene of the cold gray sun dipping behind the mountains was evocative of scenes from Lord of the Rings.

I thought that if nuclear winter ever comes, its first day might look like this. I imagined cities in the outside world, reduced to rubble, their dust swept up by the winds to be deposited here. This may sound weird, but German wartime music intruded on my consciousness—not the triumphal martial music of the early years, but the popular music that kept the masses in denial and soldiering on through to the final days of abject ruin and defeat.

I’m pretty sure these thoughts were triggered by the memory of predictions by one of the guests at Thanksgiving dinner that we are experiencing the death throes of the dollar, the Euro, and other fiat world currencies. That thought, like today’s winds, is chilling.

Anyway, the voice of the Swedish diva Zarah Leander is echoing in my head and the only way for me to dispatch it and move on to other things is to share it here with you.

Both these songs are from the Ufa’s Die große Liebe (The Great Love), directed by Rolf Hansen, the most commercially successful film of Germany’s National Socialist years. Between its premier in June 1942 and November 1944, 28 million admissions were sold.

I won’t bore you with the details of the plot, but this musical melodrama is the story of a love affair between Hanna Holberg (Zarah Leander), a Danish chanteuse, and Luftwaffe Lieutenant Paul Wendtland (Viktor Staal), in which the lovers struggle (through a whole series of misunderstandings and missed opportunities, one after another) to reconcile their love with their duty to the nation’s war effort. Nevertheless their bond grows in strength and arouses the jealousy of the composer Rudnitzky (Paul Hörbiger), who is also in love with Hanna. Making the most of a bad situation, the lovers agree to live for the moment. The last shots of the film show the happy couple, confident in the future, looking skyward as squadrons of German bombers fly past.

Here, ensconced in a set that looks like something from a mushroom-induced vision, Zarah Leander performs “Ich weiß, es wird einmal ein Wunder gescheh’n” (I Know a Miracle Will Happen):


After 1942, as the military situation became more and more desperate for Germany, this song and the one below became staple elements in propaganda geared to “seeing it through.” Today “Ich weiss, es wird einmal ein Wunder geschehen” and “Davon geht die Welt nicht unter” are idioms in the German language.


Groove of the Day 

Listen to Zarah Leander performing “Davon geht die Welt nicht unter” (It’s Not the End of the World)


Paul Henry Gingerich update

Since “Young Kids, Hard Time” premiered last Sunday on MSNBC, I have received a number of inquiries about just where Paul Henry Gingerich’s appeal stands. Paul Henry’s attorney Monica Foster filed our initial notice of appeal in January 2010, but since then there has been little news to share.

The reason for this is that the Kosciusko Circuit Court that originally waived Paul Henry into adult court, extracted a plea, and imposed a 30-year sentence had been extremely slow to provide a complete record of its proceedings and all the information it had considered in making its rulings. Between January 26 and September 27, Monica was obliged to file four requests before the lower court finally complied with the appellate court’s consistent orders that the complete record be provided.  

As important as this record is to Paul Henry’s appeal, it does not reveal the true story behind the killing of Philip Danner. Since we became involved in Paul Henry’s case, we have conducted the in-depth investigation that the police failed to do and we discovered the true facts behind this seemingly senseless crime which now makes all the sense in the world to us. The full story will be revealed here as Paul Henry’s appeal unfolds.

As yet the timing of his appeal is not exactly known. Monica’s brief is scheduled to be submitted to the appellate court at the beginning of next week, and several amicus briefs have already been filed. (An amicus brief is a legal argument provided by an amicus curiae who is someone, not a party to a case, who volunteers to offer information to assist a court in deciding a matter before it.) As these briefs are accepted by the court, they will be posted on the “Free Paul Henry Gingerich Discussion and Informational Forum” at Oral arguments before the appellate court will be scheduled thereafter, possibly as early as December but more likely in January.

Our position in the appeal is that it is unacceptable that Paul is being treated as an adult; 12-year-olds are not adults, no matter how serious their offense may be. All we are seeking is a fair chance to present our case in a fair hearing before a fair judge, and to have been given adequate time to prepare. It is scandalous that Paul Henry’s original attorney was given only four days to prepare for his waiver hearing.

Paul is a good kid who made a serious mistake. He comes from a kind, loving, and supportive family. He has had no prior trouble with the law or in school. His behavior while incarcerated has been exemplary. He deserves a second chance.

And speaking of second chances… if you missed seeing “Young Kids, Hard Time,” you will have a second chance to see it Saturday, November 26 at 5pm Eastern, 4pm Central, and 2pm Pacific on MSNBC.

For more background information on Paul Henry’s case, please be sure to visit his website at

If you are moved to help with some of the out-of-pocket expenses associated with his appeal, your tax-deductible contribution will be gratefully accepted through his website.


Groove of the Day 

Listen to 38 Special performing “Second Chance”



thankful for trouble

Today is Thanksgiving Day when most people in America remind themselves of all the good things in their lives and express gratitude for their blessings. As well they should.

My take on this day is a little different…

I deal all the time with kids whose lives are absolutely miserable—kids who are locked up in awful jails and prisons, sometimes for things they didn’t do; kids who are being victimized by predatory guards, cruel prosecutors and judges, lazy and dishonest cops; kids who have been horribly abused by their parents and other adults and driven to committing desperate acts, failed and abandoned by a system that’s supposed to have protected them.

On the surface of these kids’ lives it is very difficult to see many things for which to be thankful—that is, until you consider that problems are really just opportunities with thorns on them. The opportunities hidden behind these particular thorns may be, in fact, so great that they dwarf the problems.

For example, that cruel cop who pepper-sprayed the peaceful demonstrators last week at the University of California Davis may have done more to help the Occupy Movement than ten thousand peaceful demonstrators ever could have. The injustices currently being suffered by Alex King, James Prindle, Jordan Brown, Paul Henry Gingerich, and Blade Reed may do more to undercut the abusive authority of the so-called law-and-order states than might any number of early courtroom successes.

Many years ago I was once privileged to join Frits Phillips, the chairman of the Dutch electronics firm, at supper. “It is often hard to distinguish between the hard knocks in life and those of opportunity,” he said. I am mindful of his advice when I say that it is up to us to help others—and young people especially—to turn trouble on its head and transform it into opportunity.

I am profoundly thankful to have you with me in pursuing this mission. Thank you for your continuing interest and support. It’s making a difference.

“If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.”

~Milton Berle


Groove of the Day 

Listen to The Rolling Stones performing “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”


trouble in paradise

When I moved to West Texas ten years ago, I set two rules for myself. The first was to get along with everybody, even people I don’t like. The second rule was to stay out of other people’s fights.

The first place I landed was the small town of Marathon, a place populated by 450 souls. This was the first time I had ever lived in such a small community, and I quickly discovered how challenging it would be to stick to my two rules.

The first rule was easy because I have this mental trick that allows me to get along with just about anybody: I find one thing in every individual I meet that I can admire, and I focus on that one thing and let my admiration of that one facet color the whole relationship. People almost always reciprocate acceptance, but upgrade acceptance to genuine admiration, and you’ve got a magic potion. Try it some time, and you will find you can get along with even the most sorry excuse for a human being (especially if your contact with that person is limited).

The second rule was a tougher deal to pull off. Aside from television, gossip is the number-one form of entertainment in small towns. Even if people know nothing about you or your business, they’ll make stuff up—some of it just to cause excitement and trouble. The friction between clans, cliques, and coalitions is as intense as anything you’ll see in a middle school, and it seems people are always trying to get you to align with their particular camp against another.

“The friend of my enemy is my enemy” is, unfortunately, a cogent belief in small places and it takes uncommon social versatility and relentless effort to maintain civil relationships and friendships among opposing factions.

When I moved to Estrella Vista, it was a relief to leave behind the social hothouse of the small town. I have always maintained that one should categorically have nothing to do with 85% of the general population, and that one should select real friends from only a third of the remaining 15% based on coherent values. My reasoning is this: if you were to select on the basis of a single value—let’s say honesty—a third will always be honest, a third will always be dishonest, and a third will be honest or dishonest as the situation suits them. I use five core values in selecting friends I could trust with my life—so to what proportion does that reduce my pool of potential real friends? One to three percent of the general population?

This can make for a pretty lonely existence, especially in a sparsely-populated place like this. There are only 9,331 people in the whole county—if a third of them live within 50 miles, that would result in less than 95 potential friends at most, and 20 more likely. And half of those are recluses I’m unlikely to ever meet.

So I resort to a simple-minded heuristic: I accept everyone at face value, warts and all, until they do something to deceive, hurt, or betray me. I don’t judge anyone until I learn through my own experience that someone’s a bad bet. I still try to get along with everyone, and I still try to stay out of other people’s fights.

It’s worked out pretty well until now. Unfortunately there’s been an ugly feud going on between neighbors about ten miles from here. The other day one of the neighbors presented me with an ultimatum that I must choose sides or become an enemy to one of the warring camps.

I’m not going to declare my allegiance to either side. It’s their fight, not mine.

I’ve had no hand in any of the plotting and planning. No one has asked my advice. The way the trouble is escalating, I would not be surprised if someone eventually gets hurt. I want no part of it. I have urged both sides to turn down the heat and reconcile, but no one is listening.

I’ll continue treating people on both sides of the conflict with civility, courtesy, and compassion, even if it means losing the friendship of all.

One way or another, this trouble in paradise will pass. The best course for me is that I stick to my principles and keep my conscience intact.


Groove of the Day 

Listen to Lynn Kellogg performing “Easy to Be Hard”


it’s about time!

I meant to post this entry last night, but I closed my eyes for just a moment and when I reopened them, it was today. You might say time got away from me.

Yesterday was one of those days that seemed to bring into focus for me the passage of time. A friend of mine needs to hire a lawyer in Minnesota to help him with a business issue there, and I volunteered to reach out to a couple friends to get him a referral to an attorney who is more-than-competent. When I lived in Minneapolis—it seems like just yesterday—I lived in a neighborhood that was chock full of some of the best lawyers in the state, so I called a couple of my old neighbors and friends—guys I still consider close friends. Yet in both cases, it was rather shocking to realize that it had been at least a decade since we’d last spoken. You might say again that time had gotten away from me.

Luckily, happily, the passage of time seems not to have made any difference. We just picked up where we’d left off. Still good friends. Time was irrelevant.

Yesterday I made a call to the Escambia County Jail to troubleshoot a situation for Alex King. It seems that someone on the staff there is interfering with Alex’s bible studies. Alex had asked me to send him a new Bible and a Concordance (a verbal index to the Bible). However, on November 14 the two books were returned to Amazon. It seems the jail has a policy that prisoners can have only one copy of the Bible and someone—whether through ignorance or mean spiritedness—had decided that the shipment contained two Bibles and was therefore in violation of the jail’s policy. “It may take me a few days to get back to you on this,” said the jail commander’s assistant. “That’s okay,” I replied. “I know that jail time and outside time proceed at a different pace.” Time is all about perception.

Last night I noticed a spike in the search term “Runic Calendar” that is bringing new visitors to the Diary. This reminded me that I have been meaning for some time—again, time got away from me!—to put up a third chart to compliment my Runic Calendar and Human Life Cycle charts, which people seem to have found so interesting. This third chart deals with economic cycles and helps to answer the pressing question that is on so many people’s minds today: When will this recession ever end? Answer: In its own damned time!

Well, no time like the present. (I still can’t believe I haven’t posted this until now.) Click on the image to make it larger.

You’ll have to study this chart a bit and put it together with your knowledge of history to see the regular pattern of rebirth, growth, maturation, and decline that has played out in the economy for as long as anyone can remember. But the thing I hope you will take away from this chart is that the economy will change just as surely as the passage of seasons in the course of the year. You just have to think of time on a different scale… and learn to be patient. Time and its seasons will not be rushed.

This is the time of the year when I inevitably mark the passage of time because of the mileposts of so many holidays that conjure up memories of loved ones in my life, both present and departed. These memories are all about personal time. The approach of the Winter Solstice, my high holy day, helps me to mark the passage of sacred time, just as Christmas and Hanukah help others mark the passage of their sacred time. And then the approach of the New Year marks the progression of secular time.

Yet personal time, sacred time, and secular time don’t line up exactly. They seem slightly disjointed to me and, since I created my Runic Calendar more than twenty years ago, I have been using it to bring these distinct systems of time into alignment in my own life. For example, I observe the Runic New Year—November 28—as my True New Year. January 1 is simply a social event for me. By observing the Runic Calendar as my primary tool for timekeeping, I have been able to bring a greater sense of integration to my life. Because the Runic Calendar is earth-based, it aligns more exactly with the natural cycles I observe here on the desert and is therefore most useful to me on practical, spiritual, and personal levels.

As this wonderful bit by George Carlin makes so clear, calendars and time are arbitrary human constructs. As such, it seems perfectly reasonable to me that we should freely exercise any discipline of timekeeping we choose that can bring a greater sense of order to our lives.

Listen to George Carlin’s reflections on “Time”

Yesterday I received a message from the personal assistant of a man with whom I worked for many years in Minneapolis. He is 88 now and has had a very difficult year of health setbacks. As with my lawyer friends, it had been a long time since I had been in touch with him until I sent him a letter a couple weeks ago.

“You are lucky to remember John as the vibrant go getter he was and would like to be again,” his assistant said. “He had read your letter when it arrived, and then we read it again together yesterday; your words of kindness and confirmation of who he was and what he helped accomplish made him smile,” she said. While it pleased me that my letter had brought him some pleasure, I nevertheless feel bad that so much time had passed—time when I might have been in touch with him in better days.

It reminded me that lost time can never be found again. We often talk of killing time while in actuality time is killing us. “Lose not yourself in a far off time,” said Friedrich Schiller, “seize the moment that is thine.”


Groove of the Day 

Listen to the Allman Brothers Band performing “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More”


reminder: tonight @ 10 pm est, 9 pm cst

Look into the unseen world of young children serving decades behind bars in America’s adult prison system… 

Tonight at 10 pm EST, MSNBC will premiere “Young Kids, Hard Time,” a one-hour documentary narrated by Rick Springfield that shows the reality of young kids serving long sentences in adult prisons. 

“Young Kids, Hard Time” reveals what life is like for young kids staring down decades behind bars. Calamari Productions was granted sweeping access inside the maximum security Wabash Valley Correctional Facility in Carlisle, Indiana – the only adult prison in the state of Indiana that houses kids sentenced as adults.

The film delves into the everyday struggles encountered by Colt Lundy, Blade Reed, and the 51 other kids on the Youth Incarcerated As Adults cellblock (YIA). The film also contrasts their experiences at Wabash with those of Paul Gingerich, who is incarcerated at Indiana’s Pendleton youth prison.

The program will provide an opportunity for you to learn more about some of the kids you have been reading about for months in the Diary.

For more information about Paul Henry Gingerich, visit:


Groove of the Day 

Listen to Chris Thomas King performing “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues”