Archive for April, 2013


shelter in place


Forgive me for being contrarian or even paranoid, but is anyone uncomfortable with the lock-down that gripped, or was perpetrated yesterday, on Boston and several suburbs?

Over 300,000 people sat behind locked doors, all because thousands of militarized police were hunting for one young man.

The marathon bombing and the loss of life and limbs is a horrible thing, but isn’t this loss of freedoms in an historically important place an equally horrible thing?

I am extremely wary that so many people have been manipulated with fear by police–and so successfully, too. Seems to me that the terrorists–and I’ll leave it to you to decide who that is–have won.

Now that both suspects have been apprehended, no one will even care. But it should be noted that the breakthrough in capturing the second suspect alive only happened because the shelter in place order had been withdrawn. According to early news reports, it was a member of the general public who first alerted police to the blood evidence that ultimately led to the suspect’s capture.

panic poster


Groove of the Day 

Listen to The Smiths performing “Panic”


time is irrelevant

the ghost & mrs muir 3The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947) was released a year before I was born and was one of Holly’s favorite films. I was (and am) enthralled by its ideal of beauty as personified by heroine Gene Tierney.

I have told you this before–and you can put this off to an over-active imagination if you wish–but sometimes when I watch this movie, I can feel Holly’s numinous presence. I prefer to think such “visitations” are real, but it has been twenty years since she died, and I am becoming an eccentric old man who believes that with the passage of the years, time is irrelevant where love is concerned.


Groove of the Day 

Listen to Bernard Herrmann conducting “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir”


clone me

Stranger in a Strange Land: Denmark

by Mary Ellen Johnson

Danish MermaidWhat happens when you’re confronted with a totally different way of thinking, one that leaves you questioning your basic attitudes and assumptions about a whole host of things?

I often experience that sense of disconnect, even bewilderment, particularly when listening to talk shows or politicians with diametrically opposed ways of looking at the world. Yes, I am a stranger in a strange land, wondering why so few think like me. And, yet on a recent trip to Denmark, I met many people who could be Mary Ellen clones–or at least Mary Ellen cousins. Could that be because my grandfather emigrated from Bulgaria and my parents were Roosevelt Democrats, with a far more “collectivist” way of thinking? Or having been raised Catholic, with concomitant images of being part of the body of Christ? Simply assuming we are all connected as automatically as many Americans only think in terms of the individual?

Have no idea, but while in Denmark, I felt as if I’d come home–at least as far as shared beliefs. I was originally invited to Denmark in order to lecture to students about our criminal justice system, particularly when it comes to juveniles. What happened is that they, very gently, ended up lecturing me.

I found genuine befuddlement over certain core American beliefs and assumptions, beginning with our justice system.

The word victim was never mentioned. The focus is entirely on the offender. If the juvenile commits a crime he is either mentally ill or a product of a dysfunctional environment. (Though “dysfunctional” was never used. Destructive. Distressed. Difficult.) Students were genuinely repelled by my counter argument that many Americans believe in the “bad seed” theory. Or are shaped by the doctrine of original sin. Not being a religious people–but whose values are quite New Testament oriented–Danes can’t conceive of an inherently defective human being.

Old enough to do the crime, old enough to do the time is a laughable concept. Not that Danes believe in long punishment for anyone. A life sentence is 16 years, though there are a few who are mentally ill or who commit serial crimes, who “may never come out.”

Danes are appalled by our income inequality and cannot understand why we accept one percent owning 40% of our nation’s wealth. When I responded that Americans believe they will someday number among that one percent and therefore applaud those millionaires and billionaires, the students merely shook their heads in bemusement.

Our fascination with guns does not compute. Nor does our predilection for solving problems through violence.

Health care is a right, not a privilege. Just flip that around and you have the thinking of at least 50% of Americans.

Danes expect a certain level of help from the government–free health care, a social safety net that will allow even the long term unemployed to survive, reduced day care, free higher education, good roads, trains and infrastructure, and have no trouble with the government enacting strict environmental policies. And, may I add, these many benefits have not made the Danes a lazy people. They do complain about immigration–largely Muslim–and about too generous benefits for foreigners who do not have their work ethic. How true that complaint is I can’t say. But overall, they assume a certain level of government intervention is necessary to assure a basic standard of living and they are willing to pay for it.

We aren’t. And the irony is that, save for corporations, many Americans end up paying nearly as much in taxes as do the Danes. The difference is the Danes get something for their taxes.

We don’t.


Mary Ellen Johnson is the Executive Director of The Pendulum Foundation, a non-profit that serves kids serving life. Mary Ellen is also the author of several published books, including The Murder of Jacob, about a 15-year-old who killed his abusive parents, Listening to Jay and the Americans, Walking in the Rain. She is also the “godmother” of The Redemption Project.


Groove of the Day 

Listen to Abby Lappen performing “Clone Me”



Noah Crooks 3

It is a measure of Bill Kutmus’ quality as an attorney that he wins motions that he does not expect to win.

The latest example concerns certain statements that Noah Crooks made to the dispatcher and police following the murder of his mother. Like a lot of kids and parents following parricide incidents, Noah and his dad assumed that the police and prosecutors are “the good guys” and will do the right thing with whatever is said. First mistake.

The police are never our friends.

Back in March 2012, Noah allegedly admitted to killing his mother to a Mitchell County dispatcher, a sheriff’s deputy, and agents with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation. But on April 1st in a pre-trial hearing, Bill Kutmus questioned the admissibility of that evidence at his trial. Law enforcement failed to get written permission from Crooks’ father, William, to question his son.

Noah, age 14, is charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of his mother, Gretchen, 37, on March 24, 2012, at the family’s rural Osage home.

About 7:30 p.m. that night, Noah called 911 and told the dispatcher he had killed his mother. The dispatcher called Deputy Jeff Huftalin and Mitchell County Sheriff Curt Younker, who has since retired.

Huftalin arrived first and took Noah into custody. Noah was handcuffed and placed in the front seat of the deputy’s patrol vehicle. His father, William Crooks, wasn’t at home at the time of the murder, but had been away for just minutes at a going-away party for family friends.

He arrived at home some time later and spoke with the sheriff who told him his wife was dead and Noah had been taken to the Mitchell County Sheriff’s Office.

Younker asked for Crooks’ permission to speak with his son.

“He said, ‘You do what you have to do,’ ” Younker testified at the April 1st hearing. Younker said he took that as a yes.

When asked why he didn’t get written permission from Noah’s father, Younker said, “It simply didn’t occur to me.”

Huftalin read Noah his Miranda rights and obtained a copy of the Miranda form for suspects under the age of 16. Before he questioned Noah at the sheriff’s office, he went through the form with him and had him sign it. But Huftalin missed a section of the form which says written permission from a parent is required before questioning a juvenile.

Huftalin said this was his first murder investigation.

Kutmus said his client’s statements make it clear he didn’t want to talk with law enforcement. Reading from the transcript of the 911 tape, “OK. This is Noah. OK. I don’t want you to contact the news or do anything like that. I have no idea why I did it. I feel crazy but I know I’m not,” Kutmus read.

The state argued that officers “substantially complied” with the requirements of the statute by obtaining oral permission from Crooks’ father.

Kutmus also said Noah asked Huftalin for an attorney. “I need a counselor or something. I just need to get it out.” Kutmus said Noah was using the word “counselor” to mean attorney, not a psychological counselor. “Assuming that he’s asking for a lawyer, everything that he says after that is inadmissable,” Kutmus said.

“I interpreted that to mean that he wanted to get something off his chest,” Huftalin said.

Kutmus responded, “It’s not about what you thought. It’s about what he thought.”

This gambit apparently worked. On April 15th, District Judge James Drew ruled that while the statements made to the dispatcher are admissible, the rest of the evidence is inadmissible at trial because law enforcement failed to get written permission from Crooks’ father. According to the judge’s ruling, those statements were made prior to Crooks being taken into custody and were voluntary.

The admissibility of statements made by Crooks during a conversation with his father, which was recorded by law enforcement at the Mitchell County Sheriff’s Department, will be made at a later date.

Statements made by Crooks as he was being transported to the sheriff’s department for questioning are also inadmissable because Crooks can’t waive his right to legal counsel.

Noah’s trial is scheduled to begin Tuesday, April 30, in Wright County District Court in Clarion.


This post relies on large amounts of court reporting by Peggy Senzarino of the Mason City Globe Gazette.

double death

death's head 1

The Death of the Death Penalty Bill

by Bonnie Young

Around the end of March, in another landmark, hasty. and cowardly decision, the Colorado legislature decided to table the proposed bill to abolish the death penalty in Colorado. After 9 hours of testimony, and strong legislative support, our Governor stated that he was not in support of the bill and therefore it was tabled.

The issue of the death penalty is a very volatile topic and usually provokes strong argument from both sides. In recent months several states have moved to abolish the death penalty. Why the change now? I can only speculate, however, there has been much publicity over the wrongful convictions of inmates who were currently on death row. How can we, as a nation, justify putting a man to death who may very well be innocent? That is a very logical, powerful and reasonable argument.  There is yet a NEW VOICE that has risen that may surprise you. That is the voice of victims families who DO NOT WANT THE DEATH PENALTY. In an interview one man, whose son was killed on the job, told the reporter that in the beginning he wanted the death penalty for his sons murderer. As the years passed and his anger subsided, he realized that the death of one man does not atone for the death of another man. “There is no eye for an eye.  It don’t make it right and it don’t pay for my sons life. Nothing can pay for that.”

Many, with strong religious convictions, have sought spiritual counsel and found that their is nothing in most religions that support taking a man’s life.

In Colorado two of the three men on death row are responsible for the death of Representative Rhonda Fields’ son and future daughter in-law. Ms. Fields was quoted by The Denver Post, “I don’t think the death penalty should be repealed.”

I listened to a few hours of the hearings on the death penalty bill. In the time frame that I listened, no one spoke against the repeal of the death penalty. No one. Many legislators wanted to take time to find out what their constituents desired. Many of those constituents had already spoken through petitions, letters and support of the death penalty bill.

Once again the opinion and desires of the general population of Colorado has been ignored. We no longer want to be responsible for killing anyone, whether a known killer or not. We do not want blood on our hands. There is no eye for any eye. That is a Jewish idiom which simply means reparation for harm done. You cannot repair the harm you have done when you are dead.

Once again our legislature did not represent the will of the people. Once again, when faced with a monumental change that we could be proud of, our legislature shrunk back. Once again we were ignored and now we place the blood on your hands.


Bonnie Young is a minister in Colorado, and passionate about this and related issues. Her son was caught up in a sensational crime and as a juvenile he was railroaded into prison for 68 years. She has website, “FreeJonny,” which I encourage you to visit.


Groove of the Day 

Listen to Choir of St. Mary’s Cathedral performing Faure’s “Requiem: Introit & Kyrie”



In the three years since I first ran this link, the late Aaron Russo’s last film, America: Freedom to Fascism, went missing on YouTube. A couple nights ago, I found it again.

In recognition of tax day, I present it again here.


Groove of the Day 

Listen to The Beatles performing “Taxman”


now voyager

Bette Davis

Bette Davis isn’t as hot as Milla, but she’s one of the greatest actors that ever lived, and Now Voyager (1942) was her greatest box office hit. It is also one of my favorite films.

“The untold want, by life and land ne’er granted,

Now, Voyager, sail thou forth, to seek and find.”

– Walt Whitman


Groove of the Day 

Listen to Glenn Miller and the Modernaires performing “Perfidia”



the fifth element


I really love this film, and can watch Milla Jovovich all day.


Groove of the Day 

Listen to Eric Serra performing “Little Light of Love”


holding the vision


Prison Reform: Holding the Vision

by Bonnie Young

The past few weeks have been wrought with sadness and lingering questions over the untimely death of Colorado Department of Corrections Director, Tom Clements.

Although I did not know Mr. Clements personally, I held him in high regard for the compassion and dedication he had to prison reform. Mr. Clements did not advocate the use of solitary confinement and implemented many changes to see that the inmate population held in such torturous conditions was significantly reduced. Mr. Clements was concerned by the number of inmates that were released directly from solitary confinement to community corrections or to the streets. He was aware of the difficult adjustments inmates encountered when they were released from solitary confinement. Not only did he seek to implement behavior modification plans to deter the use of solitary but he also implemented step down practices to ease re-entry into general population.

In an article from the Colorado Independent written by Susan Greene, Tom Clements is quoted, “You have to ask yourself the question – How does holding inmates in administrative segregation and then putting them out on a bus into the public, [how does that] square up?” Clements said.

“We have to think about how what we do in prisons impacts the community when [prisoners] leave,” Clements continued. “It’s not just about running the prison safely and securely. There’s a lot of research around solitary and isolation in recent years, some tied to POWs and some to corrections. My experience tells me that long periods of isolation can be counter-productive to stable behavior and long-term rehabilitation goals.”  

Unfortunately the plans that Mr. Clements proposed were not supported by the Colorado government. In this testimony from the father of the accused killer of Mr. Clements, we see the impact of solitary on his son.

As early as a year ago, Evan Ebel’s father, Jack Ebel, testified before a committee of the Colorado State Legislature that after years in solitary, his son had trouble communicating during visits.

”Even though he’s well-read and he’s a good conversationalist and gentle—he started out that way, what I’ve seen over six years is he has become increasingly… he has a high level of paranoia and [is] extremely anxious. So when he gets out to visit me, and he gets out of his cell to talk to me, I mean he is so agitated that it will take an hour to an hour-and-half before we can actually talk,” Jack Ebel told legislators.

He was speaking in favor of a bill that would have more closely monitored the mental health of individuals in solitary, and required that they spend some time in the general population before their release from prison. The bill was voted down.

There have been several law suits filed in Colorado concerning the use of solitary confinement, the conditions of confinement and the destructive nature of such torturous confinement. Ultimately it is we, the people, who are responsible for allowing these things to happen in our state and we must take responsibility for our ignorance and apathy. Maybe we can justify the course of action by believing that those held behind bars are just too sick and corrupt and therefore such confinement practices must be used. However, it is not true. Anyone deprived in such conditions of confinement will suffer mental breakdown.  Here is testimony from a political prisoner held in Iran in solitary confinement. 

In prolonged isolation, the human psyche slowly self-destructs. On my worst days, I screamed and beat at the walls. I experienced hallucinations–bright flashing lights and phantom footsteps–nightmares, insomnia, heart palpitations, lethargy, clinical depression, and passive suicidal thoughts. I would pace my cell incessantly, or crouch like an animal by the food slot at the bottom of my cell door, listening for any sound to distract me. When I finally got books and television, I found it difficult to concentrate. I would sometimes spend an entire afternoon trying to read the same page, until I got fed up and threw my book against the wall.

“The only thing I thought about for over a year in solitary was the day that I would no longer have to be alone, but, ironically, it wasn’t that simple. When I was finally released, I found it hard to make eye contact or be touched. My breathing remained labored and many of the symptoms I experienced in prison–insomnia, hypertension, and anxiety–persisted on the outside. Like many people with post-traumatic stress disorder, I sometimes drank too much to try and escape my symptoms. More than once I became belligerent, dangerously paranoid, or hopelessly depressed–sometimes walling myself up in my house for days at a time.” 

The Governor of Colorado, in a statement at Mr. Clements’ memorial service, declared that they would continue Mr. Clements’ vision and work.  Given the track record of the Colorado legislature concerning prison reform, sentencing reform, parole reform and mental health measures, I am not hopeful.

Thank you, Mr. Clements, for who you were and all you accomplished.


Bonnie Young is a minister in Colorado, and passionate about this and related issues. Her son was caught up in a sensational crime and as a juvenile he was railroaded into prison for 68 years. She has website, “FreeJonny,” which I encourage you to visit.


Groove of the Day 

Listen to Dame Joan Sutherland performing Verdi’s “Libera me: Requiem aeternam”



I was awakened from a sound sleep last night by Paul Gingerich with news that Paul Henry’s new waiver hearing has been scheduled for June 4th.

“Do you want to come?” Paul asked.

I told him that travel is very difficult post-stoke. “I am very frail. I don’t think so. I think I must stay here.”

Other people think I am better than I am. I still slur my words, but they don’t hear it. Maybe they don’t want to.

I went into Terlingua yesterday for ice and other provisions, my first solo trip, and it took everything I had in me to make the trip. Five hours total, and by the time I had returned, I wanted only to collapse on the sofa. This is where Paul found me when he called.

I could not have made it here without the assistance of other people. I am very thankful. I have relied on others, mostly for rides into town, but I have appreciated it when visitors have come to just sit with me.

From the beginning, the most difficult thing has been maintaining the fine balance between dependence on others and self-reliance. People want to be generous, but in this place especially, they are intolerant of excessive dependency. I have heard from at least seven people with questions about another who is excessively dependent and has therefore been cut off, phone calls unanswered or left unreturned. Thankfully this has not happened to me.

People are accepting of one’s being human, but not being weak. This attitude makes us stronger and is to be embraced.


Groove of the Day

Listen to Chicago performing “Feeling Stronger Every Day”