Archive for March, 2014


earworms 2

head 2

Four years ago, I wrote a post called “Earworms,” a short essay about how catchy tunes become stuck in your head and won’t go away. According to research, it happens to 90% of us at least once a week.

Now imagine that the distant tune in the back of your head suddenly becomes very real. A real singer. Real drums. Real guitar. Strings. Full volume. These are called musical hallucinations and some people suffer from them on a daily basis.

In the years since I wrote that piece, I have heard public radio and others cover this topic (usually from a scientific perspective), most recently in The New Yorker and last week on RadioLab. Here is a segment of the radio show that runs about 20 minutes:

Listen to the rebroadcast of RadioLab’s April 21, 2008 segment on “Earworms”

Nothing ever happened as a result of publishing that post except that a friend called and scolded me for it, saying that I’d implanted something in his head that was like a virus. He must have thought the Groove of the Day was especially nefarious. But I warned everybody. I said, “Listen at Your Own Risk.”

I have found the subject of earworms of continuing interest. I once did a long drive in the West, and as an experiment, the radio and sound system were “Off” the whole time. Yet my head was filled with music continually. Full symphonic sound when I wanted it. Full voices when I wanted that. Whole scores. And “Off” when I wanted no more. I liked it. I was amazed.

But there are some people for whom earworms are a problem. They cannot turn off the song or lower the volume. They are afflicted.

Last year, researchers at Western Washington University claimed that the best way to stop the phenomenon is by solving some tricky anagrams. This can force the intrusive music out of your working memory, they say, allowing it to be replaced with other more amenable thoughts. For those unwilling to carry around a book of anagrams, a good novel may also do the trick.

“The key is to find something that will give the right level of challenge,” said Dr. Ira Hyman, a music psychologist at Western Washington University who conducted the research. “If you are cognitively engaged, it limits the ability of intrusive songs to enter your head.

“Something we can do automatically like driving or walking means you are not using all of your cognitive resource, so there is plenty of space left for that internal jukebox to start playing.”

Surveys by scientists have revealed a wide variety of songs tend to end up as earworms with three-quarters of people reporting unique songs not experienced by others. The most common tend to be popular songs that are in the charts or are particularly well-known.

The Western Washington team found that Lady Gaga was the most common artist to get stuck in people’s heads, with four of her catchy songs being the most likely to become earworms: “Alejandro”, “Bad Romance”, “Just Dance”, and “Paparazzi”.

None of them do anything for me. For my money, any Burt Bacharach song will do, but the following song meets the requirements above all others to qualify it for this dubious honor.


Earworm of the Day

Listen to Dionne Warwick performing “Don’t Make Me Over”


prodigal son

prodigal son

I used to say that my son entered the terrible twos and never emerged. Through his entire childhood, if you were to comment “It’s a beautiful day,” he would say “I wish it were raining.” If you said something was white, he’d say he’d prefer that it were black.

I am a positive person. His negativity was a terrible burden for me to bear. Being positive and surrounding myself with positive people is important to me, things that have had everything to do with my survival. It is a terrible thing to admit, but my son’s oppositional behavior was a big “downer” for me, and I avoided him through most of the years when he needed me most.

Now that he is an adult, he has outgrown this behavior and we are close. But it was a long time in coming, and I feel bad as a parent that I was unable to do anything about the problem but just wait.

I had begun to think of him as my prodigal child. I recently did a little research on the term “prodigal,” and I discovered that the core meaning of the word prodigal is “waste.” But my son is anything but wasteful; I think he has banked (or paid off student loans with) virtually the first dollar he ever earned.

The origin of our understanding of “prodigal” is a story in the bible which says a man had two sons.

The man’s younger son asked the father to give him his inheritance so that he could enjoy it now rather than wait till his father died. The older brother dutifully remained behind.

His father gave the boy his inheritance and the son went out into the world in search of bigger and better things. He partied and lived it up for many years, and wasted his last penny. He thought he knew it all but had become flat broke, eating with the hogs.

He ended up having to come back home with his tail between his legs, a biblical “boomerang child”. He was humiliated, prepared to beg, to even renounce his kinship to his father.

But instead, when the father saw his son coming up the road home, he was happy to see his son again. The prodigal son tried to get out his supplication (according to an Eastern Orthodox prayer):

I have recklessly forgotten Your glory, O Father;
And among sinners I have scattered the riches which You gave to me.
And now I cry to You as the Prodigal:
I have sinned before You, O merciful Father;
Receive me as a penitent and make me as one of Your hired servants.

But the father cut off his son’s words. He called for his servants to set up a banquet to celebrate the son’s return.

The older son, the one who had stayed behind and worked for his father, refused to go along and attend the banquet.  He sulked. It was unfair. He had remained behind, worked hard, and had received no special reward. His father had given him not even a goat with which to share with his friends.

“When he returns who has wasted the fruits of our labors on whores, you kill a fattened calf for him.”

His father reminded his son that everything the father has is the older son’s, yet that they should still celebrate the return of the younger son. “Your younger brother was dead, and is alive again. He was lost and now is found.”

The bible story is basically about waste, jealousy, being humbled. But it is also about how enduring bonds of familial love and loyalty can overcome all.

So what is the modern view of a prodigal child?

First, it’s important to realize that many children may exhibit troubling or rebellious behavior, but are not full-blown prodigals. If your child wears a different hairstyle, gets a piercing, is moody or depressed, comes home with Cs on his report card, or becomes angry when told to empty the dishwasher, that doesn’t make him a prodigal. These examples are normal for preteens and teenagers.

A true prodigal child will show extreme defiance and rebellion as a pattern over an extended period of time. In fact, the word defiance catches it all—a stubborn, rebellious spirit that rebels against authority, refuses to acknowledge responsibility for faults, and doesn’t embrace the truth. Here are some signs, according to Wikipedia, suggesting the presence of an Oppositional/Defiant prodigal:

  • Throwing repeated temper tantrums
  • Excessively arguing with adults
  • Actively refusing to comply with requests and rules
  • Deliberately trying to annoy or upset others, or being easily annoyed by others
  • Blaming others for your mistakes
  • Having frequent outbursts of anger and resentment
  • Being spiteful and seeking revenge
  • Swearing or using obscene language
  • Saying mean and hateful things when upset

In addition, many children with ODD are moody, easily frustrated, and have a low self-esteem. They also sometimes may abuse drugs and alcohol.

As I said before, it’s not unusual for children—especially those in their “terrible twos” and early teens—to defy authority every now and then. They may express their defiance by arguing, disobeying, or talking back to their parents, teachers, or other adults. When this behavior lasts longer than six months and is excessive compared to what is usual for the child’s age, it may mean that the child has a type of behavior disorder called oppositional defiant disorder (ODD).

ODD is a condition in which a child displays an ongoing pattern of uncooperative, defiant, hostile, and annoying behavior toward people in authority. The child’s behavior often disrupts the child’s normal daily activities, including activities within the family and at school.

In the above description of prodigal and oppositional behavior, the idea of waste is not explicit, but it is there. Says David Rainey, essayist and CEO of FamilyLife, for almost 40 years a subsidiary of Campus Crusade for Christ: “The famous prodigal son from Christ’s parable in Luke 15:11-32 not only wasted the material possessions of his inheritance and much of his life, but he also did much worse. He wasted, through rebellion and foolishness, his precious relationship with his father.”

According to Rainey, those who work professionally with such teenagers often mention two key root causes.

Selfishness. We are all self-centered by nature, but selfishness becomes an art form in the prodigal’s life.

Desire for control. This issue is often linked to selfishness. During adolescence, young people naturally seek greater control over their lives. Selfishly, they may ask for much more control than they can handle.

In my own experience, familial bonds are more important than any perceived transgressions by the child. Parents must remember who is the parent, and be held to a higher standard than the child. The child must be responsible for the consequences of his/her actions, but the parent must exercise patience and forbearance when the relationship isn’t working… keep looking for (and have faith in) the similarities between the child’s values and one’s own… and never abandon or “throw away” the child as unredeemable.

Also, according to Rainey, here are some priorities you should maintain as a parent:

Keep loving. No matter how broken and alienated your child may be, you always will be dad or mom—the only people in the world with the unique opportunity to love him without strings like no other person can. This is a powerful tool, like a huge magnet that can irresistibly draw a wayward child back to your embrace.

Connect. Your child may not even want to speak to you. And you may be weary of trying to reach out and always getting shut down. You have no choice; you must find ways to connect. Even in the face of angry words and cold body language, you can speak kind words and give hugs and tender touches. You can compliment and encourage. You can show interest. You can serve. You can pursue your child in ways that speak this language of love.

Establish boundaries. Although you will keep trying to connect, you and others in your family should not accept abusive, destructive behavior from an in-house prodigal. What will be the basic requirements for anyone living under your family’s roof? These rules must be carefully thought through and clearly communicated to your child. Your child needs to know that if boundaries are crossed, serious consequences will result.

I believe we can wait expectantly for a prodigal child to return, but we also need to accept the reality that this may be a wait of months and even years. Although you hope that resolution and reconciliation will come quickly, you must prepare for a long haul.


Groove of the Day

Listen to The Rolling Stones performing “Prodigal Son”





As you’ve probably already noticed, sometimes I’m really good at starting fires.

Usually this happens by accident.

Right now, there’s a tempest in a teapot happening in the comments to “1938 All Over Again?“, because I had had the temerity to republish an article highlighting the similarities between the Sudeten Crisis of 1936 and the Crimean Crisis of 2014. I frankly didn’t think anyone would be interested but me.

Go figure.

But sometimes the fires happen on purpose.


kenilworth corridor 3

There’s a fight taking place in the city of Minneapolis and at least one of its western suburbs—a fight which I set up to happen about 25 years ago. I’m as long gone as an arsonist who left a time-delay fuse at the site of a blaze, but I made the conflict happen… and I’m proud of it.

It has to do with the building of bike and pedestrian trails next to active rail lines. It hadn’t been done before. There were lots of rails-to-trails conversions happening all over the country in the late ’80s, but rails AND trails?

kenilworth corridor 5Before I turned my attention to juvenile justice reform, I spent 15 years creating parkland in rail corridors which had been abandoned by some (but not all) active freight lines around Minneapolis. One of these corridors was land which was purchased by the Hennepin County Rail Authority for an alignment for future light rail (commuter) traffic linking downtown Minneapolis with distant Eden Prairie, about 12 miles southeast of the city.

(This alignment is designated as “F” in the map to the right.)

Now the authorities have put the money together and want to build their commuter rail line, but they’re having trouble at one choke-point: the Kenilworth Corridor, where one small rail line continues to operate its freight trains next to bikers and pedestrians in a natural setting which mimics a piece of wildness in the heart of the city.

kenilworth corridor 4I distinctly remember dreaming up the strategy of getting people to coexist with active rail lines. I thought, “Get the people to see rail lands as parklands, get them using the land as parks, and the politicians will never be able to take the corridors away from the people—no matter what jurisdiction owns the land for whatever purpose.”

I was surprised at the time that we got the rail authority to go along with this scheme, but I learned that politicians are short-sighted and eager to give the voters “bread and circuses” if it doesn’t cost too much money. Light rail was a distant goal, and putting an obstacle or complication in its way was something that someone else would just have to figure out. Now that time has come, and the politicians know that something will have to give—but as I had predicted, the people will not tolerate the loss of their trails.

Now the puzzle has been “elevated” to the level of a children’s show in the Twin Cities, and has been called a conundrum. This just really slays me. The younger generation is even being involved.



This is a conflagration I set up years ago, and I can’t even smell the smoke.


Groove of the Day

Listen to Jerry Lee Lewis performing “Great Balls of Fire”





My visitor and I had a good time, we did a long hike on the Estrella Vista property (the second one I have attempted since my stroke), and I have a clean house until the wind stirs up the dust again.

What began as a grey, windy day yielded to a clear night and second day of sunny, blue skies and warm temperatures. He saw for himself why the place is called “Estrella Vista”.

“I haven’t seen this many stars in years,” he exclaimed on the night of his arrival.

He asked me lots of questions about my vision, seemed satisfied with the answers, and offered many suggestions for how it might be achieved. I asked him very direct questions whether the vision seems to him a potential reality or pipe dream. He is a very practical man; he is paid in his work to identify how any number of government systems will not work or go awry. He replied that the vision seems do-able and necessary to him.

We even discussed missteps made by trusting the wrong people who set us back temporarily from achieving our goals. Inevitable growing pains. It was a frank, no-holds-barred discussion.

Now all my nervousness prior to his arrival seems ridiculous. In the future, preparations will be more focused on the needs of visitors, and not my egocentric concerns. More mission-centric.

The only negative was that our primitive private road inflicted an injury to one of his tires which, at only 12,000 miles, required a replacement before his departure this morning. Luckily, the town of Terlingua was able to accommodate his problem with a minimum of money, trouble, and loss of travel time.

The most important thing to me is that a voice has been transformed to a full-bodied personality and has impressed upon me the importance of the work we do, not only on the beneficiaries of our work, but all who participate. It impressed upon me the fact that our work provides an effective framework for the redemption of all lives including those who are on the helping end of the equation.

My friend’s last words to me before he drove out the drive were that he now knows what “off-the-grid” means. “You bring new meaning to primitive living,” he said. He will be back again, and will probably bring one of his sons with him.

He suggested the following song as the “Groove of the Day.” It overstates the reality by two, but it was his suggestion, not mine.


Groove of the Day

Listen to Marty Robbins performing “160 Acres



reality check

old hawaii 1

The Romance


old hawaii 5The Reality


Luckily, not everyone shares the same reality.



Groove of the Day

Listen to the Noi Lane Hawaiian Orchestra performing “Dreams of Aloha




Don’t expect too much from me over the next couple days. My visitor emailed me from El Paso a little while ago, and his estimated time of arrival is about 9:00 tonight. Tomorrow will be spent in conversation, so I doubt there will be any time to post more than a song tomorrow.

It’s a good thing I got most of my housecleaning done yesterday; I slept until 2:00 this afternoon recovering from what turned out to be a fully taxing experience. I am as ready as I will ever be.

Now if only the weather will cooperate. Right now is it grey and windy, not especially cold (as it was last night), but not showing Estrella Vista in the best light.

My visitor will have a lot to look beyond to develop a good impression. Had I not flunked out of charm school, I might have a better chance of impressing him. The dogs probably won’t help. I guess I will have to fall back on the old reliable standby and hope for the best: Absolute Honesty.

What you see is what you get.


Groove of the Day

Listen to Dusty Springfield performing “Wishing and Hoping”


a suicide

One of our 50 juveniles serving life committed suicide. The story follows.

The story has been kept very quiet. Even though Gabriel had an active case and was getting ready for a sentencing review via the recent Supreme Court ruling, his attorneys were never informed. DOC will not talk to the press on this or other matters and has denied interviews with prisoners on a whole host of issues. This is a very troubling development.

Finally, Gabriel Adams was very troubled and tried to commit suicide twice before. He was in a treatment facility with supposedly suicide proof rooms. How did this ever happen?

We have another young lifer that spent 17 years in solitary and is still locked down 22 hours a day. These now-grown men all entered the system as teens. This is no way to treat an animal—let alone a human being, regardless of age and regardless of his crimes.

Mary Ellen Johnson
Executive Director, The Pendulum Foundation



Gabriel Adams, serving life, found dead in prison for mentally ill

by Alan Prendergast, Westword Magazine

March 24, 2014

gabrial.adams.205x05Gabriel Adams, a 38-year-old inmate serving life without parole for his role in a headline-grabbing double-murder committed when he was a teenager, was found dead in his cell on March 9. Although autopsy results have not yet been released and the Colorado Department of Corrections is offering little information about the death, Adams — who had a history of suicide attempts — reportedly hanged himself in the San Carlos Correctional Facility in Pueblo, which houses many of the prison system’s most severely mentally ill inmates.

Adams was seventeen in 1992, when he joined fellow Woodland Park teen Jacob Ind in a bizarre plot to kill Ind’s mother and stepfather. As detailed in our 1998 feature “The Killer and Mrs. Johnson,” Ind claimed to have been physically and sexually abused by his parents for years and to have hired Adams, a purported martial arts expert, to carry out their murders.

jacob indThe two co-defendants told somewhat different stories about who carried out what actions the night Kermode and Pamela Jordan were shot to death in their upscale home, but both were tried as adults and received life sentences.

Pendulum Foundation director Mary Ellen Johnson’s book about the case, The Murder of Jacob, describes Adams as a short, slight, delusional adolescent who “believed himself to be a reincarnated Vietnam War vet” and preferred to be called “Major.” As she wrote, “Major even claimed he knew how to levitate, ninja-style.”

Following a 2012 US Supreme Court decision declaring mandatory life sentences unconstitutional for offenders who committed their crimes when they were juveniles, Colorado’s 51 juvie lifers have been awaiting a chance to argue for reduced time at individual sentencing hearings. But those hearings didn’t come soon enough for Adams, who has struggled with mental illness throughout his prison sentence.

Barb Stephenson, a board member of the Colorado chapter of the prison family-rights group CURE and the national chapter of an organization that seeks reforms in incarceration of the mentally ill, says that Adams was transferred to San Carlos in 2011 after a suicide attempt at the Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility. She corresponded with him and tried to serve as an advocate, she adds, but Adams imposed too many unreasonable conditions for her to even visit him.

“Gabriel did not talk about his diagnosis,” Stephenson says. “He did not talk about his treatment. He was a very paranoid person. He refused visitors, and I could tell he was not in touch with reality.”

The state prison system averages four to seven suicides a year. A DOC spokesman referred inquiries about the death to the Pueblo County coroner, stating only that “Mr. Adams was no longer in CDOC custody as of March 9, 2014.”


Alan Prendergast is a journalist for Westword magazine, and a recent recipient of the Society of Professional Jourrnalists’ Sigma Chi Delta award for feature writing.


Groove of the Day

Listen to Mozart’s “Violin Concerto No. 3 in G major, K. 216: Adagio”