Archive for January, 2015

31
Jan
15

at long last

2000 ford ranger

I have been without a vehicle for over two years—until this week, when I finally took delivery of a 2000 Ford Ranger pickup. And I bought the truck entirely with my own funds; no donations were used.

After such a long time, I hardly know how to behave. You would think I would be partaking in an orgy of driving, but except for a half-day visiting a friend, showering, and doing my laundry, the truck has remained parked in the circular drive in front of the house. Habits die hard.

The feeling of emancipation is exhilarating. Maybe this afternoon I will drive down to the highway to see if I have received any mail in the last week. I’m also about to run out of paper coffee filters.

Pinch me and let’s see if this is real.

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Groove of the Day

Listen to the Kings of Leon performing “Pickup Truck”

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Weather Report

58° and Cloudy

30
Jan
15

syreeta

Syreeta Wright (August 3, 1946 – July 6, 2004), who recorded professionally under the single name Syreeta, was a Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter best known for her work with ex-husband, Stevie Wonder, and with Billy Preston.

She got her start in the music business as a receptionist for Motown in 1965. Within a year, she became a secretary, just as Martha Reeves (of Martha and the Vandellas) had done before her. A year later, Edward Holland of the Holland-Dozier-Holland songwriting team noticed Wright’s singing and decided to try her out for demos of Supremes songs.

I have been an unabashed fan since 1974 when she released the album which is today’s Groove of the Day, which I think is some of her best work. I have never before featured an entire album as the Groove; but there are few albums I love as much as this… plus, it’s less than 40 minutes in length. Also, it is a representative window on this particular point in time.

She is probably best-known for her 1979 recording with Billy Preston of “With You I’m Born Again”, which resulted in an international hit reaching number-four in the US and number-two in the UK. The song is a little saccharine for my taste, but I include it here because it was her biggest hit and she looks absolutely beautiful in this performance.

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syreeta05Syreeta was married three times. Her first marriage, to longtime collaborator Stevie Wonder, lasted only 18 months between 1970 and 1972, and ended with an amicable divorce after a troubled marriage. The couple continued to collaborate after the marriage ended.

She briefly lived in Ethiopia in the mid-1970s where she worked as a Transcendental Meditation teacher.

A native of Pittsburgh and Detroit, she lived briefly in South Carolina and then in New York while still married to Wonder. She eventually settled in Los Angeles where she lived for the rest of her life.

Syreeta died of heart failure, a side effect of chemotherapy and radiation treatments she was receiving for breast and bone cancers. She was just 57 years old.

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Groove of the Day

Listen to Syreeta performing the full album, “Stevie Wonder Presents Syreeta”

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Weather Report

52° Cloudy and Windy

29
Jan
15

rip-off

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Groove of the Day

Listen to Jimmy Cliff performing “Rip Off”

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Weather Report

75° and Clear

28
Jan
15

elhaz

elhaz 1

Today is the first day of the fortnight (January 28-February 11) governed by the rune Elhaz.

Its form represents the horns of an elk or the defensive gesture of a splayed hand. It has also been associated with a flying swan, whose feathers adorn the magical flying cloaks of the protective Valkyries. Its phonetic value is “Z” as in “buzz.”

Elhaz also has the meaning of elk sedge, a double-edged plant with fibers that can cut like razors. According to the Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem: Elk-sedge grows mainly in the fenland, / Flourishing in the water, it gives grievous wounds, / Staining with the blood every man / Who tries to grip it.

In the Norwegian Rune Poem, Elhaz is likened to the claw of a hawk, an image most pictorially close to the runestave itself. Whatever the rune may have originally stood for, it is considered the most powerful rune of protection against anyone or thing in conflict with us.

Unlike its opposite on the circular Runic Compass, Thorn (which provides passive protection in the same way as a barbed wire fence does), Elhaz is a rune which provides protection in an active way as a firearm does. Its symbolic meaning is clear: stay away or suffer unpleasant consequences.

elhaz 5This rune is outlawed in some European countries today because it is used by white supremacists who use it to symbolize the survival of the Aryan race. To be sure, Elhaz saw widespread use in the Third Reich. Here it is seen as a sleeve patch denoting the wearer as a field medic of the Hitlerjugend. It was also used as a symbol of the Lebensborn, a program through which the SS encouraged unwed girls to bear ‘racially pure’ children for Germany. In its regular form, Elhaz was called the “Lebenrune,” or life-rune, and denoted birth on many tombstones. Inverted, it was called the “Totenrune,” or death-rune, and denoted the date of death.

superhumanbalanceLife and death are two aspects of the same thing. The other night I saw a TV program in which a Norwegian athlete named Eskil Ronningsbakken performed an insane balancing stunt with stacked chairs just inches from a 1,000-foot mountain drop. His heartbeat rate was unaffected. He had completely turned off his fear. “When you reach a point in life where you’re not afraid of dying any longer, you really start living,” he said.

Elhaz can be magically used as shield of protection on all levels: physical, emotional, intellectual. Esoterically, Elhaz denotes human aspiration towards divine qualities and light.

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Groove of the Day

Listen to Coldplay performing “Warning Sign”

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Weather Report

74° and Clear

27
Jan
15

peorth

peorth

When I wrote my post “Aetts,” I decided to summarize what I had previously written in the Diary about the runes by means of links to those posts. It also gave me a good picture of what I had accomplished, and what remained to be done.

Today is the final day of the fortnight (January 13-28) governed by the rune Peorth. Its symbolism is perhaps the most obscure and contentious of any rune. The shape of the rune is sometimes interpreted (as in the illustration above) as “cornucopia,” a sign of abundance. But my favored interpretation is “dice cup,” a device for casting lots.

Others are “game-piece,” “pawn,” “chessman,” or even “board game.” Many of these interpretations imply an interaction of conscious free will with the structural constraints of the game itself. However, the association of Peorth with a dice cup more strongly implies the interaction of one’s will with chance. It reminds us of the instability, volatility, and changeability of the Regenerative Aett, the “Wind-Water” phase of the cycle.

In all of the interpretations of the rune, Peorth signifies the potency of “Ørläg,” a word which is most usually translated as “fate.” In the Northern Tradition, Ørläg does not carry the connotation of predetermination which flavors the English meaning of the word. Predestination is concept alien to the Northern belief system, which has a healthy respect for the fact that outcomes can sometimes be almost accidental.

Nevertheless, the rune does remind us that one’s future is influenced by the deeds one has done in the past in much the same way as is expressed by the Hindu concept of Karma.

three fates 4In the Northern Tradition, Peorth contains the mystery of the Nornic laws which define cause-and-effect in the universe. The Norns are three mythic women called “the three fates”: Urdhr (“that which has become”), Verdhandi (“that which is becoming”), and Skuld (“that which should become”).

Peorth’s unique power is one and the same with the great pattern of cosmic becoming.

Its magical workings can bring abundance and pleasure even to the point of excess, and the rune is not to be overused. Used with evil intent, Peorth can seduce others to excesses in gluttony, lust, and drunkenness. It can make them spendthrifts.

Says author Nigel Pennick, “Like wine it is delightful in moderation, but deadly in excess.”

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Groove of the Day

Listen to Gotye performing “Giving Me A Chance”

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Weather Report

60° and Clear

26
Jan
15

possessed

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This morning Lone Heron called, and in the course of our discussing a case in which a young person refused to accept my ‘kinder gentler’ view of how things work, she recounted an experience with one of her clients which she believed to possibly be an example of demonic possession. She believed this case to be so beyond her abilities to be of help, she first referred this client to a priest. After visiting her priest, the client was transformed and receptive to the help that Lone Heron could provide.

I don’t believe in demonic possession, but I do believe that people have got to be willing to change before they are ready to benefit from any help that another person can give. Otherwise it is a wasted effort.

So whatever it takes to make the first step.

You want to believe in demons? Okay… though I think it would serve you better in your life if you believed you are the source of the power to change your life, and not something outside of you.

If you persist in believing in your “powerlessness” and can only take the first step by relying on a “higher power,” so be it. The important thing for now is experiencing the relief of making an immediate change.

I am not keen on believing in psychologists who prey on people’s weakness. This is why of all the theories of therapy, I am most enamored with something called “Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy” (REBT).

REBT was created and developed by the American psychotherapist and psychologist Albert Ellis. REBT is one form of cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and was first expounded by Ellis in the mid-1950s; development continued until his death in 2007.

The fundamental belief in REBT is that a process of “self talk” based on beliefs takes place between some adversity (or activating event) and the consequence. Contrary to what is implied by “John makes me mad,” one’s beliefs about John and what you tell yourself about John is what makes you feel mad. This is expressed in the A-B-C-model of psychological disturbance and change.

According to REBT, if a person’s evaluative B (belief about the A, activating event) is rigid, absolutistic, and dysfunctional, the C (the emotional and behavioral consequence) is likely to be self-defeating and destructive. Alternatively, if a person’s evaluative B belief is preferential, flexible, and constructive, the C, the emotional and behavioral consequence, is likely to be self-helping and constructive.

In other words, how we choose to think about something is the unrecognized intermediate step in how we choose to react to some external person or event. We are in the driver’s seat, and not a passive passenger constrained or guided by anyone or anything beyond our control.

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Groove of the Day

Listen to Crowded House performing “I Feel Possessed”

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Weather Report

45° and Cloudy

25
Jan
15

thank you

thank you

I’ll need to get out individual thank-you notes later today, but your response to the recent appeal for funds for Austin and Derek has been fantastic.

Two nights ago my fiscal agent, the Juvenile Law Society, notified me of donations received from US contributors and, combined with international donations, the total is in excess of what we needed to reach our goal. The extra money is approximately what we had to pay to liberate Derek’s car from the towing company.

Thanks to your generosity, this has begun for me as one of the most stress-free years in recent history. Working together, I feel that we can help our kids face any unexpected setback.

Thank you!

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Groove of the Day

Listen to Dido performing “Thank You”

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Weather Report

58° and Partly Cloudy

24
Jan
15

shark week

frillshark-big-1

by Brian Clark Howard, National Geographic

January 22, 2015

With its gaping, tooth-filled mouth and its slender, eel-like body, it’s not hard to see why scientists think the frilled shark may have inspired ancient tales of sea monsters. Looking like something out of a nightmare, the deep-sea creature is rarely seen. But fishers in Australia pulled one up this week.

The frilled shark is often called a “living fossil” because it is thought to have changed little in about 80 million years. The fish also bears a resemblance to ancestor species that lived during the time of the dinosaurs.

On Tuesday, Australian media reported that a fishing trawler pulled up a six-foot-long (two-meter) frilled shark in waters near Lakes Entrance off southeastern Victoria, Australia.

Simon Boag of Australia’s South East Trawl Fishing Association told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that no local fisher had ever seen the creature before. “It does look 80 million years old,” Boag told the ABC. “It looks prehistoric. It looks like it’s from another time!”

“It has 300 teeth over 25 rows, so once you’re in that mouth, you’re not coming out,” he said.

The shark “was on its last legs” when it made it to the surface, Boag told National Geographic.

Boag said the frilled shark was caught in about 3,300 feet (1,000 meters) of water. The species has previously been found at depths up to 5,000 feet (1,500 meters) but is generally thought to live no deeper than 4,000 feet (1,200 meters).

Australia’s national science agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), confirmed that the specimen was a frilled shark.

Frilled sharks are occasionally seen at the surface, mostly when they are sick. Most known specimens have been around six feet (two meters) in length. But the California-based MarineBio Conservation Society says that the netting of a 25-foot-long (7.6-meter) shark related to the frilled shark in 1880 “suggests there may be some giant frilled sharks in the sea that could be taken for sea serpents.”

In 2007 a 5.3-foot-long (1.6-meter) frilled shark was found in shallow water in Japan and transferred to a marine park. It died hours after being caught.

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Brian Clark Howard covers the environment, geology, technology and science for National Geographic.

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Groove of the Day

Listen to George Harrison performing “Fish On The Sand”

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Weather Report

49° and Partly Cloudy

23
Jan
15

the csi effect

Forensics Worker

I’ve been weathering a recent spate of bad weather seeing what television says is the current state of forensics science.

Shows like Court TV’s The Forensics Files purport to be non-fictional accounts of how forensics science solved particularly heinous crimes of murder, rape, etc. But if you ask me, most of the accounts show how forensics solved crimes in which the perpetrators deserved to be caught, if only because of their stupidity in tracking blood through crime scenes, retaining possession of evidence, and the like. Not criminal masterminds.

Virtual AutopsyHowever, the fictional forensic investigators in shows like CBS’ CSI or NBC’s Law & Order are an entirely different matter. Smarter criminals here. But Post Mortem, an investigation by NPR, PBS Frontline and ProPublica, has exposed how death investigation in America is nothing like what you see on TV. If fact, the investigation found that many autopsies are performed by forensic pathologists who can only be described as incompetent and whose results are erroneous and described by competent professionals as “junk.”

This can be blamed on a dysfunctional system which exists in 11 states—1,300 counties nationwide—in which county coroners (many of whom lack certification, training, or oversight) are elected. 7 states have an appointed county medical examiner system. Only 16 states have a centralized medical examiner system. The remaining states have hybrid systems. It is a crazy-quilt and there are no national standards or regulation.

Many prosecutors complain that shows like CSI make their job harder, as jurors demand ultra-high-tech tests to convict suspects. Increasingly suspicious of circumstantial evidence, juries often acquit if prosecutors don’t back up their claims with science.

“I think that CSI has done some great things for medico-legal death investigations. It has brought what we do from the shadows—where people really didn’t want to know and didn’t care what we do—to the bright light of day,” says Mike Murphy, the coroner for Clark County NV. His office was the model for the original CSI show.

“It’s also caused some problems. And some of those problems are [that] people expect us to have DNA back in 20 minutes or that we’re supposed to solve a crime in 60 minutes with three commercials. It doesn’t happen that way,” he says.

An NPR article on the subject quotes Anthony Zuiker, the creator of the CSI franchise, as saying that making amends for television is part of his job.

“Our job really is to make great television, first and foremost. And so, we have to, quote, ‘sex it up,’ ” Zuiker says. “I think Americans know that DNA doesn’t come back in 20 minutes. I think Americans know that there’s not some magical computer that you press and the guy’s face pops up and where he lives. You think America knows that the time sheets when you’re doing one hour of television have to be fudged a bit. Americans know that. They’re smart.”

However, legal experts are concerned that juries may well be confusing fact with fiction.

It’s termed the CSI Effect. Prosecutors have been complaining that shows like CSI feature high-tech labs and glib, gorgeous techies. The shows are creating the expectation that every trial must feature high-tech forensic tests. They fear that when prosecutors don’t show off CSI-style technology, juries might let criminals get away with murder.

By shining a glamorous light on a gory profession, these TV programs have also helped to draw more students into forensic studies. The case can be made in raising juries’ expectations from the field of crime investigation, they are influencing forensics to improve. But they’re probably also responsible for a certain amount of overreaching in the field, too.

“Junk science” takes the form of false autopsies, inaccurate evaluations of hair and fiber evidence, handwriting analysis, dog scent lineups, grossly misleading reports and testimony by corrupt, incompetent or shoddy crime labs, and the use of disproved arson investigation techniques. You can read more about junk science here.

FingerprintEven the age-old belief that every set of fingerprints is unique in the world has been definitively overturned by the case of attorney Brandon Mayfield. He was arrested in 2004 by the FBI in Portland OR after his fingerprints were “matched” to those found at a crime scene for the bombing of four commuter trains in Madrid, Spain, where 191 people were killed and over 2,000 were injured. The fact that Mayfield had not been in Spain was trumped by the fingerprint evidence. It was only after Spanish authorities made an arrest that Mayfield was released.

There are few-to-none scientific studies underpinning the reliability of any forensic evidence besides DNA. US District Court Judge Louis H. Pollak ruled in January 2002 that such evidence does not meet standards of scientific scrutiny established by the US Supreme Court, and said that even fingerprint examiners cannot testify at trial that a suspect’s fingerprints “match” those found at a crime scene.

Yet the programs foster what analysts say is the mistaken notion that criminal science is fast and infallible and always gets its man. Some of the science on CSI is state-of-the-art. Real lab technicians can, for example, lift DNA profiles from cigarette butts, candy wrappers and gobs of spit, just as their Hollywood counterparts do. But some of what’s on TV is far-fetched. Forensic scientist Thomas Mauriello estimates that 40% of the scientific techniques depicted on CSI do not exist. In addition to using unrealistic techniques, CSI ignores all elements of uncertainty present in real investigations, and instead portrays experimental results as absolute truth.

“You never see a case where the sample is degraded or the lab work is faulty or the test results don’t solve the crime,” says Dan Krane, president and DNA specialist at Forensic Bioinformatics in Fairborn OH. “These things happen all the time in the real world.” Betty Layne DesPortes, a criminal defense lawyer in Richmond VA (who has a master’s degree in forensic science) notes that during the past 15 years, human errors and corruption have skewed test results in crime labs in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, California, Texas, and Washington state.

Defense lawyers say the misconception that crime-scene evidence and testing are always accurate helps prosecutors. Prosecutors say the misconceptions help the defense. But the CSI effect may also help the criminals themselves.

In 2000, the year that CSI: Crime Scene Investigation debuted, 46.9% of all rape cases in the United States were solved by police. By 2005, the solve rate had fallen to 41.3%. By 2013 it had fallen to 40.6%. Some investigators attribute this decline to the CSI effect, as crime shows often explain in detail how criminals can conceal or destroy evidence. For example, several rape victims have reported that their assailants forced them to shower or clean themselves with bleach after their assaults.

There are lots of moving parts in the whole picture, and probably no one is ultimately helped more than any other. But it is changing for everybody, which means that the best way to avoid being influenced by the CSI effect is to avoid crime altogether.

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Groove of the Day

Listen to The Who performing “Won’t Get Fooled Again”

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Weather Report

29° and Mostly Cloudy

22
Jan
15

what is just?

David 1

A Question of Sentencing

by David Childress

How should we quantify the length of a sentence? Once decided, the second question is does the country have the manpower to suffice? I believe that is the problem. That and lack of desire for just punishment.

For example, two murders stand trial. One is a sociopath and sadist who enjoys inflicting pain. He had no reason other than his enjoyment to kill. The other was an ordinary guy. Ordinary except for how his wife was raped and in a fit of rage, he mauled the perpetrator to death the next day when he found out.

Nearly everyone can understand, even sympathize, with the second guy. Some people would probably think about doing the same if they placed themselves in the same situation.

How do you determine the sentence? In Texas, man #2 would get the same charge–1st degree murder because he had more than 5 seconds after the circumstance triggering the murder to “cool off.” Is it a moral or legal reason why man # 2 would elicit sympathy for, say, 10 years rather than 60?

Now let’s muddy the water. Two more murderers. One is a guy who killed his wife for an insurance claim. Proof? He often spoke of this to a few friends who came forward. He showed a lack of sadness for the death. They found a gun with matching ballistics and all. He’s 35 years old. The other is a 14 year-old kid. He helped kill his mother. He was physically, mentally, and sexually abused all his life by her. The evidence is subtle, not concrete to prove. He is shy, terribly underweight, has a slew of neurosis and esteem issues. His neighbors hear loud shouting and banging a lot. He is reported to have said tidbits of his abuse to people. However, like many studies have shown, it wasn’t “officially documented”; out of abuse victim mentality, fear, guilt, and shame prevented it from being told. But it’s all there: no friends, awkwardness, bruising and scars, acting out in school, everything which a solid database from psychologists and government agencies publicly taught are signs of abuse.

To compound this, studies also show, consistently, that adolescents have not fully developed reasoning skills. Ritalin, which he was taking, also shows to give rise to anger issues and mood swings. Man #1 gets 10 years, had a good lawyer, case closed. Kid # 2 had no one, no money, a public defender, and gets 40 years. Was this justice?

Imprisonment serves two purposes. Ideally: to punish crimes and to house dangers to society. The second reason is ignored. Justice is flaunted in the face of money and political red tape. If a person like kid # 2 has spent 10 years, learned his lesson and is not dangerous, should he still be in prison?

Well, I’m that second kid. I’m the one who was next door to you getting molested by his mother, being starved, while others were at home eating supper and watching TV. I was unable to express myself. I was in danger. My life was hell. Stress and other factors plagued me. So I did what seemed reasonable to take myself out of the danger. No one else helped and the police covered up a call I made while I had a bloody face and purple neck. But I got 40 years.

There are a lot of people like me who committed crimes with reasons. Some got more time than dangerous people with money to bribe court officials and hire great lawyers. So now ask yourself again. How is justice served? How do we decide how much time to give a person? Should the extenuating circumstances be reinvestigated and considered? Should people be allowed release if they show they’re ready? Or should the arbitrary sentence imposed be allowed to stand?

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David Childress has served 10 years of a 40-year sentence in Texas for killing his abusive mother at the age of 14. Dave’s story can be found here in his own words.

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Groove of the Day

Listen to Marina and the Diamonds featuring Charlie XCX performing “Just Desserts”

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Weather Report

44° Overcast, Windy, and Snow Flurries in the Night!

Accumulation – “Winter Wonderland” for a half-day.