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“in” crowd


Fifty years ago, Ramsey Lewis’ album The In Crowd was recorded live at the Bohemian Caverns nightclub in Washington DC. I went to the Bohemian Caverns two or three times in early 1968, just months before it closed in September of that year.

The place was located at 11th Street and U Street NW, which was known for many years as the “Black Broadway.” The neighborhood began to decline following the April ’68 assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. The intersection of 14th Street and U Street was, in fact, the epicenter of violence and destruction during the riots. As blighted as it became, I still remember walking through that old Victorian neighborhood at night (even after the riots), dressed in a suit, oblivious of my safety. But it was a different time then.

The album provided Lewis with his biggest hit reaching the top position on the Billboard R&B Chart and No. 2 on their top 200 albums chart in 1965. The single, “The ‘In’ Crowd” reached No. 2 on the R&B Chart and No. 5 on the Hot 100 singles chart in the same year. The album also received a Grammy Award in 1966 for Best Instrumental Jazz Performance by an Individual or Group. The single was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 2009.



Groove of the Day

Listen to the Ramsey Lewis Trio performing “The ‘In’ Crowd”


Weather Report

67° Cloudy and Rain


swing heil


The other night I watched one of Roger Ebert’s most hated films: the 1993 Swing Kids, directed by Thomas Carter, and starring Christian Bale, Robert Sean Leonard, and Frank Whaley as the rebellious kids and Kenneth Branagh as an SS-Sturmbannführer authority figure. It is the story of how, in pre-World War II Germany, two high school students attempt to be Swingjugend by night and Hitlerjugend by day—two very different and incompatible aesthetics.

Cafe HeinzeThe film takes place in the city of Hamburg, where the swing scene was huge. The Swingjugend of Hamburg danced in private quarters, clubs, rented halls, and most notably, the Café Heinze. They dressed differently from the others who were opposed to swing. For example, boys added a little British flair to their style by wearing homberg hats, growing their hair long, carrying umbrellas, and attaching a Union Jack pin to their lapels. They were considered “effete” by their Nazi contemporaries and the authorities as well. Girls wore short skirts, applied lipstick and fingernail polish, and wore their hair in curled Hollywood styles rather than traditional German styles like braids.

This group consisted mostly of teens between 14 and 19 from middle- and, especially in Hamburg, upper-class families. In these upper-class homes, it was common for the youth to have had ballroom dance lessons, to know a little English, and perhaps to even have had the opportunity to travel abroad to England or America. Hamburg youth especially were the children of cultured intellectuals with generally liberal views. They were privileged with wealth and spent their money on black market records, expensive clothing, and liquor. In the early years of the war, the authorities seemed to be less alarmed by the Negro/Jewish influences of American swing music and more concerned by the kids’ Anglophile affectations.

The film was panned by most critics but has a significant underground following among fans. The reason Ebert so hated this film is summed up in this quote from his review: “At a time when civilization was crashing down around their ears and Hitler was planning the Holocaust, it doesn’t make them particularly noble that they’d rather listen to big bands than enlist in the military. Who wouldn’t?” He seems to object to director Thomas Carter’s attempt to spin the Swingjugends’ apolitical self-indulgence into some sort of nascent heroism. Carter has taken an isolated event—the roundup of over 300 Swingjugend in Hamburg on August 18, 1941 in a brutal police operation—and reinvented it as a significant political event.

swingtanzenverbotenIt wasn’t. Contrary to popular myth, the Nazis never specifically outlawed swing dancing in Germany; they merely discouraged it. (The well-known “Swingtanzen verboten” sign is a 1970s fake invented for an album cover.) Hamburg was the only city in the Reich where raids on the Swingjugend ever took place (and that seems to be because a particularly ambitious police official was stationed there).

The measures taken against the Hamburg Swingjugend who were arrested ranged from cutting their hair and sending them back to school under close monitoring, to their conscription into the military and deployment to the front lines where they were generally allowed to perish, to the deportation of 40-70 of their leaders to Jugendschutzlager (youth prisons), where they were badly treated.

The Hamburg Swingjugend had contacts at some point with the Weiße Rose, a famous but ineffectual youth resistance movement, when three members of the Weiße Rose developed a sympathy for the Swingjugend. However, no formal cooperation arose, though these contacts were later used by the Volksgerichtshof to accuse some Swingjugend of anarchist propaganda and sabotage of the armed forces. The consequent trial, death sentences, and executions were averted by the end of the war.

The Swingjugend were at their heart a group of teenagers. Like most teenagers, their lives were mostly just about being teenagers. There is a desire, I think, to imagine they were being brazenly political in what they were doing. But if the original Swingjugend were political at all, it was mostly an unconscious choice, or something attributed to them that they did not attribute to themselves. Certainly their love of American swing music was probably an inherent expression of individuality, freedom, and tolerance; their defiance of the Hitlerjugend was an inherent defiance of Nazi philosophy. But it wasn’t something they talked about with each other, or planned actions for. Almost every Swingjugend interviewed has said that they simply were not politically motivated. When the swing kids did rebel, it was often in the spirit of being overly-confident and obnoxious. They greeted one another with a “Swing Heil” or “Heil Hotler” and swaggered their lifestyle around town.

nazi records“We were going to tell these dumb bastards that we were different, that was all,” said one grown-up Swingjugend. From his words, it’s clear that most of the Swingjugend were simply playing a game that they unfortunately didn’t grasp. Yet as the 1930s grew darker it’s hard to imagine that there weren’t at least a few of them who realized that they were a part of something much greater than just a teenage rebellious fad. With the post-war everything-the-Nazis-did-was-evil mentality, it’s natural to wonder how teenagers could go around so blatantly breaking the rules of the Reich.

Apparently, the reality is that they weren’t actually breaking as many rules as we are led to believe.

Despite the fact that the Swingjugend didn’t fully understand the danger around them, I believe it still took a lot of courage to flaunt their lifestyle in a culture which emphasized conformity above all else—even if many of them were just privileged, naive kids.

Last week I watched a video of 16-year-old Amos Yee Pang Sang, who has called Singapore’s now-deceased first minister “malicious” and as a result could face up to three years in prison. I cringed—not because of his views, but because of the immoderate way he expressed them, despite an authoritarian regime. He is obviously a bright, well-educated kid, but Singapore’s repressive judiciary is unlikely to cut the kid much slack. He will likely be hammered simply because he is young and obnoxious. The judges will probably think it is their mission to have the System knock some sense and respect into his smart-ass.

Some adults including Roger Ebert expect the young to stand up for what is right, but then the kids are punished when they do stand up—and then the adults are nowhere to help them deal with the consequences. Why can’t we lighten up be more understanding of kids’ natural desire to be kids and sometimes revolt and be revolting?


Groove of the Day

Listen to Heinz Wehner performing “Delphi-Fox


Weather Report

89° and Partly Cloudy, then Clear




Last week I received an unexpected visit from my friend “Hat.” Although I had seen him in passing several times at the general store, we had not visited for any length of time since the Grub Shack closed 2½ years ago.  It has been my loss.

Hat reminds me why I live out here. He is a very kind, generous, and non-judgmental man, and very much a person who is committed to his principles—one of the most important being that he a sovereign person, not controlled by some external authority. He preaches each week at the local Christian church, and if it were not for the fact that my personal beliefs are my own, I would have no problem whatsoever being a member of his flock. He has the moral authority to guide others. He has the spiritual maturity to transcend doctrine or dogma.

An example (our visit didn’t involve much small-talk): One of the things that Hat asserted is the notion that it is an illusion that we are all separate people; we are actually all one and connected in profound ways, and Christ’s admonishment to ‘love others as ourselves’ is simply a reflection of this truth. I immediately thought of how aspen trees typically grow in large clonal colonies, and spread by means of root suckers. Above the ground, one sees individual trees (which is illusion), but below the ground is a single, long-lived root system (the reality). Each individual tree is actually a stem or sprout growing off the ancient root system.

1 OpwaANLEjsCKwfIoyOxhsgOne such colony is in Utah and is given the nickname of “Pando” (Latin for “I spread”). It covers 106 acres, weighs nearly 6 tons, and has over 40,000 stems (trunks), which die individually and are replaced by new stems growing from its roots. The average age of Pando’s stems is 130 years, as determined by tree rings. The roots though are 80,000 years old, making it possibly the oldest living colony of aspens. Aspens are able to survive forest fires, because the roots are below the heat of the fire, with new sprouts growing after the fire burns out.

In fact, fire indirectly benefits aspen trees, since it allows the saplings to flourish in open sunlight in the burned-out landscape. By analogy, how might we benefit as human beings if we were to realize that we are united by our humanity, and not separate as the various religions, states, corporations, etc. would have us believe? How much more successful might we be at facing the tribulations of life if we were to be more conscious that we are not in this life alone?

I seek to protect my autonomy by keeping to myself and not mixing with many people. The Kentucky couple who had their children stolen from them by the state say that their troubles began when they “unfriended” somebody on Facebook. I ran into trouble with one of my neighbors when I refused to choose sides in a feud that he was carrying on with one of his other neighbors, so I can understand how things have a way of spinning out of control when other people are involved. Yet I still haven’t decided.

However, I’m glad my stand-offishness didn’t work with Hat. I wouldn’t have started to think about aspens if he hadn’t visited.


Groove of the Day

Listen to Stevie Wonder performing “The Secret Life Of Plants”


Weather Report

87° and Clear




Why a ‘combative’ 5-year-old was shackled and cuffed by New York police officers
by Ben Branstetter, The Daily Dot
May 12, 2015

Throughout the cascade of horror stories of cops killing people with uncaring glee or cold calculation, it is clear a poisonous culture is present in police departments across the country. The consistent mistreatment of perpetrators—even when it doesn’t result in a death—highlights a lack of either motivation for police to connect with their communities or the proper training on how to do so.

While certainly far from true of most officers, law enforcement in this country has a problem teaching police how to treat people like they are human.

The consequences of this neglect are largely and disproportionately felt by black communities, but they extend into other margins of society, as well. There also exists a lengthy and storied history of how police handle the mentally ill, including children with developmental disabilities.

In late April, 5-year-old Connor Ruiz was handcuffed and shackled by New York State Police officers for being “combative” and “out of control” during his special needs class. Although the restraints might seem extreme, Connor’s treatment is actually in line with policing attitudes toward the mentally ill.

One of the great crimes of our criminal justice system is the degree to which it has supplanted the mental health system. According to a report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, two-thirds of male inmates and three-quarters of female inmates suffer from a mental illness. In fact, the mentally ill population in prison is 10 times greater than that in hospitals.

Meet some of the people who might be on the first flight to Mars Before police can put them behind bars for a disability, however, mentally ill people also face a far higher chance of being shot by police. Half of all people shot by police are mentally ill.

For many officers, this might mean bringing themselves down to reality first. Starting last February, NYPD officers have been attending day-long seminars on how to handle tense situations. Although the tactic has been criticized by some officers for presenting its own risks, the seminars reportedly suggest officers close their eyes, take a few breaths, then make a decision.

The attempt to calm officers before they act has been criticized by some officers as a “criminally negligent” move that could put officers in danger. “Learning self-calming and relaxation techniques should be part of every officer’s training,” said one retired blue blood. “But not for use on the front line.”

The battle stance of an officer fearing for his life is often the last thing a mentally ill person encountering a breakdown needs in order to prevent a violent backlash. In Colorado, most police officers have gone through Crisis Intervention Team training which instructs officers “in the recognition of mental illness, to enhance their verbal crisis de-escalation skills, and to provide more streamlined access to community-based mental health services.”

After a decade of implementing the program, Colorado saw a significant decrease in SWAT team deployment and a decrease in the mentally ill people put in prisons. The program benefits officers as well—officers trained in CIT are 80% less likely to suffer an injury from a suspect. As one Colorado sheriff put it, “barking orders at a person with serious mental illness doesn’t work.”

The lack of acceptance among some officers for this basic truth—even in the face of recorded success from programs like CIT—is clearly rooted in a deeper paranoia officers feel about the people they’re tasked with protecting and serving. Despite a nationwide decrease in the number of officers killed in the line of duty, police departments are demanding increased privacy and protection from supposed backlash.

Earlier this year, a collection of police chiefs demanded the Google-owned traffic app Waze remove a feature allowing users to report where and when they see a squad car citing concerns they could be stalked. Last month, Arizona state legislatures passed a bill forcing police departments to hide the identity of an officer after the officer in question had been part of a violent or controversial incident to settle similar concerns of reprisal.

So it’s clear many officers trust their communities even less than many communities trust their police. This toxic environment breeds an antagonistic atmosphere between officers and citizens, one that does not bode well for mentally ill perpetrators who might already struggle to deal with social cues.

One of the disorders most affected by a stance taken by police is autism. According to an FBI report, autistic persons are seven times as likely to have interactions with police than the general population and, as any parent of an autistic child can tell you, do not typically respond well to apparent threats or aggression.

Clearly, Ruiz is the victim of such force-first thinking. So was Anthony Hill, a 27-year-old Atlanta man suffering from bipolar disorder, who was shot to death by an officer while wandering naked around his apartment complex. So was Jason Harrison, a schizophrenia patient shot dead by police officers after he refused to drop a screwdriver.

Last month, the Supreme Court heard arguments over whether police stations needed to implement programs that consider how to help the mentally ill in the same way libraries and post offices must have wheelchair ramps. Doing so might force officers to consider how to bring a situation down without pulling out their firearms. As is the case with so many reforms police officers fight, it’s good for them and the people they’ve sworn to protect, too.


Ben Branstetter is a 25-year-old writer living in Central Pennsylvania. His writing has appeared on The Daily Dot, Thought Catalog, The Useless Critic, God of Lamb, and he has appeared on HuffPo Live. He can be found on Twitter @BenBranstetter and can be contacted through email at His hobbies include the ukulele, chain smoking, and hating Pennsylvania. Ben lives with his girlfriend and her two children.


Groove of the Day

Listen to Bob Marley performing “Bad Boys”


Weather Report

84° and Clear




The recent announcement that Liberia has become Ebola-free got me to thinking of the formative role pandemics have played in European history.

The Black Death (or Bubonic Plague) was one of the most devastating events in human history. It resulted in the deaths of an estimated 75 to 200 million people—or 30%–60% of Europe’s total population—and peaked in the years 1346–53.  It took 150 years for Europe’s population to recover.

The Black Death is thought to have originated in the arid plains of Central Asia, from whence it then traveled along the Silk Road, reaching the Crimea by 1343. It was most likely carried from there through the Black Sea and Mediterranean by Oriental rat fleas living on black rats which were regular passengers on merchant ships. Modern analysis of DNA from the remains of victims in northern and southern Europe indicates that the pathogen responsible was the Yersinia pestis bacterium, probably causing several forms of plague.

The aftermath of the plague created a series of religious, social, and economic upheavals, which had profound effects on the course of European history. As an art history major when I was in college, I generally look at the visual record to see the impact of big events—which is why this post is once again a photo essay.

The plague repeatedly returned to haunt Europe and the Mediterranean throughout the 14th to 17th centuries. The plague was present somewhere in Europe in every year between 1346 and 1671, and occasionally until the 19th century.

The first North American plague epidemic was the San Francisco plague of 1900–04, followed by another outbreak in 1907–08. From 1944 through 1993, 362 cases of human plague were reported in the United States; approximately 90% occurred in four western states: Arizona, California, Colorado, and New Mexico. Plague was confirmed in the United States from 9 western states during 1995. Currently, 5 to 15 people in the United States are estimated to catch the disease each year—typically in western states; the disease is kept under control by the use of insecticides, antibiotics, and a plague vaccine.

However, the plague bacterium could develop drug-resistance and become a major health threat again.



child death.





black death 88.


plague doctor.



black-death 77.





Groove of the Day

Listen to Dead Can Dance performing “The Host of Seraphim”


Weather Report

86° and Clear to Partly Cloudy


allen county find

mary todd lincoln wm mumler photo.

I just became aware of a curious photograph in the collection of the Allen County Museum in Fort Wayne IN. I have added it to my post “150th Anniversary,” even though it is likely a fake. Yet it is poignant testimony of how, following the death of a spouse, the survivor will sometimes go to extraordinary lengths to never let go.

The photograph is a portrait of Mary Todd Lincoln (1818—1882), the widow of our 16th president, taken a few years after his assassination by William H. Mumler (1832–1884), who was known as a ‘spirit photographer’ who worked in New York and Boston. This is considered to be one of his most famous photographs because it purports to show the “ghost” of the President.

P.T. Barnum claimed he hired Abraham Bogardus to fabricate this photo showing the ghost of Abraham Lincoln. This picture was then tendered in evidence at Mumler’s trial for fraud to show how easy it was to forge spirit photographs. But Mumler was acquitted.

Paranormal researcher Melvyn Willin, in his book Ghosts Caught on Film, claims that the photo was taken around 1869, and that Mumler did not know that his sitter was Lincoln’s widow, instead believing her to be a “Mrs Tundall.” Willin goes on to say that Mumler did not discover who she was until after the photo was developed.

The College of Psychic Studies, referencing notes belonging to William Stainton Moses (who appeared in photographs by other spirit photographers), claims that the photo was taken in the early 1870s, that Mrs. Lincoln assumed the name of “Mrs. Lindall,” and that she had to be encouraged by Mumler’s wife (a medium) to identify the deceased President, her late husband, in the photo.

Although the image has been dismissed as a fraudulent double exposure, it has been widely circulated.

The death of Mrs. Lincoln’s son Tad in July 1871, following the death of two of her other sons and her husband, brought on an overpowering grief and depression. Her surviving son, Robert Lincoln, a rising young Chicago lawyer, was alarmed at his mother’s increasingly erratic behavior and, after she nearly jumped out of a window to escape a non-existent fire, determined that she should be institutionalized. He committed her to a private asylum. Mrs. Lincoln eventually won her freedom and lived in Springfield IL with her sister Elizabeth, but she was so estranged from her son Robert that they did not reconcile until shortly before her death.

Mrs. Lincoln spent her final years in declining health but traveled and resided in Europe. She suffered from severe cataracts that reduced her eyesight; this condition may have contributed to her increasing susceptibility to falls. In 1879, she suffered spinal cord injuries in a fall from a stepladder, and later returned to Springfield. In 1882 she collapsed at her sister’s home and lapsed into a coma. She died at age 63.


Groove of the Day

Listen to Whitney Houston performing “I Will Always Love You”


Weather Report

86° and Clear


ball and chain


Juvenile court judge Mark Ciavarella won popularity in Pennsylvania for his no-nonsense approach to juvenile delinquency. He handed down long sentences for non-violent misdemeanors and convicted children for behaviors that were difficult to classify as crimes, including swearing in public and creating a fake MySpace page. Every child who entered his courtroom was shackled.

But when Ciavarella went on trial for accepting millions of dollars in kickbacks from the for-profit prisons where he sent far too many children, he appeared in court in a suit and tie. The US Supreme Court has consistently held that shackling adult defendants in handcuffs, leg irons and belly chains should be limited to the most extreme cases. The court, however, has remained silent on restraining juveniles.

Most states allow children to be shackled in juvenile court as a matter of routine. The vast majority of those children are accused of non-violent offenses like shoplifting and truancy. Most pose no flight risk or safety threat. And yet, they are made to look and feel like hardened criminals, led to court bound in metal chains. Psychologists say the humiliation and trauma of this experience has a lasting effect on children’s mental health. But most states have no laws or rules restricting juvenile shackling in court, and no state outright bans it, according to the National Juvenile Defender Center. The American Bar Association recently passed a resolution opposing the practice, calling it stigmatizing and a violation of due process. Neal Sonnett, a former assistant US attorney who signed onto that resolution, called the automatic shackling of juveniles “a national scandal.”

Recognizing the cruelty of this practice, South Carolina, Washington state and now the District of Columbia recently have placed limits on juvenile shackling. Several states–including Connecticut and Maine, are considering similar legislation. But the practice remains widespread. In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that, except in extreme circumstances, shackling capital murder defendants violates their right to due process by undermining the presumption of innocence and prejudicing juries.  It boggles the mind that these protections are not extended to children, but no case involving a shackled juvenile—whose trials are typically in front of a judge instead of a jury — has reached the Supreme Court.

While I was filming the documentary “Kids for Cash,” a chronicle of Ciavarella’s misdeeds, children and parents told me about many horrors of the juvenile justice system. Our crew heard about 11-year-olds being separated from their families, about kids living in cockroach-infested cells, and about how those experiences led children into a spiral of depression and substance abuse. Still, it was recalling the shackling that made many break down on camera, parents and children alike. For most, it marked the beginning of their journey through a cruel justice system that left the children far more aggressive than before. The shackles sent a message of fear, that the system did not recognize them as children – or human beings for that matter. One young woman we interviewed, now suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, links her illness to the experience of first being shackled as a child in Ciavarella’s courtroom. Amanda Lorah was 14 years old when she was shackled in handcuffs, legcuffs and a belly chain, and sentenced to five years’ incarceration for a school fight. “They kept me in the shackles until we got to the detention place. I felt like I was a grown adult going to a big jail,” she said. Her humiliation turned to fear, and then to hopelessness. The experienced convinced her that “I’m a really, really bad kid.”

Mental health experts and children’s advocates have warned that shackling does serious, and perhaps permanent, harm to children. The Child Welfare League of America recently denounced automatic juvenile shackling, noting that the experience can be especially damaging for children with a history of trauma, which is common in the juvenile justice system. “Feelings of shame and humiliation may inhibit positive self-development and productive community participation. Shackling doesn’t protect communities. It harms them,” the CWLA wrote in its policy statement. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry issued a similar policy statement in February, calling shackling of children “inconsistent with the rehabilitative goals of the juvenile justice system.”

Proponents of shackling say the practice is necessary for the safety and security of the courtroom. Some describe it as a useful “scared straight” tactic. As Ciavarella once said, “I wanted them to be scared out of their minds. I don’t understand how that’s a bad thing.” But the kids I spoke to said being in shackles didn’t make them less likely to get into trouble. In fact, it made them feel like criminals. Those feelings play out in statistics: Children who feel they have been treated unfairly by the juvenile justice system, as many do when they are put in shackles, are more likely to reoffend. Recidivism rates for incarcerated kids are as high as 80% in some states.

If we can let murderers defend themselves in court unshackled, if we’re not afraid of men who have killed, then certainly we should not fear children who steal chewing gum. A 12-year-old is not going to overpower a bailiff and make a run for it. Treating ordinary adolescent behavior as a crime is typical in America today. Incarcerating children, though research shows that it has no rehabilitative value, is typical. Putting children in chains is typical. We ignore these injustices because they happen behind the closed doors of the juvenile court and we assume those kids are bad kids. But all the evidence–and common sense–tells us: There is no practical reason to shackle children.


Robert May is the director of “Kids For Cash“, a documentary about a judicial scandal in a Pennsylvania juvenile court.


Groove of the Day

Listen to XTC performing “Ball and Chain”


Weather Report

83° and Clear


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