Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category




In an emotional court hearing on Monday, Noah Crooks, a 17-year-old Osage IA boy convicted in 2013 of the second-degree murder of his mother Gretchen when Noah was 13, was sentenced to 50 years in prison. Trever Hook, one of Noah’s defense attorneys, told me that Noah’s sentence will be appealed to the Iowa State Supreme Court because it is unclear what the law says should be done in this case. The earliest Noah could be released, he said, is in five years.

Noah will start the sentence in adult prison as soon as he turns 18 this summer. Noah has also been ordered to pay $150,000 in restitution to his father. Under the court order, he will not be given probation, but good behavior and other factors may affect the length of the sentence. The judge says he sees no evidence Noah has been rehabilitated. He will not grant probation and needs time to see if the teen is remorseful.

This case is made more complicated because it appears that the family has washed its hands of the fate of the boy. Noah’s father William took the stand for his victim’s impact statement, saying he feels that if he would have stayed home that night, he wouldn’t be here today. He said his wife didn’t deserve to be shot 22 times while sitting on the couch doing homework after preparing Noah’s favorite meal, adding that Noah has never apologized. He said he blamed himself for years for what his son did and says now Noah needs to learn from the hurt he caused. When describing visiting his son at Eldora State Training School, where he’s been since his conviction, William said, “I love you Noah, but you never brought mom up.”

“You need to pay for taking your mother’s life, kid,” he said.

Noah’s uncle took the stand, saying he loves but can never forgive Noah for depriving him of more memories with his sister. He says he has visited Noah and hugged him because that’s what his sister would have wanted. Noah’s grandfather said in his letter that he believes the teen is a serial killer. His grandmother says she loves him very much but it’s clear he has always lacked empathy. She added that she wants Noah safe but also wants society safe from him. She’s not sure releasing him is the answer.

In his statement, Noah said he’s turned his life over to God and wants a relationship with his family again. While Noah says he is now religious, the state maintains he was never religious during his time at the facility. The state also says Noah wrote in a letter that he tried to revive his mother, but evidence shows he tried to rape her. They maintain a doctor says Noah is developing an antisocial personality disorder, though he has not been diagnosed. The state added that another doctor says Noah doesn’t have a mental illness at all but will remain a threat his entire life—even if he is a model inmate, adding that he will say what he needs to in order to get out.

The judge says he needs to take much into consideration in Noah’s case, adding that he’s happy the teen has found Christ and that it will help him. But he said there’s been a lack of response and empathy following the event.

“Noah, for one reason or another, you just don’t want to deal with what you’ve done,” he said.



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acres of diamonds


Before TV, before radio, even before the movies, and contemporaneous with vaudeville (but considered much more moral and “uplifting”), the great mass-market movement of the age was the Chautauqua. Founded in 1874 and running through the 1920s (when commercialization killed it virtually overnight), the Chautauqua was operated in over 10,000 mostly-rural communities throughout America.

It was called “the university of the common man” and relied on the social and geographic isolation of farming and ranching communities, and Americans’ natural hunger for education, culture, and entertainment. The Chautauqua was essentially a self-education movement. Some Chautauquas were so religiously-oriented that they were essentially church camps, while more secular Chautauquas resembled summer school and competed with vaudeville in theaters and circus tent shows with their animal acts and trapeze acrobats.

A few remnants of the Chautauqua still exist today, but it is now largely forgotten and is nowhere close to the popular movement that it once was.

In the late 19th century, the “Mother Chautauqua” was founded as a training school for Sunday school teachers by Methodist minister John Heyl Vincent and businessman Lewis Miller at a campsite on the shores of Chautauqua Lake in New York State. After 1907, “Daughter Chautauquas” were organized  in tents pitched on  well-drained fields near towns throughout America with good rail service. Lectures were the mainstay of the Chautauqua, and the Redpath Lyceum Bureau organized speakers who moved from town to town to make their presentations. The reform speech and the inspirational talk were the two main types of lecture. Favorite political reform topics in Chautauqua lectures included temperance (even prohibition), women’s suffrage, and child labor laws. Later topics included current events, travel and stories, often with a comedic twist. After several days, the Chautauqua would fold its tents and move on to the next towns.

russell_h_conwellWilliam Jennings Bryan, with his populist and evangelical message addressing topics such as temperance, was the most popular Chautauqua speaker. But the most popular speech was by the prolific speaker (often booked in the same venues with Bryan) Russell H. Conwell, who delivered his famous “Acres of Diamonds” speech 6,000 times to audiences on the Chautauqua and Lyceum circuits. His theme was “get rich young man, for money is power and power ought to be in the hands of good people. I say you have no right to be poor.”

The central idea of the speech is that one need not look elsewhere for opportunity, achievement, or fortune—the resources to achieve all good things are present in one’s own community. This theme is developed by an introductory anecdote, credited by Conwell to an Arab guide, about a man who wanted to find diamonds so badly that he sold his property and went off in futile search for them. The new owner of his home discovered that a rich diamond mine was located right there on the property. Conwell elaborates on the theme through examples of success, genius, service, or other virtues involving ordinary Americans contemporary to his audience: “dig in your own backyard!”

Conwell was an American Baptist minister, orator, philanthropist, lawyer, and writer. He is best remembered as the founder and first president of Temple University in Philadelphia PA. He is said to have raised all the money he needed to found Temple University and to have sent hundreds of poor young men through its portals from the speaking fees he earned on the Chautauqua circuit.

The popularity of the speech is somewhat a mystery today. I have read a text of it, and many commentators besides me have said it falls somewhat flat to modern ears. Some have said that it is meant to be delivered orally, that it doesn’t work in writing. The only thing I can speculate is that the message of “Acres of Diamonds” was a good fit with the Progressive Era and social aspirations that America was experiencing at that time.




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and now, a word from our sponsor


I pay an extra fee to keep ads from popping up on this blogsite.

Yet I know that most people have a love/hate relationship with advertising. Music has been used to sell products for more than a century, since the first jingle was originated by the Washburn-Crosby Company of Minneapolis, the predecessor of General Mills, to popularize Wheaties breakfast cereal.

Since moving to Estrella Vista, I have escaped the commercialization of today’s culture, yet I realize that in a way, ads still help define today’s zeitgeist.

A couple days ago, I heard this segment on public radio, and was fascinated. It runs 8 minutes, and features Matthew Billy, the host of the “Between the Liner Notes” podcast, about the evolution of ad jingles. If you want to hear a more in-depth history of advertising jingles, you can go here for Billy’s May 9th podcast, which runs about 34 minutes.

This post would provide a perfect opportunity for me to include a bunch of YouTube videos of famous ads, but I don’t have the heart to do that to you. Anyway, there are few surprises out there, and you have already seen the ads countless times as a kid. Plus, if you’re motivated, they’re easy enough to find on your own.


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unjust system


Lawrence County legal case continues to unfold seven years later as teen is released from juvenile center purview

by Karen Kane, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

June 19, 2016

Christopher Brown told his 11-year-old son, Jordan, not to worry as he was put into the back of a state police cruiser and taken to the Lawrence County Jail. Stay strong. You’ll be coming home soon.

“Soon” turned out to be seven years. And counting.

Last Monday, Jordan—now 18 years old—was released from the custody of the juvenile court system. Sort of.

Lawrence County Judge John Hodge ruled that Jordan, who had graduated with honors from a Crawford County high school June 10, could be released from George Junior Republic, a juvenile detention facility in Mercer. Under state law, Jordan could have been held in confinement until he turned 21, having been judged responsible for the 2009 murder of his dad’s fiancee and her unborn son. But, all parties—prosecutors, defense attorneys, and juvenile probation—agreed he had met expectations of juvenile court and should be released.

However, there were conditions: He must meet with juvenile probation and the court periodically; he can go to college but he’s required to live on campus; and he’s not allowed to live with his father, even though his father intends to make his home near that college campus in Erie.

“They stole his childhood from him. They stole his childhood from me. And it just doesn’t end. The hell just goes on and on and on,” said Mr. Brown.

It started on a Friday, Feb. 20, 2009, when 26-year-old Kenzie Marie Houk—nine months pregnant and weeks from delivering her first son—took a single shotgun blast to the back of her head as she slept. Her body was found by her 4-year-old daughter in their farmhouse near New Castle, a home she made with her fiance, Mr. Brown, his son, Jordan, and her daughters, Adalynn, 4, and Jenessa, 7.

At about 2 am the next day, 11-year-old Jordan was awakened by state police troopers and was arrested for homicide. The fifth-grader suddenly had joined one of America’s most exclusive clubs: pre-teen defendants accused of the most serious of crimes.

Because Pennsylvania law requires children as young as 10 to be treated as adult defendants if they are accused in a killing, Jordan was charged as an adult and incarcerated at the Lawrence County Jail. He was given a standard-issue jail jumpsuit. It didn’t fit. Nothing about the situation did.

A flummoxed jail warden pleaded for the child to be moved, but where would he go? These were muddy waters: A juvenile detention center isn’t supposed to take adults and, for legal purposes, Jordan was considered an adult. Even Jordan’s prosecutor—Lawrence County District Attorney John Bongivengo, who was convinced of Jordan’s “guilt”—said he was physically sickened and sleepless over the inadequacy of the system to deal with such a young defendant.

Officials secured a temporary spot at the now defunct Allencrest Center in Beaver County. Within a week, Jordan was moved again, this time more than 100 miles away, to the Edmund L. Thomas Adolescent Detention Center in Erie, a facility designed to be “transitional” for youths.

Though the average stay for residents at “Edmund L.” was three weeks, Jordan was there for three years. Again, he was treading in more muddy water. Because Jordan denied responsibility for killing Kenzie Houk—he still does—prosecutors argued that he wouldn’t be a good candidate for rehabilitation, which is the main thrust of the juvenile court system. They argued if he wasn’t amenable to rehabilitation, then he should be processed through the adult court system where, if found guilty, he would have faced mandatory life in prison—and would have been the youngest “lifer” in America.

His pro-bono defense team, Dennis Elisco of Lawrence County and Steve Colafella of Beaver County, argued that requiring Jordan to admit guilt to gain decertification was a violation of his constitutional right against self-incrimination. The state’s Superior Court set precedent in March 2011 by determining Jordan need not admit guilt to be adjudicated as a juvenile.

An adjudication hearing was set for April 2012, three years after Jordan’s arrest. In a closed-door proceeding, Judge Hodge adjudicated Jordan delinquent of first-degree murder and criminal homicide.

A year later, the state Superior Court determined that Judge Hodge had inadequate evidence to support a guilty verdict. The prosecution appealed to the state Supreme Court, which also ruled in Jordan’s favor. Jordan’s case was returned to Judge Hodge for consideration of a new trial, but the judge denied the request. That decision is on appeal again before state Superior Court.

Much of what has transpired the past seven years for Jordan and his family has been hidden from public view because of his age. When Jordan’s case was “decertified” and he ultimately was deemed a juvenile, his case shifted from the public realm of adult court to the confidential confines of juvenile court. Unlike adult court proceedings, most juvenile proceedings are closed. The news media, including the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, sought unsuccessfully to have Jordan’s hearings opened to the public.

From its start, Jordan’s case garnered worldwide headlines and opinion pieces arguing for changes in the law. It has set court precedent and provoked the ire of juvenile justice advocates. It has focused attention on a judicial and penal system as ill-fitting for a child as the orange jumpsuit Jordan was required to wear in the Lawrence County lockup.

Defense attorney Patrick Thomassey, who has represented a number of juveniles in high-profile cases—including Alex Hribal, who is accused of using a knife to cut or stab 19 students and a security guard at Franklin Regional High School—said there needs to be a blended system.

“It’s stupid what we’re doing,” Mr. Thomassey said.

Because in juvenile court, the system loses jurisdiction when the offender reaches age 21, there is tremendous pressure placed on the judge to keep a case in adult court, he said.

He, like many others in the criminal justice field, suggests a blended system, where when the offender ages out of juvenile jurisdiction, he or she moves into an adult prison, where jurisdiction could continue for five years or more.

To accomplish that change, though, Mr. Thomassey said that prosecutors would have to lobby the Legislature.

“They can get it done if they want to,” he said.

A father’s lament

Christopher Brown, who works as a guard at the state prison in Mercer, consented to speak last week about his son’s case, which continues to unfold.

He said his attorneys believe the appeal pending before Superior Court could vacate the delinquency/guilty verdict against Jordan. In an earlier decision, the same appeals court had ruled there hadn’t been enough evidence against Jordan.

“I know he didn’t do it. He says he didn’t do it. He’s always said he didn’t do it. You have a kid who was wrongfully accused at the age of 11 and has sat through the system, which is a totally messed up system for seven years, shuffled around. And if we get good news in a couple of weeks that he’s acquitted, that’ll be great but it’ll also prove that we were robbed of Jordan’s childhood for no reason,” Mr. Brown said.

He described shock and frustration of the past seven years starting with Jordan’s arrest. “About a six state troopers showed up and said Jordan was being arrested. They put him in handcuffs. They put him in the cruiser. I wasn’t allowed to ride with him. I had to just follow behind,” he recounted.

Within hours he was in the Lawrence County Jail.

He said he remembers looking into the boy’s face and seeing “fear, confusion and sadness.”

Then came the move to a Beaver County juvenile detention center, then Erie, where he remained for three years. During that period, attorneys argued over whether Jordan should be tried as an adult or as a juvenile. The stakes were high. If convicted in juvenile court, he could be confined until he was 21. If found guilty as an adult, he faced mandatory life in jail.

Mr. Brown said he was astounded by the crux of the dispute: Jordan’s consistent denial that he killed Ms. Houk. “They said he wasn’t a good candidate for rehabilitation as a juvenile because he wouldn’t accept responsibility for what he did. Well, he didn’t do it and he didn’t want to say he did it. But, we both realized that if he would have just told them what they wanted to hear, he would have been decertified [and tried as a juvenile] and be placed in treatment and been home in a year and a half.”

He said he and his extended family would tell Jordan to “hang tough, be strong” but he said he was battling a sense of “helplessness that was overwhelming.”

It took about three years but the courts decided that Jordan need not admit responsibility for the killings to be decertified and tried as a juvenile. A juvenile hearing followed that decision. Jordan was found delinquent.

After the finding of delinquency, he was moved to a facility in Chambersburg then to George Junior Republic. Entering as a freshman, he stayed until his senior year where he was so successful academically, behavioraly and socially, that he was allowed to move off campus last fall to a group home in Crawford County that was overseen by George Junior. There, he attended Maplewood High School where he played both football and basketball, and graduated at the top of his class with a near perfect QPA, his dad said.

Mr. Brown said Judge Hodge has ruled Jordan may not live with his father. Instead, he will live with his father’s aunt and uncle in Boardman, Ohio. Mr. Brown said he yearns to share his home with his son before Jordan leaves for college at a university in Erie in the fall.

Mr. Brown, said the uncertainty of his son’s life has created uncertainty in his own life.

“We’ve both had to learn to expect the unexpected, not to get our hopes too high,” he said. “And that’s a hard way to live.”

What about Kenzie?

Debbie Houk deliberately did not attend the hearing last week in the Lawrence County courthouse, when a judge ruled that Jordan Brown could be released from a juvenile detention center after being found responsible for slaying Mrs. Houk’s daughter, Kenzie, and her unborn son.

Mrs. Houk, 62, of Shenango, didn’t go inside last week because she said she “couldn’t stand to hear anything more about Jordan. Jordan this. Jordan that. It’s always about Jordan. What about Kenzie? What about my daughter? What about Kenzie’s daughters who don’t have a mother. What about my grandson who wasn’t even born?”

Mrs. Houk reluctantly agreed to be interviewed last week, having been persuaded by her husband, Jack, 64, and her daughter Jennifer Kraner, 39, Kenzie’s older sister.

“They told me I should say what I think. I should tell you flat out I’ve gotten tired of it. I’m angry. I’m tired of all the appeals. I want somebody to care about my family,” she said.

She described Kenzie as a warm and passionate woman who loved her daughters, was looking forward to the birth of her son, and who wanted Jordan to feel that he was an important and loved part of the family that had been blended about 13 months before Kenzie’s death.

“She would sometimes bring the girls over to my house so that she and Chris could take Jordan to the movies, just the three of them. She wanted him to feel special,” Mrs. Houk recalled.

Just as the Brown family feels that the system has been unjust to Jordan, Mrs. Houk feels the same system has been unjust to her family. She believes Jordan should have been tried as an adult, even if it meant being jailed without the possibility of parole. “The law is 10 and older in Pennsylvania if it’s homicide. Why even have the law if you’re not going to use it?” she said.

She and her husband have full custody of Kenzie’s daughters, now 11 and 14. They have been in counseling on and off since their mom’s death. She says each girl has been impacted in different ways.

She said it would be hard to move forward if it weren’t for her family. “I have responsibilities and that’s what keeps me going,” she said.


Karen Kane is a writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Paula Reed Ward contributed to this story.


Jordan and his Sad Dad.


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“you’re fired”

trump and lewindowski.

In case you’ve been living under a rock and didn’t hear the news, Donald Trump’s chief alienist, campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, was fired yesterday morning.

I’m no Trump fan, and even less of a Lewandowski fan. But as Trump is trying to broaden his appeal in the run-up to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland OH, one can assert that Lewandowski was at least honest about Trump’s knuckle-dragging.

Trump had faced increasing concerns from allies and donors, as well as his children, about the next phase of the campaign. It is a move that could reassure donors and Republicans more broadly that Trump can adjust toward a November election strategy. According to the New York Times, two people briefed on the move, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Lewandowski was fired.

He was seen as having a hostile relationship with many members of the national press corps who cover Trump, as well as many officials at the Republican National Committee. Lewandowski was often also at odds with Trump’s chief strategist, Paul Manafort, who was brought on in March and is rumored to be Trump’s next campaign manager. Lewandowski was also said to have resisted certain moves that would have increased the number of staff members, at times blocking Manafort from making hires or later undoing them.

But the people briefed on Lewandowski’s departure said that the circumstances went well beyond any particular episode or any particular relationship. Lewandowski had a penchant for making headlines about himself that overshadowed his boss, including being charged with misdemeanor battery (a charge later dropped), after he was accused of grabbing a reporter as she approached Trump with a question in Jupiter FL on March 8.

No one inside the campaign was given any advance warning about Lewandowski’s dismissal, who was on the campaign’s daily 8:30 am conference call on Monday. I personally hope this is a harbinger of the unraveling of Trump’s campaign, but you cannot underestimate the stupidity of the American electorate. It is entirely possible that it won’t matter.

On Twitter, some campaign staff members rejoiced at the news of Lewandowski’s departure. “Ding dong the witch is dead!” wrote Michael Caputo, a Trump communications aide who was said to have been antagonized by Lewandowski.

But it remains to be seen how this latest event will work out.


ding dong.


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summer solstice 2016

summer solstice tree and light.

The Summer Solstice is today, June 20, 2016, at 5:34 pm central time. Sunrise is at 6:42 am and sunset is at 8:57 pm, for a total of about 14 hours and 14 minutes of daylight, the longest day of the year. The Solstice is also officially the first day of summer. And this year, this month’s strawberry moon—another name for June’s full moon—has the added bonus that it falls on the same day as the 2016 Summer Solstice.

From here on out, the days will become shorter, the nights longer, until December 21, 2016 in the early hours of the morning, the shortest day of the year and the relentless turning of the wheel of time will continue.



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89° and Clear to Partly Cloudy



happy father’s day

mom and dad.

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90° and Clear to Partly Cloudy, then Wind, Thunder and Rain


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