Archive for the ‘Violence’ Category

Tito’s Turkey Power

May 24th, 2014

If you’re running for office in Boston or statewide, you’re smart to show for City Councilor Tito Jackson’s annual turkey fry. Most gubernatorial contenders showed, among others, for this sixth version.

For you left-brain types and other quibblers, yes, there’s a lot more than turkey, like burgers, dogs, BBQ, a few non-meat offerings, sodas and water (no alcohol), ice cream and ta da, a snow-cone machine. Oh, and while Tito is a big guy, he had four loudspeakers in the street, each of which was bigger than he. The music kept people dancing, swaying, eating to the beat, and shouting to be heard. Sweet.

Mostly, this is a street party for the Roxbury neighborhood above Seaver Street. Plus the pols get to mingle while they and their minions pitch planks and promises.  There are surprisingly few events so casual and low-key where pols can have several easy hours chatting up black and Latino voters outside a dais/chair venue.

I tried to behave well, not dominating time with pols nor even taking pix of all of them. Many have been guests on my Left Ahead show. I’d already met nearly all of them and it was a chance to touch hands again. In some cases, we swapped cards and agreed the candidate should come on the show or come on again.

The following are a few images with comments. Among other pols there were Don Berwick and Joe Avellone (governor), Leland Cheung (looey) and Maura Healey (AG). I was there for nearly three hours and saw nothing of a certain Martha Coakley nor any of her lackeys. (Sunday update: I see on Tito’s FB feed that she did show late, after I left.)

Pix clix: Click a thumbnail for a larger view. If it opens in the same window, use your browser’s back button or command to return.

License note: All pix are Creative Commons-Attribution. Do what you want with them. Just give Mike Ball credit once.

Long-term State Rep. Gloria Fox (since 1986) was a crowd please. She asked for support, noting, “I do not play. This is a diverse district (Suffolk 7) and I handle it well.'” GloriaFox
FDarroyo1 Another familiar face and voice was Felix D. Arroyo, former Councilor, father of a current councilor, and candidate for register of probate and family court. He’s always delightful and to us boomers sounds refreshingly like Ricky Ricardo. In fact, he noted that when he first ran for office many years ago, his accent was stronger.He asked one thing of the voters before him, on the Sept. 9th primary, his office will be down at the bottom of a long ballot, he wants to make sure people get all the way down there and finish the job.
Not everything was smiles and sandwiches. The Suffolk sheriff crew showed up with a police-dog demo. Adults a bit, but mostly the kids were impressed at the tenaciousness and training. Titodog
Falchuk Evan Falchuk (governor on the United Independent Party and sure to be on the November ballot) noted both in his remarks and to me that he considers it his job to discomfort the other candidates and raise key issues. In a deep nod to the Roxbury locale, he said that carried over, not so much to where the party was but to where he lives (Newton). He noted that his daughter and her classmates didn’t get the BPS-style warnings about how to behave when confronted by police. He said he regularly draws attention to the contradiction with urban communities of color.
Here’s a small subset of the several hundred at chez Jackson. (Right in the middle is Leland Cheung ([t. gov.] who didn’t want to give up his baby.) Titofront
Tolman Warren Tolman (lAG) pitched specific planks, like support for smart-gun technology.
 In a turnabout that borders on irony, gubernatorial candidate Steve Grossman immediately went to the ice cream table — but to server rather than eat. He loves ice cream but is willing to share.By the bye, he said he wasn’t disturbed ty the recent poll that showed rival Coakley well ahead of all contenders. He noted his campaign had not spent a dime on ads and when it started, the field would level. Moreover, the thought the poll was an outlier. Grossmandip

 

Bully (for) You

March 26th, 2013

Humans are bundles of marvels. I think of how much like cars we are in one key way — both have so many systems and subsystems that should any of them malfunction, everything stops, maybe forever, and yet we generally perk along without these single points of failure failing. More broadly, we also react to similar mental, physical or emotional trauma and stress very, very differently.

That latter concept first clarified for me in the 1960s when I volunteered in a veterans’ hospital. While I knew WWI and WWII vets who had lost limbs, gotten holes shot in their heads, were blinded and more in battle, in the hospital, others in seeming better shape remained. They spent most days in bed or sun rooms, too emotionally harmed to function in larger society. Their contemporaries had largely gone on with their lives, marrying, parenting and working. One man’s very painful, very inconvenient maiming was another’s cause for permanent surrender.

Thus it is too with abuse. That may be sexual, physical or emotional, bullying, rape, incest or myriad other forms of cruelty. Most common surely is the sadism that hides under parental discipline, beating your children with hands or objects under the guise of discipline or training, replete with Biblical allusion to a single nasty verse. (Other Proverbs verses riff on this — 22:15, 23:13 and 29:15.)

beltIt no surprise to readers here that I do not approve of parents beating their kids any more than of bigger children bullying smaller ones. I was not hit as a child and did not hit my three. By itself, my parenting proves little, but all three of my young men are polite, considerate, non-criminal and socially functional.

Belatedly it seems and prompted by such as youth suicides, bullying is finally OK to call out. Notably, Emily Bazelon’s Sticks and Stones book has lots of coverage, leading to nationwide chatter.  More personally, my friend who blogs as Uncle postd a series on his own considerable experiences with being bullied.  There’s even related junk science, like attempts to link a mother’s childhood abuse to her having an autistic child.

Truths include though that bullying and child beating are pervasive in our allegedly civilized America. For corporal punishment, most of Europe and Asia as well as Canada prohibit it in schools and in many places it is assault and battery. Here, parents can still take hand, paddle, stick or even belt to their kids legally, so long as they don’t cause massive or permanent damage. Lord love a duck, as my mother used to say in frustration.

An oddment to me is that people I have known and read of discussing their beating of their kids invariably say something like, “I was paddled and it never hurt me!” When I hear that, I invariably respond, “Other than leading you to be a child abuser yourself.” And we’re off to the races, as the punisher tries to find some justification for terrifying and physically hurting someone in his (actually more likely her) care.

How is it that some of us and be so bereft of words, so lacking in judgment, so in the control of transient passions that you can communicate your disappoint and anger only in violence?

To circle back to the concept that we differ in our responses to trauma, let’s consider how adults deal with childhood physical abuse like beatings. Some decide never to hit their own children, which I deem a rational and humane response. Others retain vivid memories, recollections/reliving, along with the anger and fear those bring…maybe forever. Others take sticks, hands, belts and such to their subject children in some perverted pay forward, when it is really their parents they should direct their hostility toward.

Quite a few adults have told me how their parents hit them. I don’t see any direct relationship between the level and intensity of abuse, and the resulting long-term response of the adult. What I do conclude is that beating kids is cruel and irrational. It does not teach by example or any reinforcing message. Instead, keeping a grip on your own emotions gives you a lot better shot at teaching and showing proper behavior.

Kids can be infuriating and destructive. The temptation to hit them can appear hundreds or thousands of times in the years you raise and train them.Maybe the key question we should ask ourselves when we are suddenly mad at them is what sort of parents do we want them to be to our grandkids?

Helmet Hell

July 21st, 2012

You gotta wonder how the increasing cyclists’ recording drivers will play out. For background, check out the biz/tech angles in a NYT piece on camera mounted on bike helmets.

The short of it is that what started out as a nice system for recording training rides, scenery and such has legal uses. Aggressive and scofflaw drivers on video have a real tough time jiving cops and prosecutors.

My wonder is whether it would change behavior if drivers learned they couldn’t count on the using the cliché that it’s the reckless, wilding cyclists, certainly not the guy behind the wheel, breaking the law. From experiential and anecdotal knowledge, as well as DOT and other stats, those who kill and maim, and those who routinely risk the lives of pedestrians, cyclists and drivers, are not on two wheels, rather four or more.

Yet it seems from newspaper reports as well as those personal tales, many cops, prosecutors and judges are eager to believe the mythology of the innocent, law and regulation abiding driver having to watch out for all those terrible cyclists terrorizing the roads with their 30 pound weapons. The extrapolation with this emerging technology leads to related questions. A big one is how will drivers and all those involved in the law deal with increasing proof that far too many drivers are reckless, aggressive, endangering or even homicidal a startling amount of the time.

From what I’ve seen as cyclist, driver, pedestrian and bus rider, a typical driver breaks multiple traffic laws on every single trip. Some are just poor manners, like not signaling turns, thus making others guess, wait, miss lights and so forth. Others could be serious, like running red lights, blocking crosswalks, failing to yield to pedestrians, buzzing cyclists, and cutting off drivers or cyclists. I invite you to follow a few drivers at a safe distance, ideally with a passenger to record what you see. It’s the extremely rare driver who goes more than a few blocks without a moving violation.

Yet the helmet-cam cyclists aren’t out for the majority of drivers who mindlessly disobey traffic laws. After all, most cops can’t be bothered with no-blood/no-wreck violations. Bicyclists are concerned with the aggressive and dangerous drivers who force them off the road, who hit and run, who j-hook them to the pavement, who threaten them first with their vehicles and then often with fists or weapons.

Without the camera, the driver has plausible deniability. After all, don’t we each know what crazies cyclists are, every one?

So, it’s legal to video someone’s actions in public, as in driving down the streets. Cops can’t really hide from their obligations when a cyclist can prove that a motorist crashed into them and sped off, or the like. More helmet cams will mean more prosecutions, fines, suspended licenses, insurance surcharges and maybe even jail time.

How will the driving community react? Will the police tweak their training to remind their officers that a cyclist might be telling the truth about a motor vehicle attack? Will judges have to step back from their identification with fellow drivers over those strange two-wheel types?

I suspect the immediate response from drivers will to try to wheedle out of the proof. Either they’ll call foul on being recorded, or ask whether you want to believe your eyes or their words. Drivers who speak or write of cyclists dearly love their dual fantasy — they are blameless and cyclists at semi-human detritus.

I’m a cautious cyclist in watching out for the loons on four wheels. I do claim a lane, but I never assume drivers will stop at red lights or go the right way down a one-way street or look and yield before entering traffic. Yet, I still get buzzed by bike haters, cut off by ditzes, and threatened by drivers who demand that I get out of “their” traffic lane.

Helmet cams are cheap, money-wise, but precious in concept. Just maybe…

God Bless Giraffes

January 19th, 2012

Hamisi1Truth be told, giraffes are my favorite animal. They are beautiful and have an elegant stride, oh, and compelling eyes.

So, I have been emotionally caught up in reportage of Europeans and Americans who shoot giraffes for sport. Trophy hunting of giraffes is by no means dangerous, but it is very expensive $10,000 or more for the experience (plus $2,000 trophy fee).

No Screams

An understandable giraffe myth is that they make no sounds. While they often do not vocalize, they can — moms bellow for lost offspring, males hoping to mate snort, all will bleat on occasion and such.

More obviously, both in the wild as well as in zoos and preserves, they munch plants all day. They run and play with each other. They are gentle herbivores, who are violent rarely. Their only real weapon is a super-strong kick, which can maim or kill a predator such as a lion. Males will sometimes fight each other over a female by swinging their heads at each other.

While I eat meat, I do not believe nor understand hunting for sport.  With mammals as benign, as harmless as giraffes, it makes no sense at all. I have read and seen enough, and have enough hunter relatives and acquaintances, to know some of the other side, such as:

  • Tracking and killing large cats, bears and such is perilous, manly and an expression of a primal struggle for life
  • Hunters of deer and other ruminants cull the overpopulated herd, keeping the survivors healthy and in stasis
  • Some hunters butcher and eat what they kill, equating it with store-bought meat, with the benefit of pelts

Giraffe trophy hunters don’t have any of those arguments. Instead, per that article in the Sun linked above and numerous safari-company sites, it runs:

  • A half dozen African countries allow legal giraffe slaughter
  • The countries use the fees to support their local economy
  • When the residents know hunts are legal and they can get paid for these, they do it rather than poach giraffes for their skins. As one safari guy put it, “Rhino and other animals have been saved through conservation and the most money for conservation is generated from hunting.”

Hierarchy of Affection

Another truth from me is that I am no adherent of ahimsa. I swat mosquitoes, for example, although yesterday, I did remove a fair sized spider from my bathroom by hand, placing it on plants on the deck to scurry off to safety.

Moreover, I regularly eat muscle meat and fish that I purchase. I’m country enough to know chickens don’t grow in shrink-wrapped packages. In fact, I’ve eviscerated fish, plucked chickens and such. It is the sport aspect — the thrill of the kill — that I have never wanted nor understood.

I grew up around hunters. I think of my mother’s brother and his three sons. They loved shooting animals and particularly pleased my country grandmother when they showed up with a deer haunch. They butchered it and we had venison out of the freezer for many meals, including actual mincemeat pie.

I have species prejudice. The idea of killing a whale or any cetacean appalls me. They are far too close to us in brain capacity and are very human in many ways, short of being cruel and ambitious.

From there, I feel an affinity for the great and lesser apes. I identify less and feel less protective of other species, particularly vermin sorts like rats and squirrels. For learned emotional reasons, I would not kill nor eat a cat, dog or other pet variety.

Because I Can

796px-Bundesarchiv_Bild_105-DOA0377,_Deutsch-Ostafrika,_GiraffeWhile not strongly anti-hunting, I do listen to hunters, who like fishermen love to talk about what they do. Many I have known from childhood, into school and college and as an adult, fall into several types. A few truly seem to be those conservation type. They enjoy the outdoors, truly believe that they keep herds healthy through culling, and eat their kills.

My emotional problem is with the many I have known or heard who plainly simply like to kill. The glee they express in describing shooting animals and watching them struggle and die is freaky, scary. We should be glad they have an outlet and are not driven to turning on us.

Likewise for giraffes, there are numerous descriptions and short videos that illustrate both types. Search trophy hunting giraffes to find both safari companies and people opposed to such doings. Oddly, the videos of tourists killing giraffes, posing (invariably under an arced neck) and bragging about it are on both types of sites. One family’s murder is another’s adventure.

Giraffe hunting is not new, of course. The picture above is a pre-WWI one with natives who with their prey. They would eat the animal and sell the hide — old style and not for amusement.

Seeing the videos of the modern version reminds me of a visit to the George Eastman House in Rochester, NY. Mr. Photography loved killing African mammals. His rooms share the building with photography museum. There are elephant and other heads on walls, desks covered in hippo hide and such, and outsized artifacts like umbrella stands made of elephant or hippo feet.

He was quite a control freak, it seems. His journals specify how he micromanaged each trip, down to how many socks of what type each person would bring and precisely what the provisions would be for every meal. In the end, so to speak, he hunted himself as well. He was getting physically feeble and rather than forgo such excursions, he brought in acquaintances one or more at a time, conversing at length to show he was rational (and his will would not be contested), and then killed himself with his favorite pistol. The journals and pistol are on display a floor above the animal trophies.

Long-Necked Muses

Back to giraffes, I am fond of them. As they threaten no one and they are not overpopulated, why should anyone kill them? Short of because humans are atop the food chain and can fairly much slaughter animals at will, I don’t see any good reason.

Those who walk near these 16 to 19 foot tall herbivores and shoot them dead speak on those videos proudly. It does not seem like much of a challenge or accomplishment.

Contrast that with the account in the 1897 The Encyclopaedia of sport, Volume 1 (page 452):

In South Africa the giraffe is invariably hunted on horseback a form of sport which has always had great attractions for English sportsmen. There is nothing finer in nature than the sight of a troop of giraffes in full flight and the excitement of the find and the run up is intense. In its slower paces the giraffe with its curious gliding walk is extremely deceptive It is in reality travelling at a rapid rate. When thoroughly roused these animals are capable putting first rate hunting horses to their utmost speed. It is well to remember that unless the hunter plies sjambok and spur and rides his very hardest at the flying troop in the first two miles of chase he may lose them altogether. At a steady slinging gallop giraffes will travel for hours and wear out a horse but if chased very hard and forced beyond their pace early in the run the hunter will be enabled to ride close up to the particular beast he may single out and put in his shots from the saddle. Some hunters prefer to get up within a hundred yards jump off and fire. In the opinion of the writer and of many experienced African sportsmen it is better to push one’s horse close up to the stern of the giraffe and within a few yards fire from the saddle. A good South African hunting pony needs little guiding in a run of this description and the rider can drop his reins and safely use both hands. The best point to aim at whether on foot or on horseback is the root of the tail. The giraffe’s body is very short and a well planted solid bullet travels right into the vitals of the animal and speedily brings it down broken limb will also effectually bring down giraffe.

The same text notes that giraffes are defenseless against humans. The only danger is if one is dumb and clumsy enough to come in from behind and get kicked.

Anyone with a rifle can kill a giraffe. The guides drive a short distance away. There’s no pony chase, mounted shooting or risk. The giraffes are not skittish and seem to observe the hunters with curiosity, at least until the shots bring down one of theirs.

Putting money into the local economy does not seem at all a justification here. Again, there is no need to cull giraffes, they harm no one and nothing, and hunting them is neither challenging nor dangerous. It seems the hunters should be ashamed to return with a hide or head of these gentle giants.

As the guide company repeatedly point out, such hunts are legal in numerous countries. They offer menus such as on this page, with the per diem as well as the trophy fee, for the long list of animals you can kill. I suppose that’s free enterprise, African style, although U.S. and Canadian hunting preserves have similar plans on less exotic beasts.

It is not in my nature to hunt for sport. I am sad that beautiful, gracious, gentle giraffes die for the titillation of tourists. With the many fulfilling ways to get pleasure in this life that do not bring pain and death, they have chosen most poorly.

Taking a Pass…Twice

November 21st, 2011

Flat out, I don’t have a personal story of childhood sexual abuse. To those of us who don’t, the number we read or hear directly is stunning. With the infamy of the Penn State cases, more moving, inevitably confessional tales broadcast, such as the poignant one by a Notre Dame law professor in today’s Slate.

An oddment is the very brief moment of jealousy in not having a story, very similar to the feeling of us boomer men who did not get thrown into jungle warfare in Vietnam. It is all too human to want to share in the zeitgeist of your various eras. Something seems amiss and missing when you don’t, like those moments when you feel your soul is off somewhere else.

Dispassionately, of course, there’s no reason to visit horrors on yourself. Yet, we want to feel both that we are a part of our times and that we are the sturdy stuff of heroes.

As a very mild expression of these needs, many people I knew in high school, college and my 20s embroidered their shared experience samplers. They were hippies, they smoked pot and hash, they tripped on acid and more, they were sexually profligate, and of course, they protested and rioted on their campuses. All gross exaggerations and outright lies…in the name of shared experience.


Non-Nam


Many of my male chums past and current did go to Vietnam. Some sat on ships or in offices, while others fought, including some who died and others physically and emotionally maimed. Much like those of my father’s generation who killed and who saw the horrors of war, those who did don’t talk about it and if pressed say those who did not were much better off.

There was that pesky military draft, in which I had a very low number. My draft board made a relentless effort to get me, but finally seemed to give up, going for easier pickings.

While in Cambridge on a grant to look at a couple of underground newspapers, I found my board decided I wasn’t technically a full-time college student, so they had a place for me to go. I replied that I would not carry a gun, but I would go as medic, photog or reporter if they needed me in Viet Nam. They responded with CO papers and a notice that I could not pick what I’d do. I sent back that under their absurdly tight CO definition, I didn’t fit, but they could take my deal or send me to jail. They sent another batch of CO applications.

Eventually, they sent me a deferment they gave to fathers of multiple children. Eh? Some vets are positive there must have been someone  at the board looking out for me. A more likely story was through a friend whose father was on the board. He said in such cases, they went after guys who didn’t cause so much trouble and paperwork.


Unabused


Nearly all my best friends and quite a few women I’d kept company with in my single years have tales of being fondled or raped as small or teen kids. A few times, it was strangers they had just met, but more typically, it was a father, brother, cleric, teacher or camp counselor.

The stats sexual abuse prima facie don’t see so terrible, until you read deeper. Start for example from the Wikipedia entry and follow the references to places like Health and Human Services reports to first see that 15% to 25% of girls and 5% to 15% of boys were physically molested. From what I have heard directly and from learning that many of these stats are reported cases, and those percentages are very low.

In retrospect, I wonder whether our itinerant life protected me. We moved every couple years throughout my childhood. It seems that those I know who were abused either were in situations where the perpetrator had gained trust of the family and child, or in which they were in stereotypical abuse hells like boarding schools. It probably helped that my sister and I were not physically abused at all at home by beatings as most of my peers said they were. We were not taught to be submissive. The atmosphere of child as chattel was not part of my life. I also surmise that my willful personality may have acted as a shield.

Motivation for sexual abusers seem clear enough. These tend to be crimes of opportunity. The children are younger, smaller, weaker and often under the older child or adult’s control. Also, there is a strong correlation between having been abused and abusing.

If my second-hand knowledge is accurate, such abuse is never something simply gotten over. There seems to be a spectrum from those who live in victimhood perpetually to those who discuss it was friends or shrinks to those who sometimes shock into recollection to those who sublimate. Yet to those of us who lucked through childhood without being sexually abused, what is astonishing most is how common such behavior is.

This area is another good pointer to humans as not being all that evolved.

After it all, where is evidence of our better nature if we prey on the weakest of us as wild mammals, raptors and even insects do? Where is our alleged striving to be like angels or our god? If the cliché that character is what we are in the dark is true, what does it mean if so many of us even create the figurative dark for our evils?

Hole in Ground Zero

September 26th, 2011

Yeah, yeah, Boston skies were raining hard at 4:46 AM when I left. So, I decided not to bring a camera and risk ruining it. I was headed to NYC for two days and a night. Traveling without my digital companion was odd, feeling naked odd. I would have the cellphone, with its sort of pic ability. A few of those follow.

My wife was down for a multi-day company meeting. Their NY HQ was directly connected to the 9/11 catastrophe site. The new one was rebuilt two blocks away. The company-designated hotel is adjacent to the WTC site, Club Quarters New York World Trade Center. I was intellectually prepared to be there. As a Bostonian of decades and a former Manhattanite, I had it covered.

Emotionally, I turned out not to be.

During our dovetailed stay, my wife and I refreshed each other on the 9/11 personal presence. I had been in an important (I knew at the time) meeting with my international software company. I was a principal, leading a discussion with our local engineers and the Israeli test and development team. I had gigantic paste-ups of MS Project sheets and was brimming with busyness.

Our conference room was packed with intense, intent geeks when Jeannie, the office manager, opened the door. She didn’t knock, which was unlike her. She was pale and wide-eyed, which was rare for her too. She said something like, “Someone just flew a plane into the World Trade Center. You need to stop your meeting.”

We all walked next door to a room with a TV, watched the second plane hit and the towers collapse.

So, just after 10 years later, I had a grip on it….or not.

cranesnycLast weekend, we overlooked the site. From the 18th floor, we could see directly into that pit. From the restaurant on the top floor, the 20th, we could look west to New Jersey and north to the new WTC 1 building. Everywhere, we could see and hear the 24/7 reconstruction of the site. Machinery I knew well from a previous life as a trade-journal editor lifted for the new and dug to prepare for the new-new. Cranes were a hand clasp in the sky. Hydraulic excavators (some Cat dealer is making a fortune on this contract) dug for the foundations for WTC 2 and 3.

Any trip by or to the windows displayed one massive truck after another heaped with dirt and rock from the site before pulling out. All day, all night, America was righting what Bin Laden ruined.

dignycI found it wrenching. I thought a decade on, many hundreds of thousands of words read, sounds heard, images seen that I was fine. Yet each glance or stare from the 18th or 20th floors ate at me. I also slept poorly, even though the hotel walls and windows were well insulated from sound. I just knew.

Apparently my disquiet is not universal. My wife was in meetings when I arrived and I sat by the entrance to the 9/11 memorial on a Jersey barrier. One phalanx after another of t-shirted firefighters crowded and knelt for snaps with the site and new WTC 1 building as backdrop. Their shirts were from stations in Ohio and California and Pennsylvania. They posed and waved.

I saw clots of middle-aged women with the stereotypical mannishly short easy-to-care-for do trailing hubbies and sons, lining up with their tickets for the site tour. On the hour, people queued concert-style behind metal frame chutes to walk the mud, see the two pools, and crook their necks at WTC 1.

I saw more Amish than I had outside of Pennsylvania and Ohio. There were women and girls from 70 to 14 dressed in their full drabness with their gauzy white plain caps like yarmulkes. Dads had suspenders and all looked terrifically un-New York but very comfortable in themselves. They paused and photographed too.

After checking into my wife’s room, I had lunch two blocks south. The two active tables were filled with firefighters from distant places in their station t-shirts.

FFsIn meals on the 20th, many diners of all ages posed on the balcony with the WTC 1 as backdrop. Most smiled their here-I-am-at-the-notable-location grins. Some were reflective, but nearly all were gleeful as any tourist at any site, loading up the slide-show lineup.

Sunday morning, we happened upon the 10th tunnel-to-towers run, just south of the hotel. The pipers were piping, the cops keeping people behind barriers, and 343 uniformed NYC firefighters lined the Battery Tunnel exit, each wearing a photo placard of one of their brethren who died rescuing those trapped on 9/11.

The run has raised millions of dollars, mostly destined to build houses for quadriplegics from the current wars. It traces the route Brooklyn firefighter Stephen Siller took that day. He was off and headed to play golf with his brothers when he heard about the first plane on the scanner. He drove to his station, loaded up with his 60 pounds of gear, found the tunnel closed, and ran the three miles through it to the towers…and his death.

A decade later, there are many tears, both from the firefighters and the surviving family members and the runners.

Juries CAN Doubt

July 6th, 2011

I have not wallowed in the Casey Anthony murder trial. In fact, I avoid sensationalist news and even morbid and tawdry television dramas. Yet what has been thrust before me reinforces that juries need more than slathering of speculation to convict in violent felonies.

Last evening, I turned on TV news. That in itself is unusual, but caught, I saw the lead-in with the not-guilty verdict of the young mother accused of plotting and carrying out the murder of her two-year-old daughter. Immediately the point of the reportage was plain as the camera and mic captured one spectator after another in a viewing room decrying the verdict. They wanted guilt, retribution, execution. They wanted blood. They were outraged that the jury did not.

Having sat on a few felony juries, I was less willing to damn the dozen who had discussed the trial for only 11 hours before their agreement. Such public bifurcation with a jury seems a norm, much like family, friends and neighbors being positive that the accused, whom after all they know, did not, could not and would never have committed the crime.

The jury so far also agreed as a body not to discuss their deliberations. Surely several will eventually do it anyway. Meanwhile though, second and third guessing abounds.

My personal touchstone for such was a trial at which I was a juror. It was not murder, but it was still horrific. A stepfather was charged with multiple instances of raping his very young stepdaughter. Mom was not prosecuted but may have been aware and done nothing, according to the DA’s office.

We did in fact find him guilty, but only of a single count. After our verdict, which took a longer deliberation than the Anthony jury’s, I was close enough to the bench to overhear the judge and assistant DA going on about what fools we were, that it was obvious that he was guilty of the long list of charges.

Show Me The Proof

We on the jury strongly thought he was a dastard who likely had done it all. The problem we were unable to get over is that the prosecution only proved a single crime. We did not have the slack attitude, in effect contempt for the legal process, that the judge and assistant DA did. We took it seriously when we were charged with finding him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

In this case, the prosecution only bothered to present real and detailed evidence on a single rape charge, apparently assuming we’d spread the assumption of guilt like so much melting ice cream.

The young girl did not testify. She was in a much safer home already as well. We heard police and forensic evidence, plus obviously false denials by the accused. While the prosecution allegedly had proof on the other charges, he never revealed any of it to us.

It was extremely frustrating to end up in the deliberation room without just cause to find him guilty on all charges. We said as a group that he likely was guilty of many more instances, but again, we had no evidence.

After the trial, a couple of us chatted. Two agreed with me that everyone in the case seemed sleazy and worthy of jail — including defense attorney, assistant DA and even the judge. None seemed to respect the process of justice. None of them seemed to have the morals befitting his job.

I feel for jurors who find themselves with reasonable doubt. Their raw emotions may well want to convict an accused whom onlookers are absolutely positive is guilty, but they have as they say in Star Trek, a prime directive.

ID’ing Fans by Ear

June 15th, 2011

stompFrom our times living in Charles River Park, I don’t miss hockey nights. We did get to have a dawn party when they imploded the Hotel Madison (formerly the Manger from Frank Sinatra and Beatles eras). We could see every kind of transport — the Constitution, the Green Line, 93, the streets, and planes leaving Logan for Europe.

We were also next to the Garden. From the 9th floor of Hawthorne Place, on the Garden side, we knew from the sounds what had happened a few blocks away.

Concerts — Maybe they were doped up or blissed out from the music, but they were calm. They’d leave the garages and just slightly increase the hum and roar of traffic.

Basketball — Celtics fans left in clumps if one team was well ahead as was the norm. There’d be some impatient honking, I’d guess suburban types feeling inconvenienced by hoi polloi.

Hockey — Ah, we knew for sure when it was a Bruins night. There was garage rage, whether the home skaters won or lost. Much honking was interspersed with screeching brakes, audible collisions, obscene screaming, and occasionally what sounded like gunshots. The terms rabid and fan seem to go well with hockey.

We don’t hear any of that in Hyde Park. I suppose the Mayor a short distance away does not either.

Arcadia…Here, Now, Forever

April 30th, 2011

Bubbles of delusion shade and shelter us from horrors that affect others, but not us.

1888bridgton

Even in little Bridgton, ME, the worst of life and death brings comfort through denial. This town of under 5,000 knows that one of their own met a foul death this week. The corpse of was the gelid, murky waters of a pond just over the border in New Hampshire.

Krista Dittmeyer, whose cause of death has yet to be announced, left her infant daughter in her running car and died nearby. Young, pretty and popular, she is immediately the locus of utopian thinking. As the Boston Herald quotes a chum, “It doesn’t happen here. People are safe here. They care about one another. They help one another. You can leave your doors unlocked at night. It affects everyone.”

Well, sprinkle some pixie dust and fly around the room.

Bridgton seems to be one of those the-way-life-should-be towns as ME promotes its exurban self. The tourism site lists 100 things to do there, such as hunt partridge, see a drive-in movie, hike up a ridge to look at see Mt. Washington way over there, and walk along Main Street.

No one seems shocked when Boston teens or 20-somethings stab or shoot each other in gritty neighborhoods or even in Downtown Crossing. Yet even here in the 22nd largest U.S. city, we engage in delusion and magical thinking.

In my decade in Manhattan, I never heard others say what they do in Bridgton or the various Boston neighborhoods we’ve lived — “We never lock our doors. We don’t have to.” Beacon Hill, West End, South End, Jamaica Plain and now Hyde Park, it was the same. Other neighborhoods or sub-neighborhoods may be dangerous and have criminals, but not here.

There is more justification for it in the newish place. On Fairmount Hill, we might call it a variation on the North End’s Copp’s Hill. With the police academy and many officers settled here, this could well be Cops’ Hill.

Sure enough, sections of town and Hyde Park have burglaries, even the occasional murder. Yet up on this hill, folk decidedly feel safe, rather know they are safe.

I think though of perpetrators of robberies and assaults. Frequently they are junkies. The diminished capacity of addicts means obliviousness to the obvious. Just because there is a blue and white or trooper car parked in the driveway doesn’t mean they won’t break-in and do their nasties. For murders, the typical case is high emotion between people who know each other — family or friends fatalities as it is.

In Bridgton or on Fairmount Hill, the need to believe in the specialness of locale, of our very own place and space is strong. In Bridgton, they likely hold that the bad guys are in Portland. In Boston, with few undeniable exceptions, we need to believe it is the next neighborhood over or farther away that is dangerous.

That might be a benign conceit, but it carries risks. If in fact we do not lock our house or car doors, we may eventually guarantee robbery or worse. (…as the mayor of Somerville recently learned…) As I have heard cops and Fortune Society folk alike say repeatedly, break-ins and robberies are almost always crimes of opportunity. Your car or house doesn’t need to be impregnable. It just needs to seem harder to to get into or less attractive (no goodies showing) than the next one.

We can call the belief in personal Arcadia an endearing affirmation of human hope and trust. I still lock my house and car.

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Reminder of a Death

March 4th, 2011

I have known two Toms who killed themselves. One I still can’t talk about freely. The other I rarely think of, but had to following the recent death-by-cyanide here in Boston.

In junior high, my assistant Boy Scoutmaster and family friend killed himself with cyanide. I was stunned and deeply saddened. The troop was in central Virginia, we camped frequently, and he was a fascinating outdoorsman, as well as a great story teller. He even taught us things not in the handbook, like a quick cleaning of a bacon-greased fry pan using pine tags (needles up here in Yankee land). He and his wife were good friends with my mother and we ate and laughed together. He was one of the men who helped fill in for my own absent father.

Tom was huge of body and mind. He was very funny. He and his wife were also two of the hardest to look at folk I’ve ever met. They themselves liked to say no one else would have them. That was not at all true, as they both were extremely bright and great company.

He was a research chemist, hence his access to cyanide. As I came to learn through literature, he was classic in the sense of having a tragic flaw. He was a compulsive gambler. Perhaps he deluded himself as gamblers are wont that his big brain would let him beat the systems. When that didn’t work, so his wife told us, he did not see any way out of the debt to the Mob.

My friend, my entertainer, my Scoutmaster did himself in with poison gas. He was typically methodical and considerate. He knew how long his wife and aged father who lived with them would be out shopping and visiting. The police found his calculations that ensured the fan he left on would more than dissipate the fumes before they returned. He even showered, shaved and cleared his GI tract before doing himself in in the tub to make it easy for those dealing with the corpse. He had made insurance arrangements for his wife and father.

He apparently had reasoned this all through and found no other solution. As nearly always, those remaining who loved the suicide can only wail to the unhearing.

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