TORTURE IS UNAMERICAN

Life, Reflections

water-boardingSenator Dianne Feinstein did the correct thing for the United States and for all of humanity by releasing the report on CIA misuse and abuse of its authority over detainees.

Also, I want to note and express respect and appreciation for Senator John McCain, who rose on the Senate floor to express his support for the release of the report and who condemned once again the use of torture. This is an important voice since he himself was a victim of torture while a P.O.W. during the Vietnam conflict. It is good to see Senator McCain return with passion to his previously held position.

It is revealing to note that CNN carried the remarks by Senator Feinstein and Senator McCain from Washington, D.C. However the Fox Network did not. What does that tell you?

Below is an essay on the matter of torture that I wrote in 2008 during the U.S. Presidential campaign. I still stand by it today. As a volunteer worker in President Obama’s 2008 campaign, I am proud to note that one of the President’s first acts was to make such torture illegal.

TORTURE

waterboarding-420Recently, Vice President Cheney attempted to justify the use of torture by suggesting that the U.S. was successful in getting information from the use of torture, and he said that it was a good thing we found out what they knew.

One is justifiably suspicious that this is another of Mr. Cheney’s lies – like mass quantities of weapons of mass destruction, Iraq’s alleged attempts to secure nuclear weapons, the alleged Iraq alliance with 9/11 terrorists; all lies that passed the lips of Mr. Cheney more than once.

However, even if it were true that the U.S. got information from the use of torture, it still wouldn’t justify the unjust. The “end justifies the means” philosophy is a morally corrupt position. Even Senator John McCain – who shamefully now is modifying his position on the matter in a pathetic attempt to appease the extreme right-wing of his party – has, in the past, correctly observed that torture is not justifiable: “It is not about who they are, it’s about who we are,” McCain has said. He has stated in the past that torture doesn’t really work because of the extreme unreliability of any information victims provide. The truth is that there are better ways.

Those who try to justify torture are really putting themselves in a position of being no better than those they want to torture. We should be able to stand eye-to-eye, toe-to-toe with anyone, anywhere in the world and say that our country does not engage in torture of anyone for any reason.

It’s better to die at the hands of terrorists than live in a nation that justifies torture. Such a nation is unworthy of allegiance. Such a life is not worth living.

There is, however, great hope. There is one candidate for President of the United States whose position on the use of torture has been clear and consistent. He is opposed to the use of torture, period. And his name is Barrack Obama. Obama08!

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Notes on In Cold Blood

Life, Reflections
The Clutter Family at home

The Clutter Family at home

I saw the movie and read the Truman Capote masterpiece, In Cold Blood. This was Truman Capote’s attempt to create a new genre – a true story written in the style of a fiction novel. The book tells the disturbing story of two ex-con drifters who murder the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas in 1959.

Killed in that attack was Herb Clutter, a wealthy wheat farmer, his wife and two teenage children. I call the book a masterpiece because Capote’s gift for description is amazing; he puts you there. Of course “there” in this book, is often a place you wouldn’t want to be; but still the writing is profound.

The story of the Clutter murders and the perpetrators does, in large measure, what its author intended: leaves me sad, bewildered, angry and full of “if onlys.” But for all its power, In Cold Blood is missing something. I wish I knew what. I wish I could articulate that empty place that I perceive but cannot pinpoint in the journey through the story that begins and ends in the high plain wheat fields of Kansas. The soul of something.

I want to do mentally what Al Dewey did physically: walk away from that cemetery surrounded by those windswept fields of gold. But I cannot. It’s as if I’ve stepped off a dock and landed, not in the water I expected but in the most soggy, deep, dark, mushy mud. I come up spitting mud and wiping it from my eyes; unhurt but unsatisfied.

The Soul of Something

Undoubtedly the story of the Clutter tragedy haunts many – perhaps even the same aspect of the story that haunts me the most — who’ve read Capote’s book. After embracing that haunting and doing my own peculiar sort of prayer/meditation, I did find the answer to what was haunting me. The “soul of something” about the Clutter family tragedy. The answer is a sixteen year old girl named Nancy.

At least I filled the part of the emptiness that bothered me so much. Here is the bold statement that will make many call me crazy and even, I suppose, hate me for saying it: I know what happened in the Clutter house that night, and it is not entirely as Truman wrote it because it is not as Hickock and Smith said it was.

The story haunted me until one night the truth came to me. Say what you will about my contention, but Nancy Clutter deserves everyone who has read the book or seen the movie to know what the facts reveal; at least to my satisfaction. In my heart I believe I know the truth, and for Nancy, I’m going to tell it.

Nancy

I saw the movie, read the book and then, much later, had a revelation. It was then that I went back to the story to see if the facts support my epiphany. They do.

Nancy Mea Clutter

Nancy Mea Clutter

Hickock was driving that night. He drove up the road to the Clutter home and stopped short of the house. For a long time they just sit there with the car lights off – just watching and listening. They saw the light in the bungalow close to the Clutter house come on and off. It was the home of an employee of the Clutters who lived there with his family. We now know that the light was coming on and off every few minutes because they were up many times that night checking on their sick baby.

Hickock and Smith had no clue why the light was coming on and it spooked them. Still, they stayed there. Watching…waiting. Finally, Smith had enough and wanted to call it off and leave. At first, Hickock agrees but then changes his mind and tells smith that he is going through with it.

Smith could not change Hickock’s mind. Remember this.

So, they entered the house. Fear of someone hearing and calling the police could not deter these creeps. And we now know it was not just the money they erroneously thought was in the house. We know that Hickock was a pedophile. At the same time he was told by one of his prison cellmates that Herb Clutter kept ten thousand dollars in the house, he also told him who would most likely be in the house, including sixteen year old Nancy. Hickock knew she was probably there that night. He even knew exactly where her room was at the top of the stairs. Remember this.

Smith would later say that he stopped Hickock from raping Nancy Clutter. Hickock was physically bigger than Smith and, by Smith’s own admission, had succeeded in convincing Smith that he (Hickock) was a real tough guy. Hickock would later admit that one of the reasons he wanted to go to the Clutters in the first place was that he wanted to rape Nancy. And he said that was another reason he went ahead even after they saw the light from the nearby home and even after Smith had wanted to leave.

So did this sorry excuse for a human named Perry Smith really stop Hickock from raping Nancy just to then shoot her in the head? Did he stop the man so determined that he ignored the presence of a possible witness to enter that house? Did he stop the pedophile with a long history of not caring about anyone but Hickock? Of course not. But Nancy was not raped. Why not?

What really happened that night? Both bastards later admitted much of what occurred, and much of it jelled with the evidence that Al Dewey and the other dedicated investigators found in the case. But what is it that Smith and Hickock would never admit – even after admitting to murder? I’ll tell you what it was: They would never admit that they were successfully scorned, defeated, deflated and brought down by a sixteen year old girl’s resolve, courage and tenacity.

Every member of the Clutter family was unable to speak because their mouths were duck taped shut – everyone that is except Nancy. The killers would later come up with a lame reason why she didn’t have her voice silenced by tape along with the others. What’s the real reason? It was I believe, in part, a thought that occurred in the twisted mind of the killers. They were in a hurry and If her mouth was not taped it would be much easier to facilitate the oral sex that Hickock, and probably Smith as well, planned to force on her as part of the impending rape.

Nancy was tied up and in her bed – brutally murdered but not raped. In fact, there was no evidence of any kind of sexual assault. Why not?  Was there something more about Nancy that pushed these two perverts away as if a strong wall surrounded her? Did she possess an especially deep spiritual connection that she used to repel them?

Yes.

Hickock admits that he went to the room to rape her but then says Smith – the same Smith who couldn’t keep him out of the house – stopped him. They both agreed on that story because they would never want anyone to know that it was Nancy who stopped them with her words. They tried to reassert their power over her by claiming that she begged for her life saying, “No, no, no, please don’t….” But that did not stop her murder and surely would not stop her rape. What did? Was there something else she said?

Nancy, like the rest of the Clutters — was a loyal member of the Methodist Church and a strong believer in God. I believe she told Hickock right there in her bed that God was watching and would deal with him and his partner. And with a resolve in her voice that took Hickock’s feeling of power away, she told him that she would rather die than be touched by either of them. Taken aback and pressed for time, Hickock knew that he would have to fight her if he were going to assault her. He left her and joined Smith as they went to the basement.

After they killed Herb and Kenyon, the murdering duo went back up the stairs. She heard them coming and she had heard the shots, including the one that killed her mother. She knew.

She was the only one killed who was found with her back to the killers. As they entered her room she undoubtedly took advantage, once again, of her ability to talk to them – reminding them that God was watching as she turned her back to the wall and said something like, “Go ahead.” This infuriated the killers – Hickock because his desire to have power over the Clutters was taken away by this young girl, and Smith because her words about God watching were too reminiscent of what those “nun bitches” had said to him as they beat him for being a bed wetter when he was so much younger than Nancy.

So Smith, this incredibly vicious animal, shot her in the back of the head like the coward he was. And like the coward they both were, they later made up an ending for Nancy to hide the extent to which she had won.

Call my contention conjecture; call it just a story. Say that I’m wrong to even bring all this up so many years later. Say what you will; this much I know is true: It was not Smith but Nancy who prevented what would have been, as far as she was concerned, worse than death for her that night.

clutter_grave_nancy_thumb

 

 

R.I.P. Nancy Clutter and the Clutter family.

In Disguise

fiction, Life

 

She was in the bedroom and so quiet that he assumed she was reading or just resting. He walked in quietly to find that she was neither reading nor resting.  She was hard at work; packing. She was taking her time, making sure that each item was folded just right as she filled the big suitcase. He thought to himself how odd that she was packing the big suitcase; the one used only for long trips. “What ya doin’?” he asked. She responded in a matter-of-fact voice so unlike her as she continued to pack, “I’m outta here.” It’s more how she said it that got his attention.

Though her voice was controlled, it was full of what he detected as triumph. You can tell about such things when you’ve been married for a decade and some change. “When are you coming back?” he asked in a voice that was more like a plea than a question. “I mean, where you are going?” he continued.

As he struggled to keep control of himself, she stopped packing long enough to give him a long, silent stare; a stare full of her infamous evil eye that she always threw at him when she was angry. He used to joke that her evil eye could burn holes in the walls.

He knew.There was no need for her to say more. He understood too well. So many little things that he had tried for months not to notice now made too much sense.

He tried to think of something to say, but he knew that she was not going to listen. This was a done deal. There is no force on earth stronger or more determined than a woman who has made up her mind. A man who decides to leave will often change his mind. It usually doesn’t take much to persuade him to try again. But when a woman is going, she’s going, and seldom does she even look back. When a woman is gone, my friend, she’s gone. As an old country song puts it, “Cryin’ won’t bring her back.”

Knowing that words would mean nothing now, he does what most men do at times like this. He does something stupid. He was not thinking now; he was just acting out feelings. He was just doing something.

He reached over and began taking her clothes out of the suitcase and throwing them on the bed; thus, destroying her neat folding job. This did not help.

She stepped back and with a combination evil eye and burst of tears, she spoke with a fury and tremble in her voice like he had never heard from her. “You bastard,” she said. “I’ll call the cops on your ass. That’s what I’ll do. Get away from me. Get out of here.”

He walked out of the room weak and crumbled like the clothes he had thrown around; A beaten and shocked shell of who he was. As she walked out the front door without speaking, he watched her drive off, and looked at the yard between the house and street.

He thought about all the work he had done on that front yard.  It had been a good year for the Virginia dogwoods; one to the right and one to the left of the well kept lawn. They were so pretty with the glowing white petals to the left looking like a springtime version of snow. And her favorite to the right, with its delicate pale, pink petals proudly displayed. The special grass that he ordered, the kind that needs little watering, looked so good and green. It had all been such an important project to him. And what mattered now? Nothing.

He recalled when they first met, and how he thought that she was beautiful. Not a beauty queen kind of beautiful. But golden blond hair, deep, blue eyes and a great smile. Yes, there was beauty there, he recalled. It is sad and strange how those features he found so appealing seem now nothing more than a disguise for ugliness.

Now, as he struggled to find something positive to think of it all, he found himself saying aloud, “Try not to marry an ugly woman.”

 

 

Testing the Power of Intention

Life, Life Lessons, Reflections
I put it to the test

I put it to the test

I was presented with the opportunity to move to a brand new apartment building for seniors that is twenty-two miles from where now live – a much better apartment and location. Of course, I knew I could not move now. Financial and other difficulties were too great at this time. However, I decided to go talk with them anyway. They told me that I had less than 30 days to move in or they would go to the next person on the list. I told them to keep it and walked out.

 

By the time I reached my car, I decided to test what is known as the “power of intention” as taught by Dr. Wayne Dyer.  I turned, looked at the building and said out loud, “I’m going to get that damn apartment.”  My move in day is next week.

I made a few important discoveries that I wish to share with you:

  • Sometimes if you declare that you’re going to test the forces of nature, they declare that they’ll test you back. An incredible number of obstacles were thrown at me to prevent my move. I kept thinking of that great song from the civil rights movement: “Ain’t  Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around”
  • The power of intention is spiritual. It reaches its greatest potential to help you when you connect with your spiritual reality through prayer/meditation
  • But suppose you’re not into the spiritual aspect. No worries: just meditate on connecting to the peaceful place — the joy inside you — and the forces of nature will rally around and embrace you and your intention. Try it
  • The power comes to your assistance as long as you’re on your correct path. If I had declared that I was going to be a linebacker for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the same powers that helped me would have made my life miserable
  • The old saying is really true: God and nature reward action. I wanted the forces of nature to help me, so I had to realize that I am also a force of nature. I did not just pray and say that I was going to put it in God’s hands. I took action

The list does goes on, but I’ll stop there and hope that this information is helpful to you.

 

 

 

‘Round the Rough and Rugged Rock

Broadcasting, Life, Reflections
A scrimshaw depiction of my radio show by the artist Joe Toe.

A scrimshaw depiction of my radio show by the artist Joe Toe.

One of my fellow announcers used to go around the station repeating the line, “round the rough and rugged rock the ragged rascal ran,” in as deep a voice as possible before going on the air. He thought that it made his voice deeper. He said that if he ever wrote a book about his experiences in broadcasting, he would make that his title. So, I used to repeat it too, along with other poems with silly alliteration. I also stuck a cork between my teeth while I practiced reading copy – another common practice. I don’t think it helped. However, I would discover that radio was, indeed, a rough and rugged rock.

My desire to work in radio began because my dad loved country music and he took me to concerts when I was a child. I saw and heard people like Marty Robbins, Roy Acuff, Kitty Wells, Ray Price, George Jones and many others – They performed under colored lights, wearing rhinestone costumes that changed color under the lights every time the singer moved. And I said, “That’s what I want to do. I want to be a country singer and stand up there in a rhinestone suit!”  There was one problem: I can’t sing a note.

So, I decided the next best way to impress my dad was to become a country music disc jockey. I bugged one of the most popular country deejays in town until he agreed to let me shadow him. I followed him like a poodle while he worked and I learned. Several months later, I had my own show on that station – WWAB Radio in Lakeland, FL.

I was terrible, but I was on the radio and, I thought, on my way to a great career in broadcasting.  I had a learning disability and had never done well in school. So, I quit school.  I was functionally illiterate, but who needs school when you’re going to be a great radio personality, right? However, this was still in the day when the deejay running the board was expected to do it all – read news, sports and commercials.

Thus, I gained the incentive for teaching myself to read and write. Along the way, I attended night school, achieved a GED and attended a community college (Eventually, I would become a graduate of the University of Tampa). As I continued to work at small and medium marked stations, I did everything from car sale remotes to taking out the garbage while always thinking that I was just paying my dues for big market.

Big market never happened and its pursuit began to take a toll on my self-esteem. Along the way, however, I had developed a love for writing. I wrote news, sports, weather forecasts, public service announcements and commercials. When I realized the station program director was using my creative talent but not properly compensating me for it, I decided to become a freelance writer in 1984.

During my years in radio, I learned to understand and appreciate the pioneers of the industry. I came to comprehend what I could learn from them and use in my work.

From hearing about, reading about and listening to tapes of the greats from the early years, I gleaned what they had learned through a combination of trial and error.

Here were these great performers, challenged to transfer their talents from other venues to this new way of reaching an audience; a new way of reaching out to an entire nation.  Greats such as Ed Wynn, with one of radio’s earliest comedy shows; the show featured his outrageous puns that he brought to radio from his work in the Ziegfeld Follies. There was Will Rogers, who used his wit and political humor to endear himself to listeners; Ed Sullivan, who became well known in radio for his ability to conduct interviews; Groucho Marx, who brought his comedy to a national audience via radio; as did Bob Hope, Milton Berle and many others.

President Franklin Roosevelt became so good at using radio for what was called his “fireside chats” that he was known as the “radio President.” Bing Crosby, Kate Smith and many other singers became famous on the radio in its early days. Many of these talents went on to greatness in television and movies, but it was radio that propelled their careers.

It was, however, studying the career of Arthur Godfrey more than any other single individual that taught me what all of these successful broadcasters had in common. It was Godfrey who once put it into words that proved invaluable to me as a young person aspiring to a career in broadcasting.  He once observed that the way to reach people in radio is to pretend that you are talking to one person. Listening to tapes of his radio days and the other great pioneers, I realized how well they practiced that idea. Even the singers when they talked, had that ability to take advantage of radio’s potential intimacy with an audience.

Had I not studied the technique of talking to one person and put it in practice in my work, my radio career would have been even less successful.  Applying that advice to actual on-air work is, of course, not as easy as it may seem. It takes practice and dedication. My efforts to emulate the pioneers paid off with my ability to do “color” commentary on high school football games and conduct interviews with even the most famous of guests.

In my career, I had the honor of interviewing Larry Gatlin, Tammy Wynette, George Jones, Ralph Emery, John Anderson, Red Grange, Joe Garagiola, Charley Pride, Florida Governor Rubin Askew and many others. Many times those that I interviewed would tell me how impressed they were that I had obviously researched prior to the interview. They also often commented on what they called my easygoing or happy-go-lucky style. These were the things that I had learned from studying the great pioneers.

I’ve often told people who want to do interviews that if they just do some research, they’ll not only do a good interview but they’ll probably make a friend for life. Years after I worked in radio, I was able to secure interviews for newspaper articles that I wrote because of connections established during my radio interview days.

In addition, I’ve had occasions to teach individuals how to prepare to be interviewed; for example, as a member of the Board of Directors of Paint Your Heart Out Lakeland, I was in charge of public relations and chaired the PR Committee. I wrote a preparation for the other members of the PYHOL Board to help prepare them for radio interviews. We were planning interviews to promote the organization’s non-profit activities.

My years in radio did not lead me to the big market broadcasting career I hoped for. However, those years drastically improved my ability as a public speaker, as well as my ability as a writer and as a reader.  I developed a love for news, history, many different music genres and the arts in general.  And, of course, my admiration for those pioneers in broadcasting increased through all my experiences ‘round the rough and rugged rock.

 

 

Clearly Now

Life, Life Lessons, Reflections
Photo I took of Dr. Dyer during taping of television show at CNN in Atlanta

Photo I took of Dr. Dyer during live television show at CNN in Atlanta

In honor of the book I’m reading by Dr. Wayne Dyer titled, I Can See Clearly Now, I’ve decided to write at least one essay on what I now see clearly about my life; it seems a good thing to do at age 63. In the book, Dr. Dyer, who has been popping up in my life for about 20 years now, nonchalantly states that he now has leukemia. So, I begin with a prayer and positive thoughts in his direction. And I acknowledge the influence he has on me. It is regretful to say that I have failed many times to follow his teaching, but I try. If I did not try, I know my life would be diminished.

Like most, I’ve experienced so many lows in my life because of a combination of illness and my own mistakes. But is it coincidence that Dr. Dyer has shown up so often at my low times? Recently, I hit yet another low and, what a surprise, I hear the title of his new book on one of his PBS specials. And, just by happenstance, it is the same title as one of my favorite songs. So, while visiting the library, I find his book listed in the system but there is a waiting list; of course there is.

After I got myself on that list, I knew it would take a very long time to get the book; it always takes a long time to get a new, popular book. But, for some reason, in very little time I find myself with it. I am grateful. As I read it, I discover it is, in part, about his contention that there are no coincidences. None.

While in Atlanta, I think it was 1998, I attend a live TV production at the CNN Center called, “Talkback Live.” The guest that day was Dr. Wayne Dyer. I was very happy for this coincidence because his book titled, Your Erroneous Zones had meant a great deal to me. On that day, I studied him. Not just while the camera was on him but especially when it wasn’t; such as during commercial breaks.

Now, understand that I have worked in broadcasting and watched many people having attacks of the nerves just before the microphone came on. When a camera was involved, it was often worse. I’m talking here about seasoned performers. Even while the mic or camera was on, some would find it difficult to articulate. The fact that I had this problem myself probably prevented me from getting better at it and helped cut my broadcast career short.

But Watching Dr. Dyer that day, I was amazed at his calmness. It was as if he were happily reclined on a beach. If you watch him on any of his lectures, you’ll see it too. Let me tell you it is not as easy as he makes it look to be in front of  an audience and be that calm, that serene. It proves to me, like nothing else could, that he practices what he preaches about achieving this level of confidence and ability to handle whatever is.

So, Dr. Dyer, I salute you and thanks for all I am learning from you. I don’t know much, but I know you were meant to be a part of my life. Thank you for fulfilling your destiny in a way that means so much to so many.

What I Can See Clearly Now

Photo of the place I spent so many Saturday and Sunday afternoons during  my childhood. And the site of one of the most shameful events I ever witnessed.

Photo of the historic Polk Theatre in Lakeland. A place I spent so many Saturday and Sunday afternoons during my childhood. And the site of one of the most shameful events I ever witnessed.

I can see clearly now that I had to grow up in a totally segregated, ultra-conservative, fundamentalist, fear and hate dominated Lakeland, FL. I had to see black citizens beaten outside the Polk Theatre, where I spent so many weekends as a child escaping my very undesirable childhood, just because they wanted to go in and see a movie.

I remember many wonderful things about Lakeland. Even struggling through a bad childhood did not keep me from enjoying many great, rewarding adventures in that town. And I salute the progress that Lakeland, like the rest of the South, has made.

I had to see black protesters thrown out of my uncle’s little restaurant, located on the same street and just a few miles north of the Polk Theatre, because they dared to enter and sit down for service. I had to live through never having the opportunity to get to know a black person my own age as I grew up, and hearing all the racist rhetoric super charged by the civil rights movement.

This was so important. It taught me what I needed to know to reach that time when I was 19 and had an epiphany. I began to realize that I needed to go on a lifelong journey of discovery to decide what believed and not what those around me believed; I realized I had never really bought into all the hateful crap.

I did not believe one race was better than the other, or that men were superior to women, or that gay folks are not entitled to equality, or that anyone goes to a mythical place called Hell. I did not know all that I believed (and I still don’t), but I knew I was going to become a reader and thinker and decide for myself.  Also, I knew I was going to begin by standing on commonsense, logic, reason and truth. So, that’s what I’ve done without one minute of regret or second thought.

I am so grateful that I overcame my own childhood racism induced by my environment. As an adult I have stood up and spoken out for the cause of equality for all people. Anyone would find more than my share of mistakes in my life, but believing in racist, sexist, nonsense as an adult has not been one of them.

I can see clearly now that this was important. I don’t know all the reasons it was so important, but I can tell you this: When I think of what I saw and, even at times participated in, and then how I changed, I sure am proud of me. My gratitude for all that the decision to be a progressive and to support equality has brought to my life is beyond measure.

 

End