Sunday, October 28, 2007

And we'll bomb what?

I don’t want to step all over my ghost stories, or the pathetic and vicious tale of murder I just chronicled, but there is something buried in recent news reports that bears comment.

Democritters are very upset, and threatening to de-fund a bill providing money to retrofit the B-2 Stealth bomber to deliver a 30,000 pound bunker-buster bomb. This monster is the MOAB [Mother Of All Bombs, thank you Saddam] short of nuclear ordnance.

Here’s an interesting factoid: this bomb is already capable of being delivered by the B-1 Lancer or the workhorse B-52. However, these airplanes are not stealthy. The B-1 flies low and fast, and has a small radar signature. The B-52 has a radar signature the size of a small European country. The B-2 shows up on radar as a bumblebee collecting honey.

Something happened in Syria recently involving a nuclear facility. The incident is still shrouded in smoke and mirrors, so we’ll await official word on what might have happened.

In Iran, Ah’m-a-madman continues apace to develop The Islamic Bomb. He will not be deterred, he doesn’t care a whit about the effects of sanctions on his country; he will have this thing, and he will use it. If he doesn’t send the Iranian air force on a suicide run to Israel, he’ll lend it to his Al Qaeda neighbors so they can bring it across our open borders into Cleveland, or detonate it in Tel Aviv.

Some years ago, the ever-treacherous French sold Saddam Hussein a nuclear reactor. Never ones to be wallflowers, the Israelis flew in and bombed the thing to ashes before the concrete was dry.

In the poisonous world of partisan politics in Washington, some Democritters now have their panties in a wad because they are convinced we’re going to drop this 30,000 pound MOAB on the Iranian nuclear facility, as soon as it can be strapped to a B-2 for a sneak play.

Everyone’s in a dither about Iraq, and even reasonable pundits are saying we can’t take on Iran until we regroup, if it’s going to come to boots on the ground. Okay, point taken. I’m all for putting a standard 5,000 pound smart bomb through Ah’m-a-madman’s bedroom window, but we’re supposed to be the Good Guys, so we don’t make a habit of that behavior.

If 30,000 pounds of deep-penetrating, high-explosive ordnance mysteriously fell out of the sky and eliminated a nuclear facility in Iran, who’s going to be upset? I imagine the local farmers might be upset when their chickens quit laying. There are some mullahs in Teheran who will be screaming “Death to the Infidels!” (What else is new there?)

They say this new retrofit won’t be ready for a couple of years. That’s keeping pace with the official timeline for Iran developing The Islamic Bomb. In the meantime, there are all these bogus sanctions and useless “diplomacy” in play.

Every time I see Harry Reid and his ilk on TV, I want to puke. I have too much pessimism about the future of America. Retrofitting the B-2, and having the will to use it, isn’t at the top of the headlines. However, if the yellow-dog Democrats de-fund this and do nothing to protect our country, they are as guilty as Ah’m-a-madman when the bomb crosses our open borders and goes off on American soil.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Ghost stories

I woke up this morning, and in addition to catching up on the news of California burning to cinders, and retrofitting the B-2 for a MOAB bunker buster—more about that in a minute—I get a stat off FOX News that 34% of Americans believe in ghosts.

Well, welcome to the club.

I’m the ultimate skeptic. Try to run something past me with “psychic” or “UFO” in the premise, and I’ll advise you to not let the door hit you in the hinder on your way out.

Despite my hard-line disbelief, there are certain occurrences that I cannot explain, or totally discount as phenomenon of some sort.

One of the first pieces of real estate I ever occupied was a farmhouse estimated to be 150 years old in the 1970s. It was a lovely parcel of land, with orchards, a working barn, pastures for my horses, and two creeks. The farm showed up on Civil War-era maps as “the Turner Farm”, because it had a well, and such vital resources would be marked on said maps.

The first night I spent there was a kind of “scouting party” for the rest of my family. I moved in with a folding cot and sleeping bag. I set up my sparse outrider equipment in the living room, built a small fire in the fireplace, and crashed out.

At some point in the early morning hours, I snapped out of sleep to hear a car’s motor revving loudly. Just as I jumped out of bed and reached the front door, the sound stopped. It didn’t recede like a car racing into the distance; it just stopped.

I didn’t think anything more about it. My wife and infant older daughter moved in, and we proceeded to fix the place up to more modern standards.

I was into haircut mode in those days, so one Saturday found me in the local barber shop. The topic of discussion was a recent suicide. A young man had run a tailpipe hose into his car and gassed himself just beyond the old Turner place. The incident had occurred at approximately the time and day I heard that motor revving.

Wait, it gets deeper.

A suicide 100 yards from one’s rural home doesn’t rattle a skeptic. Oldest daughter Laura began to talk; then she began to say that the voice in her bedroom was keeping her awake.

About a year after we’d moved in, a family in a pickup truck showed up at the front door. The patriarch asked if they could pick some apples from the orchard. I readily agreed. He then asked me something strange: had we ever had “trouble” from Sally’s ghost?

Ever the calm realist, I asked him what the hell he was talking about.

He told me that the Turner farm was widely known, because a young girl named Sally had committed suicide with a shotgun in the back room. (This was now daughter Laura’s bedroom.) I sent him on his apple-picking expedition, and he and his family never returned.

The next time Laura said there was a voice in her bedroom, I checked it out. Like mice scratching in the wall, there was a whisper of inexplicable origin. I have confessed to drinking too much and using recreational drugs, but none of that was in play when I witnessed these eerie sounds. I heard it. Laura slept with us that night.

A while after that, a friend from work showed up with a date. They wanted to see the waterfall on one of my creeks under the full moon. I’m easy, so we set out down the dirt road that ran the length of the 150 acres.

At the appointed point, beside the apple orchard, we stepped off into the woods that led to the creek and the Confederate earthworks. As we arrived, we became mutually aware of some phenomenon.

I can’t describe how the others saw it. I wear glasses for long-distance vision, so the world is fuzzy when I take them off. I had glasses on that night, but what I saw was slightly out of focus. My friends saw it, too.

What we saw was a large number of troops passing between the trees. I think they were Confederates, based on my re-enacting experience. We were on the edge of Civil War earthworks.

We watched this for a moment, then my friends were beating feet out of there. I had no choice but to follow, although by that point I wanted to hail the spirits and try to make contact.

I have my own theory about ghosts these days. These are people who were violently ripped from life, and are searching for peace. Voices in the wall, troops marching in the night, motors revving on some sad suicide, they are all looking for some final peace. A friend took a photo of Burnside’s Bridge at the Sharpsburg battlefield. There is a blurred anomaly in that photo. Thousands died in that place on one ultra-violent day; who’s to say this isn’t a lost soul trying to find his way home?

And if ghosts aren’t enough, let’s get to UFOs. If we’re going crazy, let’s go all the way.

Between encounters with ghosts in the 1970s, I undertook a hitchhiking adventure with a work buddy. At some point, we found ourselves in Kannapolis, North Carolina in the middle of the night. Stranded along the interstate, with no hope of a ride at that hour, we hiked up the embankment, jumped the fence, and spread our sleeping bags in a cow pasture.

At some undetermined time of the morning, I woke for no good reason. Lying on my back, I had a perfectly unobstructed view of the stars.

Something vast, and totally black, was moving across those stars.

I thought it was a cow looming over me. I went back to sleep.

The next morning, Dave and I caught a ride early on. We’re sitting in the back seat of a car, thankful for the ride, when it comes on the radio:

“…reported UFO sightings over North Carolina, especially the Kannapolis area…”

I dropped the joint the kind person in the front seat had handed me.

In the 1990s, I was traveling the I-16 corridor between Atlanta and Savannah. Outside of Savannah, before you get to Macon, this is a barren stretch of road. I don’t know what those flashing, pacing lights were, but I’ll hope it was something out of Warner Robbins Air Force base, and leave it at that.

The Turner farm burned to the ground shortly after we moved out. It looked like arson, and places with so much history frequently suffer such fates.

FOX News says 34% of Americans believe in ghosts. You want to tell me a story; I have to swallow a huge grain of salt. However, I’ll listen. I can’t explain the things I’ve just described.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Someone else's murder

I watched a TV show last night. I do entirely too much of that, but this one was different. I did it at the behest of a good friend, who described how the circumstances depicted in the program had touched the lives of her family, especially her father. Over the past few years, I had heard mention in casual conversation of how the events had devastated her dad, but I never got a clear picture of what, exactly, had happened.

Last night, I got the whole story, chapter and verse, thanks to Court TV™.

The program was titled “The Investigators.” It’s yet another of those “true crime” shows that seem to proliferate on every channel from A&E to Discovery to The Biography Channel. Even the sophomoric E! has taken a swing at celebrity crime.

I have a dark—although unsurprising to the constant reader—secret. I’m hooked on these programs. I watch almost all of them, except anything with “Psychic” in the title, or anything on Spike TV. I’ve had too much interaction with real detectives, and we are agreed that the use of “psychics” on a murder case is a waste of time, and generally a large load of horse manure.

Terrible Ted Turner’s Spike TV, or one of its cousins, is currently airing some equally fallacious program wherein lay people are supposed to play detective and take on a homicide investigation. I am not making this up. The premise is not only ludicrous at first blush, but I am personally offended by it, for reasons that are again familiar to the constant readers of this blog. I’m a layman when it comes to law enforcement, and I’ve been trying to solve one murder for nearly 23 years. I don’t have camera crews hanging on my every uttered speculation. I’m not being paid the AGA [Actor’s Guild of America] minimum, which you can earn for one minute on anyone’s talk show.

Some of the true crime programs—including “The Investigators”—are reasonably serious. My favorite is “City Confidential”, but that’s beside the point. I enjoy Paul Winfield’s narration and the sometimes corny scripting.

To swerve back onto point, my friend’s father employed a young woman as a secretary in his insurance company. Mr. B___ thought the world of his secretary, Carole Garton, in a fatherly way. His daughter—known to ScrappleFace bloggers [see link at right] as “Charlie’s Mum”—has described how devastated he was when he learned she had been shot five times, and one of the .44 slugs had passed through the 8-month-old fetus. This happened in 1998 in Cottonwood, California—in Shasta County, I believe. There has been a book written about the case: Kill or Be Killed. The author is interviewed on-camera, but I don’t generally take notes, so his name escapes me. My eidetic memory is failing me. This is why Google™ truly exists; not to support Blogger™ forums.

I called my friend last night to make sure I was watching the right program at the right time; she’d laugh and agree, but she’s a blonde, and her initial data about air time might have been—err—erroneous.

The name of the episode is “Toy Soldier”, and every detail she supplied me prior to its airing is unerringly recreated, mentioned, or referred to in “The Investigators.” When she first excitedly screeched the news of Court TV™ airing the segment, my 40% deafness led me to believe she’d said “The Pot Garden Murders.” What she said was “Todd Garton.” She spoke it very fast—unsure of the title—and my slow hillbilly hearing interpreted thusly.

I won’t give “spoilers” here; you have to see this to believe it. Todd Garton is currently on California’s Death Row, for reasons that will become obvious with the watching of “Toy Soldier”.

I fixated on this, to the exclusion of more relevant “news”—like California now burning to cinders—because I have no tolerance for murderers, and I don’t trust the state of Arnold as far as I can throw it into the Pacific Ocean. The 9th Circus Court of Appeals is capable of anything.

“Charlie’s Mum’s” father was an “Airedale” during War II; he fought the same great fight as my father. Dad was a ground-pounder; a recounting of how he won his Silver Star is available upon request. Point is, the old man [hers] was devastated.

Someone—later identified as Nathan Daniels—walked into the Garton residence and opened fire on an 8-month-pregnant woman who was taking a nap. Both mother and child were killed instantly; he used a .44 Magnum, a very deadly handgun. One of the bullets passed through the eight-month-old fetus. He shot her very accurately, going double-action with the revolver.

I was once solicited to shoot someone “just a little bit.” Not exactly textbook murder, just “shoot and scare him away, or maybe in the arm.”


The motives were clean enough; a friend of a friend’s daughter works for a big-league weather channel, and was enduring a stalker. In their usual elegant way, local law was talking TROs [Temporary Restraining Orders]. Nothing had worked; apparently the guy had a case of terminal pestilence.

There is no dark, scary end to this parable, because aside from a conversation, it never happened....that is to say, no one got shot. My first explanation to the solicitor: when the guns come out, there is never any true control over what’s going to happen. My second, more strident reason: you hire an assassin; you’d better be ready to kill him. If you don’t, they’ll either give you over to the law at the first sign of trouble, or take you off for the fee promised up front. Most likely, if you solicit murder, you’ll end up making a deal with an undercover cop, and wind up doing 25-to-life in some state-run hellhole prison where dropping the soap can be a real pain in the ass. Forget the “just a little bit” part; someone may end up dead and the only thing worse than being the one who takes the dirt nap is the one saying “Ooops!” Last time I checked, hot pursuit of a cute blonde isn’t a capital offense.

No preciousness, no sarcasm. I have the attention span of a gnat, and the temperament of a rat on PCP cornered in a drainpipe. I also have two serious observations:

The first is a question. What ever happened to the good old vilified idea of divorce? I suppose a psychologist would say I’m somehow traumatized by watching my parents fight—verbally—like cats and dogs when I was a pup. Yeah, okay, it was scary. There were things in play I couldn’t comprehend. They still managed to stay married for 50 years, and when my father “caught” cancer in 1968, there weren’t any more “discussions”. My million-dollar mom stood by him like the Statue of Liberty.

If you absolutely, positively cannot get along with your spouse, there is this legal entity called a “no-fault divorce”. For those who actually built a body of money and good fortune and don’t want to risk a portion of that along with their hearts, there is the prenuptial-agreement. Last time I looked, love is a spiritual thing. I consider myself something of both an expert and fool on divorce; few people—especially domestic-battle-scarred guys—remarry their ex-spouses. “Hey, I liked being mugged so much, how about you do it again?”

It’s a serious question: Why, if you cannot abide your significant other for one more minute, can you not afford a good divorce lawyer? They come a lot cheaper than OJ’s “dream team” of homicide attorneys. Life is God’s most precious gift; if you don’t believe that, go find this Nathan Daniels puke explaining exactly how stupid he was born to the Gatekeeper of Hell. I’m sure he’ll be very interested.

After a lifetime of sarcasm, I find it impossible to comment on the unraveling of the strange, true tale that touched the life of a dear friend without resorting to it. The tale is pathetic because of the stupidity involved. I vowed to stay away from sarcasm, but I am mortal.

Murder is a pond ripple on the surface of humanity; it is a stone tossed by those who could care less, and like the ripple, it spreads beyond belief.

Are significant others truly disposable commodities that you can take for “stuff”? I can’t answer for the rest of the universe, but a “yes” or “no” would be helpful.

I, also, have been touched by murder. My mother lived her final years in a state of abject paranoia, fearful that she would be killed as my father was. She was spared the terror of an anonymous shooter in the night; the Reaper came quietly in her sleep.

I don’t worry as much; there is a firearm within reach every ten feet inside the Possum Den. Paranoid? Nah!

For the man who shot an 8-months pregnant woman five times with a .44 Magnum—the most powerful handgun in the world, as “Dirty Harry” points out—were you really stupid enough to believe Garton’s BS about a “company”? You have 50 years to arrive at an answer. Considering your age, I don’t think you’ll make it.

Friday, October 12, 2007

"The old college try..."

Whoever thought of that trite saying “Give it the old college try”?

My parents married and rapidly came of age during The Depression. My father put himself through Georgia Tech cutting hair and studying the marvels of radio engineering; my mother had a more genteel upbringing in private schools. Surely they thought in the 1930s what I am thinking in the next century: the world is going to hell in a handbasket, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it.

Dixie in the 1920s and '30s was still recovering from the War of Northern Aggression, which destroyed our agricultural economy as thoroughly as Sherman, Sheridan, and Grant went on to destroy the heathen Injuns. What proud chapters we have written in our history! This has never been “My country—right or wrong”. This is America, where we welcome the worst with the best, as long as they fill out an immigration visa form.

So, Dad headed west for a while, and under the aegis of Roosevelt’s CCC, he signed on as a park ranger at “Jellystone” National Park. Yep, Dad knew Yogi, and was he here today; he’d say that Yogi ain’t presidential material.

In 1935, when my parents married and planned a family, they took it for granted that their child would attend a university. That foggy morning during the Battle of the Bulge, I doubt my father was thinking about his progeny when he won his Silver Star. When I took third place with a bronze medal in a later war, I certainly wasn’t considering the option of children. That day, staying alive was impossibility beyond hoping. Like all soldiers before me, I fought for those beside me, not for some dream of future children who might achieve what I never could.

I suppose I am a child of privilege; one of the last of the “baby boomers”. Please allow me to elucidate: my parents managed college under the harshest of conditions. The Depression of the 1930s was not easy on those families who managed to remain “comfortable”. You have to do some tricky math to equate New Millennium dollars to 20th century cents, but even under the best of circumstances back then, it wasn’t an easy proposition to send a child to college.

Nevertheless, when my father came back from defeating tyranny, with the stench of Nordhausen concentration camp still in his nostrils, the first thing on his mind was “The kid’s going to college to learn how to never do this again.”

The Book of Ecclesiastes has it nailed; there is nothing new under the sun. My great-aunt—granny’s sister—used to quote that to me all the time when I was a pup.

Unfortunately, the kid got snatched. I fought lesser tyrants, but their myrmidons were tough little SOBs. Nowadays, we call the snatching “the draft”—a long dead entity—and our little war is still hotly debated. My “child of privilege” status only extended so far; besides, I quit high school when I turned 18, and joined. I’ll never forget the day—three days after I turned 18—that I walked in on my high school counselor and told her that I wanted the papers to sign to formally drop out.

“You’re college prep. You can’t do that! What are you going to do?”

“But there’s a war on!”


She gave me all the arguments. Eventually, when I sat and smiled, she gave me the papers. I signed, and got the hell out of there.

A Kodak™ moment: When I left her office, she followed me into the hallway of the high school. This woman was more distraught that I was ditching college than I was worried about the prospect of being killed in combat.

My timing was perfect; it was a class change going on. I planned to sneak out a side door and be gone forever. Instead, Mrs. M____ tailed me into the hallway, and in a last ditch attempt, she screamed “You have an I.Q. of 146! Why do you want to waste that?”

It was like telling a dirty joke at a party. Just when you hit the obscene punch line, the universe conspires to halt all other conversation. Silence reigned, and everybody stared. “Him…?”

Her shout caught the attention of everyone in the hallway. Not since I’d jumped the redneck who called me a “nigger lover” for escorting a black girl to a sock hop had I been the attention of so much focus.

(That drew a thee-day suspension. When I returned, I got the silent treatment from my peers. In that case, silence was golden. I only hope my “date” didn’t catch too much flack. My tires were slashed, and the car windows smashed. The KKK burning a cross in the front yard was not out of the equation. My parents understood this; I didn’t.)

I tried five minutes of junior college. I met my first wife, hosted Lynrd Skynrd, Odetta, met George Carlin as entertainment director of the student council, and smoked a lot of pot. That’s not in any particular order. Actually, I got more “smarts” from those experiences than from any nasal-toned professor explaining English literature or some algebra expert trying to sleep-teach me the algorithms of A=B…etc.

I eventually got a college degree. My parents lived to see this, and they glowed. It was a long road between being a backwoods dropout and eventually doing the cap and gown thing—which I botched—but I “gave it the old college try”. My parents cried on that day, and I think I leaked a little, too.

As I write this, I am listening to a CD titled “The Concert for New York.” It happened in a spontaneous outburst of unity following 9/11. The music is not a muse; it makes writing more difficult. Don’t be confused; it’s great music; too good . . . it brings back the day I’m lying in the hospital and Manhattan goes to hell.

If you held a gun to my head, I cannot tell you what fixated me on that phrase: “the old college try.” It’s like “Win one for The Gipper.” It’s such a cultural cliché, most folks don’t even remember it. I recognize the cinematic reference. Some folks can win a trivia contest by differentiating between Ronald Reagan and Pat O’Brien; the latter was the star.

Like Hunter Thompson—an earlier role model, for Heaven’s sake!—I write with my flow.

I can tell you what fixated me.

Colleges are cesspools of liberalism. Everyone has an opinion, and they are welcome to it. The only thing I have required of others for my entire life is that they think.

That used to be the mission of colleges. Now the emphasis is on “feelings”, not thought. I have enough sociopathic experience to know “feelings” can be manipulated to one’s heart’s content. When I finally got around to college, my peers were alarmingly younger, and they—in the early 1970s—were prone to “feeling”, as opposed to “thinking”. I ended up in front of an academic review board with a professor who was going to flunk me because I disagreed with him. I won, I suppose. I graduated.

No kidding; I am not making this up…to this day, my college degrees hang proudly in my bathroom. “In case of emergency, break glass.” I have attempted to teach computers to people who are alarmingly undereducated. We might call these people “cannon fodder”, but they are truly better suited to killing people and breaking things than they will be served by a college education.

Everyone has a right to a college education. The values are dubious, in my opinion, but we all need the exposure to life its own self. Today, I speak in casual conversation like a thug, and my demeanor at first blush resembles a career criminal more than a bureaucrat. As a movie fan and a small fish on the technical side, I am constantly confronted with method actors who claim to be enmeshed in their roles. That excuses a wide range of behavior. These people are paid and—hopefully—educated beyond my wildest dreams. However, when they open their mouths, the most stupid rhetoric on the planet emerges.

“The old college try” doesn’t haul the same weight as it used to. As an etymologist—one who seeks the meaning of words, as opposed to an entomologist, a seeker of bugs—I really want to trace the origin of “give it the old college try”.

I got scalded verbally by a friend’s reply to an e-mail. Her sister in San Fransciso is indoctrinating her toddlers with liberal claptrap about the Bush administration. (When I was that age, Eisenhower was president, and my political interests were non-existent.)

I told her to tell her sister to do what I always urge: think!

I got raked over the coals for my suggestion. Part of the reply: “We’re liberals! My parents were Socialists! What do you expect?”

Truth be told, I don’t expect a hell of a lot from anyone. It may be the psychology of illness, but I have withdrawn from politics, both observation and commentary. Al Gore wins the Nobel Prize, Osama Bamalama throws away his lapel pin, She-beast Hilly says she’ll negotiate with the nuclear-determined Iranians: I keep up with the news, but live by Ecclesiastes. What else is new?

I have been cursed for most of my adult life with an eerie prescience. I curse and seek to debunk psychic phenomena, but I seem to have a spooky, unerring ability to predict the future. What I have seen for America’s future led me to what the alienists call “suicidal ideation”. I’ve taken the MMPI more times than the average bear; I might be at high risk of suicide because of my past, but one factor not included in the diagnostic manual is that I have never walked out on a movie until the credits roll, and I usually stay to read them.

America is the architect of its own destruction. I refuse to die until God calls me home. I came up as a liberal, but now denounce such a mindless ideology. I stand at the gate screaming “Think, you f----ers! Think!!"

No one listens, but I give it the old college try.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Reflections on the Concorde

I wonder why they took the Concorde offline. Granted, it was dirty, loud, and expensive. It was also one of the best-built airplanes in the world. This fast, sexy beast could fly like a fighter. Nothing surpassed it for looks, except maybe the B-1 Lancer. You could fly from Washington, DC—one of the few metro areas that allowed it to land, because of the noise—and Paris, halfway around the world, in 3½ hours.

I’m a trains, not a planes kind of guy, but I could soldier through 3½ hours without a cigarette. Rumor has it that they’ll let you light up on a trans-Atlantic flight, but being a white-knuckle flier, I resent the domestic ban on smoking. I don’t puff my pollutants into the faces of fellow passengers, and I’ll willingly retreat to the restroom if that’s what it takes. I’m convinced, however, that if I get on an airplane, there are a lot of things besides cigarettes that will kill me before my feet touch ground again.

So, why was the most elegant, well-engineered plane in history pulled offline? Yeah—the interior was small; some would say cramped. Anyone who has been packed into the slaughterhouse of a contemporary airline’s 757 might take issue with that.

The Concorde had one lousy crash. One, and that due to foreign object damage, an FOD. When an airliner breaks, it falls like a rock. That’s the major reason I take trains. Once you are on the ground, you go no further.

If I have to board an airplane, I want to travel faster than the speed of sound, and guzzle vast quantities of champagne in flight. The Concorde offered both options.

One crash, and the greatest plane in the history of aviation is gone. It’s a late date, but I want to know why.