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Charlie's Books
Buon Giorno, Amici!

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Leave the (political) party. Take the cannoli.

"It always seems impossible until it's done." Nelson Mandela

Right now 6 Stella crime novels are available on Kindle for just $.99 ... Eddie's World has been reprinted and is also available from Stark House Press (Gat Books).

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Slap … Before Night Falls/Playboy Interview with Dan Savage … The Year (2014) in Mini-Review …


The Slap, by Christos Tsiolkas. A kid is out of control at a friendly barbecue … there are several other kids and more adults in attendance. When one kid, Hugo, age 4 (and still being breastfed), threatens to hit another kid, the father (Harry) of the kid about to be hit (Harry is a known hothead with at least one past wife-beating incident, but not on record), intercedes … and then the 4-year-old kicks him in the shins, which leads to The Slap … and thus the differing perspectives form and align. The kid’s parents call the cops, and sides are drawn; friends of the kid’s mother (Rosie) are mostly set firmly on her side. Friends and relatives of Harry feel obligated to take his side.
Interesting dynamics are set up by the author. For one, he tells the story from several different perspectives (each Chapter is the name of the character providing his or her perspective). The characters are further revealed as you learn of their various personalities, histories, politics, social backgrounds, ethnicity, etc. The book takes place in Australia (where the author resides). My cugina lives in Australia and she said her book club read and discussed the book. I already recommended it to a friend’s book club here. It’s an interesting story with interesting twists. Several different social issues are tackled by the author, from corporal punishment of children to a young man’s dealing with his sexuality (he’s gay), adultery, nationalism, race relations, economics, politics, and so on. A very interesting read I immediately passed on to the wife for her enjoyment, consideration and future Saturday morning discussions at Casa Stella.

Before Night Falls (x2) … I saw the wonderful movie starring Javier Bardem before reading the memoir of Cuban novelist, poet and playwright, Reinaldo Arenas. Both are wonderful, although I can emphatically state the memoir itself is much more revealing and educational. For one thing, something not covered in the movie, was the tendency for young men living in the peasant countryside of Cuba before and after Castro (at least until Castro’s anti-gay policies took hold) to have sex with animals. Although the thought of something so unnatural might make readers cringe, the reality is that Arenas explains it so well, and in such natural narrative, it becomes understandable and less cringe-worthy.
The author suffered miserably under both the Batista and Castro governments in Cuba; he suffered for being a poor peasant and then he suffered extra hard for being homosexual. By the time he’s gone through a hellish life as a poor peasant living in the country, a revolutionary accountant, an unenthused soldier (about to fight in the Bay of Pigs), and later a convict of his sexuality (he was jailed for being homosexual in Castro’s Cuba), he wants nothing more than to escape the island and pursue his writing life openly. French admirers have managed to sneak some of his works out of Cuba and had them published in France. The movie doesn’t do the memoir (or Arenas’s story justice) because it only deals with his ultimate hatred of the Castro regime. In his memoir, Arenas admits to being an optimistic member of the revolution in its initial years, but ultimately came to hate what it turned into under the paranoid Dictator, Fidel Castro.
A passage I took note of (and marked) was the following: Ours is a national history of betrayals, uprisings, desertions, conspiracies, riots, coups d’etat; all of them provoked by infinite ambition, abuse, despair, false pride, and envy. Even Christopher Columbus, on his third trip, after he had discovered all of America for Europe, was returned to Spain in chains. Two attitudes, two personalities, always seem to be in conflict throughout our history: on the one hand, the incurable rebels, lovers of freedom and therefore of creativity and experimentation; and on the other, the power-hungry opportunists and demagogues, and thus purveyors of dogma, crime, and basest of ambitions. These attitudes have recurred over time: General Tacón against Heredia, Martinez Campos against Jose Martí, Fidel Castro against Lezama Limo and Virgilio Piňera; always the same rhetoric, the same speeches, always the drums of militarism stifling the rhythm of poetry and life.
Arenas eventually died of AIDS in the United States back when it was still a medical mystery, but he was writing up until his end, and this memoir begins with his telling his story from the last stages of his illness.
I VERY HIGHLY (EXTREMELY HIGHLY?) RECOMMEND reading this very revealing memoir. I’ve already ordered one of Arenas’s novels as well, The Doorman.
Dan Savage Playboy Interview … a gay activist, author and political pundit I’ve seen on several shows (Bill Maher, MSNBC, etc.). Savage is an interesting guy with strong and thoughtful opinions. His interview in the recent issue of Playboy was particular timely coming on the heels of reading the Reinaldo Arenas memoir. Prompted by a few questions regarding both gay and heterosexual issues by the interviewer, Savage offered quite a few interesting answers that frankly made some sense (i.e., since young teenagers are going to engage in sex anyway, promoting (at least discussing) oral vs. vaginal and/or anal intercourse seemed more than reasonable. How does one sit-down with their kid and do that? Well, I think that’s the point Mr. Savage was making … maybe it’s time we figure it out.
Another salient point made in both the Arenas memoir and the Savage Playboy interview has to do with how each author defined gay men (broken into four types by Arenas), both defined “closet” gays the same. Savage went one further and nailed Marcus Bachmann (yes, that Bachmann, crazy Michelle’s husband, the original “Pray the Gay away” psychotic) to the wall for living in the closet and condemning other gays. It reminded me of this skit:
The Year in Mini-Review …
#1) One atheist I know (myself) loves much, if not most, of what Pope Francis espouses, and we can only hope he can implement most of what he says before he passes (and the old Vatican guard returns to power). We would like to see him expand the role of women in the church, to include allowing them priesthood. We’d also like to see marriage for both priests and nuns. Not that it would bring me back to the fold, but it would go a long way toward proving to me that religion(s) in general are at least a little bit less harmful than I currently believe. Adding the cause of women to Pope Francis’s crusade for the poor might be too much for the Vatican to chew on all at one time, but we like what this Pope is saying and trying to accomplish. Mostly we hope the old guard Vatican doesn’t have Pope Francis whacked, because we think his ability to teach what the historical Jesus is believed to have taught: mercy, compassion, charity, welfare and inclusiveness, is the right path to take, but also a path that the old guard Vatican fears will interrupt their stranglehold on church progress and power.
So, Pope Francis, you rock, my friend.
#2) The Principessa Ann Marie and I traveled to Tampa Bay, Florida, to watch a few (3) Lightning games. It was our first trip to Tampa and we thoroughly enjoyed our time walking around the area, skipping the diet for a few days, and taking in our first hockey games in several years. It was a wonderful trip, especially at game 2 for us (3 on the Bolts schedule) wherein we (Judy, Andy, Annie and myself) watched our guy Callahan score one of 7 goals vs. the Montreal Expos. We visited with Judy and Andy at their beautiful home somewhere else in Florida (about 40 minutes north of the arena) and I got to play with their two boxers (the younger of the dogs fell in love with me (what’s not to love?) and couldn’t stop kissing my ugly grille).
Cally jukes Suban …
Early Sunday afternoon the wife spotted Brian Boyle walking into the sports bar where we were watching the Bills on closed circuit television … Ann Marie asked for his autograph a few minutes later. Later the same night, while enjoying a cigar from Ybor City out in front of the hotel, I came close to smacking a very drunk Baltimore Ravens fan who insulted Buffalo Bills fans everywhere (actually it was fun just to size him up and warn his friend about how the little shit might get himself killed before the night was over). A day or so later we met with Tony and Mike Liberti for a day on the town (Ybar City, which I really liked (the city kid in me) … but the highlight (after seeing the Cally goal above – we were sitting upstairs directly behind the goal) was a surprise meeting (via Tony Liberti) with some of the Callahan crew (Donna (Mom), Mike (Pop) and Ryan’s brother, Mike … we look forward to returning to the Amalie Arena for future Bolts games and the wife is still considering a move south for retirement (although I hold onto hope that she’ll see the light before we retire and accept the wonder of a retirement in the cold, cold north) … I mean, come on, who needs Palm Trees when you can have Moose in your backyard?
#3) My beloved New York State Buffalo Bills proved me wrong this year on many fronts. Mario Williams proved he can actually be effective against the run as well as provide a solid pass rush. Marcel Darreus really stepped up his game at Defensive Tackle … and who would’ve thunk it about Head Coach, Doug Marrone? The guy has gravitas … I’m not sure what happens before next season, because we certainly need a #1 QB, and probably another backup, but at least the pieces are in place for a bright future. Kyle “Don” Orton’s sudden retirement was probably a very smart move for him and his family. Thanks to him for performing well above expectations.
#4) My Tampa Bay Lightning … I’m learning more and more about the game as I watch more and more, but still consider my comments rather rookie-ish … so here goes: We started like a house on fire and Bolted (see what I did there?) to a big lead in the Atlantic Division. Recently we hit a stumbling block and goal drought that seems to have ended this week as we won our third in a row, 3-2. I understand enough about the game to accept that puck luck works both ways, and I can live without the big scores, but what makes me crazy at times, even with understanding the ebb and flow of a game and/or a season, is when we seem to get outhustled. Nothing pisses me off more than feeling like we’re not giving it our all. Certain players always give their all, but others can’t possibly be doing so when we’re spending so much time in our end of the ice. I’m not talking about a brief minute or two (or three) minutes when another team is applying pressure, but I am talking about losing puck possession for what seems like an entire period at times. Even last week when we finally beat the Pittsburg Pigeons, we started with a hat trick by Tyler Johnson and vaulted to a 4-0 lead, only to surrender 3 goals (none of them our goalie’s fault) and we nearly lost the game (the last goal coming at 1:31 of the third period). My beef was with our play for most of the second period and nearly all of the third period, when I watched from my chair (and couch) as we were trapped in our end over and over again. We simply looked helpless and had that game gone on another minute or so, especially with their goalie pulled, I doubt we would’ve held on.
Then last night it was the opposite. The Maple Syrups took a quick 2-0 lead on two terrific plays, but then it was our hustle (for 3 consecutive periods) that did Toronto in. Cally was being Cally, playing 150% all over the place; diving to make passes, diving in front of pucks, making hits, making moves with the puck, scoring one goal and assisting on another. Stamkos, Johnson, Stralman, Hedman, Killorn and Boyle played the same way and the rest of the team seemed to fall right in step behind their leaders. We were wonderful to watch last night and one can only hope we’ve got the magic back as we hit the road for the end of the first half of the season and the start of the second half.
#5) My favorite picture of the year … it’s me and the Principessa Ann Marie (a.k.a, Nonno and Nonna) walking our granddaughter, Evelyn Amelia Stella, home after breakfast at a diner in Brooklyn.
For the Pope …

Friday, December 19, 2014

Viva Revolución? … Who’s SONY’s Daddy? … Happy Holidays, Amici!

President Obama reaches out to Cuba. While the absolute normalization of relations between the two countries will likely be an incremental process, most thinking people are overjoyed with this long overdue step in the right direction. Outside of our clandestine war that failed miserably (the Bay of Pigs fiasco), it isn’t as if we fought an actual war with Cuba, as we did with Germany, Japan, Vietnam and Iraq, and later normalized relations with all of those governments. Our make-believe-it-wasn’t/isn’t-a-war with Afghanistan doesn’t really count to the powers that be (and defenders of them). What we did with Cuba was throw a 50-year long hissy fit over the nationalization of American businesses. The reason behind the nationalization served the revolutionary ideological mantra perfectly; an American business exploitation of the Cuban people and its resources.
Hell, even the mob was pissed off about the inability to rape Cuba of coin via the corrupt Batista government. They even made jokes about it in The Godfather!
“After all, we are not communists.” (2:35 of the video)

Fidel Castro’s 26th of July Movement achieved its ultimate success when it overthrew the Fulgencio Batista government on the first day of 1959. The movement had everything to do with combating widespread government corruption, a military that policed its people with death squads (which would be no different than Castro’s army after the revolution), and an economic policy that permitted anyone willing to kickback coin to those in power carte blanche operations with Cuba’s resources and people.
You oppress people long enough, they find a way.


Backstory: Prior to Fidel and his cigar there was Fulgencio Batista and his military. Part of a 1933 coup, Batista wound up head of the military. He eventually became President in 1940, oddly enough, with the support of labor unions he apparently approved of at the time. After his first presidency, Batista felt “safer” in the United States and fled Cuba. He remained here for the next 8 years, before returning to run for President again in 1952, except 3 months before the election, he used his military connections to support his strong-arm coup and thus took control of the country (something the United States doesn’t usually look kindly on … unless we deem the overthrow in our interest).
This one we deemed in our interest, so the United States immediately recognized the military coup and the Batista government. Batista then ruled from March, 1952, until New Year’s Day, 1959.
Over time, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., commenting on Batista’s Cuba, stated: “The corruption of the Government, the brutality of the police, the government's indifference to the needs of the people for education, medical care, housing, for social justice and economic justice ... is an open invitation to revolution.”
Yeah, well, no shit. A third of the Cuban people lived in poverty, and disgruntled Cuban nationals were treated no better than political prisoners anywhere else a military dictatorship ran things. Batista’s affiliation with organized crime was legendary, and as stated above, nobody was more pissed off about El Jefe’s revolutionary victory than the Mafia. So, yeah, no shit the ground was fertile for revolution?
Enter Fidel Castro ...
Remember the film, Godfather II? It precedes the famous Michael-Fredo scene (the kiss of death?) …

And from our perspective, once there was a godless communist running the show (and after he nationalized American business interests in Cuba), we reached out to (drumroll please) … Sam Giancana and Santo Trafficante to have “the beard” whacked. No, that’s not a crime fiction writer’s fantasy, it’s what was actually attempted. Using the mob was actually one of five documented CIA attempts to kill Fidel Castro.
Of course neither you nor I learned anything about this assassination stuff (in Cuba or anywhere else) in public and/or Catholic schools (where we were forced to pledge allegiance and pray to God daily). We're the good guys, remember? It wasn’t until I attended college (where all that leftist propaganda was shoved down my throat, although I was never forced to pledge allegiance or pray to anything or anybody). When I learned that our (US) conduct wasn’t much different than Mr. Batista’s and/or Mr. Castro’s, well, I thought: Would you look at that?
 The panic and fear the political right expresses over socialism and communism, and pretty much everything outside of capitalism (the driving force behind ALL US policy, foreign and domestic), is nothing short of hysterical. Cuban exiles living in Florida view the normalization of relations with Cuba as a victory for Castro and communism. Fifty years down the road, one has to ask, what exactly are they shitting their pantaloons about? They’ve come to America and learned that the way to own the government is really no different than it was under good old Fulgencio, and/or Castro … you simply buy it. These days, thanks to a majority conservative Supreme Court, they’ve made it perfectly legal to bribe officials (see Citizen’s United) … you want legislation to support your business, donate a few million to the candidate of your choice. It’s as simple as that.
The other day I was listening to talk radio on my way to the doctor’s office and of course the lunatics on the right were spewing venom about President Obama’s decision (one of the very best of a less than mediocre lot, in my opinion) … and when it was learned that Pope Francis was part of the negotiations, one psychotic, Michael Savage, doubled-down on his whackjob colleague, Rush Limbaugh’s, name calling. Those two ass hats believe that Pope Francis is a Marxist Pope ... and what's worse, there are people who believe the ass hats are right!
 And there’s really no point in pointing out how Marxism (whether you agree with its concepts or not) rejects religion(s) … it’s always about the Benjamin$ when it comes to the political right in this country (or anywhere else, I suppose) … These rightwing morons call a religious man a Marxist in total disregard of actual Marxism … they call him names (one they believe is the greatest sin against humanity—a Marxist) because he believes in charity and is against income inequality and run away capitalism.

Oy vey …
Savage then used sound clips from Godfather II to make his point (whatever the hell that was supposed to be; comparing the smugness of Obama to Batista? Really?). If that were the case, I’m thinking Obama would have FOX news and Ayn Randers like Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage and Marc Levin used for great white shark bait (my pleasant image of the day).
Anyway, it’s about time we normalize relations with Cuba. We were the ones who attempted to overthrow the Castro government (not the other way around). Our embargo has hurt none of the powers that be in Cuba. Fidel Casto, his brother, and their best friends aren’t hurting. While they proved no different than their predecessor when it came to political oppression and death squads, Cuba today has the highest adult literacy rate in the world, as well as one of the lowest infant mortality rates, with government provided education and health services for all. Could it be better? Of course, and the sooner the Cuban people are exposed to the kind of technology that facilitated an Arab Spring, the sooner the oppressive governments of the Castro brothers will fade.
In the meantime, three cheers for President Obama’s efforts with Cuba and Viva the new Revolución!
Salute! Salute! Salute!

Who’s SONY’s Daddy? Wow, so much for Freedom of Speech, eh? One has to wonder what SONY’s big concerns remain. I can’t think of any outside of lawsuits due to a terrorist attack on a movie theatre. Or maybe movie theatre executives are afraid of being hacked? This was some strange shit, you ask me. I hate being a nationalist about this, so I won’t be one. I won’t shout, “USA! USA! USA!” and support the bombing of North Korea over some hacking of a movie studio, but I will say, “Freedom of Speech” and “I really want to see this movie, damn it!” 
I mean, right now, “I REALLY WANT TO SEE THIS MOVIE!”
Maybe if they retitle it, The Cancelled Interview?
Happy Holidays … unless something unusual happens, we’ll be taking a break for the Holidays … so from Temporary Knucksline to all our amici and those who cringe at our politics, sports talk, book and movie reviews … yous all stay safe and happy and healthy … remember to hug your loved ones and do something for someone in need … be kind to one another and if it’s a prayer you need to say, say it (I do and I’m a frickin’ atheist) … basically, do the right thing … or as Morgan Freeman said in character at the end of the Tom Wolfe novel turned movie, Bonfire of the Vanities, (a terrific book and movie, by the way) … be decent. Go home and be decent.

Merry Christmas, amici!


Friday, December 12, 2014

158-Pound Marriage … Good cops story (The Watts Bears) … David Rawding … 1994?

158-Pound Marriage, John Irving … I don’t think I’ve ever made that weight class … maybe when I was an infant, but as wrestlers go, it’s considered the light middleweight division. I’m thinking this was one too many too soon John Irving novels … it is fine, don’t get me wrong, but the machinations between couples swapping spouses didn’t hold much interest for me. The background, of course, did hold interest. There’s some World War II history … the Russian occupation of Vienna, etc., there’s even some of Germany and Poland in the mix, and I had to smile when I recognized one couple’s daughters’ names (Fiordiligi and Dorabella, right out of a Mozart opera, Cosi Fan Tutte) … there’s more wrestling to read about (from his bio: In 1992, John Irving was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Oklahoma.  He was a competitive wrestler for twenty years and a wrestling coach until he was forty-seven.) … the seemingly blissful swaps between the couples eventually turns askew about the time one would expect (I doubt the most hedonistic among us wouldn’t take issue at some point with spouse and/or lover swapping) … It’s about control and whether or not one couple gets more out of the sexual mix and match than the other. Severin Winter and Edith are one couple, Utchka and the nameless narrator are the other couple … there are kids and houses and great jobs, etc. It’s where the book leaves me a bit unsatisfied, I guess; the couples are too successful for me to accept them as a broader metaphor for a typical American marriage.
Utchka’s second birth, from the belly of a cow (you’d have to read the book), helps to explain her bond to a war torn Europe. After many of the children (all the men and boys) in her town were killed (some bayonetted), she found refuge from a Russian officer who provided for her. She remained loyal to the Russian father figure, even after learning of his head mobster reputation. She was the more interesting character amongst the quartet, and I liked what she did at the end of this novel. I also enjoyed the historical backdrops to the characters in the novel much more than the spouse swapping of their later years.
I’ll be reading The Cider House Rules sometime in the New Year … it’s time for a break (for me) from Mr. Irving. As brilliant as his writing is, I suspect I overindulged reading his works this past month or so.

The Watts Bears … I saw this segment on HBO’s Real Sports … it’s about an attempt to improve relations in Los Angeles between the police and the African-American community. When the area targeted went from 77 homicides in one year to ZERO homicides the following year, the program proved successful ... and one has to be impressed. The video below is just a tease. Watch the HBO segment. It’s all about Good people (cops) doing the right thing and making a big difference in how a community perceives the men and women in uniform there to serve and protect.

What Mr. Stewart said on his show last week makes perfect sense. If you can’t agree with it, you don’t want to.

David Rawding … his story, The Climber's Crux is a pushcart award nominee!  Check it out here: 
David is yet another SNHU MFA graduate!  Go team!
My son came up with this picture … me and my boyos and two of their friends from way back in the day (some 20+ years or so), when my hair was still dark … I’m guessing about 1994 or so … 


1994 music … 10,000 Maniacs … Because the night …

Come to my window … Melissa Etheridge …

Elton John … Can you feel the love tonight …

Sunday, December 7, 2014

TK’s last word (hopefully) on the Eric Garner tragedy …


Let’s get the caveats out of the way first: I respect policemen and their jobs. I can understand their concerns and fears, but I do not respect disrespectful police. Not all police are evil and/or disrespectful. Neither are all African-Americans, or any other civilians, evil and/or disrespectful. Police have a tough job. So do construction workers. Police put their lives on the line when their lives are in immediate danger, but wearing a uniform does not equate to perpetual immediate danger. That is a military mentality that holds zero credibility on the streets of New York in 2014. We're talking about Staten Island, not Afghanistan.
Unfortunately, far too many police are killed in the line of duty. It is a horrible reality of life. So also is the horrible reality that many more civilians are killed by criminals and/or relatives than are cops killed by criminals. Most of the time, police are not in any danger at all. Many more police retire without ever having to fire their guns in the line of duty then are killed in the line of duty. And I suspect that many more police retire without having civil rights and/or abuse charges filed against them than those who retire with charges having been filed against them.
I repeat: this is not a condemnation of police. It is a condemnation of police who are abusive and/or corrupt. To assume that all police are incapable of wrongdoing (as NYPD police union president, Patrick Lynch, seems to feel), or that police actions should never be questioned, as so many others seem to feel, is simply absurd, and most likely the reason the police and those victimized by bad policing are at polar ends of the issue.
Likewise, to assume all cops are engaging in police brutality is simply absurd.
To make matters worse, and perhaps this is the bigger issue, a system that allows prosecutors to change the rules of the game when the actions of law enforcement are challenged is a flawed system, and one akin to promoting kangaroo courts. Why aren’t special prosecutors used when police are brought before a grand jury? Why bother holding grand juries at all? Why put on the charade that leaves nothing but mistrust and frustration in its wake?
In another miscarriage of justice which author Gilbert King wrote about, The Execution ofWillie Francis, a 17 year old African-American boy was accused, indicted, and convicted of a murder he didn’t commit, and later sentenced to death twice (the first time the electric chair didn’t perform to its full capacity and Willie Francis was tortured with electricity) with total and absolute disregard of the facts. The disgrace of the injustices perpetrated by the courts in the Willie Francis case (1947) is little different (as regards the result) from the grand jury fiasco put on by Staten Island District Attorney, Daniel Donovan (2014). Both legal proceedings appear to have been kangaroo courts as regards justice.
The Groveland case and the Willie Francis case are historical facts that serve as a backdrop (just two of many, many more) to the soiled interaction between law enforcement and the African-American community. I point to it not as an excuse for bad behavior (i.e., rioting after unfavorable court decisions, etc.), but as something I fear way too many in law enforcement disregard, and for all the wrong reasons. Many on the extreme right like to point out, “That was then, this is now,” suggesting that racism and/or inequality in justice is no longer an issue. That is an incredible presumption, yet it is one recanted over and over again. Aside from being factually wrong, it serves to prejudice a culture that permitted “stop and frisk” laws that were statistically proven to be predominantly applied against minorities.
On Staten Island there was a video showing police going overboard over loose cigarettes. Had Mr. Garner not died, the video taken of his arrest would have been just another of many similar videos showing police brutality, which too often are later justified because the lives of police are on the line every time they leave their homes? Really?
The court injustice in the Willie Francis case and the Garner situation are way too similar for comfort. Total and absolute disregard for the facts, except in the Garner situation, there are at least two videos showing what happened, and the immediate aftermath, including the officer involved in the choking/take down, waving at/or mocking the person filming him. Perhaps the only difference in the two cases is how the level of court injustices have moved further north over time.
Now we have police car cams and the possibility of police wearing individual cameras, something I applauded as recently as a few days ago. Fine, except there are already several instances (never mind the video of Mr. Garner’s arrest) whereby police are caught using excessive force, and/or killing someone unjustly, and there were no repercussions. Google them, there are plenty to choose from.
This is tough to write and post because believe it or not, I have several friends who were on the force and/or have relations on the force, including members of my wife’s family. I know many ex-cops and police currently on the force. I know parents of cops and other relations of cops, and my heart goes out to them in times like these, because they probably feel they too are being persecuted for the actions of a few. My neighbor is a retired cop (and now teaches) and is one of the nicest and hard-working guys I’ve ever known. He’s also African-American and has a white wife he’s been married to forever. I can only hope the police and ex-police I know don’t hold my opinions against our friendships, but if they do, so be it. This life is way too short to muzzle oneself when one feels a need to say something.
We all want a peaceful and helpful co-existence with all branches of government, including the police, but not at the expense of our dignity and/or life. Nobody is defending Mr. Garner’s decision to argue with the police. Neither should anyone put themselves in his shoes and assume he should accept being arrested for the umpteenth time for selling (although apparently there is no proof he was actually selling anything at the time of the confrontation) loose cigarettes. Arguing with the police does NOT equate to resisting arrest. Read the Frank Serpico article from the Daily News linked here. I’m sure some police continue to call Mr. Serpico a rat, thus proving his point, but see how he thinks the same situation should have been handled. 
When I watched the second video showing Mr. Garner lying dead on the sidewalk while several police attempted to keep his death from the crowd (which initially made perfect sense to me as regards crowd control … until, that is, one of the policeman protested being filmed), I also noticed the cop in question, the cop who put the choke hold (or took him down, if it’s more palatable to state it that way) on Mr. Garner. He doesn’t appear to be remorseful at all (as regards the statement issued by him after the non-indictment). Frankly, he appears to be yucking it up (as one friend put it), and when he waves to the person taking the video, that about summed it up for me. Indictment, end of story. Go to 6:48 of the video, where he appears to be joyfully waving …

The police and/or their supporters can’t blame an entire community (plus others outside their community) for wanting accountability. Protests against brutality aren’t an attack on the police (unless you’re feeling guilty). It’s an attack on a justice system that seems to have changed little since the tragedy of Willie Francis.
The following video is easy to watch and one anyone would respect. The officer involved is (and should be) a model policeman. Most of the police I’ve dealt with in my life have been more like the cop in this video than abusive. Listen to the cop toward the end of the video (poignant words): “Help me help you, bro.”

This next video isn’t easy to watch at all. There are clear instances of police brutality in it (including a policeman punching a handcuffed woman in the head). I have no idea if justice was ever meted out in some or any of the cases in the video, except for the Pennsylvania Judge who was getting kickbacks to keep kids in jail for longer periods of time by the prison for profit he was stocking with juveniles. He did get indicted and sentenced. The video ends with Trayvon Martin lying dead on the ground, which has less to do with police, but does reflect the tragedy of a court system (and legislation) that encourages shooting first and asking questions later (i.e., stand your ground laws). And before the rapper in the video is attacked as just another thug, google him and listen to him speak. He’s as articulate as any college professor I’ve ever known.

Defending police brutality because “he’s one of us” is nothing more than an “omerta” among the uniformed.
Remember Abner Louima? Here’s a New York Times article penned 7 years ago. Mr. Louima stated: “I feel we have made some progress in reducing police brutality over the past 10 years, but I also believe there is still a lot to be done,” he wrote in a guest column published in The Daily News on Sunday. “Things may have improved a bit, but not enough. To name just one example, look at Sean Bell, who last year was shot and killed by police while leaving a nightclub in Queens.”
And in August of this year, Eric Garner was accused of selling loose cigarettes and brought down as if he were an NFL lineman showing signs of steroid rage …


—Charlie Stella


Thursday, December 4, 2014

Of Sea and Cloud … A Prayer for Owen Meany … No Ham Sandwiches on Staten Island … Kyle Carey ... Dietary Progress/Regression …


Of Sea and Cloud, by Jon Keller … a brilliant piece of writing that was recommended by author, musician, and all around nice guy, Chris La Tray, a few weeks back. This intriguing story involves lobster fishermen off the coast of Maine. The lobster industry in this setting has fallen behind the technological advances that tend to wipe out the older world style of lobster fishing, especially those fishermen who owned their own lobster pounds (see definition here)… Nicolas Graves and Osmond Randolph (a former Calvinist Minister) are longtime hard core lobsterman … they have a secret pact that involves fishing rights … there’s a deeper story there that is revealed during the course of the novel … Nicolas has two sons, William and Jonah (and some dysfunctional relationships that involved the death of their mother/Nicolas’ wife) … I can further provide hints about what happens early on, but why avoid the enjoyment of reading this wonderful story?
We did two of our residencies in the Southern New Hampshire University MFA program on Star Island off the New Hampshire coast ... one of the few things I enjoyed (aside from our classes and workshops) was watching lobster fishermen checking their traps.  I was confounded by all the buoys/flags and how they knew where to go, etc., but we were there in the summer. I can't imagine that kind of work during the winter.  The author did that for a couple of years.
One my favorite passages in this wonderful novel: Chimney was in prison and Nicolas was dead and Julius had bought a new boat and moved out. Whether Julius was to be trusted or not Osmond had no idea. Osmond had simultaneously abandoned his brother and his beliefs for a woman and he’d lost both her and their child. And he’d later sacrificed Nicolas his only friend with his own hands. Osmond understood these three deaths to be elements of providence and he understood that fear and fragility came in apocalyptic waves which rose and fell with the corrosive power of tides and what remained when fear finished was love and faith and love and faith together meant blood.
Osmond believes in a God, but neither a good nor evil one. He seeks to secure his family’s future (his nephew and nieces) and the lobster pound he shared with a man he killed. When a skull finds its way into the lobster pound, William finds it and, well … no spoilers … read the book, you won't be disappointed.
There are some other interesting characters sharing the stage: Osmond’s nephew Julius is a piece of work … Charlotte, Jonah’s former love interest has somehow fallen for Julius … there’s prior family dysfunction between Nicolas’ sons, and the close family friend and co-worker, Virgil (and his wife Celeste and their daughter Charlotte) … Virgil is keeping a secret the author expertly dangles under the reader’s nose. And it is further interesting to note how the author (see interview below) purposely read a few “crime writers” to further the plot. Good on Mr. Keller for doing so, because this wonderful novel also has an element of mystery that will keep your eyes glued to the page.
Of Sea and Cloud is one my very favorites this year … brilliant writing, intriguing characters and a plot that grips. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMEND!

A Prayer for Owen Meany, by Jon Irving … It’s sometimes a bit long in the tooth (you may feel you’ve aged approaching the 500+ page count), but you’ll remain engaged and anxious to learn just exactly how Owen Meany … well, no spoilers. Narrator Johnny Wheelwright has an on-again, off-again, on-again faith … partly due to the day his best friend (Owen Meany, a kind of dwarf-like fellow with a high-pitched squeal of a voice that speaks and writes in CAPITALS ONLY) kills Wheelwright’s mother with a foul ball line drive that strikes Mom in the left temple (while she was waving to some mysterious character sitting in the bleachers). This Jon Irving romp through America’s battle with morality and war (the Vietnam one), presidents dead and alive (and at least one arguably mentally depleted), and sports, all with the usual clever comic relief perhaps necessary in taking on so many subjects while attempting seriousness. There’s no better way to win your audience than self-deprecation and this novel is loaded with it.
Owen may have been sent from above (his parents seem to think so) … he may be Christ on earth, sent to take away at least some of the world’s sins … or he may be speaking for Christ/God, etc. … what we do know is that Owen Meany has caught some rough genetic breaks (being so tiny and having such a squeaky voice), but he’s also pretty brilliant and more moral than is sometimes comfortable, although that never got in the way for me. As off-putting as religion(s) usually is/are for me, I found the religious theme in this novel most enjoyable. Only the verbal slaps at the way we seemed to sleep through our walk into the Vietnamese war and/or references to our sleepwalking through Imperial Presidencies were as enjoyable as the narrator’s (and Owen’s) quest for the holy grail.
There are several plotlines running throughout this tome. John (the narrator) is on a forever search for his father (he didn’t know who his father was) … his mother, pre-line drive, was a wonderful women who took a special liking to Owen (he was always made fun of and mocked by classmates in and out of school). So, Owen sees a vision during a theatre production of Scrooge (he sees his own death date) … and when John finally learns who his father is, well, Owen has something to do with that as well (no spoilers) … there’s too much to cover to come close to offering the attention this book deserves. I enjoyed it. I suspect any Jon Irving fan would (and probably has) also. For those unfamiliar with the author’s work (as I was a few books ago), TK Recommends A Prayer for Owen Meany, but suggests reading The World According to Garp and/or my wife’s Irving recommendation, The Cider House Rules first (it’s on my Irving next TBR list).
No Ham Sandwiches on Staten Island … I won’t go into how many good cops I know and/or why all cops shouldn’t be vilified because of the actions of a few. Frankly, that’s common sense and doesn’t require repeating. I also won’t listen to the blind faith defenders of police brutality (and/or the wall of blue), because it requires turning off one’s brain.
The bottom line is I’m really tired of writing about this stuff. Truly tired, yet I can’t imagine the frustrations of the African-American community over the absolute disregard of our criminal justice system for their concerns. Wednesday night I listened to both spins of coverage … five minutes of whacky Marc Levin was pretty much all I could take, but even he was trumped by an even crazier New York Congressman, Peter King. There’s no point in retyping what either said, it was the usual race-baiting mantra: 95% of African-Americans murdered each year are murdered by other African-Americans (or whatever the percentage is) … totally disregarding the 85% of whites murdered by other whites … and/or how that has anything to do with African-Americans killed by law enforcement vs. whites killed by law enforcement. African-Americans between the ages of 15-19 win that one by 31% according to FBI 2010-2012 statistics.
You can indict a ham sandwich goes the old saying. Apparently not. Not in Missouri, and not on Staten Island.
I’m not sure what it will take for Eric Garner’s family to find solace after the non-indictment of the police officer(s) who caused his death on camera with an “illegal choke hold” (the NYPD Police Commissioner’s words, not mine) on Staten Island in August this past year. More than likely, the city will suffer through mostly peaceful protests for a few weeks, to be followed by a long wait before a civil suit is either dismissed or settled out of court (or in court) and the city pays a few million to make believe it never happened. That’s happened a few times in the past. A damn shame that.
The federal investigation is likely to come up short as well. Right now it’s just another bone being thrown to a family and community that has done nothing but wait for some semblance of justice.
I don’t know what the intentions of that police officer were at the time he jumped on Garner’s back and choked him to the ground. I have ZERO belief that he wanted to kill Mr. Garner, but I also know neither the alleged “crime” nor the situation in any way called for that level of excessive force. On my best day, when I could bench press 400+ pounds, I wouldn’t be able to toss four cops off my back. No way, no how. The way the officer pressed down on Garner’s head alone once he was on the ground boiled my blood. That was obscene. Garner wasn’t resisting on the floor. I don’t believe he resisted when he was standing. Even if the police believed he was resisting, the level of response was way over the top. Mr. Garner wasn’t in any condition to retaliate, especially once he was on the ground with four cops holding him there. A man 6’3” 350 lbs, doesn’t make him an NFL lineman. It was pretty obvious Mr. Garner wasn’t in good shape.
Nor did he act violently toward the police. Resisting arrest? Really? My wife and I both thought (and still think) we heard Garner say, “Please don’t touch me” as he backed up.
The few times I was arrested, I was handled decently. I thought I could’ve gotten a desk ticket once, but the guy in charge decided to give me the Toombs treatment. A long inconvenience is what it turned out to be. Caffeine headaches blow, but I wasn’t killed.
A few years ago I was stopped on 440 in Staten Island by a small (stature) officer who acted as if he’d just watched a Jason Statham flick. I was doing 50 in the left lane (in a 50 MPH zone) with nobody on my right. The officer drove up my ass in an unmarked car. I had no idea he was a cop or I would’ve moved over. I assumed it was some asshole (and I was right) looking to intimidate me out of his way. I didn’t move to my right or go any faster. He flashed his bright lights at me a few times and I waved at him, all five fingers of my right hand. That apparently made him nuts. He put on his flashing lights and pulled me over. He wouldn’t let me speak, so I let him repeat himself a few times until I got pissed off. I was on my way to pick up my wife from nursing school (after she’d worked a full-time job), so I didn’t want her to have to wait for me in the cold (it was February). When I finally heard enough, I said, “So write me the fucking ticket and let me go pick up my wife.” “What’s that?” he said very angry at the audacity of my speaking back to him. I said, “I didn’t know you were a cop or I would’ve moved to the right lane. You came up on me and I thought you were being a dick.” “I can write you up for blocking my way,” he said, something I knew was bullshit. I forget what else he said, but he didn’t write me a ticket. Instead, he stormed back to his car and sped off. By the time I made it to the SI Expressway a few minutes later, I saw he was taking it out on somebody else---actually writing someone a ticket.
“Sorry, buddy,” I said to myself (for the poor bastard getting the ticket, not the cop).
That was one cop. He was an asshole. Or maybe he was having a bad day. Or maybe he wishes he was on television. Maybe he was practicing for an audition. I don’t know, nor do I care. He wasn’t under duress (except in his mind), and we’re talking about Staten Island, not Beirut. I was guy who’d just worked a full shift (3 trains to and from work, plus the Staten Island Ferry both ways) and I wanted to pick my wife up in Manhattan and bring her home to New Jersey. The point being, maybe Eric Garner was having a bad day. Maybe the “loosies” he was selling help put food on the table for his wife and five kids. What the fuck was the big deal? Give him a summons. Hand him a desk ticket. Make a deal with him. “Hey, take a walk away from here and that’s the end of it.”
And if you have to arrest him and he’s upset, what? Kill him?
What bothers me about the Eric Garner case is more than the excessive force that killed a man (over fucking loose cigarettes). What bothers me is the same thing that continues to bother me about the Michael Brown case, the absolute corruption of both prosecutors and the inherent and very unfair oversight of the entire process. In Staten Island, the District Attorney doesn’t answer to the city at large. He answers to the most conservative population in the five boroughs, Staten Island, which is predominantly white and where many cops live. Does that make him (the prosecutor) a bad person? No, but it sure doesn’t make him impartial, especially considering the fact most of his work requires a good working relationship with the police.
The bottom line is that in both cases, Ferguson, Missouri and on Staten Island, the normal grand jury process was tossed under the bus under the guise of fair play. 98-99% of grand juries indict (thus the ham sandwich analogy). Most indict several cases in one day. The prosecutor puts on a case for PROSECUTION, not the defense. In the VERY RARE situation where a defendant testifies (defense attorneys normally don't allow it), he/she is challenged; his words aren’t left out there without a challenge.
So when an officer says he wasn’t trying to hurt the guy, yet a VIDEO shows him first choking the guy to the ground, then leaning on his head (with three of his best friends), I find it appalling that the prosecutor didn’t question the time the officer’s arm was wrapped around the victim or the number of times Mr. Garner said he couldn’t breathe. As for the latest “choke” theory out there: you can’t talk if you’re chokingwell, how’d that work out?
As to the video … I don’t know how you look at that and accept it as routine procedure … and if you do accept it as routine, wow … just, wow.
One other note I’m sure the prosecutor never bothered to ask the officer about. From the Washington Post: Mr. Pantaleo has faced two prior lawsuits for false arrest, unlawful imprisonment, civil rights violations and other charges. One of those suits was dismissed while the other is still pending. Moreover, Mr. Wilson was accused of firing off his weapon while Brown went in defensive mode, with his hands up — but that witness-fueled claim wasn’t born out by forensics. In the Staten Island case, a cell phone video showed that Garner actually had his back to Mr. Pantaleo, and the police officer jumped him from behind to tackle him,” CNN said.
The City of New York has already doled out a $30,000 settlement on Officer Daniel Pantaleo's behalf.
My guess is he’ll be among the most expensive cops in the history of New York City once the civil suit is brought to trial, because this sweeping under the rug non-ham sandwich is going to cost New York City big time when all is said and done.
Hey, maybe it was simply a mistake. Maybe it was overzealousness. Maybe. Probably a bit of both, but either way, it wasn’t something that should go unpunished. If for no other reason than to keep policemen in general from thinking before acting in future similar situations. The fact that the guy died for selling loose cigarettes makes this all the more tragic. A non-indictment, it seems to me, encourages bad police behavior.
As for the media stirring the shit … one has to wonder where the hell the media were when the following happened in Bloomfield, New Jersey. Notice how the police involved in beating this poor guy were yelling, “Stop resisting arrest! Stop reaching for my gun!”

Of course all officers involved pleaded Not Guilty … this guy (the victim) was just about to go to jail … his defense attorney found this in discovery … well, we shall see what happens.
I don’t know what you tell an entire community that has suffered the injustice of institutional racism for hundreds of years and now into the 21st Century, but sooner or later, the dam is going to burst. All the calls for peaceful demonstration, while noble, I’m afraid aren’t going to get much done. Unfortunately, in America (as elsewhere), violence is what gets attention. I’m not advocating violence, but I’m not so sure I’d be as restrained if it were one of my loved ones who was killed.
Hopefully, the Garner family finds some justice. At the least, the cost of this “take down” should preclude the officer involved from ever having the chance to do it again while wearing a badge.
Here’s the gorgeous voice of Kyle Carey … enjoy!

Dietary Progress/Regression/Progress … I put back 11 big ones over the Thanksgiving weekend, but mostly because I was plastered in my chair and only went to the gym twice. At the end of the holiday weekend, I returned to my Medifast diet (eating shit and learning to like it) … so as of today, I’m back to 270 (-89 pounds since March 5).  The fugazy lap band removal surgery is still scheduled for December 10 at 1:00 p.m., so I’ll need to prepare for that (I ordered an extra case of Chivas and a couple pounds of tobacco).
On the other hand, some strength appears to be returning … it’s been so incremental, I’d assumed my heavy lifting days were over, but hope and Old Faithful(?) spring eternal … 
More Kyle Carey … her promo …