Mysterious Holiday Self-Portrait

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Taking Stock on Christmas

This Christmas is the perfect illustration of the truth that life is long and things change, sometimes for the better. 

A year ago, I thought I was going spend this Christmas in a prison camp while the people who gained various benefits from my prosecution would be free to enjoy lavish holidays.  I thought I would miss my son’s last year in high school.  I would, of course, have to give up my job and leave my wife having to scramble to keep my family from a desperate situation. 

To enjoy Christmas 2006 required all my powers of denial.  I did take a nice picture.  But that was a moment created outside of me, by the sea, wind and sun.  Inside, I was edgy and angry.

Now, a year later, I’m free pending appeal thanks to the wisdom of the Ninth Circuit; and will be free for awhile, perhaps forever.  Renewed freedom opened so many doors.  For example, my son wrote a musical for his senior project. I got to watch the staged reading of it last week — and it was incredible.  (Check out his website for the project here.)  He and his writing partner only started working on it this summer.  He only began writing music a little over a year ago.  Despite a few years of piano lessons, I wasn’t even sure he could read music, much less write it.  Much less write lyrics, create characters, write dialogue…it was an unbelievable experience.  His music is astonishing. 

And I would have missed it.  Who knows, maybe with all the chaos resulting from my absence, he wouldn’t have written it. But I was here, he did write it and I got to hear it. It was one of the greatest moments of my life.

Thanks to the Ninth Circuit, I’ll be able to see him graduate and get him started on his life.  He worked at a grocery store and earned 2/3rds of what he needed for a new notebook computer to facilitate his creative endeavors.  Thanks to the job I was able to keep, for Christmas, we were able to make up the rest, and now, as I write, he’s setting it up.  Meanwhile, my wife, son and I were able to help my parents do their usual Christmas at their home, which means a lot to them, especially now.  I couldn’t have helped them from a bunk bed in Kern County.

It took a while for my family to adjust to this period of freedom. It’s hard to stop looking up to see if the anvil is still hanging over your head.  But we’re breathing again, more or less normally. 

Timing is everything.  It could turn out I will still have to spend a year in Tracy at some point in the future.  I believe in my innocence. I believe in what justice should mean, and I will never stop fighting for it.   But if my appeal doesn’t turn out like I expect?  Not like I want to, but if I had to, I could handle the stretch in 2009 or 2010. My son will be more independent. Other things in my life will reach a certain balance that I’m still trying to create.  I’ve been given time to overcome the reckless destruction of my previous career and to get a new one off the ground.

Thanks to my family, all my family, to my friends, to the people I work for, and to everyone who made it possible for me to enjoy this blessed day.  Merry Christmas to all of you.

Life After (Faked) Death

john-darwin-arrested.jpgHere’s a heartwarming family story for the holiday season. 

John Darwin, a British man, worried about debts from a failed career in rental properties, fakes death by drowning on a canoe trip.  His wife Anne knew he was thinking about going on the lam, but when he disappeared, she claims she thought he was really dead.

According to her account, Darwin began planning to fake his death in early 2002 because he believed it was the only way the couple could escape growing debts related to their apartment rental business.

She said she doubted he would go through with the plan and initially believed he had died when he disappeared in March 2002. But she said he returned to their family home in northern England in February 2003, looking dirty, thin and “disheveled.”

For the next three years, she told the newspapers, Darwin lived with her in their family home, spending most of his time in a small room in an apartment building they owned next door. She said his secret room was connected to their bedroom by a passageway that was knocked into the wall and hidden behind a large wardrobe.

“I was always on eggshells when friends and family came to stay in case someone wandered into John’s room and saw him,” she said, adding that he would often take walks disguised in a woolly hat and faking a limp.

He was hiding in his secret room, she said, on the day in April 2003 that she and their two grown sons returned home from the coroner’s inquest at which John Darwin was officially declared dead, she said.

The declaration allowed her to collect life insurance payouts of about $50,000 in cash and an additional $260,000 to pay off the mortgage on their house, she told the newspapers.

Anne Darwin said her husband insisted that their sons not be told that he was alive. But he said he missed the boys and would have her put them on speakerphone when they called so he could hear their voices, she said. Sometimes, when they asked her a question that she could not answer, she said he would write down an answer for her to read to them. 

Little side stories are coming out in the British press about this time in hiding. I especially liked this one, which has a very L.A. feel about it.  Even a dead man can be a NIMBY: Continue reading

How She Hates Him

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If David Corn of The Nation is to be believed — and his reputation as a reporter is solid despite his affiliation with a far-left news source — the Hillary Clinton campaign’s recent harshness against Barack Obama comes straight from the heart:

When talking to Clintonites in recent days, I’ve noticed that they’ve come to despise Obama. I suppose that may be natural in the final weeks of a competitive campaign when much is at stake. But these people don’t need any prompting in private conversations to decry Obama as a dishonest poser. They’re not spinning for strategic purposes. They truly believe it. And other Democrats in Washington report encountering the same when speaking with Clinton campaign people. “They really, really hate Obama,” one Democratic operative unaffiliated with any campaign, tells me. “They can’t stand him. They talk about him as if he’s worse than Bush.” What do they hate about him? After all, there aren’t a lot of deep policy differences between the two, and he hasn’t gone for the jugular during the campaign. “It’s his presumptuousness,” this operative says. “That he thinks he can deny her the nomination. Who is he to try to do that?” You mean, he’s, uh, uppity? “Yes.” A senior House Democratic aide notes, “The Clinton people are going nuts in how much they hate him. But the problem is their narrative has gone beyond the plausible.”

That is, the Clintonites–and the campaign–may be overreacting. Will Democratic voters really buy the Clinton argument that Obama is an inauthentic and a dissembling scoundrel? Until the caucus-goers of Iowa speak, there is no way to know if Clinton’s DEFCON-1 assault on Obama will succeed or backfire. But the Clinton attacks do say something about Hillary Clinton. She’s adopting a whatever-it-takes strategy, mixing legitimate criticisms with truth-stretching blasts. And her campaign aides have adopted a we-must-destroy-him mindset that they justify by viewing Obama as a political lowlife.

Whatever-it-takes often works in political campaigns. But we all know that hatred can be blinding. Clinton is, as has been noted, running the risk of alienating those kindhearted souls of Iowa by slamming the lovable, likable and inspiring Barack Obama. She could end up looking a bit desperate. Candidates are always responsible for their campaigns, and they can be judged accordingly. If the Clinton campaign throws anything it can against Obama–with little regard for accuracy or decency–that will reflect her own character and values. It could, to turn her words against her, be a disqualification for the job.

Clinton is playing with fire. In explaining to reporters that she will be tougher on Obama, she said, “Now the fun part starts.” That was tasteless. It’s a remark that certainly can–and will be–used against her.

Whatever happened to “Don’t get mad, get even?”  (Attributed to Robert Kennedy.)  Or “revenge is a dish best served cold?” 

My image of the Clinton campaign operations over the years was that all the emotion was on the upbeat side, the “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow” orgy of idealism in 1992-93, combined with a steely, unemotional ruthlessness in dealing with its foes.  If Hillary’s got a bunch of people around her feeding her paranoia about Obama, thinking they’ve got to save the country from Obama, then some kind of contagion has gotten loose.

Hopefully, for his sake, Obama won’t give way to the dark side himself.  A cooler, more confident Obama emerging victorious out of Iowa could suddenly find himself formidable.

ADDED:  I finally took a look at the “kindergarten” press release Clinton’s campaign manager is now trying to spin as a “silly” joke that “the spin machine” sold to a gullible press.  TPM has the release in this postContinue reading

Watching Marshall Crenshaw in Bed With A Cold

Nothing like a cold to make me feel useless…Two things guaranteed to depress me are lack of sleep and being sick. It’s not a terrible thing to be depressed, though.  I’m more likely to be too optimistic than the opposite, so getting sick and falling into a torpor is mental and spiritual correction, perhaps.

marshall-crenshaw.jpgI’m watching Marshall Crenshaw, the singer/songwriter, on a program on the less-well-known PBS station KLCS on this Saturday night.  He’s singing solo with a slighly amplified hollow-body guitar, intercut with interview clips.  He’s talking about how he built up a following — the spark and determination it took “to make yourself known in the world” — and I’m glad he’s proud.  But the fact is, he got pigeon-holed back when he emerged in the early 1980s as a “power-pop” performer, and that turned out to be an obstacle he could never overcome. 

Why does the music media automatically dismiss the best contemporary songwriters?  The best craftspeople in this most soulful of art forms?  Crenshaw should be performing in front of a band, with at least three singers who can support his somewhat thin but expressive voice and more importantly can perform the brilliant vocal arrangements you can hear on so many of his recorded songs. But there is no budget for him to do this anymore.  He’s a power-popper, and those guys are supposed to be selling insurance now.

Now (as I’m watching) he’s admitting he expected to be more successful.  He seems to be blaming himself, claiming that he cultivated attention, but once he got it, it overwhelmed him.  That’s not what I think went wrong.  For the past 30 years, the rock press and the industry’s promotional machine is always biased toward artists who make big gestures, like U2, or who have some obvious PR hook, like the grunge-rockers.  Song craftspersons are treated with suspicion if the craft doesn’t come with a Dionysian kind of persona.

If you saw tonight’s Marshall Crenshaw TV show and want to know what the fuss is all about, the answer is in his studio recordings.   Here (after the jump) are the songs I suggest you download first.  He wrote all but four of them: Continue reading