law, modern problems, politics, true crime

Do I even want to go “home” again?

The featured photo was taken on May 18, 2014, when Bill and I took a last Space A Hop to Germany, ahead of his military retirement. At the time, we didn’t know we’d be coming back to live in Germany just weeks later. We’re still here… and we no longer really want to go back “home” again. It definitely gives me some empathy and a unique perspective toward people who flee other countries for the United States…

Today is the one year anniversary of the death of an old Peace Corps friend of mine. I wrote about Matt last year, a few days after I found out about how he was senselessly killed by a reckless driver in Brooklyn, New York. Matt Jensen was a very special person. He had dedicated his life to teaching English as a foreign language, and students of all ages benefited from his natural acumen in the classroom. Matt was born to teach, and he had loads of charisma and a wonderful sense of humor. Although we hadn’t spoken or seen each other in many years, I was genuinely heartbroken when I heard about his sudden death last year. It just seemed so incredibly unfair.

For months, I watched the news to see if anyone would ever be arrested in connection with Matt’s death. Finally, in February, just as I was about to give up on justice, I was inspired to do one last search of the news. Sure enough, that very day, I found out that the police had taken a suspect into custody. I wrote another post about how I felt about that. I didn’t expect a lot of people to get it, since it was one of my more “creative” efforts… but to me, the post I wrote about Matt’s killer’s arrest set to the Police’s 1983 album, Synchronicity, made a lot of sense. When I knew him, Matt bore a resemblance to Sting.

I’m still watching for updates on the case involving Tariq Witherspoon, the 30 year old New York Emergency Medical Technician who is being held responsible for mowing down Matt with a borrowed black Rolls Royce last year. Every time I think about how Matt died, it seems more absurd to me. This was a man who served in the Peace Corps twice. He had devoted his life to helping people, especially those who wanted to learn English and improve their lives. To think that he was taken out by an over-the-top status symbol driven by a man who supposedly devoted his life’s work to saving other people’s lives! It’s completely ridiculous.

Every day, there are more news articles about how absolutely insane the United States has become in recent years. From the relentless attack on women’s rights, to the senseless gun violence at schools, churches, and supermarkets, to the abhorrent racism on every common street corner, I’ve become a lot less impressed with my homeland. Last night, I was reading a sickening story about a nine year old White boy who brought a whip to his Black neighbor’s house. He was captured with a Ring camera, whip in hand, visibly seething with rage as he banged on the neighbors’ door, demanding that their daughter come out. Why? Because they’d had an altercation at school, and he wanted to “finish” it with a fucking whip! Below is a video of the incident, along with follow up footage of the Black girl’s parents confronting the whip wielder’s father. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised that the boy’s father came to the door with a gun in his hand. I can see where this kid’s rage comes from; his father is clearly a toxic and dangerous person.

What the HELL is wrong with people?

What is especially sad to me is that this is a nine year old child. He probably has no idea about slavery in America, and how enslaved Black people were whipped, beaten, raped, and murdered so that rich White people could get richer. I hate to think that this child, at just nine years old, has this much hatred for others. I see how angry and violent he already is at age nine. What will he be like at 19? I hope he gets some competent help from a therapist before he winds up arrested on felony charges, as his dad was after he fired a weapon at the Black couple who confronted him about the whip and the damage the boy allegedly did to their car.

Amid stories like the one above, there are so many angry people in the United States. I read another story this morning about how Spain is considering allowing women paid time off when they suffer severe period symptoms. I think the idea is very progressive and humane. While my own periods have mainly just been annoying and inconvenient, I know women who literally get sick every month when they have their periods. I have known women whose cramps were so bad that it hurt to walk, and they spent days vomiting.

What a contrast this policy is, especially in a country as Catholic as Spain is, to the anti-women legislation being considered in the United States right now. I grew up believing that the United States was the epitome of a “free country”. But if the Republicans have their way, abortion will be outlawed, and women could find themselves at risk of being arrested when they have miscarriages. That seems extreme, but consider that Lizelle Herrera, a woman in Texas who miscarried, was actually arrested recently and accused of “murdering” her unborn child. Thankfully, good sense eventually prevailed, and she was released after what was surely a very stressful and horrifying ordeal at the Starr County Jail. I hope the American Civil Liberties Union helps her sue the fuck out of the people who reported her to the authorities and arrested her. What is especially scary about Herrera’s case is that she had gone to a hospital for help, and wound up being accused of “death of an individual by self-induced abortion”. If we don’t do something about the right wing anti-abortion zealots, this is a fate that could affect a lot of women. And it may lead to miscarrying people not getting medical help when they really need it, for fear of being arrested and charged with murder.

Mama Doctor Jones spells it out for all of us. Outlawing abortion in the United States will result in a lot of morbidity and mortality.

Naturally, the comment section for the article about Spain’s proposed legislation included many awful comments from American males, who have NO idea what it’s like to have periods, be pregnant, or deal with the aftermath of childbearing. Having lived in Europe for almost eight years, I’ve admired the family and community focused laws here. No, it’s not perfect, and people here pay a lot of taxes, which I know would not be popular in the United States. But Europeans recognize that children need their parents. Women who have babies in Germany get a very generous paid maternity leave before and after their pregnancies, as well as other benefits. Fathers are also granted time off to bond with their babies.

In the United States, we have people screaming about fetal rights, yet denying citizens the means to give babies and children a healthy start in life. When someone points out this discrepancy, they are sure to receive a snarky, unempathetic reply, usually from a Republican male, who obviously cares more about money than fellow human beings. This is what one typically tone deaf man– a man who claims he’s a doctor, no less— had to say about Spain’s proposed legislation:

Great. How do you prove that you have severe period symptoms compared to moderate ? How can you control for abuse of taking time off and differentiate between authentic cases and fictitious ones?

This was what a woman said in response to the “doctor”, who doesn’t have much regard for women:

Wait, you claim to be a physician? It seems horrible that this would be your level of compassion for a patient. There have been days out of every month for the past 40 YEARS when the pain was so severe I was vomiting and in tears. I spent the time with a heating pad or in a hot bath, trying my best to even prepare a meal for my family or perform the most basic tasks. This began when I was 12 years old. I was never diagnosed with any specific problem, and often told (mostly by male doctors) that it was just like that for some women and to “push through.” How does one prove such a thing?

Lots of people took on this supposed “doctor of misogyny”, as he continually mansplained why this law could be problematic. According to him, there are a lot of women in Spain who are just waiting to game the system and take off work when their period pain doesn’t warrant it (in his opinion, anyway).

I also saw a comment from a man who probably votes for pro-life candidates, but harangued a woman who pointed out how misogynistic the United States is. He told her to “get a new job” and exercise “personal responsibility”. When she came back and told him she was a member of a union and got decent benefits (for the United States, that is), the guy told her to “stop crying”. In his mind, she already had hers and needed to STFU. He couldn’t see why she’d want to advocate for others, who aren’t as fortunate. Does this man have women in his life? Does he care about them? Based on his comments, I’d guess not.

The pervasive self-centeredness and selfishness in the United States is just awful. It really doesn’t make me want to go home, even though I know I’m going to have to at some point. We have some unfinished business that needs to be handled. But do I want to move back there permanently? I have to be honest. I don’t think I want to. The United States has changed noticeably since the Trump years. I think Trump’s presidency has awakened and emboldened some of the worst people in our society. It will be years before the United States is back on track. It hurts to see how awful it is from afar.

Meanwhile, here in my little Hessian village, people are community minded and focused on doing things for the environment. Our local Facebook group shared a new “bee feeding vending machine” that is available now. Someone repurposed an old gumball machine so that it sells “bee bombs”– bee friendly flower seeds that can be planted in gardens to provide bees with fuel. Here in Germany, it’s illegal to kill bees. The government has wisely realized that without bees, we’d have no food. Similar legislation and efforts to save bees in the United States would probably garner nothing but derision from the clueless.

Well, I know it’s inevitable that we’ll go home at some point. Does it mean we’ll stay there for good? More and more, I’m thinking that maybe we won’t. My Italian friend, Vittorio, was right when he told me some years ago that America has a “weird-o-rama” culture. He was spot on. I didn’t see it when I was in the thick of it, but after years in Europe, it’s as plain as day. And it’s truly heartbreaking.

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art, music, musings, nostalgia, true crime

I experience synchronicity as The Police finally do their job…

In 1983, a band called The Police, fronted by the ever lovable Sting, released an album called Synchronicity. That album has always been kind of important to me, even though I wasn’t necessarily a Police fan in 1983, and some people think it’s their “weakest” work. Personally, I disagree. Maybe Synchronicity wasn’t as edgy as some of the other albums done by The Police, but it legitimately had some incredible songs on it that still sound amazing in 2022. I actually gifted this album on vinyl to my ex best friend, and it was probably through her that I learned to love The Police before Sting went solo. It could have just as easily been my older sister who influenced me, since she’s the one who turned me on to Kate Bush.

As I sit here writing this blog post today, I’m reminded of the wise and intelligent lyrics penned by Sting, Andy Summers, and Stewart Copeland all those years ago, when I was still a kid, and some of the most important people to me were on the brink of starting their adult lives. I hope you’ll indulge me this clumsy foray into creativity today. Sometimes the clumsiest attempts can eventually lead to grace. Of course, this post could also turn out to be totally cheesy, non-sensical, and stupid crap. We’ll see what happens.

A picture of Matt from after I knew him… when he was younger, he looked a lot like Sting. I have pictures of him from our Peace Corps days, but they are unfortunately in storage. In 1983, Matt was turning 20. I wouldn’t meet him until 1995.

I was sitting on my bed last night, watching my new Facts of Life DVDs, pretending it was the early 80s again. I was a bonafide child in the early 1980s, while Bill was a young man about to embark on his career. Although I didn’t have the greatest childhood, sometimes I like to watch old TV shows from that time in my life. I also love the music from that time, even the really shitty stuff. There’s something about it that comforts me and makes me feel– temporarily– like I’m still young, with my whole life ahead of me. Then I’m jolted into reality as I realize that in a few short months, I’ll be 50 years old. And there’s still a lot I’ve never managed to do. Maybe watching shows like The Facts of Life temporarily make me feel like I still have a lot of years left. So does listening to albums like Synchronicity. But then, Sting is a master songwriter, so his work probably holds up much better than The Facts of Life does.

Tea in the Sahara

The sky turned to black
Would he ever come back?
They would climb a high dune
They would pray to the moon
But he’d never return
So the sisters would burn
As their eyes searched the land
With their cups full of sand

As I was soothing myself with the best seasons of a successful sitcom last night, I suddenly remembered my friend, Matthew Jensen, who was killed last May, just hours after celebrating his 58th birthday with family and friends. It was just after midnight in Brooklyn, New York on May 18th, and Matt was walking home from his own birthday party. He had almost reached his abode, and was crossing a dangerous intersection, when a man driving a black Rolls Royce mowed him down in the street and left him for dead.

Every Breath You Take

Since you’ve gone, I’ve been lost without a trace
I dream at night, I can only see your face
I look around, but it’s you I can’t replace
I feel so cold, and I long for your embrace
I keep crying baby, baby please

I’ve written about Matt a few times, and I’ve thought of Matt many more times since his death. Although it had been years since we last spoke, Matt left an indelible impression on me. I was legitimately devastated when I heard about what had happened to him. I hated the thought that the person who is responsible for taking him out of the world was still free to harm other people. Since last May, I’ve been watching the news to see if anyone was being held responsible for killing my old friend and colleague. Every time I looked for updates, I was left disappointed that there hadn’t been any new news about the case. I was beginning to lose hope, so my searches had become less frequent. I don’t even know why I thought of Matt last night, in spite of the impression he made on me. Life goes on, even after someone interesting dies.

Synchronicity I

A connecting principle
Linked to the invisible
Almost imperceptible
Something inexpressible
Science insusceptible
Logic so inflexible
Causally connectible
Nothing is invincible

When Matt’s memory inexplicably and suddenly popped into my head, I found myself dutifully searching for news about his case. As usual, I didn’t have much hope that there would be any new developments. And then, there it was. Someone finally got arrested. At 8:45 AM, Brooklyn time, a 30 year old man named Tariq Witherspoon turned himself in to the 94th Precinct station house. Mr. Witherspoon, who was employed for eleven years as an Emergency Medical Technician for the New York Fire Department, is being charged with criminally negligent homicide, leaving the scene of an accident, reckless endangerment, and speeding. Was it intuition that caused me to look for that news? I don’t know. Maybe it was synchronicity.

Murder By Numbers

Once that you’ve decided on a killing
First you make a stone of your heart
And if you find that your hands are still willing
Then you can turn a murder into art

In the early hours of May 18, 2021, Matt was crossing the notoriously dangerous McGuinness Boulevard against the light. Mr. Witherspoon had a green light, but the speed limit was 25 miles per hour. Mr. Witherspoon was reportedly changing lanes at 50 miles an hour, when he and Matt had their tragic meeting with fate. And then, in spite of being an experienced EMT who should have been among the very last people who would commit hit and run, Witherspoon sped off into the night, evading responsibility for Matt’s death for over nine months.

Now if you have a taste for this experience
If you’re flushed with your very first success

Then you must try a twosome or a threesome
You’ll find your conscience bothers you much less
Because murder is like anything you take to
It’s a habit-forming need for more and more

You can bump off every member of your family
And anybody else you find a bore

According to an article published by the NY Daily News, Tariq Witherspoon has been sued several times for other accidents he’s either directly caused, or been involved in, over the past ten years or so. He seems to have a curious fondness for expensive cars. He allegedly hit Matt with a 2010 black Rolls Royce that he’d borrowed, but other accidents involving Witherspoon have involved a Porsche and a Mercedes-Benz, either driven by, lent by, or struck by him. For some reason, in spite of being repeatedly sued after seriously injuring several other people in accidents involving motor vehicles, Mr. Witherspoon has inexplicably been able to maintain his employment as an EMT. However, in light of his arrest, he’s now suspended from his job without pay. He is currently being held on $75,000 bail or a $15,000 cash bond. ETA: NBC says Witherspoon has posted a $15,000 cash bond.

O My God

Everyone I know is lonely
With God so far away
And my heart belongs to no one
So now sometimes I pray
Take the space between us
Fill it up some way
Take the space between us
Fill it up, fill it up

Witherspoon is a Brooklyn resident. He must have seen how much Matt’s community has suffered since he so callously mowed him down last year. There were many memorials for Matt, including one in which former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio pledged $39 million to “fix” the dangerous intersection on McGuinness Boulevard where Matt and others have been injured and/or killed.

I was involved in a much smaller memorial for Matt last July. It took place on Zoom, but there were people from around the world who were there to remember him. I will never forget the sincere grief expressed, particularly by the Armenians Matt worked with when we were in the Peace Corps together. One Armenian man was in tears as he remembered the tall, blond man who helped him get a job with the Peace Corps and showed him a world beyond Vanadzor, the city where Matt worked. I’m sure he was just one of many. My heart breaks for Matt’s students, who reportedly adored him. And then there were his family members and friends who are now left without his presence… as well as two cats.

Mother

Well the telephone is ringing
Is that my mother on the phone?
Telephone is ringing

Is that my mother on the phone?
The telephone is screaming
Won’t she leave me alone?
The telephone is ringing
Is that my mother on the phone?

Matt was a much beloved person by many people around the world. He was incredibly charismatic, and he had a true gift for teaching and presenting. Matt wrote letters, and he had many friends in influential places. He loved to have fun, and he had many quirky interests that made him truly fascinating. He loved ABBA, royal families, and being irreverent. In the weeks after Prince Philip died last year, Matt wrote letters of condolences to Queen Elizabeth II and her daughter, Princess Anne. At the time of his death, Princess Anne had written back to him. Queen Elizabeth’s response, sadly, arrived after Matt was already gone.

I have always remembered Matt as a hilarious, warm, and talented guy, and back when I first met him in 1995, he bore a resemblance to the famous rock star, Sting. He was fun to dance with, and we had many memorable evenings in Armenia enjoying low sodium meals involving beets, lentils, and cabbage. He once told me that he’d learned to cook low sodium meals because his mother had high blood pressure. He also told me a hysterical story about how his mother had once watched a “sickening” Mother’s Day special involving Kathie Lee Gifford. Obviously, I drank in his stories, as did a lot of our colleagues and friends. He was just that kind of person. Unique, magnetic, and just unforgettable.

Walking In Your Footsteps

Hey mighty brontosaurus
Don’t you have a lesson for us
You thought your rule would always last
There were no lessons in your past
You were built three stories high
They say you would not hurt a fly
If we explode the atom bomb
Would they say that we were dumb?

I learned later that Matt was affecting his friends, students, parents, and family members the same way he’d affected me, as he worked as a much beloved and highly respected teacher in Brooklyn. I take some comfort realizing that Matt managed to influence people around the world. At our small online memorial last summer, a man from Armenia wept as he talked about how Matt had influenced him. Later, a woman who had worked with Matt in Brooklyn spoke about how Matt had helped immigrant children fit in at their new school.

Fifty million years ago
You walked upon the planet so
Lord of all that you could see
Just a little bit like me

I know for a fact that Matt spoke Armenian and French. It wouldn’t surprise me if he knew other languages, or at least tried to learn a few words, just to help welcome innocent children to their new home in New York. Everybody knew him, whether or not he was their teacher. He had a towering presence and an infectious energy that was impossible to ignore. He stood six feet four inches tall. And yet, Tariq Witherspoon allegedly hit him at 50 miles per hour and just kept going. For nine months, he’s been evading responsibility for exploding the atom bomb in so many people’s lives… especially the students left behind, some of whom aren’t from the United States and really needed Matt’s comforting presence.

Wrapped Around Your Finger

Devil and the deep blue sea behind me
Vanish in the air you’ll never find me
I will turn your face to alabaster
When you’ll find your servant is your master

Why did it take nine months for Tariq Witherspoon to be arrested? I don’t know. But I do know that he’s about to face judgment. I would not be surprised if there are many people who will want to attend his court sessions. There will be people who will want to speak about the man who died because of his careless actions in a black Rolls Royce. Imagine the absurdity of it. A teacher who had served twice in the Peace Corps killed by a careless man in a very expensive status symbol.

Matthew Jensen was a man who dedicated his life to teaching people, helping them make better lives for themselves. He served in the Peace Corps twice– in Senegal and Armenia– and he worked with children in New York who didn’t speak English. He taught university students. He taught other Americans who were going to carry on his legacy in Armenia, teaching youngsters how to speak English. It was a great loss to the world when Matt Jensen died… but at least we know that someone is finally going to answer for this crime.

King of Pain

There’s a little black spot on the sun today
It’s the same old thing as yesterday
There’s a black hat caught in a high tree top
There’s a flag pole rag and the wind won’t stop

I have stood here before inside the pouring rain
With the world turning circles running ’round my brain
I guess I’m always hoping that you’ll end this reign
But it’s my destiny to be the king of pain

I don’t know what kind of person Tariq Witherspoon is. I can only make assumptions. I don’t know what made him choose his line of work, which is supposed to be based in mercy and decency. He’s supposed to save lives, not end them. Based on his record of hitting people in cars, hurting them, and being sued for negligence, I can’t help but wonder if Tariq Witherspoon could have used another session with a guidance counselor.

Miss Gradenko

Don’t tell the director I said so
But are you safe Miss Gradenko
We were at a policy meeting
They were planning new ways of cheating
I didn’t want to rock your boat
But you sent this dangerous note
You’ve been letting your feelings show

Are you safe Miss Gradenko
Miss Gradenko are you safe

I’m glad to know that someone is finally going to answer for Matt’s death. I hope the police have the right guy, and that the charges will stick. I don’t wish pain or torture for Mr. Witherspoon. I just want him off the streets. My unmarried niece lives in Brooklyn now. She doesn’t have a car. I don’t want Tariq Witherspoon to be involved in any other accidents. I don’t want him tending to my niece if she’s ever in need of an EMT. He needs to be taken out of commission for awhile… and hopefully, he’ll learn.

Synchronicity II

Another suburban family morning.
Grandmother screaming at the wall.

We have to shout above the din of our Rice Krispies
We can’t hear anything at all.
Mother chants her litany of boredom and frustration,
But we know all her suicides are fake.

Daddy only stares into the distance
There’s only so much more that he can take.
Many miles away something crawls from the slime
At the bottom of a dark Scottish lake.

Bill came home from taking our Kosovar refugee dog, Noyzi, to the vet for booster vaccines. I had just read about Tariq Witherspoon’s arrest when he walked into our bedroom. I looked up at him and said, “I don’t know why, but I just looked up Matt Jensen to see if anyone’s been arrested for his death. And someone was today, just HOURS ago. It’s so weird that I would think of him today– out of the blue– and someone got arrested.”

Bill is about Matt’s age, and he’s one of the kindest, most decent people I’ve ever met. For the past year, he’s been studying the psychologist, Carl Jung. He’s been in analysis with Jungian psychologist, and is even taking courses at the Jung Institute out of Zurich. The concept of synchronicity is one that fascinated Jung. Synchronicity, put simply, describes a situation that seems meaningful, but lacks a causal connection. This kind of thing happens to me all the time. I see important connections in things that might mean nothing to other people. What made me think of Matt last night, all of a sudden? Was there something in the universe– my subconscious? Maybe it was the ghost of Matt himself, tapping me on the shoulder. Who knows?

Later, we were in our dining room eating dinner and listening to music. My music collection is incredibly eclectic. There’s no telling what will play. I have everything from L.L. Cool J to Beethoven in my playlist. Last night, as I sipped a lovely Italian red wine, the strains of a familiar piece from Gabriel Faure started playing. When I was in college, I took many music courses. I was also in a choir, and we performed a number of pieces by Faure, to include parts of his Requiem and the ethereal Messe Basse. Messe Basse is one of my favorite works by Faure.

If you like choral music, I invite you to listen to this. It is a delight to listen to, and glorious to perform.

Then it occurred to me that Faure, was a French man, and Matt spoke French and had spent time in France… and next week, I hope to be in France, too. Just like I was at around the time Anthony Bourdain died. In fact, I was in the area where Bourdain died just a couple of weeks before he passed. Matt wasn’t unlike Bourdain, in terms of his influence or his very “New York” personality… And then I was reminded that back in the spring of 1994, our choir went to New York City at the end of our spring break and performed Messe Basse in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Synchronicity again!

It’s fitting that I’m reminded of choirs when I remember Matt. He had a way of unifying people in harmony. Unfortunately, I never got the chance to perform this magnificent choral work by Faure. Maybe someday, I will have the opportunity… if no one mows me down and leaves me for dead.

And suddenly, I’m reminded of how much I miss college… singing in choirs… traveling… hanging out with friends over bland foods that make me fart… sitcoms from the 80s… I am reminded of how important it is to always appreciate the people in your life who make it special or wonderful, because you never know when they will make an exit. I don’t know if I have ever affected anyone the way Matt affected me, and all of the other people in his life. I’m just grateful that the police in Brooklyn have done their jobs, as The Police from the early 80s do theirs every time I need to think about simpler days, or the complex concepts coined by Carl Jung. Somehow, it all seems to come together, at least in my head.

This song will never be the same.

I’m reminded of these lyrics by Sting… and Matt, a man who always reminded me of Sting… Somehow, we’re all connected.

With one breath
With one flow
You will know
Synchronicity
A sleep trance
A dream dance
A shared romance
Synchronicity

A connecting principle
Linked to the invisible

Almost imperceptible
Something inexpressible
Science insusceptible
Logic so inflexible
Causally connectible
Nothing is invincible

If we share this nightmare
We can dream
Spiritus mundi
If you act as you think
The missing link
Synchronicity

A connecting principle
Linked to the invisible
Almost imperceptible
Something inexpressible
Science insusceptible
Logic so inflexible
Causally connectible
Nothing is invincible

We know you
They know me
Extrasensory
Synchronicity
A star fall
A phone call
It joins all
Synchronicity

A connecting principle
Linked to the invisible
Almost imperceptible
Something inexpressible
Science insusceptible
Logic so inflexible
Causally connectible
Nothing is invincible

It’s so deep, it’s so wide
You’re inside
Synchronicity
Effect without a cause
Sub-atomic laws
Scientific pause

Synchronicity
Synchronicity
Synchronicity
Synchronicity
Synchronicity

Synchronicity
Synchronicity
Synchronicity
Synchronicity
Synchronicity

For Matt… hopefully in paradise.
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fashion, Military, royals

Meghan’s red dress…

A few days ago, I noticed articles about Meghan Markle and Prince Harry attending the 2021 Salute to Freedom Gala in New York City. Meghan wore a bright red Carolina Herrera gown and slightly darker red Giuseppe Zanotti slingback heels. She also wore a poppy, which is customary among British people to commemorate Remembrance Day. The poppy was kind of obscured by the dress, which was the same color as the flower. Prince Harry wore a tuxedo, with four medals pinned to his jacket, and a poppy on his lapel.

I don’t know much about what this event was about, other than to recognize veterans. I’m not sure what the dress code was supposed to be, although I have been to a several military balls in my day. I’ve seen the kinds of dresses that are typically worn to them. Was this like a military ball or was it just a formal occasion? I can’t really tell, although based on the photos in the link, it looks like it was a fundraising dinner with speakers and probably a receiving line.

I will say, however, that personally, I’m not a fan of Meghan’s red dress. I mean, that color red does look good on her, and it’s a beautiful dress on its own. I even like the neckline, though not necessarily on Meghan Markle. I just think the dress was inappropriate, given the occasion. As Tom Cruise (yuck) might say, “she wasn’t wearing the dress; it was wearing her.” I read that Tom Cruise once said that to Katie Holmes when they were married, and she would choose dresses for the events they attended. In any case, I’m no fan of Cruise’s, but I think that comment makes sense in this situation.

Yeah… this screen shot kind of shows the fit of the gown… I like the color, although I think she should have chosen something more subdued for this event. I don’t like the style on Meghan.

I realize I’m kind of a hypocrite. I say this, even though I’ve certainly worn a few unflattering dresses in my day. The difference is, I don’t have access to stylists, nor do I have Meghan’s money, or even a figure even remotely like hers. I’m also not someone who is of interest to the paparazzi. Indeed, the vast majority of military spouses in the United States don’t have what Meghan has. Many of them were probably orbiting the intense red glow cast by Meghan’s red dress. She probably stood out like a beacon or maybe a traffic flare. I’m not sure that glowing like a beacon was appropriate on this occasion.

I would expect to see a gown like that at a show biz event, not a military event. If this was a “show biz” event, rather than a military event, then maybe I stand corrected. Even if it was a show biz engagement, I just don’t think that dress was the best choice for Meghan. Other people have commented on the way the dress fit, and that it looked like maybe it wasn’t the right size. I don’t know about the sizing, but the dress did seem to overwhelm her, except at the back, where she spilled over a little bit.

Many people liked the dress. A lot of other people, myself included, found it to be garish and rather tasteless, given the apparent purpose behind the event. Were they remembering fallen British military heroes, as one is supposed to do on Remembrance Day? Or were they honoring veterans who are still living, as one does on Veteran’s Day (Memorial Day is for our fallen American troops)? Either way, it seems to me the focus should have been on the veterans, not a big, red, designer dress.

That being said… I’m not here to say Meghan can’t or shouldn’t wear whatever she wants to wear. She’s free to make whatever fashion statements she wants. She’s an American, and she lives in America now, with her royal British husband, who has spent his whole life being taught about protocol. However, if the event was supposed to honor veterans, it seems to me that Meghan’s dress, with its tremendously low cut neckline, extremely bright color, massive train, and high slit up the front, was a bit unbecoming, too revealing, and overly showy, particularly for a event meant to honor veterans. Just my opinion.

Some people are wondering why Harry was asked to hand out medals in the first place. Personally, I don’t mind that Harry was at the event. He is a veteran, even if he served the United Kingdom, rather than the United States. A lot of us Americans would have been Brits if our ancestors hadn’t moved to America, like Harry has. But I can see that a lot of veterans and their families are wondering why an American veteran couldn’t have done what Harry was doing.

I find it interesting that Meghan and Harry have repeatedly complained about intrusive press, even to the point of moving out of England, and yet they constantly seem to do things that put them in the news. Meghan’s dress was definitely an eyebrow raiser, and of course people are going to talk about it, including the press. The dress got a lot of reactions, which seem to be very mixed. Some people thought it was stunning. Others thought it was a stunning disaster.

Maybe my comments seem harsh to some readers, although I’m definitely not as harsh as Jesus Enrique Rosas, the Body Language Guy, is. Check out this video…

He is definitely not a Meghan fan. He refers to her dress as “king sized drapes.”

Nor am I as harsh as River is…

River calls Meghan a Scarlet Pimpernel…

The Body Language Guy, Jesus Enrique Rosas, did another recent video about Meghan’s fashion choices and body language. In this video, he refers to the “marshmallow on Meghan’s head.” I have to admit, that comment cracked me up a bit.

Interesting video. I don’t think I’ll ever think of that hat in the same way.

Anyway… it’s Monday, and Bill is out of town. He went to Poland for the week. I am sitting here, the day before our 19th wedding anniversary, staring at Meghan’s red dress, wishing she’d chosen something else to wear. And I say this as someone who has a large collection of knit nightgowns, which I wear most of the time, unless we’re going out somewhere. Even then, half the time I don’t wear makeup. But at least I don’t attract attention to myself… except for when I open my mouth and say something completely shocking. My days of wearing shocking clothes are mostly over now.

It’ll be interesting to see if the Facebook fashion game, Covet, has a challenge involving Meghan and her red scare gown. I’m trying to stay neutral about Meghan Markle, but I have to admit, the more I see of her, the less I like her. She makes my “high conflict person/narcissist” alarms go off. But I’m trying to reserve judgment for a bit longer… because I do think that anyone marrying a British royal will have a tough time of it. I just don’t think she tells the truth, and she seems to come off as a bit clingy. Ever since I heard her claim that she didn’t know much about Prince Harry, I’ve thought she was full of shit. I don’t believe that claim for a second.

But fortunately, it’s not my marriage, nor is it my business… it’s just an observation as a veteran’s wife, and someone who’s married to a guy who was married to a “high conflict person/narcissist”. Fortunately, everyone still has a right to have their own opinions.

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politics

New York is going to close some prisons, and some people aren’t happy about it…

I had quite a busy day yesterday, updating my travel blog. I’m not even halfway through our vacation, so I suspect I have a few more days of intensive travel writing and video production ahead of me. Travel blogging is fun, and I really enjoy looking at the photos I take when we travel. On the other hand, when I upload a lot of photos, my Internet invariably craps out, wasting time and frustrating me as I have to repeat tasks.

Writing on this blog is less frustrating, because I don’t use as many pictures… and also, I feel like I can be more authentic on this blog, because most of what I write is about how I feel, rather than what I’ve seen and experienced. Regular readers of my blog may know that I’m not a big fan of prison. In fact, the older I get, and the more I read up on the subject of criminal justice, the more I think we have too many prisons and way too many incarcerated people in the United States. I’ve actually felt this way for a long time, even before I started watching Jessica Kent’s excellent and informative YouTube videos.

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, a whole lot of people are in prison due to drug offenses. While sometimes people on drugs do terrible things to themselves and to other people, quite a lot of drug offenders are non-violent. Some states are starting to realize that putting people behind bars for drug offenses isn’t always the best idea. In New York State, lawmakers have been dismantling the strict anti drug laws that were passed in the 1970s. Consequently, their prisons are gradually emptying. Over his almost 11 years in office, former Governor Andrew M. Cuomo shut down 18 prisons in New York. His successor, Governor Kathy Hochul, is following Cuomo’s lead, and has plans to close six more prisons.

Republicans, in particular, are unhappy about the decision to close prisons, even though New York’s prison population is at its lowest since 1984, and there are several facilities that aren’t even close to full capacity. Again, this is because of criminal justice reforms and decriminalization of the use of certain drugs, like marijuana. You’d think Republicans, who so often speak of being the “law and order people”, would be glad to see a decline in people going to prison, especially since there’s a monetary and societal cost to locking people up. For one thing, a person with a prison record has a harder time finding work or housing. People who can’t find work or housing are more likely to turn to crime as a means of survival. Or they might try to access welfare, which we all know Republicans aren’t too keen on. They’re all about protecting life, as long as the life is that of the unborn. But once a person is born, a lot of them don’t really give a shit, do they?

In any case, some Republicans in New York are against closing the prisons because they provide jobs in rural communities where places to work are lacking. Some also mention that they’re worried about safety and the increase in crime. But… the New York Times article I linked mentions that there are a lot of empty cells in New York. Those cells cost money to maintain. And consolidation is a great way to save money. According to the article, if those six prisons are closed, taxpayers could save $142 million. Of course, there’s also money to be made in the prison industry. For profit prisons do exist, and there are companies that produce products for prisons, which then get sold to inmates for rip off prices. I’m sure some Republicans don’t want to see prisons closed for that reason. And let’s not forget that inmates also often work for pennies on the hour, which also is a money maker for some people.

Personally, I find it disturbing that so many people in the United States, the supposed “land of the free”, are locked up in jails and prisons. According to PrisonPolicy.org, which admittedly has an anti-mass incarceration agenda, one out of every five prisoners in the world is incarcerated in the United States. That same source reports that less than 5 percent of the world’s population live in the United States, but about 20 percent of the world’s incarcerated are in the United States.

I noticed a lot of people commenting that it’s wrong for New York to close the prisons because they think the crime rate with increase. More than one person compared closing the prisons to the decision to deinstitutionalize people with mental illnesses. But, the difference is, a lot of people who wind up incarcerated aren’t there because they’re a danger to themselves or society. They’re there for non violent offenses, as a means of filling the local coffers or allowing politicians to make names for themselves as being “tough on crime.”

Some politicians and elected law enforcement officials– Joe Arpaio, former sheriff of Maricopa County in Arizona comes to mind— get off on being inhumane to prisoners to show how “tough” they are on crime. They save money by serving barely edible food, forcing prisoners to live in shitty or squalid conditions, and humiliating them by making them wear pink underwear. Then, when the person is inevitably released after having been abused and traumatized, that person is expected to function on the right side of the law and go out and get a job. But, as recidivism rates show us, a whole lot of people wind up back behind bars once they’ve been in the first time. Shouldn’t the goal in a decent society be to help people choose a life without committing crimes?

I’ve also noticed that a lot of people, especially in the United States, have this attitude that jail or prison is the only way to punish someone who has broken the law. I recall how so many people were calling for Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, rich, white actresses who committed mail fraud, to sit in prison for years. The actresses got short prison stints instead. So many people seemed disappointed about that. I guess it’s because they saw what the actresses did as the height of white privilege. But how does it serve society for two non violent offenders to sit in a prison cell for years on end? Huffman and Loughlin will surely recover from their time in the jug, but people of more average means have a harder time doing that. Locking people up doesn’t just affect the person who ends up in prison. It also affects their families, friends, employers, and anyone else who depends on them for any reason.

There’s something really grotesque about the idea of people whose livelihoods depend on locking up other people. I know prisons are necessary for those who commit violent offenses and are a real danger to others. I do think we should have prisons for people who can’t safely function in society. But we shouldn’t be wanting to lock people up simply so people in rural communities can continue to make a living. It’s a violation of human rights. And the fact that the United States is a wealthy, western country with so many people behind bars is concerning. We should want to do better than that. Besides, having a prison in a community isn’t exactly a draw for community growth, is it?

So… count me among those who is happy that Governor Hochul wishes to close six prisons in New York. I hope it happens, and she saves taxpayers money, and families anguish. Those who are working in the prisons can do what Republicans often tell people in trouble to do… They can pull themselves up by their bootstraps and find another line of work. Seriously… that’s what they tell the down and out and disenfranchised, don’t they? Maybe Governor Hochul can find a way to repurpose those facilities so that they can be of a positive use to the communities they serve. And people who work in the prisons can find work in the repurposed facilities, which will hopefully focus more on rehabilitation and compassion, rather than warehousing human beings, mistreating them, and ripping them off through slave labor and their commissary accounts.

I think the United States criminal justice system needs a massive overhaul. From abusive and corrupt police officers who have tainted the reputations of all cops, to inhumane and unfair prisons that make people worse instead of correcting their behaviors, to locally run police departments that depend on ripping off people through issuing extortionate traffic tickets in order to pay salaries… The goal should be on fairness and creating a better society, not enslaving, abusing, and extorting money on citizens so that people will have work to do.

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book reviews, true crime

Repost: My review of They Always Call Us Ladies by Jean Harris…

This will be the last repost of today, an as/is Epinions book review I wrote of They Always Call Us Ladies, by Jean Harris. It was written in October 2005. The paragraph immediately below is an introduction I wrote when I reposted this review on my original blog, on January 21, 2015.

Here’s yet another interesting review of a book written by a woman who committed murder.  In this case, the perpetrator was Jean Harris, former head of The Madeira School in McClean, Virginia.  She shot her lover, Dr. Herman Turnover, creator of the Scarsdale Diet, dead when she found out he was being unfaithful to her.  Well educated and well employed, Jean Harris was the last person anyone would have ever expected would end up behind bars.  In 1992, Harris was released from prison on compassionate grounds.  She died of natural causes in an assisted living center on December 23, 2012.  She was 89 years old.

A very unlikely voice from behind bars…

Jean Harris, author of the 1988 book They Always Call Us Ladies is probably the last person anyone would have ever guessed would have ever spent time in prison. Harris, who is a graduate of Smith College, had spent her whole life educating people, even working as the headmistress of the exclusive and very expensive Madeira School for girls in toney Great Falls, Virginia. But in March of 1980, the 15 year relationship she had with Dr. Herman Tarnower, creator of the Scarsdale Diet, came to an end. She fell into despair and decided to visit Dr. Tarnower in New York. Unfortunately, she brought a gun with her, allegedly planning to kill herself that night. She ended up killing her lover instead and wound up sentenced to 15 years to life in prison. 

Much has come to light about Jean Harris’s case. In fact, just last week, my husband Bill and I caught a special on Court TV about Jean Harris. She is now out of prison, having been released in 1993 after thirteen years behind bars. Her book, They Always Call Us Ladies, was written four years prior to her release from behind the walls of Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women in Bedford Hills, New York. As I read this book, I got the feeling that Jean Harris was trying to make the best of her situation, as hard as it was for her. In many ways, They Always Call Us Ladies is an eye-opening book. In other ways, it leaves some questions unanswered.  

I don’t remember exactly when or where it was that I picked up Jean Harris’s book. I do remember that I got it at a second hand bookstore, probably about ten or eleven years ago. I was lured by the subtitle: Stories From Prison. I didn’t even have an idea who Jean Harris was when I purchased this book. I suppose I was looking for lurid details. At the time, I lacked an appreciation for books that weren’t long on action. I remember trying to read They Always Call Us Ladies and setting it aside after only a few pages or so. I was disappointed because I felt like I didn’t get what I had been looking for.  

I picked up Jean Harris’s book again last week after I saw the special about her on television. This time, when I started reading it, I was able to keep going. And now, I have a great deal of respect and admiration for Jean Harris, the convicted murderer.  They Always Call Us Ladies is a remarkable book that goes far beyond just “prison stories”. Jean Harris also tries to educate her audience about the history of her prison and the importance of prison reform. Clearly intelligent and articulate, Harris offers readers some valuable insight into what it’s like to be in prison and puts a human face on the ladies with whom she did time. She points out that no one is ever called a “girl” in her prison; instead, they are all called ladies. But despite the overtures of gentility, prison life is hard and Jean Harris effectively drives home that point. 

At the time Jean Harris wrote They Always Call Us Ladies, she was more than halfway to her first opportunity for parole. She focused a lot of time and energy toward helping the other inmates, especially those with children who were born in prison. The fact that she actively spent much of her time helping and getting to know her fellow inmates is clearly evident as she relates more stories about the “ladies” around her than herself. It’s not surprising that Harris is empathetic to the other ladies. She explains how and why some of the other prisoners ended up in prison and why a few of them came back again and again. They were simply unequipped for life on the outside of the prison’s walls. At the same time, Harris injects her own opinions about what she sees. Although she is sometimes disapproving toward the lifestyles of the ladies with whom she is serving time, she is always supportive of them as human beings. I got the feeling that she took a fond motherly or grandmotherly interest in the other prisoners and they, in return, took a similar interest in her. 

One thing that did strike me about They Always Call Us Ladies was that, although Harris makes it clear that her life was hard, I got the feeling that the prison she was in was very progressive. The prison had a children’s center, where new moms could keep their babies for a year. If the mother was going to be paroled within eighteen months of giving birth, officials would allow the mothers to keep the child until the mom got out. Harris explains that Bedford Hills was the only American prison that was allowing new mothers to keep their babies at all. She then points out that in Europe, prisons are much more accommodating. I got the feeling that she much preferred the European way of doing things. It’s not that I blame her for liking the European way better, but I did notice that Harris doesn’t really explain the differences between the European and American cultures. Just as some people view imprisonment as strictly punishment, other people see it as a chance for rehabilitation. I got the impression that Harris is more for rehabilitation than punishment and evidently that’s the way the Europeans feel about prisons, too. 

Another thing that stuck out at me as I read They Always Call Us Ladies is that it must have been a HUGE culture shock for Jean Harris to be in prison. She is nothing like the other ladies she writes about and, I suspect, that Jean Harris never had much of a criminal mind. In fact, I think it was a tragic turn of events that led her to prison in the first place. Because she is so much a fish out of water, she gives her readers a rare and different glimpse of life on the inside of a prison. She doesn’t seem like she belongs there.  

Jean Harris does include some examples of dialogs she heard in prison, even writing them in dialect. She explains the racism that she witnessed in prison, mostly directed at her fellow inmates. She comes across as almost detached. I had heard on a few occasions that homosexuality is rampant in prisons and Jean Harris doesn’t dispute this fact; in fact, she offers statistics on homosexuality in prisons. She also doesn’t give any indication as to whether or not she engaged in homosexual conduct. She seems especially detached from this issue as it personally pertains to her, even though she addresses it regarding other prisoners. 

Harris’s memoir does include some foul language, but it’s used in the context of quoting other people. She never uses it herself and doesn’t condone its use in other people. In fact, in one passage, she writes disapprovingly that those who must use the word “sh*t” in place of every noun have a serious deficiency in their vocabularies. As I read They Always Call Us Ladies, I was continually reminded that Jean Harris is first and foremost a teacher, not because she actually wrote those words, but because of her actions and her writing style. I do believe that Harris must have been a great asset to her students, despite the fact that she later wound up in prison. 

My comments on They Always Call Us Ladies so far have been overwhelmingly positive. For the most part, I did really enjoy reading this book, even though it’s been sitting on my shelf unread for years. Despite my positive comments, however, this is not a perfect book. For one thing, Harris writes a lot about legislation circa 1988. For an historical point of view, this is a good thing. I get the feeling, though, that Harris didn’t mean for her book to be read years down the line; she meant for it to be read when it was hot off the presses. Consequently, her references to “now” and 1988 drive home just how dated this book is. For another thing, anyone who is looking for information about what got Harris put in prison will be disappointed.  For that story, you’d have to read one of her other books. 

Because she doesn’t really discuss her crime, I almost got the feeling that she didn’t think she belonged in prison. I got the feeling that even though she was in prison, she wasn’t of it. And while at times her writing drifts very slightly into self pity, she never really gave me the impression that she felt like she deserved to be in prison, even though she did kill a man. Again, I don’t believe that Jean Harris initially set out to kill Tarnower. That doesn’t change the fact that she did kill him. Yet, there are times in this book that she seems to take a detached, almost superior position over the inmates about whom she writes. On the other hand, I have no idea what prison must have been like for Jean Harris. Maybe taking this position offers her a defense mechanism– a way to protect herself from the reality of her situation. The last, but not necessarily negative, comment I want to make is that this book is challenging reading. Even though I enjoyed reading They Always Call Us Ladies, I didn’t find it the kind of book that I could finish in a matter of hours.

They Always Call Us Ladies appears to be out of print. If my review has enticed you to seek it out, be warned that you may have some trouble finding it. Nevertheless, I will recommend it to a wide audience because I think it is an impressive and enlightening book. If you have any interest in prison reform or history and want to read an eloquent, true account from someone who’s seen prison firsthand, I definitely would encourage you to read this book if you get the chance.  

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

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