book reviews, religion

A review of Locked in: My Imprisoned Years in a Destructive Cult, by John Huddle…

Amazon.com tells me that I bought John Huddle’s book, Locked in: My Imprisoned Years in a Destructive Cult, on June 17, 2021. I don’t remember what prompted me to buy this book. I think it might have been a successful “suggestive selling” effort, as in I was already buying another book about cults and this one was also suggested. I’m assuming this because, before I read this book, I had never heard of the cult that is highlighted in Mr. Huddle’s story. Huddle and his ex wife and children were members of the Word of Faith Fellowship, otherwise known as WOFF. This “church” is based in Spindale, North Carolina, and is led by Jane Whaley, and her husband, Sam.

WOFF is a Protestant, non-denominational church. It began in 1979, when the Whaleys converted a former steakhouse into a place of worship. Ms. Whaley was a math teacher, while her husband sold used cars. Although neither had formal training in divinity, Jane Whaley was known as a powerful and charismatic speaker and a compelling leader. Since 1979, she’s seen her cult grow from its humble beginnings consisting of a few people to a couple thousand followers in countries around the world– Brazil, Scotland, and Sweden among them. According to Huddle, Jane Whaley claimed to be a conduit to God, and she made up a long list of “do’s and don’ts” for members. Those who violated the rules were punished with Jane’s wrath. Huddle writes of loud praying, loud screaming, and physical, emotional, and mental abuse delivered by church leaders.

A news story about WOFF followers who left the church due to abuse.

In functional, stoic prose, Huddle explains how he and his ex wife, Martha, met, married, and fell under Jane Whaley’s spell. While I wouldn’t describe Huddle’s writing as particularly dynamic or exciting, I was definitely interested in his story. Of course I find reading about restrictive cults interesting, but I was also compelled to read because, like me, he is a Virginia native who eventually lived in the Carolinas. I recognized a lot of the places he mentions in his book, since I went to graduate school at the University of South Carolina, and later lived in North Carolina with my husband. My husband is an ex Mormon, and I have a cousin who was a Jehovah’s Witness for years, so I have a personal connection to “culty” religious beliefs. And I really had no idea that WOFF existed before I read Locked In.

In many ways, WOFF’s beliefs and rules reminded me of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, with some twists. Whaley didn’t want her followers to celebrate holidays or birthdays. She didn’t even want them to eat turkey on Thanksgiving, although they were welcome to eat it any other time of the year. She didn’t want them to celebrate Halloween, but it was okay to buy the discounted candy on November 1. When Huddle needed heart surgery, he told his doctor that he didn’t want the anesthesia, Versed, nor was the surgeon allowed to play music during the procedure. But it was okay to give him a blood transfusion, which the JWs would have vetoed. He made these stipulations because of Jane Whaley’s rules.

Huddle also had to get approval for any jobs he took. Huddle’s work was mostly in banking, specifically with credit unions. But Jane Whaley and other leaders in the church wanted him to work with church affiliated businesses, even if they didn’t pay enough to meet his financial needs or weren’t the kind of work he wanted to do. When Huddle was caught interviewing for, and moonlighting at, a non-approved job, he got in “trouble” with Jane, and was fired from his church approved job. But of course, his boss had expected Huddle to get right with God and come groveling back to work. He hadn’t expected that Huddle would finally realize that he was in a cult.

Another story about the WOFF.

Making the realization that WOFF is a cult cost Huddle his family, as they weren’t at the same level of awareness that Huddle was. That’s one of the saddest repercussions I’ve seen of people getting involved in culty belief systems. Many times, people fall into cults because they’re seeking solidarity and connection with others. But then, when the rules are too weird and restrictive, and one or two people can’t bear it anymore, they end up being ostracized by their loved ones. I saw it happen to my own husband, although one of his daughters eventually came around and stopped shunning him. I think the LDS church is also trying to be less “weird”, as they want to be seen as mainstream, even if a lot of what they do and some of their beliefs and practices are decidedly “culty”. Watch the news videos, though, and you actually hear Whaley scream, and hear in their voices what happened. They were literally screamed at and abused by Jane Whaley, whom they were supposed to call “Grandmother”.

And another story about the WOFF’s abuses toward members.
A continuation.

I got quite a jolt from the long list of rules Huddle described in the WOFF church. The main rule was this:

Members were required to live life as if Jane Whaley was the ONLY true source of the knowledge of God or God’s will.

Huddle, John. Locked in: My Imprisoned Years in a Destructive Cult (p. 129). Survivor Publishing, LLC. Kindle Edition.

And Jane had a very long and specific list of the way she expected her followers to behave. Here’s a list of 144 “don’ts” from Mr. Huddle’s book. As you can see, some of the rules aren’t that unreasonable, but some are totally intrusive and ridiculous:

I first started posting about the “WOFF Don’t” list in February of 2010. Some rules on this list are now obsolete. WOFF Don’t list Don’ts – (this is a partial “living” list, at times, it takes on a life of its own, continuing to grow…)

Don’t drink alcohol (includes beer, wine or liquor)

Don’t cook with alcohol.

Don’t eat at places that serve alcohol.

Don’t drink root beer.

Don’t drink Cheerwine®.

Don’t drink diet Cheerwine®.

Don’t drink ginger ale.

Don’t smoke cigarettes.

Don’t dip snuff.

Don’t use chewing tobacco.

Don’t associate willingly with those that do use tobacco.

Don’t watch movies (unless Jane gives approval).

Don’t watch videos in your cars.

Don’t enter a movie theater (unless Jane gives approval).

Don’t read newspapers not even the headlines.

Don’t listen to the radio.

Don’t read or handle magazines.

Don’t watch television (except when allowed at church).

Don’t read books that are not approved by leadership.

Don’t read your Bible too much (Amplified version is acceptable).

Don’t take notes during the services. Only record scripture references.

Don’t forget to go to bathroom before the service.

Don’t get up to go to bathroom during a service.

Don’t bring knives of ANY type on church property.

Don’t be late for a service or function.

Don’t park alongside the left side of the sanctuary unless you are approved to do so.

Don’t park in the spaces closest to the back steps. Those are reserved for parents with infants.

Don’t park in the first spot along the front sidewalk. That is reserved for those on watch.

Don’t park along the street. Use the field only when not raining.

Don’t park on the drive to the school (unless approved for that service).

Don’t park in the first handicap space unless approved.

Don’t park under the awning and leave your car running.

Don’t speed when driving around the church.

Don’t go opposite to the accepted traffic flow of counterclockwise. It causes confusion.

Don’t be on your cell phone when approaching the school.

Don’t drive your car with expired tags. You will be reminded.

Men: Don’t wear a color of dress shirt except white or light blue.

Women: Don’t get your heart set on a dress until you check with others to see if anyone else has that dress. You may need to return yours.

Don’t “check out” during the singing.

Don’t look around at others when you are supposed to be singing.

Don’t close your eyes when singing. You could give over to a “religious devil.”

Don’t stare at visitors.

Don’t bring your cell phone into a service. Exceptions are rare and you will be told when you can bring your phone into the service.

Don’t take pictures during a regular service.

Don’t make your own recording of a service.

Don’t bring visitors unless you tell someone in the office so they can tell Jane.

Don’t take pictures of Jane or other members unless you are given permission.

Don’t be loose with your camera at any time.

Don’t put large amounts of cash in the offering unless it is in an envelope.

Don’t complain when the offering plates are passed more than once.

Don’t allow your toddlers to eat in the sanctuary.

Don’t bring snacks or dark drinks or chocolate.

Don’t chew gum in the sanctuary.

Don’t fall asleep during the services. If you get tired, take your Bible and stand up in the back of the sanctuary.

Don’t wear muddy shoes or boots into the sanctuary, leave them at the door-outside.

Don’t leave your tissues after services. Place them in the trash.

Don’t leave coats, Bibles or personal belongings in the sanctuary. It gets locked after each service.

Don’t touch the thermostats in the church unless you are approved.

Don’t wear jeans (exception may be for construction work…maybe).

Don’t wear shorts.

Don’t wear sleeveless dresses or tops.

Don’t wear dresses above the knees.

Don’t wear a bathing suit without having it covered with long shorts (below the knees) and a dark t-shirt.

Don’t wear cargo pants.

Don’t wear or own anything with Nike® on it. Nothing.

Don’t wear black tennis shoes.

Don’t wear high-cut, boot-like tennis shoes.

Men: don’t wear solid white tennis shoes.

Don’t wear a baseball cap sideways or backwards.

Don’t wear t-shirts with slogans or pictures.

Don’t wear “muscle t-shirts.” Men:

Don’t leave the house without a white t-shirt on under your top shirt.

Don’t go swimming with boys and girls together.

Don’t leave the pool toys out when you are done using the pool.

Don’t go outside without sunscreen (daily).

Men: Don’t allow facial hair to grow. No beards, of any type. No “pork chop” sideburns.

Men: Don’t let your hair get long or unkempt.

Don’t interview for a job unless it is “under authority.”

Don’t accept a job unless you check it out with authority.

Don’t make plans for college unless you have Jane check it out.

Don’t sign-up for classes unless Jane Whaley or leadership checks out your schedule.

Don’t buy a house unless Jane Whaley can check it out. Don’t even make an offer on a house unless Jane can “check out” and “get a feel” for the neighborhood.

Don’t decorate your house unless Jane or her helper can help you.

Don’t buy a car without checking with Sam first.

Don’t sell a car or truck without checking with Sam first.

Don’t get major repairs done without checking with Sam.

Don’t buy insurance without checking with the approved church source person for insurance.

Don’t plan a vacation or time away with your family unless you check it out with Jane.

Don’t assume you can go to the funeral or a wedding of a family member without checking it out and/or someone from the church is going with you.

Don’t celebrate Christmas.

Don’t give gifts to others unless you are “under authority.”

Don’t celebrate Easter.

Don’t celebrate other holidays.

Don’t eat turkey on Thanksgiving.

Don’t celebrate your birthday or others in your family or group of friends or co-workers.

Don’t celebrate wedding anniversaries.

Don’t go hunting. Don’t go fishing (well unless it is on an approved “ministry” trip).

Don’t hunt or fish just for sport.

Don’t have bumper stickers on your car (Political season is an exception).

Don’t have “dingle dangles” hanging from your rearview mirror.

Don’t have a slogan license plate on the front of your car.

Don’t buy or drive a “race car” looking car.

Don’t play games on your computer. Erase/delete the games.

Don’t play games on your cell phone. Erase/delete them.

Don’t own or use a “game boy” or other hand held electronic game device.

Don’t play with regular playing cards.

Don’t play hide and go seek.

Don’t play Monopoly®.

Don’t play football.

Don’t ride in the back of a pick-up truck.

Don’t play ping pong.

Don’t play pool.

Don’t play or imitate an “air guitar.”

Don’t play music without singing the words.

Don’t whistle.

Don’t let WOFF children play with children outside of WOFF.

Don’t let children make animal sounds (maybe).

Don’t let children play toy musical instruments (maybe).

Don’t forget to read your Bible before you go to bed.

Don’t let children play with camping toys.

Don’t let children play with “play tools.”

Don’t let children have Bibles with stories and pictures of Jesus (maybe…).

Don’t be late for anything. Be early.

Don’t iron double creases in your pants.

Men: Don’t use urinals that are not enclosed.

Don’t store personal garments unless they are folded neatly in the drawer.

Don’t go to tanning beds.

Don’t ride motorcycles.

Don’t ride ATV’s or dirt bikes.

Men: African American- Don’t shave your head bald.

Don’t start a relationship without checking it out with Jane Whaley.

Don’t decide who you will marry without checking it out with Jane.

Don’t talk to the other person who you are in relationship with unless someone is listening and “guarding the conversation.”

Don’t talk loose and joke around.

Don’t be foolish.

Don’t complain about the list of “don’ts.”

Don’t place the toilet paper on the roll unless it rolls over the top.

Don’t speak to those who have left WOFF unless you ask Jane.

Don’t ask anyone but Jane about those who lately have not been seen in services.

Don’t go in the sanctuary with “sin in your heart,” deal with it before service.

Don’t expect someone else to clean-up your mess.

Don’t back-talk or give excuses for your sin.

Don’t “attack” those in authority.

Don’t question Jane’s authority to run WOFF.

Huddle, John. Locked in: My Imprisoned Years in a Destructive Cult (pp. 118-124). Survivor Publishing, LLC. Kindle Edition.

I appreciated reading Locked In, because I honestly had never heard of this cult before, and I enjoyed reading about Huddle’s experiences in places that were familiar to me. But, if I’m honest, I think this book would have been better if it had been written by someone with more of a flair for writing. Huddle’s writing isn’t terrible, but it’s not very exciting to read. And there was one particular phrase he used twice that made me cringe. At the beginning– prelude– to the book, he writes:

The first awareness of a strange breeze blowing occurred when I saw my wife standing outside the office door in the fellowship hall. She was as nervous as a bridled filly waiting to jump and run. Her nervousness should have sounded a loud alarm, but I missed it.

Huddle, John. Locked in: My Imprisoned Years in a Destructive Cult . Survivor Publishing, LLC. Kindle Edition.

Then, at the end of the book, he includes the same passage:

The first awareness of a strange breeze blowing occurred when I saw my wife standing outside the office door in the fellowship hall. She was as nervous as a bridled filly waiting to jump and run. Her nervousness should have sounded a loud alarm, but I missed it.

Huddle, John. Locked in: My Imprisoned Years in a Destructive Cult (p. 165). Survivor Publishing, LLC. Kindle Edition.

I get the sense that he was trying to be very descriptive about his wife’s strange and unordinary behavior. The trouble is, he doesn’t use these kinds of phrases throughout the book, so it sort of sticks out like a sore thumb and becomes a little contrived. Most of the book is written in a more mundane style, without any fancy similes. I’m not trying to say I would have wanted more descriptions like the one above, which struck me as a little bit over the top. I’m saying that a more relaxed, conversational style might have made the simile work better, and seem less out of place. But I don’t think the book is poorly written. I just think the language is a little bit stiff, which may make the book less interesting and harder to read for some readers.

Personally, I’m glad I took the time to read Locked In. I learned something new from this book, although I highly doubt I ever would have been tempted to join the faith. I’m glad to know about it, just the same, and I think some people will be very interested in Mr. Huddle’s story. I give it three and a half stars out of five, in spite of my misgivings about the writing style. I think the topic is original and fascinating, and the story offers valuable information and a warning to others, which makes it well worth reading. But I also think it’s worth watching the news videos about this church, which really drive home how very abusive and dangerous this cult is.

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

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memories, mental health, narcissists, nostalgia

A shaken can of soda…

I often think of my husband’s dealings with his abusive ex wife as being akin to being trapped in a can of soda that is being shaken. You know what happens when you shake a can of soda. The bubbles get agitated and pressure builds. If someone happens to open the can while it’s agitated, the liquid spews out all over the place, making a huge mess. As we were talking about the most recent situation last night, I was reminded once again. It’s like dealing with a can of soda that has been shaken. Once you’ve been exposed to such a situation, it can replicate in similar situations. You learn habits that might not be the best for dealing with problems. Instead of taking a deep, cleansing breath and being mindful, maybe you’ll explode, like a can of Coke that was just used as a maraca.

This morning, I read about Will Smith’s decision to resign from the Academy in the wake of his decision to hit Chris Rock during his performance last week. I’m sure that this decision wasn’t an easy one for Smith to make. In fact, I’ll bet he’s had a difficult week. I don’t necessarily think he’s wrong to step down, in spite of his Oscar win. What he did was very seriously fucked up, although many people are still saying that Smith was only standing up for his wife. But, as I read about the decision Will made, and remembered what happened at the Oscar Awards ceremony last week, I was suddenly a little bit “triggered” by an old memory. Seeing Chris Rock being hit on live television reminded me of something that happened to me in 1993.

It was June, and my family decided, for some strange reason, to rent a beach house in Corolla, North Carolina. My parents, my three sisters, my brother in law, my baby niece, my brother in law’s brother, Mike, and my ex friend and my sister’s ex friend, Peggy, were all there. The house was very full, with many different personalities in attendance and a lot of alcohol flowing. I was twenty years old, and would be turning twenty-one in a matter of a couple of weeks.

I remember that at that time in my life, I wasn’t getting along with my dad. Actually, for most of the time he was alive when I was an adult, I didn’t get along with my dad. He was often abusive to me, although I’m not sure I recognized it at the time. Add in my sisters and their strong personalities, my brother-in-law, who loves watching us fight, my former friend and Peggy, as well as a baby, and you have a potential recipe for disaster. To make matters worse, I had PMS and was about to start my period.

One night several days into the “vacation”, we all went out to dinner, and my dad was really getting on my nerves.  I made some snarky comment that was directed at my dad.  I don’t remember what I said, but my sister’s friend, Peggy, heard it and apparently thought I was talking to her.  Suddenly, all hell broke loose.  The next day, my sister’s friend suddenly decided to leave.  I remember she had given me $10 because I had planned to make dinner the next night and she asked for the money back.  At the time, I didn’t understand why she was leaving.  I had no beef with her.

All that day, my sister was being shitty to me.  She wouldn’t tell me what her problem was.  I finally lost my temper and confronted her.  She said she was mad at me.  My dad, who had been drinking, decided to break us up.  He stormed over to us and took me into a room, where he proceeded to berate me for two or three hours.  At one point, he hit me in the face, HARD.  I was shocked and told him that if he had been someone on the street, I could have him arrested for assault and battery.  And then I told him that if he ever raised a hand to me again, I would have him arrested.

He exploded.  His face turned beet red and he said, “You go right ahead!  Call the police!”  Then he made some comment about how I lived in his house and I could just pack up and leave.  At some point, I hit my arm on something and developed a really nasty bruise.

I remember that no one helped me during that confrontation, which left me really upset and feeling completely worthless and stepped on.  And then, by that point, I’d started my period, which is probably why I was so irritable and made that rude comment in the first place.

My sisters later came in to talk to me.  The one who had been mad at me explained what had upset her so much that this huge blowup happened.  I told her that I hadn’t been talking to or about her friend, and if she had just asked me, we could have avoided this whole thing.  The scene was embarrassing and traumatic, especially since there were a couple of people there who weren’t family members and had witnessed this Mommie Dearest moment between my dad and me.  The worst part of it, though, was that the next day, my dad acted as if nothing had ever happened.  My sister ended up losing contact with her “friend”, who turned out to be not such a good friend after all.

Five years later, my dad lost his temper again and threatened to hit me. I reminded him of the last time he hit me and what I said to him. He backed off and then started screaming at me. I ended up leaving. Unfortunately, at that time, I was kind of paralyzed. Though I was 26 years old at the time, I was living with my parents and had nowhere to go for more than a night or two. Not long after that, I got on the right depression meds and finally managed to start making plans to get out of my parents’ home. I needed to for their sake, but especially for mine.

Every once in awhile, those old memories resurface. I get “triggered” by certain things. I think watching Chris Rock being slapped by Will Smith was very triggering for me. And the more I think about what happened, the more I realize how wrong Will Smith’s actions were. I think it’s right for him to resign from the Academy. I hope he gets some help for his issues.

Then I started thinking about Chris Rock’s actual joke. Yes, it was tasteless. I don’t really find jokes about other people’s looks funny, as a general rule. But then I think of all of the jokes my favorite comedian, George Carlin, told over the years. I remember when he described former second lady Marilyn Quayle as looking like Prince Charles. I remember jokes Joan Rivers used to make about celebrities and their looks. Don’t even get me started on Eddie Murphy, Jim Carrey, and Don Rickles! I’m not saying it’s “PC” to make fun of how people look, but comedians have always done it. Kids do it on playgrounds. It’s almost like it’s instinct.

And while I think it would be good if Chris Rock and his fellow humorists came up with other jokes, I also realize that when it comes down to it, Rock was comparing Jada Pinkett Smith to a beautiful woman. Demi Moore, who was the lead in G.I. Jane, was in her prime at the time. She was strong, badass, and gorgeous. Yes, she shaved her head for the role, but she was still amazing looking, even if the film itself was kind of stupid.

Jada, herself, even said that she didn’t give “two craps” about what people thought of her bald head. So why was Will Smith so enraged? His profane tirade after slapping Rock also brought back terrible memories. I wouldn’t want to see that again. I think if there’s any chance that Will Smith would ever feel so entitled to walk up on a stage and hit someone like that, he should not be part of the show. This isn’t to mean I think he should be canceled, per se… If he gets some help and learns to control himself, okay. But that was traumatizing for me to watch on video. I actually chose to watch it, knowing what happened beforehand. I’m glad it didn’t take me by surprise.

In any case, watching that event unfold– a triangle involving Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Chris Rock– reminded me of that “shaken can of soda” sense I get sometimes when we talk about Ex… or I’m reminded of that time in my past, when I was regularly having to deal with my dad and his tendency to be violent when the mood struck. Maybe it’s a mild form of PTSD I have, because I realize now that I am no longer able to tolerate abuse. I react badly, as if I’m “saturated”, when there’s abuse afoot. What Will Smith did was definitely abusive and traumatic, not just for Chris Rock, but for everyone who watched it unfold. He reminded me of my dad… and that is not a good thing.

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disasters, ethics, healthcare, modern problems, poor judgment, silliness

“I was born free… I’ll die free.” But Chad, dead people don’t need freedom…

Bill went to Stuttgart yesterday afternoon, leaving me alone with my thoughts in our big German “mansion” (ha ha ha). Actually, compared to our last house, it kind of is a mansion. It’s also priced accordingly, but we’re mostly a lot happier here, so at least we have that going for us, right? I do really miss some things about Stuttgart, though… like the beautiful scenery in the cute towns, and knowing my way around a lot better than I do here. Also, in Stuttgart, we didn’t have to deal with COVID-19, because it didn’t yet exist, hence the reason why I know my way around better down there. I got out of the house a lot more.

Like a lot of people, I am super weary of this stupid virus running my life. I’ve been doing my best to try to avoid getting sick, although I’m mostly living the way I have for the past fifteen years or so… basically as a shut in. That’s just the way life turned out for me, personally, for a lot of reasons. The one thing that has changed, though, is that I choose to stay home a lot more, mainly because here in Germany, we have a lot of annoying rules and restrictions that I prefer not to deal with. And since that means I’m social distancing, I count it as a responsible move. Yes, I am triple vaxxed, and I wear a stupid fucking mask when I’m required to, but I just don’t put myself in situations where that is required. Fortunately, I’m still basically healthy… as far as I know.

The same isn’t true for a 38 year old Hickory, North Carolina man named Chad Carswell. I read about him yesterday in the Washington Post. What makes him notable enough for a big newspaper article? He has severe kidney disease and desperately needs a kidney transplant, and apparently, there are over 100 people who have offered to donate a kidney to him. He also claims to have the money to pay for the surgery.

After almost two years on dialysis, Mr. Carswell’s kidneys are reportedly functioning at 4 percent, and they aren’t going to last much longer. Carswell applied for a kidney transplant to extend his life. But Mr. Carswell is currently not vaccinated against COVID-19, and the hospital where he wishes to get a transplant requires that he be fully vaccinated. Although I don’t remember reading it, my guess is that Carswell’s donor would also have to be fully inoculated. Mr. Carswell steadfastly refuses to get immunized against COVID-19, having already survived two infections, one of which put him in the hospital. Carswell “reasons” that he doesn’t need the shots. He told the post:

“There is not a situation in this world that I’ll get a vaccine. If I’m laying on my deathbed, and they tell me, ‘You have a kidney waiting on you if you get this shot,’ I’ll tell them, ‘I’ll see you on the other side.’”

Based on what I’ve read so far about this man, he says that this is a matter of “freedom” and his “rights”. And that’s fine. I totally get that some people are affronted by being told that they must be vaccinated, or they must wear masks… and they see these requirements as “government overreach”. In fact, I can even agree that a person should ultimately have dominion over what goes in or out of their bodies. However, just as Mr. Carswell has the right to refuse vaccines; his doctors have the right to declare him unfit for surgery because he’s not vaccinated against COVID.

I know a lot of people think COVID-19 is just a “bad flu”, never mind that the flu still kills people most years. I mean, I haven’t had the flu since 2013, but the last time I did have it, I really felt like dying. Indeed, that year, a lot of people in Texas, where we were living at the time, did actually die of the flu. There were even healthy teenagers who died that year of the so-called “bad flu”. In my case, it took me weeks to get over my sickness, and I was basically “healthy”, though unvaccinated against flu. Bill also got sick, but he did get a flu shot that year. He got well much faster than I did. I still remember being too exhausted to stay out of bed for more than a few minutes at a time. It took months to get rid of the hacking cough and lingering fatigue, and that was just the “flu”.

Carswell has already had COVID-19, and he’s been living with kidney disease for awhile… and he says he’s had health issues for years. So obviously, getting COVID-19 doesn’t scare him. I wonder if Mr. Carswell has really stopped to consider what would happen after he gets a transplant. I’m sure he’s been told that he will have to take powerful anti-rejection drugs for the rest of his life. Those drugs basically drastically suppress one’s immune system, meaning that an illness that most people would consider mild could actually kill a transplant recipient. I’ve read a couple of excellent books about people who had organ transplants.

Author Amy Silverstein, who had a heart transplant, very bluntly wrote that getting a transplant is like trading one serious health problem for another, even though her new heart has made it possible for her to survive for many years beyond her initial operation, which took place in the 1980s. She wrote extensively about how the most minor cold bug would send her straight to bed for a couple of weeks. Friends would tell her to do things to “boost” her immune system, not realizing that boosting her immune system could kill her. Being constantly sick and concerned about her health even caused Amy Silverstein to consider suicide, even though she had been given the “gift of life” from a healthy 13 year old girl who had died in an accident at a “fortuitous” time for Amy. Fortunately, at this writing, Amy Silverstein has overcome her depression and, miraculously, is still alive and relatively well after having had a second heart transplant. The first heart lasted an incredible 26 years.

I went looking for more on Chad Carswell last night. I discovered his personal Facebook page, which has a few public posts open about his situation. It appears that he’s well loved in North Carolina and, perhaps around the rest of the country, for his steadfast refusal not to be pushed around by the Democrats… (eye roll). I came away with the idea that Chad Carswell and his friends are actual morons. I’m sorry if that sounds harsh, but that’s seriously how I felt as I read some of the comments left by him and his champions. These folks are apparently NOT mental giants, although Carswell appears to be physically rather imposing, from the chest up anyway. I read that he’s already a double amputee, thanks to his health problems.

There were so many comments about medical freedom and how Carswell was “fighting” for it. I want to ask him… what the hell good does “freedom” do for the dead? And why should someone give up a kidney to someone who doesn’t respect the sacrifice enough to do everything possible to see to it that the transplant is a success? As of yesterday, both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines have been declared safe and are fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration. That was one complaint the anti-vaxxers had about the shots. Now, they don’t have that complaint anymore. Moreover, although vaccinated people can and do contract and spread the virus, it’s clear that vaccinated people don’t usually get nearly as sick as the unvaccinated do, and they are much less likely to be hospitalized for COVID. I’ve already mentioned that donated organs are very precious, and taking the medications to keep those organs functioning will make Carswell medically fragile. So why wouldn’t he want to do what he can to ensure that the donated organ doesn’t go to waste?

Personally, I think Carswell is really enjoying the attention he’s getting. I suspect that this unusual turn of events– Carswell’s health problems, our current ridiculous political situation, COVID-19, and the annoying restrictions people are having to tolerate because of how quickly and easily it spreads, have come together to make the “perfect storm” for a man whose life probably hasn’t been especially noteworthy under other circumstances. I know some have said maybe he’s “afraid” of surgery or of needles, but it’s obvious he’s already endured other medical stuff, to include amputations of both legs. So I don’t think he’s “afraid”. I think he’s enjoying being on the Trump train, getting attention, and being held up as a poster child for the unvaccinated and their “rights”. There’s power that goes along with fame, and this is Carswell’s fifteen minutes of fame. I’m sure it’s intoxicating to experience that kind of fame. But refusing a safe vaccine to protect his donated organ and his health is probably going to cost him his life.

Below are some very telling quotes from Carswell’s very public Facebook page:

“If I DIE in pursuit of my magnificent OBSESSION then so be it I went out FIGHTING for what I love! But today while I’m here I will show you I’m still a LION and I’m still KING of the jungle! I’ll show you how hard I can FIGHT ! “ c t fletcher Pretty stoked about this afternoon! Even more blessed that god showed me along time ago my purpose on this earth and gave me and showed me the strength I needed to stand up and fight for those things but also the ability to help others . This journey isn’t about me I’ve said it 1k times over if it was I would have quit along time ago. It’s about the countless messages I get randomly telling me I help and this journey helps them . It’s the tons of people telling #lifeon daily. It’s not just a saying it’s a movement that just simply means FIGHT! The switch was turned on and now we must LIVE!

And…

You know I’ve been asked a few times the last few days why I keep going . What makes me keep
Fighting . And I told everyone as I always do the same thing it’s not about me it’s about others. But this message I got just a few min ago brought tears to my eyes not just bc the absolute amazing voice behind the song that was recorded just for me but for the sheer thought of a stranger in another state cared for me enough to send me this. All while telling me that she’s had her own struggles but seeing my journey has inspired her to get up stop feeling sorry and FIGHT! This isn’t about me it’s about the ability to change the world and impact people all across the country! If i get a kidney great if I don’t and i help motivate people to keep fighting then I’m just as blessed in heaven! Just take a min and listen to this stunning audio . Thank you to the one who sent me this she didn’t want any credit but I couldn’t let it go without being shared!!! This is why I keep going this is why I fight !

He says he wants to FIGHT, but he’s not trusting the people who can help him win the fight. His situation makes for “pretty” Facebook posts, though. I do hope the woman who wrote to Chad doesn’t follow his example.

The excitement of the story being shared has been dwindled by the sadness that I just found out my sweet dear Mrs Mary Byrd Voss passed away earlier this afternoon. She was a blessing to me and my life she called me her “Greek God” . She’s at peace and with her son billy and her husband now. I love you Mrs Mary and am grateful and thankful you were placed into my life . I’ll cherish our friendship forever ! See you soon! #LIFEON

Yes, Chad, if you keep doing what you’re doing, you will indeed see Mrs. Mary again real soon. But you go on with your bad self.

🚨🚨UPDATE🚨🚨 Listen friends idk for sure yet BUT! Something very promising may be in the mix real real soon! I just had a phone call that may allow us to reach even more people than we thought ! The meeting with the paper went well . Hopefully they do the right thing and right the article it’s like I told her this isn’t about me or for me or for me to get a kidney . I’m prepared to die over this this is about reaching more people and continuing the journey and mission to help others . And I wanted to make sure they knew it wasn’t about me it was more for getting my story out there more to continue to inspire others . But the phone call I got after I left there could be even bigger ! So shoot up a prayer that if the lords will be done this happens so the mission can continue to grow and reach othersUPDATE so was waiting on this call before I said it but Dave Faherty reached out from Channel 9 news and I am meeting with him here in about 15 minutes ! I’ll keep y’all updated !!#LIFEON

And… (“Life on?” Reminds me of “Be Best”.)

Lol so some people think this is me being selfish or this is me wanting attention or this is me whatever the ones who know me know I could care less about that I just want to help people ! But remember when I said today it’s a vax but what’s next ? How bout kids over the age of 5 with cancer being forced to move out of the Ronald McDonald house if not vaccinated by the end of the month ? WAKE UP PEOPLE! The choice we make today effect the life we live tomorrow !!#LIFEON — with Chad Carswel.

These are just a few public statements Mr. Carswell has made. It’s clear to me that he’s quite pleased to be newsworthy, and he’s enjoying the power he’s getting from taking this stand. And as a fellow American, I certainly support his right to “freedom”, although I think if he really wants to commit suicide, there are more efficient ways to do that than languish with kidney disease. I want to ask Chad how his being very sick and facing death for want of a vaccine is “helpful” to anyone, especially to those who really do want to live and are willing to do what they need to do to make that happen. Millions of people have had the COVID shots and the VAST majority of them are fine.

As far as I can tell, no one is forcing Chad Carswell to get vaccinated. At this point, no one is forcing anyone to be vaccinated. What’s happening is that conditions are being placed on those who choose not to be vaccinated. Those conditions are being placed to protect those who are willing to think of the community as a whole instead of just themselves. COVID-19 is extremely contagious, and as a medically compromised person whose body has already been through hell– to include having had COVID twice– I want to ask Chad why he doesn’t value his own health more. And why is he seeking help from medical experts if he won’t follow their advice? Why go to a surgeon and ask for a donated kidney if you don’t trust doctors when they tell you that getting COVID-19 when you are extremely immunocompromised is a terrible idea that will likely lead to tragic consequences? Why should medical professionals waste their time, energy, and resources to help someone who apparently won’t help themselves? If Chad won’t get a vaccine, how do healthcare professionals know that he’ll take anti-rejection medications?

And better yet… why should I give a shit? Well… I think I give a shit because of comments like the one below, which I’ve seen being shared on social media.

Double amputee Chad Carswell of North Carolina must have a kidney transplant to live.Multiple businesses raised funds for the surgery, and more than 100 people have offered to donate a kidney to spare his life.But Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem told him he can’t have the life-saving procedure unless he gets vaccinated! The vax has proven completely ineffective and doesn’t protect those who got the jab from getting it…yet the hospital requires it or will let the man die. The facility that should be helping save his life is now preventing that help. Think about that….

The person who posted the above comment is clearly not a medical expert. I looked at her Facebook page, and these were her credentials:

Someone please tell me how someone with these clearly “artsy” credentials is qualified to comment about someone else’s health status? What does she know about organ donation, virus transmission, or vaccines?

But the person who wrote the above post can obviously write. She has worked in public relations, marketing, and “ghost writing”. She’s studied music. So that tells me she can put on a performance. She can write coherently. If she’s done public relations, she probably knows how to influence people and spin a narrative that will cause less informed people to care and share her wrong-headed conclusions. So that makes her a potentially dangerous source of disinformation. This person isn’t a medical doctor. She isn’t a nurse. She hasn’t studied public health or epidemiology. She does public relations! I don’t even know if she knows Mr. Carswell personally, or has any real knowledge of his medical situation or even the general needs and concerns of people who need organ transplants. Yet she’s trying to rally the troops to his cause, which is almost surely bound to end in death if he doesn’t get with the program. To use her own words, “think about that.” Especially since, at this writing, the above post has 148 “likes”, 284 reactions, and 65 shares. And every time someone shares her post, the potential for it going “viral” increases, which means that more people will possibly be misinformed. (Incidentally, for anyone who wants to accuse me of the same thing, I actually DO have a master’s degree in public health and used to work in epidemiology. No, I’m not an expert, and I don’t claim to be one, but I do have faith in the people who have been to school for much longer than I have, studying medicine, public health, and related subjects.)

Below is a post from one of Carswell’s lifelong friends…

I’ve known Chad Carswel my entire life! As kids we use to crawl through the drainage pipe under his grandmas driveway pretending to be army men! Chad is a stand up man, and an inspiration to all who know him! If anyone deserves a kidney he is definitely on the top of the short list! To refuse him life saving medical care over a vaccine that isn’t even effective at preventing infection is absurd and asinine! How is refusing life saving treatment “doing no harm” as the oath states? My hope and prayer is that he will find a doctor with half a brain and an ounce of sympathy and perform this surgery for him! Please friends and family lift him up in prayer! Pray for healing, and for a doctor that will stand by his oath!

Friend, if you really think Chad is a “stand up man” (impressive, given his double amputee status), and “deserves a kidney”, then take a moment to ask yourself why someone should donate an organ to a person who doesn’t follow medical directives by people who have studied for years to become medical experts? Why should people who have given so much time, money, and energy to study medicine do surgery on someone who stubbornly refuses to take their advice and, in fact, spreads disinformation about a deadly virus in his PR campaign against vaccines and, frankly, liberal politics? This really shouldn’t be about “owning the libs” or anything else political. This is about a man’s health– life and death– as well as the well-being of those who are following this story. If something isn’t done soon, your friend who needs “life saving medical care” is no longer going to need treatment, or freedom. Dead people, in fact, have no need for “life saving medical care” or freedom.

Anyway… in spite of this lengthy screed I’ve written, I genuinely do think Chad Carswell has every right to make his own decisions. But that right extends to other people, too. Right now, the evidence is clear– worldwide, mind you, not just in Biden’s “liberal” camp– that COVID vaccines are essential for preventing severe disease. The vast majority of competent healthcare professionals, and obviously the ones in charge of Chad Carswell’s case, agree that the vaccines are absolutely necessary. And yes, most of those people do have more than “half a brain”, and I’m sure a lot of them have sympathy and, more importantly, empathy, for Chad’s half-baked position on COVID vaccines. But even Donald Trump has said vaccines are good, and God knows, Trump wants every vote he can get in 2024. He got vaccinated, too, but if things keep going the way they’re going, his base is going to go extinct. As much as I despise Trump, I do have beloved friends and relatives who support him. I hope they have, at least, followed Trump’s lead on COVID vaccines.

So… to Chad and his followers, I would say, if you don’t want to get a vaccine, that’s certainly your choice. But surgeons can also choose to declare you unfit for surgery, just as they might if you were determined not strong enough to survive. Freedom isn’t a one way street that just works for YOU. It goes both ways. And rules must apply to everyone; otherwise, we’ll have anarchy, which I understand Trump is against– he did call for “law and order”, right (except on January 6, 2021, that is)? So, I genuinely wish you luck, and I hope all of those thoughts and prayers lift you into miracle territory. Maybe there is a benevolent surgeon working at a less restrictive hospital system who will give you what you seek. If I were you, I’d start looking far and wide. Time is most likely not on your side.

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book reviews, business

Repost: Fascinating look at the Thalhimer family of Virginia…

Here’s another reposted book review, which appears as/is, and was originally written on October 6, 2015. It comes up because last night, I was remembering The Sword and the Kilt, and trying to describe popovers to Bill.

Having grown up mostly in Virginia in the 70s and 80s, I often shopped at the Thalhimers department store at Coliseum Mall in Hampton, Virginia.  Since I was a kid back then, I didn’t know anything about Thalhimers or any of the other venerable department stores that were around back in the day.  I just know my mom would shop there with me when I managed to convince her to take me to the mall, instead of AAFES, for my school clothes.  When I got older, I used to go shopping with my former best friend and her mother and we’d have lunch at Thalhimers very cool medieval themed restaurant, The Sword and the Kilt.  It was the first place I ever had a popover.

Sadly, back in the early 1990s, Thalhimers was lost in a hostile takeover.  The May Company, which bought a number of historic department store brands in those days, pretty much ruined Thalhimers to the point at which it was no longer recognizable.  It finally died a pitiful death after 150 years of business, mostly in Virginia and North Carolina.

An interview with Elizabeth Thalhimer Smartt, author of Finding Thalhimers.

I don’t know what prompted me to research Thalhimers, but I somehow ended up finding out about Elizabeth Thalhimer Smartt’s 2010 book, Finding Thalhimers.  I downloaded the book and just finished it today.  I feel like I’ve learned a lot about the history of a local retail giant with a fascinating history.  Reading Smartt’s descriptions of the years when the business was booming made me wish I were older so I could have seen more of it for myself.

As you might guess by her name, Smartt is herself a member of the Thalhimer family, and she grew up watching her dad go to work at “The Store”.  Smartt fantasized about one day being president of her family’s business, but unfortunately, it was not to be.  Discount chains like Wal-Mart, Target, and even K-Mart spelled death for many department stores. 

Finding Thalhimers is about more than just a retail department store chain.  It’s also about the fascinating history of the Thalhimer family, which originated in Tairnbach, a tiny town not too far from Heidelberg, Germany.  Since I am currently living near Stuttgart and have visited Heidelberg, this part of the story was especially interesting.  I learned things I never knew.  For instance, Smartt writes that her family is Jewish and back in the 1800s, Jews were not allowed to have last names.  When the law changed, the parents of the man who would found Thalhimers in Richmond, Virginia, decided to give themselves a name that reflected their origin in Germany.

Smartt then takes readers on a journey across the Atlantic Ocean.  Her ancestors landed in New Orleans and made their way to Richmond, where they would have a profound effect on the local economy and the city’s development.  I enjoyed reading about how Thalhimers had a friendly rivalry with Miller & Rhodes, another venerable Virginia department store institution.  I remember shopping there as a kid, too.  Unfortunately, they also perished just a couple of years before Thalhimers did.

I enjoyed reading about how the name Thalhimer was originally spelled Thalheimer.  Thanks to a sign painter’s sloppy spelling, the brand’s name changed forever.  Smartt’s book touches on so many notable times in history, too.  She writes about an ancestor who spent three months with a friend driving around Europe in his father’s Chevrolet, making sure to avoid the political unrest in Germany that was going on during the 1930s.  The young man visited stores, collected ideas for the business and products to be offered, and had a good time being young. 

Smartt writes about the civil rights era of the early 1960s, when Thalhimers and Miller & Rhodes were targeted for sit ins.  I was impressed by how Thalhimers handled the racial tensions of the times.  And she reminds readers that her family once owned the Golden Skillet fried chicken restaurants that once dotted the land.  I used to love Golden Skillet chicken, though it never ended up being the next KFC as some in the family had predicted.

Smartt also writes about some of the business deals her ancestors made, some of which were very shrewd and kind of fascinating.  As someone who grew up visiting Richmond and the surrounding areas, I was very intrigued by her descriptions of what it was like there as the Thalhimer family built their business.  They made some amazing deals that netted huge profits.  I almost got the sense that things might have been different for the Thalhimer family had they focused on what the Walton family was doing.  But that would have certainly upset many of their loyal fans.

An ad for Thalhimers… I remember when furs were okay to wear.

I could tell this project was a labor of love for Elizabeth Thalhimer Smartt, who is just three years younger than I am.  Her writing style is very loving and warm– almost reverent– and she clearly enjoyed talking to many of her relatives and people who were involved in Thalhimers’ success.  I got the sense that she enjoys a close bond with her family, especially her dad.  I was impressed by how she pieced together her family’s history and was able to trace it all the way to their origins in Germany, which she visited with her parents, husband, and sister.

Overall, I really enjoyed Smartt’s book, though I get the sense that she writes the story while wearing rose colored glasses.  I can’t really blame her, since she’s writing about her family.  But naturally, it’s not the most objective look at the Thalhimer family.  I’m sure there are people out there who might have a different take on some of the stories Smartt shares.  I have no horse in that race, though, so I’ll just say I really enjoyed reading this book and am happy to recommend it, especially to Virginia and North Carolina natives who remember Thalhimers.  It’s also a good read for aspiring businesspeople. 

Edited to add: Elizabeth Thalhimer Smart used to have a Facebook page for this book. I wrote a comment and she was kind enough to respond. It turns out that I currently live not too far from where the Thalhimer family originated.

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book reviews, true crime

Repost: My review of Fatal Vision…

Here’s a repost of the review I wrote of Fatal Vision by Joe McGinness. I previously reposted this review on June 19, 2014, but the review itself was written on April 14, 2005. It appears here as/is.

From 2014

I wrote this review in the spring of 2005, not knowing that years later, I’d live pretty close to Fayetteville, North Carolina.  Joe McGinness did a great job writing the suspicious story of Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald, a Princeton educated Army physician who was accused of murdering his wife, Colette, and their two young daughters, Kimberley and Kristen, on February 17, 1970.  Dr. MacDonald was ultimately not tried by the Army because the investigation of the crime was a fiasco.  In 1979, MacDonald asked McGinness to write a book about the case, as he was being brought up on charges in North Carolina.  In 1979, MacDonald was living in California, making big bucks as an ER doctor.  The murder charges cramped his style.  McGinness wrote the book…  and ultimately, he became very suspicious… 

Original 2005 review

Here’s another review of a book about murder. I don’t know what’s gotten into me lately. Last year at this time, I was writing reviews about books on managed care… Hmmm, now that I think about it, maybe the two are connected! Anyway, I managed to pick up Joe McGinniss’s book, Fatal Vision. The original version of Fatal Vision was published in 1983. I just re-read the 1989 version, which includes an afterword that was written in 1985 and an epilogue that was written in 1989. Needless to say, this book has been around for awhile. According to Amazon.com, it has been updated as recently as 1999. Since this book has been reissued so many times, I am left with the impression that it’s still very intriguing to people besides me. The first time I read Fatal Vision was sometime in 1996, when I was overseas in the Republic of Armenia. At the time, I looked at it as just another book in English. I was desperate for ANYTHING written in English, so I didn’t pay much attention to the subject matter. Little did I know that I would be so riveted by this story.

Fatal Vision is the tale of Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald, a Princeton-educated physician and former Green Beret soldier who was convicted of murdering his young pregnant wife, Colette, and their two daughters, 5 year old Kimberley and 2 year old Kristen, on February 17, 1970. The murders were particularly brutal. While in their beds, all three murder victims were savagely clubbed and stabbed with ice picks. MacDonald himself was also injured. It was he who had summoned the military police early that morning to come to his quarters. MacDonald claimed that the intruders who had murdered his family were acid crazed hippies who were mimicking Charles Manson’s murderous spree. For his part, MacDonald managed to escape the fracas with only a few scratches and a partially collapsed lung. He even told the bystanders what they should do if he went into shock while they were waiting for the ambulance to take him to Womack Hospital on Fort Bragg.

When MacDonald came under suspicion for fabricating the story about the hippie intruders, people began to suspect that he was the one who committed the murders. MacDonald vehemently denied these accusations, but he was still subjected to investigation. The Army investigation was badly botched and the subsequent hearing was a fiasco; as a result, MacDonald ended up not being tried by the military because of a lack of evidence. MacDonald then tried to get on with his life.

Joe McGinniss came into contact with MacDonald when MacDonald asked him to write a book about the case. McGinniss and MacDonald met in June 1979, in Huntington Beach, California. Dr. MacDonald was living the sweet life as head of emergency services for St. Mary’s Hospital in Long Beach. At the time, MacDonald was thirty-five years old, deeply tanned, and muscular, and lived in a $350,000 condominium (remember, this was the late 1970s!). He drove a rare Citroen-Maserati with the vanity license plate JRM-MD and owned a thirty foot yacht called the Recovery Room.

MacDonald was forced to go back to North Carolina to face charges of murder. He was surrounded by friends in California who didn’t believe that he was capable of murder. Before MacDonald left California, they even hosted a charity dinner in his honor to help raise money for his legal fees. McGinniss, who initially believed that MacDonald was innocent, agreed to come live with MacDonald in North Carolina, get to know him, and write a book about the case. I’m sure that MacDonald thought that the book would help clear his name… in fact, it had just the opposite effect. McGinniss ultimately came to the same conclusion that the jury did, that Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald killed his pregnant wife and children. Dr. MacDonald was ultimately sentenced to three consecutive life terms in prison for murdering his family.

Fatal Vision is meticulously written and researched. McGinniss does a fantastic job of walking readers through the case and laying out all of the details of what happened on February 17, 1970. He includes pictures that were used as evidence in the case, as well as a floor plan of the quarters where MacDonald and his family lived. More tellingly, McGinniss also includes passages that are written in MacDonald’s voice. If MacDonald actually spoke the way he comes across in this manuscript, I think my suspicions would have been aroused, too. The sections in MacDonald’s voice seem to be very telling about the man’s character. They read as if McGinniss transcribed them word for word, right down to his stammers and gratuitous use of “ums and uhs”. McGinniss came to know MacDonald well, and that was why he changed his mind about MacDonald’s innocence.

One potential drawback to Fatal Vision is that it’s a fairly long book. The paperback version of Fatal Vision runs at just under 700 pages. But I found that the book was a fairly fast read because it’s so interesting. I couldn’t put the book down and found that I was able to read it within a few days. I also wish that there had been a few more pictures included. The picture section in my copy of Fatal Vision includes only black and white photographs. I don’t normally need pictures to enjoy a good book, but I do find them helpful in books about true crime. They help me get a better sense of what happened.

True crime fans will almost certainly find Fatal Vision a fascinating read. Fatal Vision is true crime writing at its best and I found it very informative and interesting. In fact, I believe that anyone who is a serious true crime fan is most likely to have already read Fatal Vision because it’s become a classic in the true crime genre. It truly surprises me that there are only two reviews of this book on Epinions.com.

And comments from the 2014 repost…

ShelleyJune 19, 2014 at 10:25 PM

Lawfrog here, too lazy to log into my other gmail account. That book has a long history and McGuinness ended up having to pay MacDonald some money after MacDonald sued him over this book. Interesting read about the legal issues surrounding this book: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fatal_Vision_controversy

  1. knottyJune 20, 2014 at 12:25 AM Yeah, I read about how he sued Joe McGinness and won. I have also read about Fatal Justice, which supposedly refuted McGinness’s account. I don’t remember if I’ve read Fatal Justice or not… will have to check.

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