Best pitch of 2007

"It's just like American Beauty, only with dragons."

Don't look for it any time soon.
Which road for Pakistan now?

Bhutto Assassinated in Attack on Rally

Now on-line

The website:

There are some video goodies, maps and documents there, as well as one-click ordering through Amazon and (soon, I hope) your local bookstore.
How close . . .

Nazi Germany's concentration camps started out as detention centers for political figures . . .

From the New York Times

Hoover Planned Mass Jailing in 1950

A newly declassified document shows that J. Edgar Hoover, the longtime director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, had a plan to suspend habeas corpus and imprison some 12,000 Americans he suspected of disloyalty.

Hoover sent his plan to the White House on July 7, 1950, 12 days after the Korean War began. It envisioned putting suspect Americans in military prisons.

Hoover wanted President Harry S. Truman to proclaim the mass arrests necessary to “protect the country against treason, espionage and sabotage.” The F.B.I would “apprehend all individuals potentially dangerous” to national security, Hoover’s proposal said. The arrests would be carried out under “a master warrant attached to a list of names” provided by the bureau.

The names were part of an index that Hoover had been compiling for years. “The index now contains approximately twelve thousand individuals, of which approximately ninety-seven per cent are citizens of the United States,” he wrote.

Never trust a man in high heels . . .

The story:
Merry Friggin' Christmas

And New Year, too.
Blind Tommy & Father Gerard (10)

Ordinarily, the detective from out of state did not attend the extradition hearing. But today was Detective O’Flattery’s last day on the job, and as a matter of personal pride, he wanted to be there.

One of the guards passed along the information that Father Gerard wanted to speak to him. The detective took a certain personal, professional pride in that, though he despised the priest. Gerard – he refused to call him father any longer – was the kind of man that had hurt the Catholic church deeply.

“What can I do for you, father?” asked O’Flattery when he met him in the hall.

Father Gerard shook his head. “Nothing.”

“Nothing? No confession?”

The priest knew he was being mocked. “An innocent man has no need to confess,” replied the priest.

“Right,” said the detective.

Father Gerard turned away from him, prodding the two sheriff’s deputies to take him into court. His head felt clear; it had been days since he’d had a drink. And for the first time in his life, he knew he would never have another one.

Just outside the courtroom, he was met by a court-appointed lawyer, a young woman not too long out of law school who stood shifting her weight from foot to foot as she spoke.

“I’m your lawyer,” she told him, sticking out her hand. She began to explain the process.

“It’s all right,” he told her. “They’ll convict me no matter what you do. So it’s all right.”

“You can’t give up.”

“I haven’t,” he told her. “For the first time in many, many years, I haven’t given up at all.”

Roguishly speaking . . .

Gotta love him.
The greatest Christmas song
of all time

Blink 182. Crank it up.
Iran's nukes

It just keeps getting worse . . .

Iran Receives Nuclear Fuel in Blow to U.S.

Published: December 18, 2007

WASHINGTON — The United States lost a long battle when Russia, as it announced on Monday, delivered nuclear fuel to an Iranian power plant that is at the center of an international dispute over its nuclear program. Iran, for its part, confirmed on Monday plans to build a second such plant.

The article:

Blind Tommy & Father Gerard (9)

Father Gerard slept fitfully that night. Finally, sometime in the early morning, he had a dream.

He was in the chapel where Sister Agnes had been murdered. He was kneeling, and praying for guidance – something he had not done in many, many years.

A voice came from behind him.

“You gave your oath as a priest. A confession is a confession”

Father Gerard spun around. Blind Tommy stood behind him. So did Sister Agnes, blood gaping from her wounds. She put one hand on Blind Tommy’s shoulder.

The other stretched toward him.

Father Gerard spent the rest of the night lying awake, staring at the ceiling, listening to the sounds of the jail above him, thinking of everything he had done in his life, but mostly thinking of his time as a priest.

Nearly all of it had been a waste. Much of the good he could have done had been washed away by liquor. Over many years, his spirit had grown ever smaller, the voice of God within him fainter and fainter.

As a young man, he had longed for God to call him to do one great thing, one act that would touch many souls.

But God had never responded.

Until now.

But what was he supposed to do? Let a real murderer go free? Should he take his place in prison?

If he knew that Blind Tommy had reformed, perhaps it would be different. If he was sure that the confession had been legitimate, perhaps it would be different.

What sort of test had God given him?

(more to come)

Now in paperback

. . . and just in time for Christmas.
Dogboy's Christmas shopping

Dogboy was over the other day.

Me: How's the Christmas shopping going?
Dogboy: Under control.
M: What's that mean?
D: Oh, I never do my shopping until Christmas morning. But I have it all planned.
M: Christmas morning?
D: Yup.
M: What, are you buying gift certificates for a Chinese restaurant?
D: Nah. I hit the adult video store. No lines on Christmas.

Married life must really agree with him
Blind Tommy & Father Gerard (8)

Father Gerard was stunned. The charge that he had killed the nun was outrageous. Even worse, the detective had woven an entire narrative to explain the crime. According to O’Flattery, the nun was about to have him reassigned for drinking, and Father Gerard didn’t want to leave his cushy hospital job. The story was absurd.

And yet everyone believed it, even the archbishop. He offered Father Gerard scant support; he wouldn’t even find funds for a lawyer.

Perhaps, Father Gerard thought, from the distance he did look guilty. He had been nearby.

He hadn’t liked the nun. But then, no one who knew her did either. She was a severe woman who liked nothing and felt no one else should, either. The only jobs anyone ever gave her were ones she could do entirely by herself.

Father Gerard knew who the murderer was. To free himself, he only had to reveal the confession.

At first, he was in so much disbelief that he didn’t consider doing that. He was in something close to shock – arrested, taken to a small, dank jail, he felt abandoned. For the first time in years he thought of Christ in the garden before his arrest, abandoned by his apostles.

A day passed. He was the only prisoner in the dank cell block, which smelled of rotten cabbage. He wasn’t allowed a drink; his body began going through withdrawal. At the end of the day, Father Gerard decided he would tell everything he knew. Replaying what had happened between himself and Blind Tommy so many years before, he decided that the confession lacked the elements necessary for it to be a “legal” confession. There would be no sin in revealing it.

In the morning, he stuck his face between the metal bars of the door.

“I want to speak to Detective O’Flattery,” he yelled.

The guard at the end of the block lumbered down in his direction.

“What are you saying?” asked the officer.

“I have important information for the detective on my case.”

“You can talk to him tomorrow, at the extradition hearing,” said the guard. “You want my advice, though – whatever you want to say, you ought to save it for your lawyer.”

“I don’t have a lawyer. I don’t need one. I’m innocent.”

The guard began to laugh. “Right Father.”

Father Gerard sank onto his cot, dejected. There was no hope.

(more to come)
Never let cheap vodka go to waste . . .

'Fess up - how many times has this happened to you?

Man Nearly Dies Downing Vodka at Airport

BERLIN (AP) -- A man nearly died from alcohol poisoning after quaffing two pints of vodka at an airport security check instead of handing it over to comply with new rules about carrying liquids aboard a plane, police said Wednesday.

The incident occurred Tuesday at the Nuremberg airport, where the 64-year-old man was switching planes on his way home to Dresden from a vacation in Egypt.

New airport rules prohibit passengers from carrying larger quantities of liquid onto planes, and he was told at a security check he would have to either throw out the bottle of vodka or pay a fee to have his carry-on bag checked.

Instead, he chugged the vodka -- and was quickly unable to stand or otherwise function, police said.

A doctor called to the scene determined he had possibly life-threatening alcohol poisoning, and he was sent to a Nuremberg clinic for treatment. The man, whose name was not released, is expected to be able to go home in a few days.

Blind Tommy & Father Gerard (7)

Father Gerard had hit rock bottom long before Detective O’Flattery came to arrest him, but neither the detective nor the priest knew that.

Gerard was still a priest, but just barely. Even at a time when the church was struggling to find celebrants for mass, Father Gerard couldn’t find a regular job. He spent a great deal of time wandering in his mind, thinking of his youth, of what he might have done. He often thought he had made a mistake becoming a priest. He couldn’t remember why he had made the decision, though by now it was far too late for him to reverse it.

Detective O’Flattery tracked Father Gerard down through the diocese to a home for retired priests in Maine, where he was living on the sufferance of the director, an old classmate from the seminary. He called him one afternoon, asking vague questions about Sister Agnes’s death. The priest gave what details he could about the murder, omitting Blind Tommy’s confession. The conversation was short, and pleasant. In truth, Father Gerard was pleased that anyone would want to talk to him about anything, and when he hung up he wished he had spoken longer.

The conversation they had two days later, going over the same points, was longer, but not nearly as nice. The detective, respectful at first, seemed openly skeptical and even antagonistic, so much so that Father Gerard concluded he was drinking – a failing he was very familiar with, and hung up on him.

Three days later, Detective O'Flattery arrived at the rectory to arrest Father Gerard for the murder of Sister Agnes.

(more to come)

Proof Christmas makes people crazy . . .

Just as you've always suspected . . .

Lead Found in Some Christmas Lights

From Ronni Berke and Greg Hunter,
Posted: 2007-12-10 12:32:34

(Dec. 10) -- For many families, having the children help decorate the Christmas tree is a treasured tradition, starting with the strands of lights. But a CNN analysis of four common brands of Christmas lights shows levels of lead experts say are high enough to be dangerous to children.

Manufacturers do not hide the fact that lead is part of the PVC insulation that insulates Christmas light wiring. Lead is used legally to stabilize polyvinyl chloride so it does not crack or crumble with age. The lead also acts as a fire retardant.
Then again, how many people eat Christmas lights . . . outside of your immediate family, that is?
Blind Tommy & Father Gerard (6)

In many police departments, detective approaching their retirement date find they have little to do. No one wants to give a “short timer” an important case, because if he leaves in the middle of it, most likely it will never be closed. So over the last few weeks of his career, Detective O’Flattery found himself with a lot of time on his hands. A classic workaholic, he searched for some way of being productive. One day in a fit of nostalgia, he began reviewing the case notes on the Sister Agnes murder.

As he went through the notes – most of which were now on very yellowed paper – he realized that he and the two detectives helping him had not done a very good job interviewing either of the priests at the crime scene. This was hardly the only flaw in the investigation – the crime scene itself had not been secured properly, and the forensics were a joke – but it was one of the few mistakes he could fix, or at least attempt to fix.

Father Chris happened to be easy to find – he was the parish priest one town over from where Detective O’Flattery lived. Father Chris’s memory for details was not the best, but he did remember one thing that O’Flattery found immediately significant: Father Gerard had acted very strangely that morning.

“How well did he know Sister Agnes?” asked O’Flattery.

The detective was actually wondering whether the priest had been very close to the nun and thus deeply troubled by her death; in that case, it might be worth tracking him down for some lacking details. Father Chris took the question differently, and surprised him with the answer.

“He didn’t like her at all. They were always having disagreements,” said Father Chris. “Sister Agnes knew he drank, and called him on it regularly.”

And from that one remark, Detective O’Flattery’s course was set.

(more to come . . .)

Never call a murderer a murderer

Me: So how's the new true crime book going?

Him: It was going pretty well, but now there are all these legal issues. The lawyers are worried about libel and . . .

M: Wait a second - you're worried about libeling a convicted mass murdering pig farmer?

H: Yeah.

M: This is why I don't do true crime.

Take 2

Rangers at Dieppe

Blind Tommy & Father Gerard (5)

Sister Agnes’s body was laid out on the altar. A crime scene expert would later tell the press that the murderer had deliberately arranged it to satisfy a some ritual that was taking place deep within his subconscious. The expert would also point out that the sister’s arms were spread in the manner of Christ’s when He was on the cross, and that six of the wounds were similar to those said to be suffered by Christ when He was crucified.

He offered no theory about the other fifty stab wounds that perforated the nun’s body.

Though she had not been sexually molested, e nun’s skirt had been pulled up above her waist, leaving her body exposed.

Father Gerard, of course, knew that Blind Tommy had committed the murder. But he couldn’t tell the police that. Blind Tommy had confessed to him, and the vow of secrecy during confession was inviolate.

Was it a real confession? Father Gerard agonized over the question. It certainly wasn’t formal or traditional, and yet Blind Tommy certainly believed that he was gaining absolution. Was that the measure of the sacrament?

Another priest might have sought out a confessor or other spiritual advisor to discuss the point, but Father Gerard sought only his familiar whiskey. Once or twice he tried to bring up the matter with a superior, but always lost his courage as the conversation turned to his own weaknesses. Meanwhile, the police spent all their energy looking for a suspect profiled by the expert, who believed he was of high intelligence and deep convictions. Blind Tommy wasn’t even a suspect.

Drinking heavily, Father Gerard soon lost his post at the hospital. His assignments began a steady spiral downward. No job is insignificant to the Lord, but in the Catholic hierarchy, there is significance and then there is significance, and then there are the jobs that Father Gerard was given.

Sister Agnes’s murder was forgotten by most people. Blind Tommy moved away. Father Gerard had his own problems.

Eventually, the only person that remembered the story was a local police detective named O’Flattery. It was the only murder case he’d ever been assigned. Failing to solve it had ruined any chance he had of getting a better job. Worse, it offended him deeply. The detective hadn’t gone to Catholic school, and so had a benign, even saintly view of nuns. For ten years following the murder, he swore to himself that he would solve it.

And then, two weeks before he was due to retire, he did.

(more to come)
Deadline time . . .

Gotta up the caffeine count . . .
Blind Tommy & Father Gerard (4)

Speechless, Father Gerard waited for Blind Tommy to explain what had happened. But Blind Tommy said nothing else. The priest didn’t know if Blind Tommy was fantasizing, or if he had actually committed murder.

Neither seemed possible.

“Give me my penance,” said Blind Tommy. “What’s my penance?”

Years later, Father Gerard wouldn’t remember exactly what he said., though he was sure he did say something. He didn’t grant absolution – the sacrament requires a certain form, not to mention a demonstration of remorse and willingness to repent that were difficult to discern under the circumstances. But whatever he said, Blind Tommy’s face lit up with relief. He thought he was absolved. He shook Father Gerard’s hand vigorously, then ran off.

Still unsure what was going on, Father Gerard went into the building. There he was met by the other priest assigned to the hospital, Father Chris, whose face was stone white.

"Sister Agnes is dead," said the other priest. "Killed on the altar in the chapel. The police are on the way."

(more to come)

Blind Tommy & Father Gerard (3)

It was very early morning on Thanksgiving. Father Gerard got up to say the early morning mass in the hospital chapel. Mass was scheduled for six, but Father Gerard always got down to the chapel ten minutes before, stopping on the way to get a cup of coffee from the hospital cafeteria. Probably alone among its customers, Father Gerard loved the coffee they brewed. It was strong, with a slight metallic taste from the pot, and for some reason it reminded him of his youth.

Father Gerard was on his way from the rectory around twenty to six. It was cold, below freezing, and he had a long black coat on over his cassock. Just as he got to the door of the hospital, Blind Tommy came out of the building.

Usually, Blind Tommy stared at the ground and barely noticed anyone until they were right in his face; he’d even pass by Father Gerard without saying hello, even though the priest was probably the closest thing to a friend he had. But today, Blind Tommy looked into Father Gerard’s face and immediately grabbed his arms.

“I need you to hear my confession,” said Blind Tommy.

“Your confession? It’s a bit early for that, Tommy.”

“Please father.”

“Well all right. Come along to the chapel.”

“Not in the chapel.”

There were no confessionals in the chapel, so there was no question of real privacy there. Still, the way Blind Tommy said it alarmed Father Gerard.

“Is something wrong?” he asked.

“I need to give my confession.”

“In the rectory then,” said Father Gerard. “Come along.”

But Blind Tommy had already started. “Bless me father, for I have sinned. It has been two weeks since my last confession.”

“Two days, Tommy,” said Father Gerard. “Only two days.”

Blind Tommy didn’t listen. Words were tumbling out of his mouth. Sins – lying, coveting a fellow workman’s watch – and murder.

“Murder?” said Father Gerard.

“I killed her, Father. I didn’t mean to. It was like the devil took hold of me.”

(more to come)
Speaking of nukes . . .

One of the first-wave trailers* for the new Rogue Warrior book.... the audio levels are still kind of funky . . .
*I hate that term

Report: Iran nukes on hold

While the behind the scenes politics and diplomatic consternation are getting much of the play in news coverage of the combined intelligence report on the Iran's (suspended?) nuke program, the interesting part of the report is this:

The estimate on how long it would take Iran to build a nuclear weapon remains unchanged: Two years.

Suspended or not, the more centrifuges* Iran obtains, the faster the clock ticks. The problem hasn't gone away.
*Along with the rest of the infrastructure. The centrifuges are just the most conspicuous and oft reported parts.
Viva Venezuela

Venezuelans Deny Chavez Additional Authority
President Concedes Defeat in 51-49 Vote

By Juan Forero
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, December 3, 2007; A01

CARACAS, Venezuela, Dec. 3 -- Venezuelan voters delivered a stinging defeat to President Hugo Chavez on Sunday, blocking proposed constitutional changes that would have given him political supremacy and accelerated the transformation of this oil-rich country into a socialist state.

Hours after the final ballots were cast, the National Electoral Council announced at 1:15 a.m. local time Monday that voters, by a margin of 51 to 49 percent, had rejected 69 reforms to the 1999 constitution. The modifications would have permitted the president to stand for reelection indefinitely, appoint governors to provinces he would create and control Venezuela's sizable foreign reserves.

But no doubt the struggle will continue . . .*
Blind Tommy & Father Gerard (2)

The thing that you have to know about Blind Tommy was that he wasn’t really blind; people just called him that because whenever anything happened around him and somebody – usually the police – asked about it, he always answered he didn’t see nothing.

The other thing about Blind Tommy was that, even though he was slow in a general mental way, he could be quite clever when he thought about something. Most people didn’t know that, because he kept his thinking to himself.

Blind Tommy’s road to the job at St. Calvin’s Hospital was pretty twisted. He'd gotten himself into assorted hassles and did some jail time, slowly progressing from fuck-up to jackass. After a stint on a felony E, his parole officer took a shot at saving him, and called a friend he knew at St. Calvin's. The friend was a priest, though the parole officer knew him better as the guy at the end of the bar at O'Hanny's. He persuaded him to Blind Tommy on as a janitor.

The priest was Father Gerard. He was a cranky former pastor whose drinking had gotten him removed from two parishes. Off the bottle, Father Gerard was a solid if austere minister; on the bottle, he was a lot easier to get along with, a man who could explicate each of Paul’s letters, sing all the rounds of Finnegan’s Wake, and hold forth knowledgeably on the various subtleties of different Irish whiskey, examples included. Drunk or sober, he had a weakness for lost causes and second tries, and while his failings were legion, he understood that charity was the most important virtue.

Father Gerard took a liking to Blind Tommy. Maybe he saw him as a kindred soul; Blind Tommy had gone to jail because of an alcohol-inspired crime binge. In any event, he became something of a confessor to Blind Tommy, listening to his troubles and sins. Most of the latter were petty transgressions – venial sins in Catholic theology, small lies and broken confidences, abuse of his body, as opposed to others'. Some weren't even sins – Blind Tommy was off the juice, and since he spent all his money on a dump of an apartment two blocks from the hospital, had very little opportunity to really sin.

Until one day, Blind Tommy told Father Gerard about a sin that even Paul would have shuddered to forgive . . . .

(more to come)

We're better than this

From yesterday's NY Times:

Witness Names to Be Withheld From Detainee
Published: December 1, 2007

Lawyers for a Guantánamo detainee have been ordered not to tell their client — or anyone else — the identity of witnesses against him.

But maybe the worst part of the story is the reporter's explanation of the principles involved:

. . . [the decision to withhold the identities] underscored the gap between military commission procedures and traditional American rules that the accused has a right to a public trial and to confront the witnesses against him.
Watching the SuperBowl with a group of friends while doing bong shots is a tradition. The right to know who's accusing you of a crime is a specifically granted by the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution, an amendement integral to the original Constitution.

Madison must be rolling over in his grave.

The URL: