24 December 2018

Thoughts on protecting children on Christmas Eve

I read an widely spread email from the Chief Scout Executive today.  

The BSA continues to stamp out abuse of children.  Unlike the Catholic Church, the BSA is being effective by reporting child abuse, suspected child abuse and cooperating fully with authorities.  Nevertheless, the BSA is being sued. 

I have no comment on the lawsuits.  They are valid.  They are invalid.  They are based on the whole truth.  They are based on half-truths.  They are lies.  Beats me.  I wasn’t there.  Ultimately, a jury of citizens will decide.  That’s a bad way to decide, except that it beats any other way that humanity has thought of.  

The BSA Chief Scout Executive was addressing the continued viability of the BSA in light of the existing suits.  And I believe him, that Scouting will get through this and also fulfill it’s legal and moral requirements to compensate victims.  That is following the responsible nature of the Scouting program.  

Recently, I took the fairly extensive online training which EVERY adult volunteer has to take on child protection.  Fail to take it, you will be suspended.  Harsh?  Maybe.  But the motto of the Boy Scouts is “Be Prepared.”  Part of being prepared is knowing the dangers which exist to the youth we serve.

When child abuse occurs or is suspected to have occurred, things happen.  MANY people - including me - are “mandatory reporters,” that is, we are legally REQUIRED to report suspected abuse.  As a prosecutor, there is not any sort of hesitation possible in reporting child abuse.  No “secret oath” exists which will prevent that.  

(For that matter, there are no “secret oaths” in Scouting.  Even the camping honorary organization, the Order of the Arrow, is open to community people to observe what we do.)

Reporting child abuse or suspected child abuse after is happens in critically important.  There is NOBODY worthy of being protected, and we just don’t do that.

But PREVENTING child abuse - That’s the key.  Giving the inherently sneaky child abuser no opportunity.  Believe me, these guys are sneaky.  (BTW, most child abuse generally, and nearly all child sexual abuse, is committed by men.  Maybe that’s why the public gets a little titillated when you have a woman abusing a boy.)  

The BSA has a robust program.  It features annual training about its components.  Mainly, no adult in the program is supposed to be alone with any youth member under any circumstances.  Most of the simple rules expand on that concept.   The strength is that the rules are clear and simple.  They are bothersome, and it’s unfortunate that we need them.  But we do.  Period.

A number of non-Catholic Churches have dealt with these issues.  Sometime ago, I read a story about a mega-church which had a younger guy working with youth accused of offenses.  The Church explained that the higher ups in the church only found out about it after the accused offender had been arrested.  A very junior youth pastor had called the police, and the church supported him/her.  

Once these people get to prison, they usually have to go into protective custody.  Convicts don’t like child abusers and someone already serving a life sentence doesn’t have much stopping him to hurt of kill a child abuser.  

Another possible partial answer is to return to letting the school system teach basic morals, e.g., don’t lie, don’t hurt, don’t steal.  Right now, that doesn’t appear on the horizon, so the main force we have to teach moral values is from the agencies that serve children.  

It’s going to get worse before it gets better.  But if we don’t enter the fight, it never will get better.


30 July 2018

Outrageous - They Sued For $100 Million

Ok, not really outrageous.  The devil is in the details.

The insurance-industry funded “citizen’s groups” are going slightly bonkers over the just-filed lawsuit from the family of someone who was killed in a recent Missouri “duck boat” accident.

I wasn’t on the water that day.  I don’t know what happened.  But the little bit of video and the history of duck boats say this was preventable.

First, let’s dispose of the silly objection to “how much they sued for.”  It’s utterly meaningless.  It might be the product of an over-active lawyer’s imagination.  Or it might be that the plaintiff HAS to put some number in the suit, and they haphazardly came up with that.

HOWEVER - If it goes to a jury, the jury will never hear about the $100 million.  They might award each family $100,000.  Maybe $1 million.  Maybe $10 million.  Beats me.  But if a lawyer stood up and said “We are suing for $100 million,” s/he would cause a mistrial and the next time the case came to trial, that lawyer would not be part of it.  

When I practiced personal injury law, my lawsuits read “The Plaintiff requests a judgment in excess of the jurisdictional threshold of this Court.”  In other words, just enough to be there and we’d let the jury decide how much.

Some people have already talked about “justice for the victims.”  Balderdash.  Pure fantasy.  The victims won’t get justice on this Earth.  They remain dead and their hope is on a higher plane.  It is peculiar that we try to say how much a life is worth.  That’s the only readily possible remedy, assuming that the operator was negligent, but it still does not bring them back.

Will the family buy a Mercedes and think, “Hey, this makes Mom’s death A-OK.”  Not likely.

Duck boats are accidents waiting to happen.  They have a terrible safety record.  The recent sinking was not the first, nor the first time 10+ people have been killed in a cutely painted duck boat.  Nor, unfortunately, is it the last. 

The duck boats were built in World War II. The term “duck boat” comes from the Army’s designation, “DUKW.”  It is a highly modify “deuce-and-a-half” (2-1/2 ton truck) which is moderately waterworthy.  Around 20,000 DUKW’s were produced.  After the war, they were sold as surplus.  You can STILL buy a DUKW.

They were never intended for civilian use.  They were used to transport troops and materials across water.  Directly across - like from ships near a beach to the beach or a river crossing.  They could not function in rough water.  They had no roof.  They were designed with one propeller that drove the DUKW at less than 5 knots.  On land, the operator sits very high - like 10 feet - and has oceans of blind spots.  So when they were converted to civilian use, they had a lousy record on land and on water.

The National Transportation Safety Board has been trying to get rid of DUKW’s for years.  They have tried banning roofs or awnings, what apparently led to lots of people being caught underwater when this duck boat sank.  They have urged operators to install cameras to limit blind spots.  They have urged more buoyancy.  A DUKW is not very buoyant.  It’s a little larger than a truck, it weighs nearly 7 tons empty, and rides low in the water at the best of times.  

Maybe a verdict will cause the insurance companies to price duck boat insurance out of reach.  Maybe operators will find another sort of boat and use a bus for land tours, all from a sense of obligation and embarrassment. 

But that’s not the way to bet.  


11 July 2018

The Supreme Court; or, What I'm Doing With My Summer Vacation

In 2010, I posted about the Senate “hearings” for then-Judge Sonia Sotomayor, a Justice-designate to the United States Supreme Court.

The point was that it the process was a total bunch of blather.

Now, President Trump  has named Judge Brett Kavanaugh of the D.C. Circuit as a Justice-designate.

I hear Judge Kavanaugh is a right-winger.  Well, what a surprise.  The laugher of the discussion process was when Sen. Schumer suggested to the President that he appointed Judge Merrick Garland (President Obama’s pick which the Republicans stalled on to the Democrats dismay) to “unify the country.”

By the way, if the Democrats were able to stall hearings on Judge Kavanaugh, they’d do it in a heartbeat to await the 2018 elections. 

You expected maybe consistency?  Pull the other one.  It’s got bells on it.

So I decided to reprise the earlier post, with a nip here and a tuck there. 

This is all pre-determined, staged blather.   Unless someone pops up with an Anita Hill - Clarence Thomas “Long Dong Silver” Three Ring Circus, Judge Kavanaugh will be confirmed.  Likewise, damn near every word of these so-called hearings is predictable. The nominee will present a suitably humble “I like me” presentation.   He’ll promise to be fair, deciding each case on it’s merits and respecting the past Court decisions.  He’ll hint what he things of Roe v. Wade even though antiquated judicial selection rules say that he cannot say so publicly. (Ho, ho, in the private vetting process that got him this far, do you suppose that the President’s advisors forgot to ask that?) He will assure the Senate Judiciary Committee that his life is the law, and yet her log-cabin upbringing and dogged determination to defeat the unique vicisitudes that life threw at him because he is a white guy who went to Harvard make him incomparably qualified to sit on the highest Court.

Blah, blah, blah.

Then, he will be “questioned.” Committee Republicans.  They will not throw softballs, they will let him play T-ball and agree unpretentiously with their paeans of esteem and wonder.

Then Committee Democrats will cross-examine him with all of the skill that convinced them that the Courtroom was no place for them so they needed run for the Senate. They will shoot a few blanks, make noise, huff and puff, shed tears for the nation, and then the vote will be taken and result in the same tally as it would have without one word of “testimony.”

Well, isn’t everyone on the Supreme Court “well qualified”? I wonder. Certainly, a Justice can have a really rotten personality and be good at his/her job.  A person can be decent but absolutlely suck as a judge. I’ve known examples of both.  All that I actually know about the Supreme Court is what I’ve read, so making some sort of Wise and Unchangable Declarations about the sitting justices would be ill-informed and stupid. But I hope to God that they don’t sitting around thinking that they are “well-qualified.”

For some reason, the lesson of Caligula comes to mind – He selected his  horse as a member of the Roman Senate.

Let’s go straight to fantasy land. A robe is something one wears right after a shower in the winter.  I will never be on the Supreme Court.  My practice has not been of the “correct” type, my personality is too grating, my definition of success is peculiar (and even I fall far short of that), my humor is odd, my prose is blatant, blunt, blustering and blue, and I come from a law school that is not in the “first tier,” much less being in the Elite Six (or however many are considered elite now.)

So this is pure fantasy – the opening statement of this ink-stained wretch at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Hello? Hello? Is this damn thing on? Oh, ok.

Good morning. Ok, maybe you call it morning, it’s 10 AM, and you’re just getting started, must be a government thing.  If you don’t show up by 0700, I think there’s something wrong with you.

If I was going to read an opening statement, I’d have just mailed one over. I’m going to talk to you, ok?

Um, ladies and gentlemen - here’s the first thing you ought to ask me and the first thing you ought to know. Am I qualified to be sitting on the United States Supreme Court.

Hell, no.

Anyone who says “I’m qualified to be here, I’m the one who should be making decisions, I’m the one who should be judging my Fellow Man,” well, that person has no business even filling in for Judge Judy.  At least she’s funny when she gets cocky and the “litigants” each get a paycheck.  You won’t get justice except by accident from such a judge, you will get self-righteous, elitist bilge water. Frankly, I’m thinking you’re batting about .500 in my lifetime with Supreme Court nominees.  When’s the last time we saw someone nominated like Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Thurgood Marshall, William Brennan, Louis Brandeis, Felix Frankfurther or even William Howard Taft.

Also, I’ve gotten a few belly laughs out of everybody who’s been saying with a straight face that they just want the smartest, fairest judge, no matter what that judge believes.

NOBODY really wants justice. Got that? NOBODY. EVERYBODY wants to win, EVERYBODY wants to advance their political agenda and personal beliefs and EVERYBODY wants 6 extra pieces of the American-Dream-Pie. So they’ll figure how a nominee will vote in about 10 categories, and figure which one will sell to the rubes, and send the PR train down the track. You might ask yourselves, if you've been appointing so many "best-of-the-best," "well qualified" justices, how come we have been getting so many 5-4 decisions in big cases? That seems a tad odd, don't you think?

Oh, everybody wants to know how I’ll vote on a case to affirm or reverse Roe v. Wade. The rules say I can’t tell you. [Pause.] And goodness knows, the President’s people never asked me. [Long pause.] So shall I do the cryptogram thing and send you the answer in code like everyone else for the past 30 years? No, Lord knows I’ve been a hypocrite too many times myself, but I do try to recognize when I’m doing it.Roe v. Wade bothers the hell out of me. I’d probably vote to affirm it. And damn your black souls for sticking that issue in the Courts where it doesn’t belong, just so you can blame the Courts for what you don’t have the guts to face.

Oh, my, I violated the rules.

Anybody with a computer can find a few hundred blog posts I’ve written and a few hundred legal briefs. I will not explain any of them. They stand as is. Anybody who cherry picks them is telling an intentional lie. If you quote me, quote all of me. I stand by it all as being a reflection of what I believed when I wrote them.  I’ve changed my mind about some things.  I will continue to change my mind about things.  Live with it.

What do I believe? You don’t have a right to know over and above what people do. But people do.

I believe in America.

I believe that West Virginia is a great place.

I believe in God and Jesus Christ and why He made that sacrifice for me is a total mystery, ‘cause there is no way I deserve it - - I’ve screwed up more ways than there are sizes & types of screws.

I believe in a good joke, and if it offends someone, they’re an intolerant bigot.

I believe that you shouldn’t execute someone for using “practical jokes” for the first offense.

I believe that if you require kids to be polite from Day One, they’ll be using “sir” and “ma’am” when they’re 80.

I really like to see our flag flying.   I love to see the flag flying from the back of a fire engine responding.  People have the right to burn the flag, but they’re assholes when they do.

I believe that people can change, but only when they’re willing.

I believe in the power of reason.

I believe that which gender adult wants to screw which other adult is boring and making a big fuss over it is a diversion from important things.

I believe that an argument that has no purpose is idiotic.

I believe that some people are just plain mean.

I believe that most people are mostly nice.

I believe about 95% of everything that Theodore Roosevelt ever wrote.

I believe that The Secret, think about something and it’ll happen, is New Age babble.

I believe that if you quit learning, you better be dead.

And I believe I’m headin’ out for a beer. I’m buyin’. Anybody with me?

16 May 2018

Vying for attention for abused children

The internet is an endless source of accidental humor.  Particularly, what constitutes a good and shocking story, a story that reporters can tear the meat off the bones is just no-kidding amusing.

Today, on one of the common internet news sources (AOL?   CNN?  Something else?  I forget.) featured a stirring report from California, where “10 children were rescued from horrible conditions.”

Oh, I have absolutely no doubt that they were rescued, and that the conditions were horrible.  The story used part of the videos taken at the squalid home.  I’ll guarantee you that not ALL of the videos were shown.  An out-of-focus video of the kitchen floor was shown, and it featured what appeared to be rodent/cat/dog feces.  The bathroom wasn’t shown, and I’ll bet the ranch that human feces, urine and other fluids better left in the body were found there.  

Also, the limits of video deprived me of the full experience of such a home.  There is that odor which attacks the senses before one goes into such a place.  It is the sweet, sickening, stomach-wrenching odor, the stench which says “What the hell am I doing here?”

Incidentally, I feel sorry for the people who come to the bar and think that they can represent real people without ever having been in a poor and miserable home. 

The point is not that these children were rescued.  The point is that such a big deal was made of this ONE home, and that (1) this was supposed to be something unusual or unheard of and (2) thank God because now we can rest easy because these ten children have been rescued.

Those are stupid impressions messages to spread.

You are sitting somewhere in a city, a county, a township or some similar minor political subdivision.  Right now, RIGHT AT THIS VERY MOMENT, there are children near you who are worse off than these California kids are.  

It’s popular to “build awareness.”  Okay.  Let’s build a bit of awareness about child neglect and abuse.  

In your city, county, township, etc.:

  • Multiple children have been raped, sodomized, fondled and threatened not to tell anyone in the last 24 hours.  The threats range from “Daddy will go to jail” to “I’ll kill Mommy” to “The Devil will fly down and take you.”  That’s not an exaggeration.  I’ve heard each of those threats.  All it needs to be is believable to a 6 year old.

  • Multiple children are high from intentionally using or accidentally being exposed to drugs used by their parents, grandparents, caretakers and the miserable class of friends those adults gather round them.

  • Multiple children have ingested fecal matter within the past 24 hours. 

  • Little kids have eaten insects and insect parts.  They inquisitive and hungry. 

  • Multiple children have a readily apparent physical problem that any fool can see - a limp, eyes that can’t focus on a big line of print, or ears than can’t hear speech.  Unfortunately, they are only amongst fools and nobody will take them to a doctor or otherwise call anyone who will give a shit about them.  And equally unfortunately, some of the conditions COULD have been corrected but are now permanent.  (In the past year, I’ve had a kid left unnecessarily with a permanent limp and another kid with a needless neurological condition that will not let his/her mind recognized that one eye is providing visual input to the brain.) 

Wow, kids raped, eating bugs, handling crap, who’d believe that in America?  Believe it.  Don’t believe it.  The truth is already happening independent of what you believe.

I think I’m being generous when I say that responsible adults - by that I mean someone who will do something about it  - find out about maybe HALF of the abuse and neglect that really goes on.

So - be aware.  Or not.  Look, a blog post cannot “make people aware” of the truth of conditions which readers aren’t ready for. Besides, “my” truth has to compete with Trump-is-a-Russian-spy, Don’t-let-the-other-sex-use-our-bathrooms, Welfare-is-inherently-evil, and Welfare-is-a-right-and-a-good-way-to-live, together with a light dusting of 9-11-was-an-inside-job.

Well, I’m putting forward what I know to be true.  Maybe someone will acknowledge it.  I just figured out that I’m in mid-career, so I’ve got a long way to go.  So I’ll put on my pack, put on a big Scout smile and keep walking up the mountain.



28 February 2018


A word about guns.

See? You’re already pissed. After all, your ink-stained wretch may say something with which you disagree.  Or he will not say something strongly enough that you do believe.

Everyone is so entrenched in their position (and in the  cliches that go along with them) that scarcely anyone can even read any other point. Can’t “They” just see the moral righteousness of whatever they believe?  Period.  End of discussion.

Usually, I like to propose answers to public questions. Tonight, I just have some observations, take them as you will.

1.  Guns are fearsome some things. You see, that’s the idea behind guns, the fear factor.  Anyone who is not afraid of guns is an idiot.

People are afraid of the fearsome noise.   Robert A. Heinlein wrote a short story, “Gun Without a Bang.” The premise was that somebody had an ideal weapon which was absolutely silent. You pointed it and whatever you pointed it at disappeared. The problem was that it had no “bang,” so the other predators couldn’t learn to feel fear. The story ends with the owner using “the weapon” as a hammer.

People are afraid of the recoil.  According to Newton’s First Law, a force exerted also exerts an equal and opposite reaction. You shoot again, and the gun will press back against your hands and arms.  If the muzzle is much above the gun’s center of gravity – which it almost always is – the gun will rise. To accurately shoot it again, you have to re-center the sights. That bothers people.

People fear guns in others’ hands. They feel that they will be unable to protect themselves and their families. They fear that bad guys will be better armed.

Self defense is a legal right and a natural right. The “legal right” thing is shot with exceptions. The natural right can be seen as God-given or evolutionary, take it either way. The people least likely to be murdered will have more opportunities to reproduce than the other people 

We hear about “bad guys” and “good guys.” We can argue about bad guys and good  guys, but one thing is near certain: A bad guy with drawn gun will very likely come out on top of a good guy without a gun. 

There is a rough correlation between gun support and public safety response time. If you live in a place takes the police 30 minutes to get to you, you are more likely to accept guns. Places where there is a relatively low fear of guns are places like Texas, West Virginia, Colorado and Minnesota. If you go into Canada and have license tags from any of those states, you will be questioned very carefully about whether you have weapons.  Conversely, in places where there is reasonably quick access to safety response – New York City, Southern California – non-supporters probably out number gun supporters. 

Also there is a cultural thing. Some people grow up in a culture where the “rules” about cars, drinking, weapons, hairstyle, clothing, and so forth have a established norm.

Now I think – although I’m less certain about this – that the Florida school shooter, the Las Vegas shooter, and most other shooters also are based on fear. They see a world where the only choice they can see is to lash out. Maybe they are psychopaths. Maybe they are sociopaths.  But most of them are fearful. They may be afraid of non-existent things, but their fear is real nevertheless

(Not all of them are motivated by fear.   I have met very, very few sociopaths in my 40 years of practice.  Two of them had 10 bodies between them.

Can we at least acknowledge that we are afraid guns on some level? 

I am “cautiously comfortable” around firearms. I know how to use most of them, I know what they do and I realize the effect it has when I choose to fire them. But if you go around armed, you MUST accept that you now are bearing a lethal device. You must scrupulously avoid an confrontation that may lead to a drawn gun. Once a gun is introduced, things happen real fast.

Also, there something known as the “Body Alarm reaction,” the physical reactions of stress, loosely called the “flight or fight syndrome.” Everyone who experiences a sudden emergency will pass through a Body Alarm Reaction.  Think back to when you watch the unfolding 9-11 on TV.  You experienced at least a bit of the Body Alarm Reaction. If you had a friend in city, you felt it worse. All first responders throughout the world felt it.

The Body Alarm Reaction has purely physical effects..  You experience time dilation – time seems to stand still. It involves tunnel vision – you are focused on the threat and information that does not have anything to do with threat does not reach your mind. The body dumps adrenaline into your bloodstream. This enables your big muscles to exert maximum speed and force. It also severely diminishes your fine muscle control. Some say that the Body Alarm Reaction sets in in less than a quarter of a second.  The same people say that logical thought does not start for several seconds.

Think of this in terms of firearms. Suddenly, you are presented with a set of circumstances which are threatening. (Cue adrenaline dump.) Do you run or hide or fight? If you fight, how will you fight? Will you draw a gun and introduce lethality into the mix? If you have never seen somebody dead of a gunshot wound, I may be talking Greek to you. Only in these circumstances, you have a short period time to decide.



I have never fired a weapon at a person. I understand the Body Alarm Reaction up to pulling a gun on a person. I don’t want to find the rest out. But I cannot control that possibility.

I read a comment or post that says armed people should be exposed to a “shoot out house,” where they are surprised and taught by instructors. Who knows, maybe that will give some little bit of experience, but nothing resembling experience of the military or the police departments. Even THEY know that practice is make-believe. All you can do get as close to real as possible, which is not too close.

2. The gun show loophole. This is easy and ridiculous. At a gun show, people go to sell guns and accessories.  If you go to a gun show, you should expect to be backgrounded. No background, no gun. That part is simple.
3. The Second Amendment ws written in 1789 and has not been rewritten.  Then, the weapons available were muzzleloader’s. A good marksman could fire 2 to 3 shots a minute. The only way to fire more was to carry more guns.  Edward “Blackbeard” Teach carried six pistols in his sash.  (That’s called a New York reload.)  (He also carried burning slow matches - the cords which set off cannons - stuck in his beard.)

4. We have 300 million guns in America. Those are already there. And they last a long time.  A gun will not go and fire a few times, and rust away or just get tuckered out. My favorite long gun is an ‘03 Springfield, made 90 years ago in 1928. This weapon will be around a lot longer than I will.

5. Suppose we have a law that says turn in your guns or at least part of your guns, like semi-automatics – How do you imagine that would work? I don’t think we would see drug dealers, mafioso, gangbangers, robbers or even really, really serious “gun people” lining up at police stations to turn in their guns. What if we put some teeth into the law? How much teeth would it take? And how many guns would be reported stolen or lost?

It would be interesting to monitor the sale of cosmolene (or whatever they use now to prepare guns for a long storage), big PVC pipe and ends and glue that makes a water proof container. Oh, and shovels. I wonder if anybody’s monitored that?

Other fixes have been suggested. (Actually, one third the people think they are too much, one third of the people think they are too little, and one third don’t care.) 

6. Ban assault weapons. An “assault weapon” is a semi-automatic long gun which uses a detectable magazine. They are also black, look vicious, may have such features such as a bipod, pistol grip, laser, or an absolutely useless bayonet stud. However, the lower receiver – what makes it a firearm – can be attached to lots of less “evil” looking weapons. After all, “evil” is a human imposed subjective judgment. What traditionally makes an “assault weapon” really doesn’t count.  It’s the detachable magazine. The detachable magazine is what makes a supposedly accurate gun into what you can use for the “spray and pray” approach. The Las Vegas shooter was not shooting at individuals. He was shooting at a crowd, knowing that he would hit somebody. (He was also using what is called a “bump stock” which led officers on the radio to conclude that they were under machine gun fire.)

7.  A suggestion is to limit what a magazine will hold. I have little trouble with that. I’ve always said these 30 round magazines make gun people look silly. Connecticutt and California have a 10 round limit for magazines. And to be fair, if you can’t do the job in 10 rounds, you’re in big trouble.

8.  Let’s raise the age to buy a gun.  This doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.  We accept 18-year-olds into the military and they get guns. On the other hand, some 30-year-olds are not smart enough to pour piss out of a boot with the instructions written on the bottom, but we’ll sell them guns.

9.  How about an alcohol or drug test before you buy? Seriously, I wonder how many of the people who purchase guns at the pawn shop down the street would have a clean test. Do we really want somebody zonked on ethanol or drugs carrying a firearm?

10. Restrict or ban the sale of semi-automatic weapons. Semi-automatic actions have been around 110+ years. Some are virtually unchanged. Also, a lot of the 300 million guns (not all of which will get turned in) are similarly-semi-automatic. Something about restricting a 110-year-old technology because it has become trendy bothers me. On the other hand, we tried banning alcohol. But we clearly understood the lethality of weapons after about the third one was built.

11.  How about private background check? You want to sell a gun, get a background check.  This leads to gun registration, the big bad boogie man the NRA fears.  Um, maybe it is equal to vehicle registration. Anyway, if we outlaw cars, you’ll find as many of them stolen or hidden as you will firearms.

12. Guns do not shoot themselves. If we do not address the human element, we lose. Guns are fired by human actions, sometime intentionally and sometimes through stupidity. Pakistan recently approved arming teachers.  A teacher was cleaning his gun at school and had an accidental discharge. It killed a student. Those don’t happen often, but they do. My deceased brother was a master competitive pistol shooter.  He carried around a casing that came from his own cleaning accident. (Nickle knowledge: In the great move to the American frontier, a lot more people were killed in firearms accidents than were killed by Indians.)

The Florida school shooter, the Las Vegas shooter, the hundred plus people who chose to shoot at somebody today all made a decision. Some were mentally ill; some had uncontrollable anger; some had misplaced fear; and some had rational and proper fear. But in each case the physical result was the same. A piece of metal was accelerated to transonic or supersonic speed to go straight (actually on a ballistic course) until it hit something or someone. So if we don’t address the human factor, we have nothing

A final thought. Americans are compliant. Look how much we pay attention to private security, ushers, flight attendants, etc. here. But if it offends some fundamental belief – rational or irrational – we react badly.  If you try to restrict guns, some people, a lot of people, are going to react badly.  What we need is something we never sought: consensus. Compromise.  And right now, Americans are stubborn to thing about consensus or compromise.


25 February 2018

When We Run Out of Grandparents . . .

I work mostly with child abuse and neglect cases. The public knows little about them.  They are confidential. They are so confidential that nobody can talk about any particular case at all.  This is primarily to protect the children, but also to protect parents, who may or may not have big enough problems for the State to remove their children. 

Of course you read on Facebook about the State taking children.  Every time that happens in one of my cases, I’ll send a friendly little subpoena to the person who published the information and invite him or her down to the Courthouse for a hearing on contempt of Court.  The judge usually does not put the person in jail for the first time.

One thing that I can tell you is how many we file. We have a two County Circuit, with two prosecutors’ offices and a total population of 40,000.   In 2017, we filed more than 220 child abuse and neglect cases.  If the 2018 rate keeps the way it’s going in the first two months, we’re going to file over 300 in 2018.

In more than half the cases, drug use by the parents forms the basis of the problem of parenting.  Basically, with a kid, you need to be on your “A” game. If you are zonked out, you won’t make it past the minor leagues.

In West Virginia, opiates and  methamphetamine appeared to be the major problems. Nationally, those are also problems, with a little more heroin and cocaine drawn into the mixer.  Drug use varies year by year, and certain drugs wax and wane in popularity. But there is an alarming and even growth in the number of zonked out parents. That never goes down, only up and up.

In West Virginia, we have a Department of Health and Human Resources which is charged with child protection. We have specialized CPS workers to respond and manage situations.  We have a moderately efficient centralized intake hotline. [See note 1]

When the State has to take custody of a child, the DH HR will try to find a place for the child with a relative.  Understand that when you move a kid suddenly, it’s a shocking act, even when you are moving them from an abusive home. Some kids think that child abuse and neglect are normal behaviors and that every kid had the same experience. They’re kids. Give them a break. Moving a child to a relative at least moderates the damages.

There are some ancillary charitable or faith-based programs to help these kids.  The Disciples of Christ church in West Virginia periodically collects stuff for backpacks to give to children who are taking from the home.  I very well remember a kid last year who got a backpack. In it, he found his own new tooth brush. He was all excited – he had never had his own tooth brush before.

Jesus wept.

Grandparents are a wonderful resource in raising children.   I’m not sure if it “takes a village to raise a child,” but it is a lot easier if you have a stable extended family.

So abused and neglected children often in end up being placed at grandma’s and grandpa’s. That’s not the only way they get there – sometimes the parents are so drug-addicted or so disinterested that they will consciously decide to put their children with their grandparents. And that is a loving act by those parents.

God loves grandparents.

But there is a fly in this ointment.

More and more parents are drug-addicted.  Some of these folks will quit using drugs. The drugs popular now are largely more addictive, so people have a harder time beating them. In 20 years, these people are going to be grandparents. Many of them will still be drug-addicted.  Drug use and abuse and neglect are both increasing, and I don’t see me any short-term slowing of the rate. So, in a year, we’ll have a few more; in five years, much more; and in 10 years, it will be overwhelming.  And year by year, we’ll have fewer family members to participate in care.

The “orphanage” scarcely exists these days. Part of the reason is that people live longer, so they have more opportunity to be grandparents and be available for care. That is unlikely to continue. So the question is:  How are we going to care for these kids in the absence of families.

I really don’t care whether it is government care, private care, faith-based care, or whatever.  Private/faith-based care  may be preferable because there is less financial incentive and most do it simply for love alone.

That’s not to say that foster homes are not unloving.  I consider foster parents to do an amazing job for relatively little money.  They clearly are motivated by love of children.  I consider human beings to be decent people who deal with children from the standpoint of love.  Oh, in my job, I do see a lot of exceptions, but then I don’t hang around normal people.   

Policy makers should think ahead to what’s on the horizon, but they seldom do. What the public focuses on is the current problem. Policy makers right now are focused gun control, because a new set of potential voters are getting active. We are continually focus on taxes because that affects our pocketbooks.  Social security will continue because the largest, most-likely-to-vote block of voters is directly affected.

But it shouldn’t be a winner-take-all society.  Every problem, left unchecked, with have to be dealt with.  Dealing with them later requires harder choices than dealing with them sooner. These children are coming, ready or not.


Note 1 – I understand the centralixe intake online. I didn’t used to.  Maybe it helps keep cases from falling through the cracks.. However, I have bit of an unfortunate history with the hotline as a prosecutor. When I call the hotline, I don’t call it just for shits and giggles. I am presented with something that I’m not qualified to make a judgment about, and I want a CPS worker get out of bed and go see what’s going on.  Usually, I’ve already gotten out of bed, often gone to the Courthouse, and that’s just the duty that we all signed up for.  So when the person receiving the call says “I’ll have to run this by a supervisor,” as they did last weekend,  I am like liable to react somewhat poorly.  Like I did last weekend.  Some workers conclude that I am a code 18. I can live with that.  Just take care of the children.

19 February 2018

A Free Bookstore; Government Works; And My 100 (or so) best books

Books are too expensive.  That being said, the small bookseller is being frozen out by the Barnes and Noble's, Cole's, Books-A-Million, and so forth.  Well, a small bookstore just opened for the right price:  The Prosecutor's Office Totally Free Bookstore.

The terms are simple - No LImit - No Returns - Pass It On.

We're not going to break the big boys.  But it's a modest start.  Located in front of the Assistant Prosector's desk at the Barbour County Courthouse.

Governement works:

Today was "President's Day," a legal holiday.  The following were taken at 2:00 PM:

The 100 Books:

For some strange reason - probably in reaction to something on Facebook - I was looking at a "100 Books to Read" list.  Then I googled "100 books" and it turns out that EVERYBODY has issue the 100 Best Books.  So what the heck? I read a lot, so this is the first installment of MY 100 books.

There are about 140,000,000 different books that have been published.  Unsurprisingly, picking the best hundred or even the favorite hundred is at least HIGHLY subjective.  

In fact, my 100 Best List may be  more or less than 100.  It will certainly take time to write a little about each book.  I feel cheated every time I read a 100 Best list that doesn't say WHY the book is good.  And my list is not in order of best to less best, or anything at all other than my unfettered whims.  Feel free to publish your own list.  I'll look at it, particularly if you say "why".

Number 1 - 

The Frontierman's, by Allen W. Eckert.  

This is a favorite book primarily because it introduced me to the "fellowship of readers," that group which will approach strangers and recommend a book.

  I was about 20 and was at the Mall in a small bookstore.  Oh, at that time, there was only one mall in these counties, and there was only one bookstore in it.  At that time, I was all about mass market paperbacks - Hardbacks were too expensive.

An old guy walked up to me, somebody I didn’t know.

Now, at that point, “an old guy” had the meaning of somebody over, say, 60.  Now, the definition is different, and I would consider him a young man in the prime of health.  But, then, he was an old guy.

He was carrying a book, The Frontiersman.  He told me, hey, son, you might like this book.  It’s an accurate history of the late 18th century from the Blue Ridge going west.  It’s written with dialogue by an historian who backs up the dialoge with historial letters (“He and I talked about thus-and-so.”) And he told me, again, I’d really enjoy it.

That was an important place in my “reading life.”  From that old guy, I learns that people are supposed to share what they have read that they like.  It showed me that there IS a community of book lovers.  And then, I felt a part of that community. 

Later, when chat rooms were all the rage, there was a book group on AOL.  While its vanished on line, a group of us who met 20+ years ago still interact - about books and life in general - on Facebook.  I’ve not personally met but a couple of these people, but they still are some of my dearest friends.  We’ve shared life’s ups and downs, and mourned some folks who’ve passed away.  

And a lot of the credit goes to that old guy.

OK, The Frontiersman.  This is the life of Simon Kenton, who was prominent in the westward push past the Blue Ridge.  He walked places I have walked.  He spent a winter where I have spend a night, at the confluence of the Elk River and the Kanawha River.  (When I spent the night there, it was in a Holiday Inn located right on his campsite.

Eckert talks neutrally about the American Indian. [See note 1] Some were noble; some savage; some both..  Some were smart.  Others, not so smart.  Like everyone.  It is, to quote Rumpole, "A whacking good read."

Note 1 - “American Indian” is what Russell Means called native Americans when he founded the American Indian Movement.