Saturday, December 18, 2004

Scott Peterson, Ed Gorman, The M's

When O.J. was first arrested I asked my late friend Bob Samoian, who was an Assistant District Attorney in Los Angeles, what he thought about the case. He said this: "He's guilty but he'll walk." He was right.

Now we have Scott Peterson. According to a dozen of his peers he's guilty of murdering his wife and in so doing preventing his son from being born. His sentence: death.

Frankly, I think he did it. And I think he could have gotten away with it if he'd kept his big mouth shut after the fact. But I still have problems with the trial and the sentence (though I admit I didn't follow it as closely as I did the horribly disappointing O.J. debacle).

First, we don't know how Laci died. Second, we don't know when she died. The presumption is that she was killed right before Scott went fishing and dumped in the bay while he was supposedly enjoying the angler's art. Maybe he did. Most likely he did. But can anyone say for certain he did?

What about the cause of death? Police speculate she was strangled or smothered. But they don't know. For the sake of argument let's say she and Scott had a spat that escalated. He pushed her and she fell, or she fell on her own, and somehow died. He panicked and decided to dispose of the body lest he be blamed for murder.

Is this likely? I don't think so, it is speculative. But so is the official theory. If you're going to find someone guilty and sentence him to death I'd prefer there was less speculation and more facts.

Then there was the post-sentencing interview with the three jurors. They seemed to consider it very important and telling that Peterson remained stoic during the trial. Is that their idea of proper jury deliberation? Some people are just unemotional. And you have to consider that by the time the trial got under way Peterson had months of dealing with cops and lawyers and the press and it's easy to imagine that all the emotion was drained from him by then. Judging him guilty by reason of his demeanor is a travisty.

So, while I'm confident the result is correct, I'm very leery of the manner in which this verdict was reached. Call it poetic justice. But legal justice? I have my doubts.

On a happier note, allow me to recommend Ed Gorman's new western, BRANDED. The story deals with a town full of people with their own physical and psychological brands, from birthmarks to a burn-ravaged face to self mutilation born of religious guilt. There are few normal people in an Ed Gorman western; rather, everyone has some kind of cross to bear, some hidden secret, some fatal character flaw. Because of these their actions and motives are hard to figure and the plot constantly surprises one by shifting directions in ways you can't see coming. Indeed, it seems like every time the protagonist finds deliverance he gets his pins kicked out from under him and you wonder how Ed can possibly pull the rabbit out of the hat. The suspense elements should appeal to any mystery lover yet the book doesn't forget it's a western.
I think Ed is on the cutting edge of the modern western and I recommend his books wholeheartedly.

I see the Seattle Mariners just bought a couple of high-priced players. Let's hope they pan out better than Cirillo, Spezio, and Aurelio did.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Ken Jennings

You know Ken, the guy who amassed over two million bucks on Jeopardy. Very impressive, and my hat is off to him. But all the while this was happening I had this niggling worry in the back of my mind. Why? Because he's a Mormon and they'll likely be raking 20% of the gross off the top. Yeah, I know it's his money to do with as he wishes, but I'm not a big fan of Mormonism and I don't like to see them enriched.

Many years ago, when I lived in California, some friends and I were sitting around and the subject of door-to-door proselytizers came up. We each vowed that the next one that darkened our door would be allowed in and we'd listen to everything he, she, or they had to say. Did I mention we were stoned at the time?
Sure enough, within days of this dubious pact a couple of young men in three piece suits riding ten speed bikes came to my little hippie pad.
"Come in, gentlemen, come in," I said expansively. They must have thought they had a live one.
I listened to their spiel and told them they could come back and show me their all-important and explanatory film strip a few days hence. I suppose nowadays they have videos or DVDs.
So a few days go by and they show up with one of those ancient film strip machines. I was given the lowdown on why God chose them to take over the world. Nothing about Joe Smith burrowing under the old oak tree with a bridge auger and planting his little box of revelations, nothing about the Mountain Meadow Massacre, just some gobbledegook about ancient prophecies and the will of God.
Finally they popped the question: Did I want to go to a service at their church.
"No."
Not content with my answer, they started with the salesmanship techniques. Why not? I don't own a tie. You don't need one. What kind of guy do you think I am that I would go to church without a tie? We'll get you one. Neither a borrower or lender be. We'll buy you one. I don't want your charity. Back and forth until they finally got the idea that I wasn't going to join the sect.
Their biggest selling point, polygamy, was no longer in force. I wonder if a lot of men joined originally just to have their own harems.
Over the years I've known a few Mormons and liked them as individuals. I just don't like the tenets of their church. Indeed, I think of it as more of a cult than a church, but I suppose that argument can be made for any number of churches.
Somewhere in this junk-infested room I call an office are a series of books by (if my senility is in remission) Robert Irvine about Moroni Traveler, a fallen-away Mormon/private eye who operates in Salt Lake City. He shows very clearly the stranglehold the Mormon hierarchy has on the state and the followers of the LDS sect. I found it eye opening, and recommend it not only for what it teaches one about this group but because Irvine is a fine writer.

I might also mention that my wife's nephew married a Mormon girl and converted. No problem with that. What sent my antenna vibrating was the way they got their first two kids.
They had been trying hard to have children, without success. One weekend they drove to Utah and came back with a boy. A few years later they did the same thing, only they came back with a girl.
Anyone who has tried to adopt children knows of the long, expensive and somewhat degrading process they have to go through to get a child. Apparently the red tape is much less if you're a Mormon. This couple had no criminal history, but neither had a steady job nor good work history, they didn't own their home, they moved a lot, and they had no savings. Try to adopt through any state agency with those strikes against you. Apparently, being a Mormon was qualification enough to adopt two babies in Utah. Scary.
And to add a punch line, they had a natural baby a few years later.




Sunday, December 05, 2004

Another Birthday Notice

Two birthdays, in fact. Dec. 5th is the anniversary of George Armstrong Custer's birth (1839), but that's a subject for another time

Of greater importance is my daughter Kristine's 14th birthday. I can't believe that little baby I played with, watched Barney with, and took to see Ivan the Gorilla is a young lady already. I will say that she's been an absolute joy every day she's been in my life and I wouldn't trade her for all the winning lottery tickets in the world.
For her birthday we went to see FINDING NEVERLAND (by coincidence, it was $26.50 for tickets and $26.50 for snacks), with Johnny Depp as James Barrie, the creator of Peter Pan. It was a tender, well-acted movie but a bit slow. No kung-fu, no nekkid ladies, nobody gets blowed up. By another coincidence, the same gabby old couple sat behind me that sat behind me when I saw THE INCREDIBLES. Okay, maybe they were a different set of geezers, but you'd think that people would know how to behave in a theater once they hit their dotage.




Friday, December 03, 2004

A Load Off My Mind

First off, I finished the book I was writing in collaboration with Warren Murphy. It took a hell of a lot longer than I thought it would, and I'm not sure what the problem was other than I haven't had much energy this past year. I think that's been the result of working the graveyard shift. Seems I did most of my sleeping in fits and starts and every weekend I'd return to a day schedule and have to revert to nights again when the work week started. Frankly, I've been a zombie and haven't done much of anything during this time. The extra money for graves was nice, though.
This will all be moot in another week. The powers that be decided I was making too much money and changed my hours. I'm not sure working from 4:30 in the morning until one in the afternoon will be an improvement, but other than quitting in protest there's not much I can do about it.

Reading has been sparse this past month. I had a rush job to line edit a manuscript for a lady in my critique group and that, along with my own writing, took away from my reading time. One book I did finish is VALLEY OF HATE, by Clay Burnham (Black Horse Western). Clay is actually Oregonian Steve Kaye, an fellow member of OWLHOOT, the world's only western apa, and a fellow I've met a couple of times when I visited Powell's City of Books. Nice chap.
He'd posted the first chapter of VOH on line and I read it. Alas, I thought, there's enough purple prose here to create a new Zane Gray book. Luckily, the descriptive passages that led off the novel gave way to a well-told and engaging yarn about two friends who set up adjacent cattle ranches in an unclaimed valley. Eventually one falls prey to his darker instincts and the other tries to protect and reform his friend before the locals host him a necktie party. There's also a comely young girl whom each of the cowboys desires. All of the elements dovetail into a satisfying conclusion and I'll shortly begin the next book in the series, SADDLED FOR VENGEANCE.
A word about Black Horse. It's an English publisher and not distributed in the US, although copies can be had on Amazon UK (much as I hate to plug Amazon). They're slightly undersized hardcovers with slick illustrated covers, somewhat pulpish in appearance. I paid $20 each from the author, who kindly inscribed them to me even though I only wanted autographs. Ah well, it's a very nice inscription.

I went to a concert at my younger daughter's middle school last night. Kristine started the flute when she was in the 6th grade and now, as an eighth grader, is becoming quite accomplished. She's also had five years of piano--though she stopped this year--and has been learning guitar for the last few months. She's always had a capacity for the performing arts and takes to music rather well. She says she wants to be an actress although she's never acted in anything yet. I can only hope she'll be a big star and let me knock around in her Beverly Hills mansion when I'm in my dotage, which isn't that far away.
Alas, she's on hiatus from her horseback riding lessons. I suppose I should be glad, what with the hit my income will take when I go to days, but I'd rather she stayed with it. I shudder to think what I've shelled out for lessons, shows, habits, and tack over the past four years to have it just stop. Then again, she may continue. I think she likes to ride, just isn't please with taking lessons right now.

I've scapped up a number of the dollar DVDs of old TV shows from Dollar Tree and last week I watched three episodes of Robin Hood, starring Richard Green. A lot of these old shows creak and groan, but Robin held up surprisingly well. The shows were from 1955, a couple or three years before they reached our shores I'd wager, and times out at over 28 minutes each. Since most shows back then ean only 22-24 minutes, they were shortened for US broadcast.
The first show deals with Robin's return to England from the Crusades and the events that made him a wanted man. Then, in the next shows, he joins the outlaws of Sherwood Forest, becomes their leader, initiates the give-to-the-poor policy, and recruits Little John. The theme song I knew as a kid is absent. A medieval ballad is sung instead.
One of the pleasures of watching old shows is seeing actors when they were starting out, or at least when they were not landing starring roles. One of these in an episode of Robin Hood was Leo McKern, who went on to lasting fame as Rumpole. Even then he didn't look very young.