Sunday, November 25, 2007

What To Wear?

On the NBC Nightly News the other evening anchor Brian Williams was bemoaning the lack of autumn here in the northeast.

Au contraire!

Autumn is here. It hass been here for almost two months. And from the looks of things will be still with us several weeks from now. In fact we may never get rid of this friggin' season. Beware - the other effects of global warming will be nothing compared to those of the Endless Autumn.

Or maybe it just seems that way. They (whoever they may be) apparently don't keep records of such things. I searched on Google for "latest new england autumn" and got a bunch of travel planning and photographic web sites - but no log of start and end dates of the season. The closest that I found was a statement on the "" home page that said "Color may begin to appear in isolated spots in far northern New England the first week in September. Typically, the color change begins at the higher elevations and in the northern part of the region mid-September and moves southward through mid-to-late October, ending in southern New England coastal areas at the end of October."

It is now the last week of November with high temperatures projected in the mid forties (on the warm days) and right out my window I am looking at an oak tree that, while its leaves have turned golden brown, evinces zero interest in dropping any of them any time soon. This morning we saw a bright yellow multi-story maple with about fifty percent of its leaves covering a lawn and the remainder calmly hanging on. Other maples are still summer-green and full to the brim. Burning Bushes are pretty much intact and all ablaze with color.

Meanwhile all of the trees in our yard - elm, maple and oaks - have denuded themselves, and last weekend I took my magic-mulching-mower and ground the last of their output into my lawn. Now all I have to dispose of are the late-dropping, wind-blown fronds from my various neighbors that have found their way into our yard at a rate roughly twice that of what my own trees did.

Wethersfield is located probably two thirds of the way between far northern isolated and coastal which, by the "" paradigm, would make our season from early to latish October.

I would say that seems just about right - at least the way I remember - which seems to be by what I wore rather than what the date was. I cannot for example recall needing to dress as warmly for leaf wrangling, as I undoubtably will for my next round of it. "They" evidently don't keep detailed statistics equating clothes-worn to weather-warmness either, so I am probably not one hundred percent certain. And I know that it has to get really cold for leaf-dropping to begin. I recall several years ago going out for any early morning run at the end of a below freezing night and being startled by the sound of shimmering yellow Gingko leaves cascading down from the two Maidenhair trees on our street. By the end of my run however the sun had warmed my bare legs and tee-shirted torso to a state of over-heatedness.

I think of the appropriate leaf wrangler outfit as corduroy slacks with a flannel shirt over a tee shirt - with the upper body outer layer coming off about midway through the sunlit exertions. That's definitely not going to happen in the next couple of weeks.

Which is really a shame. It was one of the few clothing outfits that I had down pat. The weight and warmth were just right, and the bright colors of the soft-woven cotton melded aesthetically with the equally striking hues of the landscape - the perfect autumn camouflage.

First it was "dress down days" followed by "fulltime business casual". Now it’s "global warming enduced endless autumn". No wonder even the trees can't figure out what is the right thing to wear.

Prevailing Winds

The prevailing winds

Blow crossways into our yard -

A pen for neighbor's leaves.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

History Does Not Repeat Itself...

The truth can be found in many places. For example I recently found it on a "Coffee Games" insert in a newspaper that seems to have some connection to the Foxwoods Casino here in Connecticut.

I found the tabloid abandoned on a table at our local Chinese takeout place. The one page tan colored amusement section was stuck in the centerfold. Among its contents were several quotations - some amusing, some not. Most were too wordy to fit into the fortune cookies that normally dispense wisdom in this establishment. So I read through them hoping to find a deeper truth than could be contained in a thinly folded piece of dough - and came upon:

"History does not repeat itself, - historians merely repeat each other."

A few months ago I would have blown right by this notion without giving it a second thought. History was not and had never really been an interest of mine. Mars and I did join the Wethersfield Historical Society when we retired. But we were more in search of some engaging volunteer opportunities and a chance to socialize with interesting people, than in increasing our knowledge of bygone events.

Then our good friend John, a history buff and member of the society's Board of Directors, told me about some research that a now deceased previous volunteer (Wes Christensen) had done on our town's role in the Civil War.

Long story short - the work was in need of some organization and a means of presentation and now, through the efforts of Mars and myself, it has become the first article in a newly created "Member Articles" section on the society's website.

This project got Mars interested in learning a little more about the Civil War. So we attended an Elderhostel at Gettysburg and added a photo of the Connecticut monument to the website. And that was the extent of our immersion in history until another Elderhostel - this time a golfing one at Penn State University.

"I noticed on your nametag that you're from Wethersfield Connecticut. Do you know about Thomas Hickey?" The speaker's ID said "Sol Henner" and he said that he was a "retired Revolutionary War Historian".

"No I don't. What should I know about him?"

"Well he was a well known Revolutionary War traitor who lived for a short while in Wethersfield."

"I guess then that we wouldn't have any streets named after him."

"No, I would think not. Actually he was a traitor twice - once from the British to the Americans and later on, when he became convinced that the English were going to take back the country he went back to the British. He was a member of General Washington's Guard in New York and was involved in a plot to assassinate him. There is a book called "Traitors, Turncoats and Heroes" [by John Bakeless] that tells about him. You might find it interesting."

"Thank you. Actually we volunteer at the Wethersfield Historical Society so I will check this out when we get back home."

Sol spoke as if, in historical circles at least, this was a familiar story. So I figured after I got a little background info I would stop in at the Historical Society where I assumed this story was equally well known, although possibly consigned to the "Dirty Little Towne Secrets" part of the research library. Then perhaps I would write it up in some relatively entertaining way and post it on the society's website.

I quickly found the story on the Internet in a website devoted to New York history. The outline was pretty much what Sol had told me. Hickey was a member of the Commander-in-Chief Guard who "was himself jailed by American authorities for attempting to pass counterfeit notes, and he unwisely talked of the plot with a cellmate, another counterfeiter named Isaac Ketcham,...[who] seeing an opportunity to be set free, squealed on Hickey. The ex-guard was court-martialed and found guilty of mutiny and sedition. On orders of Washington, and with 20,000 Continental soldiers as spectators, Hickey was hanged on June 28 in a field near Bowery Lane."

The article also mentioned that Hickey was a former British deserter but said nothing about his Wethersfield origins. This was not totally surprising since the focus of this particular site was New Yorkers. What was surprising was when I Googled "Thomas Hickey Wethersfield" and got no hits.

Still I figured everything is not yet on the 'net so no big deal. But when I went to the Wethersfield Historical Society, (a) there was no "D L T S" section, and (b) instead of a huge folder of property deeds, birth announcements, etc. relating to Thomas Hickey (or any of that surname) all that I found was:

(1) One entry in the accounts of a Wethersfield merchant of that time
"February 25 1775
The settled all just accounts with Mister Thomas Hickey as written our hand
Thomas Hickey
Samuel Hanmer"

(2) An article published in a local newspaper in 1967 about "Thomas Hickey - listed in the old histories as a resident of Wethersfield [who] almost succeeded in assassinating George Washington."

(3) A letter of inquiry to the Wethersfield Historical Society dated May 9, 1958 from John Bakeless (the author of the book to which I was referred by Sol Henner) seeking "any local records that might list him, tax lists, lists of householders, or anything of the sort".

The newspaper piece however talked about a different treasonous crime - an attempt by Hickey to poison Washington using tainted peas (apparently a favorite dish of the General) as the reason for Hickey's execution. As source material it referenced Hickey's account-book signature at the historical society, and a work by Benson J. Lossing called "History of the American Revolution".

The Bakeless inquiry did not have any response on file and, when I later researched his book, I found that it had no references at all to Hickey's Wethersfield connection. The book also calls into question, without disproving, Lossing's poisoned pea story - the facts of which Bakeless says Lossing got "from one W.J. Davis, who had them from Peter Embury, of New York, who knew [The housekeeper who Hickey allegedly attempted to involve in the plot] Phoebe Fraunces."

Longer story shorter.

I got the Lossing book and there are no sources cited for any part of the Hickey story, Wethersfield included, other than the above-mentioned W.J.Davis.

I also looked at a number of other historical works that mention Hickey's Wethersfield connection - none with any sources other than Lossing, most with none. I also determined that at least one of Lossing's Hickey facts - that he was transferred from Knowlton's Rangers (a Connecticut regiment) to Washington's Guard - is incorrect since the Rangers did not exist as a unit until three months after Hickey's execution.

John Bakeless died in 1978 so I can't ask him - but I'm thinking that his omission of any mention of Wethersfield in his Hickey story indicates that he could not find enough direct proof to convince him of its truth.

Me neither!

But I am still going to write my piece for the Member Articles section of the website. It will relate the frequently told and widely accepted story of Wethersfield's most notorious traitor. And will talk about the fits and starts, and successes and frustrations of my research. My conclusion will be that it is possible that Thomas Hickey, the convicted attempted kidnapper of our nation's first President, was (however briefly) a resident of Wethersfield Connecticut - but extremely unlikely.

One of my pet peeves with the Internet and email is the speed with which false information can be distributed. The cause of this problem is not however the technology, but instead the eagerness of the disseminators to be a part of the story by passing on unverified information. As a result I've assigned myself the role of fact-checker before Mars or I forward on such electronic epistles.

The truth can be found in many places - but not if "historians merely repeat each other."

P.S. Fittingly enough the truth-shedding quote that I found is a slight distortion of one by Phillip Guedalla - an English barrister, author & popular historian. His actual statement was "History repeats itself; historians repeat each other."

Photo by Mars

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Stare Decisis*

Well I dodged the metaphorical bullet. When I called in to find out "whether the court still requires your services as a juror" I was told by a recorded voice that I did not need to appear. I hung up and called back. Same story. And I didn't even have to show up at the courthouse wearing my Birkenstock sandals, "Nuke A Gay Baby Whale For Jesus" Tee-Shirt, and the logo jacket from the wacko-leftwing alternative public radio station at which we volunteer.

This would have been my second time as a member of a jury. The first was an attempted murder case - and it was "attempted" only because the part of the victim's brain into which the bullet was fired was not a death-inducing area.

The crime actually happened in my hometown, less than two miles from my house, on one of our normal work commuting routes. The victim was a local insurance executive and the defendant was an eighteen-year old black man. Apparently it was "in all the papers" or at least in our local town weekly and daily Hartford Courant.

Still, as I sat in the group voir dire listening to the judge explain the crime and asking any of us if we were too familiar with the victim, the defendant, the lawyers or the crime to render a "fair and impartial verdict", I honestly could not recall being aware of any of the details that we were being told. Nor were there any other reasons that I could come up during my individual questioning to make me eligible for disqualification.

There was one other town resident in the pool who claimed he remembered the crime perfectly. In spite of his protestations that he also knew most of the police and EMTs involved he was still picked - so short of being the injured party's wife, such knowledge seemed not to make a difference to the presiding magistrate.

Most of the evidence presented was forensic - the boots and pants of the defendant contained the victim's blood and his gun was shown to have fired the bullets found at the crime scene. There was also the testimony of a pawnbroker who identified the accused as being one of two men who tried to hock the victim's laptop, with his business card still attached.

The victim testified and although he could not definitively identify the face of his assailant he did describe the hooded jacket, pants, and boots that were found with the defendant.

Oh, and the accused confessed that he was present during the crime but contended that he had nothing to do with it.

Our jury deliberation took less than two hours. There were eleven different charges of varying degrees of severity - attempted murder being the most serious. First we voted (secretly) on that and we all said "guilty". Then we went through the remaining charges one-by-one and came to the same decision on each of them. Because it went so quickly we wanted to sleep on our decisions. So we gave ourselves the rest of the afternoon off, took a quick check for any second thoughts the next morning, and then told the bailiff that we were ready.

All of which is to say that it was an easy verdict. Good thing!

For one, going into the trial, I have probably felt convinced "beyond a reasonable doubt" about only one thing in my entire life - and that had more than a slight romantic component to it. I'm not incredibly skeptical, but on the other hand I have a really hard time being a true believer in anything. So I wasn't certain, in the absence of amorous attraction, that my mind could get itself to the level of certainty required to decide a criminal case. And if it did, whether I would recognize that I had achieved that level of certitude.

Secondly, when I watch police dramas on television I'm always hoping that underdog, frequently the poor black kid, didn't do it - you know, bleeding heart liberal and all that. This was never an issue because of...

...three. I've also seen enough trial movies and TV programs to be familiar with the "threatened juror" plot. This accused spent most of his time either gazing down at the floor or looking fixedly and coldly at the jury box, like a boxer staring down his opponent before a fight. I decided early on not to look away whenever I noticed him doing this. After awhile he would go back to checking out his feet.

Finally, again probably due to too many movies, I didn't want to have pull off a Henry Fonda "Twelve Angry Men" performance. I suppose that one of the many points of that fine film was that in certain circumstances even the most ordinary man can rise to extraordinary heights. But still...

After the foreman announced our verdicts the Public Defender asked that the jury be polled. Three of us had individually stood up and said "guilty" when the defendant indicated that he wanted the process to be stopped. Then he went back to looking at the floor.

Later in the Jury Room the judge told us "In case any of you had even the slightest doubt - don't. You did absolutely the right thing." This defendant had already been convicted of a kidnapping; robbery, and murder that took place in a neighboring town four days prior to this crime. For those actions he was sentenced to life imprisonment without possibility of parole. (Now he would get an additional one hundred plus years added on.). We jurors congratulated each other on a good job and went off on our separate ways. Probably because the deliberations were so cut-and-dried we never really reached the farewell hug or even handshake level of groupiness.

For two weeks I had said nothing to Mars about the case. I even altered our work commute so as not to drive by the crime scene. On the first weekend I saw the victim at my health club - he turned out to be a member. I carefully avoided him and told the judge who, with the concurrence of the two attorneys, let me stay on the case.

Now that it was over I could finally talk. I got as far as "It was an attempted murder case and it actually happened in Wethersfield..." She interrupted "oh the one with the insurance agent..." Later her mother also had the same response. I wondered if I had been the only person in the whole statewide jury pool who didn't know anything about it.

All in all that first trial turned out to be a very good experience. The case was important - not "interview the jury on '60 Minutes' important" but “permanently affecting the rest of someone's life” important. The evidence was straightforward, clear, and logically presented. Something that appealed to the Information Technology professional part of my psyche. And my fellow jurors were neither contentious, nor grand-standish, nor half=hearted.

This time I probably would have been selected in spite of the unfit outfit I was wearing. I have a proven track record as a jurist and my preconceived knowledge of local criminal activity is still acceptably abysmal - due in part to the radio source for my news. I'm not disappointed however. I don't mean to say, "been there done that" - but it'd be really hard to live up to that first one. But then again, who am I to judge?

* stare decisis - the legal principle of determining points in litigation according to precedent.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Wicked Good Haiku

Mars was in Freeport Maine last night on a SKI Trip (Spending Kid's Inheritance). Since the UConn Women's basketball game wasn't turning out to be much of a contest I decided to watch ABC's "Pushing Daisies" and check back on the score during commercials.

After about ten minutes I wished that I had a TIVO so I could also skip the parts of that story that weren't interesting, and just focus on what turned out to be - much to my surprise - the only thing that drew me away from my crossword puzzle.

Apparently I was counting syllables to help me fall asleep because when I woke up today this was in my head.

Old guy fantasies
Oft times unusual, but
Kristin Chenoweth?

Monday, November 12, 2007

George Michael Evica

Truthfully I have never listened to any of George Michael Evica's "Assassination Journal" radio programs in their entirety. I'm not conspiracy oriented and I always felt that I was dropping in on the middle of a long running conversation whose previous path and future destination were too intricately woven together for me to grasp - particularly while at the same time driving my car. However I invariably got caught up in the rhythm of the piece and the ease with which George Michael wove the names and events - some familiar, some not - into a tight fabric of authoritarian mistrust.

I did meet him once in person. Mars and I were answering telephones at radio station WWUH's Fall Fundraiser, an organization we had joined as volunteers about six months previously. The phones were set up on a table tightly packed inside of the classical music library where we were eating lunch with Eugene, one of the afternoon musical hosts, and awaiting our first call. George Michael had just completed his live broadcast and a syndicated public affairs program was now filling the airways.

Station manager John Ramsey was explaining to us that a camera crew was on the premises that day filming George Michael for a possible documentary about him and his radio program and immediately thereafter Evica swept into the room followed by a woman holding a clip board and a man carrying a video camera.

George Michael was talking. He slumped down into one of the available desk chairs at the phone table and instantly shifted to talking about all of us people in the back room "who made all of this" - sweeping right arm gesture - "work." Tall and angularly faced with a full gray beard and longish, nicely cut hair of the same color, he seemed like the actor you would cast for the part of the charismatic anarchist in a politico-historical drama.

We were videotaped and asked to sign releases while George Michael continued his conversation about the wonderful assortment of music that Eugene played, most of which the Russian emigrant had discovered since coming to the U.S. George Michael and Eugene then had a short one-on-one conversation that seemed to consist almost entirely of Russian names and three letter organization abbreviations, none of which were familiar to Mars or me, but made perfect sense to both of them and, like Evica's program, seemed to be just another paragraph in a long-running dialog.

The crew left and George Michael continued what now had become largely a monologue punctuated by comments from us that indicated we wanted him to continue. He told us with pride and amusement in his voice about his wife's overhearing FBI tapsters on their phone line. And of an unplanned meeting at the Hartford Stage Company between the Evicas and an apparently well-known U.S. government official. The Evicas had been given a fellow church member's season tickets for the night and upon arriving introduced themselves to their seatmates. "So you're Evica." The other man harrumphed just before he and his wife got up and left.

Then, being late for some appointment, he packed up some of the luncheon sandwiches and left. About thirty minutes later the phone rang and his wife called to see if George Michael had left his WWUH jacket at the studio. He had and we set it aside for them to pick up later.

At that time George Michael was battling among other things brain cancer, but nonetheless continued to do his radio program and take part in the fund drive.

Yesterday, about one year later, he died.

I remember something that I saw in downtown Hartford a few years ago as I was waiting to cross Main Street in the morning on my way to work. A police cruiser was rushing along, blowing its siren at intersections to make its way through. A large German Shepherd held his head out the open back window barking joyfully as he rode into battle. Some people looked and listened. Most didn't. But the size of the audience didn't make any difference to the Shepherd. He clearly loved what he did, was extremely good at it, and he continued to pursue it with the fervor of a true and honest believer.

After George Michael left the studio that day Mars and I kidded that when we were taking pledges from any of his listeners we should tell them that we already had their credit card numbers in our records. I had thought of sharing the joke with George Michael, but this being our first meeting I decided not to.

Actually I bet he would have rather enjoyed it.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

noun: a sharp division; a split

On a recent "Today" program there was a segment on "Cleavage In The Workplace". Evidently this is quite an important issue - otherwise a serious news program such as this wouldn't be giving it any airtime. The guest squabble-heads were Donny Deutsch (apparently a successful advertising guy and host of an MSNBC program) and Karen Salmansohn (author of twenty-nine books including "How To Succeed In Business Without A Penis").

Although it seemed that there should be a sharp division between them, both Donny and Karen agreed that standards for appropriate office attire varied with the type of job - e.g. financiers and creative advertising types should not be dressing the same way.

Donny however felt that "too much" cleavage was not a distraction to professional workers while Karen felt that there was such a thing as "cleavage power" that women should embrace and use to their advantage.

Donny then unbuttoned his shirt and the conversation, which had started in a chasm, went rapidly even further downhill.

I admit to being one who appreciates cleavage but my professional experience with the subject is minimal. I spent thirty plus years in information technology - a field filled with creative types, albeit "geeky" ones - and actually can only recall one instance. A female co-worker pointed out to me that a sales representative attempting to sell us some software always unbuttoned the top three buttons of her blouse before giving a presentation. I felt obliged to pay attention and in fact she did. Ultimately we bought the product. It worked well but did not totally live up to the promises that her sales-glimpse implied.

My only other commercial cleavage episode involved a jeweler in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Her name is Aga and she was discovered several years ago at the local Flea Market by our son Bram who shortly thereafter introduced us to her at her newly opened shop on the town plaza.

Aga is in her late twenties, attractive, and clearly a practitioner of Karen Salmansohn's "cleavage power" business model. At one point during that first meeting as she arranged herself in position for me to look down on her she said semi-privately "I like for men to remember me." She was at the same time totally attentive to Mars - suggesting items and offering to modify pieces or custom make them.

In spite of my efforts to get Mars to buy all of Aga's stock she limited herself to a couple of necklaces and some earrings. Nor has she changed her blouse selection.

In the political arena Hillary Clinton recently came under criticism for her low-cut display while speaking on the Senate Floor. Some in the house were seemingly offended by the inevitable comparisons that homophone-savvy viewers would make. Republican senators pointed out that their leading presidential candidate was much more demure and modest during his own explorations in cross-gender dressing - further evidence of his toughness and adherence to right-wing principles.

Mars and I have also noticed that certain professions on television are consistently portrayed as decolletage displaying - most notably CSI investigators. I don't personally know any forensic scientists but I am being called for jury duty next week. With any luck I will be selected for a criminal case with lots of testimony about DNA and exsanguinations and I'll be able to look more closely into the truth or falsity of this portrayal.

We continue to watch the Today program as part of our campaign to keep us abreast of the latest news, ideas, and information. Just this week for example Al Roker was in Ecuador talking about everybody's favorite bird name, the Blue Footed Sula Sulidae.

And to think that some effete, intellectual, NPR-loving, elitists call it the boob tube.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Overheard at Target...

...and modified very slightly to meet the requirements of Haiku.

Mother to 4 or 5 year old son.

"Just say 'I'm sorry'

You do not have to punch her

While you're saying it."