Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas

mafia

I found an article on mother’s day in the rabbit hole of internet cross-linking. It has a fascinating story of how an undercover FBI agent realized that the mafia basically closed up shop on mother’s day. Reminds me of the line that Ben Wade says from 3:10 to Yuma, “even bad men love their mama’s.” He says this right before killing a man for calling his mom a whore.

I guess it goes like this, “I plan on snuffing you out, but it’s mother’s day…”

“Taking break from homicides

Burke’s [a mafia leader] gesture was no surprise to his fellow hoodlums: Mother’s Day was the most important Sunday on the organized crime calendar, when homicide took a holiday and racketeering gave way to reminiscing — often over a plate of Mom’s pasta and gravy. 

“These guys, they do have a love for their mothers,” said Joe Pistone, the FBI undercover agent who spent six Mother’s Days inside the Bonanno family as jewel thief Donnie Brasco. “They thought nothing of killing. But the respect for their mothers? It was amazing.” 

So amazing, Pistone recalled, that Bonanno member Benjamin “Lefty Guns” Ruggiero once told him that the Mafia — like a suburban Jersey mall shuttered by blue laws — closed for business when Mother’s Day arrived each May.”

Stranger than fiction….

 

Find the article here

The Power of Conscience

Kronk

We all have an inner voice with a moral bent. It talks to us and we talk back, usually in our heads but sometimes out loud. The Bible calls this conscience. Here is an example of this conversation from a bizarre story that is stranger than fiction. It is from a Forbes article documenting how the uber rich do not escape the hardships of life.

“One of the strangest and disturbing tragedies involves a billionaire heir, Robert Durst who was arrested in 2015, after implicating himself in the suspected murders of three people in HBO’s documentary “The Jinx.” Durst, who is a member of the New York real estate family worth $4.4 billion, had long been suspected to have killed his first wife Kathleen, who went missing in 1982. After leaving an on-camera interview for the documentary, his lapel microphone was still on, and Durst said to himself: “What the hell did I do? Killed ’em all, of course.” And humiliated a family that once had the world in their palm.”

Romans 2:14-15 “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them…”

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001. Print.

Source: Aubrey McClendon’s Sad Death And 8 Other Tragic Stories Involving The Super Rich – Forbes

That Annoying Rattle- What A Snare Drum Can Illustrate About The Heart

Snare Drum
This is the bottom of a snare drum. Notice the beads stretched across the bottom drum head. 

I have two teenage sons that are both involved in high school percussion. They are in the marching band and play with several other ensembles at school and church. Prior to this high school music experience it would be safe to say that I was almost completely ignorant of the world of rhythm and percussion. I carefully maintained this state in spite of drumming on the steering wheel for most of my adult life. Anyway, I have learned a lot from their passion for drums. And I have learned that the world of rhythm is a delicate (yes “delicate”) blend of tones and instruments. Good drummers are serious about the smallest details.

One important instrument is the snare drum. The ones I have seen include a set of “snares”– very small beads strung across the bottom of the drum (see the picture above). When the drum is played the beads on the snare gently rattle against the surface of the drum adding a unique sound. This rattling is very sensitive to any action on the drum, even delicate strokes from a brush. Many snare drums have an off/on lever that can pull the snare away from the drumhead to keep it from rattling. The drum can still be played, but it makes a different sound. No rattling.  I hope you are impressed a little, and now slightly informed.

I mention this because a few nights ago I went to see one of my boys play in a concert where the snare drum featured prominently. This was unfortunate because it was NOT supposed to feature prominently. The high orchestra played first and then a visiting university symphony followed them. The music was beautiful, but because they were sharing the same space, some of the percussion instruments were left on the stage and moved to the side. As the university ensemble was playing, it was obvious that something wasn’t quite right. There was a strange noise overlaying the beautiful music. I am sure my face was wrinkled with irritation because there was something incongruent between the music I knew they were trying to play the sound I was hearing. Their group was larger and louder than the high school band. The increased volume caused a nearby, unused snare drum to vibrate. In response, the snares on the bottom of the drum began to rattle. It was NOT pleasant. After a while one of the band members walked over and switched the lever to the off position, silencing the annoyance.

This made me think of the conscience. Often this  effect is what happens inside our souls when we hear the truth of God. Human beings are unshakably moral creatures. And even relativists like to take the moral high ground when they insist it is wrong to judge them. God has reserved an ambassador within the soul, and when he speaks, our conscience rattles like that snare drum. This is especially true when we step over the line into the world of evil. It happens when we hear the truth spoken by friends or enemies, echoed in stories or songs, or read in the Bible. And often it happens during our own self-talk. We know how we ought to act, and that inner voice reminds us when we are in step or when we fall short.

Speaking of people that have never heard of the God of the Bible the Apostle Paul writes, “the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.” (Romans 2:15)  I say this so that you will recognize the sound the next time you hear it. This sound is actually desirable- it was put there by the composer. Don’t try to turn it off.

Photo used by permission CC3.0 OCDP

I wrote this post several years ago, but lost track of it. It was recently discovered and I am happy to share it with you here.

 

 

 

Making of a Murderer- A Good Documentary About An Ugly Problem

making-a-murderer-1200x713

This week my wife and I watched the Netflix documentary “Making of a Murderer.”  In telling you this, I feel a little like I am at an AA meeting.  Yes we binge-watched all 10 episodes in 2 days.  That is a long documentary. But I was thoroughly engrossed in the story in spite of a several slow moments.  The account was so engaging, and even outrageous, that I experienced some of those rare and precious moments of self-forgetfulness. Those moments when a story is so gripping that you are carried to a place where you forget that you are tired, hungry, or even broke.

In short, the documentary is the story of how Steven Avery was sent to prison for 18 years for a rape he didn’t commit. This conviction happened in the face of ample evidence that the real bad guy was still out on the street. Eventually Avery was released after DNA evidence revealed the real criminal.  The story highlights the antagonism between the small town sheriff’s department and the Avery family. I think “bad blood” is the proper term for all this.

Sadly, several years later during a law suit against the sheriff’s department Avery is investigated and convicted of a heinous murder. I will avoid ruining the show with spoilers. But suffice it to say the story exposes MAJOR problems with the justice system, which is on display in large screen, full color, HD, stereo surround, screw-up mode.

I would recommend watching it (not for kids as it has some graphic language and content- it involves trials for murder and rape). It felt like a crime novel unfolding in real life.  The documentary footage seemed to come from live footage of the events that were recorded for some kind of court TV special.

Here are a two thoughts.

First, Our justice system has major problems. I think it is still one of the best in the world at offering protections for the innocent. But we have big problems to solve.  The fact that once someone has entered the criminal justice system they become a target for future law enforcement harassment is disturbing and in the long run counter productive. I realize that there are many career criminals, and that law enforcement efforts will need to investigate and prosecute repeat offenders. I have no problem with that. I do have a problem with a system that goes too far in this respect. And honestly I don’t know the answer. I just have a deep gut feeling that the machine needs an overhaul. I hope that some brilliant and informed minds will address this problem. We also do not have enough qualified defense attorneys.  I also don’t like the fact that prosecution decisions are made with elections in mind. The plea bargain system very often has little to do with guilt or innocence, but with an accused person making a decision to plead because they cannot mount a good legal defense. I have mentioned this elsewhere.

Second, I realized (once more) how much I HATE the way the news media exploits people and tragedy for ratings.  There is such an utter disregard for personal space, polite attempts to avoid the spotlight, and basic manners. The truth is treated with outright contempt. The intersection of our culture and the criminal justice system seems to be this huge dysfunctional mess where people in power manipulate the lurid desires of media consumers through the willing help of journalists without a passing regard for what is true or ultimately helpful. The film shows that this cancer has more than a passing impact on viewers, it has the potential to corrupt the court system and destroy the lives of innocent people. In effect, the media becomes a court room from hell. It becomes a nightmare where there are no rules, no protections, and no court of appeal. And this goes into full effect when anyone experiences a tragedy that can be turned into grist for the ratings mill.

Update 1/6/15

I should add that I am aware that this documentary only provides one side of the story. Some reports are coming out presenting additional info. I have left out my thoughts on this to avoid spoilers. But I do understand there another side to this, and still think this reveals problems in the criminal justice system. 

When You Don’t Learn From Your Mistakes

mistakes

I love good stories.

They help to make the abstract stuff of life concrete. Here is a FANTASTIC story about the importance of learning from your mistakes. It comes from the book “Street Smarts” and was reprinted in Inc magazine. I just finished the book and I would highly recommend it.  The writing flows easily. It is clear, and obviously drawn from lots of experience. I am disappointed that he doesn’t have more books available.

Anyway, the author (Norm Brodsky) says that when there is a mistake in your organization you need to do two things, and both are very important.  First, stop the bleeding.  Second, determine the cause of the problem so it doesn’t happen again. This story is a good example of what happens when you forget to do #2.

‘A few months ago, my wife, Elaine, and I were in Dallas for a conference and we decided to go out to dinner at a fancy seafood restaurant near our hotel. The place was crowded, and we had no reservation, but the maitre d’ said he thought he could seat us in 20 minutes or so. While we waited at the bar, Elaine ordered a shrimp cocktail. Before it was served, the maitre d’ came over to tell us he had a table available in the balcony overlooking the main dining room.

“I just ordered a shrimp cocktail,” Elaine said.”No problem,” said the maitre d’.

“I’ll have someone bring it to your table.”

The shrimp cocktail arrived right after we did. Elaine tasted the sauce and found it too spicy. Intending to dilute it a bit, she reached for a bottle of ketchup on the table. As she turned the cap on the bottle, there was a loud pop, and ketchup came shooting out, covering her sweater, her blouse, her skirt, her whole arm.

Elaine sat there stunned, drowning in ketchup. Our waitress came running over. “Oh, I’m so sorry,” she said, handing us napkins. “Let me help you.” She worked feverishly to clean up the mess. “If you bring me your clothes tomorrow, I’ll have them cleaned for you,” she said.

The manager showed up a moment later and also offered his apologies. He wiped ketchup off a chair and sat down with us. “I’m terribly sorry about this,” he said and gave me his card. “Just send the cleaning bill to me. I’ll make sure it’s taken care of.”

Both Elaine and I were suitably impressed. Every business, including ours, has its share of accidental, unavoidable, nightmarish customer screwups. If we’re the customers involved, we mainly want people to act as though they’re sincerely sorry and to do what they can to repair the damage. We would have been quite satisfied if the manager had left it at that. But as he stood up to leave, he said, “In a way, you were lucky.”

“What do you mean?” Elaine asked.

“The last time this happened, the person got ketchup all over her hair. We had to send her to the beauty parlor. At least you just have it on your clothes.”

“You mean this has happened before?” I asked.

“Oh, yeah,” the manager said. “It happens fairly often. This part of the restaurant can get extremely hot during the day. We ask the waitresses to loosen the caps of the ketchup bottles, so the pressure doesn’t build up inside, but sometimes they forget, and the bottle explodes when the guest goes to open it.” With that, he excused himself and walked away.

Elaine and I didn’t know whether to be outraged or to burst out laughing. We were dumbfounded. I could think of all kinds of ways to make sure customers don’t have to endure ketchup bombs: Take the ketchup downstairs every evening; buy a small refrigerator for the balcony and keep the bottles there during the day; put the ketchup in vented containers; serve ketchup only when the customer asks for it. Instead the restaurant had come up with a solution that solved nothing. The bottles kept exploding; the ketchup kept flying; the staff kept cleaning up and apologizing; and the victims kept telling everyone they met about their experience, thereby turning what should have been a one-time embarrassment into an ongoing public relations problem. That’s what can happen when you don’t learn from your mistakes.’

Source: Problems, Problems | Street Smarts by Norm Brodsky | Inc.com

Photo used by permission  Topher McCulloch. Some rights reserved

A Week of Preparation For an NFL Quarterback.

 

So what is really involved each week for an NFL quarterback to learn the game plan and prepare for the big game? A LOT MORE than you probably think. And NFL football is much more complicated than the average person can imagine.

Looking at this is not only fascinating, it is instructive on how dedicated these athletes and coaches are to the mental side of their jobs.

Peter King at the MMQB has this write up walking through a week with Carson Palmer, quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals. It is a fascinating looking into a very high level of focus, effort, and dedication. And it shows how some new technologies are affecting their preparation. Very cool. I have really enjoyed Peter King’s work in covering the NFL. Last year I felt like his series on NFL Referees was one of the most interesting and informative things I read on sports all year.

Source: Arizona Cardinals’ Carson Palmer goes inside a game plan for MMQB | The MMQB with Peter King

A Worthwhile Documentary on Netflix: The Green Prince (2014) – IMDb

I have an interest in international affairs and understanding how intelligence agencies do their work. So I was taken in by the description of the film on this list of 50 best documentaries on Netflix. I also watched Happy Valley about the Penn State Child Abuse scandal. That is worth watching as well if you like the cultural side of football.

Last night we watched the documentary “The Green Prince” which is currently available to stream on Netflix. The show is mostly the dialogue of 2 individuals: The son of the leader of Hamas who became an informant for Israeli intelligence, and his Shin Bet (Israel’s internal security agency, something like our FBI) handler. The dialogue is peppered with photos, video footage, and news stories concerning the events. It won a ton of awards, and for good reason. It is a fascinating first hand look into the world of the Palestinian struggle and the intelligence world behind it.

Source: The Green Prince (2014) – IMDb

Why drivers in China intentionally kill the pedestrians they hit: China’s laws have encouraged the hit to kill phenomenon.

 

Whenever cars hit pedestrians, it is bad news. In California where I live, there is a problem with people fleeing the scene of an accident to avoid prosecution (sometimes because they have been drinking). That is frustrating.

But in China, a different layer of evil has grown up around this situation. When a driver hits a pedestrian on the road, evidently many of them deliberately hit the person a second time to make sure they do not survive.  The thinking seems to be, it is better for the driver if the person is dead than if they are only injured.  A handful of these incidents have even been caught on video.

Why does this happen? Drivers do this because of several perverse laws in that country. First, it is considerably cheaper to face a lawsuit for killing someone than for simply injuring them.  Simply maiming someone is expensive.  Second, it is very unlikely that you will be convicted for murder if you do this. What a tragedy.

Those with cars in China are often the rich, and this is an example of the laws protecting the money of the powerful above the lives of the rest.  Whether or not these laws were intended to do this is a separate question.  This is the effect.  And given China’s track record on protecting the common person, it is not surprising.

This whole story is stranger than fiction and sounds like some kind of B-rated dystopian novel.

“Double-hit cases” have been around for decades. I first heard of the “hit-to-kill” phenomenon in Taiwan in the mid-1990s when I was working there as an English teacher. A fellow teacher would drive us to classes. After one near-miss of a motorcyclist, he said, “If I hit someone, I’ll hit him again and make sure he’s dead.” Enjoying my shock, he explained that in Taiwan, if you cripple a man, you pay for the injured person’s care for a lifetime. But if you kill the person, you “only have to pay once, like a burial fee.” He insisted he was serious—and that this was common.”

Source: Why drivers in China intentionally kill the pedestrians they hit: China’s laws have encouraged the hit to kill phenomenon.

Why a Street Criminal Stole a Multi-Million-Dollar Violin | Vanity Fair

Why a Street Criminal Stole a Multi-Million-Dollar Violin | Vanity Fair.

If you like fascinating stories about true crime, here is a fun read.  It features the dumb criminal, the chatty get-away driver/wife, and a determined police chief that knows the historical significance of a Stradivarius violin. And… it’s not a long read.

The article brings up an important question, which the thieves didn’t consider: You stole it, now what?  Another is why would you want to steal this item when you can’t play it and you can’t sell it?  Even though it is worth $6 million, no one will buy it for that much.   It seems the robber has an ego, and one that exceeds his planning and skills.