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Archive for May, 2010

Putting Memorial Day into the proper perspective

May 28, 2010 2 comments

From A to Zowie

Putting Memorial Day into the proper perspective

By Richard Zowie

(Published in the May 26, 2010 issue of the Mt. Morris/Clio Birch Run/Bridgeport Herald)

Whenever I think of Memorial Day, I think of my four years in the U.S. Army and a 1999 conversation I once had with a sergeant named Michael.

Michael (now a sergeant first class and who’s serving as a first sergeant in Iraq) and I were both Russian linguists and chatted one night. I asked him if military service was a family tradition. He mentioned that his father, Larry, had done a tour of duty in Vietnam in the early 1970s.

“How’s your Dad doing now?” I asked.

“He didn’t return home.”

“I’m sorry to hear about that. What happened?”

“Right as a gunfight ended, someone threw a grenade onto a gun truck he was on,” Mike said. “He threw himself onto the grenade and saved the lives of those around him.”

Almost as an afterthought and with hardly a change of expression, Mike told me his father was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor—the highest award one can earn in military service.

Specialist Larry Dahl, Mike’s father, was from Oregon. Thinking about this made me look online to see about Michigan residents and enlistees who received the Medal of Honor. Here’s a sampling of what I found at http://www.homeofheroes.com:

Ensign Francis C. Flaherty, U.S. Naval Reserve, who was born in Charlotte, Mich. in 1919. During the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor when given the order to abandon the capsizing U.S.S. Oklahoma, Ensign Flaherty remained in a turret and used a flashlight so the rest of the turret crew could escape. By doing so, he sacrificed his own life.

First Lieutenant George Ham Cannon, U.S. Marine Corps, who joined the service in Michigan. While at the Midway Islands during the attack on Pearl Harbor, Cannon was mortally wounded by enemy fire. He refused to leave his post until all his wounded men (who were wounded by the same shell) were evacuated. He then continued to direct the reorganization of his command post until others removed him forcibly; subsequently, Lieutenant Cannon bled to death.

Sergeant First Class Donald Moyer, U.S. Army, born in Pontiac. During an intense battle near Seoul, Korea in 1951 during the Korean War, Moyer threw himself onto a live grenade.

Major Louis J. Sebille, U.S. Air Force, who was born in Harbor Beach, Mich. In 1950 near Hanchang, Korea, his F-51 aircraft was badly damaged by anti-aircraft fire. Instead of ejecting from the aircraft or crash landing, Major Sebille instead chose to continue attacking enemy forces that were targeting friendly ground troops. Finally, the major crashed his aircraft into an enemy target.

Sergeant First Class William Maud Bryant, U.S. Army, who entered the service in Detroit. In Vietnam’s Long Khanh Province in 1969, Sergeant Bryant’s unit was under heavy enemy attack. For 34 hours, he moved throughout his company’s position under the hostile gunfire to direct fire, distribute ammunition, assist the wounded and provide leadership. He was killed by an enemy rocket after leading patrols to try to break through the enemy’s encirclement.

Something to think about while you’re relaxing during a cookout on Memorial Day.

Richard Zowie’s a reporter and columnist for the Herald. He, his father, uncles, brother-in-law also have served in the armed forces. Visit his blog at http://www.fromatozowie.wordpress.com or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.

A tale of two pedophiles

May 19, 2010 1 comment

From A to Zowie

A tale of two pedophiles

By Richard Zowie

NOTE: Originally I submitted this for publication in the May 19, 2010 issue of the Mt. Morris/Clio and Birch run/Bridgeport Herald (Michigan) newspapers, but space was limited that day due to Senator Carl Levin eulogizing longtime Detroit Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell and my colleague, Mandilee Loomis, writing an excellent column “Draw a line for me please” about people viewing pornography in public libraries. I don’t know if this will be published in the paper in the future, especially since I’ll be writing about Memorial Day for next week, but for the moment, here it is…

Since I contribute columns to my hometown newspaper, the Beeville (Texas) Bee-Picayune, I receive the newspaper in the mail when it comes out. I enjoy keeping track of what’s happening in South Texas and seeing what’s going on.

Sometime in the past few years, I read in the paper that a man had been convicted of child molestation. When I saw his name, I recognized him as someone I attended school with. I never knew him personally, but I felt sadness for the victims of “John” (not his real name) and for what John had foolishly done with his own life. He was sentenced to a lengthy prison term.

In prison, convicted child molesters have it extremely rough and are classified with cockroaches regarding their position on the convict food chain. Without getting into too many graphic details, I understand they are often the target of assaults of various kinds from other inmates. For some, suicide seems the best option—even if it means facing hell as a final destination.

As I write this, John is in prison wondering if his nightmare will ever end.

Too bad John isn’t a famous filmmaker.

Also as I write this, French-born filmmaker Roman Polanski is fighting to avoid extradition back to the United States. We remember how Polanski, who directed the films “Rosemary’s Baby” and “Chinatown” and, more recently, the 2002 Academy Award-winning film “The Pianist”, pled guilty in 1977 to unlawful sex with then-13-year-old Samantha Geimer. He then fled America to France to avoid what would’ve almost certainly been a prison sentence after the presiding judge reneged on the original plea bargain.

Geimer has publicly said she forgives Polanski and wants the matter dropped. Various Hollywood directors and actors, such as Woody Allen (who left longtime girlfriend Mia Farrow and at 56 married Farrow’s 22-year-old adopted daughter) have signed a petition supporting Polanski. Actor Michael Douglas, at the Cannes Film Festival to promote his new film, told French radio he would not sign the petition and felt it would not be fair to sign the petition for “somebody who did break the law.”

As for Geimer, perhaps her “let’s move on” attitude would make a shred of sense if her case was isolated. But now, 42-year-old British actress Charlotte Lewis claims that when she was 16 around 1983, Polanski allegedly sexually assaulted her.

Lewis’ allegations undoubtedly won’t result in more criminal charges against Polanski since the statute of limitations has expired, but it may put a wrinkle in his efforts to have his original sentence commuted or dismissed. Some say where there’s smoke, there’s fire while others wonder why Lewis waited 27 years to air her allegations.

Lewis said an interview with a British newspaper that she was scared and ashamed and felt at first that the alleged attack was her fault, which is common for victims of sexual assault. She also said she would “never forgive” Polanski and that the director’s alleged actions ruined her life. She has, according to the interview, abused drugs and struggled in relationships since then.

IF Lewis’ accusations against Polanski are true, it would be truly astonishing how the director seemed to learn nothing from his acts against his first victim.

I have no idea if they broadcast FOX or CNN in prison or if they read the newspapers, but if they do, John no doubt will wonder why he’s in prison while Polanski has enjoyed a long life of freedom abroad and who may still avoid prison.

If only John had instead been a world-famous pedophile instead of an unknown pedophile from a small South Texas town…

Richard Zowie’s a reporter and columnist for the Herald. Visit his blog at http://www.fromatozowie.wordpress.com or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.

Just Asking

May 12, 2010 1 comment

Just Asking

By Richard Zowie

Every so often, I like to do a column where I ask questions about current events, politics, religion or life in general. This is one of those occasions…

…Is anyone else cheering against the Phoenix Suns in the NBA playoffs? I soured on the Suns when they wore their “Los Suns” jerseys.

Not that I’m against Cinco de Mayo (my wife is one quarter Hispanic and her Grandpa Treviño’s family came from Mexico), but when Suns owner Robert Sarver also suggested the jerseys were a protest against Arizona’s new law cracking down on illegal immigration, I chose to swallow my pride and cheer for the Los Angeles Lakers if they face the Suns. Even though I detest Phil Jackson, Kobe Bryant and every bandwagon celebrity who magically appears at games during playoff time.

My understanding is the law allows police to request proof of citizenship IF they have already stopped the person already for a potential law violation (such as speeding, breaking and entering, etc.). But you’d never know this from the knee-jerkers out there like Latino singers Shakira and Ricky Martin, who don’t seem to realize the new law is actually very similar to current barely-unenforced federal laws on illegal immigration.

Someone should tell the Suns (and the two above clueless singers) two things: first, many criminals in America are illegal immigrants (including the drunk driver who killed my cousin in 2001). Second, if they want to be correct on their Spanish, their jerseys should read “Los Soles” instead of “Los Suns”…

…When will Hollywood grow out of this annoying phase of horror film remakes? First there was the dreaded remake of Psycho a few years ago, then Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. Then, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Then Halloween, which was good for the back story of Michael Myers’ years on the funny farm. Then there was Friday the 13th and now A Nightmare on Elm Street. I’m guessing pretty soon they’ll do Hellraiser, The Serpent and the Rainbow and perhaps even Poltergeist.

Perhaps they’ll even get creative and remake Julia Roberts’ movie Pretty Woman but edit it as a bloodbath horror film. Maybe Legally Blonde could even be redone as Reese Witherspoon’s character as a Jigsaw-type of serial killer.

It’s hard to imagine why the movie business doesn’t seem to come up with new ideas. In the science fiction and suspense novels I read, I envision plenty of great, uncharted ideas for films…

…Is it really fair to refer to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill as “President Obama’s Hurricane Katrina”?

The conservatives say, because Obama’s response to the oil spill has been slower than molasses traveling uphill in January. One report says Obama got in a round of golf before traveling down to assess the damage.

The liberals say no, because drilling off-shore was never Obama’s idea in the first place and because conservatives would blame Obama for the sinking of the Titanic if they had the chance.

What do I think? Both sides have valid points. Obama may not be for off-shore drilling and it may not have been his idea to do it, but FEMA hasn’t seemed to possess much urgency about putting a plan into action.

By the way, Obama’s not responsible for the sinking of the Titanic…

Richard Zowie’s a reporter and columnist for the Herald. Most of his questions about life will probably go unanswered. Visit his blog at http://www.fromatozowie.wordpress.com or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.

Flint police department and the mayor: Part 2 of 2

From A to Zowie

Flint police department and the mayor: Part 2 of 2

By Richard Zowie

We heard last week from “Jack”, a Flint Police Department officer regarding his thoughts on the police department and how it’s faring among the current tough economic times.

Jack suggested that, for further information, I direct some questions to Flint Police Sergeant’s Association president Rick Hetherington.

Sergeant Hetherington, who’s been with the FPD since 1998, has been pretty busy in his career: 12 years working undercover in narcotics, two years in the gang squad, four years in the detective bureau and the rest of the time in the patrol bureau.

In other words, a pretty good person to ask about the police department and how it pertains to the mayor’s office.

Richard Zowie: From your observation along with your opinion, what was the department’s opinion of former mayor Don Williamson?

Rick Hetherington: My opinion is that Mr. Williamson attempted to destroy the morale of the police department and undermine its effectiveness. He made a mockery of the rank structure and had no regard for contractual constraints on his administration.

RZ: From your observation along with your opinion, what was the department’s reaction when Dayne Walling was elected as mayor?

RH: The department held high hopes when Mr. Walling was elected mayor. The department expected that Mr. Walling would by an ally and that we would work together to reduce crime and the deficit of the city.

RZ: How difficult and dangerous is it for Flint police to do their job on a very tight budget with fewer officers?

RH: It is becoming increasingly difficult for the department to function at the current staffing levels. The mayor, through the chief, has decimated the patrol bureau and shifted the majority of the remaining officer to the COPS program or foot patrol. This leaves very few officers to actually respond to 911 calls on a daily basis. The chief has said publicly that there are always 12-16 officers working on each shift. This is a flat-out fabrication. The CAD (computer aided dispatch) system reflects the current officer availability and pending calls. It is not unusual to see a maximum of nine to 10 officers working and available and a low of three to six officers working and available. The pending calls for service can range from five to 40 and these numbers are during dayshift hours when call volumes are lower.

The Flint Police Department has been extremely fortunate that it has not had more officers killed in the line of duty. In the last 43 years there have been three officers killed in the line of duty and all three were the result of traffic accidents. How more officers have not been killed by violent acts is unexplainable. A police officer’s instincts have him rush into situations that others flee from. The reduced staffing levels and increased wait times for back up will escalate the chances that an officer could find him/herself in a potentially life threatening situation with little or no back up. This is obviously not a good position to be in.

RZ: Overall, what do you think of Walling as a mayor?

RH: I believe that Walling has exhibited himself to be a very dumb smart guy. At times it appears that he listens to no one’s advice. His actions and thought processes seem to be based on theory and hyperbole. Relating this to the police department, there is no argument that foot patrol programs can be very effective. When the FPD originally established their foot patrol program in 1978, it was the model program for the entire nation. In the first year crime rates fell 8 percent, and in the first three years calls for service fell 43 percent. These are obviously significant numbers. The difference is that during that time there were 64 foot patrol officers assigned to patrol 20 percent of the city and there were over 300 officers total. Now we have 18 foot patrol officers assigned to patrol 100 percent of the city split over two shifts, and we have just over 100 officers. The crime rate is also much higher now than it was in 1978.

The point is, these officers would be much more effectively utilized if they were mobile and available to respond to calls for service city wide. If he would take more input from employees with varying amounts of time in the various positions he would be able to get a better understanding of the requirements for effectiveness.

RZ: What kind of mayor do you feel would be best for the city of Flint?

RH: I believe the city needs a mayor (or a city manager) who is no nonsense and business based, but has the intellect to implement wide ranging cost saving plans. This person also needs to possess a high degree of self discipline and an understanding of the differences involved in public sector employment. Ed Kurtz effectively eliminated $24 million of a $32 million dollar deficit in 18 months. He was no nonsense and had a solid grasp on the things necessary to cut the deficit without slashing city services.

RZ: Finally, I’ve been told that virtually all of the police work second jobs to make ends meet. How common is this in law enforcement?

RH: It is very common. Most officers work a second job and those that don’t are usually married to someone who makes a very good living. There are others who supplement their income by working as much overtime as they possibly can. (A different form of a second job).

Richard Zowie’s a reporter and columnist for the Mt. Morris/Clio and Birch Run/Bridgeport Herald. Visit his blog at www.fromatozowie.wordpress.com or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.