Friday, October 28, 2016

The All-Time Black Hockey Team

The World Cup of Hockey was recently completed, and like I hoped, the free thinking that decided which teams would participate paid off.

It included most of the national teams we are used to seeing at the top of international tournaments -- namely, Canada, the USA, Russia, Sweden, Finland, and the Czech Republic -- but the NHL got creative by adding a Team Europe and Team North America to the mix. The former consisted of players from European countries not named above, and the latter was a youngsters squad comprised only of Canadians and Americans age 23 or younger (three of its players are still in their teens).

Team Europe made it all the way to the final before falling to Canada. Team North America made waves by clobbering Finland and knocking off Sweden in OT. Chalk two up for thinking out of the box.

Part of me wanted to welcome the World Cup by writing blog posts about what I consider to be each country's all-time national team, putting players from different generations on the same roster. I never got around to that, but in the wake of the World Cup, and while enjoying the start of the NHL season, an out-of-the-box idea has risen in my mind: Why not name an all-time black hockey team?

Hockey has long been considered a white sport and many people today still think of it that way. But there are quite a few black players in the NHL right now, and black players made a significant impact on the game even before "right now." As far as I know, no one has ever compiled an all-time black roster, so here I am to do the job, in all my white-assed glory!

Fyi, for the purposes of this post I am going to treat black and biracial as one and the same. I have neither the time nor worldview to put any stock into notions of "racial purity" or "one drop" rules, regardless of which race I'm talking about. In any event, here goes:


Center  -  Nathan LaFayette
A third-round pick in 1991, LaFayette went on to play NHL hockey for six seasons, most notably for the Vancouver Canucks and LA Kings, in a career cut short by injury. His star shone brightest in the 1994 playoffs when he topped the league with a plus/minus of +13, tallying 9 post-season points to help guide Vancouver all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. Unfortunately for him and Canucks fans, they lost Game Seven to the Mark Messier-led New York Rangers.


Right Wing  -  Jarome Iginla
Born in Canada to a Nigerian father and American mother, Jarome Iginla made his NHL debut in 1996 and remains in the league to this day, still playing well and drawing attention from opposing defenses.

A powerful skater with a blistering shot and nose for getting to the puck, he is one of only 19 players in the NHL's long history to score more than 600 goals. His to-date tally of 612 puts him ahead of such luminaries as Bobby Hull, Rocket Richard, Mike Bossy, and Guy LaFleur... The 1,095 points he rang up during his time in Calgary (525 goals + 570 assists) make him the top points producer in Flames history, by a whopping margin of 265 more than second place Theo Fleury... Plus he shows no signs of stopping, seeing as how he's shooting above 14% (better than his career average) so far this season.


Left Wing  -  Tony McKegney
McKegney's NHL career spanned from 1978 to 1991, during which he was known for Steady Eddie dependability in an era remembered more for outrageous personalities and gaudy stats. McKegney had nine seasons of 20+ goals, including three of 30+. His best season was 1987-88, when he bagged 40 goals and dished out 38 assists; the resulting 78 points stood for 14 years as the highest-scoring season by a black player, until Iginla broke it by racking up 96 (52 + 44) in 2001-2002. Everyone who has ever coached sports would give his right arm to have someone like McKegney on his roster.


Defense  -  Johnny Oduya
When you think about places to look for black athletes, you don't think of Stockholm, Sweden, but Johnny Oduya is living proof that you shouldn't assume they aren't there (and come to think of it, if you don't mind me sliding back to my 1980's sexual fantasies, the steamy Neneh Cherry is from Stockholm too!).

A solid two-way defenseman, Oduya is currently in his tenth NHL season and anchoring the Dallas blue line, but is best known for his stellar stint in Chicago that saw him play a key role in winning two Stanley Cup championships. In 2013, it was he who notched the assist on the Cup-winning goal against Boston with 59 seconds remaining in Game Six.

Side note:  Oduya's older brother Fredrik was drafted by the San Jose Sharks in 1993. Although Fredrik never cracked an NHL roster, he played professionally for eight years in the AHL, Sweden, and UK before dying in a motorcycle accident in this interestingly named town.


Defense  -  P.K. Subban
It seems a little strange to include a player on this roster who is only 27 and has yet to reach his peak, but then again, we're talking about P.K.! He has arguably the biggest and most charismatic personality of anybody in the NHL, which makes some people love him and some people hate him -- but most importantly, his game matches his personality.

A Norris Trophy winner (defenseman of  the year) and two-time All-Star, Subban patrols the blue line with authority and has a rocket of a shot that causes some people to accuse him of neglecting his defensive duties -- which would be a problem if it was true, but I've watched him play a lot of hockey and my eyeballs tell me it's not true.

Montreal's fans are undoubtedly the most demanding on Earth and arguably the most knowledgeable on Earth, and most of them responded with outrage when Subban was traded to Nashville in the offseason. That should tell you all you need to know.


Goaltender  -  Grant Fuhr
He has five Stanley Cup rings (all of them earned as a starter, although injury sidelined him during the playoffs for one of the five) and Wayne Gretzky has repeatedly called him the greatest goalie to ever play the game. As is true of all greats, he was at his best in the playoffs, which resulted in him being known as the best clutch goalie of the 1980's.

In addition to his status as a five-time Stanley Cup winner, Fuhr backstopped Team Canada to a pair of Canada Cup titles over the Soviets; was a six-time All-Star; and won both the Vezina and Jennings trophies... and he was the first black player inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.


That's the first line. I wanted to include my second line, but this post is already long so I'll save that for another time.

Friday, October 21, 2016

et ceteras

Eventually I will...
...opine about the election. But it's depressing because Clinton and Trump are both pretty much 100 percent guaranteed to be, um, deplorable as president. So, unable to make a case for either the GOP or Libertarian candidate (we'd have to go back to 1960 for me to make a case for a Democrat), I am choosing to write about things that aren't depressing.


Love Life
Several years ago I mentioned Steve Fugate in one of my blog posts. He walks across these United States -- literally, to the tune of 43,000 miles on eight walks through all of the Lower 48 -- imploring people to embrace and cherish the gift of life. It is a gift we've all been given but far too few of us appreciate.

I saw Mr. Fugate in the flesh on one occasion, more than 15 years ago, well before he thought of the mission that has become his calling. The occasion was the funeral of his son, Steve Jr., who took his own life. I semi-knew Steve Jr., having met and talked to him a couple times because he went to high school with Erika and, like many of her classmates, made his way from Vero Beach to Tampa after high school was over.

Some time after his only son deliberately perished, Mr. Fugate's only daughter accidentally perished at the feet of prescription drugs.

How is this not the most soul-crushing story ever? Well, Mr. Fugate decided to dispense love to strangers and friends across the fruited plain rather than poison his heart with bitterness. With less than $600 per month on which to live (a government check that, if my memory is accurate, owes to his prior military service) he hoisted his belongings on his back and in a cart; propped a sign atop his shoulders that says "Love Life"; and set out to wander our beautiful land and engage with people he met along the way.

His thoughts and anecdotes are insightful, original, and true, and some of them can be perused in his newly published book Love Life Walk. Go here to order it for yourself... and if you like what you read, leave a review on Amazon because the word on the street is that their algorithms steer more people to a title after it receives 50+ reviews (as of right now, his book has 42).


More Hockey, Part One
My October 14th post talked about a great rivalry being possible north of the border between the Connor McDavid-led Edmonton Oilers and Auston Matthews-led Toronto Maple Leafs. I went so far as to say it "could be similar to the Celtics/Bird vs. Lakers/Magic showdowns of the 1980's NBA."

But I should have also mentioned another team/player outfit north of the border, one I can't believe I overlooked because it involves my favorite NHL franchise from up there. I am talking, of course, about the Winnipeg Jets and Patrik Laine, the 18-year-old Finn they took with the second pick in June's draft.

Nine days ago Matthews blew the roof off by scoring four goals in his very first NHL regular season game. Then, two night ago, in the first head-to-head game between June's top two picks, Laine got the nod by recording a hat trick to lead the Jets to a 5-4 overtime victory over Matthews's Leafs. His heroics included the game-tying score in the final minute of regulation followed by the winner midway through OT -- a winner that came shortly after Matthews fired a would-be winner only to see Michael Hutchinson block it with a nifty save.

So coming off the first season in 46 years in which not a single Canadian franchise made the playoffs, what we have here is this: Three Canadian franchises, one from the eastern part of the country and one from the west and one from smack dab in the middle, all have hopeful futures and are led by teenagers who seem destined for superstardom.

And in a testament to one of the things that makes hockey the greatest sport going, those three teens come from three different nations, with Matthews hailing from Scottsdale, Arizona, Laine from Tampere, Finland, and McDavid from Richmond Hill, Ontario.


More Hockey, Part Two
It was announced yesterday that ESPN The Magazine named my Tampa Bay Lightning the number one franchise in all of professional sports (defined as the NHL, NFL, NBA and MLB).

Amen!  And Yes!

I am obviously biased, but I do objectively believe the mag got it right. The Bolts play in one of the world's finest arenas; have sold out 69 straight games; are enormously fan- and family-friendly; are philanthropic and heavily involved in the community; have a right-minded and open-hearted owner; have made deep playoff runs the last two years despite having a young roster; are not cheapskates when it comes to salaries; and they do it all while having an average ticket price that is in the league's bottom fourth.

Thanks to the quality of the Lightning franchise, my burg on Florida's west coast is a true hockey town, as much as some places in Canada and a many places in New England and the Upper Midwest. Again I say: Amen! And Yes!


Links

Leonard Cohen is still churning out material at age 82.

If you have to ask who Leonard Cohen is, that's fine. I'll just say that he wrote one of the greatest sings ever and it was performed most brilliantly by k.d. lang here.

And since we're talking about music, here is arguably the most haunting and goosebumping song ever. Largely because it's a true story. The writer/singer is Colin Hay, and if his voice sounds familiar it's because you are over 40 and he used to be the front man of Men At Work.

The fact that the great Charles Krauthammer's thoughts about Trump vs. Clinton echo my own warms the cockles of my heart.

Why Hillary Clinton should never be allowed close to the presidency.

Why a segment of Trump voters should never be allowed in polite society.


And now...
...it's time for a break. See ya later.


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

My Angel Pie

I wrote and published this last year when Sarah turned 11. Today she turns 12. I could write even more, but I like this post so much I feel like simply re-posting it on this day. Love ya, Angel Pie! 

2004 was quite a year.

In sports, my Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup and my Auburn Tigers went undefeated on the gridiron.

Plus, there was a bit of a to-do in the baseball world, with the Red Sox rallying from a 3-0 series deficit to vanquish the Yankees and then proceeding to win the World Series -- thereby breaking the 86-year Curse of the Bambino.

In politics and national affairs, Ronald Reagan passed away, John Kerry was swift-boated, and Dan Rathers saw his career implode when he promoted fell for forged documents that lied to the public about misreported George W. Bush's National Guard service.

But to me personally, the most important event of 2004 happened on the 19th of October. I had become a father when Sarah Belle Stanton was conceived in January, but October 19th was when she was born and I got to hold her for the first time. This picture was taken shortly after:


Nowadays she looks like this:



Before becoming a father, I always thought that I would call my little girl "cuddle bunny" ... and sure enough, I did call her that in the hospital; but to my recollection, I only did so once, followed by another forced use of the phrase some time later ... instead, the phrase which fell naturally out of my mouth without having to think about it was "Angel Pie," and both Erika and I continue to call her that up to this very day.

Like her father, Sarah enjoys reading and writing. Late last year she started perusing the Harry Potter books, and it took no time at all for her to become a full-on fan of that series about the boy wizard who spent most of his first decade underneath the staircase at 4 Privet Drive in the village of Little Whinging.

I am happy she took to the series because I decided to read each volume in her wake, in the belief that they might contain enough imagery and story lines to entertain me as well as her -- which would make them the first books we could truly enjoy at the same time. That belief proved to be true, and it has turned the Potter series into one of our funnest shared experiences.

With Sarah turning 11 this month, Erika and I decided that her birthday present would be a weekend-long trip to Universal Resort in Orlando. The resort's two theme parks (Universal Studios and Universal Islands of Adventure) are the joint home of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which puts every single thing in every single Disney park to shame.

Sarah could not wait to go; and while we were there this past weekend, she declared on several occasions that it was the best weekend of her life, which made us smile from ear to ear.

Universal Studios is home to Diagon Alley, the hidden-in-London street which is frequented by wizards and witches eager to purchase wands from Ollivander's and eager to do their banking at Gringott's:


Islands of Adventure is home to Hogsmeade, a Scottish village which ranks as the only municipality in all of Britain that is inhabited solely by wizards and witches:


Assuming you purchase a ticket that allows you into both parks, you can travel between Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade by riding the Hogwarts Express steam train. In the books and movies, the Hogwarts Express departs from Platform  at London's King's Cross Station to transport students to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, though it also stops at Hogsmeade and presumably at other locations.

This past Saturday, when Sarah was standing on Platform  ready to board the Hogwarts Express, she was so excited that she had no idea the porter was photo-bombing her when I snapped this picture:


Diagon Alley is true to form with lots of places from the books and movies -- not only Ollivander's and Gringott's, but also Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes, Quality Quidditch Supplies, Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour, and, of course, the offices of the most famous wizard newspaper:


And there is the ever-interesting Museum of Muggle Curiosities (in case you don't know, "muggles" is the word by which wizards and witches refer to us non-magic folk):


Over at Hogsmeade, Potter fans will be delighted to find Honeyduke's Sweet Shop and Zonko's Joke Shop -- along with that Old World pub known as The Three Broomsticks, at which you can purchase ale, shepherd's pie, fish and chips, turkey legs, and the hearty Great Feast. Here is a photo from The Three Broomsticks' dining room:


As we made our way through the larger Universal Studios on Saturday morning, en route to Diagon Alley, my heart fluttered to see Erika and Sarah side by side:


My heart also fluttered when Sarah and Parker parked themselves in the rear of the Knight Bus, and when Sarah peeked into its interior:



And my heart flutters when looking at the following picture of Sarah and me with Hogsmeade in the background. Erika took it after Sarah purchased the sorting hat with her birthday money (thank you Grammy and Grandma!):


Sarah is not without her faults (who is?) but she is also not without her merits, and I love her to the moon and back.



Sarah Belle, no matter what, you will always be my Angel Pie.

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Puck Drop

The NHL launched its 2016-17 season over the last two nights, and what a splendid launch it was. How often do you get stories like these flying at you after each team has played only its opening game?

Matthews
Once upon a time the thought of a 19-year-old from Arizona being thought of as the hockey savior of Canada's largest city (and self-proclaimed hockey capital of the world) was unthinkable. Not anymore.

In his very first game, top draft pick Auston Matthews didn't just score -- he scored on each of his first three shots, making him the only player in history to record a natural hat trick in his debut. Then he banged in another goal with three seconds to go in the second period, making his the highest scoring debut of all time. One of those tallies came after he picked the pocket of two-time Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson.

And like Travis Yost pointed out over at TSN, the performance was even more impressive when you look beyond the goals. Matthews's line -- with him centering -- controlled the puck 75 percent of the time it was on the ice and produced an averaged of a scoring chance per minute.

A not so small part of me had been hesitant to buy into the Matthews hype, thinking it might be nothing more than typical Toronto hyperbole. Looks like I might have been wrong.


Fate's Fickle Finger
Jack Eichel is the main cog in the young but promising roster that seeks to get the Buffalo Sabres back to the post-season after a five-year absence. Wednesday morning he went down in obvious pain during practice, and was later diagnosed with a high ankle sprain which could keep him on the sidelines for as long as a month and a half.

Out West, the LA Kings approached the season once again hoping to contend for the Cup. But late in the first period of their opening game, their backbone of a goaltender, Jonathan Quick, sustained a lower body injury that was quickly termed "not good" by GM Dean Lombardi. Less than 24 hours later he was placed on injured reserve, which means he could be out for months. And since Quick started 140 of the Kings' 162 games over the past two seasons, his backups don't have much of a resume and it's safe to say that his absence leaves an enormous hole.

Just like that, two good teams saw their prospects for this season dim considerably before they even made it to the second game. The moral of the story is don't take anything for granted.


O Canada
While Auston Matthews was lighting the lamp four times in one provincial rivalry -- Toronto vs. Ottawa in a battle of Ontario -- another provincial rivalry was being staged 2,100 miles to the west with Edmonton and Calgary engaging in a battle of Alberta.

The Oilers christened their new state-of-the-art arena, Rogers Place, by beating the Flames as Connor McDavid, last year's top draft pick, led the way with three points (2G, 1A). He, like Matthews, is 19.

Peeking forward, a cross-country rivalry might be brewing. The Oilers and Leafs are both on the rise and aiming to rekindle the greatness that defined them back in the day. McDavid, with a year under his belt, has already proven that he is a superstar. Matthews, with only one game under his belt, has already proven that he has the skill and smarts and gumption to become one. All the ingredients are here for a great rivalry, one that could be similar to the Celtics/Bird vs. Lakers/Magic showdowns of the 1980's NBA.


My Lightning Indulgence
When you have six different players (none of whom are named Stamkos or Kucherov) put the puck in the net and you overcome a pair of two-goal deficits to beat Detroit, you have to be in a good mood. Especially when the special teams click on all cylinders. So yes, I am happy with Tampa Bay's performance in their opener last night. Now bring on the Devils!


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Fatal Indeed

Jeffrey MacDonald turns 73 today. Many people believe he is one of the most sadistic murderers in American history. Others believe he is an innocent man condemned to spend his life behind bars for crimes he tried to prevent. When it comes to him, there is no in between.

The killings for which he remains in prison were committed in the winter of 1970, eleven months before I was born. Like many people, my original understanding of them (and him) was formed by watching the NBC miniseries Fatal Vision in 1984.

The miniseries was based on a book of the same name by Joe McGinniss. It starred Gary Cole as MacDonald and Karl Malden as his father-in-law, Alfred "Freddy" Kassab. For two nights I remained riveted to our TV and became transfixed by the notion that a father and husband could be so evil as to butcher his family and then spend years hoodwinking people into believing he was innocent.

But did he really kill them? Or is he innocent, just like he has been saying for four and a half decades?

*     *     *     *     *

Jeffrey MacDonald was raised in Queens and voted both "most popular" and "most likely to succeed" in his graduating class from Patchogue High School. He went to Princeton and then graduated from Northwestern Medical School before completing his residency at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center. One year later he was a Green Beret in the U.S. Army, serving as a group surgeon stationed at Fort Bragg just outside of Fayetteville, NC. In short, he is no dummy.

At 3:42 in the morning of February 17, 1970, he placed an emergency call to Fort Bragg dispatchers to report a stabbing in his home at 544 Castle Drive. Four Military Police officers were sent there and found that his wife Colette and daughters Kimberley and Kristen were dead. There was blood splatter all over the place and the word "pigs" was scrawled in blood on the headboard of the master bed.

Colette, who was pregnant at the time, had been stabbed 37 times (21 with an ice pick and 16 with a knife) while two-year-old Kristen had been stabbed 48 times (33 with a knife and 15 with an ice pick). Kimberley's head was clubbed and her neck was punctured between 8 and 10 times with a knife.

As for Jeffrey MacDonald himself, he had been stabbed in the left triceps and four or five times in the torso, with one of the latter stabs causing a partially collapsed lung and another causing a laceration that a hospital physician referred to as "gaping." In addition, his head was cut and bruised, he had a concussion, and there were several punch marks on his abdomen. He was taken to Womack Hospital and remained there for a week before being discharged.

MacDonald gave the following account: He had gone to the couch to sleep after Kristen came into the bed, then, hours later, awakened to find intruders in the house. He attempted to run to his family's aid, only to be accosted by three men who attacked him with an ice pick and piece of lumber. As they fought, a female stood nearby holding a candle while saying "acid is groovy" and "kill the pigs." Eventually MacDonald's pajama top was pulled over his head and he was knocked unconscious.

His description of the intruders did not lack detail, especially when it came to the woman with the candle. While all he said of the men was than two were white and one was black, he described the woman as white with long blonde hair, high-heeled boots, and a wide-brimmed floppy hat that partially obscured her face.

Investigators from the Army's Criminal Investigations Division (CID) were initially skeptical of MacDonald's story and interrogated him extensively on April 6th. Eventually, on May 1st, the Army formally charged him with murder. Nonetheless, his wife's parents believed he was innocent and stood by him throughout the ordeal.

An Article 32 hearing in military court (similar to a preliminary hearing in civilian court) commenced on July 5th and ran all the way through September, making it one of the longest in American history. It was overseen by Colonel Warren Rock with MacDonald represented by Attorney Bernard Segal, and when it finally concluded, the charges against MacDonald were dropped because they were, in Rock's words, "not true."

Two months later MacDonald received an honorable discharge and returned to civilian life. In his early days after leaving the Army, he moved to New York to practice medicine -- and made several media appearances, most notably on The Dick Cavett Show, in an episode that aired just days after his discharge.

While talking on air with Cavett, MacDonald understandably criticized the Army investigation for having focused so closely on him that other suspects were not pursued; but every bit as understandably, the way he leveled that criticism rubbed some viewers the wrong way. His quips about military investigators seemed inappropriately comedic. Watching him, Colette's family noticed that although he talked about how his rights had been violated while he was a suspect, he did not say anything about wanting the killers to be found and brought to justice. Most notably, her family couldn't help but notice that McDonald expressed no sorrow about the loss of his wife and children, who had, after all, been brutally murdered just ten months earlier.

Although Jeffrey MacDonald's in-laws had staunchly defended him, they suddenly found themselves harboring doubts in the wake of his appearance with Cavett. To this very day, 46 years later, he is probably haunted by the knowledge that he planted those doubts in their minds.

*     *     *     *     *

MacDonald did not remain in New York for long. With the charges against him dismissed, he was deemed an innocent man and decided to move to Southern California and re-start his professional career with a clean slate.

In 1971 he began working as an ER physician at St. Mary's Medical Center in Long Beach, and performed well. As the 1970's unfolded he worked his way up and eventually became the hospital's Director of Emergency Medicine. He purchased a waterfront condo in Huntington Beach, along with a yacht that he docked in the adjacent marina, and also purchased a condo in the ski area of Mammoth Mountain. Because he was only 26 when the killings took place and 27 when he relocated, MacDonald's success in California came at a remarkably young age.

Although the murder of his family was well-known, his officially sanctioned innocence was also well-known -- remember, the charges were declared "not true" -- and his behavior out West was exemplary. Few people in his adopted home town believed him capable of murder.

Life seemed good for MacDonald, but all along there was trouble brewing under the surface back East. Although it started even before he moved to California and was generally due to Colette's overall family coming to distrust him, the trouble was mostly due to the distrust which welled up in her father, the aforementioned Freddy Kassab.

Previously, Kassab had been so certain of MacDonald's innocence that he testified on his behalf as a character witness, stating: "If I had another daughter, I would want the same son-in-law." However, MacDonald's demeanor after the charges were dropped caused red flags to start flapping in Kassab's brain, and he decided to investigate things for himself. This August 1979 article in People magazine quoted him saying that "after (the charges were dropped) we were lucky ever to reach Jeff on the phone."

Without declaring his primary intent, Kassab began what would become a multi-year process by asking Jeffrey MacDonald to send him copies of the transcripts of his Article 32 hearing. MacDonald procrastinated and seemed evasive, which made the red flags flap even harder, but eventually provided them. Of course, refusing or failing to do so would appear outright damning.

At one point, eager to mollify his persistent father-in-law by making it appear he was seeking justice, MacDonald told Kassab that he had tracked down and personally killed one of the murderers. Kassab was skeptical but still looked into the claim, and it did not take long to determine it was a lie. Hence, another red flag was raised.

Kassab was allowed to visit the crime scene in the company of CID investigators Peter Kearns and Jack Pruett. He remained for several hours, performed a number of tests and experiments to check against statements made by MacDonald during the Article 32 hearing, and found inconsistencies that caused those red flags to transform into alarm bells. Freddy Kassab became convinced that Jeffrey MacDonald was not a bereaved widower, but a soulless killer.

*     *     *     *     *

In his quest to bring the law down upon his son-in-law, Kassab found himself in a Catch 22. Technically the CID could reopen its investigation, but it had no legal authority to bring charges against MacDonald because he was a civilian and no longer in the military; and civilian authorities found themselves facing the same problem in reverse, unable to take action because the crimes had been committed when he was in the military and not a civilian.

The only way to bring him to trial was to file a citizen's complaint through the U.S. Department of Justice, which Kassab did in 1972, only to see it linger for almost three years while MacDonald's career took off like a rocket.

In January 1975, a federal civilian grand jury decided to charge MacDonald with his family's murders and he was arrested in California. A week later he was freed on $100,000 bail and four months later officially pleaded not guilty.

However, no trial took place. Based on double jeopardy (because the CID had dismissed the charges in 1970) and speedy trial concerns (because of the time which had since elapsed), MacDonald appealed on the grounds that the federal government had no standing to charge him. The U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with him and ordered that the case be dismissed.

So he continued living the ostensible good life, but in 1978 the pendulum swung against him when the U.S. Supreme Court heard an appeal by the government and reinstated the charges.

His trial commenced on July 16, 1979, and on August 29th of that year the jury found him guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Kristen and second-degree murder in the deaths of Colette and Kimberley. Judge Franklin T. Dupree, Jr. promptly sentenced him to three consecutive life sentences.

In the 37 years that have since passed, MacDonald has continued to proclaim his innocence and continued to appeal his conviction. He has never changed his story about what happened that winter night in 1970; and in an odd twist, because never changing his story means never admitting guilt and never admitting guilt means never expressing remorse, his parole hearings have never stood a chance.

Meanwhile the case has continued to fascinate. It has led to countless media stories; to behind-bars appearances on national news shows; to the previously mentioned miniseries; and to at least three big-selling books from varying points of view... and Jeffrey MacDonald remains in prison, officially considered a murderer as he starts his 74th year of life.

Those are the simple facts that aren't surrounded by fuzziness, but there is a plethora of similarly simple facts that are surrounded by fuzziness, and much of that fuzziness is founded on yet more facts.

If you peel back the layers and look at this case, you will find that nothing about it is simple. When you consider that whole books have been written about it and still failed to arrive at any unimpeachable conclusion, there is no way I can do it justice in a single blog post -- but because I can't help myself, I am going to try.

*     *     *     *     *

To today's ears, Jeffrey MacDonald's story about a floppy-hatted woman saying "acid is groovy" and "kill the pigs" while bludgeoning is being carried out in the same room sounds preposterous. But 1970 was not 2016, and given the atmosphere of 1970, the story was plausible.

The Charles Manson killings were fresh in mind and had been carried out in much the same way. Stories of disastrously bad acid trips were rampant and social upheaval was very real. We now think of hippies as peace-and-love types who puff on joints while eating Ben & Jerry's and picking mandolins, but back then they were known to spit on people in uniform.

And here is something to chew on: While the floppy-hatted woman might sound contrived, like something inspired by the one-armed man from The Fugitive, there actually was a floppy-hatted woman out and about on the night in question.

Like I said earlier, four military policemen were dispatched to the MacDonalds' house in response to Jeffrey's distress call. While en route, one of them saw a woman wearing a wide-brimmed floppy hat not far from the house, and that was before he could have known what description MacDonald would give.

Several witnesses saw a woman matching that description in the hours before and after the killings, but no one saw such a woman during the window of time in which the killings took place. Witnesses also reported that she was with several men; and while the reports differed as to the specific number of men, they were all clear that one was black and the others white, which is in keeping with MacDonald's description of the intruders.

Further, the floppy-hatted woman spotted that night has been identified by name -- Helena Stoeckley -- and on multiple occasions she confessed to being in the MacDonalds' home that night.

Stoeckley was a smart, but troubled and horribly drug-addicted figure in Fayetteville's counterculture. She was not blonde like MacDonald described the floppy-hatted woman as being, but she was known to wear wigs and blonde saran hairs were found in the house. At trial, the prosecution asserted that saran was not used in wigs at the time of the killings and that the fibers might have come from a doll; however, it has since been proven that saran was used in wigs at the time, and has also been proven that no contemporaneous dolls had hair as long as the saran hairs found at the scene (22 to 24 inches).

To be clear, in Stoeckley's pre-trial confessions she did not claim to have committed the murders, only to having been in the house. But then again, that is consistent with MacDonald's description of events, since he only says that the woman chanted while he fought with the men.

On some occasions Stoeckley recanted earlier confessions, but always wound up re-confessing, and she inadvertently provided tantalizing evidence of her presence by saying she encountered a broken rocking horse while in the house. There was at least one newspaper photograph in which a rocking horse can be seen, but it was not public knowledge that it was broken: That fact did not come to the public's attention until years later, after a woman named Helen Fell (a friend of MacDonald's mother) mentioned it in passing while speaking with author Errol Morris while he was doing research for his book A Wilderness of Error.

Stoeckley died in 1983 and was not a perfect witness. Some of her testimony did not match the crime scene, but some did, and given her drug use, is that surprising? It was other people who identified her as being in the vicinity, and when you combine that with her recurring recollections of having been in the house, doesn't that create reasonable doubt about whether MacDonald did the killing?

The prosecution theorized that MacDonald made up the story about intruders... but doesn't it seem like he must have been the luckiest storyteller on Earth, to have made up a description of a woman and then have that description turn out to match an actual woman whose actual movements that night (and statements about that night) corroborated his story?

To underscore its contention that MacDonald made up the story, the prosecution claimed that his house had no evidence of intruders. However, that was a flat-out lie: In reality, a bloody palm print that did not match either him or Colette (or anyone else known to have been at the scene) was found on the footboard of the master bed, and wax droppings on the floor did not match any of the candles in the house (remember that he said the floppy-hatted woman was holding a candle).

Also, a brown hair that did not match Jeffrey MacDonald was found underneath one of Kimberley's fingernails... and another unmatched hair, covered in blood, was found underneath one of Kristen's fingernails... and a brown hair in Colette's left hand was falsely reported by the government as being too small to test; subsequently, tests have found that it does not match Jeffrey... blue acrylic fibers found in Colette's left hand and on the floor did not match any of the fabrics or clothing in the house... black fibers that could not be matched to anything in the house were found both in Colette's mouth and on the piece of lumber that was used to club Kimberley; and the presence of those fibers was withheld from the jury despite the fact that Helena Stoeckley was known to wear lots of black clothing... and perhaps most damning, skin fragments found underneath some of Colette's left hand fingernails were "lost" by the government and thus rendered unavailable for testing -- a fact which looks even more damning when you consider that Jeffrey's injuries did not include fingernail scratches.

*     *     *     *     *

Reasonable doubt, anybody? The above facts certainly establish that Jeffrey MacDonald should not have been convicted, but are they enough to establish that he is innocent? I don't think so, and therein lies the question that transforms this case into a witch's brew.

There is something about MacDonald's account that has rung hollow to me from the moment I first heard it: The mere fact that he would survive the kind of encounter he described.

Yes, his concussion supports his claim that he got knocked out -- but if those who did the KO'ing were bloodthirsty killers, why didn't they go ahead and finish him off, since he was literally incapable of defending himself? He was an eyewitness who could tie them to the scene, so why not eliminate that problem when you've got the goldenest opportunity you could ask for?

Presumably, a physician would know which part of his head to hit in order to concuss himself with the smallest risk of brain damage.

Regarding his serious but not lethal stab wounds, we can also presume that a physician would know just where to insert the blade -- especially a surgeon, which is what MacDonald was.

Speaking of stab wounds, what do you make of the fact that the three people who perished were all stabbed in the throat? A blog with the subtle name Jeffrey MacDonald: Guilty as Hell theorizes that this was done not only to kill, but to keep the victims from screaming so they wouldn't awaken any neighbors. Noting that Kimberley's throat wounds numbered between eight and ten and were concentrated in a small area, the blogger rhetorically asks: "Would a band of drug crazed hippies be that precise and methodical?"

The same blog raises the rather obvious question of why MacDonald would make up a lie as ridiculous as telling his father-in-law that he tracked down and killed one of the murderers... Everyone who has been nagged understands the temptation to make something up to get the nagger to go away, but come on. How could a whopper like that stand up to such logical questions as: How did you figure out who the killer was? Who was he? How did you track him down? How did you kill him? What did you do with the weapon? Where did you dispose of the body? How did you dispose of it so that you know it won't be found?

On a more concrete note, there is the matter of threads from the pajama top Jeffrey MacDonald was wearing that night, and where they were found at the crime scene: 34 underneath Colette's body, 19 inside the bedding in which her body was wrapped, three on Kristen's bedspread, and one near the base of the headboard where "pigs" was scrawled in blood.

Everything in the above paragraph would be very troubling, but not automatically damning... except for the fact that no threads from the pajama top were found in the living room where MacDonald claimed to have been attacked and stabbed through that top.

Three prosecutors worked the case and secured MacDonald's conviction, and two of them were later disbarred for ethical violations in other cases. While that seems to put a check in the "he's innocent" column, Brian Murtagh, the third prosecutor, comes off as anything but unethical. Now 70 years old, he remains convinced of McDonald's guilt 37 years later and continues to argue that belief with passion. A good article about him and the case can be read here.

One of the things he points to as evidence of McDonald's guilt is that some of Kristen's chest wounds did not have matching holes in her pajama top. In other words, McDonald, the surgeon, may have lifted her top while she was sleeping in order to better identify the lethal spots to stab; then stabbed her there; and then pulled the top down and stabbed her through it in other places, hoping investigators would see there were holes and fail to notice that there weren't "enough."

For years Murtagh has cited the blood splatter inside the home as being particularly damning to MacDonald. Although DNA testing was non-existent in the 1970's, investigators were blessed by the unusual fact that all four of the MacDonalds had different blood types. This allowed them to credibly track who was stabbed in which parts of the house and where (if anywhere) they subsequently went -- and the resulting crime scene map contained discrepancies from McDonald's account, especially with regard to physical contact between he and Colette.

Rankled by the aforementioned book A Wilderness of Error, which favored MacDonald, Murtagh consulted his case files in 2012 and typed a 14-page rebuttal.

*     *     *     *     *

So the "he really is guilty" evidence turns out to be as compelling as the "he's innocent" evidence, but still, nothing is ironclad when so many things point in each direction.

Murtagh and others make much ado about the fact that if you were to fold Jeffrey's pajama top in a certain way and lie it atop Colette's body at a certain place, its 48 stab holes (all from an ice pick) align with her 21 ice pick wounds, allowing for some individual stabs to have passed through multiple folds in the top... Not that I'm an expert at folding, but this particular coincidence doesn't move the needle for me, because I'm pretty sure you could fold a given garment plenty of ways and make its holes line up how you want them to, when there are so many holes in play.

But then again, maybe I should put more stock in the pajama top, since none of its 48 holes have jagged or torn edges. That suggests it was stationary when pierced, which seems in conflict with MacDonald's claim that he was stabbed while fending off intruders.

And how is it that the pajama top wound up with 48 stab holes while his body had no more than a half-dozen?

Regarding the above-linked article about Murtagh, it is, like I said, good... but it's also too fawning for comfort, so much so that I wonder how many times its author, Gene Weingarten, makes "strategic omissions" or "uses some facts selectively" to "spin you toward a certain conclusion" (to quote his own words that he uses to besmirch others, since he does openly admit that he is trying to lead the reader down a particular path -- an admission that can easily be seen as a dishonest way of implying he must be trustworthy since he's confessing to having a bias).

Weingarten describes Murtagh as a "plumpish little" public servant who wears suspenders and is "resolutely boring." He goes on to say that Murtagh "often greet(s) people with a courtly little bow" and "views this case with an air of bemused exasperation, puzzled by its refusal to go away." Perhaps this is true, but it's too syrupy for me to buy.

Murtagh is a prosecutor, and we need prosecutors, because like Richard Pryor once quipped: "Some people need to be in penitentiaries." But prosecutors are cut from a certain cloth, and having once had the terrifying experience of witnessing one of them in action firsthand, I am incapable of believing that any prosecutor could be the kind of unassuming person Weingarten portrays Murtagh as being. They are not aw-shucksy guys with no agenda other than finding the down-home, apple-pie truth so help them Aunt Bea and Mr. Rogers.

Weingarten's article sings the praises of Murtagh's 14-page rebuttal to A Wilderness of Error, seeming to place it in rarefied air by saying it has "Roman numerals and alphanumerically labeled paragraphs"... but then it says Murtagh never filed the rebuttal or released it to the media, choosing instead to keep it to himself.

Weingarten says he never met Murtagh until he interviewed him for the article... but then says his wife was a co-worker of Murtagh's for 30 years.

None of that means anything Murtagh says is incorrect, but there's plenty here that should, if you are seeking objective truth, make you say hmmm and take a step back.

*     *     *     *     *

So is Jeffrey MacDonald guilty or is he innocent?

I don't know, and I don't believe there is any way to know. And in a nation whose guiding legal principle is "innocent until proven guilty," that means he should not have been convicted.

However, there are so many rational and evidentiary reasons to believe is guilty, that you have to ask yourself if you would want him walking the streets of your town. I guarantee that your answer is "No."

It is just as possible to railroad a guilty man as it is to railroad an innocent man -- in fact, it's probably easier to railroad a guilty one -- and that may well be what happened in this case.

Still... if MacDonald is innocent, how tragic is it that he is beginning his 74th year on Earth still behind bars, struggling against hope to clear his name and knowing he will probably never succeed? That would be one of the most biblically tragic stories in all of human history, the kind that should make us weep and wonder how we would feel if we were in his shoes.

All I know is this: I would never want to be in the position of having to decide whether to free Jeffrey MacDonald or keep him where he is. No matter which decision I made, I would immediately think I was feeling the sensation of blood on my hands.


Sunday, October 9, 2016

Six Weeks In

Some thoughts about this college football season now that it's near the midway point:

The Vanishing
Oregon:  After a long run as one of America's most consistent national championship contenders, the Ducks sit at 2-4 and just gave up 70 points to Washington -- and were already coming off a ho-hum 2015 campaign in which they went to a non-New Year's bowl and lost.

Houston:  The press hyped them as a true national power and their coach, Tom Herman, as one of the nation's elite. Don't get me wrong, they are a good team and he is a good coach, but to me, their #6 ranking never looked right and the "elite" label always seemed wrong. Well, yesterday they lost to Navy, against whom they gave up 306 yards on the ground, so I think my skepticism has been vindicated.

Brian Kelly:  He's a good coach, but Notre Dame has been regressing for the last few years with him at the helm and already has four losses this season -- including ones to Duke and NC State, and to a Texas program that is surrendering an average of 48 points per game to every team not called UTEP.

Les Miles:  I am already missing the spectacle of Miles making nonsensical play calls and getting away with them, and watching his head-scratching decisions lead to at least a couple losses per year in games LSU should win. Perhaps the best quote about him came from one of the contributors to the Mizzou blog Rock M Nation, who wrote that "to truly contemplate his one-man insurgency against clock management and the forward pass would be to go mad"... But despite everything I just wrote, Miles's 11+-year tenure at LSU included a national championship, two SEC championships, and a .719 winning percentage that is the best in school history.


The Returned
Washington:  From Warren Moon's 1970's heyday to the mid-1990's, a span which included a national championship and seven conference titles, Washington was one of the country's premier football programs. Then it fell off the face of the earth... But now, in the third season of the Chris Petersen era, the Huskies are 6-0 and just poleaxed Stanford and Oregon in back to back weeks, and the average score of their games this year is 50-14. Watch out.

Michigan:  Granted, with Jim Harbaugh prowling the sidelines, Michigan's return to national prominence is not surprising, but who would have thought it would come this far this fast? Strong defense, efficient offense, 6-0 record. An old-fashioned, gut-it-out, 14-7 win over Wisconsin followed by a 78-0 thrashing of conference foe Rutgers. It is well within reason to say the Wolverines are capable of winning it all.

Tennessee:  I thought the Vols' top ten preseason ranking was a farce -- and while I haven't changed my mind about that, there is no denying that they have legitimately regained their standing as a premier program that can make waves on the national scene. After their insane comeback to beat Florida and miracle between the hedges to beat Georgia, I fully expected them to get trounced yesterday in College Station -- but instead they forced 6-0 Texas A&M to double overtime despite turning the ball over seven times.


Top Conference?
From top to bottom the SEC is usually the best conference in the land, even if its margin of "bestness" is not as large as some of its partisans believe. As for this particular season, it's hard to say right now which conference is tops, but it looks like it's the Big Ten.

The Big Ten has two strong national title contenders in Michigan and Ohio State, and there's a good chance that their season-ending duel will kick off with both of them undefeated... And so far Wisconsin has had one of the most impressive seasons of any team in the country, having opened things up by knocking off LSU and later making mincemeat of Michigan State on the road. They lost by only one score at Michigan, and had just one or two plays gone differently in that contest, the Badgers would be ranked #3 or #4 right now with a strong case to be made that they should be #2.

As for the SEC, Alabama is a clear national title contender and the conference has a deep pool of very good teams behind them -- but it's not obvious that any of those very good teams belong in the top ten right now.

The Pac-12 is only Washington... The ACC has true contenders Clemson and Louisville, but after them there is a steep drop off and very few teams in the conference seem to know how to play defense... And in the Big 12, the standard-bearers are Oklahoma and Texas and their records currently sit at 3-2 and 2-3 respectively.


My Auburn Indulgence
My Tigers entered this campaign coming off a .500 season in which they suffered an otherworldly collapse after the midway point. Combine that with the fact that three of their first four games were against Clemson, Texas A&M, and LSU, and I can't say I'm unhappy about them being 4-2.

Auburn has improved every single week. The offensive line, which resembled a sieve early on, is coming together and it's no coincidence that the offense as a whole has become much more efficient and productive.

But most impressively, Auburn's defense has suddenly returned to its formidable ways of days of yore, owning the line of scrimmage and owning third down. Finally our leading tacklers are once again not defensive backs, which means runners aren't getting into the defensive backfield before they get stopped.

Huge challenges await. Arkansas is next up and has always been a pain in our ass, and Ole Miss will be tough to beat. When we get to Amen Corner in November, the Georgia and Alabama games are both on the road. But if this team continues its trajectory, it can win some of those (yes, even the Alabama game) and make this season something special considering how the landscape looked at the beginning.


And...
...I will opine more about this season later one. Enjoy your Sunday!


Monday, October 3, 2016

Our Biggest Problem?


"What we've got here is failure to communicate."  (Captain from Cool Hand Luke)

I could write novel-length blog posts about communication failures, both in my own life and in society at large. They are a huge deal, and can be poisonous to people both as individuals and as groups.

Not being one who likes to air my personal problems on the World Wide Web (and not being arrogant enough to think anyone wants to read about them), I am instead here to write about what I think are extremely destructive communication failures in our public discourse. Unsurprisingly, many of them turn largely on the question of race.

It has long seemed to me that if you were to place a gray boulder in the middle of a field, with a bunch of white people at one end of the field and a bunch of black people at the other and poll each group about what color the boulder is, 90 percent of the white people would say it's green and 90 percent of the black people would say it's red. This has always fascinated me, but what troubles me is that nobody asks why there is such a difference in perception. I suspect that if anyone ever did, most people wouldn't listen to the answers because they would assume they already know.

We are constantly told we need to have a "national conversation" about race. Legions of white people immediately stop listening when they hear that phrase because they think (with reason) that race gets talked about all the time and that the talking is usually a one-way monologue rather than a two-way dialogue... while on the other hand, legions of black people think (and I can't blame them) that when white people don't listen it must mean they don't care about racial equality.

Meanwhile, most white people who stop listening never stop to consider that black people might actually want a dialogue... and they certainly don't stop to consider that by not responding to the call for a "national conversation," they themselves are largely to blame for it being a monologue.

On the other side of the coin, many black people who suspect that "silent whites" don't care about racial equality never ask actual white people why it is that so many of them zip their lips whenever the "national conversation" gets recommended.

This ain't healthy in an ethnically diverse country that calls itself the United States.

*     *     *     *     *

I know black people who say "black lives matter" and not one of them is racist. I know they would be troubled by the unjust death of a white person at the hands of authorities. Therefore I don't get worked up about the whole "black lives matter" versus "all lives matter" spat -- but I do understand why so many white people start get involved in the spat, and it can be summed up in a five-word question: "Michael Brown or Eric Garner?"

I don't care for the phrase "Black Lives Matter Movement" but I don't know another one to use, so I'm gonna use it anyway; and what I'm gonna say is that one of the worst things to happen to race relations in America was that movement embracing Brown as a symbol when it got going, thereby elevating him to the level of martyr and relegating Garner to an afterthought.

Recap #1: Eric Garner was a disabled man who engaged in a non-violent, no-victim effort to earn a buck by giving another man a cigarette and accepting money in return. In response to this, four police officers were dispatched to arrest him and haul him off to jail for "violating" an asinine statute that would never -- and I'm going on record with this, never -- be enforced against my Scotch-Irish ass if I was the one taking part in that minor act of minor capitalism on the sidewalks of Staten Island.

The officers handcuffed Garner, brought him to the ground, and left him in a prone position that every cop knows you're not supposed to leave a handcuffed man in for the specific reason that it can cause positional asphyxiation. When Garner complained of not being able to breathe -- i.e., when he gave them a crystal clear indication that he was asphyxiating -- they still left him in the prone position, and he died.

Recap #2: Shortly after Michael Brown violently robbed a store, Officer Darren Wilson of the Ferguson, Missouri Police Department approached him because he matched the description of the robber (remember, he was the robber) and asked him legitimate questions without threatening to arrest him. Then Brown, who far outweighed Wilson, charged him and tried to get his gun. With a split second to react, knowing his physical safety was in danger and with every reason to believe his life was in danger, Wilson responded by shooting Brown in self-defense at extremely close range.

In response, members of what we now call the Black Lives Matter Movement came to Ferguson and perpetuated a lie that Brown had been slaughtered in cold blood while running away from Wilson with his hands in the air pleading "don't shoot." The activists did not simply protest the shooting, they went so far as to publicly demand that Wilson be killed.

The deaths of Garner and Brown happened just three weeks apart and each received a lot of press immediately after it happened, but it was Brown (who died second and was the aggressor rather than the innocent) whose death ignited the passions of the activists, who in turn anointed him as the face of their movement.

On the other hand, Garner (who was truly innocent, and who can legitimately be said to have died because of a racially discriminatory law, and who in fact died because of bad policing) got flushed down the memory hole and forgotten by the same activists who continue to speak of Brown as some kind of folk hero.

Many white people saw that discrepancy and decided to forever close their ears to anything said by anybody who says "black lives matter." You can quibble all you want about whether they were right or wrong to close their ears, but there is no denying they had a rational reason for doing so.

Again, what we've got here is failure to communicate. Most black people know the difference between innocents like Eric Garner and less sympathetic figures like Michael Brown; but your average black person does not have access to the mass media, and the mass media is shamefully addicted to images of drama, so large numbers of white people saw only that activists were embracing Brown and ignoring Garner. And with that in mind, they withdrew from making any public comment on any racial issue, deciding it was better to remain silent than risk being branded a bigot for saying anything critical of black activists or of one of the people the activists use as a mascot.

And going back to an earlier point, large numbers of black people perceived that mass white withdrawal as a sign that white people don't care about injustice.

Pardon the cliche, but this is a vicious cycle.

*     *     *     *     *

Of course, failures to communicate exist not only between groups but within them. Consider the schism that has been convulsing the Republican Party and conservative movement ever since Donald Trump announced his candidacy last year.

Tired of leftist politicians and entertainers promoting PC fantasies at the expense of truth, reason, and common sense, some conservatives were instantly thrilled by Trump's maverick way of flipping the fantasies off with his volcanic verbiage. Let's call those conservatives the Trumpians.

Other conservatives looked at the Trumpians and thought, basically: What the hell's wrong those guys? Don't they realize Trump has a long history of promoting liberal viewpoints, that he's a known liar, and there's no evidence that he has even one conservative bone in body?

Next thing you knew, longtime allies were at odds. Trumpians accused non-Trumpians of wanting Hillary Clinton to be president, and non-Trumpians accused Trumpians of being crass careerists who don't really care about conservatism. This division continues today and is even worse than it was a year ago.

Some conservative stalwarts like Victor Davis Hanson make rational cases for voting for Trump, while others like Jonah Goldberg make rational cases for not voting for him (at the same time stressing they wouldn't vote for Clinton either). But for the most part, those who fall into either camp talk about those in the other one as if they were morally empty chest-thumpers with mental deficiencies; and remember, the people talking like that would otherwise be allies. How can their defamatory posturing possibly help move conservatism forward and win over converts?

Isn't winning over coverts by speaking not to the choir the main point of political and philosophical writing? How can you do that if you can't even communicate amongst your own fellow travelers?

*     *     *     *     *

So how do we fix this massive communication failure that seems to inflict every aspect of our being? I don't know. All I am sure of is that we can't fix it "as a society" -- instead we must recognize it in ourselves and fix it individually, humbly, in our own lives, and discuss our fixes with others.

That is a slow process and because of human nature it will never span all of society.

But also because of human nature, it is a process that can work wonders for those who try it. And if those who try it "give testimony," it will spread, and that would be good.

A former boss of mine once gave me a steel-eyed gaze and told me to stop thinking about what I was going to say. She said to put all those thoughts aside, to listen to what she was saying and be in the moment, and then ponder what she said and respond only after thinking about it.

She later fired me. She was wrong about a number of things over the years, but was not wrong about those two things, and I've never forgotten it.

From now on, maybe we should all make a point of forcing ourselves to listen when others speak. We might be surprised what we learn by doing that.