Groundhog Day

In my post of March 20, 2014, I discussed testifying in parole hearings on murder cases that I tried when I was a States Attorney (prosecutor) at 26th & California.  Last Wednesday was “Groundhog Day.”   I was asked to testify – again – in the 1976 case referenced in that post.  What’s left of the family was there.  Very emotional. 

Ernie S. stabbed Susan H. to death in the fifty hundred block of South Ellis.  She was stabbed in a kitchen.  Ernie S. ran out.  Susan sat down at the kitchen table.  Bleeding out.  Her screams brought two friends who were upstairs.  Beat cops arrived and scooped her up and raced her in the squadrol to the hospital.   No time for an ambulance.  But Susan was DOA.   Ernie S. got 100 to 300 years after a 2-1/2 week jury trial.  The  U.S. moratorium on the death penalty (for which he would have been eligible) did not end until June 1977.  Interestingly, Ernie had done the same thing the week before to Jasmin G – a nursing student (Jasmin lived).  Some years later, he escaped from a prison van and ran into Joliet West High School and yanked a 14 year girl – Kristine D. – out of a classroom.  He did stuff to her in a stairwell.  He was recaptured.  But now Ernie wants out.  

Because the sentence was “indeterminate,” every two or three years we go back and testify that Ernie S. should never see the light of day again.  Some folks will say “ohhh – just let him goHe’s a victim.”  Just wait.  Until it’s their child.  Grandchild.

Postscript:  On March 24, 2016, the Parole Board voted 12-0 to deny parole.  They agreed on a 3 year “set.”  Ernie will not be up for parole again until 2019.        


The Road to Abilene

It was a hot, dry, sun-drenched afternoon in Coleman, Texas.  A family is playing dominoes on a steamy porch.  The father-in-law looks up and suggests that they get in the car and take a drive to Abilene which is 53 miles away.  One by one, the family members nod acquiescence.  They pile into the car.  The drive is hot.  Dusty.  And long.  The family arrives in Abilene.  They go to a diner where the food is as bad as the drive.  They get back in the car and take the same hot, dusty, long drive back to Coleman.  They arrive home exhausted.   

One by one, the family members admit that they never really wanted to go to Abilene.  They agreed to go because they thought the others wanted to go.  Thus – everyone decided to do something — that no one wanted to do . . . . . 

The “Abilene Paradox” was first introduced by Jerry B. Harvey in a 1974 article “The Abilene Paradox:  The Management of Agreement.”   The article suggests that individuals are normally averse to acting contrary to the inclinations of a group.  Social conformity and social influence — “peer pressure” — drive agreement.  The reservations one might have – with a decision or direction – is subsumed by the feeling that their concerns must be “out of step” with that of the group.  This leads to reluctant silence.  Grudging acquiescence.  And frequently poor decisions.  We see this in families.  Businesses.  Organizations.  And politics.

My Hero

In my post of October 9, 2014 (“I Need to Invent Something“), I discussed the public’s irritation at people who yabber loudly on their cell phones while sitting on the train.  Some conversations are so loud they can be heard in Dubuque.  That’s why each train now has “quiet cars” (cell phones and conversation are verboten).  In my post, I suggested someone should invent a device that would deliver an ear-piercing screech to these inconsiderate boors. 

Well America, we have a new hero.  Dennis Nicholl – a 63 year old CPA from Chicago – was armed with a “black box” while riding on a CTA train.  Some around him were talking loudly on their cell phones — heedless of their neighbors’ auditory space.  Mr. Nicholl flipped the switch and – POOF – all the cell phones around him went dead. 

Instead of cueing Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” or giving the man a standing “O” –  an undercover police officer arrested Mr. Nicholl.  And charged him with a felony — a violation of an FCC regulation.  I was pleased to read that the charges have now been reduced to a misdemeanor.  But still Mr. Nicholl remains under the shroud of this case.  My only disappointment with Mr. Nicholl is that his black box did not cause cell phones to emit an ear-piercing screech. . . . .

He’s a Devil. . . .

When I went to Portugal years ago, I often had dinner in a little cafe off Rossio Square in Lisbon. One evening I was sitting in the restaurant with my driver George.

George looked at me — “Scott – do some magic tricks.”   So I did a few effects (see December 19, 2011, if you want to learn a good one).  With that, George called over some of the waiters. “You gotta see this stuff.” A gaggle of waiters began to congregate by our booth. I asked for a deck of cards – they arrived – and I began my routine.  Nothing fancy but some good stuff.

It was when I poured water into my fist and made it disappear – and then reappear – that one waiter looked seriously at his colleagues. “Ele e um diabo” [“he’s a devil“].   And I suddenly realized that my visage had quite possibly morphed from curiosity to danger to the human race and all that is holy.  George coughed and looked at me.  My face got warm.  I thought I better do something or I may have trouble leaving the restaurant.  Sooooooo, I did what any other red-blooded American magician would do.  I looked up at the waiter who had branded me a diabo – and said “here – I’m gonna show you how I did that.”  I did.  I showed the waiters how I did the tricks — without making them take the mandatory Magician’s Oath.  The waiters laughed nervously.  Seemed relieved.  And walked away.  George gave me one of those eyes in the air looks that said I won’t ask you to do that again.  And I lived to tell the tale. . . . . 

Time Out

Every year or so I’ve been taking a “time out” from my blog.  A few weeks of “duhhhhh.”    The last four weeks I have been silent.  Donna and I were in Florida (North Palm Beach) for a week and then to the west coast — Santa Monica — for a wedding. Then a drive to Palm Springs for some R&R.

Neither of us had been to Palm Springs so this was a new experience.  We stayed at the Ritz-Carlton in Rancho Mirage (3 nights for the price of 2).   While we thought about golf, hitting local restaurants and sightseeing,  — we didn’t do much.  We stayed cocooned in our hotel.  Dining.  Pools.  Spa.  Fitness Center.  Sleep.  Reading.  Relaxing.  It was verrry nice.  

Our only real excursion consisted of two visits to “Sunnylands” — the 200 acre estate of the late Walter and Leonore Annenberg.  The property is considered the “Western White House” which has served Presidents and dignitaries since 1966.   Tours of the Annenberg home are limited to 7 guests at a time.  We arrived – ticketless – only to learn that tickets are sold out weeks in advance.  As we stood there, mildly forlorn, a woman stepped up to the counter with two tickets to return (she couldn’t use them).  Guess who bought them?  Just call me “Mister Lucky” (though it’s not quite like 8/2/13).