Wednesday, February 29, 2012

How I Became an All Expense Paid Guest of Uncle Sam—The Trial

The courtroom looked like this, but back then the tables were smaller and sat cross wise and the visitor's gallery much closer.  I also don't remember a sky light.

Note:  A version of this first appeared in two parts on the Third City Blog

The Dirksen Federal Building was just a few years old back in 1973.  It had replaced a large and imposing pile of stone in the Beaux Art style of the Columbian Exposition that had been reduced to rubble.  In a city that prided itself on architecture, the “glass curtain” sky scraper by superstar Mies van der Rohe was a source of civic pride.

As I approached it from a Subway staircase on Clark Street it loomed in the gray morning like a giant black shoebox stood on end.  It rose from a bleak and then as yet unadorned plaza balancing on its central bank of elevators.  A skirt of floor to ceiling clear glass encased the first floor exposing an expanse of marble floor and a stone wall with aluminum letters reading The Everett McKinley Dirksen United States Court Building.

In those days there was no visible security.  Doors on all side were open and hoards poured through on the way to their destinations.  A lone figure stood at a desk under the stone wall.  His function was mainly to direct visitors to the correct elevator.

After receiving the correct instruction, I squeezed into a packed elevator was zoomed to a courtroom floor.  I was supposed to meet my lawyer, the esteemed Jason Bellow, outside the courtroom a few minutes early for a last consultation.  I was early.  He was not.

I fidgeted in a charcoal gray pin striped three piece suite that I had acquired in high school and not worn since, a pair of highly polished western style side zippered boots that I had borrowed from my father and which did not fit well, and a recently acquired pearl gray Stetson, my new dress hat.  I wanted to look respectable.

Moments before the court call a bailiff stepped out and announced that anyone with business should come in.  My lawyer was still not there.

The court room was dimly lit, much darker than I had expected.  It had a large seating area totally vacant that day.  In front of a rail were two tables.  On the left sat two, count them two prosecutors, although only one of them would actually speak.  Several piles of documents and legal pads littered the table and on one corner a thick file marked FBI laid conspicuously.  A dark wood judge’s bench loomed impressively in front of a Justice Department seal on the wall.  A witness box was on the right.  Off to one side in the space between the bench and the counsels’ tables and a woman in a tight, short skirt sat as demurely as possible behind a stenography machine.  Just like in the movies, only darker.

Moments before the bailiff was set to call the Court to order, Jason Bellow ambled in casually, a friendly smile on his face.  Natty as when I had first seen him, he carried a slender black attaché case.  After shaking my hand, he clicked it open and retrieved a single slender manila file.  So slender, in fact, that it contained nothing but a copy of the indictment.  He laid it on the table and leaned over to whisper in my ear, “Are you sure you don’t want to plead?”

Shocked, I could only shake my head before the court was called to order.

Judge Sam Perry was a small, elderly man dwarfed by his bench.  He had served on the Circuit Court since being appointed by Harry Truman in 1951 and was officially retired to Senior status, hearing a few overload cases each month.  He was most famous for presiding over the epic trial for civil damages against the law enforcement officials who had murdered Black Panther Fred Hampton in his sleep.  After the longest trial in the history of the circuit, Perry had dismissed all charges.  He was overturned on appeal.

Despite this, he was no Julius Hoffmann and had a reputation for lenience in draft cases.

When asked by the judge, Bellow and I rose together and when asked, “How does the defendant plead? I replied as firmly as possible, “Not guilty, your honor.”

About that time my girl friend Cecelia arrived and settled into a seat in the visitors’ gallery directly behind the defense table.  This was a surprise to me.  At breakfast she said that she was busy and couldn’t make it.  I guess she changed her plans.

After a few formalities one of the prosecutors rose to make his opening statement.  “On the [blank] day of December, 1972 the defendant, Patrick Mills Murfin did willfully refuse to submit to a lawful order of induction into the service of the United States of America…”  Blah, blah, blah.  He laid out the facts of that day which were, as he pointed out to the judge “irrefutable.”  

He could have sat down then.  But he strolled from around the table and neared the bench, “Your honor,” he said pointing to the thick FBI file on the table, “The facts will show that the defendant was not motivated by religious conviction or pacifism, but by an abiding hatred of the government of the United States as shown by his willing and boastful membership in a known subversive organization.”

This was the point when I expected my lawyer to leap to his feet and object.  He did not.  And when it was his turn to give our opening, he said, “The Defense has nothing to say at this time.”  I must have looked alarmed.  

“Don’t worry, an opening would only prolong the trial and irk the judge.” He whispered to me.

The Prosecutor called his first witness, the Clerk of my local Draft Board in Skokie.  He asked for a detailed history of my registration and history.  Of course, that included the episode of the returned draft card and the letter from me requesting a new one.  He covered my student deferment and asked if I still had any deferment.  The answer was no.  “So, Mr. Murfin was lawfully subject to the draft when he received his induction notice?”   Yes, came the reply.

O.K. I figured that this is where we would make our case.  The draft and resistance councilors at the American Friends Service Committee had discovered that I was removed from the eligibility pool for over a year while the FBI assembled that thick file on the prosecution table, and had then returned me to the pool with my “window of eligibility” clock set back to the date I was removed.  And they never informed me that my eligibility was “suspended.”  Based on that, the Quakers believed, I could argue that I refused induction in good faith on the grounds that I believed my eligibility had lapsed.

I had informed Bellow about this in our one brief consultation and provided him documents from the Service Committee and even given him their phone number for further consultation.  I expected him to rise and ask the Clerk the critical questions.  Instead he rose and simply said, “The Defense has no questions, Your Honor.”  The witness was dismissed.

The prosecution brought two more witnesses, one of the NCOs who witnessed my actual refusal to step forward to accept induction, and one of the FBI agents who arrested me that day.  Bellows had no questions for them.  Neither was on the stand for five minutes.

With that the Prosecution rested.  I figured maybe Bellow planned to call me and get the eligibility issue out that way.  “The Defense has no witnesses, Your Honor.”

I was now in a state of shock.

The Defense got to make the first closing argument.  Bellow finally stood up and had something to say.  “I met this young man and found him charming and articulate.”  Charming and articulate? “He comes from a good home and his father was a decorated hero of the Second World War.  He is idealistic.  Young men are idealistic.”  He smiled warmly at the judge as if the two of them were together on some secret.  And then he sat down.  Our entire defense was that I was a nice, naïve young man.

The Prosecutor got in his last lick.  A scornful portrait of a dangerous subversive.  That was it the trial was over in about a half an hour.

The judge announced that he would retire to his chambers to consider his verdict, but instructed us to stay close.  As near as I could tell, “considering the verdict” consisted of taking a leak.  We were hardly out of the courtroom and I was still trying to roll a Prince Albert cigarette with shaky hands when the Bailiff called us back.

I stood in front of the judge with my attorney on one side and Cecelia, who for some reason was allowed to join us, on the other.  “I find the Defendant, Patrick Mills Murfin guilty as charged…”  I squeezed Cecelia’s hand.

“At this point,” Judge Perry said, “We usually release the prisoner on bail pending a pre-sentencing investigation into his character and chances of rehabilitation.  That will not be necessary in this case.  We know what kind of young man this is.”  He waved at that damn FBI file.  “I have read the documents you filled out at your induction and was shocked by your disrespect.  This is no laughing matter, as you are about to find out.  I sentence the Defendant to 36 months of confinement in a Federal Correctional Facility.”

I think my knees may have actually buckled.  The Judge did allow me to be released on my own recognizance for two weeks to, “get your affairs in order.”  He stood up and left the bench.  It was over.

Did I mention it was St. Patrick’s Day?  My 24th birthday.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Wyoming—Making Big Plans for the Apocalypse

They may have to dredge Crow Creek.  That’s the mighty stream that runs, or stumbles, through my old home town, Cheyenne, Wyoming.  After a good winter snow run off it can run three feet deep and a couple of yards widest.  By August it is usually as dry as a crater on the Moon.  But once, back in 1985, it flash flooded when the city was deluged with six inches of rain in four hours.  Along with the even more arid Dry Creek across town, four foot walls of water rushed own the arroyos, over flowing the banks.  Twelve people were killed, 70 injured and there was tens of millions of dollars in property damage.

Republican members of the state legislature must evidently secretly believe global warming is real, despite the official party line of rejection.   Why else would they vote to study the possibility of the state acquiring its own aircraft carrier?  Where else but Crow Creek would deeply landlocked Wyoming float its very own navy?

Lest you think I am making this up, let me cite this item from the Casper Star-Tribune:

State representatives on Friday advanced legislation to launch a study into what Wyoming should do in the event of a complete economic or political collapse in the United States.
House Bill 85 passed on first reading by a voice vote. It would create a state-run government continuity task force, which would study and prepare Wyoming for potential catastrophes, from disruptions in food and energy supplies to a complete meltdown of the federal government.
The task force would look at the feasibility of Wyoming issuing its own alternative currency, if needed. And House members approved an amendment Friday by state Rep. Kermit Brown, R-Laramie, to have the task force also examine conditions under which Wyoming would need to implement its own military draft, raise a standing army, and acquire strike aircraft and an aircraft carrier.
The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. David Miller, R-Riverton, has said he doesn’t anticipate any major crises hitting America anytime soon. But with the national debt exceeding $15 trillion and protest movements growing around the country, Miller said Wyoming — which has a comparatively good economy and sound state finances — needs to make sure it’s protected should any unexpected emergency hit the U.S.

Several House members spoke in favor of the legislation, saying there was no harm in preparing for the worst.
“I don’t think there’s anyone in this room today what would come up here and say that this country is in good shape, that the world is stable and in good shape — because that is clearly not the case,” state Rep. Lorraine Quarberg, R-Thermopolis, said. “To put your head in the sand and think that nothing bed’s going to happen, and that we have no obligation to the citizens of the state of Wyoming to at least have the discussion, is not healthy.”

Wyoming has just over half a million hearty residents—the fewest citizens of any state—spread out over
97,814 square miles.  Just the ticket for self-sufficiency in the event of the catastrophic collapse of the United States Government.  One senses that in the fevered imaginations of some legislators, they rather hope that event might be looming and are quite prepared to help make it happen.

There has always been a strutting “hate the dam gub’ment” strain among certain Wyomingites, who like to imagine themselves as rugged individualists, cowboys if you will.  This is belied by the fact that more than three quarters of the land in the state belongs to the Feds and that the state reaps a deep harvest of federal dollars and one in five residents owes employment directly or indirectly to the government.

This just takes its most common expression, blustering belligerence to even the mildest hints of modest gun control legislation, to a new level.  It is “you will have to pry my gun from my cold, dead hands” amped up on steroids.

The most amazing thing is that no one in the legislature evidently even batted an eye at the assertion that it would be a good use of taxpayer money to inquire about obtaining an aircraft carrier.  And they will be mystified as to why the rest of the nation is doubled over, rolling on the floor with laughter at the idea.

Ah, my Wyoming homeboys.  Gotta love  ‘em.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Music4Martin Celebrates 10 Years With a Great New Show

My friend Ken West, a fellow member of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in McHenry, has been helping young people find their creative voices and celebrating the life and work of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. for a long time.  In fact this year will be the 10th Anniversary Music4Martin program, slated for at 3:30, Sunday March 11 at Grace Lutheran Church, 1300 Kishwaukee Valley Road in Woodstock.

And I have been proud to promote the wonderful event here on this blog every year since it started burning up electrons.  Over the years I have seen many young people from our congregation share their amazing talents.  But they aren’t alone.  They are joined by children and youth from the Woodstock area and talented adult performers as well.

Here is how Ken describes this year’s event:

You will not want to miss Music4Martin 2012! As always, we have a series of songs reflecting the messages of Dr. King. We will perform songs from the late Jackie Wilson, Tracy Chapman, Fitz & The Tantrums, the Judds, and John Mellencamp as well as songs especially written for M4M12. There will also be dance and spoken word expressions. And in keeping with M4M tradition, Gabe Karagianis will perform his “Live” painting as the program unfolds. Come support and enjoy the talented inter-generational cast of fellow community members as they remind us of the continuing impact of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. See you there!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Academy Awards—First Time Out of the Gate

Director Fred Borzage and actress Janet Gaynor both won for their work on Seventh Heaven.

Note:  A version of this entry first appeared in this blog on May 16, 2010.

The Academy Awards will be presented tonight with less suspense than usual.  Virtually everyone expects the French made The Artist to waltz blithely away with the big prize for Best Picture.  Hardly an article on the phenomenal success of that film fails to note that it is the first silent—or virtually silent—picture nominated since the very first awards 84 years ago.  You probably missed those.  I hear TV reception was crummy.  Anyway, here is a look back at Hollywood’s first big celebration of itself.

On May 16, 1929 the first Academy Awards were presented at a banquet at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.  270 people plunked down $5 for tickets to the black tie event. 
In many ways it was indistinguishable from awards dinners common to any industry.  The main event seemed to be the dinner.  The awards were presented in a brisk 15 minutes after the deserts were cleared and after speeches by founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, including producer Louis B. Mayer who was a prime mover in establishing the organization just two years before. 
The Academy’s first President, actor Douglas Fairbanks, shared hosting and presenting with his successor, director Cecil B. DeMille.  There we no surprises.  Award recipients had been announced weeks earlier. 
While many things would change about the annual ceremonies, one constant was the Award itself, a hefty gold statuette of a sleek man holding a sword point down with his hands clasp in front of him.  In 1931 Bette Davis would give it an enduring nick name by observing, “This looks just like my uncle Oscar.”  

Recipients of the first awards were mostly for films released in 1927.  Many awards, including those for acting were given not for a single film, but for a body of work during the year.  There were two best picture awards, Outstanding Picture, Production for popular, main stream hits, and Outstanding Picture, Unique and Artistic Production for what we would today call an art film.  The action-packed World War I flying adventure Wings starting Buddy Rodgers, Gary Cooper, and Clara Bow won the commercial award.  Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, an allegorical film by German director F. W. Murnau staring George O’Brien as “The Husband” and Janet Gaynor as “The Wife” won the art award.  The film included music and sound effects, but no dialog on a sound track using Fox-Movietone Sound-on-Film system. 

It was a very good year for 22 year old Gaynor.  She won Best Actress in a Leading Role for her performance as the long suffering wife and for two films she made with director Frank Borzage and leading man Charles Farrell,  Seventh Heaven, and Street Angel.  Borzage took home the trophy as Best Director, Dramatic Picture for the charming romance Seventh Heaven.  

That year there was also a separate award for Best Director, Comedy Picture which was won by Lewis Milestone for Two American Knights, produced by Howard Hughes and staring William Boyd—the future Hopalong Cassidy—and Mary Astor.  

Best Actor in Leading Roll went to German character actor Emil Jannings for work in two pictures, The Lost Command as an exiled Czarist general, and The Way of All Flesh as a businessman tempted and dishonored. 
There were three writing awards.  The former newspaper man Ben Hecht won Best Writing, Original Story for the early gangster flick Underworld.  Best Writing, Adapted Story went once again to Seventh Heaven for Benjamin Glazer’s screenplay.  Joseph Farnham won in the doomed category Best Writing, Title Cards for his whole body of work in 1927 which included Fair Co-Ed, Laugh, Clown, Laugh, and Telling the World. 

Awards were also given out for Best Cinematography (Sunrise), Best Engineering Effects (Wings), and Best Art Direction.  

Two Honorary awards given.  The first was to Charles Chaplain, who had been withdrawn from consideration in several categories of regular award because he did, well, everything.  His citation read, “For versatility and genius in acting, writing, directing and producing The Circus.   The dawning of a new age was recognized in a special award to Warner Brothers “For producing The Jazz Singer, the pioneer outstanding talking picture, which has revolutionized the industry.” 

Even the most optimistic boosters of the new awards did not foresee how popular—and powerful they would become.  The eyes of Hollywood were opened when winning films were re-released to big audiences.  Sunrise, in particular, which had made hardly any money in its first release suddenly found an audience.  Thereafter the Awards—and the presentation showcases for them—would become a very big deal indeed in Tinsel Town.