Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A review of The Poison Tree: A True Story of Family Violence and Revenge by Alan Prendergast

Back in 1985, a made for TV movie starring Justine Bateman was broadcast.  I didn't see Right To Kill until sometime between 1989 and 1990, when I was a senior in high school taking a psychology class.  My teacher was big on showing us made for TV movies to teach us about psychological disorders.  Right To Kill was the dramatized story of Richard and Deborah Jahnke, two teenagers who were in trouble with the law for killing their abusive father, Richard Chester Jahnke.

Not long ago, I watched Right To Kill again on YouTube.  I decided I wanted to see if there were any books about the case.  As a matter of fact, there was.  In 1986, Alan Prendergast, who had covered the story for Rolling Stone, published The Poison Tree: A True Story of Family Violence and Revenge.  I got my hands on a used copy and just finished reading it this afternoon.

Prendergast happened to base his title on one of my favorite poems, "A Poison Tree", by William Blake.  I am not actually a big fan of poetry, but this was one I remembered from high school.  Since Richard John Jahnke and Deborah Ann Jahnke were Wyoming high school students when their crime was committed, it seems fitting that Prendergast would use "A Poison Tree" as inspiration for his book about their case.  It's also just a very wise poem...  it says a lot in not many words.

In vivid, conversational prose, Prendergast spins the tragic tale of the Jahnke family, starting at the beginning when Richard C. Jahnke was an 18 year old private in the Army posted at Fort Brooke near San Juan, Puerto Rico.  He met 20 year old Maria de Lourdes Rodriguez on November 16, 1962.  They were on a bus.  Actually, Maria had gotten on the wrong bus; she was on her way to work at the phone company and was in a hurry.  She noticed the clean cut Yankee with huge blue eyes.  He noticed her.  The bus had engine trouble and soon everyone disembarked.

The clean cut Army private, a Chicago native who had just arrived in Puerto Rico, had been trying to do some sightseeing, but he got lost.  He needed help getting back to Fort Brooke.  Maria was the only one who would admit to speaking English.  She offered to help him find the right bus as she made her way to work.  Richard C. Jahnke said he would walk Maria to work under the guise of looking out for her safety, even though he was himself a stranger at that point.  Before long, they were dating.

Maria and Richard got along well, even though Richard seemed to be the jealous type.  He was good at telling stories and had a lot of spunk.  And Maria lived with her mother, who was abusive and didn't seem to care much about her daughter.  She was ready to move on with her life.  The couple got engaged to be married.  Thirteen months later, on June 6, 1964, they exchanged vows at the Church of Santa Teresita in Santurce, Puerto Rico.  They told everyone they were going to Jamaica for their honeymoon, but they really rented a cheap beach house on the southern part of Puerto Rico.  The lie seemed harmless at the time.  Later, Maria would come to realize that it set a tone of secrecy and lies that would one day destroy the couple.

Maria quickly got pregnant and, on March 16, 1965, presented Richard with a baby girl they named Deborah Ann.  Six months later, Maria was pregnant again, and Richard, who had just signed re-enlistment papers, had a new assignment at Fort Ord in California.  On June 27, 1966, Richard John Jahnke was born there.  The family was complete, even though Maria had envisioned herself with three kids.  It soon became obvious that her husband was turning into a monster.  By the time the children were toddlers, he was screaming at them, hitting them, and calling them filthy names.  He hit his wife, too.

Richard C. Jahnke terrorized his family, though they would get brief respites as the Army sent him on unaccompanied tours to other posts.  After a stint in Germany, where he failed to perform all of his contractually obligated duties, Jahnke was forced to leave the Army.  He traded his Army uniform for a gun and a badge provided by the Internal Revenue Service.  The Jahnke family continued to move from station to station until they landed in Cheyenne, Wyoming on Valentine's Day in 1981.  They spent six hard weeks sharing a motel room while the finishing touches were put on the home the Jahnkes purchased.  It was located on the outskirts of town in an area where neighbors were rare and kept to themselves.

Things got especially bad in Wyoming.  Jahnke continued to be abusive to his wife and kids, though his son Richard had grown enough to be able to offer some resistance to his blows.  One bright spot in the younger Richard's life was discovering ROTC.  Not long after he joined the high school Army class, a new teacher fresh from the service took over the program.  Major Robert Vegvary had done three tours in Vietnam.  He had visited Cheyenne and liked it.  Central High School's ROTC program was in a shambles and he was just the man to revive it.  He became somewhat close to Richard J. Jahnke and had visions of the young man making a career out of the military.

ROTC allowed the younger Richard Jahnke to excel at something.  Aside from that, he and his father had their guns.  Richard C. Jahnke was a big lover of firearms, a hobby that would eventually be his undoing.  Convinced that the world was full of cheats, liars, murderers and rapists, the senior Jahnke was always packing heat, even at the dinner table.

Deborah Jahnke had grown into a dramatic, artistic sort of girl.  She had a problem with acne and was thought of as "weird" by a lot of her classmates.  But she studied art and had a favorite teacher, Eve Whitcomb, who encouraged her to be creative.  Although Richard and Deborah were nothing alike, they clung to each other as their father raged and their mother did what she could to appease him, to include siding against her children who were regularly abused and beaten by their father.  The kids had asked for help of adults in the school system, but their requests for asylum fell on deaf ears.  In fact, they were punished for seeking help.

Finally, on November 16, 1982, Richard and Deborah had had enough.  It was the twentieth anniversary of the day Richard C. Jahnke and Maria Jahnke had met.  They'd gone out to dinner to celebrate.  Meanwhile, Richard John Jahnke put the family pets in the basement and selected a weapon.  He planned to shoot his father... protect his sister, his mother, and himself from the foul tempered, violent, 38 year old brute, once and for all.  While Richard J. Jahnke did the killing, his sister went to jail for aiding and abetting his crime.

Prendergast does a great job covering this story, including all the facts and details while still making the writing colorful enough to hold the reader's attention.  This is the first book I've read in a long time that I had trouble putting down and I managed to finish it within a couple of days, rather than the weeks other books have been taking me lately.

In a way, this book is even a bit timely.  Early this morning, Kelly Gissendaner was executed.  Her children pleaded for her life.  Since they were also the children of the murder victim, Gissendaner's husband, Doug, they were sort of in a similar position as Maria Jahnke was.  Her husband was murdered, but it was her children who committed the crime.  So not only did she lose her husband, she also had to come up with the money to pay for the lawyers who defended her husband's killers.

As an Army wife and Air Force brat, I was interested in reading about the now defunct posts where the senior Jahnke had assignments.  As a true crime buff, I was fascinated by the story of how the court case unfolded and how local people in Cheyenne were gripped by this story.  The only thing I felt was missing were pictures.  I was curious to see what the Jahnke kids looked like in the 80s.  I understand now that they have long since moved on.  

Anyway, The Poison Tree is a solid read.  I recommend it to true crime buffs who don't mind reading about a very old case.  The Jahnkes' story shocked the people of Cheyenne, many of whom had a great deal of empathy for Richard and Deborah, who were clearly failed by the people who should have been able to help them escape the hell they were in before things got so violent and deadly.


The manipulative Mormon missionary program...

I haven't been writing as many Mormon related posts lately, mainly because I've sort of been outgrowing my interest in Mormonism.  Bill's ex daughters are long out of our lives and may never come back.  And really, though I did have a passing interest in Mormonism before I married a Mormon, I doubt that I would have stayed interested for long if Bill hadn't come into my life.  I am not sorry I've kept up with the LDS church's bullshit, though, because I've ended up meeting some great, like-minded folks online.  Ex Mormons are some of my favorite people, after all.  I have Bill's former wife to thank for that, along with freeing Bill from their disastrous marriage so he could reboot with me.

Anyway, I am prompted to post this morning about the very manipulative Mormon missionary program.  As I was trying to take my mind off of Kelly Gissendaner's execution, I opened up RfM and immediately read two posts concerning missionaries and how they've annoyed, inconvenienced, and even manipulated innocent people.

The first post I read was entitled "Damn missionaries!".  It was written by a guy who was minding his own business in his house when he heard his dogs barking.  Two Mormon missionaries were riding their bikes in his neighborhood and one of them made a loop and rode across the poster's lawn.  This pissed off the homeowner, who went out and yelled at the missionaries.

The missionaries, probably all of 18 or 19 years old, were stammering, trying to explain, and one of them finally said "It was a 'learning experience'."

The homeowner said, "I thought you guys had all the answers.  Didn't you ever learn to respect other peoples' property?"  I have to admit, the guy has a point... although the mishies are probably not enjoying their lives much at that juncture.  I might have felt sorry for them, but he clearly didn't.

After the missionaries left, the homeowner noticed that his sprinkler, which had functioned fine earlier in the day, was now broken.  He's talking about billing the church for the sprinkler head.  Some people are saying he should just let it go, but he's pissed and wants to be the source of an important life lesson.

I'll be honest.  If it were me, I'd probably not bother with getting the church to buy a new sprinkler.  I'd probably just call up or email the mission president and ask him to have a talk with his missionaries about respecting peoples' property and not trespassing.  But then, trespassing is part of what missionaries do.  And they think they are being virtuous when they do it.

The second post was even more egregiously obnoxious.  It was about "less active" members being assigned to feed the missionaries.  Basically, what has been happening is that members who are not very active at church are being signed up against their wills to provide meals for the missionaries.  If they can't feed the missionaries on a particular date, they are expected to find someone who can.

The original poster writes that a missionary had said it was "a way to get into less active homes."  Wow... talk about manipulative and underhanded behavior!  And what, pray tell, is the purpose of "getting into less active homes"?  You don't go to church for whatever reason, so we'll send the missionaries over and guilt you into feeding them.  You aren't available that day?  Well, you'd better find someone who is.  Otherwise, these poor "kids" are going to starve and it'll be on YOUR head!

One person brought up the idea that having "less active" members feed the missionaries is one way the church can spend less money.  After all, if members are providing food, the missionaries don't have to buy as much for themselves.  And they don't have to use electricity or water to do their own cooking.  They'd also spend less time shopping for food, right?  It's the same rationale that was raised when church members were asked to house the missionaries and be custodians of their meetinghouses.  Less rent money and salary paid to professional janitors means more for the church's coffers.  More money for malls, cattle ranches, and other projects that promote the Mormon way of thinking and living.  Of course, not paying a janitor means that one more person needs a job and may have to rely on church largesse rather than paying their own way (and tithing).  Just sayin'.

I see it as also a way the church can get information about people.  Missionaries come in for a meal... and maybe they'll spot the bottle of wine or the coffee maker.  Or the R rated movies in your DVD collection, if you still have one.  I know the one time I had mishies in my house, they remarked on my movies.  They seemed kind of jealous and impressed, but I'm sure some of the more lurid titles would have raised some eyebrows among church people had Bill been a "more active" member at the time.

Hell, we were not married then, so it was bad enough that we were "living in sin", though without any sexual activity.  We literally just slept together during the six months before our wedding.  As a matter of fact, that's kind of how it is now, too.  ;)  Blood pressure meds, middle age, and chronic exhaustion can really do a number on a man's libido.

I'm sure there are a lot of folks in the church who think this stuff is just "kid stuff" or otherwise perfectly okay.  Consider the fact that Mormon missionaries are legal adults.  Yes, they are young adults, but they are still adults.  They presumably chose to be missionaries and their decision has nothing to do with anyone else.  Yes, I know that a lot of them are sort of coerced into going on a mission by overbearing family members, but it's still a choice when it comes down to it.

I do think that 18 and 19 year olds should know better than to ride a bike across someone's private property.  If you've reached the age of majority and don't know to respect peoples' private property, your parents clearly didn't do their job all the way and you probably shouldn't be unleashed to mingle among an unsuspecting and innocent public.

And I do think that young adults should be able to shop for and cook their own food without bothering and spying on "less active" church members.  If the missionaries do manage to score a dinner date, it should be because someone invited them, not because a less active family was "assigned" by a third, uninvolved party to look after them.  Church leaders are engaging in coercive and manipulative behavior.  Perhaps instead of "trying to get into less active homes", they should make their church more interesting, inviting, and exciting and less intrusive and annoying.

Kelly Gissendaner is no longer among the living...

Back in February of this year, I wrote a blog post about convicted murderer Kelly Gissendaner.  Until the wee hours of this morning, Georgia time, she was the only female on Georgia's death row.  She was supposed to be executed last February after 17 years on death row.  She was spared due to severe weather.  Then, her date with the Grim Reaper was moved up to early March, but was called off at the last minute after the drugs to be used were deemed to be "too cloudy".

Gissendaner was scheduled to be executed at 7:00pm Eastern Daylight Time last night, but her lawyers had filed several requests for delay.  The deed was finally done shortly after midnight.

I am not a proponent of the death penalty.  I am not quite at the point at which I would say it's always wrong, but I do think it's wrong in many cases.  The only time I think death is appropriate is when there is absolutely no doubt of the person's guilt and there is an overwhelming chance that he or she will continue to kill.  When a killer is a genuine danger to the public and likely to re-offend, I have less of a problem with capital punishment... although it still gives me the willies.

I think what I find most unnerving is the callous way some people talk about the condemned.  Kelly Gissendaner gained a lot of weight while she was in prison.  She became almost unrecognizable as the somewhat attractive woman who convinced her boyfriend to kill her husband, Doug.  In more recent pictures, she was quite frankly, huge.  Of course, if you spend most hours a day locked in a small room and eat starchy prison food, you are liable to gain weight.  Aside from that, it's not as if she had anyone to be thin and pretty for.  Food was probably one of her few pleasures.  And since the state meant to execute her, why would she care about preserving her health?

Anyway, I read an article or two about Kelly Gissendaner and the comments, usually from men, were just vile.  One person said it was time to "euthanize that beast!"  Another person said, "Kill it!"  I suppose I can understand the sentiment if it comes from a place of people being disgusted that Kelly commissioned her husband's murder, but it makes me sad that so many males apparently view less attractive women as "beasts" that need to be euthanized.  Others made fun of the fact that Kelly asked for chips with cheese dip, Texas fajitas, and a diet frosted lemonade.

What was even more interesting was reading an article from a British news source and seeing so many Brits commenting that Georgia needed to "get on with it".  I guess some British people are missing capital punishment.

In any case, Kelly Gissendaner is now no longer a burden to the taxpayers of Georgia.  I hope her death brought closure to some people.  I hear that she sobbed and sang and "Amazing Grace".  I'm not sure anyone remembers what Doug Gissendaner's last words and actions were... Maybe that's one more thing wrong with the death penalty besides the fact that it's barbaric, expensive, and not a deterrent from bad behavior.  It makes criminals famous and gives them a platform.      

My thoughts are with Kelly's family and friends who are probably very sad now.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Reposted review of Florence Henderson's life story...

I know it's my third post today, but I just found this book review of Florence Henderson's life story.  And I want to keep it alive, so I'm reposting it for your perusal.  Hey, at least I learned that despite her encounter with crab lice, Flo is not as earthy as Shirley Jones is.

Florence Henderson shares her life... 

    Review by knotheadusc

    in Books, Music, Hotels & Travel

    September, 28 2011

    Pros: Engrossing. Florence Henderson is likeable, warm, and candid.

    Cons: A few recycled tidbits from other books.

    Like so many others, I grew up watching re-runs of The Brady Bunch. And like so many others, I've always had sort of a mild obsession with the show. I've seen every episode many times and could probably recite lines from each show. Perhaps because of my affinity for all things Brady, I had to read Florence Henderson's brand new memoirs, Life Is Not a Stage: From Broadway Baby to a Lovely Lady and Beyond. This book was just released last week. I downloaded it to my Kindle and read it in a matter of days. I have to admit, Florence Henderson has led a remarkable life... one that encompasses so much more than The Brady Bunch.

    Florence Henderson's humble beginnings

    Florence Henderson grew up poor, the youngest of ten kids born on Valentine's Day 1934 to Elizabeth and Joseph Henderson of Dale, Indiana. Her father was hardworking, but an alcoholic. Her mother was a bit of a free spirit who left her husband when Florence was young. Florence writes that her father called her "Gal" because he often couldn't remember her name. I guess that's understandable, given the fact that the man had ten kids and a drinking habit. Florence Henderson grew up Catholic and was very devoted to her faith.

    A star is born

    Florence Henderson left Indiana when she was barely 17 years old. She wanted to make it on Broadway and had enrolled in dramatic school. She got lucky early and landed a role in a Broadway show not long after her arrival. That first role led to larger roles, notably Oklahoma!, Fanny, and Wish You Were Here. She worked with many Broadway legends, including Oscar Hammerstein and Richard Rodgers. Her work took her to both coasts and places in between, like Las Vegas and Chicago. She got roles on stage, in films, and on television, and of course, she also enjoyed a successful singing career. And she's never been ashamed to do commercials, either. She likens her spots pitching Polident denture cleanser, Tang powdered drink mix, and Wesson cooking oil as 60 second movies with her as the star. Incidentally, Florence Henderson does not use Polident; she is fortunate enough to still have her teeth.

    Florence Henderson, wife and mother

    In 1956, Florence Henderson married Ira Bernstein, a man with theater connections. Though Ira Bernstein was Jewish, the couple was able to marry in the Catholic church. They had two sons and two daughters together, though the union wasn't particularly happy. Florence engaged in several affairs, one of which left her with an unpleasant creepy crawly memento. And Ira wasn't particularly keen to make the move to Los Angeles, despite his connections in show business. Consequently, he was in New York during the week and flew to L.A. on weekends, leaving Florence to juggle a hectic career and their four children, as well as everything else that comes with family life.

    Fortunately, Florence and Ira were able to part somewhat amicably in 1985, freeing Florence to marry her second husband, Dr. John Kappas, in 1987. Florence and John Kappas were married until his death in September 2002.

    Florence Henderson's dear friends

    Evidently, Florence Henderson has enjoyed the love and companionship of many good friends. A lot of them were show biz friends, but quite a few of them were people who worked for Henderson. In one entertaining chapter, she writes of the many bizarre domestic helpers she went through before she finally found one who was able to stay for the long haul. And her second husband was actually her therapist before they married. Florence Henderson was even best friends with her doctor.

    My thoughts

    I was pleasantly surprised by Life Is Not a Stage. I will admit, I haven't really seen Florence Henderson in anything not Brady related, except for her turn in the classically campy film, Shakes The Clown. But I learned from reading her book that her career has really been long and amazingly successful. And yet, even though she really is a big star, Florence Henderson maintains a very warm tone in her book. It reads as if she's an old friend, talking about her life. I think my favorite part of the book was the beginning, where Florence writes about her childhood. Her writing made it easy for me to picture her upbringing and I found her stories of her girlhood surprisingly interesting.

    Florence Henderson is very candid in her writing and includes some tidbits that aren't necessarily flattering. There are a couple of things in this book that, for some readers, may verge slightly on oversharing territory; but ever the lady, Henderson very kindly warns sensitive readers and marks off the potentially offensive sections with asterisks. Personally, I didn't find any of her revelations too offensive.

    For those who are curious, yes, there is some dishing about The Brady Bunch. Most of what Henderson writes about her most famous role, however, is not exactly earth shattering news. She references books written by both Barry Williams and Susan Olsen. I did find some of her comments about Robert Reed (Mike Brady) kind of touching. Apparently, the whole "Bunch" still keeps in touch.

    Florence Henderson also writes quite a bit about her experiences with hypnosis. Her second husband, Dr. John Kappas, was an experiened hypnotist and he helped his wife get through some traumas that were holding her back professionally and personally. When Kappas was dying of cancer, he asked Florence to learn how to hypnotize him. She learned the craft and apparently, it's changed her life and enriched the lives of others.

    Henderson includes some photos in her book. I'm happy to report that they were easy to see on my Kindle and the captions were easy to read.


    I liked Florence Henderson's book. I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in Broadway legends, hypnosis, or Florence Henderson's life.

    For more information: (Gotta love that Web site name. Makes me think of my period.)

Speaking in tongues...

Speaking of Pat Boone...  check out this crazy ass video.

I don't know about you, but to me, this appears to be bullshit...  Especially at the end, when Pat asks if the cameraman wants a "walking shot".

And here is Pat Boone on CBN circa 1977...  I love finding this kind of stuff.  I used to watch WYAH when I was a kid and there was crazy religious stuff on that channel.

He's no Frank Sinatra.  I remember when this ad was on TV all the time.

Can you imagine Pat Boone getting so upset that he spanks the hell out of his young adult daughters?  He seems so nice and wholesome.  I listen to him talk and think he must be so kind and loving.  And yet he's capable of being majorly pissed off.

One of my Facebook/blogging/RfM friends says that she thinks Pat Boone was one of the causes of his daughter Cherry's anorexia nervosa.  I am sure that Boone's strict, controlling, parenting style was not helpful to his eldest daughter.  However, I don't know that parental strictness in and of itself causes eating disorders in young people.  It can be a way for people who are living in a very controlling environment to take some control back, but then it can also be a way to get attention or stay childlike.  The theories of what causes anorexia are many.

Anyway, getting back to the title of this post...  Have you ever seen anyone "speak in tongues"?  They say it's like God's own language.  I've seen it on a lot of televised programs like the one I posted above.  

This is an interesting video about speaking in tongues...

I have never been to a worship service where anyone spoke in tongues.  My parents were way too straight-laced to ever go to a service where people would go into a different state of mind and ramble incoherently.

Paula White doesn't speak tongues in this video, but she does talk about going to an Emmy party.  I used to watch her show on TBN for fun and she often spoke in tongues.

Here Paula talks about using her hips and lips...
I dunno...  I think a lot of religion is malarkey, but it does at least offer some entertainment.  Even when Pat Boone is the entertainment.

Here's ABC's report on speaking in tongues...  Paula and her ex husband, Randy, are interviewed.

Teacher drops the n-bomb in class...

Yesterday, I came across a news article about a teacher from Newport News, Virginia who is on paid administrative leave because she used the word "nigger" in her classroom.  On the surface, it sounds like the just action was taken, right?  I mean, how dare a teacher drop the n-bomb in school.  It's not the 1950s!

Not so fast.

Lynne Pierce, a 40 year veteran of teaching, is a social studies teacher at Heritage High School in Newport News, Virginia.  On Friday, September 18, Ms. Pierce was explaining to her advanced placement US History students why some people think the Washington Redskins ought to change the name of their team.  Some of the students were having some trouble grasping the concept of the term "Redskins" being racially offensive.  So, Ms. Pierce said something along the lines of, "How would you feel if we had a team called the Newport News Niggers?"  She used the word once and made it clear that it was not to be used again in her class.

A student was offended and complained to authorities.  Ms. Pierce sat at home for a week while her lessons were taught by substitutes.  As of yesterday, she is back at school.

Heritage High School's student body is predominantly composed of black students.  Ms. Pierce, who is a white woman, is apparently much beloved by many of her students, past and present.  A petition circulated online to get her back to class.  Meanwhile, controversy is still brewing.

We had a pretty good discussion about this on my Facebook wall yesterday.  Only one person was offended and I have a feeling that she commented without reading the article.  She asked how I would feel if the teacher had used the words "fuck" or "cocksucker" in class.  My response was that if the words were being used in an educational context-- say if they were quoted from a novel or something-- I wouldn't have a problem with it.

Aside from that, these kids are 16 or 17 years old and, as they are taking AP classes, probably intend to go to college at some point.  In college, it's very possible that they will run into objectionable language in the course of their studies.  They'd probably ought to get used to it.  I was an English major as an undergrad and I took courses in women's literature and African American literature.  Both classes included slave narratives and other books that included "racist" language.  While I'm not a fan of derogatory language intended to hurt people, I don't think history should be whitewashed.  When those books were written, that was the language used.  An accurate look at history is the best way to learn not to make the same mistakes in the future.  You can't know where you're going if you don't know where you've been.

I'm probably not the best person to ask that question to, anyway, because when it comes to language, I tend to be pretty liberal.  I think it makes sense to pay close attention to the context of how a word is used.  Yes, it's true that yesterday I made fun of Pat Boone singing about Santa Claus needing to go on a diet.  I didn't say he couldn't sing that song because it was offensive; I said it was a stupid song that probably didn't sell well.  And given that Pat's daughter had an eating disorder that threatened her life, I thought it was a strange choice for him to sing it.  

I am heartened to read that many people think Ms. Pierce is "brilliant" and a great teacher.  I'm glad she's back at school.  I hope people will learn from this incident.  It's yet another example of zero tolerance gone amok and common sense gone astray.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Fat shaming Santa...

I recently started a Facebook group for my friends who enjoy the offbeat stuff I sometimes post.  In retrospect, maybe starting the group was a dumb idea.  I'm not one of those popular people who can whip up a large group of people and have lots of participation.  Then again, I have found that those who like my sense of humor really seem to like it and join in with abandon.

Yesterday, I posted a Pat Boone commercial to the group.  It wasn't a new discovery for me, since I posted it on this blog last year during the holidays.  Back in 2007, Pat Boone released an album full of brand new original Christmas songs and I included the ad in a post I did about holiday hell.

"Hey folks, Pat Boone here..."

Today's post will focus entirely on just one song from Pat's Christmas album from 2007, an album of songs he claims will be filled with "timeless classics".  It's a song called "Santa Claus, You Ought To Go On A Diet".  A quick check on YouTube does not turn up any videos made with this song.  However, if you have Amazon Prime, you can hear it for free.  I spent about two minutes I'll never get back doing just that this morning.

The song begins with the jaunty sounds of jingle bells, then a cutesy piano introduction...  Then Pat sings:

Santa Claus, you know you got stuck in a chimney last year.
And that's because your body is built like a barrel of beer.
From head to foot you were covered with soot so you really can't deny it.
Santa Claus, you ought to go on a diet.

When you sit your tummy sticks out to the top of each knee.
And that means that it's hard to find out where your lap ought to be.
It takes a map to discover your lap but the kids all have to try it.
Santa Claus, you ought to go on a diet.

Cuz everybody knows you're fat.
So they think it's kind of weird
You'd try to hide something like that
Under your beard.

Santa Claus they say if you gain even one single pound
There's no chance your reindeers can lift that ol' sleigh off the ground.
And the girls and boys won't be gettin' their toys.
And they'll start a big riot.
Santa Claus, it's time to go on a diet.

Hey! Everybody knows you're fat.
So they think it's rather weird
You'd try to hide something like that
Under your beard.

Santa Claus, they say if you gain even one single pound
There's no chance your reindeers can lift that ol' sleigh off the ground.
And the girls and boys won't be gettin' their toys.
And they'll start a real riot.

Santa Claus, it's time to go svelte.
Time to tighten up on that belt.
Santa Claus, you ought to go on a diet!

You're FAT!!

Now...  given that Santa Claus is a fictional character who is supposed to be fat, this song seems pretty silly.  Given that Pat Boone's eldest daughter suffered for many years from anorexia nervosa, it seems that he would be more sensitive to fat shaming, even if he's just doing it to a fictional character like Santa Claus.  But then Pat Boone is no longer a spring chicken, especially when evidenced by the ragged way he sounds as he sings this song.  I'm sure it never occurred to him that this song is about fat shaming or that maybe it's potentially offensive or at least annoying to some listeners.  It's just a silly, jaunty, song, perhaps reflecting today's figure conscious mores while set to a melody that sounds like a mixture of "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town" and "Here Comes Santa Claus".

I'm sure some really little kids might think this is a cute song.  The older ones will probably think it's uncool, simply because Pat Boone is sort of the Burl Ives of today.  I doubt many young people even know who Pat Boone is.  Hell, he was "old news" even when I was a kid in the 80s.  I can't imagine that any parents young enough to have little kids would buy this album, though maybe some grandparents would.  Actually, scratch that.  Some of my friends are grandparents now.  Great grandparents, maybe?  Who the hell would buy this?

I have commented about Pat Boone and his family many times before.  In the above ad, Boone mentions how this album will hearken memories of Christmases past.  That's pretty funny.  As a small child, I did indeed enjoy Christmas.  As I got older, the holiday season became very dramatic and rather unpleasant, fraught with expectations of "magic", family togetherness, great presents, and good will.  Sadly, they rarely lived up to the expectations.  I can think of several Christmases that were full on disasters and several more than were near misses.  Nowadays, I spend my holidays with Bill and they are low key and pleasant.  It wasn't always like that, though.

Getting back to Pat Boone and his ill conceived fat shaming song, I remember reading in his daughter Cherry's 1982 book, Starving For Attention, about one Christmas.  Cherry wrote about all the food in the house... chocolates, turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, homemade rolls, and punch...  At the time, she was deep in the throes of anorexia nervosa, but would sometimes binge and purge when the urge to eat became too great.  I wrote a review of Cherry's book and included this memorable passage about an incident that occurred one Christmas after Cherry skipped dinner and then binged and purged when she thought everyone was asleep.

My distended stomach ached-- I must have looked six months pregnant. My food frenzy began to slow down when I could no longer walk without bending over. Did I get everything I wanted? I guess so-- besides I can't eat any more.

But wait! Some chocolates! I'll chew on those on the way upstairs with a glass of punch.

Once in my bathroom, I completed the now familiar ritual I'd begun this time with that first bite of turkey. I forced my finger down my throat. After several gut-wrenching heaves I regurgitated as much as I could until nothing but small amounts of bile tinged pink with blood, emerged. I wiped off the toilet and began rinsing my beet-red face when I was startled by a hard knock on the door.

"Cherry, what's going on?" My father's voice was stern.

My heart pounded. I'm just going to the bathroom. Why?" I quickly straightened my hair, straightened air freshener, turned off the water.

"Open the door, Cherry. You know the rules about no locked doors in this house."

"You and Mommy lock your door sometimes," I answered back.

"Open this door, Cherry! Right now!"

"All right! All right! Just let me get my robe on," I stalled, trying to open the window for fresh air. Then I calmly unlocked and opened the door.

"It doesn't take you fifteen minutes to go to the bathroom, Cherry."

"I haven't been in here fifteen minutes," I lied.

"I was outside after taking a sauna and I looked up and saw your bathroom light on. I waited, listened, and I know I heard you vomiting." His eyes glistened with anger.

"I did not! I swear! I was just going to the bathroom and washing my face!"

"Look here, Cherry," he said, gripping my arm and pulling me back into the bathroom. "Look at yourself! Your face is red, your eyes are bloodshot, the room stinks and you're telling me you didn't throw up?"

"I didn't, Daddy! I promise I didn't! I was going to the bathroom. I've been constipated so my face gets red. Honest!" My voice quavered with fear. Tears welled up in my eyes.

"Cherry, I don't understand this. I know you're lying, but it's late and I have to get up early. We should both be in bed-- it's been a busy day. But don't think we aren't going to discuss this when I get back from Chicago! Now go to bed, and don't you get up again-- for any reason!"

Suddenly he was gone and I stood alone in front of the mirror. I stared at my gaunt face, then burst into tears.

In his ad for his holiday CD, Pat speaks longingly of the sheer awesomeness Christmases past, but it doesn't seem like they were always quite as heartwarming and magical in real life as he likes to pretend.  Besides, maybe Santa has an eating disorder.  Pat Boone should know better.  Isn't lying against The Ten Commandments?  

Yes, I know.  He's just engaging in marketing and trying to appeal to people's nostalgia.  So what if what he's selling is bullshit?  So what if his "cute" song about fat shaming Santa Claus is not meant to be taken seriously?  So what if his voice is not what it once was?  Christmas is coming, dammit.  Pat Boone has to make a living.  And you need to get with the program and make your heart light and spirit bright... and don't gain any weight on Christmas goodies.  I know I'm looking forward to the season.  Are you?  

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Munchausen's syndrome by proxy...

This morning, I happened to stumble across this video on YouTube.

This is the story of Kathleen Bush, a mother who was once heralded as a "heroic" mother to her daughter, Jennifer, but was later convicted of abusing her by repeatedly making her sick...

Born in 1987, Jennifer Bush spent her first few years of life in and out of hospitals with puzzling symptoms that kept her healthcare providers guessing.  All the while, her mother Kathy was nearby, doting on her child.  Faced with mounting medical bills, Kathy Bush began lobbying for healthcare reform.  She eventually became well known in political circles.  Former first lady, Senator, Secretary of State, and current presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton even met Kathy and Jennifer as she promoted her version of healthcare reform during the Clinton White House years.

By the time she was eight years old, Jennifer had spent over 600 days in the hospital.  Doctors removed her appendix, gall bladder, and part of her intestines because they believed she had a gastrointestinal disorder.  She had to be fed through a tube inserted in her stomach.

In 1995, a healthcare worker became suspicious of Kathy Bush and reported her to authorities.  Kathy Bush was arrested on April 15, 1996 on suspicion that she had abused then 9 year old Jennifer.  She eventually lost her parental rights and served three years behind bars for purposely subjecting her daughter to repeated unnecessary medical treatments.  It took many years for prosecutors to bring her to justice.  Kathy Bush wasn't sent to prison until 2002.

In April of this year, Jennifer Bush claimed her mother had not abused her, even though her mysterious illnesses got better once she was no longer in her mother's care.  In fact, she and her mother have now repaired their relationship.  27 year old Jennifer now lives near her mother and is a social worker.

Munchausen by proxy is an interesting phenomenon.  In Munchausen's syndrome, a person fakes being ill for attention.  In Munchausen's by proxy, a caregiver purposely makes someone else, usually a child, ill for attention.  It's usually mothers who do this to children, which seems to go against the whole nature of motherhood.  Mothers are supposed to protect their children from harm.

Some years ago, I read and reviewed a book about a woman whose mother used to make her sick.  Julie Gregory, author of Sickened, explains what it was like to grow up the daughter of a mom who kept making her sick.  I also blogged about the book A Mother's Trial, the tale of social worker Priscilla Phillips, who adopted two Korean babies, both of whom got very sick in her care.  One of the babies died.

I'm reposting my review of Sickened for those who are interested.

  • With a mom like hers, who needs enemies?

    Review by knotheadusc
     in Books, Music, Hotels & Travel 
      August, 23 2005
  • Pros: Fascinating story about a little known psychological disorder.
    Cons: Some missing information. Annoying tense shifts.
    Over this past weekend, my husband Bill and I ventured out to the local Borders bookstore in search of a DVD of the fabulous film Baraka. After I got my hands on a copy of the movie, I started looking through at the books, leaving Bill to continue mulling over the movies. I wandered into the psychology section, where I happened to run across a misplaced copy of Julie Gregory's 2003 book, Sickened: A Memoir of a Munchausen by Proxy Childhood. Those of you who regularly read my book reviews may know by now that I'm a sucker for books about psychological disorders, especially personal accounts. Gregory's book looked like it was right up my alley. Unlike a lot of folks, I had heard of Munchausen by Proxy (MbP). But I hadn't ever read a personal account by someone who has actually suffered through it.

    For those who don't know about MbP, Gregory has included a foreword written by Marc Feldman, MD. The foreword explains in laymen's terms what Munchausen by Proxy is. I'll try to offer my own take on what I understand MbP to be. Simply put, MbP is a syndrome in which a person purposely and repeatedly makes another person ill. Victims of MbP are repeatedly submitted to medical care in which they endure endless tests, procedures, hospitalizations, and surgeries as doctors try to find the sources of their mysterious and debilitating symptoms. Most of the time, victims of MbP are children and the perpetrators are their mothers, as was true in Julie Gregory's case. Gregory was also abused by her maternal grandmother. Ironically, her parents moved her away from her grandmother in order to protect Julie from her grandmother's abuse.

    For her part, Julie Gregory was lucky enough to survive her ordeal and make it to adulthood relatively healthy... at least physically. Born to "crazy" parents, Dan and Sandy, Gregory spent most of her childhood in the backwoods of southern Ohio. Her mother, Sandy, had also endured a tough childhood and was, as a teenager, initially married off to a much older man named Smokey. Smokey taught Sandy how to trick ride horses and pose as he threw knives at her. When Smokey later died and Sandy became a widow while still in her twenties, she found herself taking up with Julie Gregory's father, Dan. Dan had spent a very short time in Vietnam before he was exposed to Agent Orange and medically discharged. Julie literally describes her father as "crazy", but after reading her book, I was left thinking that her mother is far crazier.

    Trying to convince people that people in the medical community that her daughter suffered from heart problems, Sandy Gregory regularly shuttled Julie to doctors throughout her childhood. When a doctor found nothing wrong with Julie, Sandy simply carted her off to the next one. She gave Julie pills, the identity of which Julie never identifies by name. She tells Julie how she's supposed to be feeling and admonishes her to "act sick" for the doctors so that they can help her "get well". She starves Julie as she forces her to work very hard so that Julie is chronically tired and feeling weak. Julie also misses many days of school, almost failing a grade because of her chronic absenteeism.

    Sandy Gregory, who simultaneously took in foster children and war veterans as a means of making money, pored over medical books and became well-versed in the jargon so common in a medical environment. She convinced a cardiac specialist that Julie needed to be catheterized. Gregory writes of this experience she endured as a skinny, fragile 13 year old child at the Ohio State University. The hospital made her feel safe. She was fed, cared for, but also left alone. She didn't want to leave the safety of the hospital and go back home to her parents. As I read this book, I really felt sorry for the child Julie Gregory was. It seemed like no one had a clue what she went through. And when Julie finally did speak up as a teenager, after years of enduring her mother's sickness, she ended up being shuffled into the state's child welfare system. She describes poignantly the plight of teenaged children who are in "the system", making the point that even though she had done the right thing by talking to a caseworker about what her parents had been doing, she ended up being punished for her efforts. It almost made me want to become a foster mom myself.

    Sickened is a fast and interesting read. Julie Gregory writes about her experience using vivid prose and humor. She includes pictures of her family as well as a sampling of medical notes and letters from the many doctors she saw over the course of her childhood. I got a good idea of what Julie's family was like, particularly her mother, who really sounds like she wasn't playing with a full deck. Julie Gregory does a fine job of capturing her mother's voice so that I was able to get a real sense of who her mother was. And Julie Gregory has a knack for colorful similies and descriptions so that her story held my attention.

    With that said, though, I did find a few weaknesses in Sickened. First of all, I think that this book could have used a good editor. I noticed that at times, Gregory wrote in past tense. At other times, she wrote in historical present tense. It wasn't enough to be confusing, but it was noticeable and somewhat annoying. Secondly, I think this book is a little short on content. I would have liked to have read a little more about MbP from Gregory's perspective. She does include, toward the end of her book, the story of how she came to figure out that she was a victim of MbP. Today, Julie Gregory is supposedly an expert writer and speaker about MbP. Yet in Sickened, she provides very little analysis about MbP, instead forcing readers to rely on the foreword written by Dr. Marc Feldman. She doesn't tell readers how she came to be an expert of MbP either, aside from just being a victim. According to the notes about her, Julie Gregory, who lives in Ohio, is a graduate student at the Sheffield University in England. She doesn't reveal what she's studying or what subject she earned her undergraduate degree in, so again, I was left wondering how she became an expert. Moreover, about two-thirds of this book consists of Julie Gregory's experience as a child. The last third is the story of her progression into young adulthood. The last section feels rushed in comparison to the first. It seems to me that Gregory's story is compelling enough that she could have taken a little more time with the ending and told her readers a little more about what her life as an adult has been like.

    I also want to comment about this book's cover art. It's partly why I picked up this book in the first place. On the cover of the paperback edition of Sickened, a very young, skinny, Julie Gregory is pictured in a too short dress with a toy under her right arm and her left hand at her eye, as if the camera had caught her wiping a tear. She looks very vulnerable in the picture. Whoever decided to use it for this book's cover obviously knew how to catch the consumer's eye while pulling their heartstrings. The pictures in Sickened are also somewhat revealing of Julie Gregory's plight. She's shown in two snapshots posed as if she were a model. Gregory explains that her mother would periodically have her pose for Polaroids and then she would send the pictures to modeling agencies or keep on hand in case Sandy ran into "a nice older man" who wanted to see Julie's pictures.

    Although Sickened is a book about a fascinating and somewhat sensational topic, I haven't run across any other personal accounts of people who have been affected by MbP. For that reason, I think this book is a worthwhile read for anyone who is interested in learning more about the MbP phenomenon. However, I also believe that anyone who really wants to learn a lot about MbP will need to do more research to supplement what they read in Sickened. This book is long on personal drama and short on facts and figures. The drama keeps the book entertaining, but the lack of facts and figures makes it less useful for those who want to learn something concrete about Munchausen by Proxy.

    Julie Gregory's website:


Saturday, September 26, 2015

Repost of my review of DJ Williams' Playing Dangerous Games...

Here's a review of a kinky book written by an exMormon academic who got into BDSM...  May be interesting reading, especially to former Mormons.  I am reposting it for the sake of keeping the review from disappearing.

  • A professor finds out he's kinky... a reader finds out he's dorky

    Review by knotheadusc
     in Books, Music, Hotels & Travel 
      May, 14 2011
  • Pros: Interesting subject matter.  Well-researched and basically well-written.
    Cons: Could use editing.  May offend Mormons.
    A few months ago, I admitted to being a trifle bit kinky.  Around that time, I happened to add a few books to my wish list.  One of the books I added was DJ Williams' 2010 book Playing Dangerous Games: The Personal Story of a Social Scientist Entering the Complex World of Sadomasochism.  To be honest, I'm not sure why I added this book.  It wasn't reviewed on Amazon and it was priced at a relatively expensive $19.95.  But I recently decided to purchase some actual books as opposed to Kindle downloads and Williams' book somehow made the cut.

    Once I started reading Playing Dangerous Games, I found out why it was both rather expensive and unreviewed on Amazon.  It was published by, which is an outfit that sells ebooks, print on demand titles, and self-published works.  Now... I have nothing against self-published books.  Prior to reading Williams' book, I read a couple of other offerings by Booklocker.  One book was really awful.  The other was very good.  One thing that I notice about self-published books is that they aren't necessarily brilliantly edited, and I did find that to be the case with this book.  On the other hand, I think maybe Williams self-published because his book might be hard to pitch to mainstream publishers.  While I think a lot of people would be very interested in reading about kink, it's potentially embarrassing to buy a book about kink at the local Barnes & Noble.  Therefore, a mainstream publisher might not consider a book like this one a good financial risk.  Thank God for the Internet.  It spares consumers the need to approach a cashier with books about taboo topics.

    Who is DJ Williams?  

    At the beginning of this book, DJ Williams is a post doctoral graduate student doing research at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada.  Williams had earned his doctorate from the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation at the same school.  Prior to becoming a professor, Williams had been a social worker, having earned a Master's degree in Social Work from the University of Utah.  He also earned a second Master's degree in Exercise and Sport Science from the University of Utah.

    Williams was in Edmonton, working on some research on gambling in prisons in Utah, when he innocently stumbled into the wonderful world of BDSM.  BDSM, for those who don't know, stands for bondage, discipline, sadism, and masochism.  Williams read a paper about sadomasochism which included some discussion on SM practices such as whippings, electroshocks, canings, bondage, and anal sex.  Williams had apparently never before been exposed to these more exotic flavors on the sexual menu.

    A chapter or two later, I found out why Professor DJ Williams was so sexually innocent and naive.  He was raised by devout Mormons and had served a mission in the United Kingdom for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Prior to his mission, Williams took his first trip through the temple, where he took out his endowments and presumably donned temple garments for the first time.  After his mission, Williams came home, got married to a fellow Mormon, and had a daughter.  The marriage didn't work out and Williams eventually left the church.  And now as a college professor, he had free rein to study the subjects that interested him.  So, although Williams was supposed to be studying gambling in Utah prisons, he soon found himself drawn to BDSM.  Before long, he had scheduled his first appointment with a professional Dominatrix named Mistress Kitten, who gently introduced him to the pleasures of "sexual deviance".

    One thing led to another and pretty soon Dr. DJ Williams developed an alter-ego he called "Doctor Deviant".  He began to experiment in earnest, attending his very first "munch" (a gathering of people who are interested in BDSM) and moving on to to his next mistress, Mistress Midnight.  Apparently, Mistress Midnight was well-known for being one of the most twisted of the BDSM bunch in the Edmonton area.  Mistress Midnight taught Doctor Deviant how to throw a bullwhip and exposed him to other BDSM couples who showed him just how deep the lifestyle can run.

    To the uninitiated, BDSM practices can be shocking and disturbing.  Indeed, Williams was shocked and disturbed by some of the things he saw during his earliest experiences at BDSM parties.  I got the sense that Williams was trying to overcome his sheltered upbringing as well as the conventional wisdom he'd picked up as a social worker working with sex offenders and domestic violence victims.  At the same time, he was trying to be a responsible father to his teenage daughter, Brittney, whose mother, stepfather, and half siblings were all still faithful members of the LDS church.

    My thoughts

    This book could have been a lot better than it is.  DJ Williams is technically a good writer.  By that, I mean there aren't any egregious typos or grammatical errors and his prose is basically easy to read.  However, despite Williams' obvious personal affinity for BDSM and his interest in educating himself and others about the subject, he comes off as a bit of a dork.

    For one thing, he swears a lot.  It's as if in order to shed his Mormon upbringing, he has to drop the f-bomb gratuitously as he describes the sensations he feels when Mistress Kitten ties him to a St. Andrew's Cross and hangs five pound weights from his testicles.  Before anyone tells me they would drop the f-bomb too in that situation, I will share that Williams uses the f-word very liberally.  I'm not at all offended by cussing, but when a word is used so repetitively that it becomes annoying, I'd say it's time to hire an editor.  And as Williams is a college professor, I would expect him to have a broader vocabulary anyway.

    Williams frequently comes off as dorky and contrived in his dialogue... kind of like he's trying too hard to be cool.  It's as if he's trying to make up for a lost adolescence through rebellion, and that entails taking on an alternative appearance, using the f-word, going to munches and drinking screwdrivers (groan), and submitting to a Domme.  I can tell that the BDSM turns him on and is a bit of a mindblower.  Knowing what I know about Mormonism and the stereotype about how church members tend to feel about sex that isn't strictly vanilla, I can understand where the dorkiness and awkwardness come from.  I sense that despite his efforts to be open-minded, Williams still seems to think there's something kind of "wrong" with BDSM.

    Williams' dialogue reads like a cheap novel in that it's very amateur.  He writes a lot of internal dialogue that comes off as especially disingenuous.  He seems uncomfortable with what he's doing, even after he wades into the BDSM underground and apparently really enjoys the experience.  Even the title conveys what, to me, seems likes Williams' conflicted feelings about BDSM.  Done correctly, BDSM doesn't have to be dangerous at all, and yet Williams titles his book Playing Dangerous Games.

    Williams also seems to have a problem with overweight women.  In one chapter, he describes attending a BDSM party where many people are participating in "scenes".  He notes a "heavyset" woman being tied to a table by male Dominant.  Then he writes that he can't believe she's comfortable enough with her body to engage in a public scene.  It seems to me that Williams was trying to be "nice" in using the euphemism "heavyset", when he evidently meant to say the woman was fat and unattractive and should be ashamed of herself.  Later, Williams describes a private party he had with several other people, one of whom was an overweight woman.  He writes outright that he doesn't find her attractive.  But then, once the scene starts, he realizes that the "heavyset" woman is a natural actress who makes the scene more real for him.  She becomes more attractive to him for that reason.  But if he hadn't been tied to a bed, would he have given her a chance to show her most attractive qualities?

    I guess I can give him credit for at least realizing his bias... eventually, anyway.  I do think that he pays lip service to looking beyond the surface, though.  I checked out his Web site and saw evidence that he's still pretty hung up on the external.  It's been my experience that people who spend a whole lot of time on their physical appearances often do so to cover up some less flattering internal qualities.


    Despite my criticisms, I did find this book interesting on many levels.  For one thing, I myself hold Master's degrees in social work and public health, so I could relate to some of Williams' comments about the social work profession.  For another thing, my husband is an ex-Mormon.  He was not raised in the faith, so it's not a pervasive part of him, but he did spend enough time as a Mormon convert that he knows the culture very well.  I, in turn, have done plenty of research on the subject of Mormonism, though I have never been and will never be a member of the church myself.  And then there's the fact that I'm also a little kinky, though not nearly as kinky as Williams is.

    I also admire Williams for writing about this subject.  I think it takes a lot of guts to research BDSM, especially given the fact that he's a college professor and an ex-Mormon.  I do think that Williams seems to have radically rejected his roots.  He's dyed his hair different colors, gotten tattoos, and been branded... and he engages in some pretty exotic and erotic sexual practices.  However, it did occur to me that Williams has traded membership in a very strict, controlling church community for membership in another controlling group.  After all, Williams went from being a member of a church that told him what kind of underwear to wear to being a member of another group that tells him what kind of underwear to wear.  I'm sure Williams' Mistress has a say in whether he wears boxer briefs or a cock ring.

    By Williams' account, Mormonism is spiritually and behaviorally confining, while BDSM is literally confining.  It might be said that members of both groups could be led to a kind of liberation... In both situations, one gives up personal power to become part of something bigger than themselves.  A devout Mormon submits for the promise of a wonderful afterlife with loved ones.  Someone who submits to a Dominant submits for the promise of a wonderful physical and mental experience.  Being "forced" to submit allows the submissive to experience heightened sexual arousal without any guilt.


    I can't say that reading Playing Dangerous Games was a waste of time.  While I wish it had been better edited, I have to admit that Williams' book did give me some food for thought.  I would recommend it to readers who want to learn more about BDSM, especially from an academic standpoint.  I also think this book would be interesting reading for ex-Mormons, particularly kinky ones.  Devout Mormons, on the other hand, might not like this book.

    For more information about DJ Williams, please visit

A review of Bullied to Death: Chris Mackney's Kafkaesque Divorce...

In April 2014, I blogged about a man who apparently committed suicide after being "broken down" by the family court system.  Chris Mackney was married to northern Virginia jewelry designer Dina Mackney.  He had two kids with her, a boy and a girl.  They split up and Mackney was both separated from his children and obligated to pay an oppressive amount of child support.  He spent time in jail when he couldn't come up with the money.  He was repeatedly hauled into court and harassed by child support enforcement officials trying to get "blood from a stone".  He lost job after job and finally sank into an abyss of pennilessness and despair.

Like me, Mackney was a blogger.  On his now defunct blog, Good Men Did Nothing, he posted about his situation as it became more and more dire.  Finally, on December 29, 2013, Chris Mackney had reached the end of his proverbial rope.  He sat in his car and placed a rifle under his chin, and pulled the trigger.  In the wake of his suicide, his ex wife became executor of his estate, which basically consisted of his car and his computer.  He had lost everything in his divorce, including his grip on his sanity.  Mackney's ex wife then sicced lawyers on everyone who posted about Mackney's suicide and managed to get his blog taken down.  Dina Mackney's lawyers also supposedly had every comment Chris Mackney ever posted on the Internet wiped out.  It was as if his presence on the Internet was being systematically erased.

Not long ago, Michael Volpe, author of Bullied to Death: Chris Mackney's Kafkaesque Divorce, left me a comment on my blog post about this case.  I usually erase comments that consist of sales pitches, but I was interested in Mackney's case.  So I went ahead and downloaded Volpe's book and just finished it last night.  I mostly thought Volpe's book was a very interesting read.

Volpe explains that decades ago in Texas, Dina Mackney's father, Pete Scamardo, hired a hitman to kill a former business partner and friend named Sam Degelia, Jr.  The hitman, who was paid $2000, was none other than Charles Harrelson, actor Woody Harrelson's father.  Once Degelia was successfully offed, Scamardo moved to Virginia where he proceeded to make a fortune in building.  Apparently, Dina Scamardo grew up privileged in northern Virginia.  She married Chris Macknij and then got him to legally change his name to Mackney, because it was a better name for her jewelry design business.

Volpe writes that Dina Mackney came from a family with ruthless and criminal tendencies, which may have made her especially likely to go after her ex husband with zeal.  According to Volpe's book, there was little left of Chris Mackney when she and the Fairfax County family court were finished with him.  He saw no way to salvage his life or climb out of the bottomless financial hellhole he was in.  So he decided to kill himself.

Volpe's book is perhaps misnamed.  I purchased it thinking it would be only about Chris and Dina Mackney and their relationship.  That was probably a naive assumption on my part, since Dina Mackney seems clearly against getting her late ex husband's story out to the masses.  In fact, I think Volpe may be pretty brave to have written this book, since Dina Mackney has established herself as willing to litigate.  Bullied to Death doesn't include a lot about Chris and Dina Mackney's marriage; it's more about what happened after the marriage and what led up to Chris Mackney's decision to kill himself.  I'd say that makes up a good third of the book.

Another third of the book consists of Volpe's thoughts on the family court system and how it's unfair to non-custodial parents, usually fathers.  Volpe has some rather radical ideas about how post divorce parenting and child support should be handled.  At times, the writing is a bit emotional and disjointed and I spotted more than a couple of places where some editing would have been beneficial.  On the other hand, I appreciated that Volpe was gutsy enough to write Mackney's story to the best of his ability.

While I didn't always agree with some of Volpe's ideas, as someone who watched her husband get screwed over by an ex wife and saw him lose contact with his kids, I had some empathy for Volpe's viewpoint.  While Bill was not hounded by child support enforcement or lawyers, he did pay out the nose in child support for kids who eventually dumped him.  Attentive fathers should not be treated like sperm donors with open wallets.      

Something does need to be done about how divorcing couples with children are handled in the United States.  While I am not at the point at which I'd say child support needs to be abolished, I do think that the system should be more equitable and flexible.  Chris Mackney's child support was established when he was employed in real estate and had made a lot of money.  Not long after his divorce, Mackney's business took a downturn and he could not pay the child support ordered by the court.  He quickly went into arrears and was soon completely buried in debt he'd never be able to repay.  He had no contact with his children, whom he dearly loved.  It's no wonder he became so desperate.

The last third of the book consists of notes, appendices, and citations.  They are useful for those who want to do some follow up research on this sad case and others involving men's rights in divorce situations.

Volpe's book was apparently self-published, so it lacks the polish one might expect in something published by a big name outfit.  Moreover, I think it would have been a stronger book had it included more information about Chris and Dina Mackney's relationship and why their divorce was so acrimonious.  Volpe seems to infer that Dina Mackney came from a family accustomed to resorting to criminal behavior, but everyone knows there are always at least three sides to every breakup story: his, hers, and the truth.

I'm not sure we quite get the whole truth about the Mackneys in Bullied to Death.  However, I do think Volpe basically did a good job writing about this case as much as he was able to.  I doubt he got much cooperation from the other interested parties, so naturally that affected how much of the story he was able to share.  I also think this is a case that needs to be publicized.  While I'm not sure what happened to Chris Mackney or even my own husband is the norm, there are men going through divorce becoming so hopeless that they turn to suicide or other drastic measures.  Their lives matter, too.  

For those who are interested, here is a video of Victor Zen reading Chris Mackney's suicide note.