Monday, May 25, 2020

Honoring Their Gift

Gratitude is an interesting human trait.  We say thank you when somebody does something nice for us or gives us a present; but that only touches on the idea of gratitude. How do we express heartfelt gratitude?

I could lead off with the highest level, the gratitude we as individuals show for our Savior, Jesus Christ.  His gift of eternal life to mortal beings truly is incomprehensible so we can only do our best to live a life worthy of such a gift; that’s how we show our gratitude for His sacrifice. 

But that’s not where I’m headed this Memorial Day…no, but honoring the sacrifices of those who gave their lives in the battle for liberty, our individual chance to live and breathe while their lives were cut short; that’s something to consider. 

I once saw a photograph of a mass burial at sea; sailors who’d lost their lives following a kamikaze attack.  The image of their shipmates carrying out the somber task struck a chord with my soul.  They had little time to morn their friends while the business of war and the ever present threat required the detail be carried out in haste.

Recalling a movie,  The Man Who Never Was , there are civilians who ‘stepped up to the line’, so to speak.  They served the war effort in ways they never could have considered, some joining the ranks vicariously. 

(Image: The Man Who Never Was, courtesy of

The military needed to fool the German hierarchy by supplying them with erroneous information.  The plot was formulated to leave a military courier’s body floating off the coast of Spain where it would be found.  Every detail of the courier’s life would have to be verifiable, right down to having letters from his girl friend, where he purchased his uniform shirts, tickets to the show he’d last seen and so on.

“The corpse will appear as a plane crash victim, the non-existent Royal Marine, Major William Martin, who is carrying falsified letters about a forthcoming Allied invasion of German-occupied Greece, rather than the obvious target of Sicily.”

But they needed a corpse who looked like he’d drowned in the ocean, and so they obtained the body of a man who’d died from pneumonia (At least that’s how this was accomplished in the movie.  According to a different historical account the body was likely obtained from a ship wreck off the northern coast of Great Britain).

There was a scene in the movie where the grieving father of the recently deceased individual was asked to donate his son’s body for the war effort.  Instead of being able to bury his son he was being asked to trust the military, that his son would eventually be given a proper funeral.   

It’s a wonderfully well made production of a movie and worth your efforts.

Memorial Day is for the survivors, those who didn’t die in the service of their country.  Sounds a bit strange doesn’t it?  This day is for us to recognize and honor the sacrifices made and try to live worthily as a means of showing gratitude for a gift that’s too hard to understand in its entirety. 

When we look at the lessons of life, particularly in the scriptures, we see miniature versions of the big picture and use them to understand the ultimate gift of the Savior’s Atonement.  Abraham being directed to sacrifice his only son being a shadow of the sacrifice of God’s Only Begotten Son teaches us to see the world through His eyes.

So it is with Memorial Day as we consider and honor the gift of liberty from those who never made it home. 

Sunday, May 03, 2020

Life Liberty and Property

I was looking for quotes from respected individuals regarding the notion of private property.  The ones listed here came from an internet site called Search Quotes.  Many of these ideas where shared in communications by the founders of our nation, studies and consideration by the best minds as they defined as best they could the enduring definitions of Life, Liberty and Property (also referred to as the Pursuit of Happiness).

“Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place.” Frederic Bastiat, The Law

This last one might become my favorite quote as pertains to government…

Friday, April 24, 2020

Surprise Ending for a Crime Scene

This past week there was a news item that showed up on Facebook about a criminal who accidentally shot himself in the “package” with his own pistol while committing a robbery.  It turns out it happened in Chicago and the story was from 2017 and was making the rounds again.  I know we’re not supposed to laugh; but that’s just too good not to at least smirk as Karma unloaded on that idiot.

It reminded me of a crime scene from back in the early 70s when I worked as a Crime Scene Investigator; before such a designation became popular.  Basically, the department assigned some low seniority patrolman, which would be me, to carry a latent fingerprint retrieval box and a camera in the trunk of the police car for those times when a detective wasn’t available. 

It wasn’t a glamorous job at all, often times being sent to the morgue to lift prints off a ‘John Doe’ to figure out his identity.  Think about having to get up close and personal with a stiff body that had already begun to stink and having to take a ‘dead-man’s spoon’, some ink and then transfer each finger’s print onto a flat piece of card stock. 

Yeah, that was a fun and exciting job.  So glad I moved on within the department, directing evening rush hour traffic; now that really was fun. Somehow that fun and exciting job as CSI became a popular television series; folks will believe anything that comes out of Hollywood.

I did get to take pictures with a fancy 35mm camera at various crime scenes.  As I recall, there was another CSI who had a morbid sense of humor.  When I say morbid, that means much more so than most other police officers since that’s probably a character trait required to be a police officer… where was I?  

Anyway, not a great way to start a sentence; but anyway, this officer would take slide film of his own and take pictures of crime scenes and then drop a slide of a really nasty one in with his vacation pictures when relatives came over asking about how much fun he’d had.  Apparently the department didn’t think too highly of this and he was let go; imagine that…

Getting back to surprise endings for a crime scene… The best one I was ever mixed up with involved several locations all tied in with the same suspect, there having been a robbery, subsequent search for the suspect involving an empty school bus by two police officers, and then the suspect finally being shot by a security guard down the street…but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The suspect ‘allegedly’ (I love how that word has to be included) robbed a small convenience store using a pistol and got away with a handful of dollars, a couple of packs of cigarettes and some candy which he’d stuffed under his shirt.  He fled through an apartment complex with several police units that were close by when it went down in the area looking for him. 

A two man unit decided to check out a school bus that had been parked on the street over night.  The lead officer was going through the bus, looking under every seat as he worked his way towards the back of the bus.  His junior partner was standing on the landing of the bus with the door open keeping an eye out for the suspect. 

Sure enough, the suspect came running in the direction of the school bus, pistol still in his hand while looking for any police that might be chasing after him.  The officer in the bus ducked as the suspect took a shot at him and then returned fire.  The awkward manner in which the officer was standing caused him to lose balance and he fell backwards into the bus while the suspect continued on down the street. 

From the evidence at that location the suspect did get hit by the officer’s bullet, striking him in the stomach.  There was a blood trail that was easy to follow; again I’m getting ahead of myself…

The officer in the back of the bus thought his partner had been shot and, putting it delicately, lost his composure.  He was normally an excellent shot with a pistol and had the medal hanging on his shirt to prove it; but that wouldn’t explain the back window of the bus being shot out from the inside of the bus or the multiple bullet holes that exited the roof of the bus. 

Yeah, I had to take pictures of all the bullet holes and I don’t know how it came to be, those bullet holes were listed in the official report as having come from the suspect’s pistol as he shot at the officers inside the bus.

As I mentioned, the suspect continued running away from the bus and towards yet another small convenience store where there were several cars parked and a security guard standing in front of the store.  The suspect began shooting at the security guard and the security guard began firing at the suspect, all the cars in the parking lot sustained damage.

The suspect’s pistol ran out of ammunition; but that didn’t stop him from aiming at the security guard and continuing to pull the trigger, “click, click…and click”.  This didn’t set well with the security guard who still had bullets in his pistol as he shot the suspect several times at close range, “Kablam, kablam and kablam”.  The last shot apparently removed the suspect’s “package” and the rest tore up most of his gut and chest.

The suspect was loaded into an ambulance with a limited chance of survival while I was called out to gather evidence and take pictures.  As mentioned, I took pictures around the school bus to include the spot where the suspect dropped the money along with the candy and cigarettes that were on the ground. 

I then took pictures of the cars that had bullet holes and completed my supplement report, the one that would be assigned with the primary reports filled out by the officers assigned to each location’s criminal report.

Here’s where it got interesting… About a year later I received a subpoena to attend District Court on this incident.  It surprised everyone when the suspect, the one everyone expected to die from his wounds, yeah, that suspect walked into court and pled not guilty.  It later turned out that the State of Texas and his attorney worked out some kind of plea deal so I never got to bring my “Eight by ten glossy color images of the crime scene” into court (a reference to the tune, Alice’s Restaurant).

In my best Paul Harvey voice, "...and that’s the rest of the story…"

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Desperate Individuals

I remember listening to a motivational talk, can’t remember who it was giving that talk off hand; not that important…  He brought up the idea of a man who was looking to feed his family while out of work.
He knew his neighbor had plenty of food so he went next door and asked if he could borrow a loaf of bread to feed his family, which he’d pay back as soon as he could; but the neighbor turned him away.
After a few minutes he returned and knocked on his neighbor’s door once more; but this time he begged his neighbor for the loaf of bread, explaining that his family was desperate.  Again his plea was denied and the door was shut.
This part I remember… He thinks to himself, “Your family is starving and you will do most anything to keep them alive”.  The next time he goes to his neighbor’s house, desperate now, “Watch your bread”.
Since the talk was to young and eager business people seeking ways to improve, this motivational speaker then proposed the next logical question, “We know what you’d do to survive; but what are you be willing to do to succeed?”
In these troubled time; the economy in a dark place with so many individuals laid off and out of work, businesses failing as folks are locked away in their homes or have no money to spend; what kind of desperation is lurking behind those shuttered doors?
At a certain point we’ll see who prepared for “a rainy day”, or for many who live from pay check to pay check and have nothing in their pantry, nothing in savings; who will sink into “Watch your bread” mode, perhaps without ever asking for help first.
Being prepared doesn’t apply only to the material aspects of life.  What about your emotional preparedness, your spiritual preparedness; are your oil lamps filled with enough oil to get you through?
Far too many individuals have been ‘casual’, a mild explanation for ignoring their relationship with God.  They are, for the most part, good people living their lives in an honorable fashion; but without a perceived need to understand anything about their Father in Heaven or their older brother Jesus Christ.
You’ll hear some spout off, “I’ve no use for religion, that’s a crutch used by weak minded individuals who can’t make it on their own.”  What they don’t understand about the eternities and this short time we call mortality is staggering.
Often times it takes a major upheaval in life to get us to think about such things; a death of a loved one, the birth of a child, divorce, getting laid off or fired.  These things happen; but what we do about our lives when they happen determines which path we’ll go down.  Will it be a path of Despair or will we find the one marked Hope?
If you’re in doubt, don’t know where to turn for truth in a time when the major media outlets have become corrupted, you doubt anything that comes across social media because each site is at odds with the next… then perhaps you should turn to the scripture found in James 1:5 which reads…
“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.”
If your soul is troubled and in need of peace this might be a good time to find the source of all peace.
“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid”
Be thankful for simple blessings and don’t worry about things that are out of your control.  Now, go out and have a great day.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Call Me Theo

Before getting started…I thought I’d written and saved this story from long ago; but for some reason can’t find it in any of my files… Today a friend wanted to know what T. F. stood for, True Friend or Truck Farmer.  So, here goes…
Back in the mid to late 1970s while working downtown as a police officer, one of our daily assignments was to stand in front of the Harris County Court House around noontime so we could escort felony prisoners that would be off loaded onto the sidewalk.  We’d then remove their handcuffs and put our handcuffs back on them, take them upstairs to have their Miranda Legal Warning read to them by a county court judge and then take them back down to the street, exchange handcuffs once more and load them back into the paddy wagon to be returned to the city jail.
No, I’m not making this absurd ritual up.  There was a safe prisoner zone in the lower level of the County Court House; but it was reserved and could only be used by the Harris County Sherriff’s Department and strictly off limits for City of Houston police officers.  Yeah, we had a wonderful working relationship as you can see.
Think about it this way…we had a felony prisoner (homicide, robbery, burglary, rapist or who knows what) that was in a safe place (the city jail); but some fool (supervisor of higher rank) decided that we should take that felony prisoner outside the jail and drive him through downtown Houston in the paddy wagon with several other felony prisoners and off load them onto the sidewalk in front of the court house.  This meant letting them out of the paddy wagon were there was minimal to non-existent security available, taking their handcuffs off and trading them for the ones belonging to a police officer standing there on the sidewalk.
What could possibly go wrong?  But that’s not why I’m writing this today…
Aside from this insanity, there were a collection of odd women, groupies if you will, trolling for police officers like they were band bunnies or something.  They’d start conversations hoping to engage a police officer, flirting or whatever until such time as all the prisoners had been taken upstairs.
One day, while awaiting my turn to take a felony prisoner upstairs, a young woman got up in my face, going on about just about anything.  She handled my name tag, physically touching it as she read the name, T. F. Stern.  Then she asked, “What’s the T. F. stand for?”
Not sure where my answer came from, but sarcasm is a standard file in my personality, as I responded, “It’s supposed to be T. B. Stern; but they got it wrong”.
“So what’s the T. B. stand for?” 
“Theophanous Bastardo Stern.  Some of folks call me The Old Bastard; but my friends just call me Theo.”  Like I said, I’ve no idea where this stuff comes from; but the young woman huffed a bit and walked away feeling insulted.
On the other hand, one of the other police officers who’d been standing there in front of the court house almost lost it, trying to contain his belly laugh.  From that day on he called me Theo.  It would have been a shame to lose a story like this simply because of a bad filing system.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Banner Waving

My son came up to visit and brought me a Trump flag/banner to display from my house up here in Buffalo, Texas.  He didn’t want to attach it to the house in Houston, fearing it might bring out the worst in some folks who lack civility at most any level.  Can’t say I blame him, having seen some of the nonsense that’s been going on in our country.

So here’s the Trump banner, proudly waving in the breeze as it’s wedged in between the top railing of my porch and the roof overhang.  

I’m not sure I like Trump as much as so many of his supporters; but at least he loves America and is doing what he can to expose the ugliness of the folks in Congress who keep trying to destroy this nation. 

Several years ago when Obama was running for the presidency, a good friend of mine, Terrell Hunt, (may he rest in peace), was backing Obama's candidacy and put up a huge ‘Obama for President’ banner to hang from the entryway to his house.  I was on my way home in the evening and noticed it; how could you not notice it? 

Terrell and I didn’t see eye to eye on most anything political; but we were brothers in the gospel of Jesus Christ and treated each other with the highest respect and love.  Lucy and I would go over and visit with the Hunt family regularly and joke about our differences, chiding each other here a bit and there a bit; but always knowing our friendship was more important than any political issue.

I decided to call Terrell in the morning to chide him about the ‘Obama for President’ sign.  When he answered the phone I explained, “Someone vandalized your house last night.” 

Terrell was a bit angry as he replied, “They sure did…they wrote nasty stuff all over my brand new ‘Obama for President’ banner.”  Turns out someone had actually ‘vandalized’ his home by spray painting across his political hero’s banner.

His response caught me completely off guard, and from the way he paused, let me know that perhaps he considered me the culprit since I knew about it as the sun was coming up.  I assured him I had no idea that someone had spray painted over his Obama banner; that I was joking with him for having put the banner up in the first place. 

Timing is a funny thing and it’s a shame Terrell passed away a couple of years ago; he was a true friend, and I can’t say that about too many folks who claim to be Democrats…

Terrell’s probably looking down from the Heavens at my house here in Buffalo, Texas, wishing he could call me on the phone, “Hey, Brother Stern, someone came by your house and vandalized it.”  Yes, I can see him laughing into the phone and wondering if I too have a sense of humor big enough to let him get away with such a line.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

An American in Paris - Gershwin CD

Being restricted somewhat from movement away from the house to a certain degree has permitted an extensive use of music playing in the background while accomplishing other chores.  We are blessed to have Pandora Radio going most of the time, with my favorite location, the Gershwin Station, a collection of similar music.

As I was going over recent Facebook entries I found my mind wandering as they had the American in Paris on, as found on the CD, Gershwin Plays Gershwin – The Piano Rolls .  The piano rolls were played on a “Yamaha Diskclavier, a computer-driven descendant of the player piano”.  The quality of these  performances is breathtaking.  (If you like Gershwin music I recommend this CD for your collection)

Now for a little piece of history on this particular cut; …how it was produced. I’ll copy the information as presented in the booklet provided when I purchased this wonderful recording. 

“The Last selection on this CD is Frank Milne’s 2 roll arrangement of An American in Paris, Cut in 1933, it is one of the most impressive and powerful roll performances of the era.  After the crash of the piano roll industry, the severely curtailed Aeolian Company kept Milne on as its lone roll editor and ceased using performing artists. 

According to Milne’s children, by that time and probably much earlier he was so skilled at arranging that he did not need a recording apparatus to generate the performance.  Much as a composer notates a score, he prepared roll masters by drawing lines on a roll of special graph paper which served as a template for perforating the holes. The roll of An American in Paris is identified, however, as being played by Milne and “Leith”.  We now know that “Leith” was one of Milne’s pseudonyms; to put an arrangement of this complexity forward to the public, it had to be represented as a 4-hand performance.

We have no evidence that Gershwin supervised Milne’s arrangement of An American in Paris but the arranger had previously worked with Gershwin on his late Duo-Art song rolls.  Milne’s version of An American in Paris ingeniously evokes not only the full sonority of an orchestra but also the vitality of a live performance.”