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Thursday, September 30, 2010

G.I.P. (Grieve In Peace)

The owner of Prospect Hill Cemetery said a 92 year old man was shaken up yesterday after being robbed at gunpoint while visiting his wife's gravesite. Northern York County Regional Police responded about 12 noon to the cemetery in the 700 block of North George Street in Manchester Township.

The elderly man told police he heard a vehicle approaching. He looked up a few minutes later to observe a white male in his late 20s to early 30s walking toward him. The man pulled a black revolver from his waistband and pointed it in the direction of the victim. He demanded the victim's wallet, but when the victim took too long to remove it, the robber grabbed the victim's pants and tore the pocket that held the wallet, police said.

The man took the wallet and left the scene in a small, dark car that was last seen traveling through the cemetery toward the Pennsylvania Avenue exit. Police did not identify the victim or provide a detailed description of the robber or vehicle.

Jack Sommer, owner of Prospect Hill Cemetery, said that staff members reported the incident to Northern Regional after the victim went to the cemetery office. "This is so unfortunate... just a bolt out of the blue," Sommer said. He spoke with the victim shortly after the robbery and said later yesterday afternoon, the elderly man was very shaken by the incident.

"The man is a regular visitor here, and we don't want the cost of this to be that he's uncomfortable to visit his wife's grave," Sommer said. He was surprised the robbery happened, since most of the staff are on the grounds preparing for Saturday's Court of Valor Memorial ceremony.

In response to the robbery, the cemetery is offering one of their 25 staff members to accompany visitors to graves if they feel uncomfortable going alone, Sommer said. "Our mission is about remembrance and we're not going to let someone ruin that experience for our visitors", he said.

I know everyone is struggling financially right now, but OMG! A person can't even grieve in peace!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Green Sweats + White Stripes = 5 Months Of His Life

Lionel Franks and his mom, Nikki Danner

By rights, Lionel Franks should have graduated from high school in June, near the top of his class. By rights, he already should have started his freshman year at Lincoln University, studying culinary arts. By rights, he should have been anywhere but in jail for five of the most important months of his teenage life, accused of shooting a man 12 times on a North Philadelphia street.

Franks' bad-dream detour into the city's criminal-justice system began on April 9, 2010, a Friday mostly spent touring the Lincoln campus in rural Chester County. Back home in his Nicetown neighborhood by mid-afternoon, he changed into an Adidas sweat suit, green with white stripes down the pants and sleeves, and went shopping for sneakers at a sporting goods store on Germantown Avenue.

Minutes into the return trip, Franks was swarmed by police. A man had just been gunned down 12 blocks away, they told him, and two witnesses had identified him as the shooter. Franks showed the officers his bag from Olympia Sports and his new shoes. "You got the wrong guy!" he protested as they cuffed him. Even as the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office began building its attempted-murder case against Franks, the evidence was shrinking.

The witnesses, it turned out, hadn't seen the gunman's face, only a black male in green sweats with white stripes down the pants and sleeves. The victim, having taken eight shots to the head and neck alone, couldn't remember anything. A store surveillance camera provided Franks with an alibi nearly down to the minute. But, the 18-year-old would stay behind bars through August, captive to a pair of tiny blood spots and the grindingly slow wheels of justice in an overcrowded court system. If not for a prosecutor with doubts about Franks' guilt, he might still be there.

Franks had no prom or senior trip, no cap and gown, no commencement. This high school senior's rite of passage included strip searches, mug shots, fingerprints, and a prisoner number at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Northeast Philadelphia. He was put in a cell with three other men on a tense, sometimes violent block, where he watched a fight end in a fatal stabbing. "I just tried to keep to myself and stay away from all the negativity", he said. He had his Christian faith, the Bible, a sports magazine (he was a shooting guard on the school basketball team), and his family's visits and letters to fortify him.

A few days after his arrest, Celeste Lewis went to see the grandson she still calls by his childhood nickname, "Doodie," and was frightened for him. "He looked lost, like a lamb in the midst of wolves", she recalled. His bail was initially set at $500,000, not unusual in an attempted murder, and then reduced to $250,000. Of course, that didn't matter because his mother couldn't come up with the 10% necessary to free him.

Single and raising four boys (Franks, a 12-year-old, and 11-year-old twins), Nikki Danner was struggling in a rented rowhouse on 17th Street near Bristol Street. She had been a home health-care aide for seven years and had the support of her mother and stepfather, but she had to quit last year when the twins were diagnosed with autism. "Sometimes, it's tough to know how we get by", Danner said. Now she needed a lawyer.

A woman in her church suggested her uncle, Mark S. Keenheel, who had a small practice in Germantown. Then, the struggling congregation, called Touch Your World International, came up with $3,500 to help pay him. Keenheel said he believed his new client's story. "This was a good kid", he said.

Franks had one brush with the law, in 2007 when he was 15 years old. It sprang from an argument over a shared "neighborhood bike." He was accused of stealing it, an allegation he denied. But to quickly resolve the Juvenile Court case, he completed a summary-offense "diversionary program" for first offenders.

The judge also approved a recommendation that Franks be transferred from Simon Gratz High School in Nicetown to Delaware Valley High School in East Falls. A private alternative school founded in 1969, DVHS takes students at risk of dropping out and following the lure of the streets. Franks, though, was not a typical candidate. His mother described him as "a homebody" who didn't know the streets. DVHS was the best thing that ever happened to us."

Students are held to strict academic standards and codes of conduct and 93% of them graduate. Franks had a 3.85 grade-point average. He would be the first male in four generations of Danner's family to finish high school, let alone go to college. He had taken three DVHS-sponsored campus tours, but the fourth, to Lincoln, was the clincher. He liked the green environs, the presentations to prospective students, the courses of study.

April 9, 2010 was an exciting day for him, Danner recalled. When he got back, she gave him money for sneakers. Shortly before 5:00pm, the call came from police: Franks was in custody and identified as a shooting suspect who fled in a black car. Danner exclaimed, "My son doesn't know how to drive!" She hung up, and then cried hysterically.

The victim of the shooting was Robert Bryant, 22 years old, and this much is known about the incident: About 4:20pm a black male in green sweats walked up to Bryant on 17th Street, just above Venango Street, and shot him a dozen times. Two people, including an off-duty police officer, said they had seen the gunman run to a small black car and get into the passenger seat.

Police arrived at the scene at 4:26pm, got the moaning Bryant into a patrol car, and rushed him to nearby Temple University Hospital. At 4:30pm, about 12 blocks away, a Temple police officer spotted three African American males walking along 13th Street near Tioga Street. One wore green sweats, matching the description on the police radio. "All these police started shooting out from everywhere," Franks recalled. They ordered his friends to "keep on moving" and arrested him.

At the 35th Police District, at Broad Street and Champlost Avenue, detectives gave Franks more bad news: On the instep of each of his sneakers was a small brown spot. Chemical tests could quickly determine whether the stains were blood. Identifying whose blood would require DNA tests. Those results would be back from the police lab in three months... maybe.

From the start, attorney Keenheel believed he had one strong piece of evidence that Franks was innocent and it was security-camera video from Olympia Sports. He was shown entering the store at 4:20:50pm, the time Bryant was being shot eight blocks from the store. At 4:26:33pm, he walked out of the store with a bag, which was the same time officers were arriving at the crime scene.

Five days after the shooting, two police detectives went to Olympia Sports to check the accuracy of the camera's clock against the police radio time. The disparity was 2 minutes, 12 seconds. That was not enough time for Franks to have run from the shooting to the store, across Broad Street at rush hour. "He'd have to be Superman," Keenheel said. But according to witnesses, the gunman got into a waiting car, which police contended could have covered eight blocks in that time.

On April 26, 2010, Franks was released from prison for a preliminary hearing, which by law must be assigned within 14 days of arrest. But in Philadelphia courts, awash in criminal cases, first hearings are almost always postponed. This one was postponed to May 13, 2010. When May 13th arrived, the hearing was postponed again. The victim was still unconscious.

Finally, on May 25, 2010, Municipal Judge Craig M. Washington held Franks for trial on attempted-murder and related charges. Chemical tests had shown the spots on his sneakers were human blood, Assistant District Attorney Bridget McVan reported. "This case is as serious as it gets," she argued, calling the shooting "an execution."

Keenheel retorted that nothing indicated Bryant and Franks had ever met, or even had mutual acquaintances. "You would think if it was an attempted execution, there would be a personal beef between these people", he said. Armed with six reference letters from DVHS staff praising Franks, Keenheel argued strenuously for another bail reduction or electronically monitored house arrest so Franks could finish high school. The judge said, "No, there are killers that walk among us! Are you kidding? They're on college campuses, too!"

Two more months passed before Franks' first pre-trial conference at the Criminal Justice Center. Common Pleas Court Judge Karen Shreeves-Johns and the lawyers would discuss readying the case for trial. By then, it had been assigned to Assistant District Attorney William Davis. A prosecutor in the major crimes unit, he thought Franks' arrest was appropriate given the initial evidence and the nature of the crime. Still, Franks did not fit the profile of the street-gang executioner believed to have shot Bryant and that bothered Davis. "I knew this was not going to be a guilty/not-guilty case. It was going to be guilty or innocent", he said.

Davis asked the police forensics lab to put aside all tests in the Franks case, save for the one that would be definitive: DNA from the blood on the sneakers. "The standard for DNA testing is three months," he said. "I really pushed, and got it down to weeks." On August 31, 2010, Franks was taken from prison to the Criminal Justice Center for another pre-trial conference. But this time, Keenheel had good news... Franks was going home.

Franks was back home by dinner time that night. His mother put out pizza, hot wings, and all the food he was denied during his time in prison. He has caught some good breaks since then, Danner said. Administrators at Delaware Valley High School said that even though he hadn't finished his senior year, his grades would still earn him a diploma. She's hoping he will be allowed to take part in the 2011 commencement.

As for Lincoln, "I want to be there as soon as possible," said Franks, who is looking for a job in the interim. In an interview soon after his release, he was amazingly affable, laughing easily, and showing no bitterness. "He's always been like that," said Danner. But she worries that he is holding back about his prison experience and assuring her with "I'm fine" when he isn't really.

Franks recalled the good people he met in prison: A Christian correctional officer and some inmates who, knowing he was religious, gave him their passes for prayer and chapel time. And, of course, there were the tragic people destined to spend their lives there. He said, "It was a crazy experience. Never again."

So, the question still remains: Who shot Robert Bryant? The case is open, but pursuing it won't be easy because the trails have grown cold, prosecutor Davis acknowledged. And, despite the lingering impact of his wounds, Bryant has been less than cooperative when asked who might have wanted him dead. The search for the gunman in the green sweats, with white stripes down the pants and sleeves, still goes on...

FYI: This article appeared in the Philadelphia Daily News on September 27, 2010.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Welcome Back, Terry... We Missed You!

Terry McMillan's "Waiting to Exhale" was more than just a bestselling novel... its publication was a watershed moment in literary history. McMillan's sassy and vibrant story about four African American women struggling to find love and their place in the world touched a cultural nerve, inspired a blockbuster film, and generated a devoted audience.

In a new sequel to the novel, "Getting to Happy", McMillan revisits Savannah, Gloria, Bernadine, and Robin. She has brought back her much-loved characters to demonstrate that happiness is not an end point but a journey, one that takes patience, hard work, a sense of humor, and a little help from some good friends. All four are learning to heal past hurts and to reclaim their joy and their dreams; but they return to us full of spirit, sass, and faith in one another. They've exhaled and now they are learning to breathe.

When we last saw Savannah, Bernadine, Robin, and Gloria, they were searching for the moment when they could finally feel comfortable with their lives. But now, fifteen years older and wiser, they've realized that the solutions to their previous problems have brought up new issues. Love affairs and happy marriages have crumbled beneath deceit and betrayal, loneliness has crept in, and dissatisfaction has grown. Whether it's Bernadine's attempts to numb the pain of a debilitating divorce, or Robin's struggle to fill the emptiness in her love life, each woman searches for a way to make do. But getting by doesn't get you to happy, and beneath their frustrations, McMillan's characters are sharp enough to know they all deserve to be better off than they are.

In many ways, the women's struggles are similar. Both Savannah and Gloria work to get over the loss of a husband; Savannah, despite being hurt by the lies and infidelity of her ex-husband, needs to redefine who she is as a single woman at fifty-one, while Gloria struggles to rebuild her life in a different way after the death of her adored husband, Marvin. Robin and Bernadine must free themselves from their dependence on money and medication in order to proceed with their lives. But despite the seriousness of the women's struggles, the novel never slows down for a moment of melodrama or self-pity. Instead, McMillan delivers a boost of confidence and encouragement with a healthy dose of sass, and the four friends' affectionate and raucous friendship is both entertaining and inspiring.

"Getting to Happy" marks the return of McMillan's signature combination of tough love, sharp wit, and bracing honesty, and in it she highlights the value of friendship, both in coping with sadness and celebrating success. Her snappy dialogue and spot-on observations will remind readers why they fell in love with Savannah, Bernadine, Robin, and Gloria the first time around. Whether they're dealing with pain inflicted by others or struggling through hardships they've created for themselves, the women not only survive but ultimately flourish, moving beyond the dreams of their young selves and into better, more fulfilling futures. Unsinkable, unstoppable, and definitely unforgettable, the four friends show the deeper happiness that can be created after the happily-ever-after.

Negotiations are already underway for turning this novel into a movie as well. Three of the original actresses have already agreed to come back and reprise their roles in the film: Angela Bassett as Bernadine Harris, Loretta Devine as Gloria Matthews, and Lela Rochon as Robin Stokes. Unfortunately, the only holdout is Whitney Houston. It has been reported that she and "her people" have been contacted several times about the movie project, but no response has been received to date. I guess we'll just have to keep our fingers crossed on that one and hope for the best.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Got Any Sugar In The House (Part Two)?

There are several ways to look at Thursday's opening of SugarHouse, Philadelphia's first casino, depending on, among other variables, where you live, whether you like to gamble, and whether you found a job at the new casino. But, there's one way that shouldn't be overlooked: SugarHouse is a cog in a well-oiled machine designed to print money and that machine is "ruthlessly" successful. Consider these jaw-dropping numbers...

The nine casinos in the state generated revenues of $2.7 billion in the 12 months ending in August. Slots alone generated $200 million in revenues in August alone, and table games brought in $ 52 million in their first two months. Well, that's great news if you're a casino operator and pretty good news for the state, which gets a cut of these winnings. But, there's another way to look at these casino-revenue figures: These dollars are what gamblers LOST! In other words, people visiting the state's casinos lost $234 million in the month of August! H-E-L-L-O! Is anybody home?

Across the East Coast, the numbers are even more staggering. According to Gaming Industry Observer, which collects revenue reports from most of the casinos in nine states, gamblers dropped nearly a billion dollars in August! Where is this money coming from? Isn't there a recession going on? Isn't the unemployment rate nearly 10% now? But, the more important question is: What are people NOT spending this money on? What choices are people making when they wager their dollars at a casino and not elsewhere? "Other casinos" is only a partial answer and what are the implications of these choices?

Objective data on these decisions doesn't exist at the present time and getting it is a job for the House Gaming Oversight Committee. The General Assembly brought gaming to the state and they should know all there is to know about what that decision may mean for the people of our city. It was previously reported that casinos, particularly those in Atlantic City, were suffering losses during the recession... but, these figures sound like a far cry from losses to me. More importantly, I cannot understand why people are expected to support casinos with the little money they do have (or don't have), in addition to everything else on their plates right now.

It seems to me that Philadelphia needs this casino like a "hole in the head." And, to add insult to injury, nothing is really going to change for the better in this city where it really counts (i.e. neighborhoods, schools, services, taxes, etc.). Even the new jobs that SugarHouse provides are limited in number, so let's not pretend it will solve all of our unemployment problems. If you really want to know how this works, just ask the people living in Atlantic City. As far as I can tell, all they got for the lies that were told about the revenue casinos would bring to their city was a bunch of outlet stores in the downtown area. And, if memory serves me correctly, it was several years before they were built and only after the people called the city to task about their neglect.

Nobody's quality of life in Atlantic City actually changed for the better, as promised, and I believe the same can be said for the good city of Chester, which laid out their welcome mat for a casino back in 2006. More than likely, a few "bones" or "crumbs" will be tossed our way, but nothing of any real significance will change in Philadelphia either... you'll see. So, do we really need this casino on top of the difficulties many people are already experiencing from the recession? I think not. I've asked this question a few times before about other "hair-brained" ideas coming from City Hall regarding raising money (or cutting services) for Philadelphia, and I'll ask it again... "Nutter, Are You Nuts?

Disclaimer: For the record, my husband and I did pay a visit to the SugarHouse Casino this past Friday evening after a long and exhausting work week. I'm happy to report that we made the decision before going in that the only money they were going to get from us was the cost of a meal. We're not really gamblers anyway, but we had to eat, right? LOL!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Got Any Sugar In The House (Part One)?

Philadelphia tradition (Ben Franklin and the Mummers) and Vegas glitz (sequined showgirls) ushered in the city's first casino yesterday, as the SugarHouse officially flung open its glass doors or a grand opening along the Delaware River waterfront. At the stroke of 1:30pm, Ben Franklin, portrayed by Ralph Archbold, arrived by carriage to deliver the key to a giant padlock, saying he was there to fulfill one of Americans' inalienable rights after life and liberty. "The pursuit of happiness. I'm here for happiness!" he told a rambunctious crowd that swelled to more than 1,000 just after 12 noon and snaked around the entire front of the casino facing Delaware Avenue. Some endured the nearly 90-degree heat for several hours so they could be among the first to get inside.

Now that the SugarHouse is open for business, Philadelphia becomes the largest U.S. city with a commercial casino. It also positions Pennsylvania among the largest U.S. gaming markets just six years after slot-machine gambling was legalized. Its nine existing casinos ramped up to table games in July. The SugarHouse is the state's 10th casino, and the third in Southeastern Pennsylvania, joining Parx in Bensalem and Harrah's Chester Casino & Racetrack. "The great unknown is how much the SugarHouse will expand the market vs. how much it will cannibalize Parx, Harrah's Chester, and Atlantic City," said industry analyst Joseph Weinert of Spectrum Gaming Group L.L.C., of Linwood, NJ.

Mayor Nutter, who was in Washington through the weekend for the U.S. Conference of Mayors, did not attend the opening ceremony, but sent Deputy Mayor Alan Greenberger in his place. He praised the 900 jobs the SugarHouse has brought to the city. Owner and billionaire developer Neil Bluhm, who flew in from Chicago with his two daughters, looked on proudly and sat next to a fellow investor, lawyer Richard Sprague. But, the four years of delays that preceded the opening, brought on by political wrangling, legal fights, and fierce neighborhood opposition, were not lost on Councilman Frank DiCicco, whose district includes the SugarHouse and who once fought vigorously against it.

"There was a time I was on the other side of the issue," DiCicco said, alluding to about 20 protesters with Casino-Free Philadelphia, who staged two vigils Thursday. "That's ancient history... this is the beginning of developing our waterfront to make it the best it can be." And with that, the SugarHouse general manager Wendy Hamilton proclaimed: "Let's get this party started!" Confetti rained down and the Mummers strutted as the front and side doors opened. Hundreds of people surged forward, as security guards kept the order.

Within 10 minutes, the 45,000-square-foot casino was virtually filled with bodies stationed at its 1,602 slot machines and 40 game tables. All that remained was some restaurant seating in back. The SugarHouse sits at Delaware Avenue at Shackamaxon Street, at the old Jack Frost Sugar refinery site, and next to the Waterfront Square condo towers in Fishtown. Though the casino has no immediate plans for chartered bus lines, the #43 and #25 SEPTA buses that run on Spring Garden Street will drop patrons off nearby. Another option is the Sugar Express, a free shuttle, that will stop at four locations in Center City beginning October 1st. The shuttle did a special inaugural-day run yesterday.

However, the proximity of the SugarHouse to neighborhoods may also pose a problem for some, said C.P. Mirarchi, who offers counseling in Collingswood to compulsive gamblers and their families. "Statistics show the closer you live to a casino, the higher the rate of incidents," Mirarchi said. "If 1-to-2% of the national population are addicted to gambling, and 4-to-6% percent are problem gamblers, my guess is that it can be as high as double that percentage living this close to all the casinos." About 15 miles north of the SugarHouse on I-95 is Parx; 15 miles south on I-95 is Harrah's Chester Casino & Racetrack.

The SugarHouse is marketing itself as a local casino, targeting primarily those who live within an hour's drive. It also is expected to draw about two million tourists a year. "The casino by itself doesn't create room nights, but it gives visitors an additional activity and reason to stay longer," said Ed Grose of the Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association. The opening of the SugarHouse comes at an auspicious time for Pennsylvania's gaming industry. On Wednesday, the state's nine casinos reported a nearly 24% surge in gambling revenue last month, to $231.2 million, compared with a year ago, thanks largely to a second month of poker, blackjack, and other table games.

Las Vegas analyst Jacob Oberman of CB Richard Ellis Group Inc. said he expected the SugarHouse would do well because this market had only two other casinos in the immediate area and it was the only casino in the city. The fate of Foxwoods, the second casino planned for the waterfront, remains uncertain and is under review by state regulators. "The Philadelphia casino-goer will be the ultimate winner," Oberman said. "Even though the revenue pie will grow, as the three casinos jockey for market share, gamers should receive better and more numerous incentive offers than they did prior to the SugarHouse opening." SugarHouse representatives anticipate the annual tax revenue for the city and state in the first year of operation of to be $132 million from slots and $5.15 million from table games.

Yesterday's opening represents the first phase for the SugarHouse, which plans to expand as market conditions dictate. Those who live near the casino are taking a wait-and-see attitude. "We're viewing it like we would any other potentially significant change to the neighborhood," said Morgan Jones of the Fishtown Neighbors Association. "We're concerned about impacts and will be working with neighbors to understand concerns and do our best to get them addressed by the city and/or SugarHouse themselves."

Also watching just as cautiously, from 60 miles away, are Atlantic City's casino operators. Mark Juliano, chief executive officer of Trump Entertainment Resorts Inc., which owns three casinos at the Shore, said that because the SugarHouse was opening with nearly half the number of slots originally planned, it would have less of an effect. "I do think it will be more impactful on the existing casinos in Pennsylvania than Atlantic City," Juliano said. "A lot of experienced gamers are now playing in Pennsylvania. "Those are the customers that are going to the SugarHouse, and they have already left Atlantic City."

Personally, I'm not much of a gambler. I've always known how to limit myself to $20.00 in the slots at Atlantic City (once a year, at best) and call it a day. As for Chester, I haven't even been there yet. Unfortunately, I've never met "Lady Luck", whoever she is, and I haven't reached the point in which "money is no object". I'm also one of those people who still needs to ask how much something costs before I buy it. And, I do understand why nearby residents fought so hard to block this casino... I wouldn't want to live near it either. But, more importantly and whether we like it or not, we are expected to be our "brother's keeper", and it's no secret that you have to protect some people from themselves.

Pennsylvania already has a good many of its citizens completely consumed by Big 4, Cash 5, Daily Number (not to mention the "street number"), Evening Quinto, Match 6 Lotto, Mega Millions, Megaplier (I don't like the sounds of that one!), Midday Big 4, Midday Number, Midday Quinto, Mix & Match, Powerball, Treasure Hunt, and God only knows what else... but they tell themselves that it's okay because the proceeds benefit senior citizens. I've always been a little leary of anything that benefits one group at the expense of another, and it's probably no coincidence that the people who can afford it the least are always the victims of these so-called "benefits".

So, I'm very concerned about those among us who have a serious addiction to gambling or think they're just one lottery ticket away from becoming a millionaire... especially in these hard economic times when complete recovery for all us remains to be seen. I can only hope and pray that the "pros" associated with the SugarHouse will outweigh the "cons", so that something good will come out of this for all of us. More jobs and extra money going into Philadelphia's tax base are always welcome... but, we need to remember that nothing is ever really gained when it comes at the expense of human suffering.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Back On The (Auction) Block

The Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News, &

A coalition of The Inquirer's largest debt holders and a partnership of local businessman Raymond G. Perelman and the Carpenters Union pension fund emerged yesterday as the only two bidders for our newspaper company. Both groups submitted initial bids by yesterday's noon deadline. It is not known how much either offered, but a minimum bid of $50 million was required. Bidders also had to put up at least $7.5 million as a cash deposit.

An auction is set for today at 10:00am in federal Bankruptcy Court in Philadelphia to determine who will take control of Philadelphia Newspapers L.L.C., which owns the Inquirer, Daily News, and The auction is the second for the company, which has been in bankruptcy since February 2009.

It seems certain to be the final chapter in a saga that began in 2006 when a group of local investors, led by Brian Tierney, bought the company for $515 million. However, within three years, the company filed for bankruptcy, owing its senior lenders $318 million. In order to resolve that debt, the company was put up for auction in April of this year.

The sale ended when a group of senior lenders representing 16 financial institutions (including Angelo, Gordon & Company, Alden Global Capital, and Credit Suisse) bought the company for $139 million, including $105 million in cash. The bid topped a $129 million offer from a group of local investors that included Perelman and the Carpenters' pension fund.

The second auction was necessary because the lenders, operating as Philadelphia Media Network Inc., failed to reach a contract agreement with the company's unionized drivers in time to meet last week's deadline for the sale and the conclusion of the bankruptcy. Philadelphia Media Network has said since last week that it planned to bid and prevail in today's auction.

Philadelphia Media Network had been far along in its takeover plans for the company when the deal fell apart. A chief executive officer, Gregory Osberg, was named and four members to a board of directors. It also had negotiated new contracts with 15 of the company's 16 unions. Fred S. Hodara, lead attorney for Philadelphia Media Network, declined comment yesterday after the bids were announced.

The second bid comes from an entity called Rayco L.L.C., which is made up of Perelman and the Carpenters Union pension fund, according to J. Gregory Milmoe, Perelman's attorney. Perelman's son, Ronald O. Perelman, owner of Revlon Cosmetics, took part in the bidding back in April. Perelman, who is 93 years old, did not return calls yesterday for any comment. He told the Associated Press that his son would not be part of the bid for the newspapers.

"Ronny has a genuine interest in it, but the money is mine," said Raymond Perelman. Ed Coryell, business manager for the Carpenters' fund, could not be reached for comment. The pension fund was among the original investors in Philadelphia Newspapers when it bought the Inquirer, Daily News, and in 2006.

Perelman's latest bid was saluted by Teamsters Local 628, the union that represents the company's drivers. Efforts to get a contract with the drivers failed on the issue of a pension plan. Philadelphia Media Network said it would not continue in the pension plan, but would create and fund two defined-contribution programs instead. John Laigaie, president of Local 628, said he met with Perelman recently and came away believing the union could reach a resolution on the pension issue with him. "In talking to him, I really think he understands the needs of the workers," Laigaie said. Perelman is expected in court today for the auction.

Lawrence G. McMichael, lead attorney for Philadelphia Newspapers, said this auction should be a much shorter affair than the April sale, which went for 29 hours. "I think it will go quickly. I'm cautiously optimistic we won't be here real late tomorrow," he told Chief Bankruptcy Judge Stephen Raslavich yesterday.

Trivia Qs: If you are a native Philadelphian and of a certain age, you should remember another newspaper that was circulated here back in the day called "The Bulletin". If so, do you remember what year the newspaper ceased publication? Extra Credit: Do you remember where "The Bulletin" building was located? You can click here if you don't know the answers or just want to cheat-LOL!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Controversial Movie Premiere

After four years of work, personal attacks, and hours of interviews that stretched from Center City to Hollywood to St. Denis, France, a 43 year old filmmaker from Philadelphia (Wynnefield), Tigre Hill, unveiled his documentary "The Barrel of a Gun". This movie, which premiered last night at 7:00pm at the Merriam Theatre, is about Mumia Abu-Jamal and the December 9, 1981 murder of Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner. The cost of a ticket to see it was $46.99, in honor of Faulkner's badge number, and the proceeds will go to the Daniel Faulkner Educational Grant Fund.

An hour later, at the Ritz East, filmmakers Johanna Fernández, a Baruch College professor, and Kouross Esmaeli of Big Noise Films screened their pro-Mumia Abu-Jamal film, "Justice on Trial", four years in the making but expedited to challenge Hill's premiere. As for the competing film, a somewhat exasperated Hill said he would not comment on a film he had not seen. Of his own work, he said... "It's going to enlighten people. The truth has always been there. Nothing has changed. It's just a matter of who's willing to say what." He said this last week, standing near 13th and Locust Streets, where Faulkner was killed nearly 29 years ago.

Mumia Abu-Jamal was found a few feet from Daniel Faulkner's body, shot in the chest with his gun nearby. Hill said he struggled with the sheer volume, power, and scope of the story, which is perhaps the most incendiary homicide in the city's history and a story that continues to resonate globally. He likened the process to taking "War and Peace" or "Crime and Punishment" and making a movie out of it. "You have to make decisions," he said.

In the end, Hill made a film that places Abu-Jamal in the context of two movements he was associated with, the Black Panthers and MOVE. The film documented the Panthers' advocacy of guerrilla tactics and their anti-police rhetoric, and shows both organizations to be engaged in violent struggles with police. Abu-Jamal, a radio reporter in Philadelphia at the time of the shooting, joined the Panthers when he was 16 years old and was later associated with MOVE.

Hill attempted to show that the killing of Faulkner had echoes of a 1967 killing linked to the Black Panthers... that of Officer John F. Frey, shot on a street in Oakland, CA and a crime for which Black Panther founder Huey Newton was convicted, but the verdict was later reversed. The movie flashes a photo of a VW Beetle driven by Newton and used by Panthers, patrolling neighborhoods for incidents of police brutality. The same model car was driven by Abu-Jamal's brother, William Cook, when he was stopped by Faulkner.

The film also recalls the 1970 killing of Fairmount Park Sgt. Frank Von Colln a week before the Black Panthers held a national convention in Philadelphia, an event that pitted Frank Rizzo's police against the militant group. Russell Shoats, a member of the Black Unity Movement, was convicted of the killing. MOVE also had several confrontations with Philadelphia police, which ultimately climaxed on May 13, 1985 with the bombing of a Southwest Philadelphia neighborhood. The lives of several MOVE members were lost in that showdown and hundreds of residents were left homeless from the infamous fire that destroyed an entire block of rowhouses.

Hill raises the possibility that the homicide of Officer Faulkner was an ambush in which Abu-Jamal wanted to kill a police officer, in keeping with the philosophy of Algerian revolutionary Frantz Fanon, who saw violence as a liberating act. The question of why Abu-Jamal, who was driving a cab, appeared at the scene when his brother was pulled over by Faulkner remains unanswered. "What I tried to show is that there were certain things going on, both in Mumia's background, the heroes that he worshipped, the people he supported, and the tactics they used," Hill said.

Fernández, a U.S. history professor and one of the creators of the "Justice on Trial" film, called Hill's characterization of the Black Panthers... "a total and horrific distortion of the history of that period. The Black Panther Party emerges in Watts in response to decades, almost a century, of police brutality in the African American community," she said, adding that violent, anti-police rhetoric was typical of "many of the radical organizations of the period." She said her film began as a more general exploration of injustice and racism in the criminal justice system, but then narrowed to the Abu-Jamal case. She said another professor urged her to contact Mumia in prison, which she did, and ended up meeting with him numerous times.

Fernández's film argues that Abu-Jamal deserves a new trial and there is exculpatory evidence; in particular, the presence of another man, street vendor Kenneth Freeman, in Cook's car, who some argue was the shooter. Unfortunately, Freeman was killed in 1985. His body was found bound and gagged in a vacant lot on the same day as the MOVE bombing, a killing Fernández said has mob overtones. Her film argues that police tampered with the evidence.

Fernández said the decision to screen her film the same day as Hill's was made after his trailer appeared to be arguing Abu-Jamal's guilt. Hill, who has been attacked by critics as "the black face of the FOP," has taken on controversial subjects before, contending in his prior movie, "The Shame of a City", that former Mayor John Street cynically used racial politics to get re-elected. Hill's film seeks to cut through the pro-Mumia rhetoric that has galvanized many progressives, including actors Mike Farrell and Ed Asner, who were both interviewed. One former MOVE member describes Mumia as "big business... a brand." The film also includes interviews with officers who were first to arrive at the scene and police audio with Faulkner's voice reporting the car stop.

Among other notable points in the film: Abu-Jamal's supporters point to his career as a radio journalist to suggest that it would be unlikely that he would so unravel. But, Hill also interviewed colleagues who said Abu-Jamal was obsessed with MOVE and was a "ticking time bomb." Abu-Jamal's attorney, Robert R. Bryan, does not declare Mumia innocent, but says "he is not guilty of murder." Bryan unexpectedly references self-defense when discussing how the justice system was biased toward the death penalty because the victim was a police officer. Pennsylvania law viewed coming to the aid of a family member as "self-defense."

Bryan, interviewed in his San Francisco office, vowed that he will not allow Mumia to "slip through the net" and be executed. He tells Hill: "If a cop dies, somebody's got to die... even if it's a bad cop, even if it was self-defense, particularly in a place like Philadelphia, with its right-wing Fraternal Order of Police. Somebody's got to die." Cook, a witness to the killing, has never testified. In the film, his attorney says he instructed Cook not to give his own account of the case because it would result in Cook's also being charged with the murder.

Hill is seeking distribution for the film in this country and in Europe, where the Mumia case continues to consume people (i.e. a street in a Paris suburb is named after him). Hill anticipated protests outside the theater during the premiere from local activists like MOVE member Pam Africa, but said he did not know whether any of them planned to watch the film. Officer Faulkner's widow, Maureen, was also expected to attend the screening. Perhaps, there will be some follow-up and/or reviews about the actual outcome of both movie premieres, as well as further commentary from Hill and Fernández.

As for Abu-Jamal, now 56 years old, he remains on death row awaiting a hearing by the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals. An earlier ruling that vacated his death sentence was recently overturned on appeal from the prosecution. Who really knows what happened on December 9, 1981? Unfortunately, there will always be a few murders that will continue to be shrouded in mystery, in spite of the evidence (or lack of evidence) and the outcome of the trial. How 'bout Lizzie Borden and O.J. Simpson, just to name a few? In the meantime, it remains to be seen if Hill is going to get that (lucrative) distribution deal that he is seeking... and the controversy over this case still rages on!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Boris Kodjoe... 'Nuff Said!

I can't wait to check out this new NBC TV show, which will premiere on Wednesday, September 22nd @ 8:00pm (EST)! From the numerous previews I've seen at the movies all summer, it looks like it's going to be pretty good. Let's support this show and push the ratings over the top! Check out the official website, recommend it to your friends, "Like" it on Facebook, follow it on Twitter, blog about it, whatever... just spread the word! Y'all know the drill...

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Day The World Stopped Turning

"As the World Turns" originally aired on CBS on April 2, 1956. The network announced on December 8, 2009, that this American television soap opera would be cancelled because of low ratings. The show taped its final scenes on June 23, 2010, and with a sad dramatic storyline finale, its final episode aired on this past Friday, September 17, 2010.

Set in the fictional town of Oakdale, IL, "As The World Turns" debuted on the above date at 1:30pm EST. Prior to then, all daytime serials or "soap operas", as they were more commonly called, were only fifteen minutes in length. "As the World Turns" and "The Edge of Night", which premiered on the same day at 4:30pm EST, were the first two to become thirty minutes in length from their premiere.

At first, viewers did not respond to the new half-hour serial, but ratings picked up in its second year, eventually reaching the top spot in the daytime Nielsen ratings by fall 1958. In 1959, the show started a streak of weekly ratings wins that would not be interrupted for over twelve years. In the year-to-date ratings, "As the World Turns" was the most-watched daytime drama from 1958 until 1978, with ten million viewers tuning in each day. At its height, core actors such as Helen Wagner, Don MacLaughlin, Don Hastings, and Eileen Fulton became nationally known. Irna Phillips created As the World Turns as a sister show to her other soap opera, "Guiding Light".

"As The World Turns" was presented in color on August 21, 1967 and expanded from a half-hour in length to one hour starting on December 1, 1975, when "The Edge of Night" moved to ABC. The show passed its 10,000th episode on May 12, 1995 and celebrated its 50th anniversary on April 2, 2006. It was the last remaining Procter & Gamble-produced soap opera on television after "Guiding Light" aired its final episode on September 18, 2009 on CBS. Running for 54 seasons, it was the second-longest continuous run of any daytime network soap opera in American history, surpassed only by "Guiding Light".

On October 18, 2010, CBS will replace "As the World Turns" with a new hour-long talk show called "The Talk", which resembles ABC's "The View". On the Monday of the show's final week, CBS pushed the time slot for the daily show in order to air the U.S. Open Tennis match. Fans and critics called this "disrespectful" to the 54-year-old soap opera.

As the World Turns is notable for having been produced in New York City for all of its time on television, with its first 43 years being in Manhattan and then, in Brooklyn from 2000 until 2010.


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Motivational Poster Of The Day

My hubby & granddaughter on a carousel.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Now, The Only Question Is Why?

I found this story to be absolutely incredible! According to police in Vancouver, WA, a woman who claimed that she was the victim of an acid attack has admitted her injuries were self-inflicted. Police Chief Clifford Cook said at an afternoon news conference that Bethany Storro, 28 years old, told detectives the truth during an interview after discrepancies emerged in her story.

Storro's interview was conducted after a search of her home, which she shares with her parents, and interviews with her family are still ongoing, detectives said. Police will turn over their findings to prosecutors, who will decide if charges will be filed against Storro. They said they were not ready to discuss Storro's motivation for doing this, but said she is remorseful and in a "fragile mental state".

Splash patterns and other parts of the story, like wearing sunglasses at night, led to the unraveling of Storro's story, Cook said. "Things just didn't add up to the circumstance," Cook said. The revelation followed the cancellation of Storro's scheduled Thursday appearance on "Oprah." On her Facebook page, Storro had said she cancelled because the show might stray from the religious inspiration she had to deliver. However, others in Vancouver saw the move as evidence that Storro's story was phony from the beginning.

Storro originally claimed that a black woman with a ponytail threw acid in her face on the night of August 30, 2010, as she was celebrating a new job and had just bought a pair of sunglasses. Police said it was important to get the word of Storro's confession out immediately to assure the public knew that the Esther Park area of downtown Vancouver, scene of the alleged attack, was safe.

Just a week ago, NBC affiliate KGW-TV of Portland, OR reported that a remarkably upbeat and candid Storro sat in front of reporters at Legacy Emanuel Hospital and described how the alleged black woman threw acid on her face. She claimed her attacker said, "Hey pretty girl, do you want to drink this?" before splashing the acid that burned her face.

Storro said she held the news conference to draw attention to efforts to find the attacker, but also to talk about her faith. "I'm here today because of Jesus Christ," she said at the time, adding that the strength of her faith would allow her to move forward. However, doubts about Storro's veracity were already spreading. Media analyses, including a posting in The Vancouver Voice, questioned why acid burns were absent from her face along the hairline, eyes, lips, neck, shoulders, or inside her nose and/or mouth in the photograph.

The Vancouver Voice had also reported that a homeless witnesses claimed Storro was alone when she fell to the ground screaming. Chats on The Columbian newspaper website also questioned the veracity of Storro's tale. Personally, I would love to know why someone would do such a thing to themselves? It just doesn't make any sense. And, why is it that every time someone wants to "fake" some type of attack, the alleged assailant is always a black person? Give it up... this type of thing has been tried and foiled so many times, it's not even believable anymore.

Thank God the police were able to see through this story from the door!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

It's About Time: Meet Hannah Poling!

Family to Receive $1.5M+ in First-Ever Vaccine-Autism Court Award

The first court award in a vaccine-autism claim is a big one. CBS News reported that the family of Hannah Poling will receive more than $1.5 million dollars for her life care; lost earnings; and pain and suffering for the first year alone. In addition to the first year, the family will receive more than $500,000 per year to pay for Hannah's care. Those familiar with the case believe the compensation could easily amount to $20 million over the child's lifetime.

Hannah was described as normal, happy, and precocious in her first 18 months of life. Then, in July 2000, she was vaccinated against nine diseases in one doctor's visit: Measles, mumps, rubella, polio, varicella, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, and Haemophilus influenzae. Afterward, her health declined rapidly. She developed high fevers, stopped eating, didn't respond when spoken to, began showing signs of autism, and began having screaming fits. In 2002, Hannah's parents filed an autism claim in federal vaccine court. Five years later, the government settled the case before trial and had it sealed. It's taken more than two years for both sides to agree on how much Hannah will be compensated for her injuries.

In acknowledging Hannah's injuries, the government said vaccines aggravated an unknown mitochondrial disorder Hannah had which didn't "cause" her autism, but "resulted" in it. It's unknown how many other children have similar undiagnosed mitochondrial disorder. All other autism "test cases" have been defeated at trial. Approximately 4,800 are awaiting disposition in federal vaccine court.

Time Magazine summed up the relevance of the Poling case in 2008: There's no denying that the court's decision to award damages to the Poling family puts a chink (a question mark) in what had been an unqualified defense of vaccine safety with regard to autism. If Hannah Poling had an underlying condition that made her vulnerable to being harmed by vaccines, it stands to reason that other children might also have such vulnerabilities."

Then-director of the Centers for Disease Control Julie Gerberding (who is now President of Merck Vaccines) stated: "The government has made absolutely no statement indicating that vaccines are a cause of autism. This does not represent anything other than a very specific situation and a very sad situation as far as the family of the affected child."

Court Awards Over $20 Million for Vaccine-Caused Autism

The National Autism Association joins thousands of parents nationwide in support of the federal claims court's decision acknowledging that vaccines were responsible for the development of autism in Hannah Poling, who regressed developmentally after receiving nine vaccines on the same day. Just 18 months old at the time, Hannah's health also declined dramatically in the aftermath of the shots.

In what many parents are referring to as Orwellian doublespeak, the government determined that the vaccines Hannah received triggered an undiagnosed mitochondrial disorder that didn't "cause" the onset of autism but "resulted" in it. "These word games fool no one," according to NAA board chair and parent Lori McIlwain. "It's time for the government to admit that vaccines can and do cause autism in some children. We need to learn from children like Hannah Poling and develop strategies for the prevention of further needless injuries."

As CBS News reported yesterday, nearly 1,300 cases of brain injuries resulting from vaccines have been compensated over the past 20 years. Families who prevail in court cite brain injuries in more general terms in their cases rather than using the word "autism." NAA Exceutive Director Rita Shreffler said, "We've got to stop thinking of autism as a mysterious disorder with no known causes. Parents who observe regression and failing health following vaccines are told it's just coincidence. Many of us no longer buy it. We know that our children suffered brain injury from vaccines, resulting in a diagnosis of autism."

Hannah's story reflects that of thousands of children around the country prompting parents and advocates to question the need for such an aggressive vaccine program. In reviewing the nation's vaccine policy, NAA points out:

1. The number of vaccinations in the current schedule is a whopping 49 by the age of six years old, a seven-fold increase since the late 1970's.

2. The cumulative effects of giving multiple vaccines in combination has never been studied.

3. Tests for underlying conditions that could be aggravated by vaccines, such as mitochondrial dysfunction, are not given prior to administering vaccines.

4. Comparison research of total health outcomes in vaccinated vs. non-vaccinated populations has never been conducted although data is available for study.

Mrs. McIlwain said, "The Center for Disease Control and other health agencies need to ensure that vaccines are as safe as possible. The study of vaccinated versus unvaccinated populations is an important next step."

Saturday, September 11, 2010

We Will Never Forget...

By The President of The United States
Patriot Day and National Day of Service and Remembrance

Through the twisted steel of the twin towers of the World Trade Center, the scarred walls of the Pentagon, and the smoky wreckage in a field in southwest Pennsylvania, the patriotism and resiliency of the American people shone brightly on September 11, 2001. We stood as one people, united in our common humanity and shared sorrow. We grieved for those who perished and remembered what brought us together as Americans.

Today, we honor the lives we lost 9 years ago. On a bright September day, innocent men, women, and children boarded planes and set off for work as they had so many times before. Unthinkable acts of terrorism brought tragedy, destruction, pain, and loss for people across our Nation and the world.

As we pay tribute to loved ones, friends, fellow citizens, and all who died, we reaffirm our commitment to the ideas and ideals that united Americans in the aftermath of the attacks. We must apprehend all those who perpetrated these heinous crimes, seek justice for those who were killed, and defend against all threats to our national security. We must also recommit ourselves to our founding principles. September 11 reminds us that our fate as individuals is tied to that of our Nation. Our democracy is strengthened when we uphold the freedoms upon which our Nation was built: equality, justice, liberty, and democracy. These values exemplify the patriotism and sacrifice we commemorate today.

In that same spirit of patriotism, I call upon all Americans to join in service and honor the lives we lost, the heroes who responded in our hour of need, and the brave men and women in uniform who continue to protect our country at home and abroad. In April, I was proud to sign the bipartisan Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, which recognizes September 11 as a National Day of Service and Remembrance. Originated by the family members of those who lost loved ones on 9/11, the National Day of Service and Remembrance is an opportunity to salute the heroes of 9/11, recapture the spirit of unity and compassion that inspired our Nation following the attacks, and rededicate ourselves to sustained service to our communities.

Throughout the summer, people of all ages and backgrounds came together to lend a helping hand in their communities through United We Serve. As this summer of service draws to an end, we renew the call to engage in meaningful service activities and stay engaged with those projects throughout the year. Working together, we can usher in a new era in which volunteering and more service is a way of life for all Americans. Deriving strength from tragedy, we can write the next great chapter in our Nation's history and ensure that future generations continue to enjoy the promise of America.

By a joint resolution approved December 18, 2001 (Public Law 107-89), the Congress has designated September 11 of each year as Patriot Day, and by Public Law 111-13, approved April 21, 2009, has requested the observance of September 11 as an annually recognized National Day of Service and Remembrance.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim September 11 as Patriot Day and National Day of Service and Remembrance. I call upon all departments, agencies, and instrumentalities of the United States to display the flag of the United States at half-staff on Patriot Day and National Day of Service and Remembrance in honor of the individuals who lost their lives as a result of the terrorist attacks against the United States that occurred on September 11, 2001. I invite the Governors of the United States and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and interested organizations and individuals to join in this observance. I call upon the people of the United States to participate in community service in honor of those our Nation lost, to observe this day with other ceremonies and activities, including remembrance services, and to observe a moment of silence beginning at 8:46am eastern daylight time to honor the innocent victims who perished as a result of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this tenth day of September, in the year of our Lord two thousand nine, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-fourth.

Barack Obama

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Autism & The Vaccine Theory

Rodney Peete, Holly Robinson Peete, and the Kids

There has been much speculation and talk in recent years as to whether or not the number of vaccines and/or specific vaccines given to young children during the first few years of life can cause autism. Why? Because the parents of many children who have autism feel very strongly that their children were healthy and developing normally prior to the vaccines. I have often wondered if the vaccine theory is indeed true, could we even trust "the powers that be" to pass that information along to the general public. Can you imagine the flood of emotions and utter chaos, not to mention lawsuits, if this theory is ever proven to be true?

Rodney Peete, former NFL quarterback, recounts the day that he and his wife, Holly Robinson Peete, were drafted into the world of autism as a result of their son's vaccine injury in his recent book, "Not My Boy! A Father, A Son, and One Family's Journey With Autism". In addition to two other children, Rodney and Holly are blessed with a set of twins ... a girl named Ryan, and a boy named R.J. (the two oldest children in the above photo). In the book, Rodney writes about dealing with his son R.J.’s autism. After meetings with teachers and appointments with specialists, the Peetes were soon given their son’s devastating diagnosis. After a period of anger and denial, Rodney joined Holly in her efforts to help their son. The following is an excerpt from the book...

Chapter 2: The Wake Up Call

By the time the football season was over, I was happy to be home so I could spend my time being the kind of dad I had always wanted to be. I wanted to be there for the fun stuff as well as for the dirty work of changing diapers. Every day with them held a surprise for me. I felt I could watch them grow and change minute by minute.

R.J. was more than hitting his milestones. He was hitting them early. He was strong and very well coordinated for a little guy. He started to walk before he hit ten months. I couldn’t help but think we already had the next in a long line of Peete athletic prodigies.

R.J. was quick mentally too. I would be amazed by the way he could figure things out. As Holly and I moved around the kitchen getting their meals, he watched how we opened the childproof cabinet doors. Around the time he said his first words at twelve months, he had figured out how to open those doors himself. I knew I was supposed to be stern with him and let him know that this was not allowed. But it was hard to fight back a smile when he looked at me with joy and pride at his latest accomplishment.

He was also into pushing buttons in the car, as many kids are. You press this button and the music turns on. Then you press this button, and the music is different. We’d let him take his toys apart and put them back together. These were just simple toys, but he’d put them back together right. When he was reassembling things, he’d look up at me like... Hey, I got this right? We thought R.J. was a lot like I had been as a kidsocial and adventurous, with a little streak of mischief in him.

Shortly before the twins’ first birthday, the whole family was invited to spend the weekend with friends of ours who have a beautiful home near Santa Barbara. We were the super-parents, with the porta-crib and everything anyone might need stuffed into the back of the car. The kids were pretty good sleepers at that point, and they slept the same schedule. We settled them down in an upstairs bedroom and fastened a childproof gate at the top of the stairs before heading down to enjoy a glass of wine before dinner with our friends. Just as we were sitting down to dinner, I heard a little shriek from R.J. Grappling hand-over-hand along the side of the archway, he came smiling into the room, ready to join the party.

Holly and I looked at each other with a mixture of very strong reactions. Oh, my God! Were we bad parents for leaving him up there? How did he manage to get out of that crib, open the gate, and make his way down that long flight of slippery Spanish tile steps? What if he had cracked his head? At the same time, I was blown away by how he had managed to make this epic journey on his own because he wanted to be where the party was. Oh my God, I thought, this kid is incredible!

Of the two of them, the child we were most concerned about was Ryan. The pediatrician had told us not to worry about her being so small, because girls catch up quickly. Unfortunately, she had muscle development problems. Her feet were splayed out, and she had trouble holding up her head well into her first year. All the family pictures from that time show big grinning R.J. looking right at the camera and Ryan with her head slumped to the side.

She was in physical therapy constantly for her first two years. She had to wear special shoes, and even when she finally started to walk, at fourteen months, she was always falling down and getting bumped and bruised. R.J. could do so many things so easily. He was a great climber and loved to crawl through things, while Ryan could be just sitting and fall over. We thought her problems were neurological, and we were always running to the doctor to get her tested.

I don’t want to sound like we were frantic with worry all the time. We were happy parents who were trying to do everything right for our kids. Holly was especially good at this. She had acute "mommy radar" for anything that was wrong, even the tiniest sniffle or cough.

We were already planning for their futures too. We found out that many of our friends had enrolled their children in a very progressive school that had a great program for 2 year olds, but it was hard to get kids admitted. Holly toured the school and loved the energy and attitude of the staff, as well as the smart child-focused curriculum. We used to laugh about how silly it seemed that we were stressing out about getting our kids into preschool.

Since they had an October birthday, the twins had to wait until they were nearly three years old before they could start the two year old program. In some ways, it was good that they would start a little later than the other kids because by that point, Ryan would be stronger and more coordinated.

A few months before they hit that two-year mark, Holly took the twins in for a checkup with our pediatrician. They’d had ear infections and were both coming off a course of antibiotics. Holly asked the doctor if he would delay their next round of immunizations because she thought loading them up with that much medicine while they were still a bit weak from the antibiotics might be too much for their little bodies. She believes the doctor, a very old-school, by-the-book pediatrician, and brushed off her concerns as those of an overly cautious first-time mom. He said he’d immunized hundreds of children and never had any such problems.

This didn’t sit right with Holly. Something about this disturbed what she calls her "mommy gut," an instinct that moms have that goes beyond what professionals say. She asked him if there was any way he could break up the measles/mumps/rubella vaccination so that they would not have to get such a potent cocktail all at once. The doctor said that couldn’t be done. Besides, the nurse said, the twins were behind in their immunizations. Part of the purpose of this visit was to get them all caught up.

Holly got even more concerned when she found out that they might be receiving more than just the MMR vaccine. She wanted to know what was in the shots and how many of them there would be. She remembers the nurse looked at her like she was psycho mommy, and told her to relax while she took R.J. in to be weighed.

Holly was sitting in another examining room holding on to Ryan, when she heard R.J. screaming, "No! Mommy!" She ran to R.J. and saw that the nurse had given him the MMR plus the second hepatitis B and the polio vaccines. The nurse said that it usually was easier with the parents out of the room. Maybe it was easier for the nurse, but for the next eight years, nothing about R.J. would be easy for our family.

At home that night, R.J. had a terrible fever and started shaking violently, just short of something like a seizure. Holly called the pediatrician to ask him what could have caused it. Should we take R.J. to the hospital? The doctor was unruffled and told us that it was not a reaction to the shots. He recommended that we give R.J. some Tylenol to help him with the fever and he promised that R.J. would be fine. R.J. had a terrible reaction to the Tylenol and we rushed him to the emergency room late that night. We believe he went into some kind of toxic overload shock. After that, we didn’t hear the words "Mommy" or "No" for about four years.

I know there is a lot of controversy in the medical community about what causes autism. Researchers and doctors reject parents’ claim that vaccines, particularly the MMR, can trigger the disorder. Many parents believe that the mercury-based chemical thimerosal, which is used as a preservative in vaccines, reacts dramatically in the immature immune systems of some children and triggers autism. In the last decade, the number of vaccinations has increased dramatically; now kids get more than thirty different shots, most of them before the time they reach eighteen months.

While the government and the vaccine manufacturers have worked to reduce the amount of mercury in the vaccinations, receiving those shots gives children a big dose of toxins to process. The symptoms of mercury poisoning look an awful lot like what children with autism suffer: rocking, circling, flapping arms, walking on toes, difficulty with swallowing or chewing, digestive problems, oversensitivity, etc.

The Centers for Disease Control says that the symptoms of autism start to show up around the same time that kids receive most of their shots. The CDC advises parents that this does not mean that the vaccine is the cause, and they can cite several studies to justify this position, but just to be cautious, the CDC recommended in 2001 that vaccine manufacturers reduce or eliminate thimerosal in vaccines.

Holly and I, and many of the other parents of children with autism, believe that the scientists who have concluded that there is no connection between vaccines and autism should have designed their studies differently. Our kids tend to be sensitive to foods and stimuli that other children tolerate without any trouble. We’d like to see studies performed on vaccines and children who have gluten sensitivities or are allergic to dairy, for example. We believe it might be true that kids with those difficulties shouldn’t have to follow the strict vaccination schedule, at least not until their bodies have developed further.

Many of us believe that science should give this idea of a sensitivity-specific study more of a chance rather than rejecting it in favor of studies on a general population of young children. Too many families have had to suffer through a huge, and in many cases permanent, change in their children for science to turn its back on us and refuse to explore this question.

The day of the vaccination marked a major turning point for R.J. Within a week of the shots, he stopped responding to his name. Normally, when I came in to pick him up from the crib where he slept with Ryan, he’d be standing up alongside his sister. They’d look at each other and crack up, laughing at one of those private jokes that only twins can understand. Shortly after the shots, R.J. withdrew. He stopped making eye contact and he didn’t laugh much. Often he’d just lie curled up in a ball staring at his hand or the wooden slats of the crib, lost in a world of his own.

Even his interest in trying to figure out how things worked changed. Before the shot, I’d watch him study the chain that went around a bicycle wheel and try to figure out how that made the wheel move. As soon as it made sense to him, he’d look my way with a big grin that said to me, See, I figured this out! After the shot, he was obsessive. He’d just sit there watching the chain go around and around, staring at it for hours. I’d try to get him to change activities, but he’d go right back to that chain. He also started with odd new behaviors: Flapping his hands and flicking his ears. His speech stopped evolving too. He went from learning new words to saying the same thing over and over again.

We asked our pediatrician what was happening with R.J., and he acted as though what we described was no big deal. He reminded us that boys develop differently than girls. Growing up isn’t a straight line, he said. He’d catch up just like Ryan had pretty much caught up with him physically.

I see now that we were willing to accept this because he was telling us what we wanted to hear. There was nothing wrong with R.J. He was just going through a phase, a temporary setback that he’d recover from before he started school in the fall. We were overjoyed when we found out that Ryan and R.J. had been accepted into our top choice for preschool. The teachers there were well-trained and compassionate, and we expected that they would help R.J. learn more social skills and encourage him to make friends.

I thought that trying to keep up with the other kids would be a huge motivation for R.J. to snap out of whatever phase he was going through. Maybe once he was around the other kids, he would start to do what they did and that would help with speaking too... or so I thought. If R.J. really was a member of the Robinson-Peete family, there wasn’t anything that could have prevented him from talking. Our pediatrician confirmed everything I had hoped for in that getting R.J. out into the world would be a way to break his isolation.

The school session started in the fall, when I was right in the thick of the football season, so I wasn’t monitoring R.J. as much as I would have had I been home. Holly kept telling me that R.J. didn’t seem to be catching on at school, not the way Ryan was. We talked to our pediatrician again, and he told us the same thing. I repeated it back to Holly whenever she was telling me how worried she was. He’s just a little boy. He’s two. Give him time. He’ll catch up.

When the football season came to a close, I took over the job of driving the kids to school. When I got them out of their car seats the first day, Ryan was ready to go. She was ready to run right into the yard where the kids had forty-five minutes to play before the indoor part of the school day began. R.J. was indifferent. I had to take him by the hand and lead him into the yard. He didn’t resist. He just didn’t have any enthusiasm.

After we said our goodbyes, I did what my dad used to do with me. I hung back by my car and waited until I was pretty sure that the kids wouldn’t be aware I was still around. I’m tall enough that I could see over the fence around the yard. I could see that Ryan had joined her friends and that they’d all run over to the finger painting table. My eyes scanned the yard to see who R.J. was playing with. He was alone by the water fountain, watching the spurts of water as he turned the knob on and off. Look at him, I thought. He’s always trying to figure out how things work. As the minutes ticked by and he remained at the water fountain, my heart sank. Where were his friends? For all the money we were paying for this school, you’d think the teachers would try to get R.J. included in a group of kids or bring him over to join one of the activities. He was all alone.

The next day, when I took up my post at the fence, it was basically the same. This time R.J. was in a different corner, spinning around in circles and flicking his earlobe. Wasn’t someone going to help him? Holly and I were scheduled to meet with the twins’ teachers and the head of the school that next week. At that meeting, I was going to tell the teachers what I wanted them to do to help R.J. get through this tough passage. That next week, when we arrived for our meeting at the school, I could tell something was off from the moment we entered the room and saw their grave faces.

We settled into our chairs and an ominous silence settled in. "We’ve talked," the head of the school said, "and we think your son is unteachable." I looked at Holly and she looked at me. Our mouths hung open. What kid in the world is unteachable? Were they saying that R.J. didn’t have the ability to learn? Who would ever say that about a three year old? "We’re saying there is something going on with R.J. and that we are not capable of teaching a special needs child," the head of the school continued. All I could think was, he’s only three years old. You don’t have to teach him trigonometry.

When we drove away from that meeting, I was angry and Holly was upset. Why are we paying all this money to this school? They didn’t say, "Let’s figure out how we can help this kid." They threw their hands up in the air and said, "We don’t want to spend the time to do any extra work trying to teach him. This kid is not worth the effort." This was the school we’d fought to get the kids into.

By the time we got home, both of us had cooled down a bit. We had to admit that we had concerns about R.J. and how his recent setbacks had made Ryan more clingy. The first thing we decided to do was take R.J. out of the school. Then we began our search for an expert who would check out our kids and tell us if there was anything that we needed to be concerned about.

Holly asked around and found the best pediatric specialist in Los Angeles. She was booked months in advance, and it was difficult getting an appointment for the twins to see her. Fortunately, she had a cancellation, and we grabbed it. It was excruciating to sit in that waiting room for 3 hours while the twins were in her office with her. We had no idea what was going on. She didn’t have an observation window so we could see how they were responding to her. We were on pins and needles.

She finally called us in and we took our seats. Holly grabbed my hand. "Your son is autistic," she said. "And your daughter is too." Holly started to cry and the doctor handed her a box of tissues. I stared straight at this doctor in disbelief. She’d said it in such a cold way. For a specialist who had to deliver devastating diagnoses all the time, this woman had absolutely no bedside manner.

"There is a spectrum of autistic behavior, and your son is very low-functioning," she said. "Your daughter functions at a higher level. You’re going to have to get your son into a program right away. He’ll need speech, physical, and occupational therapy and special tutoring." Holly was bawling by this point. I was surprised she was able to hear what the doctor was saying. "I’m trying to prepare you as parents. I’m going to be honest with you," she said. "He’s never going to be able to look you in the eye. He’ll never be able to tell you he loves you unprompted. He’ll never tell you he’s hungry. You’ll have to learn how to read his clues."

Holly’s hand was gripped tight with mine while she disintegrated in the chair next to me. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. He had made eye contact. He used to let me know when he was hungry. How can she use the word "never"? This couldn’t be my R.J. she was talking about. Not my boy! "It’s my experience that kids his age and at his level of severity don’t generally come out of this. I want you to be prepared that this is a real uphill battle for him. If you don’t start right away with these treatments, he will slip further and further into the autistic world," she concluded.

Never during the hour we spent with her did she say, Here is our plan. Call this person for speech and this person for occupational therapy. There are a couple of schools in town that do great with kids with autism and use my name when you call. And check his diet out because there might be something going on with his digestion. Here’s a nutritionist who is familiar with the kinds of digestive problems kids with autism have. You need to get him another test to see what things he is allergic to that might affect his autism. None of that. Just the cold evaluation.

There was nothing I could do. As a man, you want to be able to protect your family. You want to be able to soothe your wife. There was nothing I could say because this so-called expert had just evaluated our kid, but she’d also robbed me of all of my power. "Robbed" is the right word. I’m giving you this diagnosis and you’ve got to take it because I am the expert.

We walked out of her private office to collect the twins. Ryan was very affectionate, but she looked a little confused as to why Mommy was crying. R.J. was oblivious. We put them back in the car, and as we were driving back home, I had an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness. I felt like a failure as a parent and I started to blame myself. I had wanted to be the kind of dad who was there for them all the time. Why didn’t we recognize this earlier? Was this hereditary? Did we do something wrong during the pregnancy? We had been responsible parents. We had asked the right questions. Where had we failed them?

We got back into the house and went through the motions of feeding the kids and getting them ready for bed. I don’t remember anything of that evening. My mind was so clouded. I wanted something to do, someone to blame, but I had no target for my feelings. Holly couldn’t stop crying. And in a few days, I had to leave. Football winter mini training camp was starting again. Thank God I was playing for the Raiders in Oakland, so I would be close to home.

Excerpt from "Not My Boy! A Father, A Son, and One Family's Journey With Autism" by Rodney Peete. Copyright (c) 2010 HollyRod Entertainment. Published by Hyperion. Available wherever books are sold. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Chillin' & Grillin'

No, you didn't come to my hubby's Good Foodie blog by mistake-LOL! I'm also well aware of the fact that "food" is not a topic that I usually tackle on my blog in any shape, way, form, or fashion. However, I stumbled upon the following information quite by accident and was so startled by it, I decided to post it on my blog for the benefit of others (like me) who didn't know. Even though Labor Day has always been viewed as the "unofficial" end of summer, you might want to hold on to this advice for the future because it might change the way you feel about foods cooked on the grill forever.

If your family likes to do a lot of grilling during the summer months, did you know that chargrilled meats may pose health risks? Grilling is a cooking method often recommended by nutrition experts because, unlike deep frying or pan sautéing, it adds no fat to food and that's an important benefit for people trying to stick to a healthy diet. But, recent reports based on scientific research has found that grilling meats at high heat for long periods produces at least two types of carcinogens, which are chemicals linked to the risk of developing cancer.

Red meat, poultry, and seafood all contain muscle protein, which reacts under intense heat (and this would also include broiling and pan-frying at high temperatures) to form heterocyclic amines (HAs), compounds that damage DNA and contribute to the development of certain cancers, particularly those of the stomach and colon.

Chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) also have been linked to cancer. PAHs form when fat from cooking meat drips onto a flame, heating element, or hot coals and produces smoke. The chemicals rise with the smoke and are deposited onto the food. The charred, blackened parts of grilled food contain the highest concentration of PAHs.

UAB nutrition experts and the American Cancer Society both agree that people can still enjoy grilled foods without excessive concerns about health risks and suggest the following tips to minimize consumption of unhealthy chemicals:

1. Use lean cuts of meat and trim any excess fat, including the skin from poultry, to minimize fat dripping onto the heating source and reduce the production of PAHs.

2. Limit fatty meats such as ribs and sausage that are more likely to drip fat onto coals and also are high in unhealthy saturated fats.

3. Place food on the grill after coals have cooled or, when using a gas grill, adjust gas flow and rack height.

4. Don’t eat the charred or blackened bits on grilled foods, even vegetables. While HAs form only in meat, poultry, and seafood, PAHs can form on charred food of any kind. (This is gonna be hardest part for me to give up because I think that's the best part of a grilled hot dog!)

5. Use marinades made with vinegar, citrus juice, or red wine, which are rich in antioxidants. Studies have shown that marinating meats before cooking reduces formation of HAs.

6. Pre-cook meat in the microwave to minimize cooking times (the longer you cook meat, the more HAs will form). Drain any clear liquid before placing meat on the grill.

7. Wrap fish in foil before placing it on the grill to keep food moist and prevent deposition of chemical-containing smoke.

8. Think of meat as a side dish instead of the main course. Aim for a 3-ounce portion of meat and fill your plate with fruits and vegetables. Making kabobs with small pieces of meats mixed with bite-sized pieces of vegetables and fruits is a simple way to control portion size, add great flavor, and add fruit and vegetable servings.

So, the good news is, you don't have to give up your family barbecues and grilling completely (Y-e-a-h!)... but, you do need to limit high-fat meats and keep portion sizes of all types of meat small. From a nutritional standpoint, one of the most beneficial steps you can to take to reduce your risk of cancer and other conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes, is eating a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

My Hubby & Grandkids

Overbrook Train Station
Labor Day Weekend
Sunday, September 5, 2010

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Story Behind Labor Day

What it Means

Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.

Founder of Labor Day

More than 100 years after the first Labor Day observance, there is still some doubt as to who first proposed the holiday for workers.

Some records show that Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a cofounder of the American Federation of Labor, was first in suggesting a day to honor those "who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold."

But Peter McGuire's place in Labor Day history has not gone unchallenged. Many believe that Matthew Maguire, a machinist, not Peter McGuire, founded the holiday. Recent research seems to support the contention that Matthew Maguire, later the secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, N.J., proposed the holiday in 1882 while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York. What is clear is that the Central Labor Union adopted a Labor Day proposal and appointed a committee to plan a demonstration and picnic.

The First Labor Day

The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City, in accordance with the plans of the Central Labor Union. The Central Labor Union held its second Labor Day holiday just a year later, on September 5, 1883.

In 1884 the first Monday in September was selected as the holiday, as originally proposed, and the Central Labor Union urged similar organizations in other cities to follow the example of New York and celebrate a "workingmen's holiday" on that date. The idea spread with the growth of labor organizations, and in 1885 Labor Day was celebrated in many industrial centers of the country.

Labor Day Legislation

Through the years the nation gave increasing emphasis to Labor Day. The first governmental recognition came through municipal ordinances passed during 1885 and 1886. From them developed the movement to secure state legislation. The first state bill was introduced into the New York legislature, but the first to become law was passed by Oregon on February 21, 1887. During the year four more states — Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York — created the Labor Day holiday by legislative enactment. By the end of the decade Connecticut, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania had followed suit. By 1894, 23 other states had adopted the holiday in honor of workers, and on June 28 of that year, Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories.

A Nationwide Holiday

The form that the observance and celebration of Labor Day should take were outlined in the first proposal of the holiday — a street parade to exhibit to the public "the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations" of the community, followed by a festival for the recreation and amusement of the workers and their families. This became the pattern for the celebrations of Labor Day. Speeches by prominent men and women were introduced later, as more emphasis was placed upon the economic and civic significance of the holiday. Still later, by a resolution of the American Federation of Labor convention of 1909, the Sunday preceding Labor Day was adopted as Labor Sunday and dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement.

The character of the Labor Day celebration has undergone a change in recent years, especially in large industrial centers where mass displays and huge parades have proved a problem. This change, however, is more a shift in emphasis and medium of expression. Labor Day addresses by leading union officials, industrialists, educators, clerics and government officials are given wide coverage in newspapers, radio, and television.

The vital force of labor added materially to the highest standard of living and the greatest production the world has ever known and has brought us closer to the realization of our traditional ideals of economic and political democracy. It is appropriate, therefore, that the nation pay tribute on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation's strength, freedom, and leadership — the American worker.
Enjoy your day off today!

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