Wednesday, October 31, 2018

"Let me out...": One Night At The Grove Park Inn (a true story)

It was August of 2000.  I had been living in Asheville for just over two weeks.  With abandon I had thrown myself into the ways and customs of that curious city in the North Carolina mountains.  And not just for sake of my new job as investigative reporter.


No, it was more personal than that.  Asheville was finally a crack at life on my own, now 26 and a year after an extended season of college.  I wanted to make the most of it.  To make an escape from previous disappointments with the breaking of new ground.


Part and parcel of that was meeting new people.  And being a reporter gave me an edge.  Especially in Asheville.  A town my landlady had described as "a mixed bowl of nuts".  Thirty percent rock-ribbed Christian conservative, thirty percent very liberal, and forty percent anything and everything in between.  Being a journalist there puts one in contact with all the characters.  Already I had met the mayor, the district's representative in Congress, a purple-haired man calling himself Cassandra (after the woman in The Iliad who prophesied about the fall of Troy but wasn't believed), "the Thong Guy" (don't ask), and a number of other interesting folk.  Still to come was covering the massive "We Still Pray" Christian rally, the "We Still Work Magic" rally the local witchcraft community held a few weeks later at the same high school stadium, being called "a--hole" by a future President of the United States, and a photo together with Bill Cosby that I can't show anymore.


As wildly entertaining as that all sounds, it was serious business.  And I still hold dear the lessons and virtues of good and impartial reporting that the editor and publisher shared with me.  However I may go as a writer for the rest of my life, I owe much to each of them.


So even when it came to the "Summer Spook Series",  I was determined to approach matters with an objective eye and a mind divorced from suggestion or duress.  Not to be a prejudiced skeptic, but neither to be overwhelmed with sensation about the supernatural.


It was "for fun," my editor had said.  "Part Scooby-Doo and part The Blair Witch Project". But we were still a weekly newsmagazine toward which there was responsibility to be had.  The readers were owed the facts, whatever they may be, and the opportunity to weigh it on their own.


And so it was, at 9 p.m. on a Monday night, that ten of us - the wife of the editor, a fellow reporter, some high school students, a business owner, and a few others including Yours Truly - met in the lobby of the Grove Park Inn.  Reputedly one of the most haunted hotels in the world.


-----


The Grove Park Inn opened in 1913, after nearly a year of construction.  The dedication address was delivered by William Jennings Bryan.  It has since seen visits by everyone from Henry Ford to Sir Anthony Hopkins to Chuck Norris.  Ten United States Presidents have been guests at the hotel.  During World War II it was the site of internment for German diplomats.  In recent years it has been  revealed that in the event of a nuclear attack on America, the United States Supreme Court would have been relocated to the hotel.


It had been in the final months of the Belle Époque that the Grove Park Inn first opened its doors.  But it was in the decade after the Great War that the place truly exploded to life.  The Roaring Twenties came hard and raucous to this hotel in the hills above Asheville, and even today one without understanding why might expect to see flapper girls and catch the whiff of expensive French cigarettes.  And Prohibition be damned!  The liquor flowed well within the halls and rooms of the Grove Park, with a sly wink and a knowing grin.


Maybe that has something to do with how it is that the name of the young woman who died there around 1920 has been forgotten.  She fell to her death within the hotel, from over a balcony and onto the hard stone of the Palm Court three stories below.  As any large resort or park or fine ocean-going vessel, tragedy can and will transpire amid revelry.  And there was little revelry as that in the wake of the Kaiser's vanquishing.


All that is known today is that she died instantly and that she had apparently been staying in Room 545.


At least, however, we know who had been a guest in Room 441 for a year between 1935 and 1936.  It had been none other than F. Scott Fitzgerald.  The author of the celebrated novel The Great Gatsby had consigned himself to residence at the Grove Park Inn.  Hoping out of desperation that the environment might stimulate his writing.  As well as being close to the sanitarium where his beloved wife Zelda was receiving psychiatric care.


Fitzgerald spent much of the darkest period of his life at the Grove Park Inn.  A few years later in 1940, he died a broken man.


In 1948, the nearby Highland Hospital was destroyed in a fire.  Stories persist that the patients had been drugged and locked within their rooms, abandoned by a vengeful nurse who lit the match.  Zelda Fitzgerald and eight others perished in the flames.


-----


Late one evening in 1998 a newly-hired security guard at the Grove Park Inn believed he had spotted a guest "wandering around drunk on the grounds, in an old-style costume."  He radioed his supervisor about it and was met with a  screaming voice demanding that he return to the hotel.  Bewildered, the guard looked toward where he had seen the woman, but she was no longer there.


Upon entering the security office the supervisor was shouting threats about immediate termination.  And then the threats stopped when the boss realized that in sincerest honesty the guard, who had just relocated to the area, had never heard about the Pink Lady.


It was sometime in the Twenties that the woman in Room 545 began letting staff and guests understand that she was reluctant to leave so abruptly.  The new guard had become just the latest to witness her comings and goings.


Even today, guests report that they feel tickled during the night, especially on their feet, by "someone else" in their room.  Lights flicker on with no one touching the switch.  Young children tell their parents the next morning about "the nice woman" who came to visit them during the night.  


She is the Pink Lady.  A spectral young woman who has been sighted hundreds of times throughout the Grove Park Inn.  And over the decades many of them have come from guests staying in Room 545.


There have also been stories about Room 441.  About the sound of typing coming from behind its doors when no one was staying within.  And at times, sightings of men and women in period attire who vanish upon a second look.


It is not surprising then that the Grove Park Inn has become the subject of numerous studies by paranormal investigators: some professional, many not.  One respected group, L.E.M.U.R. Investigations, had recently finished an extensive study of the Grove Park.  Their findings: based on the weight and consistency of the reports from so many guests and staff, something was amiss at the hotel.


The team of the "Summer Spook Series" would be the next to investigate the Grove Park Inn.


And the editor informed us that by special arrangement with the Grove Park's management, we would have Room 545 all to ourselves...


-----


Beginning at 10 p.m., we would split into teams and cover the hotel and the surrounding grounds.  Throughout the night on the hour we would meet back in Room 545 to give reports and compare notes.  Two of us would remain in the room itself.


The editor's wife had a couple of cameras, including one loaded with infrared film.  I had a notepad and a micro cassette recorder.  She and I and another team member were accompanied by a guard and given access to the clubhouse, near the Grove Park's golf course and not far from the hotel itself.


We used flashlights to navigate as we walked around the rooms, and the banquet hall had already been set up for a formal event of some kind.  That is where I found myself alone around 10:40.  The cassette recorder was still whirring away.  I had forgotten it was on at all after getting some comments from the guard.


If there had been anything unusual in the clubhouse, we didn't see it or hear it.


A little over an hour later during our group's second meeting in Room 545, as the others were discussing what and where to go next, I rewound the tape to find some bits of the conversation with the guard.  I thought I was close to it but I was wrong.  It turned out to be a segment from the time we were inside the clubhouse.


And that's when we heard it on the tape:


"Let me out..."


-----


As best as we could determine, it was from the time I had been in the banquet room.  Nobody else had been inside apart from myself.


But still, there it was.  A voice, gender indeterminate.  Whispering "Let me out..." followed by something unintelligible.  I rewound the tape and played it back several times, without suggesting to anyone else what it might be.


Every person in our group said that it sounded like someone saying "Let me out..."


-----


Okay, well... it was a bit spooky.  A week later an experienced investigator listened to the tape and remarked that it seemed very much that I had recorded what in the trade is called "electronic voice phenomenon".  And that there had been many such cases reported ever since the invention of the phonograph.  Even today, there are times when I think about that night and I wrack my brain trying to remember if anyone else had come into the banquet room that night.  But I don't recall anyone at all.  And I don't think I was speaking to myself either.  I certainly didn't say "Let me out..." in a hushed but quite audible whisper.


At fifteen after midnight we dispersed again.  Before we did, the editor's wife took a few random photos with the infrared-loaded camera inside Room 545.  Those were the first pictures made on the roll of film.


-----


I was with a group of other people, including my fellow reporter.  We walked a short distance to what was at the time the studios of ABC affiliate WLOS.  A cardboard standup of one of the on-air newscasters looked out from a window, his face beaming a cheery smile.  No doubt a great laugh during the daytime.  At night, strolling from the Grove Park Inn, it was a bit surreal.


Nothing happened between then and 1 a.m.  Neither did anything remarkable transpire between 1 and 2.


And nothing happened between 2 and 3 either.  That was when I decided to visit the fourth floor: completely empty of guests and staff at the time due to renovation.  Sheets of canvas and paint buckets and lengths of lumber and table saws were throughout the floor, up and down the hallways.


I was alone for almost the entire hour, sitting with my back to the wall.  Room 441 was within eyesight to my right.  The plaque on the door noting that it had been F. Scott Fitzgerald's residence during his time in Asheville reflecting what dull light came down from the upper floor.  There was not a sound from either above or the atrium three stories below.


At 3 a.m. I returned to Room 545.  The fourth floor had not yielded up anything unusual.


-----


The editor's wife wanted to see Fitzgerald's room.


I returned to the fourth floor, bringing her along.  We came to the outside of Room 441.  Again, not a sound apart from our own quiet voices.  Nobody had told directly us to stay off of the fourth floor, but neither did we assume that it would have been permitted had we asked.  We were being discreet about it.


The editor's wife took some photos with both regular film and the infrared-loaded camera.  Including one infrared shot down the hallway, with Room 441's door situated in the left of the picture, the floor immediately in front of it clear in the scope.


We saw nothing with our eyes.  But there was one curious incident that occurred.  She had brought a small magnetic compass with her.  We had been told beforehand that sometimes compasses would act odd in places supposedly haunted.  Not far from Room 441 she brought the compass out.  The needle was spinning.  Not far, but certainly not at a snail's pace either.  It would turn one way, then veer toward the other direction.


Why it did that, we could never explain.


-----


4 a.m.  The group met in Room 545 once again.  Nothing else to report.  And by 6 a.m. and the sun beginning to rise we all decided that we had done our part and that at least there was a ghostly voice to show for it.  We each went on our way.  I returned to my apartment and crashed for a few hours before going in to the office.


-----


"Okay, Chris, this is going to make your jaw hit the floor."


It was Friday morning.  Three days after the end of the first "Summer Spook Series" investigation.  The night at the Grove Park Inn was already falling behind in the rear-view mirror of my brain.  Yes, there had been the weird sound from the tape recorder but... heck, that could have been anything.


Then my editor showed me the photos.


It had taken a few days to get the infrared film developed.  They had received the pics the previous afternoon, after I had left for the evening.


The first two that he showed me were from inside Room 545.  The photos were a grainy black and white, but otherwise were not much different from pics taken with standard film.  However, in each of the photos and especially remarkable in one of them, there was a very clear "artifact" in view hanging over the bed.  It seemed very much to be not on the wall, but in the air itself.


What it was, we couldn't figure out.  There were two of our team in the photo and they seemed obvious to it.  But there it was, right between them.


It was odd.  But otherwise, not something one's mind might linger upon.


The next photo however was absolutely disquieting.


It was the one his wife had taken on the fourth floor, aimed down the hallway and with the door to Room 441 in view.  Again, a grainy black and white image.


Yet very visible, in the center of the image, there was someone standing in the hallway.


Someone with a face.  Looking toward the camera.  It seemed to be the face of a woman.  Wearing, perhaps, a long dress.


She was smiling.  And eighteen years later, long after the most recent time I've seen the photo, those eyes still haunt me, for lack of any better term.


Nobody else had been on the fourth floor with us.  But there it was.  A third person, who had only turned up in an infrared photograph.


-----


The same professional investigator who examined my audio recording told us that he believed we had captured a legitimate image of... well, something.  And it is a testament to his objectivity that he could not suggest what it was.  Only that it was empirical evidence, along with the apparent voice on the cassette tape.


No one in our group saw anything with our own eyes, or heard with our ears alone.  But by at least three different means the equipment we used, we had detected some very, very peculiar "signatures" around the Grove Park Inn.  I still have the audio recording somewhere.  The photograph is in the possession of my former editor.


-----


So... is the Grove Park Inn haunted?  More to the point: are there such things as ghosts?


I'm inclined to say that there is something at the Grove Park Inn.  And that's just based on the testimony of people I interviewed personally, along with the mountain of documented reports over the past century.  It's more than enough to discount any mass delusion going on.


As to what precisely it might be...


I'm skeptical of the existence of ghosts as entities of a spiritual nature.  However, I have held to a theory for quite a long time now, even before that night at the Grove Park Inn.  It is this: that we still don't understand everything about the realm of electromagnetism and quantum physics.  There may be more than two dozen different dimensions to the universe, according to string theory.  But that's just conjecture based on math and bits of evidence from high-energy particle experiments.  That "grand unified theory" remains as elusive as ever.


Maybe what are known as "ghosts", are like a signature on a local environment.  Something analogous to a recording on a VCR (a "video cassette recorder" for millennials and younger who are reading this).  And every so often the recording "plays back" on its own or because of a stimulus.  Or maybe that's too wacky an explanation.  It's the only one I possess to my own satisfaction, however.


-----


And with today being Halloween, and it's been awhile since I've been able to post something on The Knight Shift (lots of stuff has been happening on my end keeping me from much writing at all) I thought it would be good to make up for it.  By sharing a very true story of what happened when I and a group of others spent a night doing what we thought was light-hearted paranormal investigation at one of the most famous - and most haunted - hotels in America.


On my honor, I can attest that the preceding account is a true and accurate one, as best as I can possibly convey.


And that's my ghost story for this Halloween.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Chris addresses the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation and declares war against hate at Elon University... with his FIFTH article for American Thinker!

Hmmm... let's see...

This past week has seen the writing of my second-ever work of short story fiction (while stranded in a motel room along with Tammy the Pup during Hurricane Florence) after trying for decades to crack that art, work begun on a one-act play, finally started plotting a children's book(?!?). And now, it's article #5 written for American Thinker!

Has the Muse roared back from her exile, or what? For awhile I thought she had gone sailing off the cliff in a convertible accompanied by Dignity a'la Thelma and Louise, but anyhoo...

"There's Poisoning the Well, and Then There's Borking the Well" is my take on the Brett Kavanaugh nomination for the United States Supreme Court. However, that's just the peripheral matter of a way bigger issue: that for sake of partisan power there are some - and I'm looking at you in particular, Senator Feinstein - who are enthusiastically willing to trample upon a millennia of legal tradition in abandoning the rule of law. And when that is allowed to transpire, all of us as a people suffer its consequences.

From the article:
The machinations currently deployed against Brett Kavanaugh stem from a heart of darkest cowardice. If his detractors cannot prevail on purely rational and intellectual grounds, then they will do so playing to the basest hysteria and hate. There will be no satisfying their bloodlust until Kavanaugh's haggard, weary face is up on the telescreens, accusing himself of crimes against Big Sister that he never committed. So it is that the yet to be substantiated claims of Ford and Ramirez are now enough, we are told, to override fair and due process. Strangely, this principle never seemed applicable to Juanita Broaddrick, but I digress.
But... that's not all, folks! Because something else gets touched on in my new article and this one is much more personal.

It is this: that in the article I'm calling attention to the fact that Elon University - the college I could once be proud to call myself an alumnus of - is now harboring, employing and celebrating someone who has been taking an active part in the harassment of many innocent people, for no reason other than their holding to political beliefs she does not agree with.

Megan Squire, an Elon computer sciences professor, was revealed earlier this year to be an Antifa activist. She is, for all intents and purposes, an enabler of domestic terrorism.

Yeah, I said it. I went there. And from where I'm sitting it's plenty enough cause for myself and other alumni to withhold our contributions to Elon.

Again from the article:
The ol' alma mater already lost my contributions earlier this year – a consequence of Wired revealing that one of Elon's computer professors is Antifa activist who has been compiling a massive database of anyone she deems Lebensunwertes Leben.  That means "Republicans," "conservatives," "Alt-Right," "white supremacists," and pretty much everyone listing starboard of Friedrich Engels.

Megan Squire is not only still employed at Elon, but applauded.  Last week Squire delivered a "Distinguished Scholar Lecture" about her work supplying the Southern Poverty Law Center with information about their common enemies.  This is the same Southern Poverty Law Center whose "hate list" has been used to target innocent people for assassination.  Curiously, Squire's work is totally absent any analogues from the left of the political spectrum.  A "scholarly oversight," no doubt.

Once upon a time, Elon University was a place that encouraged freedom of ideas and vigorous debate. But as ideological homogeneity has prevailed upon "the most beautiful campus in America," that time is now past. The school that welcomed Margaret Thatcher to dedicate its student center in 1995 would probably have the Iron Lady arrested for trespassing were she still with us.

In good conscience, I can no longer contribute to a school that has embraced intellectual intolerance and has abandoned reason for capricious "feelings." Neither can I endorse my college when it continues to have among its staff a gleeful provider of resources for domestic terrorism. But still, I held out hope that sanity there might yet prevail.
As ever, in conveying my thoughts for publication I do my best to steer away from partisan labels and identity politics. As I told a colleague today: "I deal in ideas, not ideologies."

But regardless of where you're coming from on the political spectrum, I like to believe that very, very few of us are comfortable with the knowledge that anyone is being targetted for harassment, intimidation and much worse because of their opinions.


Does Megan Squire believe herself justified in painting her enemies in such broad strokes?  Is she a fitting representative of the Elon University community in doing so?

Regardless of whether she does, well... I've no other way to put this. At times I have encountered truly hate-filled people. Like neo-Nazis (got shot at by a gang of them) and the Westboro Baptist Church (had to spent several hours with them one hot summer night in a small television studio).

From where I'm sitting, there is not a shred of difference between the "God Hates Fags" idiots and Megan Squire. One just happens to have a computer science education and a better web page.  And also potentially has had her work lead to the injury of others if not worse.

When the objective is hatred, the semantics matter none. And there can be no excuse or justifying that hatred.


So, President Connie Ledoux Book and the trustees of Elon University: in keeping with the school's expressed beliefs in diversity of ideas and backgrounds and that the school should be a safe environment... when are you going to dismiss Dr. Megan Squire from the computer sciences department?

Because having a hate-filled extremist in your faculty, and one so enthusiastically applying her work toward damaging and destroying the lives of others, is the kind of thing that - not to put too fine a point on it - might dry up the alumni contributions. It sure has mine. Having seen some of Dr. Squire's Twitter account, I cannot understand how anyone's life can contain so much anger and hatred. Much less that of a Ph.D.

As far as Squire's work from a purely academic perspective is concerned: she may be brilliant at Python databases but the bias factor of the data itself is so irredeemably out of whack that it's utterly useless beyond a political agenda. Raw data is supposed to be neutral, impartial, agnostic... and Squire's methodology is a betrayal of all of that and more. In short: she is not a serious scholar. That alone would merit reconsidering her status as a member of the faculty.

Having such a malicious person intent upon causing grief to others certainly does not reflect well at all on whatever vestige of Christian values remain from the college's founding under the oaks in 1889.

Which is more important: the reputation and integrity of an institution that many of us still hold dear in our hearts and memories? Or protecting an enabler of domestic terrorism out of some passing fad of "resistance"?

So... "Long live Elon"?

What is it going to be?

Saturday, September 22, 2018

The News & Record has banned me from leaving comments

Okay, to be fair, there has not been any formal notification of exile.  But having attempted to make comments with five different browsers and automatically being directed to a Facebook "blue screen of banishment" with each one, it's safe to say at this point that I am now persona non grata from adding to reader commentary on the News & Record website.  It was discovered two days ago and no correspondence has been returned from their staff about it so, looks like I've been dispatched to the hinterlands... or at least those where Greensboro, North Carolina's "newspaper of record" is concerned.

As for why the banning has taken place: if it was in violation of terms of service, I can't find a single example.  And I went back through the past few months, from around late spring when I began leaving comments on their published letters, editorials, and some published articles.  Not once was I rude or condescending or suggesting that any other commentator was being an idiot or imbecilic.  I strived for both respect and also intelligent conversation to move discussion forward, instead of promoting one ideology or another.  The image at the right is a screengrab of a typical exchange, involving a former News & Record editor and myself.  If anyone spots any inconformity with the rules of polite society, I would appreciate understanding how.

More likely though, it is nothing more or less than the News & Record editorial staff exercising censorship against those expressing opinion contrary to a leftist bias that grows more apparent with each passing day.  And other commenters have suggested much the same.  In the words of one:
"They also check our FB pages out. I like your thoughtful comments on N&R. I have been attacked by a few on the left but I try not to be snarky. They love to censor anyone who might be right leaning."
I have to concur. It also goes a long way in explaining why there seems to be a 10 to 1 ratio of anti-Trump letters published compared to any conveying anything positive about the man. Given that the vast majority of the News & Record's eleven-county coverage area went solid red for Donald Trump in the 2016 election, the remarkable proportion of letters condemning the man (often on the most ridiculous of grounds) is suspect.

As for what I plan to do so far as the News & Record - the newspaper that I began my writing career with by way of all those letters and occasional op-ed piece and religious articles of mine that they began publishing just before my senior year of high school began - is concerned, there is no doubt at all.  I will do nothing apart from this blog post.  I'm not even in the Greensboro area anymore, but just "peeking in" every so often to see how transpires events there.

Mostly however, it's because the News & Record as a newspaper is dying.  It's been bleeding away readers in recent years like a sliced-open artery.  Advertisers are fleeing, and the Sunday classified ads are no longer the small volumes of separate section.  A few years ago the page width of the newspaper editions was slashed drastically.  Staff has been let go.  There is talk of shuttering the once-imposing News & Record headquarters in downtown Greensboro.

None of these are indicators of a healthy and vibrant newspaper enterprise.  Not even charging money after ten free articles a month on their website is going to prop up this failing business.  Maybe outside (read as: "foreign", parse that as one may) interests might subsidize the News & Record, but the days of being supported by its own community are numbered.

This is what happens when a daily news publication pitches itself as "the journal of record" for an area - an assumption that demands total dedication to impartiality - and instead becomes a propaganda broadsheet.  In the case of the News & Record it has turned into a progressive outlet to the far left of old-school Pravda.  It is, not to put too fine a point on it, NOT an unbiased and impartial news outlet.  It can no longer be trusted and if it ever could, those days are fast receding in the rear-view mirror.

(Incidentally, when I was traveling on a meandering journey across America recently, I visited the offices of many small-town newspapers and not a one of them wasn't thriving.  Why were they so strong?  Because they committed themselves to news, and with keeping themselves above any social or political agenda.  But political agenda is all that the News & Record is motivated by now, apparently.  Being snide and condescending and sophomoric and insulting the readers only goes so far before there is blowback.)

So, why should I be upset that I've been banned from making comments on the website of such a newspaper?  The News & Record is going to be dead in a few years anyway.  All that will remain are microfiche and piled-up copies in the dusty storerooms of the Greensboro Public Library and at UNC-Greensboro.  And an empty edifice in the downtown of one of the largest cities in North Carolina.  Grim, mute relics of a newspaper that was once acclaimed, respectable, and trusted.

That, and lots of unemployed reporters and editors and managers.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Equal Justice: The Legend of Herkenbald

Law, we are told even in fifth grade, is something that applies to all without respect to wealth or status.  And then a few years later the same notion gets drilled into our mushy skulls during civics class as high school freshmen.  It's a noble ideal, and we like to think that the world follows America's example as a model of how under the rule of law, there are none deemed greater than others.  Rich or poor, celebrity or obscure, politically affluent or peanut gallery... it doesn't matter.  Here we are all equally accounted and equally accountable.

And it is all a damnable fantasy and we all know it.  Even if we don't talk about it.

I suppose the current situation with Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is in my mind tonight.  As of this writing some former classmate during the early Eighties is alleging that Kavanaugh did something, or other, whatever.  She's due to testify before the Senate next week.  It's already grounds enough, however dubious, to have a number of elected officials and many commentators in the media demanding that Kavanaugh withdraw himself as a nominee.

Huh.  Funny.  I remember many of these same people insisting in 1998 that President Bill Clinton's sexcapades were inconsequential.  That his "character didn't matter".  That it was all "sex lies" whatever that is supposed to be.  If it didn't affect his performance as President of the United States then it shouldn't be on the radar.

These same people went down to the mat tooth and claw to fight for Bill Clinton.  Now they demand that Brett Kavanaugh be stricken from consideration for the Supreme Court.  All on the word of an individual whose integrity has been questioned by her peers and students, and is now found to be an anti-Trump activist at least at some point recently.

Maybe it's just me, but a semen-stained dress is a lot more incriminating than high school gossip from thirty-five years ago.  That a heap of Kavanaugh's former fellow adolescents are now vouching has been made out of whole cloth circa September 2018.

Don't even get me started on the obscene double-standard in regard to the allegations of foreign interfence on Trump's behalf in the last election and the uranium sale that we know happened with the blessing of Hillary Clinton.  One is fast becoming an unsubstantiated scandal that has lost all meaning for most Americans.  The other supplied nuclear material to those who would do harm to this country.

But, none of those particulars are really germane to this post.  I'm discussing the greater tragedy across our system of justice.  Namely, that justice is not impartial.  It plays favorites.  It has become a commodity for sale to those with pull.  And it's not supposed to be this way.

Which brings us to the legend of Herkenbald.

It was something introduced to me when I was in Belgium many years ago.  And ever since I've thought that it's a tale well worth telling to students here.  It should especially be shared in law schools, and in police academies, and with anyone who takes it upon himself or herself to become involved in the judicial process at any level.  It is, in my mind, the perfect parable of incorruptible justice.

So, what is the legend?

Herkenbald is said to have lived around 1020.  That is when he was a judge serving the people of Brussels, anyway.  And he was renowned far and wide for the wisdom of his decisions.  He was also famous... or infamous... for how serious he took his duties.  Everyone, no matter their station, was beneath the same shadow of immutable law.

And then came the day when Herkenbald, after many years of faithful service to his people, was very old and taken with grave illness.  He was moved to a bed in the hospital, to wait for the end.  And yet, he insisted that he be allowed to carry out the task appointed him long before.

Toward the end, Herkenbald heard a commotion outside of his room.  With hesitance, the great magistrate was told that his own nephew had taken a maiden against her will and committed rape.  Herkenbald commanded his subordinates to bring his nephew to his bedside.

However, the subordinates disobeyed, and took measures to hide the nephew.  And for whatever dumb reason, five days later the nephew came to the hospital on his own and entered Herkenbald's room.

Herkenbald was friendly and kind to his nephew.  He was very glad to see the young man, here at the end of his own days.  He bid his nephew to come and sit beside him.

And that's when Herkenbald grabbed the youth, held him with all his remaining strength as he pulled out a concealed dagger, and slit his own nephew's throat wide open.

His nephew's body collapsed to the floor.  The act discovered even as Herkenbald's breathing grew shallow, the bishop was summoned to hear his confession and to deliver last rites.  But Herkenbald refused to confess to the murder of his nephew.  It was not murder at all, the judge told the bishop.  It was the administration of justice.  His nephew had raped a woman and thus forfeited his life.  The law was without question in the matter.  A crime had been committed and punishment must be meted out.  And that is what Herkenbald had done.

Outraged, the bishop refused the final sacraments to Herkenbald.  The legend says that just as the bishop was storming out of the room, Herkenbald called out to him.  Then Herkenbald blew the high clergyman a holy raspberry: upon his tongue was the sacramental Host.  He had been given communion by the highest of all judges.  And then, his tasks fulfilled and a proverbial "up yours!" to the Bishop of Brussels, Herkenbald died.

Now if that's not a hardcore myth to convey to apprentice practitioners of the law and to veteran judges and constables alike, then by all rights it should be.  The legend of Herkenbald is the perfect morality tale about the law.  It is an admonition to judges and to politicians and to all who would hold sacred the rule of law in a society.  It is a reminder that though man and his schemes are inescapably fallen, there is an incorruptibility that must be striven toward without favor.

That photo is a depiction of Herkenbald slaying his nephew.  The statue itself decorates one of the churches in Brussels.

Maybe there needs to be a sculpture of Herkenbald in the United States Capitol Building.  Perhaps in the Rotunda, where every member of the House and Senate might see it.  And in the United States Supreme Court Building.  And in every courthouse in America.  And in law school textbooks.

After all, Lady Justice carries a blade.  Herkenbald actually used his.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Catholicism in Crisis: Thoughts from an outsider

The Roman Catholic Church as we know it will no longer exist... and sooner than later.

Bookmark this post, because it is something I would wager serious money on.

Four people I have long known, good Catholics each, have left the Church in the past two months.  One walked out and left after the minister delivered a homily that literally begged parishioners to ignore the massive scandal involving homosexual abuse on the part of Church clergy.  And it's only going to get worse.

Consider this: Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano - one of the most respected Catholic officials in the world - is now for all intents and purposes a fugitive in hiding from his own Church.  Ever since blowing the lid off of the abuses and now stating that Pope Francis was actively involved in covering up the behavior when he was still Cardinal Bergoglio in Argentina, Vigano has been a hunted man.  Sought after by those in allegiance to Pope Francis.

I defy anyone to tell me that there is something right with that picture.

Meanwhile Donald Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington (shown in photo with Pope Francis) has tendered his resignation and many are speculating he's going to flee prosecution in the United States by taking refuge in the Vatican and fighting extradition.

The Pennsylvania grand jury report on molestation by priests going back decades is... well, damning. Decide for yourself if that's a double or even triple entendre.

And still Pope Francis is clamming up.  He has, in the parlance of The Godfather, "gone to the mattresses".  Along with most of the rest of the Church higher-ups.

The demands by Catholic laity and clergy alike for Francis to step aside is growing almost geometrically.

None of this bodes well for a faith that is the last enduring institution from the time of the original Roman Empire.  Indeed, what we are witnessing before us, unfolding in real time, is the worst crisis to hit the Catholic Church since that morning Martin Luther woke up feeling pokey and took a hammer to the Wittenberg church door.

As a historian, I find this fascinating.  As one who is not Catholic, I find this tragic on too many levels than can be readily counted.

So, it's like this: Pope Francis must resign.  There must be an unprecedented audit of as many of the abuses charges as possible.  The Church must vigorously turn over all evidence of abusive clergy to the proper authorities for legal prosecution.  This has to be done worldwide.  Not even Francis himself should be allowed to be exempt.  There must be drastic reform of the priesthood including... yes... ending the prohibition against marriage.

Roman Catholicism can either take unprecedented aggressive steps toward addressing its problems and in doing so continue to endure.  Or it can remain on the course that its present leadership has determined it will maintain.  In doing so it will drive itself into self-destruction and Catholicism will become no greater a presence in this world than the Shakers and the Huguenots are.  At present there are two remaining Shakers.  I doubt that Catholicism will shrink that small... but neither will there be converts rushing to the baptismal font.

Just some thoughts from one who is not a Catholic, yet enjoys deep friendship with many Catholics.  And not a few of them have shared very similar concerns and asked that they might be conveyed.

Monday, September 03, 2018

New article at American Thinker: "The Pursuit of Happiness in the Trump Economy" PLUS: Photos of my knife-making father!

To those of you arriving at my blog today from American Thinker, greetings!  And I have something to show y'all a bit further down.

Yup, my fourth article (so far) for American Thinker is published today.  "The Pursuit of Happiness in the Trump Economy" is some musing about how the biggest payoff from the decreased taxes and rebounding manufacturing is that more Americans are already enjoying more money and just as important more time for leisure activities.  Which can mean their families or their hobbies... or activities toward improving their circumstances.  And that is where the true progress of our culture comes from in great part.

And if you've read it already, you know how much I share about my late father, Robert Knight.  And how he found his true calling as a knifemaker.  Since he's written about so much in the piece, I thought it would be neat to share some photos of him and his handiwork...

Dad in his shop.
Smoking his pipe and contemplating
his next project



The knives Dad made from railroad spikes were his favorite to make.  Also the ones of his most in demand.  He also made knives from horseshoes and industrial ball bearings.  If it was metal, he found a way to make it malleable and given a good sharp edge. And made to look pretty darn elegant, too.


Friday, August 24, 2018

Achivement Unlocked: Fiction Writer!

The biggest regret I've had as a writer, for all of this time, is that I've never been able to compose real narrative fiction.  Screenplays for film projects?  Those have been no problem to sit down and churn out.  But for something even so rudimentary as a short story?

That has eluded me.  It has been sealed away behind a concrete wall and I've been pounding away at it for decades, trying to grasp that arrow to place in my quiver.  And the wall wasn't yielding a centimeter.

Why wasn't it possible?  Nonfiction has never been an issue.  I've always been in my element in regard to exploring ideas and articulating musings upon them.  Fiction however...

I've some thoughts about why that has been.  And it correlates with the bipolar disorder I've had since at least 2000, and with some other matters that only in recent months have come to light.

So maybe that I was able to write my first ever short story two weeks ago is not just a threshold moment in my life, it is a benchmark for an even greater progress.  For how far I have come in the two years since I packed up the car and headed out into America with my dog.  But especially for the better part of this past year.  And there have been some remarkable people who have helped me along, to get to this place I hadn't thought possible.  And I'm hoping sooner than later that can be a tale to be shared.

A few friends have read the first short story.  Two of them said that the ending of it brought them to tears.  Some have suggested that I've been writing fiction all along and had never told anyone.  As if!

In the past few weeks I've begun writing a second short story.  And a one-act play.  And have had ideas for other works of fiction.  No, not a novel.  Not yet.  Let's take small steps toward the bigger stuff.  But they are coming.  And then I'll have to figure out what to do with them.  The play is something that would be neat to see produced on stage.  The notion of making a short film of it has crossed my mind but this... seems more suited for a live performance.  Or maybe I'll make the film after its stage debut.

So anyhoo, that is why I've been a bit slack in blogging lately.  The wall has been toppled and the arrow seized, and I've been spending time getting a feel for it.  Like a fledgling taking first flight.  And time will tell how far I can fly with this.  I'm praying that it might be very far, indeed.

Incidentally, for those wondering: neither the finished story nor the pieces in the works are in the genres of science-fiction or fantasy.  So far these are entirely within the scope of our real world.  And I don't know if I ever will try science-fiction.  Good sci-fi is a tough genre to write.  And the ones I would most be inspired by are the masters like Robert A. Heinlein and Philip Jose Farmer.  Writers who used their work to delve into ideas, and not project ideology.  Too much of the science-fiction in recent decades has been driven by agendas... and that's not my style.  But to use science-fiction as a vehicle for conveying ideas and concepts of the human condition?  That would be not just another arrow, but a silver one.

So if there are periods during which I seem absent or negligent about The Knight Shift: take heart!  I am merely exploring a new area of my abilities, and I'm looking forward to sharing those also in the fullness of time.

Until then, I will share one piece of new fiction with all two of my faithful readers!  And yes it is a work of fantasy and not only that but it's a Star Wars short story!  I doubt that Lucasfilm will be adding it to the official body of lore however.  But do consider this to be my small and humble attempt to bridge the gap between the Expanded Universe fans and the adherents of the new canon.  Because as the song says, "Why can't we be friends?"

Here it is.  A teaser of what's to come.  Or perhaps a grim harbinger.  Click to embiggen and enjoy(?)...


Thursday, August 09, 2018

Lesser-known executive orders of President Trump

As everyone knows, Donald Trump wasted no time in getting to work signing executive orders once he was seated in the Oval Office.  And we all saw the pics of him putting them into effect.  However most aren't aware of a few of the orders he issued after his inauguration.

Fortunately, you're in luck!  Because though I had completely forgotten about these until last night, I was in San Diego when Trump took office and was making sure to thoroughly document the early days of his administration.  So here, for what may be the first time for many Americans, are some of the other EOs that President Trump immediately moved upon...

The "No Celluloid Left Behind" Act:



Bringing whole new meaning to "pork barrel politics":



Just putting into law something we already knew:



Even President Trump's WORST opponents must surely be applauding his wisdom on this one:



He got this one through.  Unfortunately the Senate didn't confirm Dr. Demento as United Nations ambassador:



"We're making reboots, and they're gonna be yuuuuge, and they're gonna be beautiful."



"Hail to the king, baby."



It was a great job, until I was expelled from the country 48 hours later...



AND LAST BUT CERTAINLY NOT LEAST...





Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Do Not Pass Go: An evening with the world's oldest board game

One movie that has particularly stuck with me has been Pi.  Darren Aronofsky's first film hit theaters twenty years ago this summer and fast became a sensation.  Especially among mathematicians, who for the first time had a taut psychological thriller of their very own!

A quick and dirty synopsis of Pi: Max is a math prodigy since childhood and has become obsessed with finding an ordered pattern within the stock market.  What he comes across is far bigger and has him targeted by everyone from corrupt corporate agents to Hassidic Jews (just watch it, it does make sense).  Anyhoo, there are a few scenes where Max goes to visit his old mentor Sol.  And those are some of the best-written and finest played scenes of the entire film (YouTube clip with some spoilers).  But one thing had bugged me since the first time I saw Pi...

"What the heck is that game they keep playing?"

Okay, I knew it was called "go" because that's what Max and Sol referred to it as.  And it held great fascination with Sol, especially when he spoke of it as being "a microcosm of the universe".  Obviously something deeper going on here than simply putting what looked like Mentos and Peppermint Patty candy across an empty wooden Mercator projection.  And when I rewatched Pi again recently, once again I found myself wondering what go is.

So as with most things new to me, I yielded to curiosity and looked further.

Turns out, go is old.  Like, really old.  It was first played in China around 500 B.C.  And it is the oldest continuously played board game in known history, or at least played with the consistently same rules.  Backgammon can still claim to be the oldest board game.  The problem is, what we today know as "backgammon" comes down from earlier games that we still don't know very much about their rules.  The sets exist, including those "of ancient Mesopotamia" with dice made of bone that Locke told Walt about in the very first episode of Lost.  But in all likelihood the favorite pastime of the Oceanic 815 survivors bears little resemblance to whatever those archaeologists pulled out of the ground.

And besides, backgammon has just a few checkers to move around the board.  Making the game be go might have presented logistical problems and inhibited the story flow a tad.  I'm gonna assume that Locke, aficionado of games that he is, is familiar with go.


The game has had many names over the centuries, and it has regional monickers in China and South Korea (and hopefully North Korea also) but for most of the modern world it's called "go".  And interestingly the Japanese word for it is "atari", which is also a term used during a game (we'll get to that soon).  And when Nolan Bushnell was coming up with a name for his new video game company, he thought that "Atari" fit well with his guiding vision.

Bizarrely however, there was never a go game for the Atari 2600.  We got that horrid-sounding Pac-Man port and turkeys like Custer's Revenge and Porky's... but a cartridge for the company's namesake?  It never happened.


But let's not digress.

Anyway, after a few weeks of playing around with a go app on my iPad Pro and looking at resources on the Intertubes about the game, I decided it was time to plunge in headlong and experience go for myself.  To have a go at go.  So last night I went out to go.  And when I came back I had gone and went back from go.

Wait... what were those Korean names for this again?

The website for the American Go Association has a massive list of local go clubs.  I found one near my present location and showed up at their weekly gaming session.  Go, I was told, is still not a terribly big game in the United States and much of the western world, but it has been steadily growing in popularity over the past few decades.  Movies like Pi are probably a reason (just as Dungeons & Dragons has been resurging with a vengeance since Stranger Things debuted a couple years ago).  There were three regulars who arrived around 6 in the evening in the side room of a nearby restaurant, and since go is a two-player game all four of us could be playing.

So, about go.  Very simple game.  The board is a grid of lines.  A full-size standard game is a 19 by 19 grid but those who are beginnners or just want a short game can play with a 9 by 9 board.  There are two sets of playing pieces, called stones.  One set is white, the other is black.  Each player takes a color and beginning with black, proceeds to place stones at the intersections on the grid.  The stones don't move as the pieces in chess or checkers can.  They just stay on the board.  Unless they are removed.  Because the object of go is to possess the most territory at the end of the game.  "Territory" being measured by the exposed intersections around the stones.  Each stone on its own has four of these intersections, called "liberties".  And if a stone gets surrounded on all four of its liberties by the opposing player, that stone is taken off the board and figured into the final score.  It's not about seizing the other player's stones however.  That's just one part of the greater scheme to get territory.

It all boils down to one color of stones getting more coverage on the board than the other.  And it's a ridiculously simple conceit.  But as I am coming to discover through both talking about the game with others and my own meager experience thus far, go is much, much deeper than a mere board game.  The ancient Chinese considered it an essential element of philosophical training for all true gentlemen.  Confucius wrote much about go.  It is a game, a practice of logic, an exercise in intuition, an introspection of one's being... all of these and more, all at once.

Go is a game steeeped in ancient tradition.  It is something that many approach with the trappings of ritual.  Go is a game of legend and go games have become legend themselves.  A particularly infamous match in the 1800s ended with a player keeling over bleeding on the board before dying.  Other games have gone on for months, even years.  And then there is what has come to be hailed as "the Atomic Bomb Go Game": a championship match that was well underway in Hiroshima on the morning of August 6, 1945.  "Little Boy" detonated a few miles away, the blast blew out the windows of the house and knocked one of the players off his feet, and the board had to be reset to where the stones were at the moment of the explosion.  All present did these things after going outside the house to see what happened.   They beheld the first mushroom cloud in the history of warfare, then went back inside to continue the game.  They took a break for lunch and later that afternoon the game was finished.

I dont know how else to put it: that is total bad-ass.  I dare anybody tell me that go isn't absolutely hardcore.  Now THAT is a game I wanna be hunkered down with come the apocalypse!


Well, let's get to my first game of go, last night...

You know how when you're like seven or eight years old, and when Thanksgiving dinner comes all the adults sit at the real table while you and your sister Sally and cousin Oliver and the rest of the kids were around that card table in the corner?  Well, that's how it was sorta like for me yesterday evening.  Starting out on the 9 by 9 board.  But it's all well and good, because I had a great instructor in Brendan, who described the game and how to play it far better than I can for now.


One cool thing about go is that there is a handicapping gimmick that lets everybody play against everybody else regardless of individual skill level.  So even if you're a greenhorn like me, you don't have to get into a flopsweat as if you were playing chess against Kasparov.

Brendan has been playing for a few years now.  Mike, another player who came last night, has been into go for over thirty years.  Leo, the fourth to arrive, has been playing for a decade or so.  And if you want to see what go looks like with two seasoned veterans full-bore into a game...


Something that struck me about this game: it's sense of being an organic experience.  Look at that board, in the game between Mike and Leo.  It starts off empty, but the "feel" of moment, of the session, of the stones and of whatever fancy goes across their minds... what starts as an empty board becomes like a living, breathing organism.  And it merits considering that the total number of possible games of go are more than there are subatomic particles in the observable universe!  I already knew that was the same for chess.  Well, the number of possible go games is exponentially larger than that.

Think about it.  I dare ya.  Think about that until you go crazy.  No wonder there was never an Atari cartridge for this game.  Because even today computers find it exceptionally difficult to replicate the go experience.  They can only somewhat approximate it.  To really "get" go, you have to play it against another human, either in person or via the Internet.

Anyway, Brendan became the first person I ever played an actual game of go with, and he was just as I hoped he would be: merciless and unforgiving at least so far as the rule about "a stone laid is a stone played" goes.  Because the best way to learn to play the game, is to PLAY the game just as its meant to be played!  Okay, he encouraged me to take a mulligan in the first of the two games we played, but that was to illustrate something I hadn't seen yet.  Otherwise, a lot of my stones wound up "in atari": the condition of being surrounded on three sides by the opponent and just one stone away from capture.  I missed seeing a lot of stuff on the board that should have been screamingly obvious.  Brendan told me he was much the same when he began.  That a person gets better at this as he or she plays go more and more.


Speaking of "atari", sometimes there's a weird event that happens when the players could be locked into an eternal see-saw of capturing each other.  That's called "ko" and it can lead to a "ko battle" (or as Mike put it, "a gentlemanly hockey fight").  Fortunately there's a rule for that, and if the players get trapped into that situation one has to make a move that's beyond the ko, and that could prove advantageous.  Again, go is a game of both logic and intuition.  With a heavy emphasis on the latter.


Well, by the time I departed for the evening Brendan and I had played two games of go.  The score of my very first game ever had me losing 44 to 4.  The second game though went a bit better.  I still got clobbered 33 to 7... but at least I did capture one stone that night!


And this is how Leo and Mike's board looked like at the end of their game:


Go games don't have a "definite" ending.  They go on until one player resigns, or each player takes a passing turn, or I suppose until they just plain run out of stones.  Or maybe they could add a new rule like they do with Monopoly and how the bank doesn't actually run out of money, you just get to use slips of paper or whatever else is on hand.  And that is likely the only contribution I'll ever make to a grand game deep in millennia of lore and virtue.

And that was my first time playing go.  And I've no doubt that I am just beginning.  This is a game that has serious appeal to me.  I'm looking forward to playing again, and trying to improve.  Something that nobody ever fully masters, I was told.  It's like golf: you can never completely comprehend this game, you can only keep getting better.

Much like how life is supposed to be, aye?

So if you want to have a go at go (no more puns, I promise!) one particularly good resource I've visited often is the American Go Association website.  There is a rather whimsical little tutorial at TigersMouth.org that will teach you the game better than I ever could.  The American Go Association site has links to merchants that sell go equipment: boards, bowls, stones (which can be made of plastic, glass, clamshell, pretty much most materials but probably not Play-Doh or chicken soup).  You may be able to find inexpensive go sets at your friendly local game store or book seller.  I've seen then priced anywhere from about thirty bucks on up to thousands of dollars... and that's just for the board itself.

But yeah, I'm probably going to play more of this.  Go seems to have a really good community around it, and quite a diverse player base.  And I can't help but think that in time, though it may be decades from now, it's going to become as popular among Americans as is already chess, checkers, and Cards Against Humanity!