Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Manson Family Story Via Tex Watson Exists - I Need a Copy of These Tapes

Tex Watson, 1970 Mug

I’d love to get my hands on these tapes.
A federal judge in Texas has ruled that tapes of conversations between a lawyer and Tex Watson, one of the key members of the Manson Family, will be released to the Los Angeles Police Department.  See original letter from LAPD seeking the tapes here. The LAPD hopes that some of the info in those tapes would help solve some cold cases. 
Watson, now 65, was arrested November 1969 in Collin County, Texas, a then-rural area 30 miles north of Dallas. Watson fled LA after the Manson Family murdered a batch of partiers at the mansion owned by filmmaker Roman Polanski and his wife, actress Sharon Tate, then killed Leno and Rosemary LaBianca at their home the next night.
After his arrest and before extradition, Watson’s family hired Bill Boyd, a defense attorney from McKinney.  Watson fought extradition, with the help of Boyd, but lost that battle and was returned to California in September 1970. During his time at the Collin County jail, some of the talks between Boyd and Watson were taped. Watson’s current lawyer, Kendrick Jan, claims that Watson never waived his right to attorney-client privilege, while the Boyd camp contends he did.  I have no idea why Watson would do that and I’m inclined to believe his current lawyer.
Boyd sold the tapes for $49,000 at some point. Sure would like to find out who paid that dough. What happened to the tapes in that original sale?
Watson was convicted of first-degree murder in 1971. He wrote a book, Will You Die For Me?, which was published in 1978. I call it suggested reading. 
I met Boyd on several occasions when I worked my first job as a reporter at the McKinney Courier-Gazette, which was then a pretty aggressive newspaper. He was well known in McKinney, which was at the time a farm town of 30,000. It’s now a traffic-clogged exhurb of over 130,000. Boyd died in 2009.
Of course I couldn’t stop when I found out that the decision to give the tapes to LAPD was made by a bankruptcy judge as part of a filing by Boyd’s firm, Boyd-Veigel. I looked up the filing to see if anyone connected to the Manson case was a creditor. No dice – the firm had racked up over $8 million in debt, but no Manson connection. 

Monday, May 28, 2012

Open Records Questing is Punk Rock

This hits us where we live: A British journalist compares data journalism to punk rock.
From the story in The Guardian:
Arguably punk was most important in its influence, encouraging kids in the suburbs to take up instruments, with little or no musical training. It represented a DIY ethos and a shake-up of the old established order. It was a change.
Crucial to it was the idea: anyone can do it.Is the same true of data journalism? Do you need to be part of a major news operation, working for a big media company to be a data journalist?
I have to disagree – the stakes are much higher and lives can be ruined with an errant article. Not so with an errant chord (which can only help).
Given that, on Saturday, June 2, I’m going to be in Lansing, Mich., conducting a training session that gives attendees the tools to file their own public information requests, as well as showing them some places to find out how public money is being spent and on what.
Here are the details and the itinerary for the day.
Some might note that the event, which also involves the conservative Americans for Prosperity group, is heavily tilted toward a Tea Party-styled right wing.
That’s not a group photo that I’ll be sitting for, ever. In fact, I appear to be the only non-conservative on the day’s agenda, which is fine.  Accessing the public’s information is a non-partisan game, it’s left-wing, right-wing, no-wing.
It’s your money and when tuition rates go up, check the salaries, the bonuses and the raises at the college that’s raising them.
While I’m not a fan of higher education, everyone who wants in should be allowed, and at a reasonable rate.
If you wonder why your local police force is being reduced, why not check out the pension debt that’s hampering the city’s finances? Better yet, why not check the overtime being wrung up by officers doing off-duty work, which counts toward their pension? 
These are things that anyone can do.
I’m doing this presentation in Michigan because it has received some of the worst ratings in terms of transparency over the years, most recently being handed an ‘F’ in a recent study by the Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity and Public Radio International.
This didn’t happen overnight; Michigan has been ranked at the bottom since at least 2006 for financial transparency among its political leaders.
The failure is not just at a state level and it extends into a simple attitude of resistance. Reasons? One would be a media that has historically failed to lobby for changes to the state’s lax disclosure and public records laws.  I don’t mean recently, I mean going back a couple of decades.  Another is the people that are elected have no interest in being transparency and have no reason to be; constituents and political activist groups aren’t saying a word because transparency doesn’t satisfy a political goal in general. Both Ds and Rs have to cough up the goods. That could make a Republican look bad. Or a Democrat.
Then there’s the money issue. In Michigan, if you file an open records request, the government body can use its publicly funded lawyers to find a flaw in the request, real or imagined, and refuse to give you the records. The public’s only recourse is to take them to court, which costs money. Or the body can charge you an unrealistic sum, as former state Attorney General Mike Cox did to state Dem leader Mark Brewer a couple years ago. Again, the only remedy is the courtroom.
Newspapers have a whole different problem. When you are paying your corporate board of directors salaries ranging from $117,000 to $254,000 a year, as Gannett did in 2010, you are taking away both reporter jobs and money that could be used to pressure government through open records efforts. 
This creates a sad landscape, one where bloggers with an agenda use “facts” they have gleaned to satisfy their own agenda in an attempt to get their pals elected or nominated to some political post.
Journalists, ethical ones, state the facts and step away, ideally informing a constituency the next time an election comes around. We don’t do it to satisfy some personal view.
A Tea Partier, for example, who runs around preaching about reform and castigating another political party or person, has no credibility even if their search of public records actually turns up something. To be effective means eschewing any party line.
I’ll be talking about transparency in Michigan on Charlie Langton’s radio show on 1270 WXYT in Detroit tomorrow, Tuesday, May 29, at 7 a.m., and with Tony Conley on 1320 WILS in Lansing on Wednesday at 7:50 a.m.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Anthony Sowell Case Profiled for Discovery True Crime Show

Anthony Sowell online profile shot

This weekend I’m heading to Vancouver to tape some work for an episode of The Devil You Know, a Discovery true crime series. The episode I’m working on as both on-air and consultant is for Anthony Sowell, the subject of my next true crime book for Penguin.
The episode focuses on Lori Frazier, who was Sowell’s girlfriend during a time in 2006-2009 he was killing women in his Cleveland ghetto neighborhood and stashing the bodies around his house.  Frazier is a former crackhead and is the niece of Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, which creates some kind of class confusion.
A lot of these production houses – the one in this Make Believe Media– are looking to true crime books to adapt. I was alerted to one posting the other day that seemed a little too blatant – It read: “True Crime Authors: If you're interested in having your book profiled on Season 2 of Deadly Sins (Discovery ID) please email me at (name omitted) and I'll send you the criteria for cases we're looking to profile. Feel free to share as we need lots of stories for this season and preferably ones that are fresh and new." I’d be wary of anyone who feels compelled to tell me they are looking for “preferably” stories that are fresh and new.  So would the agency entertain stories that aren’t? 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

College is Still Bad For You - But Just In Case

It’s graduation time and I am more sure than ever that college is a huge waste of time for the majority of people. The price tag, the generic groupthink and the dependency that it creates stifles the imagination, curbs creativity and makes it a breeding ground for simple-mindedness.
Not to mention it’s a multi-billion dollar industry that lines the pockets of almost as many one-percenters as the corporate world does.
But there are a couple of things that are glaringly appropriate to tell people once they’ve gone through the machine, two newer and one an old favorite.
The first is a touching video narrated by Henry Rollins. I can feel the collective eye-roll. Just watch it.
He says, “You will encounter people who never have to pay in full. They get to wreck the room and never have to clean it.” That speaks to a lot of people.
The next is a simple essay written by Bret Stephens, a Wall Street Journal columnist who, until now, has never struck me as particularly wise. In fact, I’ve always considered editorial writers as lightweights. It’s easy to tell people what you think. It’s hard to report on something and present all angles. But Stephens does a great job on this.
He says, correctly: “In every generation there's a strong tendency for everyone to think like everyone else. But your generation has an especially bad case, because your mass conformism is masked by the appearance of mass nonconformism.”
You see it everywhere; we’re all different together.
Next is a commencement address by Chick Corea from 1997 to the graduating class at the Berklee College of Music.  I’ve held on to this speech for a long time and pull it out once in a while to draft off it.
Corea: “The rest of the world wants everybody to conform to the beat, to be a nine-to-fiver, to get up and do your job and not get too excited about anything, and just agree with everything that's going on.”
It’s really true. The best way to fight that is to stay away and, as Rollins says in his little video, go after what you want with a monastic obsession. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Old Days are Todays

I’ve never uttered the term ‘back in the day,’ mostly because the past is always at hand and to infer that things were better before is a self-inflicted wound. These better be the best days, otherwise what’s the point?
That said, I sometimes forget how much I remember until asked. This column for Revueis hardly as reflective as it began, but it morphed into an ‘oh yea’ sort of thing. It was a cool idea that came from Rich Tupica, editor of the far superior Mid-Michigan version of Revue. 
I've never quite forgotten the mediocre  Gun Club show at Bunches, with Ward Dotson and Rob Ritter, pre-Congo Powers. Probably because I saw the band put on two of the best shows I've ever seen in my life at Todd's in Detroit in 1984 and 1988.  Two nights after that 1982 Gun Club show, the band had a show scheduled in Ann Arbor. Because it was something to do, I rode down there with Craig, a bandmate of mine in the Fix, and a few girls. On the way down, one of the girls mentioned that she had a wing ding with a couple of the guys in the Gun Club after the EL show.
“Well, you should get in free,” one of the others noted. Yes, I thought, and moochingly added, “can you get us in free, too?” I really didn’t do the heavy lifting in those days.  That’s one I hope to fix on the next go-round.
There was a lot I could have added to that Revue story. Sonic’s Rendezvous Band played two nights in 1979 at the Rainbow Ranch, which was a barn-shaped place across from Coral Gables. It was amazingly loud and rock-ish, hitting that sweet spot between guitar wanking and punk rock. Destroy All Monsters played there as well as many other places, always failing to achieve said sweet spot.
The Dickies played at Dooley’s as did the post-Gang War version of Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers. Walter Lure broke a half-pint of vodka in the urinal before hitting stage and Thunders literally fell down trying to do a rock acrobatic in front of the drum set.
The music that came to Lansing was better than I remembered, taking place mostly at Club Doobee and Bunches. I may have forgotten to mention the Fast at Doobee for good reason. The guys who handled bands there had to be spoon fed most things, often via our loud mouths. Having Dave handle booking at the latter ensured quality. Tav Falcoplayed there, I am recalling randomly just now. It was cool to check back on those memories that shaped a bunch of us and I’ll do it again. But it’s even better to wake up every day with a new set of past and present.