HERE'S MY LATEST BOOK.....
This is a book of short stories taken from the things I saw and heard in my childhood in the factory town of Ansonia in southwestern Connecticut.
Most of these stories, or as true as I recall them because I witnessed these events many years ago through the eyes of child and are retold to you now with the pen and hindsight of an older man. The only exception is the story Beat Time which is based on the disappearance of Beat poet Lew Welch. Decades before I knew who Welch was, I was told that he had made his from California to New Haven, Connecticut, where was an alcoholic living in a mission. The notion fascinated me and I filed it away but never forgot it.
The collected stories are loosely modeled around Joyce’s novel, Dubliners (I also borrowed from the novels character and place names. Ivy Day, my character in “Local Orphan is Hero” is also the name of chapter in Dubliners, etc.) and like Joyce I wanted to write about my people, the people I knew as a child, the working class in small town America and I wanted to give a complete view of them as well. As a result the stories are about the divorced, Gays, black people, the working poor, the middle class, the lost and the found, the contented and the discontented.
Conversely many of the stories in this book are about starting life over again as a result of suicide (The Hanging Party, Small Town Tragedy, Beat Time) or from a near death experience (Anna Bell Lee and the Charge of the Light Brigade, A Brief Summer) and natural occurring death. (The Best Laid Plans, The Winter Years, Balanced and Serene)
With the exception of Jesus Loves Shaqunda, in each story there is a rebirth from the death. (Shaqunda is reported as having died of pneumonia in The Winter Years)
Sal, the desperate and depressed divorcee in Things Change, changes his life in Lunch Hour when asks the waitress for a date and she accepts. (Which we learn in Closing Time, the last story in the book) In The Arranged Time, Thisby is given the option of change and whether she takes it or, we don’t know. The death of Greta’s husband in A Matter of Time has led her to the diner and into the waiting arms of the outgoing and loveable Gabe.
Although the book is based on three sets of time (breakfast, lunch and dinner) and the diner is opened in the early morning and closed at night, time stands still inside the Diner. The hour on the big clock on the wall never changes time and much like my memories of that place, everything remains the same.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John William Tuohy is a writer who lives in Washington DC. He holds an MFA in writing from Lindenwood University. He is the author of numerous non-fiction on the history of organized crime including the ground break biography of bootlegger Roger Tuohy "When Capone's Mob Murdered Touhy" and "Guns and Glamour: A History of Organized Crime in Chicago."
His non-fiction crime short stories have appeared in The New Criminologist, American Mafia and other publications. John won the City of Chicago's Celtic Playfest for his work The Hannigan's of Beverly, and his short story fiction work, Karma Finds Franny Glass, appeared in AdmitTwo Magazine in October of 2008.
His play, Cyberdate.Com, was chosen for a public performance at the Actors Chapel in Manhattan in February of 2007 as part of the groups Reading Series for New York project. In June of 2008, the play won the Virginia Theater of The First Amendment Award for best new play.
GOOD WORDS TO HAVE………………..
Xeric: Characterized by, relating to, or requiring only a small amount of moisture. By the late 1800s, botanists were using the terms xerophyte and xerophytic for plants that were well adapted for survival in dry environments. But some felt the need for a more generic word that included both animals and plants. In 1926 a group proposed using xeric (derived from xēros, the Greek word for "dry") as a more generalized term for either flora or fauna. They further suggested that "xerophytic … be entirely abandoned as useless and misleading." Not everyone liked the idea. In fact, the Ecological Society of America stated that xeric was "not desirable," preferring terms such as arid. Others declared that xeric should refer only to habitats, not to organisms. Scientists used it anyway, and by the 1940s xeric was well documented in scientific literature.
Shakespeare in Modern English?
By JAMES SHAPIRO
THE Oregon Shakespeare Festival has decided that Shakespeare’s language is too difficult for today’s audiences to understand. It recently announced that over the next three years, it will commission 36 playwrights to translate all of Shakespeare’s plays into modern English.
Many in the theater community have known that this day was coming, though it doesn’t lessen the shock. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival has been one of the stars in the Shakespeare firmament since it was founded in 1935. While the festival’s organizers insist that they also remain committed to staging Shakespeare’s works in his own words, they have set a disturbing precedent. Other venues, including the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, the University of Utah and Orlando Shakespeare Theater, have already signed on to produce some of these translations.
However well intended, this experiment is likely to be a waste of money and talent, for it misdiagnoses the reason that Shakespeare’s plays can be hard for playgoers to follow. The problem is not the often knotty language; it’s that even the best directors and actors — British as well as American — too frequently offer up Shakespeare’s plays without themselves having a firm enough grasp of what his words mean.
Claims that Shakespeare’s language is unintelligible go back to his own day. His great rival, Ben Jonson, reportedly complained about “some bombast speeches of ‘Macbeth,’ which are not to be understood.” Jonson failed to see that Macbeth’s dense soliloquies were intentionally difficult; Shakespeare was capturing a feverish mind at work, tracing the turbulent arc of a character’s moral crisis. Even if audiences strain to understand exactly what Macbeth says, they grasp what Macbeth feels — but only if an actor knows what that character’s words mean.
Two years ago I witnessed a different kind of theatrical experiment, in which Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” in the original language, trimmed to 90 minutes, was performed before an audience largely unfamiliar with Shakespeare: inmates at Rikers Island. The performance was part of the Public Theater’s Mobile Shakespeare Unit initiative.
No inmates walked out on the performance, though they were free to do so. They were deeply engrossed, many at the edge of their seats, some crying out at various moments (much as Elizabethan audiences once did) and visibly moved by what they saw.
Did they understand every word? I doubt it. I’m not sure anybody other than Shakespeare, who invented quite a few words, ever has. But the inmates, like any other audience witnessing a good production, didn’t have to follow the play line for line, because the actors, and their director, knew what the words meant; they found in Shakespeare’s language the clues to the personalities of the characters.
I’ve had a chance to look over a prototype translation of “Timon of Athens” that the Oregon Shakespeare Festival has been sharing at workshops and readings for the past five years. While the work of an accomplished playwright, it is a hodgepodge, neither Elizabethan nor contemporary, and makes for dismal reading.
To understand Shakespeare’s characters, actors have long depended on the hints of meaning and shadings of emphasis that he embedded in his verse. They will search for them in vain in the translation: The music and rhythm of iambic pentameter are gone. Gone, too, are the shifts — which allow actors to register subtle changes in intimacy — between “you” and “thee.” Even classical allusions are scrapped.
Shakespeare’s use of resonance and ambiguity, defining features of his language, is also lost in translation. For example, in Shakespeare’s original, when the misanthropic Timon addresses a pair of prostitutes and rails about how money corrupts every aspect of social relations, he urges them to “plague all, / That your activity may defeat and quell / The source of all erection.” A primary meaning of “erection” for Elizabethans was social advancement or promotion; Timon hates social climbers. The wry sexual meaning of “erection,” also present here, was secondary. But the new translation ignores the social resonance, turning the line into a sordid joke: Timon now speaks of “the source of all erections.”
Shakespeare borrowed almost all his plots and wrote for a theater that required only a handful of props, no scenery and no artificial lighting. The only thing Shakespearean about his plays is the language. I’ll never understand why, when you attend a Shakespeare production these days, you find listed in the program a fight director, a dramaturge, a choreographer and lighting, set and scenery designers — but rarely an expert steeped in Shakespeare’s language and culture.
A technology entrepreneur’s foundation is bankrolling the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s new venture. I’d prefer to see it spend its money hiring such experts and enabling those 36 promising American playwrights to devote themselves to writing the next Broadway hit like “Hamilton,” rather than waste their time stripping away what’s Shakespearean about “King Lear” or “Hamlet.”
James Shapiro, a professor of English at Columbia, is the author, most recently, of “The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606.”
Sculpture this and Sculpture that
Mask II' by Mueck (2001-2)
By John Updike
In walks these three girls in nothing but bathing suits. I'm in the third check-out slot, with my back to the door, so I don't see them until they're over by the bread. The one that caught my eye first was the one in the plaid green two-piece. She was a chunky kid, with a good tan and a sweet broad soft-looking can with those two crescents of white just under it, where the sun never seems to hit, at the top of the backs of her legs. I stood there with my hand on a box of HiHo crackers trying to remember if I rang it up or not. I ring it up again and the customer starts giving me hell. She's one of these cash-register-watchers, a witch about fifty with rouge on her cheekbones and no eyebrows, and I knowit made her day to trip me up. She'd been watching cash registers forty years and probably never seen a mistake before.
By the time I got her feathers smoothed and her goodies into a bag -- she gives me alittle snort in passing, if she'd been born at the right time they would have burned her over in Salem -- by the time I get her on her way the girls had circled around the bread and were coming back, without a pushcart, back my way along the counters, in the aisle between the check-outs and the Special bins. They didn't even have shoes on. There was this chunky one, with the two-piece -- it was bright green and the seams on the bra were still sharp and her belly was still pretty pale so I guessed she just got it (the suit) -- there was this one, with one of those chubby berry-faces, the lips all bunched together under her nose, this one, and a tall one, with black hair that hadn't quite frizzed right, and one of these sunburns right across under the eyes, and a chin that was too long -- you know, the kind of girl other girls think is very "striking" and "attractive" but never quite makes it, as they very well know, which is why they like her so much -- and then the third one, that wasn't quite so tall. She was the queen.
She kind of led them, the other two peeking around and making their shoulders round. She didn't look around, not this queen, she just walked straight on slowly, on these long white prima donna legs. She came down a little hard on her heels, as if she didn't walk in her bare feet that much, putting down her heels and then letting the weight move along to her toes as if she was testing the floor with every step, putting a little deliberate extra action into it. You never know for sure how girls' minds work (do you really think it's a mind in there or just a little buzz like a bee in a glassjar?) but you got the idea she had talked the other two into coming in here with her, and now she was showing them how to do it, walk slow and hold yourself straight.
She had on a kind of dirty-pink - - beige maybe, I don't know -- bathing suit with a little nubble all over it and, what got me, the straps were down. They were off her shoulders looped loose around the cool tops of her arms, and I guess as a result the suit had slipped a little on her, so all around the top of the cloth there was this shining rim. If it hadn't been there you wouldn't have known there could have been anything whiter than those shoulders. With the straps pushed off, there was nothing between the top of the suit and the top of her head except just her, this clean bare plane of the top of her chest down from the shoulder bones like a dented sheet of metal tilted in the light. I mean, it was more than pretty.
She had sort of oaky hair that the sun and salt had bleached, done up in a bun that was unravelling, and a kind of prim face. Walking into the A & P with your straps down, I suppose it's the only kind of face you can have. She held her head so high her neck, coming up out of those white shoulders, looked kind of stretched, but I didn't mind. The longer her neck was, the more of her there was.
She must have felt in the corner of her eye me and over my shoulder Stokesie in the second slot watching, but she didn't tip. Not this queen. She kept her eyes moving across the racks, and stopped, and turned so slow it made my stomach rub the inside of my apron, and buzzed to the other two, who kind of huddled against her for relief, and they all three of them went up the cat-and-dog-food-breakfast-cereal-macaroni-ri ce-raisins-seasonings-spreads-spaghetti-soft drinks- rackers-and- cookies aisle. From the third slot I look straight up this aisle to the meat counter, and I watched them all the way. The fat one with the tan sort of fumbled with the cookies, but on second thought she put the packages back. The sheep pushing their carts down the aisle -- the girls were walking against the usual traffic (not that we have one-way signs or anything) -- were pretty hilarious. You could see them, when Queenie's white shoulders dawned on them, kind of jerk, or hop, or hiccup, but their eyes snapped back to their own baskets and on they pushed. I bet you could set off dynamite in an A & P and the people would by and large keep reaching and checking oatmeal off their lists and muttering "Let me see, there was a third thing, began with A, asparagus, no, ah, yes, applesauce!" or whatever it is they do mutter. But there was no doubt, this jiggled them. A few house-slaves in pin curlers even looked around after pushing their carts past to make sure what they had seen was correct.
You know, it's one thing to have a girl in a bathing suit down on the beach, where what with the glare nobody can look at each other much anyway, and another thing in the cool of the A & P, under the fluorescent lights, against all those stacked packages, with her feet paddling along naked over our checkerboard green-and-cream rubber-tile floor.
"Oh Daddy," Stokesie said beside me. "I feel so faint."
"Darling," I said. "Hold me tight." Stokesie's married, with two babies chalked up on his fuselage already, but as far as I can tell that's the only difference. He's twenty-two, and I was nineteen this April.
"Is it done?" he asks, the responsible married man finding his voice. I forgot to say he thinks he's going to be manager some sunny day, maybe in 1990 when it's called the Great Alexandrov and Petrooshki Tea Company or something.
What he meant was, our town is five miles from a beach, with a big summer colony out on the Point, but we're right in the middle of town, and the women generally put on a shirt or shorts or something before they get out of the car into the street. And anyway these are usually women with six children and varicose veins mapping their legs and nobody, including them, could care less. As I say, we're right in the middle of town, and if you stand at our front doors you can see two banks and the Congregational church and the newspaper store and three real-estate offices and about twenty-seven old free-loaders tearing up Central Street because the sewer broke again. It's not as if we're on the Cape; we're north of Boston and there's people in this town haven't seen the ocean for twenty years.
The girls had reached the meat counter and were asking McMahon something. He pointed, they pointed, and they shuffled out of sight behind a pyramid of Diet Delight peaches. All that was left for us to see was old McMahon patting his mouth and looking after them sizing up their joints. Poor kids, I began to feel sorry for them, they couldn't help it.
Now here comes the sad part of the story, at:least my family says it's sad but I don't think it's sad myself. The store's pretty empty, it being Thursday afternoon, so there was nothing much to do except lean on the register and wait for the girls to show up again. The whole store was like a pinball machine and I didn't know which tunnel they'd come out of. After a while they come around out of the far aisle, around the light bulbs, records at discount of the Caribbean Six or Tony Martin Sings or some such gunk you wonder they waste the wax on, sixpacks of candy bars, and plastic toys done up in cellophane that faIl apart when a kid looks at them anyway. Around they come, Queenie still leading the way, and holding a little gray jar in her hand. Slots Three through Seven are unmanned and I could see her wondering between Stokes and me, but Stokesie with his usual luck draws an old party in baggy gray pants who stumbles up with four giant cans of pineapple juice (what do these bums do with all that pineapple juice' I've often asked myself) so the girls come to me.
Queenie puts down the jar and I take it into my fingers icy cold. Kingfish Fancy Herring Snacks in Pure Sour Cream: 49¢. Now her hands are empty, not a ring or a bracelet, bare as God made them, and I wonder where the money's coming from. Still with that prim look she lifts a folded dollar bill out of the hollow at the center of her nubbled pink top. The jar went heavy in my hand. Really, I thought that was so cute.
Then everybody's luck begins to run out. Lengel comes in from haggling with a truck full of cabbages on the lot and is about to scuttle into that door marked MANAGER behind which he hides all day when the girls touch his eye. Lengel's pretty dreary, teaches Sunday school and the rest, but he doesn't miss that much. He comes over and says, "Girls, this isn't the beach."
Queenie blushes, though maybe it's just a brush of sunburn I was noticing for the first time, now that she was so close. "My mother asked me to pick up a jar of herring snacks." Her voice kind of startled me, the way voices do when you see the people first, coming out so flat and dumb yet kind of tony, too, the way it ticked over "pick up" and "snacks." All of a sudden I slid right down her voice into her living room. Her father and the other men were standing around in ice-cream coats and bow ties and the women were in sandals picking up herring snacks on toothpicks off a big plate and they were all holding drinks the color of water with olives and sprigs of mint in them. When my parents have somebody over they get lemonade and if it's a real racy affair Schlitz in tall glasses with "They'll Do It Every Time" cartoons stencilled on.
"That's all right," Lengel said. "But this isn't the beach." His repeating this struck me as funny, as if it hadjust occurred to him, and he had been thinking all these years the A & P was a great big dune and he was the head lifeguard. He didn't like my smiling -- -as I say he doesn't miss much -- but he concentrates on giving the girls that sad Sunday- school-superintendent stare.
Queenie's blush is no sunburn now, and the plump one in plaid, that I liked better from the back -- a really sweet can -- pipes up, "We weren't doing any shopping. We just came in for the one thing."
"That makes no difference," Lengel tells her, and I could see from the way his eyes went that he hadn't noticed she was wearing a two-piece before. "We want you decently dressed when you come in here."
"We are decent," Queenie says suddenly, her lower lip pushing, getting sore now that she remembers her place, a place from which the crowd that runs the A & P must look pretty crummy. Fancy Herring Snacks flashed in her very blue eyes.
"Girls, I don't want to argue with you. After this come in here with your shoulders covered. It's our policy." He turns his back. That's policy for you. Policy is what the kingpins want. What the others want is juvenile delinquency.
All this while, the customers had been showing up with their carts but, you know, sheep, seeing a scene, they had all bunched up on Stokesie, who shook open a paper bag as gently as peeling a peach, not wanting to miss a word. I could feel in the silence everybody getting nervous, most of all Lengel, who asks me, "Sammy, have you rung up this purchase?"
I thought and said "No" but it wasn't about that I was thinking. I go through the punches, 4, 9, GROC, TOT -- it's more complicated than you think, and after you do it often enough, it begins to make a lttle song, that you hear words to, in my case "Hello (bing) there, you (gung) hap-py pee-pul (splat)"-the splat being the drawer flying out. I uncrease the bill, tenderly as you may imagine, it just having come from between the two smoothest scoops of vanilla I had ever known were there, and pass a half and a penny into her narrow pink palm, and nestle the herrings in a bag and twist its neck and hand it over, all the time thinking.
The girls, and who'd blame them, are in a hurry to get out, so I say "I quit" to Lengel quick enough for them to hear, hoping they'll stop and watch me, their unsuspected hero. They keep right on going, into the electric eye; the door flies open and they flicker across the lot to their car, Queenie and Plaid and Big Tall Goony-Goony (not that as raw material she was so bad), leaving me with Lengel and a kink in his eyebrow.
"Did you say something, Sammy?"
"I said I quit."
"I thought you did."
"You didn't have to embarrass them."
"It was they who were embarrassing us."
I started to say something that came out "Fiddle-de-doo." It's a saying of my grand- mother's, and I know she would have been pleased.
"I don't think you know what you're saying," Lengel said.
"I know you don't," I said. "But I do." I pull the bow at the back of my apron and start shrugging it off my shoulders. A couple customers that had been heading for my slot begin to knock against each other, like scared pigs in a chute.
Lengel sighs and begins to look very patient and old and gray. He's been a friend of my parents for years. "Sammy, you don't want to do this to your Mom and Dad," he tells me. It's true, I don't. But it seems to me that once you begin a gesture it's fatal not to go through with it. I fold the apron, "Sammy" stitched in red on the pocket, and put it on the counter, and drop the bow tie on top of it. The bow tie is theirs, if you've ever wondered. "You'll feel this for the rest of your life," Lengel says, and I know that's true, too, but remembering how he made that pretty girl blush makes me so scrunchy inside I punch the No Sale tab and the machine whirs "pee-pul" and the drawer splats out. One advantage to this scene taking place in summer, I can follow this up with a clean exit, there's no fumbling around getting your coat and galoshes, I just saunter into the electric eye in my white shirt that my mother ironed the night before, and the door heaves itself open, and outside the sunshine is skating around on the asphalt.
I look around for my girls, but they're gone, of course. There wasn't anybody but some young married screaming with her children about some candy they didn't get by the door of a powder-blue Falcon station wagon. Looking back in the big windows, over the bags of peat moss and aluminum lawn furniture stacked on the pavement, I could see Lengel in my place in the slot, checking the sheep through. His face was dark gray and his back stiff, as if he'djust had an injection of iron, and my stomach kind of fell as I felt how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter.
DON'T YOU JUST YOU LOVE POP ART?
Still Life With Liz
HERE'S SOME NICE ART FOR YOU TO LOOK AT....ENJOY!
Looking out to Sea - Théo Van Rysselberghe 1862-1926
Madame Reizet by Anne Louis Girodet-Trioson 1823 (X)
I LOVE BLACK AND WHITE PHOTOS FROM FILM
Woman and man kissing at night club. 1945 weegee
BY STEVIE SMITH
The lions who ate the Christians on the sands of the arena
By indulging native appetites played what has now been seen a
Not entirely negligible part
In consolidating at the very start
The position of the Early Christian Church.
Initiatory rites are always bloody
And the lions, it appears
From contemporary art, made a study
Of dyeing Coliseum sands a ruddy
Liturgically sacrificial hue
And if the Christians felt a little blue—
Well people being eaten often do.
Theirs was the death, and theirs the crown undying,
A state of things which must be satisfying.
My point which up to this has been obscured
is that it was the lions who procured
By chewing up blood gristle flesh and bone
The martyrdoms on which the Church has grown.
I only write this poem because I thought it rather looked
As if the part the lions played was being overlooked.
By lions’ jaws great benefits and blessings were begotten
And so our debt to Lionhood must never be forgotten.
Florence Margaret Smith, known as Stevie Smith (September 20 1902 – March 7 1971) was an English poet and novelist. Stevie Smith, born Florence Margaret Smith in Kingston upon Hull, was the second daughter of Ethel and Charles Smith.
She was called "Peggy" within her family, but acquired the name "Stevie" as a young woman when she was riding in the park with a friend who said that she reminded him of the jockey Steve Donaghue. Smith's first volume of poetry, the self-illustrated A Good Time Was Had by All, was published in 1937 and established her as a poet.
Soon her poems were found in periodicals. Her style was often very dark; her characters were perpetually saying "goodbye" to their friends or welcoming death. At the same time her work has an eerie levity and can be very funny though it is neither light nor whimsical. "Stevie Smith often uses the word 'peculiar' and it is the best word to describe her effects" (Hermione Lee). She was never sentimental, undercutting any pathetic effects with the ruthless honesty of her humor.
"A good time was had by all" became a catch phrase, still occasionally used to this day. Smith said she got the phrase from parish magazines, where descriptions of church picnics often included this phrase.
This saying has become so familiar that it is recognized even by those who are unaware of its origin. Variations appear in pop culture, including Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite by the Beatles.
Though her poems were remarkably consistent in tone and quality throughout her life, their subject matter changed over time, with less of the outrageous wit of her youth and more reflection on suffering, faith and the end of life. Her best-known poem is "Not Waving but Drowning".
She was awarded the Cholmondeley Award for Poets in 1966 and won the Queen's Gold Medal for poetry in 1969. She published nine volumes of poems in her lifetime (three more were released posthumously).
Not Waving but Drowning
BY STEVIE SMITH
Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.
Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.
The greatest homage we can pay truth is to use it.
Every mind has a choice between truth and repose. Take which you please you can never have both.
All necessary truth is its own evidence.
The secret of ugliness consists not in irregularity but in being uninteresting.
No man thoroughly understands a truth until he has contended against it.
“The urge is always with me to retouch yesterday’s canvas with today’s paintbrush and cover the things that fill me with regret.” Andrew Davidson
You know you’re in love when you don’t want to fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams. Dr. Seuss
i am afraid / that i am not learning fast enough; i can feel the universe expanding / and it feels like no one has ever tried hard enough; when i cried in your room /
it was the effect of an extremely distinct sensation that ‘i am the only person / alive,’ ‘i have not learned enough,’ and ‘i can feel the universe expanding / and making things be further apart / and it feels like a declarative sentence / whose message is that we must try harder Tao Lin
We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone. Orson Welles
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:4-13
"One word frees us of all the weight and pain of life: That word is love." - Sophocles
The Weird, Obsessive World of Free DIY Audiobooks
I’VE SPENT THE past year with strange voices in my head. Soothing, rich-voiced, strangers intermittently whispering, crying, yelling, and practicing terrible accents in my ear. This is because I discovered the weird world of LibriVox, a charmingly scrappy DIY community site dedicated to creating free audiobooks for public domain texts.
LibriVox is like Audible, the audiobook service owned by Amazon, except that every book is made for free by volunteers, and every book was published before 1923. A legion of volunteer readers—from professional stage actors to people practicing reading English as a second language—patiently, and sometimes not so patiently, inch through thousands of texts, posting the end results for free. The most popular audiobooks on LibriVox— for The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Moby-Dick, and Pride and Prejudice—have been downloaded or streamed more than 2 million times. Since LibriVox started in 2005, over 8,000 texts have been recorded, edited and posted to the site by over 6,000 readers. Other volunteers work on the editing of the audio files and checking for accuracy.
LibriVox volunteers give their work away. The site maintains a do-what-you-will attitude. If a volunteer wants to re-record a book that others have already done, that’s fine: the more the merrier. Anyone can burn LibriVox audiobooks onto CDs and try to sell them. People have done that. More lucratively, perhaps, third-party vendors have also developed LibriVox apps, which generate advertising revenue, and host the site’s catalog.
The difference between LibriVox and Audible is sometimes like the difference between public-access television and high-end cable shows. Audible grew by 40 percent between 2013 and 2014. It’s both the largest seller and the largest producer of audiobooks in the world. But the growth of both ventures demonstrates that people have a lot of time on their hands to listen.
“Now Audible has millions of members globally,” says Matthew Thornton, Audible’s vice president of communications. “In 2014 that translated to about 1.2 billion hours of listening.” That’s about the equivalent of over 100,000 years of listening. Thornton says the average Audible subscriber devotes about two hours a day to listening, which is kind of mind-blowing.
Whereas LibriVox depends on passionate volunteers, Audible employs a pool of about a 100 mostly New York-based actors to record nearly non-stop in the six studios at the company’s Newark headquarters. The company also draws from professional celebrity performers like John Malkovich, Kate Winslet, Samuel L. Jackson, Anne Hathaway, and more. Audiobooks have become so popular that, in some cases, the sales of individual audio titles outstrip their print counterparts. But unlike Audible, at LibriVox the values of the marketplace are wonderfully disregarded.
Unintentionally Personal Outsider Art
You won’t find user reviews of performances on LibriVox because the community has decided—rightly, no doubt—that negative comments would discourage volunteers from reading for the site. (But you can find those reviews—negative and not—on those third-party apps and on Archive.org, which also hosts the LibriVox catalog.)
Some of the audiobooks on LibriVox are almost like outsider art. Sometimes while listening I feel like I’m eavesdropping on a strange over-wrought audition, where an aspiring actor tries on and abandons accents, tweaks their voice in pitch too much, or hyperextends vowels in an effort to feel their way into the voice of a fictional New England sea captain, or a crude Yorkshire industrialist, or a displaced German Jew in London.
Some readings are wooden, but with a kind of affectlessness that starts to seem like its own interesting artistic choice once you’ve settled into the performance. That was how I felt about readings of Jack London’s The Sea-Wolf and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables by two different readers. Under the first-do-no-harm theory, a dead but intelligible reading might be more tolerable than one that errs on the side of too much emphasis, or accents that slip in and out or just grate.
After listening to several audiobooks, I started to appreciate how every single decision made by a narrator/reader becomes an act of interpretation, a part of the performance, and an element that will either win over or infuriate listeners. Pacing can range from dramatically ruminative all the way to speed-reader fast.
Listening to a too-fast reader burn through Don Quixote is a little like having a firehose of fine wine blasted at your open mouth: You can hold on to some of the good stuff, but it’s a mess. It’s beer-bonging something meant for sipping and savoring, which isn’t to say it’s not enjoyable in its own rapid-fire way. The original text starts to take on another secondary context, the one mediated by the narrator—the whole thing gets meta real fast. And, particularly when listening to Don Quixote, a book about books and what they do to our heads, it brings to mind a Borgesian hall of mirrors, one where every reading of every book becomes its own individual work of art, one shaped by the collaboration between author and reader.
But then there are the recordings that achieve the level of art themselves.
The Stars of LibriVox
Mil Nicholson is a Charles Dickens missionary. She’s spent much of the last three years reading the work of Dickens aloud, to be edited with the help of her husband and eventually posted on LibriVox. Nicholson is aiming to win over new converts to Little Dorrit, Bleak House, Dombey and Son, Our Mutual Friend, Great Expectations and the rest. Her readings on LibriVox have been downloaded/streamed roughly a quarter of a millions times.
Nicholson, a trained actress originally from the north of England, began volunteering for LibriVox, first recording chapters of Anthony Trollope before moving on to an effort at tackling all of Dickens novels by herself. (She’s working on Great Expectations now and expects to have it completed and posted on LibriVox by the end of 2015.) She works from her home in the mountains of western North Carolina, though she’s spent years acting on the stage in London and Los Angeles.
Like most of her fellow narrators—volunteer and professional—Nicholson spends a lot of time on a project. Each Dickens novel takes her about six months to complete, with five hours of reading getting boiled
down to one hour of finished narration, generally. (She’s done seven so far, and Dickens wrote more than a dozen major novels, cranking them out at a rate of about one a year.) She reads a book all the way through
first, on the lookout for clues about a character’s voice. Nicholson then marks the text, “just like a script,” highlighting dialogue.
“The audio work with the books was an incredible outlet, because it is like a performance,” she says. “You’re performing these characters. I get just as animated in the booth as I do on stage.”
One of Nicholson’s remarkable talents is for differentiating accents with subtlety and contrast, without having a huge book like Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend, which has about 20 major characters, and a couple dozen
more minor ones, turn into a discordant patchwork of class and regional variations. She distinguishes some characters by slight alterations in the speed of their speech, or in dynamics. She has a pianistic approach to narration.
Nicholson’s skill and commitment have earned her fans from around the world—from Israel, New Zealand, South Africa and all over. Like a few other talented LibriVox volunteers, Nicholson has found employment as a
for-hire narrator as a result of her well-loved public-domain recordings. A publisher from New York contacted her a few years ago and helped arrange for Nicholson to eventually do 17 books for Audible.
The Lucrative Audiobook Boom
It’s not like publishing executives are necessarily scouting for new audiobook talent by listening to LibriVox, but other volunteer readers have made the transition to professional narration, too. (Elizabeth Klett,
another popular LibriVox reader, has read over 60 books for the public-domain site since 2007, but began narrating audiobooks professionally in 2011.)
“As the profile of this craft has been growing, we conduct audiobook workshops at top acting schools across the country and in the UK,” says Thornton of Audible.
If bartending, waiting tables, or hoping for small parts in TV commercials were the ways that aspiring actors made a living before that big break, now many pursue work in audiobook narration, sometimes working from studios in their own homes.
Katherine Kjellgren is an actress who makes her living doing audiobook narration. If you search for her name on Audible, over 200 titles, many of them children’s books, come up in the results. She studied acting in London, where an emphasis on regional dialects gave her a very good foundation for her future work doing narration. She’s also led workshops on narration at schools around the country.
“Once I started doing audiobooks I really found my happy place and I stopped doing other things,” says Kjellgren.
Like some of the LibriVox volunteers who stumbled into the field of audiobook narration only after giving their labors away, Kjellgren had early experience with books on tape.
“Something that really helped me with my reading when I was a child was listening to audio books,” says Kjellgren. “The first time I was introduced to a lot of my favorite authors, I was listening to them on audio.”
Kjellgren cites her exposure to John Gielgud’s classic recordings of Shakespeare as a crucial part of her literary and dramatic upbringing. It’s a little like having a professor who’s studied the text teaching you about the intricacies of what’s there, but instead of having to be lectured to, you just listen to the text itself.
“He so clearly understands with such a laser-like intelligence,” says Kjellgren of those recordings. “It makes it so much less intimidating.”
The Power of the Human Voice
The novelist Colm Toibin has said that listening to an audiobook instead of reading a novel is “like the difference between running a marathon and watching a marathon on TV.” I think that might be a faulty comparison. It’s more like the difference between watching marathon coverage on TV versus being a spectator in person. Neither is to be confused with the labor of running the race. Although narrating an audiobook well might be practically as difficult as writing one.
If reading a printed book is a kind of clear-light transference from author to reader, an aesthetic data-dump across time and space—a one-on-one communion, pure information-delivery—then listening to an
audiobook is more complicated: There’s a middleman, the text becomes air. Something’s lost, but something’s gained, as they say.
The human voice and performance are central to Western literature. Homer’s epics were recited aloud, though we don’t really know what form those performances took. Shakespeare, as many will tell you, is meant to be heard, declaimed, not read silently. And Dickens, considered by many to be the greatest English novelist, regularly read from his work at popular public events. (His marked-up texts used for performances—with extraneous details marked-out—can be seen at the Dickens House Museum in London.)
Humans have tended throughout history to think that there’s something sacred in the breath, the spoken word, the charged air, as it relates to literary inspiration. The Muses are said to breathe into the ear of the poet. God breathes life into matter in the Bible.
While listening to so many books this year, I was struck with how many characters in them read to each other. Mr. Boffin hires Silas Wegg to read to him in Our Mutual Friend. Whole chapters of Trollope’s The Three Clerks are made up of one character reading his fiction aloud to the other characters. The same thing happens in The House of the Seven Gables.
Elsewhere in that book Hawthorne remarks on the peculiar expressive potency of our own speech and how the spoken word can capture the depth of feeling, “as if the words … had been steeped in the warmth of [the] heart.”
But if the voice can reveal truths about a text, it can also uncover plenty about a reader and their thoughts, and so that’s why Kjellgren, Nicholson, and all the other performers seem to take it so seriously.
“It’s very important to never judge a book,” says Kjellgren. “If you judge a book while you’re reading it, then you’re the one who looks like a fool.”
WHY THE WORLD NEEDS EDITORS.....................
THE ART OF PULP
THE ART OF WAR...............................
One of the “The Girl You Left Behind” series produced by the Germans to demoralize the Anglo-American troops in Italy, this one dropped behind British lines to make them worry about American soldiers in
The piercing cry of child poverty in America
Monday September 28, 2015 09:02 PM
Marian Wright Edelman, writer
Pope Francis speaks out faithfully and forcefully against poverty and has been called “the pope of the poor.” But on his first visit to the United States there was demoralizing news about poverty, especially child poverty, in our nation — the world’s largest economy.
Despite six years of economic recovery, children remain the poorest group in America.
Children are poor if they live in a family of four with an annual income below $24,418 –$2,035 a month, $470 a week, $67 a day. Extreme poverty is income less than half this.
New Census Bureau data reveal that nearly one-third of the 46.7 million poor people in the United States in 2014 were children. Of the more than 15.5 million poor children, 70 percent were children of color who already constitute the majority of our nation’s youngest children and will be the majority of all our children by 2020.
They continue to be disproportionately poor: 37 percent of Black children and 32 percent of Hispanic children are poor compared to 12 percent of white, non-Hispanic children. This is morally scandalous and economically costly. Every year we let millions of children remain poor costs our nation more than $500 billion as a result of lost productivity and extra health and crime costs stemming from child poverty.
The Black child poverty rate increased 10 percent between 2013 and 2014 while rates for children of other races and ethnicities declined slightly. The Black extreme child poverty rate increased 13 percent with nearly one in five Black children living in extreme poverty. Although the Hispanic child poverty rate fell slightly, Hispanic children remain our largest number of poor children.
Nearly one in four children under 5 years old is poor and almost half live in extreme poverty. More than 40 percent of Black children under 5 are poor and nearly 25 percent of young Black children are extremely poor.
New state data show child poverty rates in 2014 remained at record high levels across 40 states, with only 10 states showing significant declines between 2013 and 2014.
In 22 states, 40 percent or more Black children were poor. In 32 states, more than 30 percent of Hispanic children were poor. And in 24 states, more than 30 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native children were poor.
Only Hawaii had a Black child poverty rate below 20 percent while only two states, Kentucky and West Virginia, had White, non-Hispanic child poverty rates over 20 percent.
The rates are staggering, especially when we know there are steps Congress could take right now to end child poverty and save taxpayer money now and in the future. In CDF’s recent Ending Child Poverty Now report based on an analysis by the nonpartisan Urban Institute, we proposed nine policy changes which would immediately reduce child poverty 60 percent and Black child poverty 72 percent and lift the floor of decency for 97 percent of all poor children by ensuring parents the resources to support and nurture their children: jobs with livable wages, affordable high-quality child care, supports for working families like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC), and safety nets for basic needs like nutrition, housing assistance and child support.
Congress must make permanent improvements in pro-work tax credits (both the EITC and the CTC), increase the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps) benefit, and expand housing subsidies and quality child care investments for children when parents work.
To complement gains in these areas and to reduce child poverty long term, we must ensure all children comprehensive affordable health care, high-quality early childhood development and learning opportunities to get ready for school and a level education playing field to help all children achieve and succeed in life. It is a great national, economic and military security threat that a majority of all children in America cannot read or compute at grade level and that nearly three-fourths of our Black and Latino children cannot.
Data show key safety net programs lifted millions of people, including children above the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) poverty line, between 2013 and 2014. These supports all reduced child poverty: SNAP (4.7 million people), rent subsidies (2.8 million people), and the Earned Income Tax Credit and the low-income portion of the Child Tax Credit (roughly 10 million people including more than 5 million children). There also is strong evidence these measures will provide long-term benefits for children.
We know how to reduce child poverty but keep refusing to do it. How can our Congressional leaders even discuss spending as much as $400 billion to extend tax cuts for corporations and businesses while denying more than 15.5 million poor children — 70 percent non-White — the opportunity to improve their odds of succeeding in school and in life?
We can and must do more right now as children have only one childhood.
Our welfare system insults the poor. Basic income could do better.
By Matt Zwolinski September 28
Each week, In Theory takes on a big idea in the news and explores it from a range of perspectives. This week we’re talking about universal basic income. Need a primer? Catch up here.
Matt Zwolinski is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of San Diego, and co-director of USD’s Institute for Law and Philosophy. Find him on Twitter: @Mattzwolinski.
Too often in the United States, welfare comes with strings attached. Yes, Americans are willing to help the poor; but they aren’t quite willing to trust them. After all, a lot of Americans still believe that people fall into poverty because there’s something wrong with them. Poverty is the material reflection of an internal moral failure.
And so, many of us believe that whatever aid we give to the poor should not be a “handout.” It must be conditioned on the poor correcting the personal failings that got them into poverty in the first place. We’ll help you take care of your children, but only if you get a job. We’ll help you buy food, but only with food stamps that we know you can’t spend on alcohol or tobacco.
A basic income program that replaces in-kind transfers like food stamps or Medicaid with a simple, universal cash grant would not only provide more effective aid to the poor, it would provide that aid in a manner more consistent with the values of human dignity and responsibility.
The efficiency argument on behalf of cash grants is straightforward: unlike in-kind benefits, people can use cash on whatever they need the most. If what they need is food, they can use the cash they’re given on groceries—and they’re no worse off than if they had received food stamps. But if what they need is something else—to pay their rent, or an overdue utility bill, or maybe even to save a little for the future—then cash is much better. As long as we assume that people know more (and care more) about their own needs than the government does, the case for cash over in-kind benefits is powerful. Cash is flexible. Cash is freedom.
This isn’t just theory. There is a growing body of empirical evidence showing that the poor use the freedom cash provides to make real improvements in their lives. From the Bolsa Familia program in Brazil, to cash grants inUganda and Mexico, we’ve seen that poor people who are given cash grants typically use the money responsibly: purchasing basic necessities and trying to generate sustainable streams of revenue. Those benefits often add up to real, long-term improvements in health and educational outcomes.
Paternalism isn’t just ineffective; it’s insulting. It presumes that the poor are incapable of managing their own lives. And it requires a great deal of invasive and degrading snooping on the government’s part to ensure that the poor are living up to the demands we’ve placed on them. Cash transfers, in contrast, give recipients the resources and responsibility to take charge of their own lives.
Basic income proposals face serious theoretical and practical challenges, among the most serious of which is the prohibitively high cost of a grant sufficient to cover people’s basic needs. As a result, I’m much less confident in the idea now than I used to be. But even if a basic income per se is unattainable or undesirable, there’s a lot to be said for moving in its direction. We can do so by consolidating various welfare programs —SNAP, TANF, affordable housing and so on— and by converting as many in-kind programs as we can to simple cash grants. Doing so could give us a welfare state that’s less costly, less paternalistic, and more effective at meeting the needs of the poor than our current system. And that’s something that people from across the political spectrum ought to celebrate.
Instead of Shaming the Poor
Yesterday I joined Fox and Friends for what they billed, in typical Fox News fashion, as a “fair and balanced debate.” The topic was a Maine mayor’s call to publish the names and addresses of all recipients of public assistance online as a sort of “poverty-offender registry.” Mayor Robert MacDonald of Lewistown announced this ugly proposal last week in an op-ed in the local Twin-City Times, offering the justification that Mainers “have a right to know how their money is being spent.”
My conservative counterpart on the show—Seton Motley, a one-man political operation he calls Less Government (hey, at least he gets points for being straightforward)—defended “shaming the people who are sitting on welfare” as a tactic to get them off of assistance, and to crack down on what he termed “widespread welfare abuse.”
As I pointed out when my turn came to speak, the real shame is that our nation’s minimum wage is a poverty wage. In the late 1960s, the minimum wage was enough to keep a family of three out of poverty. Had it kept pace with inflation since then, it would be nearly $11 today, instead of the current $7.25 per hour.
And it’s not just workers earning the minimum wage who are struggling: Working families have seen decades of flat and declining wages, while those at the top of the income ladder capture an ever-rising share of the gains from economic growth.
As a result, millions of Americans are working harder than ever while falling further and further behind. And many are juggling two and three jobs in an effort to make enough to live on: 7 million Americans are working multiple jobs. (Remember Maria Fernandes, the New Jersey woman who died in her car after trying to get a few hours of sleep in between her four jobs?)
Many low-wage workers need to turn to public assistance to make ends meet. In fact,researchers at Berkeley found that the public cost of low wages is more than $152 billion annually, in the form of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), Medicaid, and other work and income supports that workers must rely on when wages are not enough to live on. The researchers also find that more than half—56 percent—of combined federal and state spending on public assistance goes to working families.
Contrary to conservatives’ claims that a bump-up in the minimum wage would “kill jobs,” a large body of research shows that past minimum wage increases at the federal, state, and local levels have boosted earnings and cut poverty among working families, without leading to job loss.
And it’s not just teenagers earning extra spending money who stand to benefit from raising the minimum wage. The average age of workers who would get a raise is 35—and more than 1 in 4 have kids. (Then again, Motley went so far as to say that people earning the minimum wage shouldn’t have children… Oy.)
If Mayor MacDonald, Motley, and their cheerleaders in the right-wing media really want to shrink spending on public assistance, then instead of wasting their time shaming people who are struggling to make ends meet—which, of course, is the sole purpose of Fox News’s recurring segment “Entitlement Nation”—they’d be wise to embrace raising the minimum wage. Indeed, my colleague Rachel West has found that raising the federal minimum wage to $12 an hour, as Senator Patty Murray and Congressman Bobby Scott have proposed, would save a whopping $53 billion in SNAP in the coming decade—more savings than the $40 billion in cuts proposed by House Republicans during the last round of Farm Bill negotiations. In Maine, the single-year savings in SNAP from a minimum wage hike would top $31 million.
Whether or not Mayor MacDonald’s widely criticized—and likely illegal—proposal for a public assistance shaming database gains traction—even in a state that’s been leading the nation when it comes to policies that punish its citizens for being poor—we should see his and Fox News’ poor-shaming for what it is: an attempt to divert attention away from the real causes of poverty, as well as the solutions that would dramatically reduce it.
For pushing harmful policies and bullying people who are struggling to provide for their families in an off-kilter economy, Mayor MacDonald and his friends in the right-wing media are the ones who should be ashamed.
Rebecca Vallas is the Director of Policy for the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress and the co-host of TalkPoverty Radio.
Last week, when Pope Francis entered the Capitol building to give a historic addressbefore a joint session of Congress, the pontiff carried with him a moving plea for the establishment of a “culture of care.” The Pope’s address included an appeal to dialogue with “the many thousands of men and women who strive each day to do an honest day’s work, to bring home their daily bread, to save money and—one step at a time—to build a better life for their families.” But too many of those working parents—especially those in low-paying jobs—know just how precarious that effort to care for their families can be.
Many of us, including the pope, might very well disagree on just what makes a family, but we can all agree that the common good of our society is best served when caregivers don’t need to risk their livelihoods in order to provide care for young people. However, policies like paid sick leave—which allows workers to take time off to care for themselves or their families if someone becomes ill or incapacitated—remain out of reach for too many people.
President Obama recently made headlines after signing an executive order requiring federal contractors to grant workers up to seven days of paid sick leave each year. But the fact remains that out of the 22 wealthiest nations in the world, the United States is the only one without any form of guaranteed paid sick leave for workers. As a result, only about 43 percent of workers have reported the ability to take paid leave to care for a sick family member. Nearly a quarter of American workers report losing a job or being threatened with job loss for taking time off to care for a sick child or relative.
While paid family and medical leave impacts all families, it especially impacts women.Six in every 10 mothers are the primary, sole, or co-breadwinner for their family. This includes both single mothers and mothers with an unemployed spouse or partner at home. And about a third of all children in the United States live in a single-parent household; nearly half of them are already living below the poverty line. Forty percent of their parents are working in low-wage jobs—the types of jobs least likely to offer paid sick leave.
Many working families simply cannot afford to take the time they need to care for their children when they get sick. For a family headed by a sole breadwinner who earns the average wage for workers without paid sick leave, it would take just three days of missed work to be driven below the federal poverty line. With over one in five churchgoers estimated to be living in households that earn less than $25,000 a year, people of faith must come to realize that this kind of instability—and injustice—is a reality for many of the people in their congregations.
This desire to care for our children is a human instinct, a family value, and a faith practice. The scriptures appeal repeatedly to God as a nurturing parent who always comes to the aid of their children. Most of us are familiar with the imagery of “God the Father,” and scripture pushes us further. God the Mother speaks through the prophet Isaiah to promise: “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you.” In the Christian New Testament, Jesus remarks at how often he has “desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.”
Faith advocates have endorsed more just, family-friendly workplace policies for years. It’s now time for people of faith—whether in the pulpits, in the pews, or in politics—to stand up, speak out, and actively promote paid sick leave as a real family value and faith practice that impacts every working family. In a real “culture of care,” when parents inevitably get that call from the school nurse, they can leave their desk, or register, or assembly line and offer the care their children need. State and federal elected officials and business leaders—especially those claiming to be pro-family and pro-faith—should take the steps necessary to make access to paid leave a reality for all working families.
Carolyn J. Davis is the Policy Analyst for the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress and an ordained minister in The United Methodist Church. Follow her on Twitter at @carojdavis.
Advocates Push Bail Reform to Stop ‘Penalizing People for Being Poor’
by Jason Salzman
A new free, downloadable book explains the changes in Colorado law, and it emphasizes that certain practices, such as using a formula to set bail based on types of crimes, are flat-out unconstitutional. (Shutterstock)
In the United States, where the principle of “innocent until proven guilty” is a cultural bedrock, close to half a million people are behind bars awaiting trial, convicted of nothing.
As part of a growing effort to reduce pretrial jail time for defendants, a national organization of defense lawyers teamed up with public defenders and advocates in Colorado to publish a guide on how to win the release of people as they await trial, especially those identified as low risk.
Publication of the free, downloadable manual, The Colorado Bail Book: A Defense Practitioner’s Guide to Adult Pretrial Release, comes in the wake of a 2013 overhaul of Colorado bail laws. The statutory updates were based on a detailed assessment of the risk posed by releasing people arrested and charged with a variety of crimes.
“When people started looking at the numbers, they started asking, ‘Why are we holding poor people on money bond, often times on minor offenses?’ It really seemed to be penalizing people for being poor, because wealthier people were being released,” said Colette Tvedt, indigent defense training and reform director for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), which aims to “ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing.”
The Colorado Bail Book explains the changes in Colorado law, and it emphasizes that certain practices, such as using a formula to set bail based on types of crimes, are flat-out unconstitutional, Tvedt told RH Reality Check.
The guide points public and private defense attorneys to a risk-assessment tool that “identifies which defendants are likely to be higher risk to public safety (commit new crimes) and to fail to appear for any court date during the pretrial period.” Defendants are assessed based on a series of questions and background checks. The document states that the assessment tool was successfully piloted in Colorado courts.
“We’re hoping that the judges and the prosecutors will abide by the new changes in the law and release a lot more of the low- and moderate-risk defendants who should be out, without conditions,” said Tvedt.
A call for comment to the Colorado District Attorneys’ council was not returned.
Of the 735,000 people incarcerated in local jails in the United States, about 60 percent are being held pretrial, and are not yet convicted of any crime, according to federal statistics. There are about 2.3 million people incarcerated in America, including federal prisoners.
The costs go beyond dollars spent on keeping defendants in jail. People in pretrial detention often lose their jobs and housing and face personal traumas, even though they haven’t been convicted of a crime, Tvedt said.
Excessive pretrial incarceration “effectively coerces even innocent defendants into pleading guilty in exchange for a sentence of ‘time served,'” said Tvedt.
The Colorado Bail Book was published by NACDL as part of a grant from the federal Bureau of Justice Assistance, in partnership with the Office of the Colorado State Public Defender and the Colorado Criminal Defense Institute.
“It is our hope that all defenders, both public and private, use this resource to aggressively and consistently challenge the pretrial system that punishes the accused before conviction, forces guilty pleas to obtain release and incarcerates the poor simply because they cannot afford to post a money bond,” states the Colorado Bail Book’s introduction, signed by Tvedt, Maureen Cain, policy director of the Colorado Defense Institute, and Colorado State Public Defender Douglas Wilson.
Colorado’s manual reflects work done in Kentucky, Tvedt said, adding that NACDL aims to produce similar guides for New Jersey and Wisconsin, which are both in the midst of reforming bail statutes based on risk assessments.
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