Simple Interests, Bread Pudding and The National Anthem

Hi, folks, Dell Hinton here. As most of you know from my first book, A Cold Snow in Castaway County, I am a simple guy who grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania. Now I live in the rural wooded area of Castaway County, Maine. I consider myself a simple man with simple desires.

Growing up on the farm, my family used to have a wonderful desert after dinner or supper called bread pudding. This desert was a traditional farm treat made from stale bread, cream, cinnamon and some raisins. That’s it. Simple, plain and oh so good. It began as a way for families to use everything they had to the fullest, including older, stale bread.

Now days, nothing frosts me more than going to fancy restaurants in urban communities and finding their ‘versions’ of bread pudding. When I see it listed on their dessert menu, each restaurant wants to make their bread pudding special. They drizzle it with chocolate or caramel, they add shredded coconut or they pour flavored liqueur over it. Anything to give standard bread pudding their special touch.

Give me a break Mr. Restauranteur! Bread Pudding is a great menu item as it is, in its natural state. Leave it alone. Stop ruining it by trying to make it special. It is a simple desert for a simple, uncomplicated person. Leave it alone and let us enjoy it as it was intended.

Another, similar issue happens every time I see some professional singer or actress singing our National Anthem for big sporting events. Many of these people work very hard to try to put their ‘special vocal style’ into the song. They sing portions unnaturally high, warble certain notes or place stress on phrases that seem unnatural. All with the objective of putting their personal stamp on the song.

Hey, songbird! It’s our national anthem. Everybody knows it the way it was written and adopted. You can’t make it any better by warbling it out like a sick cannery! Just sing it the way it was intended. Keep it simple.

Well, these are just some thoughts I have about staying simple, uncomplicated and natural. Hey, I grew up on a farm and, frankly, I like to keep things simple. Anyone agree with me on that?

 

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Habitual Behaviors and Catching Criminals

While this week’s blog may start out a bit oddly, I will assure you that I will tie it into how law enforcement officers solve crimes.

Recently, we had some work done on our bathroom shower. We had the grout removed and replaced, among other things. The contractor told us that we need to leave the door to the shower open after use and the fan on to allow the area to more fully dry. Sounds easy, I thought.

Almost ever day since, I have initially closed the shower door. I’ve tried to force myself to remember this simple task, but I rarely accomplish it. The reason? I chalk it up to working in a jail setting for 25 years. I’ve spent a significant portion of my life double checking doors to ensure that they are properly secured. It just comes natural to me and I have a lot of trouble walking past any door and not closing it, and then checking to be sure it latched. For me, this is an ingrained habit. I do it without thinking, most of the time.

Well, in law enforcement, these habits that each person has developed provides us with a tool in identifying criminals. It is called the criminal’s MO, modus operandi, or their method of operation. A criminal may use the same tools, always enter a building in the same location, move or examine the same type of object at the scene or wear the same style of clothing or wig. It can be anything, but each of us has a tendency to follow some specific patterns as we go through our daily life.

It is up to the law enforcement officer to review crimes scenes and see if they can identify the habits of the criminal and then use them to further identify the potential suspect. Me, I’d be a terrible criminal because I would walk through the crime scene closing and locking all the previously opened doors. And if I did that, I suspect a good investigator would determine quickly that I had worked in a jail or prison.

We all have certain habits that we have developed through our lives. What habits have you developed? Do those habits arise from a prior job or some other source?

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Tunnel Vision

As I was thinking about the investigative process that law enforcement officers of every stripe generally follow, it occurred to me that sometimes there are blocks in the process. One of the most noted, is that of “tunnel vision” on the part of the investigator. This means that the investigator centers on one particular individual as the prime suspect and may, at times, discount or ignore evidence that may point to someone else entirely.

Now you might think that it is easy to control this tunnel vision. But as I was thinking about it more, I realized that our mind creates this block somewhere deep within. I consider myself to be of average intelligence. I also consider myself to be a clear thinker and one who can solve many problems through careful analytical review. But let me give you a recent example of my mind creating tunnel vision and making me feel quite silly.

I recently purchased a new coffee maker. My old one, stored water in it for multiple cups to be made, but the new one makes one cup or mug or travel mug at a time. As I looked into the water reservoir, I noticed that it had two fill lines marked on it, one for a cup another for a mug. So I began making some coffee for myself.

After pouring water into the reservoir a couple of times and finding that when the coffee was done brewing the mug was either under filled or over filled to the point of overflowing, I was getting a bit perplexed. I was trying to fill the reservoir to one of the fill lines indicated, but I just couldn’t figure out which line to use for which cup. It was very frustrating.

About that time, as I was commenting about how I couldn’t figure it out, my wife looked at me as though I were an idiot and made a good suggestion. She asked why I didn’t simply fill the cup or mug to the desired level with water and then pour it into the resivoir to brew the coffee. Wow, it was just that simple!

Now why, putting aside the fact that I am a male of our species, didn’t I come up with that obvious solution to the problem? I think it was because my mind was still trying to use the new coffee maker like I had used the old one; the one that held multiple cups in the reservoir. So I never considered the reasonable solution because my mind had tunnel vision.

Tunnel vision happens to all of us from time to time. Can you remember any time in your life when you have been so focused on one issue that you missed seeing the big picture or the reasonable solution to a problem?

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Writing Fiction & Smoking Cigars

The other day someone who had read my first book, A Cold Snow in Castaway County, commented to me that smoking cigars must be one of my interests since I incorporated it in Dell Hinton’s character traits. This comment got me to thinking about the relationship I have with both writing fiction and smoking cigars.

In my personal view, both of these things utilize an active imagination. To be able to write a fictitious story, you have to be able to imagine yourself in a story and have your character or characters react to the story line. As your imagination allows the story to proceed from one step to another, so must your ability to imagine the characters actions. These decisions will allow your story to continue much like a crossword puzzle, building upon each new idea. And, in the case of a book, as opposed to a short story, you must be able to keep a base story line moving through a lengthy process to create the full book.

Well, for me, enjoying a fine cigar also utilizes the imagination. One of the primary pleasures of a cigar is the way the taste and aroma of a cigar creates illusions in your mind, igniting your sense of imagination. When I smoke a cigar it often takes me, in thought, to another place. A deep, rich, woodsy cigar may take me on a walk into the backwoods of Maine on a rainy day. Another one that has the sandy, spicy flavors and aroma found in some cigars may take you to visions of an evening walk on a beach in the Bahamas or Antigua. Or the cigar may simply remind you of another place you were visiting when you smoked that particular brand for the first time. The reality is that the sense of smell often creates the most vivid memories and can trigger the imagination in ways our other senses cannot.

For me, as a writer, cigars often go hand in hand with the freeing of my imagination, my ability to dream and remember places I’ve been in vivid, colorful daydreams. So it only seemed natural for me that my chief character, Sheriff Dell Hinton would also enjoy a fine cigar. I actually do some of my best thinking while enjoying a cigar with my son periodically.

What about you. Do you enjoy a fine cigar now and then to allow your imagination to soar? Or do you have some other, equally imaginative pastime to allow you to enter the world of imagination? If so, what is it that creates new adventures or generates great memories for you?

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Are we Heeding History’s Lessons?

Being an avid reader, and one who also enjoys historical accounts of famous people and their times, I am reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s great book, Team of Rivals. It provides a wonderful view of our nations political structure before the civil war and through Abraham Lincoln’s administration. But I have to say from what I’ve read so far, the comparisons the reader can make to our current political strife are quite scary.

During this period of time there were primarily two political parties. However, there was fracturing over the slavery issue, particularly as it related to new territories and the potential political unbalance it would create if all new territories were to remain anti-slavery. This fracturing caused violent language among the Senators and Representatives and in some cases, physical violence. One Senator was brutally beaten with a cane over the head while sitting at his desk in the Congressional hall. And I though our current Congress was unruly and uncivil to each other!

This fracturing also permitted various ‘third’ parties to develop due to the ever increasing disagreements and disgust of the citizens. One of these parties even had the distinction of a platform that seemed to hate or distrust anyone who was not white and/or an immigrant. So these ‘third’ parties seemed to lean far to the right or to the left of center, and continued the fractious nature of the political discussion.

The political rhetoric became more harsh and less compromising on all sides. Everyone was yelling and making vibrant speeches, but few were listening to anyone else’s opinion or positions. And, although I have not completed the book, we all know that the outcome was a total breakdown, succession and a civil war that descimated our country before it was finally resolved and the union was re-affirmed.

Now I’m not suggesting that we are headed for another civil war in this day and age in our country. But I am saying that the political climate currently is not that different from just prior to the civil war, and we need to recognize that and learn from our past history. Cooler heads need to prevail, compromises need to be sought and our Congress needs to move to reach agreement on those things it can. Everyone can not have their entire list of wants and needs met. Our entire history is filled with people who understood the value of compromise and working together. And that applies to all of the current political parties.

One of the chief objectives to studying history is to be able to learn from it, and to not follow the same course of action that has in the past led to an undesirable outcome. We need to heed the lessons of history, for everyone’s sake.

Have you noticed any current events that appear to be repeating past historical events? Please share your thoughts.

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Suzi Parks’ Vision of Journalism

My boyfriend, Dell Hinton, asked me to write this weeks blog and to talk about being a journalist in a rural community. My, calling him my boyfriend makes us sound like teenagers, but we are dating.

As you may know from reading A Cold Snow in Castaway County, I work at Channel 4 News. In a rural area like ours, I am responsible for most all of the process of getting a story on the news. I write the copy, I conduct the interviews, I edit the segment and I make the final presentation on the news program. In an urban area, there might be separate people performing each of these duties, but here, in Castaway County, Maine, there are few employees so the process is all left to me. Sometimes, I write copy for our other on-air personality, Bill Wilson, who is a character all his own. I’m sure he will turn up in John Hickman’s next book about our community.

Anyway, I wanted to tell you my view journalism today. It seems that various national networks have moved objective journalism into partisan political outlets which, in my mind, creates an environment of bent reality. The Democratic leaning networks bend left while the Republican leaning ones bend right. And in some cases, they only report “facts” that seem to support their political bend. In my mind this is a dangerous concept. The truth is not something to ‘bend’ towards a desired outcome.

Journalism, should be a presentation of true facts and news without any bends. It should reflect true reality. If a crime has occurred, you report the facts of the crime. The who, what, when and where then, you report the why, once a valid reason based upon real facts has been identified. No conjecture. No conspiracy theories. Nothing that isn’t verified as being the truth !

As a news anchor, I think I owe it to the members of my community to provide them with facts, not fiction. They rely upon me to give them the information each morning on what is going on in their world, so they can make valid decisions as they go through their daily life. If I give them biased information, then they in turn may make decisions based upon faulty information. News is the business of presenting facts, not partisan politics.

In our country’s last national election process we saw an example of how partisan journalism became a problem. All you need do is remember how devistated Mitt Romney appeared following his loss in the presidential election. Part of the reason he was so devastated was the fact that he had relied upon the poll information he was receiving from a Republican bent news agency and they were predicting a victory. Unfortunately, they had been bending the ‘facts’ to support their political bend.

And don’t get me wrong, this problem could have just as easily have befallen the Democratic candidate, had he relied upon information coming only from a left bending news group. News needs to be objective. All journalism, written or televised, needs to present the facts upon which we can base our daily lives. It is the presentation of facts, not suppositions or conjecture. Like Joe Friday used to say in the old Dragnet television series, “Just the facts, Ma’am!”

Well, I’ve talked a lot about news and journalism today. I hope I haven’t bored you. If I did, Dell probably won’t ask me to write another blog again. He’s waiting for me right now so we can take our kayaks out on the lake. I think he’s hoping for a great sunset over the lake. And that sounds good to me. Thanks for reading our blog.

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A Sheriff is Quite Different than a Police Officer by Dell Hinton

Being a sheriff or a deputy is quite different than being a police officer or a detective. As a sheriff, I have a lot of moving parts to coordinate and supervise.

When I first moved from Boston to Castaway County, Maine, I had no idea that my life was taking a major career change as well as the destination change. I had been a beat cop and later, a detective in the Boston Police Department. After I moved to Castaway County, my friend, Father Dexter Delaney, convinced me to run for the office of Sheriff in Castaway County. Until then, I had assumed that being a sheriff was the same as being a police officer or a detective. After taking office, I found that there were many additional tasks and responsibilities in being a sheriff or even a deputy sheriff.

As a detective, I was the senior officer on a team of three; so I had limited supervision of two other people. Simple enough. I basically checked their paperwork, gave them specific case assignments and answered any questions they might have. That was about the extent of my supervision at that time. As sheriff, I supervise about twenty five people and they are working in a much wider variety of duties. And as sheriff, I am almost totality responsible for everything they do.

While I was a police officer, I never had to serve civil process: court paperwork related to civil cases the sheriff’s office is responsible for service on the parties involved in the case and making proper reports back to the courts. Improper civil process service can cost a sheriff his job and his county a huge law suit.

Another area of duties I had never gained any experience in as a police officer was that of running the local jail. All I had done was to take those persons I had arrested into the jail and drop them off to the control of the staff there. Now, I find as sheriff I am responsible for the safety, security and health of all persons who are incarcerated in my jail. Another area where improper actions can easily lead to big legal issues and potential problems for me, as the sheriff!

When I was a police officer and detective I attended court a few days each month when my cases were assigned for adjudication. Now, as sheriff, I am responsible for maintaining the safety, security and proper functioning of the courthouse and the safety of the judges and staff while court is in session.

While being sheriff makes me ultimately responsible for all of these functions, on top of regular patrol and investigations, each of my deputies must be qualified and trained to work in all sections of the agency. While any specific deputy may have an expertise in one of the areas, they are all trained in every area so they can be moved around to meet agency needs.

Thankfully, I have some great deputies here in Castaway County, Maine who are experts in the various areas of which I only have limited knowledge. So I have learned to lean on them and to learn from them along the way.

With John Hickman’s permission, maybe for the next blog I will see if one of my deputies or even Suzi would like to share some thoughts. I hope this week’s blog has proven to be educational for readers. Being a sheriff or a deputy is not an easy job and it brings a different set of required training and expertise than patrol and investigations. Thanks for reading and we’ll talk again soon.

 

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The Value of Communities by Dell Hinton

My friend, John Hickman, stopped by my office the other day for a cigar and a chat. As men will do, we began talking about politics, especially current affairs in Washington. When the topic of community came up, John asked me my views on what the term community means to me. Here was my answer.

In the beginning times of man, community was developed as a manner of safety, security and hunting. A group of people could defend themselves better than the individual. So was true for hunting prospects, which increased with the number of men trying to kill a larger animal. In this way communities began to flourish.

Today, it is the goal of communities to provide safety, security and sustenance for the individuals in the community. But I believe that communities can also provide enrichment of the individuals in it. Each new person in the community can bring a new prospective, a different way of life perhaps and ideas and creative thoughts that can enrich the whole of the community. Each individual can be related to a brick in the wall, that represents the whole of the community.

As a wall is being built, each brick, with its own identity, color or hue and size is crafted by the mason into a completed wall. That strong brick wall is made up of the individual bricks. So, as I told John, I see a community like a brick wall built by embracing the individuals and building upon them.

As a practical issue, I am the Sheriff of Castaway County, Maine. I provide the community with the best security and protection I am capable of providing. But, in every interaction I have with the various people in our community, I like to think that I have enriched them, and that they have enriched me. I have learned more useful things from our citizens, than they could imagine. And, hopefully, when I have been able to help them in some law enforcement situation, I have provided them with a modicum of enrichment. In that way, I expect that our community is continually growing and enriching the whole.

John and I agreed that it would be nice if our congressmen in Washington could wrap their minds around adding different people to a community as being a positive way to enrich the whole. It seems to me that it might make the process of repairing our immigration system easier. And hell, if you applied that type of thinking about communities to our country as a whole, maybe those folks down there would work together a bit better. Who knows?

Hey, John and I agreed about communities, maybe that’s a start! Just two guys sitting in a Sheriff’s office talking and enjoying a good cigar together. No telling what problems he and I might be able to solve: together!

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Sense of Community

My thanks to Dell Hinton for submitting last week’s guest blog. Hopefully, he will continue to submit his thoughts every now and again.

This week I wanted to expand on my previous blog regarding our growing lack of civility in this country. I tend to be an observationist: I observe people in their daily lives and routines and make mental notes about what trends I happen to see.

My observations of people driving, bicycling and walking in the morning gives rise to the expansion of my thoughts on civility. To that end, I suggest that although civility is part of the issue, the larger question is whether we are losing our sense of community.

Many people drive as if they were the only person on the highway who is in a hurry to get somewhere. Some bicyclists ride through intersections disregarding the traffic lights or signs, as if they do not apply to them. Some power walkers also ignore traffic control devices and simply walk into the intersections against posted pedestrian lights, as if they can not have their quick pace be interrupted.

And, in the case of many of the cyclists and walkers, they seem to have their earbuds in place so they are listening to music instead of paying attention to their surroundings. Although, in fairness, if you say hi or wave at these people as you pass them, they are mostly very courteous in return.

It does seem to me that as our population grows and we become a closer living society, we seem to strive for such individuality that we forget sometimes about being a community. Maybe, in our history, when populations were small and there was more physical threats to our very existence, a sense of community was essential to our survival. Has that sense of community been lost because of our relative safety? I don’t know. But it seems to me that we have let it slip away a bit.

That is probably the reason I set my book, A Cold Snow in Castaway County in a rural part of Maine. I think rural America, in any part, still maintains a closer sense of community. The people know each other, they care about one another, they still hold community gatherings and they talk to each other. That’s not to say that there is anything bad about more urban areas of our county: just that there seem to be differences in the two.

So, tell me what you think. Are we lacking or losing our sense of community in some of our urban areas today?

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Thoughts from Dell Hinton

Hi folks! My name is Dell Hinton, Sheriff of Castaway County, Maine. John asked me if I might submit a blog periodically, and I thought today was a good day to start.

The other day I was walking around the lakeside with Suzi, my girlfriend, and Darby Webb, one of our local men. He used to be a caretaker in the old days and provides Suzi and me with lots of stories about years gone by on the lake. You will see him in my second book, tentatively titled, “A Black Bear Killer in Castaway County.” I hope John will have it published by Christmas or New Year’s.

Anyway, we were talking about a report we had seen on the TV about the Washington DC area and how “sneak thieves” were running up to people at Metro Rail stations and taking their smart phones. And it seemed that many of the crimes were being conducted by youthful offenders.

So Darby and I came up with a solution. When some of these offenders get caught, which they eventually will, the courts and sheriff’s need to make an example of them. Oh, I don’t mean jailing them: our jails in this country are far too full for such nonsense. But why not sentence them to public work crews? Not only should they have to work off some responsible hourly sentence doing some manual labor like cleaning trash, scrubbing graffiti or washing sidewalks, but they should have to wear a shirt that has printed on it the type of crime they committed. Their shirt might say ‘sneak thief’ or ‘purse snatcher’ on the back.

I know many will think that Darby and I are being too tough on these youthful offenders, but to us it is a matter of them seeing some consequences from their bad behavior. And, like it or not, punishment for a crime is intended to be a deterrant to others who might think about committing that same crime. Maybe a little humiliation, attached directly to the crime, wouldn’t be too bad.

Well, big cities work things differently than we do up here in the woods of Maine. When I’m faced with youthful offenders in Castaway County, I try to find a reasonable punishment with a deterrant factor of some kind. And I know, it takes time and manpower to accomplish that task sometimes. Those are things that the bigger cities don’t have: extra time and manpower. Luckily for me, I live in rural America now so I have more time to think about this stuff and, frankly, less attorneys and organizations prepared to complain about my treatment of transgressors. In my case though, I opt for common sense solutions to crime and toward criminals.

I guess, Darby, Suzi and I didn’t solve the problem for Washington DC. But it did give us something to talk and think about while we were walking around the lake shore getting some exercise. You might say we were exercising our minds as well.

I hope to be asked by John again to blog about my thoughts. In the mean time, I hope he gets my next book out so you can meet Darby Webb and catch up on my usual cast of characters and friends. Bye for now.

 

 

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