About Michael Freeman

Michael W. Freeman is a veteran journalist, playwright and author. Born and raised in Fall River, Massachusetts, he has lived in Orlando since 2002. Michael has worked for some of Florida's largest newspapers, including The Orlando Sentinel. His original plays have draw strong audiences at the Orlando Fringe Festival. He is the author of the novels "Bloody Rabbit" and "Koby's New Home."

Words take on evolving meanings, Mensa board member says


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COCOA BEACH – Words are supposed to be clear and obvious, and so are the laws that guide society. But these days, how we use words – and, likewise, how we interpret the law – can be very ambiguous and open to wide interpretation.

Or, as Mel Dahl noted, “It depends on what the meaning of “is” is.”

In the field of law, this has become a hotly debated topic: does the law mean what it plainly seems to say? Or does the law change with the times, following altering public attitudes, making it more of an evolving document than one set in stone?

It could be, as Dahl noted, “using language to achieve a desired result. How do you say, ‘Well, this does not mean what it plainly says it means,’ and how do you get around that.”
Dahl knows something about the law – and about the intellectual challenges that the law as an evolving document pose — and not just for the legal system. A former trail attorney and legal writer, Dahl is also the Region 10 Vice Chairman for Mensa, the largest and oldest high-IQ society in the world, for people who score at the 98th percentile or higher on Mensa’s intelligence admissions test. Region 10 covers Florida and parts of south Georgia.

Dahl was a guest speaker during the Space Coast Area Mensa chapter’s “SCAM-O-WEEN 2010” regional gathering at the Comfort Inn and Suites hotel at Cocoa Beach, held over the Halloween weekend. In addition to hosting a costume contest and handing out awards for the best male, female, group and themed costumes, Mensans also devoted the weekend to debating issues like …. It depends on what the meaning of ‘Is’ is.

As Dahl noted, courts have always interpreted the law in different ways. As an example, he noted a recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals on whether the U.S. Constitution allows private gun ownership.

“The court ruled there is no private right to gun ownership,” Dahl said, an opinion later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. In a 5-4 vote in June, the Supreme Court declared for the first time that the Second Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the right of individual Americans to keep and bear arms. Gun ownership, the court declared, is an individual right and not one connected with military service.

Mel Dahl says how we interpret the law often depends on what the definition of "is" is

“Whether you believe in private gun ownership or don’t believe in private gun ownership isn’t the issue,” Dahl said. The bigger question is why two separate courts reached the exact opposite conclusion – one viewing the law very broadly, the other narrowing it in scope. Why?

“Whether we interpret something very broadly or very narrowly depends on what we think of the right being debated,” he said. It also depends, Dahl said, on whether the justices believe one or more rights are in conflict with one another.

He cited as an example the arrest of potential terrorist suspects, who claim their religion is a motivating factor in their desire to bomb American government buildings. What if a Holy War against the United States was their motive?

“Suppose that all the hijackers had been caught and put on trial,” Dahl said. “Suppose they had said they had a right to practice their religion?”

The courts, he added, could counter that freedom to practice one’s religion doesn’t trump laws protecting people from violence and bodily injury.

“How do you reconcile what seems to be a clear text, if your right to do something is in conflict with someone else’s?” Dahl asked. “How do you get past the written page? The courts have said you can practice your religion as you want, but freedom of religion gives you the right to belief – not to act.”

He cited the 8th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which bans cruel and unusual punishment.  How exactly are those terms defined?

Mel Dahl is a former trail attorney and Region 10 Vice Chairman of Mensa

“Is it the definition at the time it was written, or what we consider cruel and unusual punishment today?” Dahl asked.

Other members of Mensa seemed to agree there should be no set rule for how the law can be applied in any given case.

“The interpretation of practicing your religion is as long as you’re not hurting someone else,” said Nora Foust of Orlando. “People who read the Koran say there is no provision in it to justify what the terrorists did on 9-11.”

Another Mensan from Orlando, Maggie Truelove, added, “Just as our Constitution changes with the times, so the definition of cruel and unusual punishment should change with the times as well.”

Another example that Dahl cited: what if the Constitution leaves out crucial information?

“Articles 2 of the Constitution says the president of the United States is the commander and chief of the Army and Navy, but it says nothing about the Air Force,” Dahl said. “Well, there was no real Air Force in 1789.”

Another example: how does inflation impact on the law?

“The 7th Amendment provides that you have the right to a jury trial for any dispute of $20 or more,” Dahl said. But while $20 may have been a lot of money in 1789, it’s not much to quarrel over today.

“Should they have the right to take six people away from their busy lives, and a judge away for half a day, to deal with a $20 dispute?” he asked. “The practical problem is that sometimes laws are badly written. Sometimes laws are in conflict with one another. Some of the time if we like the right we’re talking about, we want a very broad jurisprudence and want the courts to put shackles on government officials who think otherwise.”

The bottom line, Dahl said, is that how laws are defined will likely continue to change and evolve – and then evolve some more.

“Language basically means what you can get over, around, under or through to get a desired result,” Dahl said.

Mensa has its own admissions exam, and Mensa International consists of more than 110,000 members in 50 national groups. The two largest are American Mensa, with more than 56,000 members, and British Mensa, with 23,500 members.

What keeps people in the organization?

“Mensa is a fun group of diverse people,” said Brian Reeves of Palm Beach. “The only thing they all have in common is the ability to take a test well. When Mensans get together — as many do several times a year — it is like a family get together. There are lots of laughter, good stories, interesting conversation … and even an weird uncle or two.”

“I’ve been a member of Mensa for 27 years, and I’ve met hundreds, if not thousands, of members over that time, from all over the world,” said Stacey Kirsch of Chicago. “I may not like every single member I meet, but I can say that I like many more than not. All of them are interesting in one way or another — some in many ways — and I have learned something from each and every person I’ve met in the organization.
”One thing that Mensa has that is rare these days is a sense of tolerance,” she added. “Most behavior or beliefs, no matter how bizarre or outré they would appear to normal society, are tolerated and sometimes even encouraged in Mensa. Most people in the group approach most situations and topics with a desire to learn more, and people can discuss things largely without becoming strident. In these days of the dueling talking heads on TV, it’s a refreshing change of pace to be in a group that promotes tolerance.”

Contact us at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.

A true Peter Pan


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Peter Pan flies over the Downtown Disney Marketplace, representing all boys who never want to grow up. For one former Fort Lauderdale adult, though, wanting to stay a boy meant he paid a high price.

ODESS, TEXAS – Peter Pan spoke about never growing up. And apparently some take that a little too far.

Consider the case of one “kid” from Florida who really didn’t want to grow up.

Starting in February 2009, a 22-year-old named Guerdich Montimere started posing as a 15-year-old high schooler named “Jerry Joseph.” Why? In order to play high school basketball, it seems.

Montimere, a 2007 Fort Lauderdale graduate, had been living in Odessa, Texas while attending Permian High School, and lived with Permian basketball coach Danny Wright – all the while posing as Joseph, a “Haitian orphan.”

School officials and the local media received anonymous tips in April 2010 of his true identity, and an investigation was opened up. Since his initial arrest earlier this spring for providing fake information to police – on which he bonded out – he got arrested again the next day for tampering with government records and bonded out again for $7,500. He was again arrested the following day for engaging in sexual relations with a minor, and bond was set at $50,000.

He faces up to 20 years if convicted.

Apparently a student had come forward stating that Montimere had had a sexual relationship with her while posing as Johnson, portraying himself as being just 15 years old. He was, in reality, seven years old.

I guess he truly was a Peter Pan fan.

Contact us at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.

Freelining with Mike Freeman: Depressed at 44


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Being in your mid-40s isn't all that bad, when you give yourself a chance to relax a bit while revving up your goals and ambitions.

According to researchers, I should be miserable right now.

This should be the low point of my life.

Not because of a study on where I live, what my occupation is, how badly my hairline has receded. No, this study says the problem is my age.

The good news, though: I’ll get happier as I get older.

I’m totally confused.

A scientific study released in January basically claimed, “Middle age will make you miserable,” for those of you Baby Boomers born, like me, in the early 1960s. based on an international study of 2 million people from 80 nations, the researchers concluded that men and women in their 40s were most likely to be depressed and dissatisfied in life.

The researchers painted it this way: in your mid-forties, you’re at the bottom of a U-shaped curve. Put another way: you start out at a high point when you’re in your twenties. You’re full of energy, excitement about your potential, and a burning desire to succeed. You have dreams and you’re chasing them.

By your thirties, you’re starting to go downward: working your way up in your career, starting a family, buying a home, etc. This consumes you.

Then you hit your forties.

The dreaded forties.

One of the study’s co-authors, Andrew Oswald — an economist at the University of Warwick in Coventry, England — explained it this way to USA Today: “It’s midlife per se. It’s something deep beyond all the controls in our equation. It’s a developing midlife low. It doesn’t just happen one year and go away another.”

He said the probability of depression peaks around age 44 – and I’m just past that now.

I’m depressed to know I should even be depressed, even though I wasn’t particularly unhappy prior to reading the study.

The reason people are supposed to feel depressed at 44 is many of them think they had greater ambitions in life, and ended up settling for less than they wanted at age 20. Or they suddenly feel like they’re stuck in a situation — so-so marriage, blah job — that no longer satisfies them. They’re depressed because they think, Is this all there is? Is this the most I’ll ever achieve?

Then, as they get into their fifties, their aspirations and expectations get lower. They hope for less and they expect less. Since they no longer have a burning desire to be a) a great ballerina; b) president of the United States; c) salesman of the month once a decade … they begin to get happier because they no longer care if their grandest ambitions have fallen into the toilet.

Boy, cheerful study, huh? I wonder if the folks who market Prozac are incorporating it into their advertising. I guess according to this theory, by the time you’re 75, you’ll get up every morning acting like you just inhaled laughing gas. Then 82 should be sheer nirvana — break out the party hats!

The study — by Oswald and economist David Blanchflower of Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., and published in the journal Social Science & Medicine — doesn’t offer up much hope for my forty-something crowd. As Oswald told USA Today, “You can be almost certain you will follow this U-shaped curve. If you are finding life tough in your 40s, maybe it’s useful to know this is completely normal.”

I find that so comforting as I stand here on the edge of the bridge, ready to jump.

But the real problem for me is that as I look back on my life, I don’t think I’m on a U-shaped curve. I’m more like an arrow pointing up that hasn’t reach the top yet or started to go down. True, there are things about getting older that I don’t like: less hair on your head, more in your nose, and having a harder time staying awake at night for your fave TV shows.I particularly hate what aging does to your feet. If I had known this at age 20, I would have stopped aging. But ….

I wasn’t all that impressed with my twenties. It took me a while to settle into a career — I got my first newspaper job at age 25, and had many unpleasant jobs before that — and I didn’t make much money throughout that entire decade. I got my first professional job at a daily newspaper at age 28. Life got better in my 30s. I settled into my first stable relationship, and I’m still there all these years later.

I also got bolder as I got older, quitting my job and relocating from New England to Florida. I started off with no job to go to, no great career prospects at a time when the economy was tanking following the 9-11 terrorist attacks. I didn’t find a hot job right away. But eventually it happened, and I landed a job that I love, much better than the one I left behind.

Living in the big tourist city of Orlando, I’m having more fun than I did in my twenties or thirties. I make more money now than in past decades. To me, it’s a relief to no longer be where I was a decade — or even two decades — ago. I’m just plain happier today than as a twentysomething or thirtysomething. Why? Maybe some people just settle for mediocrity as their lot in life.

Maybe because my expectations in life got stronger as I got older, and I had no qualms about pursuing them. I was still trying to find myself at 24, still trying to break out of my shell, still hoping to stop being the shy, quiet, introverted guy I was back then. That man doesn’t exist anymore. And I like that.

So to hell with the researchers and their U-shaped curve. Life is sweet, baby, and getting groovier by the minute. My curve is still pointing to the sky.

Contact Mike Freeman at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.

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