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Monday, September 30, 2019

The Des Moines Register And The Journalism Of Personal Destruction

     Carson King, a 24-year-old resident of Altoona, Iowa, a town located in the Des Moines metropolitan area, was a big fan of University of Iowa football. He had attended the university but did not graduate. He and his father worked at the Prairie Meadows Casino not far from his home.

     On Saturday, September 14, 2019, Carson King arrived early for the University of Iowa versus Iowa State University football game. Viewers of ESPN's television program, "College GameDay," saw Mr. King, among a group of fans, holding up a homemade sign that read: "Busch Light supply needs replenished." The tongue-in-cheek request for beer money donations included King's Venmo username. (Venmo is a payment service owned by PayPal. Account holders can transfer funds to others via a mobile phone app.)

     When donations started rolling in, the surprised football fan used the money to buy a case of beer. But as more people and companies sent money, Carson King announced that he was giving the money to the University Of Iowa Family Children's Hospital. When his generosity came to the attention of the Anheuser-Busch Company, the corporation promised to match the hospital donations made through Mr. King. Several other companies, seeing a good public relations opportunity, followed suit.

     By mid-September, Carson King had raised more than a million dollars for the children's hospital. The Anheuser-Busch Company called King an "Iowa Legend" and promised him a one-year supply of beer in cans bearing his name and likeness.

     Suddenly enjoying his fifteen minutes of fame, Carson King traveled to New York City where he appeared on television shows broadcast on CBS, NBC, CNN, and Fox News.

     Aaron Calvin, a 24-year-old reporter with the Des Moines Register, while putting together a profile piece about the local media sensation, came across tweets King had posted in 2012 when he was sixteen. The tweets, written for his friends, made fun of black women. They were no doubt racist in nature.

     When interviewing Carson King for the article on September 24, the reporter showed him the 8-year-old racist tweets. When King admitted they were his, Aaron Calvin informed him they would be included in the Des Moines Register article scheduled to be published online that evening.

     Carson King, confronted with the fact his embarrassing tweets were being made public by the Des Moines Register, attempted to get ahead of the story by calling a press conference at which time he said, "Obviously I've made mistakes in my past, everyone has. And I really hope people see at this point in my life, I'm grown, I'm caring, I'm generous. I hope that is what people focus on."

     On September 25, a spokesperson for Anheuser-Busch, without mentioning Carson King's tweets, announced that the company would not produce the beer cans bearing his name and face. While the corporation would honor its promise to match the money King had already raised for the children's hospital, it had cut ties with him.

     After the Register published the King profile and the offensive tweets, it soon became apparent that the pubic did not take kindly to the paper's decision to publish this embarrassing and humiliating information. There were calls for Carol Hunter, the paper's executive editor, to publicly apologize to Carson King.

     In response to the negative backlash, Carol Hunter published an op-ed defending her decision to include Carson King's tweets in the profile. She wrote: "Our initial stories [about Carson King] drew so much interest that we decided to write a profile of King, to help readers understand the young man behind the homemade sign and the outpouring of donations to the children's hospital. The Register had no intention to disparage or otherwise cast a negative light on King. In doing background for such a story, reporters talk to family, friends, colleagues, and professors. We check out court and arrest records as well as other pertinent [italics mine] records, including social media activity. The process helps us to understand the whole person. As journalists, we have the obligation to look into matters completely, to aid the public in understanding the people we write about and in some cases to whom money is donated."

     Carol Hunter's op-ed brings to mind Janet Malcolm's famous quote about the dirty business of journalism: "Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible. He is a kind of confidence man, preying on people's vanity, ignorance, or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse."

     In the executive editor's op-ed, she claimed that the Register's hit-piece on Carson King had nothing to do with the beer company's pullout.

     Hunter's op-ed did not produce the result the editor had hoped for. In fact, it made matters worse for her and the paper because the public saw it for what it was--a load of crap.

     If matters weren't bad enough for the editor and the Des Moines Register, it got even worse. On September 26, 2019, the paper reported that Aaron Calvin, the author of the Carson King profile, had posted his own racist tweets. As a result, the paper had fired Mr. Calvin.

     The embattled executive editor, in explaining Calvin's dismissal, wrote that the newspaper's employees "must review and agree to a company-wide social media policy that includes a statement that employees do not post comments that make discriminatory remarks, harassment, threats of violence, or similar content. We took the action because there is nothing more important in journalism than having readers' trust."

     Aaron Calvin, the now ex-reporter who, by exposing Carson King, had opened himself up to scrutiny, said, "I have deleted previous tweets that have been inappropriate or insensitive. I apologize for not holding myself to the same standards the Register holds others."

     The day after Calvin made that statement, BuzzFeed.News came out with a story in which Calvin took back his apology. He said he had been directed by the Register to apologize, and did so in hopes of saving his job. He now felt abandoned and betrayed by his former employer. "I never was trying to hold Carson to any kind of 'high standard' or any kind of standard at all," he said. "I was trying to do my job as a reporter and I think I did so to the best of my ability."

     In the BuzzFeed piece, Aaron Calvin accused "right wing ideologues" of discovering and publishing his offensive tweets, some of them going back to 2010. "This event," he said, "has set my entire life on fire." (Not to worry Aaron, in a month you will be forgotten.)

     Mr. Calvin was right about one thing; there were no so-called "high standards" at play here. If the Des Moines Register had high standards, Carson King's high school tweets would not have been included in his profile.  Mr. King was not a celebrity, or someone running for political office. He was a regular guy trying to do something good for his community. That is more than what can be said about Carol Hunter and the Des Moines Register.

     Fortunately for Carson King, even in the era of intense political correctness, public opinion landed in his favor. Carol Hunter, feeling the public's wrath over the paper's gratuitous cruelty, in a note to the paper's readers, wrote: "We hear you. You're angry, you're disappointed, and you want us to understand that."

     It's probably too optimistic to hope that the journalistic malpractice by the Des Moines Register will at least embolden more people to stand up to hack journalists and the self-righteous Twitter mobs who have been sucking the life out of fee speech, and human decency.

     As of this writing, Carson King has raised another million dollars for the children's hospital.

William Kunstler On Fighting The Government

Government takes away a certain amount of liberty and in some countries it takes away all of liberty. And it will everywhere, if people who fight government do not fight government any longer.

William Kunstler, radical lawyer (1919-1995)

Novels That Require a Dictionary

     I love words. Most writers love words….When a writer has given new life to words you've heard a million times or used words you don't use or ordinarily think of, but love, it's inspiring.

     I love reading novels that send me to the dictionary to look up words. Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections did this. So did Don DeLillo's Underworld. I pulled out the Webster's to look up crepuscular. "Of relating to, or resembling twilight: active during twilight, insects." I can never look at fireflies, now, without thinking of them as crepuscular. [Come on. Comments like this set off my crap detector. No wonder nobody reads "literary fiction."]

     Ann Patchett's Bel Canto yielded the word sangfroid: "self-possession or imperturbability esp. under strain." So I have sangfroid when I don't stress out if I'm late getting somewhere. [I avoid pretentious novelists who show off by using arcane words for simple things and ideas. This is bad writing.] 

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett, Pen on Fire, 2004 [Why didn't she call her book Pen in the State of Self-Sustaining Combustion?]

Writers Start Writing Early in Life

Most literary callings announce themselves early. John Dos Passos did not discover his call to write until after graduate school, but the obsession hit Truman Capote around age eleven; William Styron at thirteen. Susan Sontag was nine. Even though she did not publish her first book until she was forty-two, P. D. James always knew she wanted to write. "I think I was born knowing it…I think writing was what I wanted to do, almost as soon as I knew what a book was."

Stephen Koch, The Modern Library Writer's Workshop, 2003 

Sunday, September 29, 2019

The Tim Lambesis Murder-For-Hire Case

     In 2000, 19-year-old guitarist Tim Lambesis, a graduate of a San Diego area Christian high school, formed a heavy metal band called "As I Lay Dying" (the title of a William Faulkner novel). The group's sixth album came out in the fall of 2012 prior to a tour of Asia. The band was scheduled to kick-off a U.S. tour from Oklahoma City on May 30, 2013. Many of the band's songs included Christian themes of forgiveness and struggle.

     In 2011, Lambesis and his wife Megan separated. According to divorce papers, she accused him of becoming emotionally distant from her and the three children they adopted from Ethiopia. She complained that he had become obsessed with bodybuilding and touring. Megan also accused her estranged husband of having a "string of women."

     In April 2013, the 32-year-old rock star, on two occasions, confided to a man who worked out at his gym that he wanted to have his wife killed. Lambesis told this man his wife made it difficult for him to visit his children. The man in the gym Lambesis reached out to reported Lambesis' homicidal wishes to the San Diego County Sheriff's Office. Shortly thereafter, Lambesis met with an undercover police officer posing as a hit man named "Red".

     In the recorded murder-for-hire meeting, the heavy metal rocker handed Red an envelope containing $1,000 in cash, a photograph of his wife, the security gate code to the Encinitas, California estate, and a list of dates in which Lambesis would have an alibi. According to court documents, the murder-for-hire mastermind also gave the undercover sheriff's department officer instructions on how to kill Megan Lambesis.

    At two in the afternoon of Tuesday, May 7, 2013, San Diego sheriff's deputies arrested Lambesis as he shopped at a mall in Oceanside. The officers booked him into the Vista Jail on the charge of solicitation of murder.

     The day after his arrest, at his arraignment, Lambeis pleaded not guilty to the murder solicitation charge. The judge set his bail at $3 million. Forty-eight days later, Lambesis posted his bond. The judge required him to wear a GPS device.

     The murder-for-hire suspect's attorney told reporters that his client had been set up by the man in the gym. If convicted as charged Lambesis faced up to nine years in prison. His fans and people who know the entertainer expressed shock over the murder-for-hire accusation.

     On September 16, 2013, the Superior Court Judge, after hearing preliminary hearing testimony from the undercover officer and other prosecution witnesses, bound the murder-for-hire case over for trial.

     In February 2014, Lambesis pleaded guilty in a Vista, California courtroom of soliciting an undercover officer to murder his wife. At his sentencing hearing on May 16, 2014, the former rock star's attorney said his client suffered brain damage as a result of using steroids. The deputy district attorney dismissed the claim. She called it a flimsy, illogical excuse for what in reality was a calculated plan to have a person murdered.

     The judge sentenced Lambesis to six years in prison.

     In December 2017, after serving just three years of his sentence, Tim Lambesis was released from prison. Six months later, in San Diego, California, the singer reunited with his band. 

Thornton P. Knowles On Handling Hecklers

A famous criminal defense attorney of the 1970s represented a lot of very bad clients, and as a result was regularly heckled on the streets of New York City. Passing motorists would roll down their windows and yell things like: "You asshole!" The tall, lanky lawyer, without looking up or breaking stride, would wave an arm and yell back, "Thanks! Have a nice day!" That's how to do it.

Thornton P. Knowles

Self-Deluding Criminals

Criminologist Robert J. Kelly interviewed several inmates at Rikers Island in New York City, and observed that "in their own words, my inmates see themselves as putty in the hands of fate." They blamed bad luck, coincidence, unforeseen circumstances--the victims shouldn't have been there, the cops shouldn't have shown up. The inmates could not explain what they did in terms of their own moral choices; they had to explain it in terms of forces beyond their control. It isn't just because criminals aim to get away with their crimes, it's also because they need to live with them. "A frank and sincere acknowledgment of responsibility would result in a collapse of the psyche," notes Kelly. Criminals are compelled to reconstruct events in such a way that the aftermath is bearable. They need to maintain a sense of self-worth. Announcing to themselves in the mirror "I am evil" is not a popular option.

Patricia Pearson, When She Was Bad, 1997

Public Executions

     For almost 5,000 years of human history, public executions have been an excuse to party, from the mass stonings of biblical times to the drunken festivities at Tyburn gallows in England all the way to the wine-and blood-soaked mobs at the guillotine, that "National Razor of France"….

     America was of course not exempt. Back in 1693 in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, a bargeman convicted of murder was scheduled to be hanged on July 3. The Colonial Records of Pennsylvania matter-of-factly stated, "There were too few people there to make the affair enjoyable."

Richard Zacks, An Underground Education, 1997

Stephen King on the Horror Genre

Louis L'Amour, the western writer, and I might both stand at the edge of a small pond in Colorado, and we both might have an idea at exactly the same time. We might both feel the urge to sit down and try to work it out in words. His story might be about water rights in a dry season, my story would more likely be about some dreadful, hulking thing rising out of the still waters to carry off sheep...and horses...and finally people. Louis L'Amour's "obsession" centers on the history of the American west; I write fearsomes. We're both a little bit nuts.

Stephen King, Secret Windows: Essays and Fiction on the Craft of Writing, 2000

Writing While Intoxicated

Writers have always used drugs and drink to disinhibit themselves. In the beginning, the intoxicating effects of alcohol and drugs can prove prodigious. But once the tail is wagging the dog, the effects are generally deleterious.

Betsy Lerner in The Writer's Mentor by Ian Jackman, editor, 2004

Saturday, September 28, 2019

New York's Speech Police: Identity Law Enforcement In A Lawless City

     On September 26, 2019, New York City's City Hall Commission on Human Rights (all rights except free speech) in a 29-page directive, made it unlawful to threaten a noncitizen illegally in the country with a call to the immigration authorities, or refer to this person, hatefully, as an "illegal" or "illegal alien." In the exercise of what would be free speech anywhere else in America, violators of the city ban could be fined up to $250,000.

     The framers of this fascist-like ordinance said it is a rebuke of the federal government's so-called "crackdown" on illegal immigration. So what is next in New York: a law making it a crime to refer to the city's homeless as "vagrants" if the police ever start arresting people for camping, crapping, and shooting heroin on the city's sidewalks. In other words, "cracking down" on people making the city less healthy and livable.

     It is beyond absurd when municipal officials, while encouraging lawlessness, make it unlawful to exercise something as sacred as free speech.

     According to the Commission of Human Rights directive, "The use of certain language, including 'illegal alien,' and 'illegals' with the intent to demean, humiliate, or offend a person or persons constitutes discrimination." So, it is okay in New York City to demean, humiliate, or offend a U.S. citizen, but not people here illegally.

     Let's say a television commentator in New York City, in discussing this speech ban, says something like this: "Making it a crime to call a person in the country illegally an 'illegal alien', and threatening to report this illegal to ICE, is in itself a human rights violation.  I am extremely angry at the fascist idiots who promulgated this unconstitutional ordinance." Would that commentator, just having demeaned, offended and humiliated illegal aliens in the city, be charged with violating the city's new hate speech law? How much would this violator be fined? Would the network also be fined for airing these forbidden words?

     How will New York City's hate speech suspects be processed? Will there be some kind of hearing or criminal trial? And what if the convicted hate speech defendant refuses to pay the fine? Will he or she go to jail? And finally, does the ordinance apply to visitors to the city? If so, tourists better watch their mouths. With 500,000 illegals in the city, the walls have ears.

     In the 1970s, some comedian, I believe Larry David, asked the following hypothetical question: Who is freer, a single man in China or a married man in the U.S.? Now the question could be: Who is freer, a resident of New York City, or an American who lives anywhere in the country but New York City?

     The U.S. Constitution was written to restrain the government's natural inclination toward fascism. We can only hope that justices on the U.S. Supreme Court keep this in mind when cases like this come before them.

Criminologist Edwin Sutherland On The Death Penalty

The death penalty does not fit into the system that is being developed for the treatment of criminals, which is individualization on the basis of the character and personality of the offender rather than punishment on the basis of the crime committed. Some criminals, of course, cannot be reformed by known methods, but there are none whose reformation should not be attempted. The death penalty, as a compulsory penalty for any offense, is therefore an anachronism or rapidly becoming such.

Edwin Sutherland (1883-1950)

Thornton P. Knowles On Bathtub Murders

When someone is found nude and dead in a bathtub, it's almost always a woman, and a good bet she had been drugged then drowned by her husband. Case closed. Not really. Death by drowning in a bathtub can be accidental, suicidal, or even natural. The detective has to prove homicide, and that's not always easy, particularly if there are no signs of physical trauma, and no obvious motive. I wonder how many men have gotten away with killing wives this way. My advice for married women is this: take showers. I should add that I have never been married.

Thornton P. Knowles

Dealing With Child Abusers

If we really care about the sufferings of innocent children we would not for one moment consider turning loose the swarms of muggers and child molesters who the system has already caught…As the Marquis of Halifax said, "Whenever a knave is not punished, an honest man is laughed at." Our continued refusal to do the right thing can only be the result of cowardice and a callous indifference. By turning over the entire business to social workers and psychologists, we think we have discharged our responsibility, when all we have actually done is wash our hands.

Thomas Fleming, "Successful Crimes," Chronicle of Culture, March 1986

Just Hooking Your Reader is Not Enough

     Some first lines are so powerful that you absolutely have to keep on reading. This is known as a "hook." Nearly all the great writers employ hooks in one form or another….

     Despite popular misconception, though, the hook is more than a marketing tool. At its best, it can be not only a propellant but also a statement of what you might expect from the text to come. It can establish a character, narrator, or setting, convey a shocking piece of information. The irony is there is only so much you can do with one line; thus it is a game: the less space you have to work with, the more creative you must become. It is not surprising then that hooks comprise some of the most memorable lines in literature.

     What is rarely discussed is the importance of the hook not only as an opening line but as an opening paragraph, not only an opening paragraph but as an opening page, not only as an opening page but as an opening chapter. In other words, the same intensity of thought applied to the opening line should not be confined to the opening line--a common malady--but rather applied to the text in its entirety. This takes endurance, focus and concentration; with this level of intensity, it might take several days to complete even one paragraph.

     Look at your first or last line and think of the agonizing effort you put into it. You knew you were in the spotlight, that it had to be good. How many times did you rewrite that one line? What would the rest of your manuscript be like if you agonized over each line the same way? It would take forever is probably your first thought….

     I am often amazed by how many manuscripts begin with good first lines--and good openings in general--and then fall apart; it is actually rare to see the intensity found in a first line (or last) maintained throughout a manuscript.

Noah Lukeman, The First Five Pages, 2000

The Value of Rewriting

Rewriting is the essence of writing well: it's where the game is won or lost. That idea is hard to accept. We all have an emotional equity in our first draft; we can't believe that it wasn't born perfect. But the odds are close to 100 percent that it wasn't. Most writers don't initially say what they want to say, or say it as well as they could. The newly hatched sentence almost always has something wrong with it. It's not clear. It's not logical. It's verbose. It's klunky. It's pretentious. It's boring. It's full of clutter. It's full of cliches. It lacks rhythm. It can be read in seven different ways. It doesn't lead out of the previous sentence...The point is that clear writing is the result of a lot of tinkering.

William Zinsser, On Writing Well, originally published in 1975

Friday, September 27, 2019

Arsonist Torches Sleeping Homeless Man's Cardboard Shelter

     During the early morning hours of September 12, 2019, in Glendale, California, a suburban community ten miles north of downtown Los Angeles, 32-year-old Richard Smallets was recorded on a business' surveillance video camera setting fire to cardboard boxes providing shelter to a sleeping homeless man. After igniting the fire, Smallets hung around taking photographs of the blaze. The street shelter fire was set not far from Glendale's Museum of Neon Art.

     The unnamed homeless man woke up before being burned, and with Smallets taking pictures of him, tried putting out the fire with bottled water. The Glendale Fire Department quickly responded to the scene and put out the dwindling blaze.

     Glendale police officers took Smallets into custody later that day and booked him into the Los Angeles County Jail on the charge of arson. The next day, a prosecutor with the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office charged Smallet with attempted murder. A magistrate set his bail at $1 million.

     At his arraignment, Richard Smallets pleaded not guilty to arson and attempted murder.

Dead Battery Takes Tesla Patrol Car Out Of Chase

     In March 2018, Freemont, California, a city of 214,000 in the Bay Area southeast of San Francisco, purchased a 2014 Tesla Model S-85 for $61,000. The electric powered patrol car replaced a 2007 Dodge Charger.

     The Tesla purchase was part of a pilot program to save the police department gas expenses, and to help facilitate Freemont's goal of cutting greenhouse emissions 25 percent by 2020.

     On Friday, September 20, 2019, Freemont officer Jesse Hartman began his two in the afternoon shift in the Tesla patrol car. At eleven o'clock that night, in the course of a vehicular police pursuit, the low battery warning indicated that the vehicle, due to its dying power source, had a range of six miles. Officer Hartman radioed the department's dispatcher that he was pulling the electric car to the side of the road. The other police vehicles participating in the chase continued the pursuit.

     Sometime later that night, officers came upon the suspect's vehicle. It had been abandoned in San Jose, California.

     The Tesla had run out of juice because the officer assigned to the vehicle on the previous shift had forgotten to plug it into the battery charger. 

People Who Like Detective Stories

Detective stories make good reading material for misfits. They teach you that being overlooked can be an advantage, that when your perspective is slightly askew from the mainstream, you notice things that other people don't. If you imagine yourself as an investigator, you have an excuse to hover outside the social circle, watching its dynamics unfold. You're untouched and untouchable. Your weirdness becomes a kind of superpower.

Rachael Monroe, Four True Stories of Women, Crime, and Obsession, 2019

Thornton P. Knowles On Living In The Moment

A psychologist colleague once told me I'd be happier if I lived in the moment. I'm never in the moment. I don't know where I live, but it's not there. I'm not even sure what living in the moment means. I'd ask the psychologist, but at the moment, he's dead. I'd finish this thought, but at the moment, my mind is elsewhere.

Thornton P. Knowles

Factually Accurate Fiction

Three cheers for fiction writers who bother to get their facts straight. If there's a special place for them in heaven, it needn't be very large. The laws of nature are routinely broken and bent to artistic whim as the heroes of novel and film carry on in bucolic scenes where plants bloom and birds nest out of season, often on the wrong continent altogether. [For example, in the classic film, The Deer Hunter, set near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Robert DeNiro and his friends are seen hunting in the Rocky Mountains.]

The New York Times Book Review, September 1, 2019

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Shane M. Piche: The Bus Driver From Hell And The Judge Who Gave Him A Break

     In 2018, Shane M. Piche drove a school bus for the Watertown City School District in upstate New York. For a year, the 25-year-old driver had his eye on one of his passengers, a 14-year-girl he had been communicating with on social media. In June 2018, Piche invited the girl and her friends to his house outside of Watertown. It was there he provided his bus riders with alcohol, and it was there he and the 14-year-old engaged in sex. In New York, a girl under 17 is incapable, by law, of consenting to sexual intercourse. In the eyes of the law, and anyone with a sense of decency, Shane M. Piche had raped that 14-year-old girl.

     In September 2018, Watertown police officers took Shane Piche into custody and booked him into the Jefferson County Jail on charges of second-degree rape. He also faced the charge of endangering the welfare of a child. Second-degree rape in New York carried a maximum sentence of seven years in prison. The school district also fired him.

     In February 2019, pursuant to a plea agreement between Jefferson County Chief Assistant District Attorney Patricia Dzuiba and defense attorney Eric Swartz, Shane Piche was allowed to plead guilty to third-degree rape, an offense that could result in a sentence of four years in prison. The prosecutor, in justifying her decision to let Piche plea bargain down to the lesser felony, said she wanted to spare the victim the ordeal of testifying before a grand jury and a rape trial.

     Two months after Piche's guilty plea, Judge James P. McClusky sentenced the former school bus driver to ten years probation. In addition, the judge fined him $1,375. As a Level One sex offender, Piche would not be added to the Department of Criminal Justice Service's online sex offender registry. That meant when someone looked him up on the computer, his name wouldn't show up on the site. Had Piche been convicted of second-degree rape as initially charged, his name would have been included on the sex offender registry.

     The 14-year-old rape victim's mother, in a victim impact statement she did not read in court, wrote: "I hope Shane Piche spends time in prison for the harm he caused my child. He took everything from my daughter... and has caused her to struggle with depression and anxiety."

     In responding to public outrage over the light sentence, Judge McClusky said that because Shane Piche had no other known rape victims, he did not believe there was a high risk that this rapist would re-offend. The judge, elected to a 14-year-term on the bench in 2011, insisted that his sentence was well within the guidelines for third-degree rape.

     Amid the public outrage over the outcome of this case, Assistant District Attorney Patricia Dziuba came to judge McClusky's defense with this statement: "The sexual contact occurred between the defendant and the victim was away from school property and a good point in time after they met on the school bus..." (How does any of that mitigate Piche's crime?)

     Not long after Shane Piche's sentencing, offended residents of Jefferson County circulated a petition calling for Judge McClusky's removal from the bench.

     Advocates for harsher sentences in rape cases make the argument that rapists should not be given one "free" rape before they become serial offenders. The Piche case is an example of how practitioners in our criminal justice are more concerned about the welfare of the criminal than the victim. Most people would agree that a 25-year-old school bus driver who takes sexual advantage of a 14-year-old student deserves a stretch in prison. This is a crime that should not go essentially unpunished.

The First Women In American Law Enforcement

Women found a place in early-twentieth-century police departments in part because the idea of what police were for was in flux. A hundred years later, we're accustomed to images of police as militarized soldiers in the never-ending war on crime. But in the early decades of the last century, policing was as much about promoting social welfare as preserving law and order. Female officers tended to runaways, enforced child labor laws, and searched for missing children.

Rachel Monroe, Savage Appetites: Four True Stories of Women, Crime, and Obsession

Thornton P. Knowles On Nit-Picking Fiction Editors

The first line of my short story, "The Murder of a Slob," reads: "If men could get pregnant, Matt would have been in his ninth month." I liked that opening line, but the magazine editor said it "offended her horribly." She said it made fun of pregnant women. I said, no, it made fun of Matt, the guy who gets murdered in my story. We argued about this, and because she was the editor and I was just the writer, I lost. That meant Matt wouldn't get murdered between the pages of her magazine. Two years later, the rag went out of business. Not because its readers didn't get the chance to read about the murder of a slob, but because it was a lousy magazine with a nit-picking editor who didn't know a good opening line when she saw one. Unfortunately, she wasn't the only editor who objected to that sentence. I still like it, though.

Thornton P. Knowles

Novelist John Fante On Inspiration From Sherwood Anderson

I went to the library, I looked at magazines, at the pictures in them. One day I went to the bookshelves, and pulled out a book. It was Winesburg, Ohio [by Sherwood Anderson]. I sat at a long mahogany table and began to read. All at once my world turned over. The sky fell in. The book held me. The tears came. My heart beat fast. I read until my eyes burned. I took the book home. I read another Anderson. I read and I read, and I was heartsick and lonely and in love with a book, many books, until it came naturally, and I sat there with a pencil and a long tablet, and tried to write, until I felt I could not go on because the words would not come as they had in Anderson, they only came like drops of blood from my heart.

John Fante, Bunker Hill

The Strangeness Of Things: The Beauty Of Nonfiction

As a tiny example of the strangeness of real life, the first name of the chief of police of Orlando, Florida is Orlando. If you put that in a novel you would be laughed at. But in nonfiction it's okay because it is true.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

The David Pichosky/Rochelle Wise Murder Case

     In 2008, a year after his wife died of breast cancer, David "Donny" Pichosky, on a blind date arranged by his children, met Rochelle Wise. Donny, an active member of Toronto, Canada's Shaarei Shomayin Synagogue, a modern Jewish Orthodox congregation, retired after selling his office-carpet business in the North York section of the city. Rochelle, a divorcee, had retired in 2005 as a teacher and vice principal of the Bialik Hebrew Day School just outside of Toronto. She was also the founding director of the Crestwood Valley Day Camp. Shortly after their blind date, the couple were married.

     In 2013, the 71-year-old Pichosky and his 66-year-old wife were wintering in Venetian Park, an affluent island neighborhood in Hallandale Beach, Florida, a town of 38,000 located between Fort Lauderdale and Miami. Surrounded by canals and waterways, the snowbirds resided in a stucco townhouse amid palm trees and the other pastel-colored dwellings. Donny and Rochelle must have felt safe living in this gated, security guard patrolled retirement enclave. (In 2012, there had been four criminal homicides in Hallandale Beach.)

     On Wednesday, January 9, 2013, Danny and Rochelle failed to show-up for a lunch date with a neighbor. The friend made several calls to the couple that were not returned. The next day, at six-thirty in the evening, a friend with a spare key entered the townhouse to check on the couple. The neighbor found Donny and Rochelle dead. Shortly after the discovery, a spokesperson with the Hallandale Beach Police Department announced that the Canadian retirees had been murdered.

     According to the Broward County Medical Examiner's Office, the Canadian Couple had been murdered in their home. The cause of their deaths: asphyxiation either by hand or by ligature.

     In April 2013, Hallandale Chief of Police Dwayne Flourney told a reporter with the Miami Herald that detectives were looking for an intruder or intruders who had been motivated by robbery. Rochelle Wise's wedding band--valued at $16,000--was missing from the dwelling. Investigators asked local pawn shop operators to report anyone coming to their places of business with the platinum, five half-carat white diamond ring. (I presume the ring and it's description has been entered into the National Crime Information Center database.)

     A month before publicizing the missing ring, the police released a video taken from a neighbor's surveillance camera that showed a woman walking toward the rear of the murdered couple's home. That person remained unidentified. Detectives believed the murders were committed by two people.

     Cases involving home invasion criminal homicides in places once considered relatively safe from crime make residents of that community fearful. The double-murder in Venetian Park put a lot of pressure on the local police to identify and catch the perpetrators.

     On January 8, 2014, a spokesperson for the Hallandale Beach Department held a press conference on the Pichosky murder case. It had been almost a year since the double murder. According to the spokesperson, crime scene investigators recovered DNA profiles of two women from the murder site. This DNA evidence did not match anyone who had access to the Pichosky home.

     In addition to the DNA, a partial shoe print left at the murder scene was identified as an Adidas model shoe that had been out of production since 2000. Over the past year, detectives had questioned more than fifty people in the investigation of the case. A $57,000 reward had been posted for information leading to the identify of the killer or killers.

     This is one of those frustrating cases where the police  have physical evidence but no suspects to match it to. Eventually someone will identify a suspect. Once that happens, the resolution of the case will be in the hands of the forensic scientists. It's just a matter of time.

     In January 2015, Jamie Wise, Rochell's son, wrote a letter to Florida Governor Rick Scott requesting the appointment of another law enforcement agency to take over the unsolved murder case. "What is desperately needed," he wrote, "is a fresh set of eyes, an independent investigation by an experienced entity capable of cultivating new leads through diligence, openness and the willingness to collaborate more purposely with agencies throughout the state."

     The Hallandale Beach Police Department remained in charge of the still unsolved double-murder.

     In April 2016, Police Chief Dwayne Flournoy told reporters that the best lead in the case involved crime scene DNA phenotyping that pointed to a pair of unidentified females. Flourney said that the constant running the DNA profile through CODUS, the U.S. DNA database, had to date failed to identify the killers. (As of September 2019, the Wise/Pichosky murder case remained unsolved.)

A Short History of the FBI Crime Laboratory

     Shortly after becoming the FBI's fourth director in 1924, J. Edgar Hoover envisioned a national crime laboratory under the auspicies of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Hoover had been influenced by August Vollmer, the innovative chief of the Berkeley, California Police Department and John H. Wigmore, author and professor at Northwestern University Law School.

     August Vollmer and Wigmore had pioneered the formation of the Scientific Crime Detection Lab formed in Chicago in the wake of the 1929 St. Valentine's Day Massacre. These practitioner scholars believed that the developing fields within forensic science, coupled with highly trained criminal investigators, would someday bring victory over crime. Hoover had already made the image of the latent fingerprint the unofficial logo of the FBI. A FBI crime laboratory would advance Hoover's goal to create the ideal crime fighter--an highly educated, well-trained scientific crime detection professional.

     In April 1931, Hoover sent Special Agent Charles A. Appel, Jr. to Chicago to enroll in a short course sponsored by the Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory that at the time was a private, fee-charging lab partially funded by the university. Most of the lab's cases consisted of forensic document examination, firearm identification (then called forensic ballistics), and research and development in the polygraph, a newly developing field of scientific lie detection. (In 1938 the Scientific Crime Detection Lab would be taken over by the Chicago Police Department.) Hoover also sent agent Appel to police departments in St. Louis (in 1906 the first police department to establish a fingerprint identification bureau), New Orleans, and Detroit, the only law enforcement agencies besides Berkeley and Los Angeles that operated crime labs.

     The FBI Technical Laboratory, with Charles Appel as its head, opened its doors on November 24, 1932 (in 1942 it was renamed the FBI Laboratory) in a nine-by-nine foot room in the Southern Railway Building at Thirteenth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC. Special Agent Appel, its director and only employee, performed firearm identification work. Appel used the newly invented comparison microscope and a device designed for the examination of gun barrel interiors. To produce forensic exhibits of bullets, Appel utilized basic photographic equipment. The FBI Lab, as advertised by Hoover, provided evidence analysis and testimony for the bureau as well as for any local law enforcement agency that requested forensic analysis. Hoover also promised research and development in the various forensic science fields. Hoover's ambitious undertaking eventually made the FBI an indispensable and highly visible cog in the nation's crime fighting machine.

     By 1940, the laboratory, now located at FBI headquarters in Washington, DC, employed firearm identificaton experts, questioned document examiners, forensic chemists, physicists, metallurgists specializing in tool mark identification, forensic geologists (soil examinations), hair and fiber analysts, forensic serologists (blood and bodily fluids examinations), and latent fingerprint identification experts. The laboratory, employing over a hundred people, had gotten so large Hoover divided the lab into three sections: questioned documents; physics and chemistry; and latent fingerprint identification. At this time, only fifteen police departments and sixteen states operated crime labs. The FBI Lab continued to grow. By 1958, it employed two hundred scientific, clerical and administrative personnel.

     The FBI Laboratory, by the end of the 1980's, had grown into the busiest and most famous crime lab in the world. It had also become one of the top tourist attractions in Washington, DC. But even in its heyday, because of the quantity of forensic examinations and laboratory hiring criteria, there were problems with the quality of some of the work. The FBI Lab was the biggest and the most famous, but not the best. Overwhelmed by a staggering caseload, Hoover did not hire top-rate scientists. Moreover, there was not time for research and development. This led to some bad science and a problem with scientific objectivity.

     The FBI lab had to compete for personnel with a growing number of city, county, and state crime labs.  Because the FBI only hired lab employees who also met the criteria for the position of special agent, not all of the lab personnel had sufficient scientific backgrounds.  All FBI Lab personnel (except clerical employees) were first sent into the field to work as agents for three years. Many of these agents  had to be dragged kicking and screaming back to DC to work inside the lab. some of these agents had used their degrees in science to get into the FBI to become investigators, not bureau crime lab criminalists. Moreover, the close identification with law enforcement created by three years in the field worked against scientific objectivity. (The FBI has since changed its crime lab hiring criteria.)

     J. Edgar Hoover died in office in May 1972. By 1990, there was nothing left of his reputation and status as an American law enforcement pioneer. The mere mention of his name on a TV sitcom or a late night talk show brought instant laughter. Once a powerful and innovative man, Hoover, like so many other American historical figures--Charles Lindbergh for one--had been reduced by a tabloid culture and hack journalism into a character you might find in an underground comic book. The post-Hoover image of the FBI agent, while having lost some of its luster, did not go down with the Hoover ship. Notwithstanding his fall from grace, Hoover's most profound contribution to the art and science of criminal investigation, the FBI Crime Laboratory, is still considered the gold standard of forensic science in America.

Sherlock Holmes on Vigilantism

I think that there are certain crimes which the law cannot touch, and which therefore, to some extent, justify private revenge.

Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton" 

The Argument For Citizens Carrying Guns

     People who engage in mass public shootings are deterred by the possibility that law-abiding citizens may be carrying guns. Such people may be deranged, but they still appear to care whether they will themselves be shot as they attempt to kill others….

     One prominent concern about leniency in permitting people to carry concealed handguns is that the number of accidental deaths might arise, but I can find no statistically significant evidence that this occurs. Even the largest estimate of nine more accidental deaths per year is extremely small in comparison to the number of lives saved from fewer murders.

John R. Lott, Jr., More Guns, Less Crime, Second Edition, 2000

Children's Books Are Not Watered Down Adult Literature

Children's books are not watered down adult books. They demand certain abilities of their authors, not the least of which is that of being able to tap into the minds and souls of young people and to project the voice of those people to the reader. You, as an experienced adult, have to see things objectively and yet have the ability to recall feelings and attitudes and viewpoints of your early years to the point that you can write about children convincingly.

Barbara Seuling, How to Write a Children's Book and Get It Published, 1991

Rejecting Stephen King

Stephen King's first four novels were rejected. "This guy from Maine sent in this novel over the transom," said Bill Thompson, his former editor at Doubleday. Mr. Thompson, sensing something there, asked to see subsequent novels, but still rejected the next three. However, King withstood the rejection, and Mr. Thompson finally bought the fifth novel, despite his colleagues' lack of enthusiasm, for $2,500. It was called Carrie.

Noah Lukeman, The First Five Pages, 2000

Writing With a Day Job

     Writing is a job. It fits into a lot of other categories, too--compulsion, therapy, joy, art, and occasional nightmare. But, at the end of the day, it's a job. And--unless you're lucky--it's not your only occupation…

     I've always had to find time to write fiction as well as maintain a demanding day job…My day job feeds my writing in all kinds of ways. Quite apart from the fact you meet fascination people in professions that might just come in very handy for research, it gives you a structure.

     Like many people, if I have all day to write something, then writing it has a habit of taking me all day…Knowing I haven't got all day to write something makes me buckle down and get on with it…Setting your alarm an hour earlier in the morning and getting up to write with a cup of coffee before you start your normal day achieves a surprising number of words over a few weeks or months.

Zoe Sharp in How I Got Published, edited by Ray White and Duane Lindsay, 2007 

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

The Criminalization Of Classroom Misbehavior

     In 2018, officer Dennis Turner retired from the Orlando Police Department. Upon retirement, as part of the Reserve Officer Program, Mr. Turner took a job as a School Resource Officer (SRO) at the Lucious and Emma Nixon Charter School in Orlando, Florida.

     On September 19. 2019, SRO Turner responded to a first grade classroom where a 6-year-old girl, in the course of throwing a tantrum, either kicked the teacher, a student, or the officer. When the girl wouldn't calm down, officer Turner arrested the kid for battery, placed her into handcuffs (unless they make handcuffs for kids, now, I imagine she was restrained by plastic ties), and drove off with the tiny suspect in the backseat of his patrol car.

     At the Orange County Regional Juvenile Center in Orlando, officials fingerprinted and photographed the tiny arrestee. After being so processed into the criminal justice system, the 6-year-old battery suspect was released to her family.

     SRO Turner had arrested, earlier that day, an unruly 8-year-old boy at the same school. This kid had also been hauled off to the juvenile detention center and processed into the system before being picked up by family members.

     As one might expect, when these kiddy-busts were publicized, the public reacted in disbelief and outrage. What in the hell was going on in that charter school, some kind of miniature crime wave? Orlando Police Chief, Orlando (that's right) Rolon immediately suspended SRO Turner pending the results of an internal inquiry.

     Pursuant to departmental regulations, a SRO cannot arrest a student under the age of 12 without the approval of a watch commander. It appeared that SRO Turner had not complied with that policy.

     According to the the 6-year-old battery suspect's grandmother, Meralyn Kirkland, the girl suffered from sleep apnea. It was lack of sleep that caused her to melt down. (Perhaps this will be her defense at trial.)

     Handcuffing misbehaving elementary school children and hauling them off in police cars, over the past ten years or so, has been taking place all over the country. (I've written about dozens of these cases on this blog.) In the past, teachers had the authority to maintain order in their classrooms. Kids that could not be controlled by teachers were much easier to expel. But with the increased militarization of American policing as well as institutional restrictions on teachers' abilities to physically restrain disruptive kids, educators have lost control of their classrooms. As a last resort, they have no choice but to call a cop.

     In the Orlando case, and cases like it, the officers involved did not use good judgment in handcuffing and frogmarching kids out of class like adult criminals. It might be a good idea to allow teachers more authority to maintain order in their classrooms. It is only fair to the other students.

     On September 23, 2019, Chief Rolon fired Dennis Turner.

Most True Crime Fans Are Women

     The vast majority of violent crimes are committed by men. Most murder victims are also male. Homicide detectives and criminal investigators: predominantly male. Attorneys in criminal cases are mostly men. Put simply, the world of violent crime is masculine...

     But the consumers of crime stories are decidedly female. Women make up the majority of the readers of true crime books and the listeners of true crime podcasts. Television executives and writers, forensic scientists...all agree: true crime is a genre that overwhelmingly appeals to women.

     Women aren't just passively consuming these stories; they're also participating in them. Start reading through one of the many online sleuthing forums where amateurs speculate about unsolved crimes--and sometimes solve them--and you'll find that most of the posters are women. More than seven in ten students of forensic science, one of the fastest-growing college majors, are women...

Rachel Moore, Savage Appetites: Four True Stories Of Women, Crime, and Obsession, 2019

When An Editor Murders Your Manuscript

Authors always take rejection badly. They equate it with infanticide.

P. D. James

Criminologist Lonnie Athens On Deciding To Be Violent

That violent criminals decide to act violently based on their interpretation of a situation would be a radical discovery when psychiatry, psychology and sociology assign violent acts to unconscious motivations, deep emotional needs, inner psychic conflicts or sudden unconscious emotional outbursts. But [Dr. Lonnie] Athens [an American criminologist] quickly discovered that violent criminals interpreted the world differently than did their law-abiding neighbors, and that it was from those differing interpretations that their violence emerged. Violent acts, he began to see, were not explosions: They were decisions.

Richard Rhodes, Why They Kill: The Discoveries of a Maverick Criminologist, 1999

Montaigne's Philosophy of Human Nature

     The evil in the world tends to strike us with more force, and more often, than the good. It is not easy to come up with the opposites of Stalin or Hitler. Evil has repute and power, good is passive, anonymous. But the question remains: Is the good and evil in people indeed distributed by chance and at random?...

     According to [the 16th century French philosopher Montaigne], both instincts and reason impel human nature, but reason is weak. The principal human failing, Montaigne believed, is arrogance, the presumption that through the intellect the truth can be revealed. We are barely superior to the animals, who are stronger, friendlier, and often wiser. Our senses deceive us, and we would do better humbly to acknowledge and accept our limitations. Life can be lived only by following our best instincts. We gain nothing by pondering life, since the future is outside our control. We are what we are; reason can neither change nor tame us; what animates us is unknown. This view of Montaigne is diametrically opposed to the Stoic tradition, which says that by knowing ourselves we can learn self-control and live exemplary lives, like that of the patron saint of all philosophers, Socrates.

A. J. Dunning, Extremes, 1990

Why Harry Potter Is So Endearing a Character

Harry Potter, like many heros of fantasy, is endearing because he is rather ordinary. Surrounded by magic, he is the quintessential young, insecure schoolboy, seeking friendship from peers and respect from adults, learning to trust others, trying to stand up for what he thinks is right. While engaging in ongoing struggles with evil creatures of darkness, he is also fond of sports, wizard trading cards, and jelly beans. In the best of fantasy, the world is infused with magic--but victory comes in the end, after all is said and done, from very human values of faith, courage and perseverance.

Philip Martin in The Writer's Guide to Fantasy and Literature, edited by Philip Martin, 2002 

Memo to Aspiring Novelists

In wanting to be a novelist, there must be something beyond rationality at work. Call it love or obsession, a need to express or a need for attention, an ability to communicate or an inability to shut up, but writers are clearly a little bit insane.

Erin Barratte and Jack Mingo, It Takes a Certain Type To Be A Writer, 2003

Monday, September 23, 2019

The Khaseen Morris Murder Case: Bleeding To Death On Social Media

     In 2019, Tyler Flach, a graduate of Long Beach High School on the south shore of Long Island, New York, attended Nassau County Community College where he majored in business and music sound engineering. He lived with his mother in Lido Beach, Long Island. She and Flach's father had divorced.

     An aspiring hip-hop artist, Tyler Flach had caught the attention of a notable music producer who considered taking the 18-year-old on as a client.

     In May 2019, Nassau County police officers arrested Flach for assault in connection with a road-rage incident, and on September 8, 2019, for  possession of a controlled substance. He had recently split up with his girlfriend, a 10th grader at Long Island's Oceanside High School.

     In the summer of 2019, Khaseen Morris and his family moved to Oceanside, Long Island from the neighboring town of Freeport. The 16-year-old skateboarder wore his hair in dreadlocks and had dyed half of it orange. He planned to study photography.

     On Sunday, September 15, 2019, the 10th grade girl who had dated Tyler Flach asked Khaseen Morris to walk her home from an event. He obliged, apparently unaware that she wanted to make her ex-boyfriend jealous.

     When Tyler Flach learned that Khaseen Morris had been with the 10th grader, he made threats against him on social media. At some point, the two young men agreed to fight in the parking lot of a pizzeria on Brower Avenue in Oceanside. The spot they picked was a popular hangout for local high school students.

     Word quickly spread on social media that the fight would take place on Tuesday afternoon, September 17. Each combatant would show up with a half dozen friends who would participate in the brawl.

     At three in the afternoon that Tuesday, the rival groups faced off in the pizzeria parking lot. They were surrounded by 50 to 70 high school kids who had gathered to watch the fight.

     Shortly into the fray, Tyler Flach allegedly pulled a knife and stabbed Khaseen Morris in the chest. The young man collapsed to the pavement, and while he lay bleeding, everyone in the crowd continued filming the scene with their cellphones, uploading the videos onto social media sites. The spectators were so busy recording the assault and its aftermath, no one bothered to call for an ambulance.

     Finally, after the passage of ten to fifteen minutes, perhaps more, someone called 911 to report a young man bleeding to death in the parking lot of the Brower Avenue strip mall.

     Paramedics rushed Khaseen Morris to the South Nassau Communities Hospital where later that night, he died. Another participant in the fight was treated for a broken arm and swollen head.

     A Nassau County prosecutor charged Tyler Flach with second-degree murder. On Thursday, September 19, 2019, at the suspect's arraignment at the First District Court in Hempstead, he pleaded not guilty to the charge. Flach, accompanied by his attorney, had turned himself in earlier that day.

Without Shame: The Disgraced Celebrity Sociopath

A sociopath who gets a taste of fame is like a vampire getting its first taste of blood. Disgraced celebrity sociopaths are pathetic but interesting. These pathological narcissists almost always find some way to get back into the limelight. Following the obligatory apology tour, the disgraced celebrity often resurfaces as the promoter of a ghost-written memoir. Normal people who publicly embarrass themselves feel too ashamed to leave the house. Not so for sociopaths who are born without a sense of shame. When it comes to embarrassment, these people are bullet-proof. For obvious reasons, the field of politics tends to attract the shameless, narcissistic sociopath. Politics and sociopathy: a marriage made in heaven.

The Appetite For Fictional Murder

It's strange when you think about it. There are hundreds and hundreds of murders in books and television. [For example, the cable TV network Oxygen produces nothing but true crime.] It would be hard for narrative fiction to survive without them. And yet there are almost none in real life, unless you live in the wrong area. Why is it we have such a need for murder mystery? And what is it that attracts us? Is it the crime or the solution? Do we have some primal need of bloodshed because our own lives are so safe, so comfortable?

Anthony Horowitz, Magpie Murders

The Writer's Brain

Neurologists have found that changes in a specific area of the brain can produce hypergraphia--the medical term for an overpowering desire to write. Thinking in a counterintuitive, neurological way about what drives and frustrates literary creation can suggest new treatments for hypergraphia's more common and tormenting opposite, writer's block. Both conditions arise from complicated abnormalities of the basic biological drive to communicate.

Dr. Alice W. Flaherty, The Midnight Disease, 2004 

The Ethical Dilemma of Journalism

There's an ethical dilemma in almost all journalism. In taking someone else's story and making it your own, in describing them on your terms, in ways they may not agree with.

Ted Conover in The New Journalism (2005) by Robert S. Boynton 

How to Structure a Book

There's no formal school, so far as I know, where you can learn how to structure long forms of prose. Writing programs typically work with short forms, for the obvious reason that short forms can be examined productively within the brief compass of a course program. But the difference between long forms and short forms is precisely their structure, which means that you can't learn how to structure the one by studying the other. Fortunately, you can teach yourself long-form structure by reading books and analyzing how their authors assembled them.

Richard Rhodes, How to Write, 1995 

Sunday, September 22, 2019

The Infamous Boston Strangler Case

     Born in Chelsea, Massachusetts in 1931, Albert Henry DeSalvo grew up in a family defined by his alcoholic father's abuse. Mr. DeSalvo, who had knocked out all of his wife's teeth, forced young Albert and his siblings to watch him engage in sex with prostitutes in their home.

     As a child, Albert tortured animals and stole from local merchants. In 1943, the twelve-year-old was sent to the Lyman School for Boys after being arrested for battery and robbery. Shortly after his release from reform school, DeSalvo stole a car which put him back into the institution. When he turned eighteen, DeSalvo joined the Army. Two years later, he was honorably discharged from the service.

     In June 1962, when Albert DeSalvo was thirty-one, women in Boston began turning up dead in their apartments. Because there were no signs of forced entry at the murder scenes, investigators theorized that the victims either knew the rapist/killer or he had gained entry by posing as a salesman or perhaps as a detective. The serial killer's last known victim, nineteen-year-old Mary Sullivan, had been raped and strangled to death on January 4, 1964. Like all but two of the other twelve murder victims, Mary Sullivan had been strangled with a piece of her own clothing. The unidentified serial killer had stabbed two of his victims to death. All of the murder victims had been raped, and eight out of his thirteen victims were women over the age of fifty-five.

     In October 1964, ten months following Mary Sullivan's murder, a young woman in Cambridge, Massachusetts allowed a man into her apartment who identified himself as a police detective. That man tied the victim to her bed and began raping her. Suddenly, in the middle of the assault, the assailant stopped, said he was sorry, and walked out of the apartment. The victim gave a detailed description of her attacker to detectives who, independent of the ongoing serial murder investigation, were trying to identify the Boston serial rapist.

     The rape victim's description of her assailant led to Albert DeSalvo's arrest. In the course of his confession to a series of rapes, DeSalvo identified himself as the so-called Boston Strangler.

     In 1967, pursuant to a plea bargain negotiated by his attorney F. Lee Bailey, Albert DeSalvo pleaded guilty to the Boston murders. In return for his guilty plea, the 36-year-old avoided the death sentence.

     Not long after being sent to the state prison in Walpole, Massachusetts, DeSalvo took back his murder confessions. In 1973, six years after he had confessed to being the notorious Boston Strangler, one of DeSalvo's fellow inmates at Walpole stabbed him to death.

     Because of the guilty pleas, prosecutors in Boston had not been put to the test of proving the murder cases against Albert DeSalvo. This fact encouraged true crime revisionists to question whether DeSalvo was really the Boston Strangler. Perhaps he was simply a false confessor drawn to the limelight of a celebrated serial murder case. These doubts over DeSalvo's guilt made recent developments pertaining to the old case all the more newsworthy.

     In July 2013, Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley announced that forensic scientists, using advanced, cutting edge technology, had linked Albert DeSalvo to the January 4, 1964 rape and murder of Mary Sullivan. The district attorney told reporters that he planned to ask a superior court judge for an order to exhume DeSalvo's remains for further forensic testing.

     Gerard Frank's The Boston Strangler (New American Library, 1966) is considered the definitive book on the Albert DeSalvo serial murder case. The author leaves no doubt in the reader's mind that Albert DeSalvo was in fact the Boston Strangler. 

The Psychological Effects of Having Been Stalked

Even after [stalking] victims feel assured that the stalking has ended, many find themselves having trouble learning to trust again--both others and themselves. A phase of overcompensating can take place, in which survivors of stalking tend to mistrust their own judgment in meeting people, or feel intensely suspicious of others, resulting in potential difficulties forming new relationships, whether personal or professional, intimate or casual. Existing relationships may also be affected; survivors may find themselves reacting with far greater caution and vigilance around others than is normal for them.

Melita Schaum and Karen Parrish, Stalked, 1995

The Restaurant Tip Forger

     A former waitress has been charged with forgery and other crimes for allegedly adding $10 or $20 to tips that customers of a western Pennsylvania restaurant left when they paid with credit cards. Police in Penn Township say 30-year-old Gina Haney of North Huntingdon put the number "1" or "2" in front of single digit tips customers had scrawled on receipts. As a result, she received $10 or $20 more than those customers intended.

     Haney allegedly fudged tips on 20 one-dollar tickets at Lucci's Pizza and Pasta between September and December 2014. The restaurant's manager alerted authorities after two customers called to complain about the overcharges on the same day. He pulled other receipts from her customers that revealed more overcharges.

     Haney denied knowing anything about the inflated tips.

"Ex-Waitress Charged With Padding Customers' Tips," Associated Press, February 15, 2015 

The Pretentious Writer: Style Over Substance

     As a reader, I'm put off when I suspect that a writer is too aware of his own style, or is more concerned with style than communication. It's a lot like a politician who takes on a speaker's voice when talking publicly. I consider this, in writers and politicians, pretentious and phony. I prefer to read authors who don't recognize their own literary voices, or if they do, are clever enough to make their writing style appear naturally interesting and unique.

     There is a dreadful style of writing, prose intended to sound lofty and important, found in the promotional literature put out by colleges and universities. The thoughts and messages conveyed in this form are usually quite simple. An example of this style can be found in many college mission statements. In straightforward prose, a university public relations person might write: "The goal of our institution involves providing our students with a quality education at a reasonable price." Because this is so obvious, to say it directly and plainly makes it sound kind of stupid. But when a mission statement is puffed up with carefully selected words and high-minded phrases, the simplicity of the message is replaced by syntax intended to make it sound profound. This style is pompous and false, and represents writing at its worst. Here is an example of highly pretentious writing taken from a pamphlet published by a relatively prestigious liberal arts college:

     "The mission of ________College is to help young men and women develop competencies, commitments and characteristics that have distinguished human beings at their best. All of us who are affiliated with the College are working toward that end each day in as many different ways as their are students on this campus. (Wow, 1,400 different ways.) Our students have unique talents and new insights that are being developed during each interaction with faculty, staff, alumni and other students. (I taught at the college level for 32 years. Where I worked, very few students had unique talent and new insights. In fact, some of them were uniquely untalented and completely without insight. So in my opinion, the talent/insight stuff is a load of stylistic crap.) For each student, those interactions become building blocks in their foundation for living." (Yeah, sure.)

     Ignore, if you can, the lack of substance, unadulterated puffing, and pandering in this mission statement and look at the style. Note the lofty and, to my mind, cheesy alliteration that starts off with the words--competencies, commitments and characteristics--and the use of the buzz words distinguished, affiliated, insights, interaction, and foundation, typical university-speak wordage comparable to university-speak favorites such as outcomes, challenges, and impact (instead of affect) not used in this passage.

     If I were a creative writing teacher, I would use passages like the above to show writing students how not to write. It's a bit ironic that so much heavy-handed, dead prose is produced by colleges and universities. Professors, notorious for being writers of unreadable fiction and highly pompous and dense nonfiction, also contribute to the style over substance problem. If you don't believe me, look through any university press book catalogue. The book titles themselves are beyond comprehension, and the catalogue descriptions of these works are so badly written it's no wonder no one buys this stuff.

Thornton P. Knowles On Comedian Dick Shawn

Appearing on the Johnny Carson show in the 1980s, comedian Dick Shawn joked that life doesn't begin with inception. Life begins, he said, when the kids leave home and the dog dies. Carson laughed so hard he almost fell out of his chair. The joke, as they say, brought down the house. If a comedian cracked a joke like that today, he'd be attacked by the church, thousands of enraged 25-year-olds blogging their brains out in their parents' basements, and the animal rights people. I miss the time when comedians were actually funny.

Thornton P. Knowles

Saturday, September 21, 2019

The Ed Buck Scandal: The Fall Of A Wealthy, Politically Connected Sexual Predator

     In the mid-1970s, 21-year-old Ed Buck left his home state of Arizona for Europe where he began his career as a fashion model. After returning to the U.S. in 1980, he bought a courier company that turned him into a millionaire.

     In 2007, Ed Buck, while residing in West Hollywood, California, became a prominent donor to democrat politicians like Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama. About this time, the high profile political activist in the LGBTQ community ran for city council and lost. He continued, however, to line the pockets of his favorite democrat politicians.

     On July 27, 2017, police were called to Ed Buck's West Hollywood apartment in the 1200 block of Laurel Avenue. The officers found, lying dead on a mattress in the 63-year-old's living room, a 26-year-old black escort named Gemmel Moore. The apartment was littered with 24 hypodermic needles, five meth pipes, and a variety of sex toys. A porn video was playing on the television.

     The forensic pathologist who conducted Mr. Moore's autopsy found that he had died from a crystal methamphetamine overdose. The Los Angeles County Coroner ruled that Gemmel Moore's death had been an accident caused by a self-administered overdose. As a result, Ed Buck was not investigated to determine what role he may have played in Mr. Moore's death, or if he was operating some kind of drug den for gay, homeless men.

     Gemmel Moore's mother, LaTisha Nixon, as well as others, voiced their outrage over the Los Angeles coroner's accidental death finding. The district attorney's office, aware of writings in Gemmel Moore's journal detailing how Ed Buck had injected him and other gay men with methamphetamine in order to facilitate his sexual fetishes, apparently ignored this evidence in deciding not to authorize an investigation. One of Buck's sexual fetishes involved photographing men wearing tight underwear.

     LaTisha Nixon accused the Los Angeles District Attorneys Office and the coroner of protecting the wealthy political donor. By some accounts, Ed Buck had given the Hillary Clinton campaign $500,000. He had also given money to Barak Obama.

     On January 12, 2019, the police were again summoned to Ed Buck's West Hollywood apartment. This time they found 55-year-old Timothy Dean dead from a methamphetamine overdose.

     Mr. Dean, a six-foot-five black man, had worked at Bloomingdale's and SAKS Fifth Avenue in Los Angeles as a fashion consultant. He had also worked on and off as an actor in gay adult films. As a younger man, Timothy Dean had been active in the Lambada (gay) Basketball League. He had once participated in the Gay Games in Paris, France. At age 52, Mr. Dean earned an associates degree from Santa Monica Community College.

     According to Mr. Dean's family and friends, it had been years since he had used drugs. Nevertheless, as in the Gemmel Moore case, the Los Angeles Coroner ruled his death accidental due to a self-administered methamphetamine overdose. Once again, in the face of evidence to the contrary, the Los Angeles District Attorney's office decided not to file criminal charges against Ed Buck. This decision outraged Timothy Dean's family and friends who considered him a victim of sexual foul play.

     In February 2019, LaTisha Nixon, emboldened by the second overdose fatality in Ed Buck's apartment, filed a wrongful death suit against the wealthy political donor. The plaintiff alleged that Mr. Buck was a drug dealer who had injected her son with a fatal dose of crystal meth. According to Jasmyne Cannick, a political consultant and spokesperson for the Nixon family, Ed Buck had received special treatment from the prosecutor's office because of his political connections and wealth. This was a view shared by many in Los Angeles's gay community.

     In June 2019, Ed Buck met a black, 37-year-old homeless man later referred to in court documents as "Joe Doe." Following a brief exchange on Adam4Adam, a web site designed for men to meet other men "for friendship, romance, or a hot hookup," Buck drove to LA's skid row, picked up the homeless man, and brought him back to his apartment in West Hollywood.

     In Buck's apartment, before he had sex with Joe Doe, Buck injected him with crystal methamphetamine, something he did every day up to September 4, 2019. On that day, when Joe Doe left the apartment, he sought medical help on the belief Ed Buck had overdosed him.

     A week after receiving medical treatment for an overdose, Joe Doe returned to Ed Buck's apartment. On that occasion, Buck injected him with a double dose of the drug. Thinking that he might die from that shot, the homeless man asked Buck to call an ambulance. When Buck refused, Doe asked for a Klonopin pill, medication for seizure disorders and panic attacks. Ed Buck refused that request, and when the heavily drugged man tried to leave the apartment, Mr. Buck stopped him.

     Notwithstanding Ed Buck's efforts to restrain him, Joe Doe managed to escape from the apartment that day. At a nearby gas station, Doe asked a passerby to call 911 on his behalf. As he was being treated at a local hospital, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputies responded to Ed Buck's apartment. It was there officers discovered, in addition to drug paraphernalia, hundreds of photographs of men in tight underwear in various sexual poses.

     On September 17, 2019, officers booked Ed Buck into the Los Angeles County Jail on one count each of battery causing serious injury, the administering of methamphetamine, and maintaining a drug house. If convicted of all three counts, the suspect faced no more than five years, eight months in state prison. The prosecutor in charge of the case asked the judge to set Ed Buck's bail at $4 million.

     At a press conference, the Los Angeles District Attorney told reporters that Ed Buck used drugs to lure gay men to his apartment where he manipulated them into participating in his sexual fetishes. The D.A. painted Mr. Buck as a depraved, hedonistic sexual predator.

     Two days after Ed Buck's arrest on the Joe Doe related charges, the United States Attorney in Los Angeles, in connection with the July 27, 2017 death of Gemmel Moore, charged the suspect with the federal offense of drug distribution resulting in death. This offense carried a maximum sentence of life in prison.

     The United States Attorney, in speaking to reporters, said FBI agents had identified nine more gay men Ed Buck had lured to his apartment for the purpose of injecting them with methamphetamine.

     Gemmel Moore's mother, LaTisha Nixon, praised  the United States Attorney who, unlike the Los Angeles Coroner, didn't believe that Mr. Moore had injected himself with the deadly dose of methamphetamine. Others who had been seeking justice for Gemmel Moore and Timothy Dean were also pleased with the federal charge against Ed Buck.

The Gas Chamber

     If the hangman's scaffold concentrates the mind, the gas chamber has a way of bewitching it. It's smaller than one would think, roughly four feet square and ten feet high. Almost beautiful, if one is mechanically inclined, it's also extremely alien looking, like an antique, six-sided diving bell someone painted gray....

     Waist-high windows, tinted green and reinforced internally with thin wire, are embedded with large rivets in five of the chamber's six sides. At first sight, these windows make it seem harmless. Windows are hard to associate with death. Then the mind makes the obvious leap: this place is not only for killing but for offering death as a spectacle. Three windows look out from the rear half of the chamber onto the witnesses' room, where media people, state officials, lawyers, and families of the victims sit on long wooden benches that resemble church pews. A fourth window, on the right side of the chamber's front half, is for two doctors who monitor the condemned's heartbeat on an EKG machine and a stethoscope. The fifth, to the left of the chamber's 300-pound door, is for the executioner.

Ivan Solotaroff, The Last Face You'll Ever See, 2001

Is Abolishing Academic Freedom The Future Of Academia?

     A Harvard University feminist student writing in the campus newspaper The Crimson posited this: "If our university community opposes racism, sexism, and heterosexism, why should we put up with [italics mine] research that counters our goals simply in the name of "academic freedom"?…

     Senior Sandra Y.L. Korn, a studies of women, gender and sexuality major, called for the end of academic freedom and in its place "a more rigorous standard: one of 'academic justice.'"

     "When an academic community observes research promoting or justifying oppression, it should ensure that this research does not continue….The power to enforce academic justice comes from students, faculty, and workers organizing together to make our universities look as we want them to."…

"Harvard Feminist Says Academic Freedom Should Be Abolished," The College Fix, February 21, 2014

How Crime Threatens Freedom

When physical safety becomes a major problem even for the middle classes, we must of necessity become a heavily policed, authoritarian society, a society in which the middle classes live in gated and walled communities and make their places of work hardened targets....Both the fear of crime and the escalating harshness of the response to it will sharply reduce Americans' freedom of movement and peace of mind. Ours will become a most unpleasant society in which to live.

Robert H. Bork, Slouching Towards Gomorrah, 1996

The Rebel Literature Professor

I don't love women writers enough to teach them. If you want women writers go down the hall. What I teach is guys. [Elmore Leonard, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Anton Chekhov, Marcel Proust, Leo Tolstoy, Henry Miller, and Philip Roth.]

 David Gilmour, novelist and professor at the University of Toronto., September 26, 2013 

Does Perfectionism Cause Writer's Block?

     Much of the self-help literature on writer's block falls into the category of creativity enhancement. One popular approach tries to decrease the writer's perfectionism, or to silence his or her inner critics. This theme implicitly draws on the psychoanalytic concept of the superego, that internalized, harshly judgmental representation of parental and societal values. Yet lofty values alone are not sufficient to cause writer's block. Writer's block requires not just the inability to write as well as you want, but the inability to write anything less than you want. What drives that inability is the belief--usually unconscious--that it is better to write nothing than to write poorly…

     Perfectionism certainly causes some block. But it is invoked as a cause a little too often; it is such a comfortable explanation of your block. It is easier to tell people that you haven't published much because you have such high standards, than that you are disorganized or inhibited or love to play tennis.

Alice W. Flaherty, The Midnight Disease, 2004  

Using a Pen Name

Pseudonyms are especially attractive to fiction writers, whose work (inventing people and seeing the world through their eyes) requires an impersonation, of sorts. Writing under a pen name is like doing an impersonation of someone doing an impersonation. I've fantasized about using an alias, but my fantasy mostly entails making a lot of money writing a quick horror novel. [Unless you write in that genre, good luck with that.]

Francine Prose, "Bookends," The New York Times Book Review, November 17, 2013

Friday, September 20, 2019

The Infamous "The Dingo Ate My Baby" Case

     According to Lindy Chamberlain, on August 17, 1980, while she, her husband Michael, and their three children were camping near Ayer's Rock in Australia's outback, she saw a dingo (a wild dog) come out of the family's tent with her 9-week-old baby in it's mouth. "The dingo's got my baby!" she screamed. The infant, named Azaria, was never found. The incident grabbed headlines around the world. In Australia, the media portrayed Lindy Chamberlain as a remorseless killer.

     In Darwin, at the Magistrates Court, a coroner's inquest jury found no cause to charge the parents with criminal homicide. This was not a popular verdict, and in 1981, a second coroner's jury heard evidence in the case. This time, Lindy and Michael Chamberlain were ordered to stand trial for the murder of Azaria.

     Although the prosecutor lacked evidence of a crime--he didn't even have a body--the trial jury found Lindy guilty of first-degree murder. The media applauded the verdict, and the judge, bending to public opinion, sentenced her to life in prison. Michael Chamberlain, found guilty of accessory after the fact, received a suspended sentence.

     In 1985, a hiker found a piece of the baby's clothing in a dingo's den near Ayer's Rock. Presented with this new, exonerating evidence, an appellate court, in 1987, overturned the convictions. Lindy Chamberlain was released from prison. Many Australians were not happy with this decision. The following year, a movie came out about the case called "A Cry in the Dark" starring Meryl Streep as Lindy Chamberlain.

     Because many people in Australia believed that Lindy Chamberlain had murdered her baby, the authorities, in anticipation of a retrial, convened a third coroner's inquest in Darwin's Magistrates Court. The jury in the 1995 inquiry returned an open verdict, declaring the cause and manner of the baby's death unknown.

     On February 24, 2012, the Magistrates Court in Darwin was, for the fourth time, the site of a coroner's inquest into the death of the Chamberlain baby. Lindy Chamberlain had asked for the hearing to clear her name. Specifically, she wanted the coroner's jurors to change Azaria's manner of death from "unknown" to "accidental death by animal attack." Both parents, now divorced, were in the courtroom to hear testimony bearing on the case.

     According to an expert on such matters, from 1990 to 2011, there have been 239 dingo attacks in Queensland, Australia. Since 1982, at least three children have been killed by these wild dogs. These statistics were presented to make Lindy Chamberlain's account of her baby's death seem less farfetched. While public opinion had already shifted in her favor, she wanted to make it official.

     The coroner's verdict exonerated the Chamberlains of any wrongdoing in the death of their child. While there has never been any evidence of foul play in this case, there will always be, notwithstanding the coroner's verdict, doubters. And a lot of this doubt can be traced back to the irresponsible journalism in this case. In this regard, the case is not unlike the JonBenet Ramsey case in the United States.

     As late as 2016, Lindy Chamberlain was still speaking publicly about her ordeal. Surprisingly, she held no grudge against those responsible for her wrongful imprisonment.

The Krystal Marie Barrows Police-Involved-Shooting Case

     Eleven people were inside a mobile home near Chillicothe, Ohio when, at 10:30 PM on December 11, 2013, a dozen or so members of a local drug task force unit rolled up to the dwelling with a no-knock warrant to search for guns and drugs. One of the occupants of the trailer house was a teenage girl.

     Just before breaking into the home, one of the heavily armed U.S. 23 Task Force officers tossed a flash bang grenade through a window. At the moment the device detonated officers forced their way into the house.

     Following the initial chaos created by the SWAT-like raid, officers found Krystal Marie Barrows slumped on the living room couch. The 35-year-old mother of three had been shot in the head. She died shortly after being flown by helicopter to the Wexner Medical Center in Columblus.

     The raiding police officers arrested two women and four men for illegally possessing pistols, assault rifles, and heroin. The task force cops also recovered stolen goods and a significant amount of cash. During the raid, none of the mobile home occupants pulled a gun or fired a shot. This meant that Krystal Barrows had been shot by one of the task force officers.

     According to the results of a preliminary police inquiry into Barrows' death, she had been shot by Ross County sergeant Brett McKnight. The eleven-year veteran of the Ross County Sheriff's Office had accidentally discharged his sidearm outside the trailer when the flash bang grenade went off. The bullet pierced the trailer home's exterior wall and hit Barrows in the head.

      Other than a misdemeanor drunk and disorderly conviction, Krystal Barrows did not have a criminal record. Her sons were aged 19, 14, and 9. Detectives with the Ohio Bureau of Investigation looked into the case to determine if Sergeant McKnight had fired his gun recklessly.

     In March 2015, after a Ross County grand jury declined to indict Office McKnight for criminal homicide or lesser charges, the officer returned to work without any disciplinary action.

     Two years after the grand jury refused to indict the officer, the Ross County Sheriff's Office and other wrongful death defendants settled a lawsuit filed by Krystal Barrows' family for $156,000.

The Historic Execution of Gary Gilmore

     The execution of Gary Gilmore, carried out in 1977, marked the resurrection of the modern death penalty. The event was big news and was commemorated by a book by Norman Mailer, The Executioner's Song, later made into a movie. The title is deceptive. Like others who have explored the death penalty, Mailer tells much about the condemned man but very little about the executioners. Indeed, if we examine Mailer's account more closely, the executioner's story is not only unsung, it is also distorted.

     Gilmore's execution was quite atypical, even if his crime was not. He was sentenced to death for killing two men in cold blood, for no apparent reason. Viewed from the outside, his own death had a similar ring of nihilism. Gilmore, unrepentant and unafraid, refused to appeal his conviction--under a then untested capital statue. There is no doubt he could have contested his case for years, as many condemned prisoners have done since his death. But Gilmore, who had already served some twenty-two years of his young life behind bars, would have none of that. To him, prison was death; life in prison was a kind of living death in its own right. Death by firing squad gave him a chance to offer blood atonement for his awful crimes (a notion that resonated with his dark Mormon obsessions), as well as a kind of immortality as the man who put the executioner back to work.

Robert Johnson, Death Work, 1998

Patricia Cornwell's Fascination with Forensics

As a child, my dream was to be an archaeologist when I grew up, and in a way, my fascination with forensics makes total sense. It's all about taking a shard or a splinter or bit of bone and reconstructing how someone died and lived, and who they were. An archaeological site is really one big crime scene.

Patricia Cornwell, The New York Times Book Review, November 24, 2013 

Create Your Characters And They'll Give You a Story

     People wonder where writers get their ideas. Must they first experience what they write? Do they really rush wildly around looking for story ideas? Good writers look for "characters," because ideas grow as freely from characters as apples from trees. Every character grows not one but many fresh, unique, writable stories.

     Writers who want to write good stories or plays must know their characters better than they know themselves. Better--because most of the time we are unaware of the motivating forces within us. Strange but true, it is easier to create a living, three-dimensional character than an unreal, one-dimensional character.

Lajos Egri, The Art of Creative Writing, 1990 

The Writer's Fear of Criticism

     Are writers more concerned with others' opinions of them, more given to depression, and more reluctant to share their work, especially work they consider risky, than other creative types? In my experience, yes, yes, and yes. While the painters and other visual artists I know are surely sensitive people, they also seem enviably oblivious to what others think of their work. Musicians and actors, too, have hefty egos and tend to be more obsessed with what they do than what others think about what they do….Regardless of talent, it's almost impossible to get new writers to stand up and read from their work. [Maybe it's because they think this kind of exercise is self-important and boring to others.]

     Yes, writers' temperaments are unique. I have watched the most talented writers compare themselves to their favorite authors--to dead authors, especially--and grow encyclopedia-sized [writer's] blocks because they believe they'll never be as good. [They are probably right.]

     Talent seems to be inverse to confidence. Some of the most talented writers I know are reluctant to send out their work, so convinced are they that no will will ever publish it.

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett, Pen on Fire, 2004 

Flat Versus Round Characters

     [The novelist] E. M. Forster introduced the term flat character to refer to characters who have no hidden complexity. In this sense, they have no depth (hence the word "flat"). Frequently found in comedy, satire, and melodrama, flat characters are limited to a narrow range of predictable behaviors….

     Forster's counter term to flat characters was round characters. Round characters have varying degrees of depth and complexity and therefore, in Forster's words, they "cannot be summed up in a single phrase."

H. Porter Abbott, The Cambridge Guide to Narrative, 2002