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Friday, January 31, 2020

Coach Morris Berger: Dining With Hitler

     In 2012, Morris Berger graduated from Drury University in Springfield, Missouri with a Bachelor's Degree in History. After his college graduation, he taught history at a Missouri high school where he was also on the football coaching staff. Mr. Berger, more interested in coaching than history, took an assistant coaching position at Missouri Western State University in St. Josephs. He next joined the coaching staff at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater before moving on to Texas State University in San Marcos.

     In January 2020, Morris Berger was named the offensive coordinator at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan. Shortly after the 29-year-old joined the coaching staff, Kellen Voss, the sports editor of the college newspaper, The Grand Valley Lanthorn, interviewed Coach Berger. The question-and-answer article, entitled "Inside the Mind of GVSU's Newest Offensive Coordinator" and published on January 23, 2020, was your typical mindless sports piece.

     Kellen Voss, knowing that the new coach had an undergraduate degree in history, asked him to name a historical figure with whom he'd like to have dinner. Instead of responding to this puff-piece question with a typically safe answer like Jesus, Martin Luther King, or Abraham Lincoln, Coach Berger stepped on a public relations landmine by saying he'd like to dine with, of all people, Adolph Hitler.

     Before justifying why he had picked the fascist who started World War Two and oversaw the murder of six million Jews as a dinner date, Coach acknowledged that his selection may not get "a good review" from readers. Talk about understatement.

     In reference to Hitler's legacy of massive world-wide death and destruction, Coach Berger the historian said, "It was obviously very sad and he had bad motives, but the way he was able to lead was second-to-none. How he rallied a group and a following, I want to know how he did that. Bad intentions of course, but you can't deny he was a great leader."

    One might argue that Hitler, who led his country to devastating and total defeat before killing himself, was not a good leader nor an appropriate role model for the profession of coaching which is all about winning. And when a football team does lose, or has a bad season, the head coach doesn't kill himself. (He just gets fired.)

     Coach Morris Berger is probably a nice person who meant no harm in hypothetically asking Adolph Hitler to dinner for advice on leadership. He did, however, manage to do something that was almost impossible: He turned a sports piece in an obscure college newspaper into a national news item.

     Four days after Coach Berger's public relations fiasco, the school suspended him. On January 30, 2020, he "resigned." In a prepared statement released by the school, Morris Berger wrote: "In the past 11 years I have taken great pride in the responsibility and privilege of being a teacher, coach, mentor and valued member of the community. I was excited and proud to be at Grand Valley, and am disappointed that I will not get the opportunity to help these players in 2020. However, I do not want to be a distraction to these kids, this great university or Coach Mitchell as they begin preparation for the upcoming season."

     Morris Berger was a football coach who said something stupid. He should not have lost his job over this.

The Richard Kirk Murder Case

     In 2014, Richard Kirk, 47, resided in Denver's Observatory Park neighborhood not far from the University of Denver. Richard and his wife Kristine purchased the upscale, Tudor style home in 2005. The couple had three soccer-playing grade school boys. Richard's friends described him as a religious, happy-go-lucky man devoted to his family.

     On December 23, 1993, while living in Dallas, Texas, Richard, then single, was charged with felony assault. The prosecutor dropped the charge to a misdemeanor offense then eventually dismissed the case altogether. At the time, Kristine resided five miles away in a Dallas apartment. (Richard Kirk's alleged victim was not identified in the media.)

     In 2000, a police officer in Douglas County, Colorado arrested Richard for driving under the influence. (The disposition of this case is unknown.) These two incidents comprise the extent of Kirk's arrest record.

     At 9:32 on the night of Monday, April 14, 2014, 44-year-old Kristine A. Kirk called a 911 dispatcher in Denver to report a domestic disturbance at her residence. She said her husband had been smoking marijuana and was scaring their three young sons. According to Kristine, he had also been hallucinating and talking about the end of the world. Most disturbingly, he said he wanted her to shoot him to death.

     The dispatcher asked Kristine if there was a gun in the dwelling. The caller said yes, but it was locked inside a safe. The 911 call suddenly turned ominous when Kristine informed the dispatcher that her husband had gotten the handgun out of the safe and was holding it in his hand.

     About thirteen minutes into the 911 call, the dispatcher heard a scream and then a gunshot. At that point the line went dead. The dispatcher immediately upgraded the 911 call from a domestic disturbance case to a "code 10"--a possible shooting.

     That night, two Denver police officers rolled up to the Kirk house on South St. Paul Street. Three minutes later, one of the officers called for an ambulance, and advised the 911 dispatcher that they "were going to need homicide."

     An officer put Richard Kirk into handcuffs and escorted him to the patrol car. From the backseat of the police vehicle, without prompting, the suspect admitted shooting his wife to death.

     The next day a local prosecutor charged Richard Kirk with first-degree murder. At his arraignment on Wednesday, April 16, 2014, the judge advised the suspect of the charge against him, assigned him a public defender, and ordered him held without bail. Kirk showed no emotion as he stood before the magistrate.

     The media, as it often does in high-profile crimes, began assessing blame. In this case reporters were quick to note that since 2008, 911 response time at the Denver Police Department had grown longer. According to a police spokesperson, budget cuts and fewer officers on patrol had adversely affected police response time to domestic calls.

     Notwithstanding the 15 minute lapse between the victim's 911 call and the arrival of the officers, there was no way to know for sure if a faster police response would have saved Kristine Kirk's life.

     Because marijuana was legal in Colorado, the media made a big deal over the fact that before allegedly murdering his wife, Richard Kirk had smoked pot.

     In February 2017, Richard Kirk, still blaming marijuana for the killing, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. On April 8, 2017, the judge sentenced him to 30 years in prison. Kirk had relinquished custody of his three sons to his dead wife's parents.

The Incurable Pedophile

Everything I read said that pedophiles weren't treatable--they never stopped being pedophiles no matter what was done for them, or to them. There'd been fads where they'd tried everything from brain surgery to chemical castration to "aversion" therapy in which after he's been "cured," the pedophile is supposed to snap a rubber band against his wrist every time he wants to rape a child. [Perhaps the rubber band was on the wrong organ.] Occasionally there have even been cases in which physical castration has been considered--as if removing a body part could change what someone is, as if they wouldn't just use Coke bottles or broomsticks instead. None of it has worked. The worst part is the way the experimenters have found out they failed: at the expense of children. [Notwithstanding the universal realization that pedophiles are incurable serial offenders, they are never sentenced to life in prison.]

Alice Vachass, Sex Crimes, 1994 

The Semicolon

A semicolon can be called in when a comma is not enough. There are times when a comma is already used too much in one sentence, when it can't do its job effectively anymore. There are also times when multiple thoughts in a sentence need more separation than merely a comma, need more time and space to be digested. But a period is sometimes too strong, provides too much separation. The semicolon can step in and save the day, allow a more substantial pause while not severing thoughts completely.

Noah Lukeman, A Dash of Style, 2006

Groucho Marx on the Art of Politics

Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.

Groucho Marx

Should Journalists Edit Quotes?

One time a newspaper sent us to a morgue to get a story on a woman whose body was being held for identification. A man believed to be her husband was brought in. Somebody pulled the sheet back; the man took one agonizing look, and cried, "My God, it's her!" When we reported this grim incident, the editor diligently changed it to "My God, it's she!"

E. B. White, The Second Tree From the Corner, 1954

How To Teach Fiction Writing

What you create when you're teaching fiction writing is a kind of literary salon, not a social club or a mutual admiration society, not a repair shop, not a fight club or a soap box. It's a place to have a conversation about a story.

John Dufresne, novelist, writing teacher

Charles Bukowski On the Cruelty of False Praise

If you lied to a man about his talent just because he was sitting across from you, that was the most unforgivable lie of them all, because that was telling him to go on, to continue which was the worst way for a man without real talent to waste his life, finally. But many people did just that, friends and relatives mostly.

Charles Bukowski, Women, 1978

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Who Says Marijuana Doesn't Make You Stupid

     On Monday, January 27, 2020, in Lebanon, Tennessee, a town of 32,000 in the middle of the state 25 miles east of Nashville, Spencer Alan Boston, looking like a 1960's hippie, stood in front of Wilson County Judge Haywood Barry. The 20-year-old defendant had been charged with possession of marijuana and was in court to be sentenced.

     Before Judge Barry sentenced Mr. Boston, the defendant, while arguing for the legalization of marijuana, rolled a joint and lit it, filling the courtroom with marijuana smoke. Several people in the courtroom broke into laughter. The judge was not amused.

     On the spot, Judge Barry charged the pot advocate with possession of marijuana and disorderly conduct. The judge also held Spencer Boston in contempt of court, and sentenced him to 10 days in jail. As deputies led the pot smoker out of the courtroom in handcuffs, the man on his way to the slammer looked quite pleased with himself. Perhaps when Mr. Boston came off his marijuana high, he would see things differently. Perhaps not.

     Defense attorney are known to blow a lot of smoke in America's courtrooms. This time, however, it was the defendant who blew some smoke, the kind that sent him to jail. 

Judge Cynthia Brim: The Difficulty of Removing an Unfit Judge From the Bench

      Cynthia Brim, a black woman from Chicago's south side, graduated from the city's Loyola University Law School in 1983. In 1994, the 38-year-old lawyer, after working seven years in the Chicago Law Department, was elected to the position of Cook County Circuit Judge. She presided in the Markham Courthouse in south suburban Chicago. Most of her workload involved simple traffic cases. Elected to a six year term, she would remain on the bench until Cook County citizens voted not to retain her. That hasn't happened to a Cook County judge in 24 years. In Chicagoland, once on the bench, always on the bench. In reality it's a lifetime position.

     By any standard, Brim was not a competent judge. In 2000, 2006, and 2012, years in which Brim was on the ballot for retention, the Chicago Bar Association did not recommend that voters retain her as a judge. According to the bar association, Brim was not qualified nor fit for the relatively simple job of presiding over minor traffic offenses. Notwithstanding the bar association's stamp of disapproval, Cook County voters kept her in on the bench.

     On March 9, 2012, Judge Brim turned up at the Daley Center Courthouse in downtown Chicago where she threw a set of keys at and shoved a Cook County Sheriff's Deputy. Officers handcuffed the out-of-control woman and took her to a holding cell in the basement of the courthouse. A Cook County prosecutor charged Judge Brim with misdemeanor battery.

     A court-appointed psychiatrist examined the judge and concluded that when she committed the crime, she was out of her mind. The day before her fight with the deputy, while sitting on the bench at the Markham Courthouse, Judge Brim had to be ejected from her own courtroom following a 45-minute rant on racism in the criminal justice system.

     Shortly after her arrest for battery, a panel of Cook County supervisory judges suspended Brim for an indefinite period of time. While the fracas with the police officer represented her first brush with the law, the mental breakdown the day before her arrest fit into a long history of such irrational behavior. The woman was clearly unfit for the bench, but because she held an elected office, stripping Brim of her judgeship was next to impossible. Indefinite suspension was the next best thing. During that period, however, until her term ran out, Brim was paid her annual salary of $182,000 a year.

     Joe Berrious, a Cook County Democratic machine boss, told reporters that Judge Brim would receive the full support of the party in her next retention election.

     In November 2012, Cook County voters gave the suspended mentally ill judge another six years in office.

     Judge Brim went on trial for battery in February 2013. She waived her right to a jury in favor of a trial by judge. Her attorney, in presenting a defense of legal insanity, revealed how unfit his client was for the bench. According to the defense attorney, Judge Brim, since becoming a judge, had been hospitalized for mental illness nine times. In describing Brim's skirmish with the deputy sheriff, the attorney said, "This was not the action of a rational human being. This is someone acting pursuant to the symptoms of a mental disorder."

     The trial judge in the battery case found that when the defendant unloaded on the deputy, she was legally insane. As a result, he placed Judge Brim on probation and ordered her to stay on her antipsychotic medication.

     In an effort to get Judge Brim permanently removed from the bench, John Gallo, the attorney for the Judicial Inquiry Board, filed a complaint in August 2013, charging Brim with conduct "prejudicial to the administration of justice that brought the judicial office into disrepute." Attorney Gallo noted that after the incident in the downtown courthouse, Judge Brim had been hospitalized three weeks for bipolar mood disorder.

     Attorney Gallo wrote that the day before the judge's arrest, while presiding over a traffic case, Brim suddenly launched into a 45-minute tirade in which she revealed that her grandmother had been raped by a white man. She also accused two Cook County police agencies of targeting Hispanics and blacks. "Justice is all about if you're black or white," she said before being forcibly removed from the courtroom.

     In March 2014, Brim's case came before a judicial disciplinary panel comprised of an Illinois Supreme Court Justice, two appellate court judges, a pair of circuit court judges, and two citizens. In a bid to save her $182,000 a year job, Judge Brim spoke to the panel. Regarding her rant the day before her run-in with the police officer, she said, "I just broke like a pencil. It was totally inappropriate for me to say what I did at the time--or any other time."

     In an effort to convince the panel members that she was ready to return to the bench, Judge Brim said, "I can serve as a judge with full capability as long as I continue to take the medication as prescribed. I've had two years to think about this, and I have a different perspective and understanding of my condition. I realize now I have to stay on my medications and see a psychiatrist on a regular basis."

     Attorney Gallo, in speaking to the inquiry panel, voiced his concern over whether it would be proper for Judge Brim to return to the bench. "Judge Brim," he said, "decided to go without any kind of psychiatric treatment of any sort after 15 years of these episodes while she was a sitting judge." Mr. Gallo informed the panel members that Brim had been hospitalized nine times for mental breakdowns since she took the bench in 1994. In one of her psychiatric meltdowns EMT personnel carried her out of the courtroom on a stretcher after she went catatonic. Gallo pointed out that the judge wasn't diagnosed with a bipolar type of schizoaffective disorder until 2009. By then she had been a judge fifteen years.

     On May 10, 2014, the Illinois Courts Commission removed Cynthia Brim from the bench. The commissioners had determined that she was unfit to preside over a courtroom. Following her removal, however, she began receiving her pension in excess of $150,000 a year. She also remained registered in the state to practice law.
     

Where Have All The Pickpockets Gone?

     To avoid having your pocket or purse picked while shopping at the local mall or public event, crime prevention experts recommend that men carry their cash and credit cards in front-pocket wallets and that women tote their handbags diagonally across their bodies. While there's nothing wrong with that advice, is it really necessary?  In America, are there any pickpockets left?

     Today, when people say they've had their pockets picked, they're usually referring to politicians, not those dexterous thieves who actually pick pockets and lift wallets from handbags. You don't hear much any more about those street larcenists with the educated fingers and nerves of steel. In the old days, as-told-to memoirs featuring the exploits of these soft-touch artists had a small niche in the true crime genre. But there hasn't been a book like this published for decades. Are these guys still around plying their sticky-fingered trade? Has pickpocketing become a lost art?

     In Europe, particularly Rome, Italy and Barcelona, Spain, pickpockets still mingle with the tourists. Most of them are from Bulgaria and Romania. But even in those cities, pickpockets are vastly outnumbered by their less talented criminal cousins, purse snatchers. In America, they have been replaced by armed street thugs. The FBI, through its uniform crime reporting system, no longer keeps track of reported pickpocketing cases nationwide.

     New York City has always been paradise for pickpockets. But even in the Big Apple, pickpocketing has been a dying criminal trade. In 1990, there were 23,000 reported cases, but in 2000, less than 5,000. Up until the 1970s, the city was home to organized pickpocket schools where students lifted wallets from mannequins outfitted with bells that would ring if the trainee lacked the required finesse. These academies are gone, and no one is passing the torch to a new generation of wallet-lifting thieves.

     The beginning of the end for professional pickpocketing came when people started carrying credit cards instead of cash. About the only people still practicing this ancient trade are a handful of professional magicians whose motives are entertainment rather than theft. These entertainers have the skill, but without the threat of detection, arrest, and jail, they don't possess the nerves of steel.    

Combining The Power of Facts and the Techniques of Fiction

I think narrative nonfiction is essentially a hybrid form, a marriage of the art of storytelling and the art of journalism--an attempt to make drama out of the observable world of real people, real places, and real events. It's a sophisticated form of nonfiction writing, possibly the highest form, that harnesses the power of facts to the techniques of fiction. It constructs a central narrative, setting scenes, depicting multidimensional characters and, most important, telling the story in a compelling voice that the reader will want to hear.

Robert Vare in Telling The Story by Peter Rubie, 2003 

Are You Sure You Want to be a Writer?

You can't envy writers who were persecuted, imprisoned or put to death for their writing. You can't envy writers whose greatness went unacknowledged in their lifetimes. The careers of alcoholic writers and writers who ended up committing suicide are also hard to covet in any wholehearted way. Even the steadiest-seeming, most successful writers tend, on close examination, to have suffered significant and distinctly unenviable episodes of professional misery at some point in their careers. Self-doubt and self-loathing are occupational hazards of a writing life, and no writer--with the exception of the awesomely sanguine John Updike--ever escapes them altogether.

Zoe Heller, The New York Times Book Review, June 8, 2014

The Dwindling Short Story Market

     If you want to write fiction, the best thing you can do is take two aspirins, lie down in a dark room, and wait for the feeling to pass.

     If it persists, you probably ought to write a novel. Interestingly, most embryonic fiction writers accept the notion they ought to write a novel sooner or later. It's not terribly difficult to see that the world of short fiction is a world of limited opportunity. Both commercially and artistically, the short-story writer is quite strictly circumscribed.

     This has not always been the case. Half a century ago, the magazine story was important in a way it has never been since. During the twenties, a prominent writer typically earned several thousand dollars for the sale of a short story to a top slick [non-pulp] magazine. These stories were apt to be talked about at parties and social gatherings, and the reputation a writer might establish in this fashion helped gain attention for any novel he might ultimately publish.

     The change since those days has been remarkable. In virtually all areas, the short fiction market has shrunk in size and significance. Fewer magazines publish fiction, and every year they publish less of it. The handful of top markets pay less in today's dollars than they did in the much harder currency of fifty or sixty years ago. Pulp magazines have virtually disappeared as a market.

Lawrence Block, Writing the Novel, 1979

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Joseph McGuinniss And The Jeffrey MacDonald Murder Case

     Joe McGuinniss was born in Manhattan, New York on December 9, 1942. Raised by well-to-do parents in New York City and Los Angeles, he graduated in 1964 from Holly Cross University in Worcester, Massachusetts. After failing to get into Columbia University's graduate school of journalism (They must have suspected he had writing talent.), McGinniss became a staff reporter for the Worcester Telegram. 

     Following stints at The Philadelphia Bulletin and The Philadelphia Inquirer, McGuinniss published his first book in 1968. The Selling of the President, a nonfiction account of the marketing of presidential candidate Richard Nixon, became a bestseller and remained on The New York Times bestseller list for six months. That book established the 26-year-old author's reputation as a serious investigative journalist and landed him a job as writer-in-residence at the Los Angeles Harold Examiner.

The Jeffrey MacDonald Murder Case

     On February 17, 1970, Green Beret Captain and Army surgeon Jeffrey MacDonald reported a deadly invasion of his home at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. At the scene, Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID) officers found MacDonald's wife Colette and his two daughters, Kimberly and Kristen, stabbed to death. MacDonald himself had superficial puncture wounds. According to MacDonald, he had struggled with the hippie intruders who had murdered his family.

     Following an internal military review of the case, Captain MacDonald was cleared of wrongdoing. But in January 1975, a federal grand jury indicted him on three counts of first-degree murder. He vigorously maintained his innocence and stuck to his original version of the mass murder.

     At some point after MacDonald's indictment, Joe McGuinniss entered the case as a journalist who intended to write a book exonerating the Green Beret officer. The writer acquired access into the inner circle of the MacDonald defense team by gaining MacDonald's trust as a loyal friend. In reality, the more McGuinniss learned about the case, the more convinced he became of MacDonald's guilt. The true crime writer believed that MacDonald, a sociopath who wanted to be free of  his family, had murdered his wife and daughters in a homicidal frenzy aided by his abuse of diet pills.

     In 1979, when the jury found MacDonald guilty as charged, McGuinniss, to maintain his position within the MacDonald defense team, feigned shock and outrage. But when McGuinniss' book on the case, Fatal Vision, came out in 1983, it was Jeffery MacDonald and his supporters who were shocked and outraged by the author's duplicity.

     Shortly after the publication of Fatal Vision, a book that quickly became a runaway bestseller, Jeffery MacDonald sued the true crime writer for beach of contract.

     When the first of its kind lawsuit went to trial, several well-known true crime authors such as Joseph Wambaugh and Norman Mailer testified on McGuinniss' behalf as expert witnesses. According to Wambaugh and Mailer, McGinniss had done what any serious investigative journalist would do to get to the bottom of a case. In other words, a true crime writer has no duty to be honest with the person he's writing about. At the conclusion of the trial, some jurors bought McGuinniss' defense but others did not. This led to a hung jury.

    The insurance company for the publisher of Fatal Vision, shocked and concerned that some of the jurors had sided with a man who had killed his wife and two children over the guy who had written the book about the mass murder, settled the suit out of court for $325,000. In the court of public opinion, McGuinniss did not come off as a likable person, and ordinary people did not approve of his journalistic trickery.

     In 1989, journalist Janet Malcolm wrote a long piece about the MacDonald-McGuinniss suit in The New Yorker. A year later, the article came out as a book called The Journalist and the Murderer. (It's a great read, by the way.) Malcolm's defining of the journalist/subject relationship as inherently exploitive itself became a source of debate. Regarding the MacDonald/McGuinniss relationship, Malcolm famously wrote: "Every journalist who is not too stupid or full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible."

     Jerry Allen Potter and Fred Bott published a book called Fatal Justice that argues for MacDonald's innocence. According to these authors, McGuinniss's book is full of substantive errors and groundless speculation.

     Regardless of one's take on the MacDonald's guilt or innocence, Fatal Vision is an exceptionally well written account of a fascinating murder case. It also popularized the concept of the sociopathic killer who appears normal on the outside but in reality is a pathologically narcissistic liar without feelings of guilt.

     Joe McGuinniss followed Fatal Vision with two bestselling true crime books. Blind Faith, published in 1989, is about a New Jersey man who hired a hit man to murder his wife. Cruel Doubt, 1991, features teenage murderers inspired by the role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons.

     The method McGuinniss used to research his last book, a biography of Sarah Palin, also stirred controversy. In 2010, he rented a house in Wasilla, Alaska next door to the former vice presidential candidate. Critics called McGuinniss a peeping Tom, and Palin accused him of stalking her and her family. The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin came out in 2011. The book, failing to break new ground about a person the public had lost interest in, did not make the bestseller list.

     On March 10, 2014, Joe McGuinniss died in a Worcester, Massachusetts hospital from prostate cancer. At his death at age 71, he was living in Pelham with his second wife Nancy Doherty. He was survived by three children.

     Fatal Vision is considered by many to be a true crime classic equal to Joseph Wambaugh's Onion Field, Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, and Norman Mailer's Executioner's Song.

     In December 2018, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals denied the 75-year-old MacDonald his latest bid for a new trial.

     Jeffery MacDonald remains in prison and continues to maintain his innocence. 

U.S. Counterfeit Bills From China

U. S. Customs and Border Protection officers, on December 19, 2019, were asked by the Secret Service to inspect a rail container at the international port of entry that connects the cities of International Falls, Minnesota and Fort Frances, Ontario, Canada. The CBP officers seized 45 cartons containing 900,000 counterfeit $1 bills. The shipment had originated from China. The seizure was turned over to the Secret Service that determined the bills were counterfeit. 

Joe Biden's Take on Domestic Violence

Napoleon Bonaparte said it best: "In politics, stupidity is not a handicap."

    In a speech delivered in Washington, D. C. on Wednesday, March 13, 2013, Vice President Joe Biden, the self-proclaimed criminal justice expert on subjects ranging from how to stop intruders by shot-gunning them through closed doors, to the problem of domestic violence, once again revealed the scope and depth of his stupidity. In profiling men who physically abuse women, Biden said this: "We've learned that certain behaviors on the part of an abuser portend much more danger than other behaviors. For example, if an abuser has attempted to strangle his victim, if he's threatened to shoot her, if he's sexually assaulted her, these are tell tale signs to say this isn't your garden variety slap across the face."

     Joe Biden has the unusual ability to make statements that are both puerile and offensive. While it's obvious that a man who attempts to strangle a woman is dangerous, a man who slaps a woman in the face could be just as dangerous. "Garden variety" or not, a man who has slapped a woman in the face has committed criminal assault. Moreover, slaps have a way of escalating to more severe beatings, and even murder.

     Among the dumb politicians in Washington, Joe Biden has been the most eager to put his stupidity on display. He's done it time and time again. In fact, he's done it so many times and in so many ways, people no longer take much notice. I guess every village has to have an idiot. But when that idiot could become the President of the United States, it's cause for concern. 

When Your Book is Published and No One Cares

     Authors have to promote their books, and they have to be flashy about it. Especially these days. You can't imagine anything less frivolous, and more painted in grim necessity, than an average mid-list bookstore signing. The audience is hushed and minuscule, the shattered-looking author can't believe he's there--the whole thing has the last-ditch solemnity of a persecuted religious rite. Oh sure, there have been good reviews; there have been polite acclaim. Fellow authors have kicked in with the blurbs and the boosts. A prize might have been won. But as regards this book, and this writer, the great sleep of the culture is unbroken

     So: You find new formats, new ways to perforate the oblivious disregard in which America holds you, the dark night of your unfamousness. The problem of course is that it's all so, you know, unliterary. Anti-literary, really. In the promotional moment, what has hitherto been an inward enterprise (the writing of the book) is turned outward overnight; the author is all of a sudden on display.

James Parker, The New York Times Book Review, May 25, 2014

The Flawed Character

I'm fascinated by characters who are completely flawed personalities, driven by anguish and doubt, and are psychologically suspect. Wait a minute--basically that's everybody, isn't it, in life and on the page? As a writer, I'm drawn to characters who, for one reason or another, seem to find themselves desperately out of joint, alienated but not wanting to be, and ever yearning to understand the rules of the game.

Chang-rae Lee, The New York Times Book Review, January 26, 2014 

A Sense of Place

Many novelists avoid laying out the setting because they fear boring their readers, but the lack of vivid setting may in turn cause boredom. Without a strong sense of place, it's hard to achieve suspense and excitement--which depend on the reader's sensation of being right there, where the action takes place. When descriptions of places drag, the problem usually lies not in the setting, but in presenting the setting too slowly. Make your descriptions dynamic and quick; give bits of setting concurrently with character and action.

Josip Novakovich, Fiction Writer's Workshop, 1995

Elements of a Short Story

It is not hard to state what Edgar Allan Poe meant by a good short story; it is a piece of fiction, dealing with a single incident...that can be read at a setting. It is original, it must sparkle, excite or impress; and it must have unity of effect or impression. It should move in an even line from its exposition to its close.

W. Somerset Maugham, Points of View, 1961

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Robert Thomas: Very Old, and Very Dangerous

     On January 2, 2020, at ten after nine in the morning, a female employee at the Vista Del Valle apartment complex in Las Vegas, Nevada, called 911 about a man in the office with a gun. The caller reported that a 93-year-old resident of the complex was making threats and arguing with the maintenance manager over water damage in his apartment. The dispatcher could hear the man, Robert Thomas, yelling threats. Mr. Thomas, in possession of a Glock 9 mm pistol, would not calm down.

     After Mr. Thomas fired a random shot that knocked out a computer screen, the woman who had called 911 convinced him to let her leave the office. Shortly after she walked out of the building, Robert Thomas shot the maintenance manager, causing the victim to fall out of his chair. As the manager lay on the floor, Mr. Thomas shot him again.

     The first Las Vegas Metropolitan police officer to arrive at the scene, Ronald Hornyak, a 16-year veteran of the force, saw the old man with the gun through the glass entrance. Officer Hornyak ordered Mr. Thomas to drop his weapon and walk out of the building. When the suspect didn't respond, Officer Hornyak fired a shot through the glass door. The bullet didn't hit the old man's body but pierced his coat lapel.

     Mr. Thomas, after being shot at by the officer, placed his gun on the desk and backed away. Officer Hornyak entered the office and dragged the suspect out of the building.

     The maintenance manager was rushed to a local hospital where he was expected to recover from his gunshot wounds. Robert Thomas, after being treated at a medical facility for a minor injury received in his encounter with the police officer, was treated and released back into police custody.

     Officers booked Robert Thomas into the Clark County Detention center on charges of attempted murder, kidnapping, discharging a firearm within a structure, burglary with a firearm, and carrying a concealed weapon without a permit. At his arraignment, the magistrate set the suspect's bail at $25,000.

     On January 7, 2020, Robert Thomas, confined to a wheelchair and wearing earphones so he could hear the judge, was back in court. The defendant was informed that if he posted 15 percent of his $25,000 bail and agreed to house arrest and an electronic monitoring device, he would be released from the Clark Country Detention Center.

     Officer Ronald Hornyak, pending the results of an inquiry into the police-involved shooting, was placed on paid administrative leave.
     

The Johnny Lewis Murder Case

     During his teenage years, actor Jonathan "Johnny" Lewis landed roles in various television series such as Malcolm in the Middle, Drake & Josh, Judging Amy, Boston Public, American Dreams, and The OC. In 2007 he appeared in the movie AVPR: Aliens vs Predator Requiem, and three years later in the film The Runaways. More recently, he played a series character in a motorcycle-gang drama called, Sons of Anarchy. In the final episode of season 2 his character was killed off. (He said because he wanted out of the contract.) At one time Lewis dated an actress named Katy Perry.

     In January 2012, a pair of residents of a townhouse in Northridge, California came home to find the 28-year-old actor inside their dwelling. (Lewis had once lived in the complex.) Before leaving the scene of his burglary, Lewis, out of his mind on drugs, beat the townhouse occupants with an empty Perrier bottle. Charged with burglary and assault, Lewis spent some time in the Los Angeles County Jail before being released on bail.

     Six weeks later, while out on bond, Johnny Lewis punched a man in the face at a Santa Monica yogurt shop. A week later, police arrested him while attempting to break into a home in that city. Once again he posted bail, and was released from custody. But in March, when Lewis failed to show up at a court hearing, the judge issued a warrant for his arrest. Police took him into custody a short time later, and put him back in jail.

     In preparation for his sentencing hearing on the Santa Monica attempted burglary case, a probation officer, in a report dated May 17, 2012, wrote: "The defendant suffers from some kind of chemical dependency, mental health issues, and lack of permanent housing. Given this, [Lewis] will continue to be a threat to any community [in which] he may reside."

     On May 23, 2012, Judge Mark E. Windham, relying on the above report, sentenced Johnny Lewis to 30 days of mental health and drug abuse treatment at the Ridgeview Ranch in Altadena, California. After Lewis completed the Ridgeview Ranch program as an outpatient, the judge presiding over the two assault cases, sentenced him to a period of probation. Not long after that, Lewis was put behind bars for some other offense. He made bail again, and on September 21, 2012, was back on the street abusing drugs and causing trouble.

     Johnny Lewis was renting a room in a sprawling, two-story house in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Los Felix Hills. His 81-year-old landlady, Catherine Davis, rented rooms in the Spanish-Style, bed-and-breakfast-like facility to young Hollywood actors. At ten o'clock in the morning of Wednesday, September 26, 2012, just five days after he had been released from jail, Lewis hopped a fence and attacked a painter working on the house next door. The owner of the home got into the fray, but Lewis was so high on drugs, there was nothing they could do to subdue him. The two men, fearing for their lives, took refuge in the house. An out of control Lewis tried to break into the house to continue the assault.

     When the mad actor returned to his Los Felix Hills residence, he broke into Catherine Davis' living quarters, ripped her cat to pieces with his bare hands, smashed and ransacked the place, then beat the old woman to death. Neighbors who heard Catherine Davis screaming for her life, called 911.

     At 10:40 that morning, when the police arrived at the scene, they found Johnny Lewis sprawled out dead on the driveway to the rooming house. Investigators believed that under the influence of drugs, he had fallen off the roof of the hillside dwelling. Inside, they found the beaten and strangled landlady, and her dismembered cat. Based on the dead actor's recent history, and the nature of his violence, detectives believed that Johnny Lewis had been high on PCP, crystal meth, or a new designer drug called "smiles," a psychedelic substance sold in the form of powder and pills.

     Jonathan Mandel, Lewis' attorney, told reporters that "Johnny Lewis had a lot of problems. I recommended treatment for him but he declined it. I give a lot of credit to his parents, they were really strong in trying to help him out. They really went to bat for him, but I guess they just couldn't do enough."

     Johnny Lewis' father, Michael, was a Scientologist who ran a Scientology clinic out in the San Fernando Valley. Mr. Lewis once wrote a screenplay with L. Ron Hubbard, the Church of Scientology founder, about the practice of Dianetics. After Johnny Lewis' arrests for burglary and assault, and the drug-crazed murder of Catherine Davis, Scientology officials distanced themselves from the young actor, claiming that he left the church years ago. His image, and references to him, disappeared from the church's various websites.

     Members of the Church of Scientology are forbidden from consulting with psychologists and psychiatrists, or from taking psychotic medication. L. Ron Hubbard considered psychiatrists pill-pushing charlatans, and established his own programs for members suffering from mental illness, emotional problems, and drug and alcohol abuse. In lieu of modern psychiatry, Scientologists are treated with one-on-one counseling sessions, the ingestion of large amounts of vitamins, and sweating out their demons in high-temperature saunas.

     In 2004, Johnny Lewis went through a Church of Scientology drug program called Narconon. He spoke publicly about his treatment, and appeared on Narconon related websites. (These images were scrubbed from the Internet.)

     Critics of the Church of Scientology, and there are millions of them around the world, accused church officials with contributing to the deaths of mentally ill Scientologists by denying them modern psychiatric medication. The media generally refrained from emphasizing the Scientology connection to Catherine Davis's drug-crazed murder.

How to Represent The Drunk Driver

There is a technique good defense lawyers learns early on: The empty beer cans were scattered all over the front seat of your client's car, and he was barreling down the highway before he hit a lamppost. What do you do? You talk about the massive conspiracy to suppress air bags, about Lee Iacocca's salary, and about anything you can think of--except you're client's blood-alcohol test.

Peter H. Huber, Galileo's Revenge, 1991

Opening a Serial Murder Investigation

A serial murder investigation is generally initiated by an agency or group of agencies following the identification of a series of related homicides…A serial murder investigation may be initiated as an extension of a current homicide investigation when a second unsolved murder or series of unsolved murders are linked to the original case. This linkage may be similarities in victims, crime scenes, attacks, geography, or any number of actions or situations which convince investigators that the homicides have been committed by a common killer.

Steven A. Egger, The Killers Among Us, 1998

The Thriller

Old-fashioned suspense is more engaging than immediate violence. A great thriller is more about creating a sense of unease, a queasiness that comes with knowing something is not quite right. It's why I love unreliable narrators--there's something so wonderfully unnerving about realizing midway through a book that you've put yourself in the hands of someone who is not to be trusted.

Gillian Flynn, The New York Times Book Review, May 11, 2014

Speaking of Dialogue

Dialogue not only creates space on the page, which is visually appealing, it's also what brings characters to life in a story, which is emotionally appealing. We're much more interested in a story's setting when it comes through a scene of dialogue. Our characters' tense words let readers know where our characters are internally and create suspense for what's ahead in the story. The onset of a dialogue scene immediately propels the story into high gear. [Not necessarily. It depends on the conversation. I've read a lot of boring dialogue created by so-called "literary" novelists.] Through dialogue, we can give readers a very real sense of a story's setting. If done well, dialogue can even communicate the story's theme. [My advice to aspiring novelists--forget theme and focus on story.] Effective dialogue delivers all of these things to eager readers. This is the kind of dialogue we, as writers, want to create.

Gloria Kempton, Dialogue, 2004 

The Short Story: A Burst of Creativity

The short story form is like a hundred-yard dash, compared to a cross-country race. There's no time for pacing, strategy, getting a second wind. In a short flash you go flat out, and that's all.

Ben Bova, Notes to a Science Fiction Writer, 1975 

Science Fiction: An Acquired Taste

Science fiction is often accused (by those who don't like it) of being unnecessarily esoteric. You can't understand the stuff, we are told, unless you've already read a fat pile of it. Science Fiction writers use devices not readily comprehensible to an outside reader. Take faster-than-light travel, hyperspace, fourth and fifth dimensions. The truth is that anything worth knowing demands effort, and the science fiction understandable only to science fiction readers is almost invariably the very best kind written.

Gordon Eklund in Epoch, edited by Roger Elwood and Robert Silverberg, 1975 

Monday, January 27, 2020

The Lois Riess Double Murder Case

     On March 23, 2018, in Blooming Prairie, Minnesota, Dodge County sheriff deputies went to the home of 59-year-old David Riess after his business partner reported that he hadn't seen him for two weeks. Riess's wife Lois, had texted friends that Mr. Riess was not well and should not be bothered at home. At the Riess house, police officers discovered David Riess's body. He had been shot to death. (It was later determined that he had been shot several times with a .22-caliber gun.) The gun used to kill Mr. Riess was not at the murder scene. Lois Riess was not around, and no one knew where she was.

     A few days after the discovery of Mr. Riess' body, Lois Riess began forging checks drawn on his bank account. The checks had been cashed in south Florida.

     A few days after the discovery of Mr. Riess's body, Dodge County, Minnesota prosecutor charged Mrs. Riess with the murder of her husband. At this point, the missing 56-year-old murder suspect became known in the local media as "The Grandma Fugitive."

     While hiding in Fort Myers, Florida, Lois Riess met Pamela Hutchinson, a woman who looked a lot like her. The 54-year-old Hutchinson lived in Bradenton, Florida, but was staying in a hotel in Fort Myers where she had traveled to visit a friend.

     On April 5, 2018, Riess shot Pamela Hutchinson to death in the victim's hotel room. Her body was discovered four days after the murder. Police officers, from the hotel room, recovered the murder weapon, a .22-caliber handgun. (This weapon was later determined to be the gun used to kill David Riess in Minnesota.) Lois Riess had killed Mrs. Hutchinson, her lookalike, in order to use her identification. From Florida, Riess drove to Texas in the murder victim's car.

     On April 10, 2018, a Lee County, Florida prosecutor charged Lois Riess with the first-degree murder of Pamela Hutchinson.

     On April 19, 2018, U.S. Marshals took "The Fugitive Grandma" into custody in South Padre Island, Texas. Riess was having a cocktail at a waterfront restaurant.

     Lois Riess, in December 2019, pleaded guilty to murdering Pamela Hutchinson in Fort Myers, Florida. The Lee County judge sentenced her to life in prison.

     Following Riess' guilty plea, the Dodge County authorities in Minnesota began the process of extraditing her back to that state to stand trial for the March 2018 murder of her husband.

The Donna Scrivo Murder Case

     In 1999, Ramsay Scrivo graduated from De La Salle Collegiate High School in St. Clair Shores, a suburban community just east of Detroit, Michigan. He earned a bachelor's degree from Wayne State University four years later. After working briefly as an accountant, Ramsay quit after a supervisor criticized his work.

     After employment in the building trade, Ramsay, in the spring of 2013, started a lawn maintenance service. About that time his parents, Daniel and Donna Scrivo, helped him purchase a condo in St. Clair Shores.

     Notwithstanding the support he received from his parents, Ramsay had serious problems. He was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic who suffered depression and bouts of uncontrolled anger when he was off his medication. Ramsay, when he wasn't on his anti-psychotic meds, thought people were trying to poison him. Moreover, he believed that someone had implanted a tiny microphone in one of his teeth. Following a simple assault conviction, the judge placed Scrivo on probation.

     Ramsay Scrivo's troubled life took a turn for the worse when his father died of an illness in May 2013. After Ramsay threatened to hang himself, a judge granted Donna Scrivo, a registered nurse, guardianship of her son. He agreed to mental health treatment at St. John Hospital in Detroit. After 90 days of treatment, Ramsay Scrivo was released from the medical center. As long as he took his medication he wasn't dangerous. But almost all schizophrenics, at one time or another, quit their medication because of the side effects. Donna Scrivo moved into Ramsay's condo in St. Clair Shores.

     On Sunday, January 26, 2014, Donna reported Ramsay missing. Late in the afternoon of Thursday, January 30, a motorist in China Township 50 miles northeast of Detroit, saw a human head that had rolled out of a garbage bag someone had been dumped along the side of a rural road. Inside three more garbage bags found nearby, police officers discovered body parts, items of clothing, and charred documents.

     Just before five in the morning of Friday, January 31, 2014, a motorist saw a garbage bag alongside an Interstate 94 ramp in nearby St. Clair Township. Inside the bag officers found more body parts.The FBI, through fingerprints, identified the remains as coming from one person, Ramsay Scrivo.

     A neighbor reported seeing Donna Scrivo carrying several garbage bags out of the condo shortly before she reported Ramsay missing. Crime lab technicians found traces of blood in the dwelling as well as in Donna's SUV. There was also evidence in the house that someone had used bleach in an effort to scrub away bloodstains.

     A gas station surveillance camera recorded Donna in her 1990s Chevy Blazer near one of the dump sites.

     Later on the day of the gruesome discoveries, deputies with the Macomb County Sheriff's Office arrested Ramsay's 59-year-old mother on charges of mutilation of a corpse, a felony, and the removal of a dead body without permission from a medical examiner, a misdemeanor. If convicted of the felony, Donna faced up to ten years in prison. The misdemeanor offense came with a maximum sentence of one year in jail.

     On February 3, 2014, at her arraignment, the judge appointed Donna an attorney and set her bail at $100,000. If and when she was bailed out of the Macomb County Jail, she would undergo random drug and alcohol testing and would not be allowed to leave the state. The judge also ordered a mental health evaluation of the suspect.

     At a press conference following the arraignment, a Macomb County prosecutor said that further charges could be filed in the case depending upon the medical examiner's cause and manner of death findings. Not long after that statement, the prosecutor charged Donna Scrivo with first-degree murder.

    Donna Scrivo went on trial in May 2015 for the murder and dismemberment of her son. The defendant, as a witness on her own behalf, told the jury that a masked man had entered the condo, pointed a gun at her head, murdered her son, then cut up the victim's body with a saw. The prosecutor, on cross-examination, ripped her story to shreds.

     The jurors, following a short deliberation, found Donna Scrivo guilty of first-degree premeditated murder. On June 23, 2015, the Macomb County judge sentenced the 61-year-old to life in prison without parole.

California's Homeless Crisis

In 1957, California Governor Ronald Reagan signed the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act that ended the practice of admitting patients into the state's psychiatric institutions against their will. In 2009, Governor Jerry Brown, after a federal three-judge panel's ruling, ordered the state to cut its prison inmate population by 46,000 people. These governmental actions, taken without measures to help these people adjust to open society, contributed to California's homeless problem.

Trusting the FBI?

If FBI agents can't be trusted to wiretap under the law, why trust them to carry weapons and make arrests?

Robert Kessler, former FBI agent and author of books about the FBI

The Eighteenth Century Romantic Heroine

The romantic heroine emerged in the late Eighteenth Century as the archetypal female figure in modern European culture. Romantic writers like Rousseau and Coleridge made the female heroine's sexual powers both dangerous and unpredictable, mirroring the spontaneity of nature. But they also made her essentially passive, someone acted upon rather that her own agent. As an erotic being whose sensuality was very much of this world, and whose intellect was of minor importance, she stood in sharp contrast to the medieval and early modern woman spiritual figure, who sublimated her sexuality in the search for a closer union with God and was capable of learned comment on theology.

Jill Ker Conway, When Memory Speaks, 1998

Sources of Humor

Humor writers mine their personal experiences for material. They may tell a story using narrative techniques, or they may relate personal experiences to make a point and offer an opinion. Humor writers gain a lot of help in craft by learning how to structure jokes, work with timing, and deliver punch lines.

Elizabeth Lyon, A Writers's Guide to Nonfiction, 2003 

The Young Reader

Books for kids need to be very entertaining. No preaching, no hidden messages, no condescending tone, no didactic stuff. Kids are smart: don't underestimate their bull detector. Contemporary kids have access to a lot of information, so don't even try to fool them....Kids like fantasy, imagination, humor, adventure, villains and suspense.

Isabelle Allende, novelist, 2013 interview 

Sunday, January 26, 2020

The Historic Disaster at Waco

     The April 19, 1993 raid of the Mount Carmel Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, which resulted in the deaths of 80 cult members, is a worst-case example of how the militaristic approach to law enforcement can lead to disaster.

     Fifty-one days before the FBI assault, agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tax, and Firearms (ATF), at the conclusion of a 7 month investigation, had raided the compound to arrest cult leader David Koresh and search for a cache of guns that ATF agents suspected had been illegally converted to fully automatic weapons. That raid ended after a brief shootout in which 4 ATF agents were killed and 16 wounded. The officers retreated, leaving an unknown number of Branch Davidians dead and wounded.

     The AFT agents, prior to the raid, had several opportunities to arrest David Koresh outside the Mount Carmel compound. These chances were missed because Koresh had not been under 24-hour surveillance. Had the ATF taken Koresh into custody when the opportunity presented itself, the raid might not have been necessary. The ATF had also lost the element of surprise, and they knew it when two National Guard helicopters, circling above the compound with agency supervisors aboard, took gunfire from below. The supervisors launched the invasion anyway. Although several AFT agents had been trained at Fort Hood by Green Beret personnel (the unsupported suspicion that the compound housed a methamphetamine lab served to justify the military's role in the operation), most of the agents participating in the 9:30 A.M. attack had not been appropriately trained or armed. Many of the 76 agents who charged the compound carried semi-automatic handguns.

     Following the AFT fiasco, the FBI took charge of the stand-off. Following the 51-day siege and a series of failed negotiations, several FBI SWAT teams, in full battle gear, armed with shortened variants of the standard M-16 assault rifle, and supported by Bradley Fighting Vehicles and M-60 tanks, stormed the compound. Forty minutes after 400 canisters of CS gas had been shot inside the building through holes punched in the walls by the armored vehicles, the structure burst into flames and burned to the ground. David Koresh and 17 children were among the 80 dead. Attorney General Janet Reno, operating on unreliable evidence that the Davidian children were being sexually mistreated, had authorized the assault. The Waco fiasco turned out to be the deadliest police action in American history.

     Attorney General Reno, in the wake of the Waco disaster, asked former Missouri senator John C. Danforth to investigate the government's role in the raids. In 2000, following a 14-month inquiry, Danforth found that although an FBI agent had fired tear gas rounds at a concrete pit 75 feet from the Davidian living quarters, a fact the FBI had tried to suppress, agents had not started the fire. The former senator also concluded that FBI agents had not fired bullets into the compound, and that the military's role in the raids had been lawful.

     Several months after the Danforth inquiry, Thomas Lynch, the director of the CATO Institute's Project on Criminal Justice, published a report characterizing the Branch Davidian raids as "criminally reckless," and Danforth's investigation as "soft and incomplete." According to the CATO investigation, FBI agents in National Guard helicopters had fired rifle shots into the compound, a finding that contradicted the FBI's claim that the helicopters had been deployed merely to distract the Davidians.

     At a news conference, Senator Danforth defended the integrity of his inquiry and attacked the CATO report. The debate over who started the fire at the Davidian compound remained unresolved. Regardless of what FBI agents did or didn't do on April 19, 1993, many believe the military-supported ATF and FBI raids should not have been launched in the first place. 

John Douglas White: The Pastor Who Murdered Women

     John Douglas White, the 55-year-old pastor of the Christ Community Fellowship Church located just west of Mount Pleasant, Michigan, lived by himself in a mobile home park in Broomfield Township near the town of Remus. This self-appointed man of the cloth possessed a background more in line with a person serving a life sentence in prison than a preacher of a tiny church in rural central Michigan. Pastor White, a perverted lust killer, had no business living outside prison walls where he could take advantage of women while masquerading as a man of God. He was a predatory sex killer in preacher's clothing.

     In 1981, John White, then 24, choked and stabbed a 17-year-old girl in Battle Creek, Michigan. The victim survived and White was allowed to plead no contest to assault with intent to do great bodily harm. (In my view, the no contest plea should be abolished.) The judge sentenced White to five years in prison. Corrections authorities let White out on parole after he had served two years behind bars.

     John White and his wife, in 1994, were living in Comstock Township near Kalamazoo, Michigan. On July 11 of that year, 26-year-old Vicky Sue Wall was seen getting into White's pickup just before she disappeared. Shortly after Wall's relatives reported her missing, the 37-year-old violent sex offender checked himself into the Kalamazoo Regional Psychiatric Hospital. In September 1994, police found Vicky Sue Wall's decomposed body in the woods not far from her home. Arrested at the psychiatric facility, White admitted strangling the victim to death. According to White, he and the victim were having an affair and she had threatened to tell his wife. So he killed her.

     In the Vicky Sue Wall murder case, the authorities allowed White to strike a deal with the prosecutor. In return for his guilty plea to the ridiculous charge of involuntary manslaughter, the judge sentenced White to eight to fifteen years. At his May 1995 sentencing hearing, White told the judge that Vicky Sue Wall's death had been a "tragic accident." (How do you accidentally strangle someone to death? This judge must have been an idiot.) John White walked out of prison in 2007 after serving twelve years of his sentence. White's wife had divorced him.

     In 2012, Pastor John White was engaged to a woman in his congregation whose 24-year-old daughter--Rebekah Gay--lived a few doors from him in the mobile home park. Because White was a preacher engaged to her mother, Rebekah allowed him to watch her 3-year-old son. She had no idea this preacher watched necrophilia pornography and fantasized about having gruesome, perverted sex with her.

     On October 31, 2012, at six in the morning, John White entered Rebekah Gay's trailer, struck her in the head with a hard rubber mallet, then strangled her to death with a zip tie. After performing perverted sexual acts on Gay's body, White hauled her 5-foot-3, 118 pound corpse in his pickup to a ditch behind a stand of pine trees about a mile from the trailer park. It was there he dumped her body.

     After hiding his victim's corpse, White returned to his trailer where he cleaned himself and his truck with paper towels. He walked to Gay's dwelling, got into her car, and drove it to a nearby bar and parked it there. He had also tossed Gay's cellphone into a dumpster and threw away the rubber mallet. From the bar, White walked back to Gay's mobile home, dressed her son in his Halloween costume, then drove the boy to Mount Pleasant where, as prearranged, the boy's father picked him up for the day.

     Crime scene investigators processed the victim's trailer for physical clues and searched White's mobile home where they found the bloody towels and other incriminating evidence. When questioned by detectives with the Michigan State Police, John White confessed, then led the officers to Rebekah Gay's body.

     On November 1, 2012, John White was arraigned in an Isabella County District Court on the charge of first-degree murder. The judge denied him bail.

     The church member who had hired John White as pastor, said this to a reporter with The Detroit News: "He [White] was absolutely contrite. All kinds of people turn around and meet the Lord and they are a different person. He [White] was doing a lot of good in the community....He was doing a lot of good and Satan did not want him doing good, and Satan got to him."

     So, according to one of Pastor White's congregants, White's cold-blooded lust murder of Rebekah Gay was the devil's wrongdoing.

     In April 2013, White pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for killing Rebekah Gay. The judge sentenced him to 56 years and three months.

     On August 28, 2013, a prison guard at the Michigan Reformatory Correctional Institution in Ionia, found White dead in his cell. He had hanged himself.

Jails in Colonial America

[In Colonial America], murder was practically never a bailable offense; the defendant therefore, languished in jail until trial, and if convicted, until execution. Jails were not very strong and escapes were not infrequent, although recapture usually followed quickly. The jail was usually left unattended at night so that a prisoner had the long evening to work to release himself. It also permitted his friends an opportunity to pass in tools for his assistance. To add to the security of the prisoner, he was frequently manacled and chained to a ring in the floor of his cell.

Thomas M. McDade, The Annals of Murder, 1961

The Psychic Detective

     When trying to image what fraud looks like, envision a bus full of psychic detectives en route to a charlatan convention in Las Vegas. Real detectives who give these frauds credibility by consulting with them should be busted back to the street for magical thinking, wasting time, and squandering taxpayer money.

     A study in England published in 1996 pitted people who claimed to be psychic detectives against undergraduate psychology students. Each participant in the experiment was handed an item from a real crime scene and asked to utter whatever popped into their minds regarding the offense. The results of this study showed that the only difference between a psychic detective and an ordinary person is the ability to act and to lie with a straight face. Over the years, similar findings that discredit psychics have been replicated numerous times by other researchers.

     Conducting a serious study to determine if psychics are bogus is like conducting a study to confirm that the earth is round.

Pretentious Literary-Award-Winning Novels

I find so-called "literary fiction" unreadable. All that stylistic showboating puts me off. More than that, it makes me angry and produces the urge to throw the award-winning novel against the nearest wall. Albert Camus said it best: "Those who write clearly have readers; those who write obscurely have commentators." And those commentators are usually highbrow literary critics and college literature professors who have to explain to us yahoos what it all means. I'll tell you what it all means: It means a lot of academic hot air trying to justify inferior writing by pretentious, untalented literary pretenders.

The Spoken Word Versus Literary Dialogue

If you need proof that dialogue and spoken words are not the same, go to a supermarket. Eavesdrop. Much of what you'll hear in the aisles sounds like idiot talk. People won't buy your novel to hear idiot talk. They get that free from relatives, friends, and at the supermarket.

Sol Stein, Stein on Writing, 1995

The Romance Novel's Big Scene

     One of the most critically important moments in the first section of your Romance novel is the first meeting of the hero and heroine. This moment may be the first time the two of them lay eyes on each other. Or it may be their first meeting after a long separation, if they've had a previous relationship. Or they may see each other regularly, but this is the first meeting that is significant to the plot and conflict--the first encounter connected with the event that is going to change their lives.

     This first meeting sets the stage for the interaction of the rest of the book. If the readers don't see it happening, they will feel cheated and left out, and won't likely be involved enough with the characters to want to continue reading.

     Yet many beginning writers tell about the first meeting, rather than show it as it happens. Or they include just a couple of lines of dialogue between hero and heroine, then jump to a scene hours later where the heroine is telling her best friend in five pages of dialogue how gorgeous the hero is. Or they have the hero think about how he reacted to the heroine.

Leigh Michaels, On Writing Romance, 2007 

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Justyn Pennell: The Recreational Killer

     For several months, Justyn Pennell fantasized about how much he wanted to murder, for no reason other than for the pleasure of it, a perfect stranger. At two-thirty in the afternoon of January 9, 2020, the 21-year-old, while driving his Red Chrysler PT Cruiser in Hudson, Florida, a town 40 miles west of Tampa, came upon an opportunity to fulfill his desire to take an innocent person's life.

     The object of Pennell's homicidal obsession, a 75-year-old man carrying a walking stick, was strolling by himself on a road that didn't have a sidewalk. The Vietnam veteran and Pennell were moving in the same direction, with the man on the other side of the road heading toward the oncoming traffic. Pennell made a u-turn, increased his speed, and sped directly at the pedestrian who tried in vain to avoid being run over.

     After plowing into the victim, Pennell lost control of the PT Cruiser and slammed into a utility pole. He climbed out of the damaged car unhurt. Several motorists had witnessed Justyn Pennell run down the elderly man who lay dead on the road.

     At the scene, Justyn Pennell called 911, and to the dispatcher, admitted that he had just intentionally crashed his car into a pedestrian for the purpose of killing him. To the police officers who responded to the call, Pennell once again confessed. In relating what happened, Pennell told the officers that when he saw the terrified look on the man's face just before he killed him, he laughed.

     On January 10, 2020, a Pasco County prosecutor charged Justyn Pennell with first-degree murder. At his arraignment, Pennell, who didn't have a criminal record, requested the services of a public defender. The magistrate denied him bail.

Can O. J. Simpson be Defamed?

     In October 2017, after serving nine years in a Nevada prison for robbery, O. J. Simpson, the famed football player acquitted of double murder in 1995, took up residence in a Las Vegas golfing community. Shortly after his prison release, O. J. Simpson and two of his friends were having drinks at the Cosmopolitan Hotel-Casino in Las Vegas. The men were asked to leave the premises for allegedly being drunk and disruptive. Following the incident, the Cosmopolitan issued the 72-year-old Simpson a trespass notice that prohibited him from returning to the establishment.

     A member of the Cosmopolitan staff publicized the O. J. Simpson banning by alerting the celebrity website TMZ.

     Simpson, who insisted that he had not been drunk and disruptive, and therefore did not deserve to be banned from the Cosmopolitan, filed a civil defamation suit against the hotel-casino in which he claimed that the publication of the incident had caused "tangible damage to his reputation."

     Attorneys for the hotel-casino argued that O. J. Simpson was a public person who had a reputation of being a robber and a man who had murdered two people. In other words, O. J. Simpson didn't have a reputation to defame.

     The case is pending.

The Archivist and the Bookseller: Pittsburgh's Rare Book Heist

     On January 3, 2020, 63-year-old Gregory Priore pleaded guilty to stealing, over a 20-year period, $500,000 worth of rare books, prints, and maps from the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. From 1992 to April 2017, the resident of the Shadyside section of Pittsburgh, held the position of archivist and manager of the William R. Oliver Special Collections room of the library.

     John Schulman, the man Gregory Priore sold the stolen library holdings to, pleaded guilty on January 3, 2020 to receiving stolen property. The 56-year-old antiquarian book dealer from Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill neighborhood, owned the Caliban Bookshop in the Oakland section of the city. Mr. Schulman's attorney claimed that his client didn't know the items he purchased from Mr. Priore were stolen, but concedes that he should have known.

     The archivist and the antiquarian bookseller will be sentenced on April 17, 2020. At the maximum, both defendants could be sentenced to 20 years in prison. Neither man, however, will receive a sentence anywhere near that severe. Mr. Schulman may not be given any prison time at all.

     This case exemplifies the reality that when it comes to theft, no one is above suspicion. 

Cellphones Have Made People Less Observant

People are so absorbed in their cellphones, they are less likely to spot crimes in progress. Moreover, people are less apt to notice a person from a wanted poster or a missing persons flyer. Eyewitness testimony, already a weak form of evidence, my someday be nonexistent. 

Third-Person Narration

     Third-person narrators are identified by the degree and manner of access the reader is afforded to the hearts and minds of the characters. You should decide, for example, that your narrator will not get into the consciousness of any of the characters. [In other words, does not know what they are thinking.] That's called third-person objective or dramatic point of view or fly-on-the-wall point of view.

     Or you might decide that your narrator will get into the mind of the central character only. This is called third-person limited. We get the thoughts and feelings of the central character, but no one else's. Or you might shift points of view from character to character in what's called multiple selective omniscience. Or go all the way and use an omniscient narrator who knows all, but can't tell all.

John Dufresne, Is Life Like This? 2010 

Good Talkers Are Not Necessarily Good Writers

     Those who tell stories better than they write them are the bane of editors. Editors dread wasting time on captivating talkers whose words lose their fizz on the page. Obviously, writing skills transcend conversational skills. But the drama and flair we bring to telling stories is too often lost once our words are nailed down on paper.

     Most of us converse better than we write because we feel so much less vulnerable when addressing a limited number of ears. While talking, we can alter material or adjust our delivery in response to cues from others. If things get out of hand, we can change the subject altogether. Even when they bomb, spoken words float off into space. They can always be denied. "That's what I said?" is a great court of last resort. But words we've committed to paper can be held in evidence against us as long as that paper exists. Is it any wonder that we're scared to make this commitment?

Ralph Keyes, The Courage to Write, 1995

Setting Up the Novel's Big Scene

I can always tell when a writer has rushed through a scene or written around it in order to get to the good stuff. The dialogue is hurried, like the wedding vows in a tired old comedy where the bride's in labor. Descriptions are sketchy or nonexistent. Too often, the scene isn't even there; the novelist has lifted it out and thrown it away, or not written it at all. At best, this leaves an annoying gap. At worst, the "good" scene has not been set up and so it falls in like a cake because someone skimped on the eggs. In between is a lost opportunity, because sometimes the scene you dreaded most turns out to be the best in the book.

Loren D. Estleman, Writing the Popular Novel, 2004

The Writer's Journal

I've kept a journal on a capricious basis since I was sixteen. For me, my journal is a supplement to my imagination. I recently heard of a novelist who cuts out magazine photos of people, pastes them on his study wall, and uses them as the basis for his character descriptions. I completely approve. Writing is hard enough, and I welcome anything that helps me along. Besides, I can't help but filter what I see through my imagination, so even my most autobiographical fiction is, in a sense, wholly imagined.

Robin Hemley, Turning Life Into Fiction, 2006

Friday, January 24, 2020

The Carla Hague Poisoning Case

     In 2013, Judge Charles Hague lived with his wife of 45 years outside of Jefferson, Ohio in the northeastern part of the state. Since 1993, he had been an Ashtabula County common pleas juvenile/probate judge. Carla, his 70-year-old wife, had retired years earlier as a nurse. The judge and Carla, parents of grown children, enjoyed a reputation in the community as outstanding citizens.

     As is so often the case, outward signs of domestic tranquility are misleading. This unfortunate reality applied to Mr. and Mrs. Hague. The problem within that marriage exploded to the surface on September 15, 2013 when Carla telephoned one of her sons. She said the judge had become ill after consuming a glass of wine. Upon arrival at the house, the son took one look at his father and dialed 911.

     Paramedics rushed the stricken judge to a local hospital from where medical personnel flew him to the Cleveland Clinic for emergency care. Following several days of treatment in Cleveland, the judge returned home to recuperate.

     Judge Hague's relatives, on September 19, 3013, notified the Ashtabula County Sheriff's Office of foul play suspected in the judge's sudden illness four days earlier. More specifically, the relatives accused Mrs. Hague of spiking her husband's wine with antifreeze. (A toxicological analysis of the judge's blood confirmed the presence of ethylene glycol, a toxic ingredient in antifreeze.)

     Sheriff's deputies arrested Carla Hague on December 2, 2013 on suspicion of attempted murder. Officers booked her into the Ashtabula County Jail. Eighteen days later, an Ashtabula County grand jury indicted the suspect of contaminating a substance for human consumption. She also stood accused of attempted murder.

     Carla Hague did not deny putting the antifreeze into her husband's wine. Her intent, she said, was not to kill the judge but to make him slightly ill. He suffered from pulmonary fibrosis, a serious respiratory condition. In Carla's opinion, her husband had been adding to his health problem by drinking too much. She hoped that if the wine made him ill he would cut back on his use of alcohol.

     At her arraignment, Carla pleaded not guilty to the charge of attempted murder. She posted her $100,000 surety bond on December 24, 2013.

     On June 16, 2014, the local prosecutor, with Judge Hague's consent, allowed the defendant to plead guilty to felonious assault. In speaking to a reporter, judge Hague said, "I have no anger or animosity. I am beyond that. I'm gad to have this huge black spot behind us. I have moved on with my life. Carla can get on with hers." (Presumably they will be getting on with their lives without each other.)

     Following the guilty plea, the judge sentenced Carla Hague to two years in prison with eligibility for release in six months.

The Electric Chair: Now Mostly a Museum Exhibit

     Quite often, the centerpiece of a police or crime museum is an electric chair. To some, "Old Sparky" is a symbol of a bygone era when convicted murderers got what was coming to them swiftly and electronically. Others believe the electric chair represents government brutality and cruel and unusual punishment. Still others are drawn to these old "hot seats" by morbid curiosity. Currently, only four states--Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, and Virginia--have operational electric chairs. In these states a death row inmate can choose between lethal injection and electrocution. Over the past years, prisoners faced with this dark dilemma, have chosen the needle over the voltage. Since 1890, about 4,000 inmates have been electrocuted in the United States. It would be wishful thinking to believe that all of them were guilty of the crimes charged.

The Agent of Death

     In the 1920s and 30s, Robert G. Elliott, an electrician (of course) from Long Island, the official executioner for six states, electrocuted 387 inmates. For this he charged the state $150 a pop. When he threw the switch (or turned the wheel) on two or more at one setting (so to speak), he discounted his fee. Some of Elliot's most infamous clients included Bruno Richard Hauptmann (1936), the killer of the Lindbergh baby; Ruth Snyder and Judd Grey (1928), the murderers of Ruth's husband Albert; and Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti (1927), the Italian anacrchists convicted of killing a Boston area bank guard. Elliott, somewhat of a celebrity, and obviously proud of his singular contribution to the American system of criminal justice, wrote a memoir called Angel of Death that came out in 1940 less than a year after his own demise. His book, long out of print and written by a co-author, has become a collector's item.

Never Too Big to Fry

     In 1981, Allen Lee "Tiny" Davis murdered a pregnant woman and her two children during a home invasion robbery in Jacksonville, Florida. A year later a jury found him guilty of first-degree murder. The judge sentenced him to death. In 1998, as Davis' execution date approached, the 54-year-old death row inmate's attorney argued that his 355 pound client was too heavy for the state's broken-down 76-year-old electric chair. Since it was built in 1923, the Florida State Prison's electric chair had dispatched 200 prisoners, and was worn out. Witnesses to the chair's performance in 1997 saw, when the juice was applied, a flame from the condemned man's head shoot a foot into the air. So, in 1998, following this unpleasant tableau, the prison, with Allen "Tiny" Davis in mind, oversaw the construction of a new, heavy-duty electric chair, one that could accommodate a 355 pound guest. On July 8, 1999, the executioner ran 2,300 volts through the metal cap on Davis's head for two minutes. It wasn't pretty, there was some blood and a lot of groaning, but the new chair did its job.

Museum Pieces

     If you're interested in the electric chair that sent Ruth Snyder and Judd Grey to hell in 1927, you can see a replica of it at the Sing Sing Prison Museum in Ossining, New York. Snyder was the first women executed in the United States since 1899. After her, more would follow. The real chair is in prison storage. The hot seat Robert Elliott activated to electrocute Bruno Richard Hauptmann sits in the New Jersey Police Museum and Learning Center in West Trenton. In that state they call it "Old Smokey."

     At the American Police Hall of Fame and Museum in Titusville, Florida, visitors can be photographed sitting in a replica electric chair. One tourist, dressed like Santa Claus, sat in the chair with a kid on his knee. (Just kidding.) An Old Sparky is on display in Moundsville, West Virgina as part of a tourist attraction that used to be part of the West Virginia State Penitentiary. The chair had been constructed in 1950 by an inmate who had to be moved to another prison when the other inmates got wind of his project. Before 1950, death sentence inmates in West Virginia were hanged--85 of them since 1866. The state has abolished the death penalty.

     In Springer, New Mexico, at the Sante Fe Trail Museum, a female mannequin sits in the state's first and only electric chair. (I'm not a museum curator, but this seems like an odd choice.) The electric chair at the Texas Prison System in Huntsville, built by an inmate, fried 361 prisoners from 1924 to 1964.

     The centerpiece of an exhibit at the Ohio Historical Center in Columbus, featured an electric chair that put 312 men and one woman to death between 1887 and 1963. The exhibit, in a state that has kept the death penalty, created some controversy.

Memorist Elizabeth Wurtzel on Depression

That's the thing about depression: a human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it's impossible to even see the end.

Elizabeth Wurtzel (1968-2020), Prozac Nation, 1994. 

Women Murdered by Husbands and Lovers

In 2019, fifty women in the United States were shot to death by their husbands and boyfriends every month.

Rachel Louise Snyder, No Visible Bruises, 2019

A Common Cause of Writer's Block

The most common reason for writer's block is problems with the storyline. There are no hard and fast rules as to overcome this, but without swift attention, an acute attack can turn into a chronic condition. Start by revisiting the storyline. Have you introduced new elements, and are the characters true to your original outline? If you have veered from your original plan then you have to decide whether to rewrite the outline, and potentially the plot line of the story, or rewrite chapters. Both are painful decisions to make, but remember that writing is a work in progress, so revisiting your ideas is an essential element of writing successfully. By focusing on the bigger picture (the framework, context, plot and characters) the details often become clearer.

Maeve Binchy, The Maeve Binchy Writer's Club, 2008 

The Unauthorized Biography

Unauthorized biographies undress their subjects. When John Updike realized that a biographer was on his case, he hurriedly wrote a memoir, Self-Consciousness, so that he could forestall the biography. Autobiography and the authorized biography are time-honored methods of attempting to derail independent biographies and make them seem illicit.

Carl Rollyson, Biography, 2008 

The Curiosity Driven Writer

We seem to be living in an age of know-it-alls: talk show hosts and guests, expert witnesses, pundits, gurus on every conceivable subject. The information age is exhausting. It is also dull, like a dinner party guest who never stops talking. In my view, this climate is anathema to good writing, which is rooted not in knowledge but in curiosity.

James B. Stewart, Follow the Story, 1998

Keep Jokes Short

The best humor is concise. Ask yourself: Is this line needed? Can I make this line shorter? Is this aside that funny? Can I format this joke differently to make it move quicker? Here's an example of a lean joke: George W. Bush's plan to gain environmentalists' support for his energy policy: solar-powered oil pumps.

J. Kevin Wolfe in How to Write Funny, John B. Kachuba editor, 2001

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Timothy Chavira: When Thirty Years in Prison Isn't Enough

     On August 22, 1986 in Burbank, California, 50-year-old Daniel Chavira returned home at six-thirty in the morning after completing his shift as a security guard. His wife, 48-year-old Laurie Ann Chavira's car was gone, and she was not in the house. As a night communications supervisor at St. Joseph's Medical Center in Burbank, Mrs. Chavira was usually at home by that time in the morning. Mr. Chavira reported his wife missing after he found blood stains in the kitchen and in the bathroom.

     Mr. Chavira's 23-year-old son, Timothy, lived int he house with his father and Laura Ann Chavira, his stepmother. He worked at odd jobs and had told his friends that he hated his stepmother. A year earlier, Timothy Chavira had been paroled from a prison in Oregon after serving time for an armed robbery.

     Homicide detectives, from the physical evidence in the house, believed that Laurie Ann Chavira had been beaten with a chair and possibly strangled. Nothing had been stolen from the dwelling and there were no signs of forced entry. Suspicion immediately fell on the missing woman's stepson.

     Eleven days after she was reported missing, Laurie Chavira's decomposing corpse was found in the trunk of her car abandoned in Pasadena, California.

     Police officers took Timothy Chavira into custody on September 4, 1986. A Los Angeles County prosecutor charged Chavira with the first-degree murder of his stepmother.

     Timothy Chavira went on trial in October 1987 before a jury of seven men and five women. The prosecutor, without an eyewitness or a confession, relied on physical evidence linking the defendant to the murder. Among this circumstantial proof included the discovery of the victim's car and house keys in the trunk of the defendant's car.

     Following a week-long trial, the jury, after deliberating more than three days, found Timothy Chavira guilty as charged. The judge sentenced him to 30 years in prison.

     In July 2017, after serving his full murder sentence, Timothy Chavira was released from prison. After thirty years behind bars, Chavira was still dangerous and unfit for society.

     On December 7, 2019, relatives of Editha Cruz deLeon found the 76-year-old retired gynecologist dead in her Burbank home. She had been stabbed and strangled. The victim had immigrated to the United States from the Philippines in 1970.

     On December 18, 2019, after being charged by a Los Angeles County prosecutor with murder, police officers took Timothy Chavira into custody for the killing of Editha Cruz deLeon.

     As of January 2020, the authorities in charge of the deLeon murder case have not released details regarding why they believe Timothy Chavira committed this homicide. 

The FBI's Most Wanted Murderers

Out of the 66 people on the FBI's top murderers list, 45 are Hispanic. Four on the top 66 murder list are women, and four are African-Americans. The list reflects the prevalence of violent Hispanic gang activity in the U. S.

The Birth of Modern Policing

     The major revolution in American police history occurred when the historic fears of a militaristic police force were replaced by concern over daytime disorder. It was not until the mid-1840s that Americans abandoned the constable-night-watch for a police department which emphasized preventative patrolling during the day as well as at night. American cities were then experiencing a tremendous population increase....Large numbers of people who did not know how to live in congested places were flooding to the city. If they were from European cities, they interjected a foreignness into the American city which was not appreciated. Homogeneity was lost and new forms of control--proper public constraints on demeanor and behavior--needed to be enforced in the daytime.

     Police arrest reports in the late 1854 and early 1855 indicate that such offenses as drunkenness, disorderly conduct, fighting, and resisting police made up the major police problem. The old constable-detectives were too few in number for such a task, and the quest for an urban discipline inspired the creation of the modern police in the 1840s and 1850s.

Frank Thomas Morn, Pioneers in Policing, 1977

The Nature of Drugs and Addiction

     Addiction is not a function of drug use--rather, it is a standard feedback phenomenon that occurs with or without drugs, whereby people immerse themselves in immediately rewarding experiences that detract from their larger lives. This definition of addiction makes clear that addiction is not a drug-centered trait. Addiction doesn't occur only with drugs and doesn't invariably occur when certain drugs are used. There is nothing inherent in narcotics, cocaine, alcohol, tobacco, or marijuana that makes them irresistibly addictive. Moreover, people who do become addicted, contrary to both popular mythology and government pronouncements, usually attenuate or end their addictions. (Keep in mind, cigarettes and cocaine were only declared addictive in the 1980s, and marijuana in the 1990s.).

     The annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows that only a small percentage (less than five percent) of people who have ever used cocaine, heroin, crack, and meth are currently addicted to these drugs. Carl Hart, an experimental neuroscientist and author of High Price, calculates that 10 to 20 percent of those using drugs (he studies crack and methamphetamine) encounter problems.

     Some researchers questioned users in detail about their current and past drug experiences. The largest and most thorough such investigation of cocaine was conducted at Canada's addiction research agency. The study, published as "The Steel Drug," found that the large majority of people who experienced a range of problems from cocaine (sinusitis, nasal irritation, headaches, insomnia) quit the drug or cut back their use of it.

Stanton Peele, "How Television Distorts Drug Addiction," reason.com, January 18, 2015  

The Inner Life of the Novelist

It may be that writers are actually happier living in their books than they are in the real world. There is evidence of this in the way writers immerse themselves in their fiction. How many times have you heard it said about someone that they are happiest at their work? Writers are like that, whether they admit it or not. But while most jobs fall into the nine-to-five category, fiction writing is a twenty-four-hours-a-day occupation. You never leave your work behind. It is always with you, and to some extent, you are always thinking about it. You don't take your work home; your work never leaves home. It lives inside you. It resides and grows and comes alive in your mind.

Terry Brooks, Sometimes the Magic Works, 2005