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Sunday, March 31, 2019

Thornton P. Knowles On Common Sense

In the United States, we are living in an era where common sense, pushed aside by irrational, magical thinking, is no longer common. There will always be people who are simply stupid, but a population of intelligent people who are unwilling or unable to think straight promises a dark future for them and their country. Anyone with common sense would know that.

Thornton P. Knowles

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Thornton P. Knowles on the College English Department

The ability to craft beautiful sentences is useless without something interesting to write about. This is why most university English departments are essentially mental wards staffed by angry, depressed, and sometimes delusional professors who have contempt for their students, their fellow teachers, and themselves.

Thornton P. Knowles, The Psychology of Writing, 1976 

The Demand for Nonfiction

 For every short story that's published, perhaps a hundred nonfiction pieces are published as well--in newspapers, newsletters, magazines, books, online publications, and a variety of other media. For every new novel that released, book publishers release fifteen to twenty nonfiction titles--from memoirs to textbooks to auto repair manuals. And for every successful poet or scriptwriter in the country, there are probably forty or fifty successful writers of nonfiction. [I didn't know there were that many successful poets.]

Scott Edelstein, 100 Things Every Writer Should Know, 1999


Friday, March 29, 2019

Thornton P. Knowles On Growing Old

Some day a scientist will discover how to make people invisible. Until then, the closest thing we have to human invisibility is old age.

Thornton P. Knowles 

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Your Memoir Should Not Be All About You

The subject of your memoir cannot be you. Not you all alone, anyway. A memoir must be about you and something--and that something should usually be your relationship to something interesting and bigger than yourself. With a memoir, until you have found a genuine subject, you will have nothing at all--because "you" are not a subject. Neither are "you" a story.

Stephen Koch, Writer's Workshop, 2003

Thornton P. Knowles On False Hope

Never tell a young, would-be writer that he or she has great potential. That is the kiss of death.

Thornton P. Knowles

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Congressman Alan Grayson: The He Said/She Said Domestic Violence Case

     Alan Mark Grayson grew up in the Bronx, New York. In 1975 he graduated from the city's prestigious Bronx High School of Science. Four years later Harvard University awarded Grayson a Bachelor's degree in economics. He also acquired a law degree from Harvard, and a Master's degree from the John F. Kennedy School of Government. By any standard Grayson is a well-educated and erudite man. He is also a reminder that you can't tell a book by its cover.

     In 1991, Mr. Grayson founded the Grayson and Kubli law firm in Washington, D.C. His practice of law in Washington made him a multi-millionare. After serving in the Florida State legislature, Grayson, in 2008, was elected to his first term in the U.S. House of Representatives. He represented the 9th congressional district of Florida, a solidly Democrat district covering Osceola County and parts of Orange and Polk Counties in the central part of the state.

     In 2010, Grayson lost his re-election bid to Daniel Webster. But two years later he regained his seat in congress by defeating a Republican named Todd Long. True to his reputation as a gutter campaigner, Grayson unnecessarily highlighted information in his opponent's divorce file in which Long's wife described her husband as "abusive and manipulative."

     Grayson, a large, intimidating, heavy-featured man with a resemblance to Huey P. Long, Jr., the corrupt U.S. Senator from Louisiana who was assassinated in 1935, quickly attracted attention in the national media with his over-the-top attacks on Republicans. (This made him the darling of the so-called mainstream media.) Speaking in the well of the House of Representatives, he accused opponents of the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) as wanting old people to die, and die quickly.

     In January 2014, Lolita Carlson-Grayson, after being married to the bellicose politician for 24 years, filed for divorce. After the divorce filing, the congressman moved out of their home near Windermere, Florida. Grayson and his wife have five children.

     On Saturday, March 1, 2014, Lolita Grayson called 911 to report an incident of domestic violence involving her estranged husband. She had been about to take their twin 8-year-old boys on a play date when he showed up at the house unannounced. She told the dispatcher that she wanted deputies to arrest Alan because he had been unfaithful to her. The dispatcher asked Mrs. Grayson if her husband hurt her physically. "Um, no," she said. "I pushed him because he's coming into the house and he's disturbing my peace."

     To deputies with the Orange County Sheriff's Office, Lolita accused her husband of assault. According to Lolita's version of the events, he had come by the house to pick up his mail and some vitamins. This led to an argument outside of the dwelling. (A congressional aide, a witness, was sitting in Grayson's car at the time.)

     Lolita Grayson told the police officers that Alan pushed her against the front door of the house. As a result of the push, she fell to the ground. During the scuffle, as an act of self defense, Lolita kneed her husband in the stomach. When he drove off with his aide, she called 911.

     On Monday, March 3, 2014, Mrs. Grayson's attorney filed a petition with an Orange County Circuit Judge for a temporary protection injunction against her husband. In the affidavit in support of the request, Lolita alleged that Alan Grayson had assaulted her in the past, crimes she had not reported. Her attorney submitted photographs depicting recent bruises on the petitioner's leg and shoulder. The judge granted Mrs. Grayson a temporary protection order.

     On Tuesday, March 4, 2014, the Orlando Sentinal broke the Grayson domestic violence story. Congressman Grayson's spokesperson, Lauren Doney, released a damage control statement making it clear that the congressman denied his wife's "frivolous" allegations referred to as "outright lies."

     Doney insisted that after Lolita Grayson attacked her husband, he retreated from the scene. According to the spokesperson, "Since filing for divorce, Mrs. Grayson's behavior has become increasingly erratic, and she had demonstrated her alarming disconnect from reality. Mr. Grayson is deeply concerned by her recent behavior and is profoundly pained by her accusations." In other words, the woman is crazy.

     The next day, one of the congressman's attorneys, Mark NeJame, released to the media a videotape (without the sound) of the incident recorded by Grayson's Director of Constituent Services, Juan Lopez. The footage, shot from the congressman's car, shows Grayson and his wife arguing outside the house. While the video doesn't show him doing anything violent, the couple are off-camera for four seconds or so. When they are back in the frame, Lolita is seen pushing or striking her husband.

     To reporters, attorney NeJame said, "Alan was hoping that this matter would stay in the courts and outside the press, but since horrendous accusations have been made against him…he believes that the truth must come out. The attorney attributed Mrs. Grayson's bruises to her Taekwondo classes and blood thinners.

     Mr. NeJame distributed a statement written by the couple's 18-year-old daughter Skye Grayson that read: "At no time did my father hit or push my mother. In fact, my father backed away from my mother when she became physically aggressive." (On November 26, 2013, sheriff deputies arrested Skye Grayson on accusations she had thrown household objects at her mother. According to the criminal complaint, Skye had also pushed her mother, and when Lolita tried to call 911, her daughter ripped the phone cord out of the wall.)

     On March 5, 2014, a spokesperson for the Orange County Sheriff's Office announced that no charges would be filed against the congressman. A week later, Mrs. Grayson withdrew her petition for a permanent domestic violence injunction. The case was over, but not before some unwanted publicity for the congressman. Once you enter national politics there is no such thing as a private life.

     In May 2016, Grayson married Dr. Dena Minning, his third wife. That year she ran tor the U.S. House seat he vacated to run for the U.S. Senate. They both lost.


Thornton P. Knowles On The Career Politician

The founding fathers envisioned the volunteer, temporary public servant who traveled to Washington, D.C. to serve the country. They probably didn't fully foresee career politicians scheming their way to our national capital to serve themselves at the expense of the country. If the American people do not rise up and put a stop to this governmental corruption the American dream will turn into the American nightmare. We should demand term limits and laws that force ex-politicians into parts of the private sector that do not conduct business with government. Unfortunately, I think it's already too late for that. We have lost control.

Thornton P. Knowles

Monday, March 25, 2019

The Snow Blower As A Dangerous Weapon

     An on-going feud between two Arlington, Massachusetts neighbors in their early 60s got out of hand during Tuesday's [January 27, 2015] blizzard when one of the women attacked the other with a snow blower…Police responded to an assault call where they found a 60-year-old woman with cuts to her foot. The injured woman had taken out a harassment protection order against her neighbor, Barbara Davis, 61.

     Police officers arrested Davis for violation of the protection order and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon…Davis was held on $35,000 bond. The victim was treated for minor injuries.

"Arlington Woman Attacks Feuding Neighbor With Snow Blower," boston.com, January 27, 2015 

Thornton P. Knowles On Who Can And Who Can't Write

I feel sorry for people who desperately want to be novelists but do not have the talent to pull it off. I can't imagine the agony, the frustration, the anger and eventually the depression. I've often wondered what is worse: a gifted novelist with writer's block or an untalented writer who can't stop writing. Like they say, it's a cruel world.

Thornton P. Knowles

Thursday, March 21, 2019

The Drunk And Disorderly Football Fan

     On Sunday night, November 3, 2014, the Baltimore Ravens were in Pittsburgh to play the Steelers at Heinz Field. Stephen Sapp, a 29-year-old fan from Hazelwood, a Pittsburgh neighborhood on the northern bank of the Monongahela River, was in attendance. He would have been better off if he'd stayed home and watched the game on TV.

     At some point during the event, stadium security officers were called to Gate C where an apparently intoxicated Sapp had become disorderly and loud. The security officers warned Mr. Sapp that if he didn't stop yelling and screaming they would have to ask him to leave the stadium. The out of control football fan said he had no intention of being ejected from the premises. That's when security called in the Pittsburgh police.

     Upon the arrival of the Pittsburgh police, Stephen Sapp started kicking the steel dividing barriers. The officers warned him that if he didn't stop doing that, they would have to take him into custody. Mr. Sapp showed his contempt for authority by kicking another barrier that broke loose and hit Melissa Yancee in the forehead. The blow cut her face and knocked her unconscious.

     The officers informed the drunken fan that they were taking him to jail. When they tried to handcuff the disorderly and now dangerous fan, he physically resisted. Sapp ended up on the ground with his hands tucked under his body in an effort to avoid the handcuffs. Following a brief struggle, the officers were able to free the arrestee's hands and apply the restraining device.

     Because Sapp had sustained cuts during his scuffle with the police, the officers took him to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Mercy Hospital. While waiting to be treated for his minor injuries, Sapp said this to a police officer: "I know how this works. How much money will it take to make this go away and to let me go home today?" (Sapp was employed at the IRS office in Pittsburgh.)

     The officer informed Mr. Sapp that he had just committed the crime of bribery. Seemingly devoid of good sense, the man in custody continued, "Look, I am an IRS agent and I can help you in other ways if you let me go home and make this go away."

     Later that night, the officers showed Mr. Sapp how things work in Pittsburgh criminal justice. They booked him into the Allegheny County Jail on charges of aggravated assault, defiant trespass, resisting arrest, reckless endangerment, and bribery. The judge set his bond at $10,000.

     Melissa Yancee, the woman injured as a result of Mr. Sapp's drunken Heinz Field antics was transported to Allegheny General Hospital for treatment of her head wounds.

     The Steelers, without Mr. Sapps's help, went on to win the game.  

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Thornton P. Knowles On The Devil's Dilemma

Let's say an executioner, on the order of the court, executes a man for murder who, while having lived a life of crime, did not commit the criminal homicide. The executioner, while he killed an "innocent man," has been a model citizen and a good man. Which one goes to Heaven and who ends up in Hell? And what about people who support the death penalty, where are they going?

Thornton P. Knowles

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Thornton P. Knowles On The Existence Of Hell

I do and I don't want to believe in the existence of Hell. I like the idea that rapists and people who abuse children and animals and murder in cold blood will get what they deserve after they die. But just how bad does one have to be to justify an eternity of post mortem fire?  What about jerks like me who haven't seen the inside of a church since he was fifteen? I'm a little worried that if Hell exists, I could end up there myself. Yes, I definitely have mixed feelings about the existence of Hell.

Thornton P. Knowles

Monday, March 18, 2019

Murder By Blunt Instrument

     A nursing home worker in China was accused on February 21, 2015 of killing three elderly residents and injuring 15 with a brick. Luo Renchu, 64, had argued with his boss over unpaid wages prior to his assault on elderly residents and staff at the privately run home in the central part of the country…The attack happened on February 19 after an argument over 40,000 yuan in unpaid wages. Luo and his wife, who also works at the home, had been promised 10,000 yuan before the start of the Chinese New Year which started two days before.

     The nursing home owner's mother and brother were among the 15 assaulted. Six others were in life-threatening condition…Police were searching for the accused assailant.

"Nursing Home Worker Allegedly Killed 3 Elderly Residents in China With Brick," Fox News, February 21, 2015 

Saturday, March 16, 2019

The Shameful Four Corners Archaeological Raids

     On June 9, 2009, in Blanding, Moab, and Monticello, Utah; Durango, Colorado; and Albuquerque, New Mexico; FBI and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) agents conducted 17 simultaneous pre-dawn SWAT raids into the homes of people who collected Indian relics. Eleven of the raids took place in Blanding, a San Juan County town in southeastern Utah.

     San Juan County is located in the heart of the Colorado Plateau of canyons and mountains that was home to the ancient Puebloan (Anasazi) people. These so-called cliff-dwellers, from 700 to 1300, populated an area about the size of Connecticut. The Zuni and the Hopi, as well as a dozen other Native American tribes, are thought to be the descendants of the Anasazi.

     The SWAT raids resulted in the seizure of thousands of artifacts that had been removed from the ruins of the Anasazi cliff dwellings, and various burial sites. A group of 24 collectors and dealers were charged with felonies and misdemeanors under the 1979 federal law called the Archaeological Resource Protection Act (ARPA) which prohibits, among other things, the taking of Native American artifacts from tribal and federal land. (In the American west, the federal government owns well over 50 percent of the land.)

     All but three of the 19 San Juan County arrestees lived in Blanding, Utah, a Mormon town where collecting Anasazi artifacts--pottery, baskets, rugs, flint projectile points, sandals, pendants, beads, effigies, and slate atlatl weights (also called banner stones)--has been a popular hobby for more than a hundred years. Collectors swept up in the SWAT raids that morning included the town's only physician and his wife; a high school math teacher whose brother was San Juan County Sheriff; and 12 others. More than half of the arrestees, prominent member of the community, were over 60 years old.

     The day following the heavily armed home invasions, residents of San Juan County were shocked to learn that Dr. James D. Redd, the 60-year-old Blanding physician who had been indicted on one count of theft of Indian tribal property (his wife faced 7 felony counts), had killed himself. A beloved doctor who still made house calls, Dr. Redd's suicide intensified the anti-government feelings in the town. (In 1986, there had been a similar SWAT raid of collectors' homes in Blanding. The federal government failed to prosecute anyone in that case, but hundreds of Anasazi pots were seized, and none of them returned.)

     A week after the four corners SWAT raids, an ARPA arrestee from Durango, Colorado, a 56-year-old collector on the periphery of the federal investigation, also committed suicide. By now, residents of the region, and artifact collectors and dealers across the country, were outraged by what they considered Gestapo-like tactics in the enforcement of the federal archaeological protection law.

The Snitch

     The federal investigation that led to the four corners SWAT raids, the most extensive ARPA case in history, began in 2006 when Ted C. Gardiner, a former Salt Lake City area antiques dealer and collector of prehistoric Native American artifacts, approached the FBI. Gardiner offered to use his online antiques business to gather evidence against collectors and dealers he said had been trafficking in artifacts illegally taken from federal and tribal lands in Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. The FBI paid the 48-year-old "confidential human source" an initial fee of $10,000 followed by monthly payments of $7,500. Between March 1, 2007 and October 8, 2008, Gardiner, the former owner and CEO of a Utah based grocery story chain founded by his grandfather, clandestinely audio and video recorded 132 telephone and in-person conversations with 22 artifact collectors and a half dozen dealers. (On the day of the SWAT raids, FBI agents had searched the homes of four prominent artifact dealers in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the hub of the Anasazi artifact trade. Although none of these men were indicted, the agents confiscated artifacts from one dealer.)

     During his undercover investigation, Gardiner, equipped with a hidden video camera, accompanied a handful of collectors on artifact digging excursions on federal land. In addition to the $335,000 the FBI paid to the informant to buy 256 artifacts--sandals, blanket fragments, woven baskets, pottery, pipes, Clovis points, stone axes, flint knives, prayer sticks, pendants and other high-item pieces--they gave him another $162,000 to cover his expenses.

     On March 1, 2010, Gardiner, after have been exposed as the FBI's undercover informant by the local media, fatally shot himself in the head. The alcoholic, and former drug addict had been despondent over the previous two case-related suicides, and anxious about facing the collectors and dealers he had betrayed. Following Gardiner's suicide, the federal prosecutor in Utah assured reporters that the ARPA cases would not be adversely affected by the undercover operative's sudden death.

    In 2011 and 2012, all of the ARPA defendants, in exchange for sentences of probation, pleaded guilty.

Comments by Jay Redd, Dr.James Redd's Son

     On August 16, 2012, Jay Redd, in an email to the author, defended his parents, described the overkill nature of the federal raid, and set the record straight on some important details. The following are excerpts from his informative and credible email:

     My mom was a collector and not a trafficker, but again, my dad was neither. Everyone who knows my dad knows he did not collect artifacts. The feds watched him for two and a half years and they also knew he did not collect artifacts but that did not fit the mold the feds had planned for my dad to fit into....

     The reason they arrested Dr. Redd on June 10, 2009 was because he picked up off the surface of the ground a tiny little shell bead the feds call an "effigy bird pendent." My dad did not try to sell or trade the tiny little item to the informant or anyone else, he just showed it to him....The true market value of the bead my dad was arrested for is $75 but the informant and the feds inflated the price of it by over 1250 percent and said it was worth $1,000. Now why did they inflate the value? Because the felony charge they gave Dr. Redd required that the item in question, taken from Reservation land, must be valued at over $1,000 in order to qualify as a felony. Anything valued less than $1,000 would be a misdemeanor. Well, my dad would not have lost his medical license over a misdemeanor, but with a felony he would have and that is what the feds were shooting for....

     The treatment the feds imposed on my dad is beyond disgusting. On June 10, 2009 Dr. Redd was returning home from work early in the morning. As he drove up to his house he saw the numerous black SUVs parked there. As he was pulling up to the driveway one of the agents pointed to his FBI hat, drew his gun and pointed it at him. My dad stopped the vehicle and they yanked him from his car at gunpoint, handcuffed him and sat him down in his garage as they milled about him with their weapons. I wonder what the feds said when he requested to speak to his attorney....One of the head agents in charge that day boasted there were 80 agents at my parents house at one time and throughout the day (they searched the house for 11 1/2 hours). A total of 140 agents visited the house....The agent also said there were seven snipers on my parent's roof for hours and hours waiting for my brother to go down to the house....The day after the raid a resident from Blanding told me he watched my parent's house from a distance with his binoculars and said he saw the agents on the roof not moving for hours and hours....

     Concerning the undercover informant Ted Gardiner: If you read the police report and other articles about his suicide you will see that Ted said he "felt guilty for killing two people." Why would an undercover informant who was supposedly doing his job properly to rid the U.S. of evil underground criminals, feel guilty for the actions of those he caught in secret, illegal, underground activity. Could it be because he made friends with my dad who gave him medical advice on his ankle injury, encouraged him a few times to quit smoking to improve his health, invited him to the LDS church function that night....Ted knew he had a major part in Dr. Redd's death and after nine months of torment he could not take it anymore and therefore put a bullet in his head.  

Thornton P. Knowles On Saving Time

I remember when there were all of those so-called efficiency experts teaching everyone on how to save time. I learned how to save a lot of time but didn't known what to do with all the time I had saved. So I went back to being happily inefficient.

Thornton P. Knowles

Friday, March 15, 2019

Thornton P. Knowles On The American Devaluation Of Individual Privacy

My father did his banking in a neighboring town because he didn't want to reveal his financial business to local bank employees. This coziness regarding what he considered a personal matter reflects the degree to which Americans of his era respected and valued individual privacy. Today, with the almost total reliance on credit cards and the Internet, Americans have lost their reverence for personal privacy. There is nothing about us that government and corporations don't know. And who knows what they might do with all of this information. No one seems to care that the loss of privacy could eventually lead to the loss of democracy. The fox has been let into the henhouse, and we are the hens.

Thornton P. Knowles

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Theme in Documentary Films

     In literary terms, theme is the general underlying subject of a specific story, a recurring idea that often illuminates an aspect of the human condition…

     The best documentary films, like memorable literary novels or thought-provoking dramatic features, not only engage the audience with an immediate story--one grounded in plot and character--but with themes that resonate beyond the particulars of the event being told.

Sheila Curran Bernard, Documentary Storytelling, Second Edition, 2007 

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Diminishing Death Penalty

The death penalty in America currently affects a tiny percentage of all persons convicted of crime, and is used frequently in only one region of the country. In the peak year of 1999, a total of ninety-eight persons were executed in the United States. Seventy-four of the ninety-eight were put to death in southern states, half in Texas and Virginia alone. Even among all persons found guilty of murder, the numbers who reach execution make up less than one-half of 1 percent. In the big statistical picture of criminal punishment, the death penalty is barely visible. [In March 2019, the governor of California placed a moratorium on the state's death penalty. Since no one in California has been executed in decades, the act was nothing more than political theater.]

Henry Ruth and Kevin R. Reitz, The Challenge of Crime, 2003

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

"Forensic Testimony" by Dr. C. Michael Bowers

     Dr. C. Michael Bowers, the renowned forensic odontologist (dentist) known for his scientific integrity and independence, is the author of an important text called, Forensic Testimony: Science, Law and Expert Evidence. The book brings together the subjects of forensic science and the art of expert testimony.

     Dr. Bowers, an early skeptic of human bite mark analysis, discusses the problems of judicial acceptance of junk science into the courtroom. The author also addresses the dueling expert and other problems in forensic science.

     Forensic Testimony should be required reading for judges, trial attorneys, forensic scientists, and criminal justice students. Highly recommended. 

Monday, March 11, 2019

Thornton P. Knowles On Artificial Intelligence

According to the world's computer geniuses, Artificial Intelligence will someday alter the future of man. I'm not so sure. Artificial intelligence has been around for quite a while. For example, it has flourished in our universities, television studios, newsrooms, state legislatures, and in congress.

Thornton P. Knowles

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Thornton P. Knowles On Being Funny To The Very End

When facing a Utah firing squad, James W. Rodgers, when asked if he wanted to make a final statement, said: "Please bring me a bullet-proof vest." I guess it doesn't hurt to go out with a laugh.

Thornton P. Knowles

Al Capone the Philosopher

You can get much further with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word alone.

Al Capone

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Thornton P. Knowles On Having A Twin

The worst thing for a self-loathing person is to have an identical twin. Now you hate two people. Fortunately I'm an only child.

Thornton P. Knowles

Punctuation and Style

The benefits of punctuation for the creative writer are limitless, if you know how to tap them. You can, for example, create a stream-of-consciousness effect using periods; indicate a passing of time using commas; add complexity using parentheses; create a certain form of dialogue using dashes; build to a revelation using colons; increase your pace using paragraph breaks; keep readers hooked using section breaks. This--its impact on content--is the holy grail of punctuation, too often buried in long discussions of grammar.

Noah Lukeman, A Dash of Style, 2006 

Friday, March 8, 2019

Drugs For Writer's Block

Blocked writers are now being treated with antidepressants such as Prozac, though some report that the drugs tend to eliminate the writer's desire to write altogether along with his regret over not doing so. Other blocked writers are being given Ritalin and other stimulants on the theory that their problems may be due to the condition of Attention Deficit Disorder.

Joan Acocella, The New Yorker, June 21, 2004 

God As An Armed White Racist

"God ain't good all of the time. In fact, sometimes, God is not for us [blacks]. As a matter of fact, I think he's a white racist god with a problem. More importantly, he is carrying a gun and stalking young black men."

Anthea Butler, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, University of Pennsylvania responding to George's Zimmerman's acquittal. [As reported by Timothy Whiteman, examiner.com September 4, 2013.] The school suspended this professor for one semester. In academia this is equivalent to capital punishment. I know our universities are infested with pompous, full-of-crap gasbags, but someone who would say something like this must be also stupid. How did this woman get at job at this prestigious university?     

Writer Procrastination

     A primary reason writers procrastinate is in order to build up a sense of deadline. Deadlines create a flow of adrenaline. Adrenaline medicates and overwhelms the censor. Writers procrastinate so that when they finally get to writing, they can get past the censor.

     What writers tell themselves while they procrastinate is that they just don't have enough ideas yet, and when they do, then they'll start writing. It actually works exactly backward. When we start to write, we prime the pump and the flow of ideas begins to move. It is the act of writing that calls ideals forward, not ideas that call forward writing.

Julia Cameron, The Right to Write, 1999

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Nutty Professors

Give 'Em Hell, Professor

     Southern Indiana University Theater Professor Robert Broadfoot yelled as some of his students, allegedly calling one of them the "B-word." (I presume that stands for bitch rather than butthead, bumpkin, or bastard.)  Frustrated that some of his students were lax about their assignments, and didn't seem to care about the course, Professor Broadfoot, according to a report in the school newspaper, "made aggressive gestures and used bad language." One of Broadfoot's students reportedly said, "I don't think it was necessary, I think everyone has their problems...but he shouldn't take it out on his students, it's not fair." Poor thing. Wait until you get into the real world. Perhaps the professor was taking out his problems on his students because they were his problem. Another theater student thought it was "inappropriate" for the professor to be singling out those who weren't performing (pun intended) in class. If this complainant lands a job, he or she may be in for a shock. One way to avoid being singled out is to do one's work.

Dumbing Up

     Professors really don't like to be fired. It's undignified, and shatters their self images. As a result, in academia, wrongful terminations lawsuits are not uncommon. What is uncommon, however, is a plaintiff/professor who prevails in one of these cases.

     In November, former New York University Professor Jose Angel Santana sued the school after they denied him reappointment in August 2011. According to Santana, he had been fired because of his Cuban and African American heritage. Hired in September 2008 as an assistant visiting professor in the acting school with an annual salary of $70,000, Santana claims he was discriminated against because of his race and color. But the plaintiff didn't leave it at that. According to the suit, the straw that broke the camel's back involved the grade Santana had given to a student in his graduate class called, Directing the Actor II. It was this claim that brought Santana and his suit into the national news. The D-grade that sent Santana packing had been given to the famous actor, James D. Franco. Oh boy.

     According to Santana, Franco had only attended two of the courses' fourteen sessions. This gave the professor no choice but to give Franco, in the spring of 2010, the bad grade. Despite the D, Franco, the holder of a Master's Degree of Fine Arts from Columbia, earned his Master's Degree from NYU's Film Production Department. Currently pursuing a Ph.D in English at Yale, Franco is now on NYU's Tisch School faculty, teaching a course on adopting poetry into film. (Huh?) So, the student who got the D is teaching at the school that fired the professor who gave it to him. No wonder the ex-professor is in such a snit. But wait, in this academic drama, there is more.

     According to plaintiff Santana, Mr. Franco has rubbed salt into his wound by making disparaging remarks and inaccurate statements about him in public. For one thing, Franco has called Santana's course an "acting class" when it was in fact a directing class. Santana says he didn't give Franco a D for bad acting, but for missing class. In other words, Mr. Santana wasn't grading Mr. Franco's acting ability, he was grading his attendance ability. Mr. Franco wasn't a bad actor, he was just a bad attender.

Contributing to What ?!

     In Menlo Park, California, Stanford University Professor Bill Burnett and his wife Cynthia hosted a party for their son and 44 high school students. (What were they thinking?) The kids were celebrating the last football game of the season. The parents had made it clear that alcoholic beverages were prohibited. Well, as you can imagine, booze found its way into the Burnett house. When the basement party got loud and a neighbor complained, police entered the house, found the alcohol, and hauled the professor and his wife off to jail in handcuffs. Charged with 44 counts of contributing to a minor's delinquency, Professor Burnett faced up to a year behind bars.

    While it is not unreasonable to assume that some of these 44 students, during their school years, were assaulted by a pedophile teacher or coach who never saw the inside of a jail cell, it was professor Burnett and his wife who were held responsible for criminally endangering the welfare of these kids. If the Burnetts were guilty of anything, it was stupidity. If they hadn't hosted the party, the kids would have gotten drunk in a Walmart parking lot. In law enforcement it's not about arresting the right people, it's about arresting who you can.

Anger Mismanagement in High Education

     In 2007 police arrested a New Hampshire professor who threatened to kill a colleague for turning him in for a parking violation that resulted in a ticket. Because the university alerted its staff to report the threatening professor if he stepped on campus, he sued the school for defamation. The plaintiff lost his case at the trial level, and lost again on appeal. The court battle took two years to resolve. And it was all over a parking ticket. Welcome to academia.

     In 2010, a then professor of criminology and sociology at Anna Maria College in Paxton, Massachusetts, using a variety of Facebook usernames, threatened to kill a New Orleans police officer. The 58-year-old professor, in accusing the officer of raping his girlfriend in 2007, urged to officer to "own up to what you did," and hinted of having friends in a Hell's Angels biker gang pay him a visit. In December 2011, a federal judge, after the professor pleaded guilty, fined him $5,000 and sentenced him to three years probation.

Father Loses Life's Savings, Wins Giant Banana

     In April 2013, 30-year-old Henry Gribbohm from Epsom, New Hampshire, took his toddler son to a carnival in nearby Manchester. Lured by the prospect of winning a Xbox Kinect (a motion-sensing accessory worth $100), Gribbholm began playing a game called Tubs of Fun operated by an independent contractor with an arrangement with the carnival's owner, Fiesta Shows.

     When Tubs of Fun contestants make free practice throws, the balls land where they are supposed to. But when playing for money, the balls don't stay in the tubs. That means the player doesn't win a prize. (Welcome to the carnival world where nothing is on the level, and all the food is bad for you.)

     As hard as he tried, Mr. Gribbohm couldn't get the balls into the right tubs. It wasn't long before he had squandered $300 on the game. Instead of cutting his loses and walking away poorer but wiser, Gribbohm drove home for more cash. Determined to win his money back, he returned to Tubs of Fun with his entire life's savings, $2,300. (Like P. T. Barnum said, "There's a sucker born every day.")

     In a desperate effort to win back his money, Mr. Gribbohm played double or nothing until he was broke. He had dropped a total of $2,600 on the Tubs of Fun Game. (These particular tubs were not much fun for Mr. Gribbohm.

     The next day, Gribbohm returned to the carnival where he accused the Tubs of Fun operator of running a rigged game. To show his good faith, the operator gave Gribbohm $600 in cash and a "Rasta Banana"--a six-foot stuffed banana with a happy face and dreadlocks.

     The disgruntled owner of a Rasta Banana filed a complaint with the Manchester Police Department. Pending the results of the game-rigging investigation, Fiesta Shows put Tubs of Fun on the shelf.

     To a local television reporter, Gribbohm said, "You just get caught up in the whole 'I've got to win my money back thing.' "

     Generally I have contempt for suckers. But when I saw a news photograph of this father pushing a stroller with the Rasta Banana over his shoulder, I couldn't help feeling sorry for the guy. I don't know if it's because he has a child, or looked pathetic carrying around that giant banana. Maybe the story got to me because I don't like carnivals. I guess all of us, at some time in our lives, have doubled down. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. But when the game is rigged, you always lose.

Woman Sets Man's Face on Fire

     A Tampa Bay, Florida woman was arrested in October 2014 after setting her roommate on fire--after he threw out her spaghetti. Melissa Dawn Sellers, 33, became enraged after roommate Carlos Ortiz threw out her spaghetti and meatballs. She allegedly doused Ortiz in nail polish remover before setting him on fire.

     According to Ines Causevic, the victim's friend, "She was setting little objects on fire, then that turned into pouring nail polish remover on him, and then all of a sudden, the lighter sparked and he lit on fire."

     Ortiz took Sellers in after she lost her job at Wal-Mart and could no longer afford her rent. He was rushed to a nearby hospital where he was listed in critical condition, with burns to his face and body. "When he got up, his face was like melting off," Causevic said. "His lips were burning."

     Sellers has been charged with aggravated battery. She was convicted of battery in 2008.

     [On June 15, 2015, Sellers pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 66 months in prison.]

"Woman Set Roommate on Fire After He Threw Out Her Spaghetti, independent news. com, October 23, 2014 

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Cracking Down on Unarmed 75-Year-Old Debtors

     When officials in the small town of Stettin in Marathon County, Wisconsin, went to collect a civil judgement from 75-year-old Roger Hoeppner this month, they sent 24 armed officers and an armored military vehicle…

     Marathon County sheriff's deputies are not apologizing for their militaristic tactics. Sheriff's Captain Greg Bean said officials expected to seize and remove tractors and wood pallets to pay the civil judgment--hence the cadre of deputies. He also said that while Hoeppner was never considered dangerous, he was know to be argumentative.

     Mr. Hoeppner said when he noticed deputies outside his house, he called his attorney, Ryan Lister of Wausaw. Lister said he quickly left for Hoeppner's house but was stopped by a roadblock that was kept up until after his client had been taken away in handcuffs. "Rather than provide Mr Hoeppner or his counsel notice…and attempt to collect without spending thousands of dollars on the military-style maneuvers, the town unilaterally decided to enforce its civil judgment with a show of force," the attorney said.

John Galt, "Marathon County Uses Newly Acquired Armored Vehicle to Collect Debts," johngaltfla.com, October 28, 2014


Procrastination Versus Writer's Block

A blocked writer has the discipline to stay at his desk but cannot write. A procrastinator, on the other hand, cannot bring himself to sit down at the desk; yet if something forces him to sit down he may write quite fluently.

Alice W. Flaherty, The Midnight Disease, 2004


The Typical FBI Field Office

     There is no set design for FBI officers. Many buildings are new, but some are quite old. Generally, each agent has a desk or cubicle, and squad supervisors have private offices. Squads are grouped together in areas informally referred to as "bull pens." The Special Agent in Charge (SAC) and Assistant Agent in Charge (ASAC) have much larger offices, with doors, sofas, and overstuffed chairs.

     Support personnel are interspersed in the squad areas. These support personnel may include file clerks, word processing personnel, computer technicians, financial analysts, or translators. Increasingly in the FBI, because of the terrorism threat, there are also a significant number of intelligence analysts.

     There will be a gun vault for the storage of ammunition and shoulder weapons, and also an evidence vault for the maintenance of items of physical evidence. Files are in abundance, as are computers, phones, secure file cabinets, and fax machines. Squads working national security matters and terrorism also have encrypted telephones that permit secure transmissions of sensitive information. Identification cards are worn at all times, and holstered firearms and dangling handcuffs are a common sight.

Joseph W. Koletar, The FBI Career Guide, 2006 

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Searching for Jimmy Hoffa: Who Cares Where He Is?

     In 1967, in a Chattanooga, Tennessee courtroom, a federal jury found Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa guilty of pension fraud and jury tampering. Four years later, another crook, Richard Nixon, pardoned him. While serving his time in prison, Hoffa lost control of the mobbed-up union and all of the Teamster union's pension money.

     On July 30, 1975, the 62-year-old ex-union boss disappeared. Hoffa was last seen outside a Detroit area restaurant getting into a car occupied by several men. At the time, the FBI presumed that Hoffa had been the victim of a contract murder orchestrated by a crime boss who didn't want to relinquish control of the Teamsters union, and all of that easy money.

     Earlier this year, a reputed mobster in his 80s, Tony Zerilli, told a New York City TV reporter that Detroit based organized crime figures wanted the ex-Teamsters boss dead. Mafia hit men had lured Hoffa to a meeting at the Machus Red Fox Restaurant, abducted him, and drove him to a farm owned by a mob underboss. According to Zerilli, the killers dragged the bound and gagged Hoffa out of the car, hit him with a shovel, then buried him alive under a cement slab in the barn.

     In June 2013, FBI agents, convinced that Tony Zerilli's information was "highly credible," were once again looking for Hoffa's remains. Agents, a cadaver-sniffing dog, and two forensic anthropologists from Michigan State University, were at the possible burial site located in Oakland Township twenty miles north of where Hoffa was last seen.

     For decades, people have joked about Hoffa resting in peace beneath a Meadowlands stadium end-zone in New Jersey just outside of New York. The basis of this speculation incorporates the common wisdom that New Jersey crime boss Anthony Provensano of the Genovese family had arranged the hit.

     Last October, FBI agents took soil samples from the yard of a home in suburban Detroit. The search was launched by a tipster who claimed he had seen a body buried in that yard one day after Hoffa's disappearance. Nothing came from that search.

     On Wednesday, June 19, 2013, following three days of digging, FBI agents, the cadaver dog, and the scientists left the Oakland Township site without finding Jimmy Hoffa's remains.,

     All of the mobsters who have been linked to Hoffa's abduction, murder, and burial are dead. This makes, in my view, the search for his remains 38 years after his death a waste of the FBI's time. These government resources should be applied to missing person and homicide cases that are still fresh, criminal investigations that could produce meaningful results.

     Jimmy Hoffa was a mobster murdered by mobsters in a bygone era. At this late date, what difference does it make where his bones are buried? I miss not thinking of Jimmy Hoffa every time someone scored a touchdown at the Giant's stadium in New Jersey.  

The Need for Commas

There are two types of writers who underuse commas: the first is the unsophisticated writer who has not developed an ear for sentence rhythm. He is unable to hear fine distinctions, and thinks writing is solely about conveying information. He will need to spend time reading classic writers and train himself to hear the music of language. The second is the sophisticated writer who has an aversion to commas and underuses them on purpose. There are numerous writers who rebel against the overuse of punctuation, and more often than not they find a target in the poor comma. The danger for these writers is the rare problem of overestimating the reader. Unless a reader is accustomed to reading twelfth-century clerical texts, he will want at least some commas, some pauses laid out for him. There is a need for marks--especially commas--to indicate ebbs and flows, pauses and pitch, division of clauses and meaning. The writer who ignores this is the writer who writes for himself, not with the reader in mind. He will not be a commercial writer, or plot oriented, but prose oriented, interested in nuances of style--but to a fault.

Noah Lukeman, A Dash of Style, 2006

Monday, March 4, 2019

Lawyers as Sharks

A lawyer is basically a mouth, like a shark is a mouth attached to a long gut. The business of lawyers is to talk, to interrupt each other, and to devour each other if possible.

Joyce Carol Oates

Charles Bukowski on Trial Lawyers

The language of the lawyer is the language of the trickster. It's an inhuman language, a sub-language. And justice is hardly ever served. Justice is just forgotten. Our court system are just swamps of dark and devious jargon. It's just a wash of dull, crippled, masked wordage put before a jury of twelve imbeciles or a bored judge.

Charles Bukowski

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Physical Evidence Doesn't Lie

You can lead jurors to the truth but you can't make them believe it. Physical evidence cannot be intimidated. It does not forget. It doesn't get excited at the moment something is happening--like people do. It sits there and waits to be detected, preserved, evaluated, and explained. That is what physical evidence is all about. In the course of a trial, defense and prosecuting attorneys may lie, witnesses my lie, the defendant certainly may lie. Even the judge may lie. Only the evidence never lies.

Herbert Leon MacDonnell, The Evidence Never Lies, 1984

Thornton P. Knowles On True Detective Magazines

In 1946, as a 15-year-old, I discovered true detective magazines. I was hooked. This was the beginning of the end of the golden era for fact crime mags. Television came along and wiped out all but a few of these colorful periodicals with the pulp art covers. I particularly liked the stories written by Dashiell Hammett, Jim Thompson, and Alan Hynd. Dashiell Hammett went on to become a famous crime novelist. (I didn't.) My favorite magazines were Master Detective, Official Detective, and True Detective Mysteries. I didn't realize it at the time that these "true" crime stories were more fiction than fact. But many of them were well-written, and they got me interested in criminality, criminals, and criminal investigation. Most of the featured crimes involved gruesome murders and brilliant police work. Depression era bank robbers such as John Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd, Baby Face Nelson and Machine Gun Kelly also made appearances between the covers of these splashy, photograph rich publications. I purchased most of mine off the rack down at the local drug store. My mother worried that these mags had a bad influence on me. They did, I became a crime novelist.

Thornton P. Knowles

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Card Players Are Now Athletes

If you had any doubt the world is going crazy, consider this: They now drug-test professional card players. Geir Helgemos (I'm sure you've heard of him), the world bridge champion, has been banned from the game a year after he tested positive for testosterone. The game of bridge--are you ready for this?--is now considered a sport! (My mother, who couldn't drive a golf bar farther than 40 yards, was an avid bridge player. All those years I had no idea she was an athlete.) How in the hell, you might ask, does testosterone make one a better bridge player? Does this mean that men are better at the sport than women? Good heavens.

Thornton P. Knowles On Psychic Detectives

I don't believe in ghosts, Big-Foot, UFOs, alien abductions, Elvis sightings, spontaneous human combustion, or the Loch Ness Monster. I also don't believe in fortune tellers, soothsayers, and so-called psychic detectives who inject themselves into high profile missing person and murder cases. The words "psychic" and "detective" do not belong next to each other. Psychic detectives claim credit for locating missing persons by embellishing and changing, after the fact, their initial predictions and visions. It's all a load of crap. If psychic detectives could do what they claim, there would be no such thing as a missing child. There wouldn't be unsolved murders. Moreover, we would have been spared the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy. But in an era of magical thinking and stupid beliefs, millions of people buy into this paranormal nonsense. Today, it's all about what a person believes, not what he or she knows. Police detectives who allow psychic detectives to waste their time, should find another line of work.

Thornton P. Knowles 

Political Correctness in the War on Crime

     If you need proof that some politicians are idiots, look no further than the state of New York. In the Empire State, a few legislators, as far back as 2013, were talking about a new law that would prohibit law enforcement officials from incorporating race into the descriptions of criminal suspects. In the looney world of extreme political correctness, police officers in search of terrorists, rapists, robbers, and murderers wouldn't be on the lookout for Black, Asian, Hispanic, or Native American males. They'd just be looking for males.

     If describing criminal suspects by race is inappropriate, what about using gender in describing perpetrators of crime? Isn't that sexist? If politicians devoid of common sense get their way, police dispatchers will be advising all units to be on the lookout for two human beings who just robbed the First National Bank.