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Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Thornton P. Knowles On Lawyers, Plumbers, and Politicians

There are twice as many politicians in the country as lawyers and twice as many lawyers as plumbers. That can't be good.

Thornton P. Knowles

Monday, April 29, 2019

Thornton P. Knowles On Remembering A Freak Show Poster

As a kid, while I wasn't that excited with a carnival came to town, I went anyway. I remember being struck by a huge freak show poster that screamed: COME IN AND VISIT FRANKIE--HALF MAN-HALF WOMAN! I was less curious about Frankie than his redundant poster. Just Half Man or Half Woman would have been enough. I wasn't bothered that I didn't have the 15 cents to go in and see Frankie. His/Her stupid poster was good enough for me.

Thornton P. Knowles

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Thornton P. Knowles On Ordering A Restaurant Meal

Before I order anything at a restaurant, I go over what I'm gong to say in my head to make sure it is clear and concise and does not invite further inquiry from the waitress. The other day I ordered three things: a medium burger with nothing on it but one slice of tomato; a plain baked potato; and a regular black coffee. The waitress, a nice lady, asked me if I also wanted bacon and pickles on my burger, butter on my potato, and cream for my coffee. I realize the fact I was annoyed reveals one of my many personality disorders. I admire waitresses who work hard and put up with a lot of crap for little pay. For that reason, I never reveal my stupid annoyance over such a trivial matter. It's not easy being me.

Thornton P. Knowles

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Thornton P. Knowles On Wedding Receptions

I've only been to a few weddings. A few too many, actually. I found the reception parties I attended puerile and extremely self-indulgent. At the core, these narcissistic jamborees were nothing more than photo opportunities where the wedding photographer was the most important person in the room. And given the fact that none of these marriages survived beyond a few years, these booze laden celebrations ended up hollow and meaningless. I've never been married, perhaps to avoid being involved in one of these depressing celebrations of future misery.

Thornton P. Knowles

Thornton P. Knowles On Achieving Literary Fame

Becoming a famous author today is about as likely as becoming a famous plumber. And that's the way it should be. In fact, it's more important to know who can fix your plumbing than who wrote a particular book.

Thornton P. Knowles

Women Steal Man's Prosthetic Leg

     Police say a prosthetic leg reported stolen from a veteran in a wheelchair outside the Eagles-Giants football game in south Philadelphia was later recovered on a subway train. Sonny Forriest Jr., who is known for singing for fans outside Phillies and Eagles games, told police that he had taken off his prosthetic leg during his performance. He said he was packing up to leave when a woman in her 20s wearing Eagles gear who appeared intoxicated, approached and took the leg.

     A Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority conductor found the leg at one in the morning on October 13, 2014 at the Olney station in north Philadelphia. Investigators said they planned to examine transit station surveillance video to try to identify a suspect. They said it appeared that three women took part in the theft.

"Stolen Prosthetic Leg Found Aboard Philadelphia Subway Train," Associated Press, October 13, 2014 

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Thornton P. Knowles on the Pretentious Writer

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

     There is a particularly dreadful style of writing, prose intended to sound lofty and important, found in a lot of promotional literature put out by colleges and universities. The thoughts and messages conveyed in this form are usually quite simple. An example of this style can be found in many college mission statements. In straightforward prose, one might write: "The goal of college is the education of its students." Because this is so obvious, to write it simply and directly makes it sound vacuous. But when the mission statement is puffed up with carefully selected words and high-minded phrases, the simplicity of the message is replaced by syntax intended to make it sound profound. This style of writing is pompous and false, and represents writing at its worst.

Thornton P. Knowles, The Psychology of Writing, 1976 

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Thornton P. Knowles On America's Missing Person Population

If America's rivers, creeks, lakes, and ponds all suddenly went dry, there wouldn't be enough forensic scientists to identify the remains of all the missing persons no longer submerged in these watery resting places. American waterways are grave sites for thousands and thousands of people who went missing and remain unaccounted for. The stories of their accidents, suicides and murders will never be revealed. These are America's untold stories.

Thornton P. Knowles

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The Sexy Senior Shoplifter

     Police arrested an 82-year-old woman on January 27, 2015 after she stole a $7.39 bottle of Sexiest Fantasies body spray from a CVS store in Augusta, Georgia. A store employee saw Annelise Young slip the merchandise into her purse and walk out of the store without paying for it. The clerk called the police…

     A deputy with the Richmond County Sheriff's office took Young into custody. She apologized for the theft and handed the body spray back to the store employee. She was later booked into the Richmond County Jail on the charge of shoplifting….

"Woman, 82, Arrested For Theft Of Bottle of Sexiest Fantasies Body Spray," dailymail.com, February 9, 2015

Phony Sleep Study As Rape Trap

    One-hundred women in Japan who thought they were participating in a sleep study were drugged and raped, their attacks recorded and sold to pornography sites. Police arrested 54-year-old Hideyuki Noguchi after one of the victims saw herself in a video. Noguchi was charged on February 4, 2015 with three dozen counts of incapacitated rape. Noguchi numbered his victims at 100.

     The sexual assaults began in 2012 when Noguchi took out an ad seeking participants for a sleep study. The ad sought women from their teens through their 40s. Noguchi has no medical training and the study was merely a ruse to isolate women, drug them and film the assaults. The suspect sold the videos to porn sites for about $100,000.

"Man Accused of Raping Women During Fake Sleep Study," CNN, February 5, 2015

Altitude Sickness: Flying With Germs

     Studies show that air travelers suffer hight rates of disease infections than people who move about on the ground. (Although I don't imagine that buses are that germ free either.) One study showed a 20 percent increase among flyers to catch colds. Cabin air-filters catch 99 percent of bacterial and virus carrying particles, but when the plane is on the ground before take-off and after landing, the air circulation system is turned off. That's when sickness spreads like wildfire.

     Scott McCarney, in a "Wall Street Journal," wrote: "A number of factors increase the odds of bringing home a souvenir cough and runny nose. For one, the environment at 30,000 feet enables easier spread of disease. [Much of the danger comes from sick passengers sitting nearby. Air in planes is extremely dry, and viruses tend to thrive in low-humidity conditions. When mucous membranes dry out, they are far less effective at blocking infection. High altitudes can tire the body, and fatigue plays a role in making people more susceptible to catching colds, too. Also, viruses and bacteria can live for hours on some surfaces--some viral particles have been found to be active up to a day in certain places. Tray tables can be contaminated, and seat back pockets, which get stuffed with used tissues, soiled napkins and trash, can be particularly skuzzy. It's also not difficult to know why germs are lurking in an airline's pillows and blankets." (I guess it's kind of ironic that the great germaphobe, Howard Hughes, was a commercial aviation pioneer.)

     As germ factories, airplanes sound almost as bad as hospitals. Almost as bad because when most people go to the hospital they are already sick and vulnerable to infection. But this could also apply, I guess, to people who fly every day.

Thornton P. Knowles On An Agent's Angst

A neighbor's son who was in J. Edgar Hoover's FBI killed a bank robber, a 17-year-old kid with a low I.Q. and a toy gun. Even though the boy was hardly John Dillinger, Director Hoover tried to make a hero out of the distraught agent. The young agent left the bureau and ten years later took his own life. The ugly truth is this: Law enforcement is an impossible job, and very few people are suited for it.

Thornton P. Knowles

Monday, April 22, 2019

The Nanny From Hell

     Marcella and Ralph Bracamonte felt sure they had found the ideal nanny. The live-in nanny, whom they hired through Craigslist, immediately seemed to fit in, spending time around them and handling the couple's three kids well. But then the nanny, Diane Stretton, 64, became almost a different person.

     The nanny stopped working and holed up in her room, emerging only to eat. She didn't quit on the Bracamontes--in fact, she refused to leave their home. What's more, Stretton threatened to sue them for wrongful termination and abuse of the elderly.

     Police said they could not remove Stretton from the Braceamonte's home. The couple would have to go through an eviction process…[That was nonsense. The woman wasn't a tenant. She was an employee who was fired. She should have been throw out. Lock the doors, and if she tried to get back in, file a burglary complaint. Only in California.]

     On July 31, 2014, Stretton voluntarily moved out of the Bracamonte residence.

"California Couple's Live-In Nanny Stops Working, Refuses to Leave," Fox News, June 27, 2014 

Thornton P. Knowles On The Happy Man

I once knew a poet and part time college professor who claimed that nothing, absolutely nothing, ever made him angry. He said he believed only in happiness and love. A couple of years later, after spending ten days in a mental ward, the guy threw himself off a ferris wheel. I was one of three people who witnessed his burial in a shabby cemetery outside of Clarksburg, West Virginia. If there is some kind of meaning in all of this, it escapes me. Anyway, I kind of liked the guy.

Thornton P. Knowles

Saturday, April 20, 2019

The Facebook Home Jewelry Heist

     Boastful posts on Facebook and Instagram about a jewelry inheritance apparently prompted three men to target a Philadelphia home for robbery. Three men wearing ski masks and wielding pistols kicked in the door of a residence in the Somerton neighborhood of the city at around 2:30 Sunday morning February 8, 2015. The home invaders demanded jewelry and other valuables from a 19-year-old resident.

     The robbery suspects escaped through a rear window with a Rolex watch, two gold chains and cellphones. Police say the 19-year-old victim and four others in the home ranging in age from 17 to 19 were not hurt. The suspects mentioned during the robbery that they targeted the residence after seeing the Facebook and Instagram posts about the expensive jewelry.

"Robbery Suspects Say Facebook Posts About Inheriting Jewelry Made Them Target Home," Associated Press, February 9, 2015 

Thornton P. Knowles On Capital Punishment

Does the death penalty amount to cruel and unusual punishment? In some cases, I certainly hope so.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Assaults Are Rarely Unprovoked

Victims of physical violence sometimes say they got beat up for no reason. This happens once in a while, but unprovoked street assaults by strangers are rare. There's usually a reason. A racial insult, an uncollected drug debt, revenge for the victim having sex with someone's underage daughter--it's always something, just not something the victim necessarily wants to tell the cops.

Adam Plantinga, 400 Things Cops Know, 2014 

Woman Kills Her Police Officer Boyfriend Before Killing Herself

     Dallas police on February 9, 2015 released details about the shootings that left a police officer and a woman dead. Assistant Chief Randy Blankenbaker said officers were alerted to the fatal shooing by an emergency call from Otto Machelle Thomas Thomas before she took her own life. "Miss Thomas stated to the 911 operator that she had just committed a murder," the assistant chief said. "The 911 dispatcher asked the caller what had happened, and she replied, 'He was getting ready to hit me again and I just went off. I killed him because he was going to hit me again.' "

     Thomas, 41, told the 911 operator that the person she had just murdered--Dallas police officer Larry Tuttle--was her boyfriend, and that the incident occurred at his apartment. Police officers arrived at the scene within minutes. That's when Thomas called 911 a second time.

     During the second 911 call, the dispatcher could hear the patrol officers ordering Thomas to drop the gun and unlock the door. She said she had put down the gun and would unlock the door, but would have to walk away from the window where she was standing. A short time later, officers heard a muffled gunshot.

     SWAT officers discovered Officer Tuttle shot to death. Thomas was dead as well from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Officers found, in an apartment bedroom, a six-year-old child who was taken into child protection custody.

"Woman Admits Killing Police Officer in 911 Call," wfaa.com, February 9, 2015

Thornton P. Knowles On Lifelong Bachelorhood

Because I've never married, people have asked me if I'm gay. Among the many things I am not, I am not gay, not a fan of marriage, and not fond of children. I like my cat, and once had a dog I liked fairly well. While I am not against friendship, I don't have many friends. That is by choice. Although I'm a loner, I'm not lonely. While it may sound pathetic, I have my writing, and that's enough for me.

Thornton P. Knowles

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Hellementary Education

     A Florida kindergarten teacher who video-taped a boy as he beat other students on three occasions was suspended without pay. Duval County Public School officials accused Rita Baci of failing to protect her students as she recorded the beatings with her cellphone in November 2014. School administrators hit Baci with a 15-day unpaid suspension at a school board meeting on February 12, 2015.

     The 65-year-old classroom veteran was also reprimanded for using her foot to push a student out of her class and leaving him unattended in the hallway…The video Baci took showed one boy being hit about his face and body several times. Another kid was shown being kicked as he tried to hide under a table. A third student was punched and slapped on video.

     Baci said she had taken the videos for evidence of the boy's aggressive behavior in her classroom at the John E. Ford Montessori School in Jacksonville. She showed what she had recorded to an assistant principal before meeting with the disruptive child's parents. She also let other students watch the videos….

"Florida Teacher Suspended After Filming Kindergartner Beating Other Students," Fox News, February 15, 2015 

The Scofflaw And His Phantom Twin

     A New Jersey man repeatedly told local court officials they had the wrong guy, that it was his twin brother who had racked up all those traffic tickets. Court officials finally realized that Olawale Agoro used a fake name to have his court dates postponed. Olawale posed as his twin brother Tony to get new court dates for his traffic violations. As a result of his impersonation, he faced charges of hindering apprehension, false swearing and resisting arrest…

     The rouse began in July 2014 when a Maywood, New Jersey officer pulled Agoro over and issued him five traffic tickets. When he appeared in municipal court, he identified himself as Tony and said he was legally blind. However, officer Matthew Parodi, who pulled Agoro over, knew he was the same person he had stopped.

     Agoro left the courthouse and asked a man to drive his [Argoro's] car around the corner and stop. At that point the police officer saw the impostor climb in behind the wheel. Officer Parodi issued him three more tickets and his car was impounded.

     Agoro would go to the Rochelle Park, New Jersey Municipal Court where he posed as Tony and begged the clerk to grant adjournments for his brother because he was in Nigeria mourning the death of their father. After the adjournments were granted, Agoro missed a court date. That's when a judge issued a warrant for his arrest. The additional charges were filed when the authorities realized that Tony did not exist.

"New Jersey Man Posed as Twin to Avoid Court Dates," Fox News, February 15, 2015

Thornton P. Knowles On Telling Rather Than Doing

I knew a writer who spent twenty years trying to get a first novel published. He kept his rejection slips in a thick scrapbook. He eventually gave up and wrote a bestseller on how to write a novel. I guess it's easier to tell others how to do something than do it yourself.

Thornton P. Knowles

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Thornton P. Knowles On Literary Obscurity

A century from now only a handful of today's writers will be remembered or read. The novelist who writes "for the ages" is a fool and will, fortunately, be the first to be forgotten.

Thornton P. Knowles

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Too Drunk To Drive But Not Too Drunk To Fabricate Evidence

     A man poured water onto a freezing road to try to fool police officers into thinking the cause of his drunken car crash was black ice. Twenty-year-old Bryan Byers of Sparta, New Jersey was arrested Saturday February 14, 2015 and charged with drunken driving and other offenses.

     Authorities said he hit a guardrail after running a stop sign in a BMW early that morning. Shortly after the crash, 20-year-old Alexander Zambenedetti, a friend of Byers, showed up in his own car. The two men dumped 5-gallon buckets of water onto the read to create black ice…

     An officer on patrol saw Byers walking in the road and Zambenedetti sitting in his vehicle with two buckets in the back seat around 2:45 AM. Zambendetti wasn't wearing a shirt despite a wind chill of 15 below zero.

     Mr. Byers confessed to the evidence-fabricating scheme.

"Man Created Black Ice To Mask Drunken Driving Crash," Associated Press, February 18, 2015 

Poverty and Crime: What Comes First?

     Many academic criminologists, most of whom are sociologists, believe that capitalism produces pockets of poverty, inequality, and unemployment, which then foster crime. The solution, they believe, is government intervention to provide jobs, stimulate the economy, and reduce poverty and other social ills. There certainly is a correlation between the geography of crime and the geography of certain socio-economic factors, but to interpret the correlation as evidence that poverty causes crime is to get it just about backwards.

     As James K. Stewart, the Director of the National Institute of Justice, has pointed out, inner city areas where crime is rampant have tremendous potential for economic growth, given their infrastructure of railways, highways, electric power, water systems, and large supply of available labor. There is every reason for these areas to be wealthy and, indeed, many of them have been rich in the past. But crime takes a terrible toll on the physical, fiscal, and human capital, making it difficult to accumulate wealth and break out of the cycle of poverty. Criminals steal and destroy property, drive away customers and investors, reduce property values, and depreciate the quality of life in a neighborhood. Businesses close and working families move away, leaving behind a vacuum of opportunity. As Steward says, crime "is the ultimate tax on enterprise….The natural dynamic of the marketplace cannot assert itself when a local economy is regulated by crime [and corrupt politicians]. What these areas need most from government is not economic intervention but physical protection and security. The struggling inner-city dwellers whom sociologist William Julius Wilson has dubbed "the truly disadvantaged" deserve greater protection from their truly deviant neighbors. [The city of Detroit is a good example of the application of the poverty causes crime theory.]

Charles H. Logan and John J. DiLulio, Jr., "Ten Deadly Myths About Crime and Punishment," in Criminal Justice?, Robert James Bidinotto, ed., 1994 

Monday, April 15, 2019

The Robin Hood Fantasy

People secretly applaud those who do not play by the rules. It's a vital fantasy among the law-abiding bourgeois. Whenever there is an economic dislocation, theft arises. We often fall in love with the little thief if there is a big one at work. The analogs of the robber barons and their rapacious greed are the small-time thieves in the underworld. [Don't forget about the biggest thief of all--the U.S. government.]

Stephen Mihm, A Nation of Counterfeiters, 2008

Thornton P. Knowles On Becoming a Literary Critic

If you can't write or edit, but want to become a part of the literary scene, become a critic. This will give you the opportunity to impose your rage and frustration on those who have the talent you crave.

Thornton P. Knowles 

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Thornton P. Knowles on His Fiction Writing Technique

Once, at a mystery writer's conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, someone asked me how I produced my fiction. My answer was direct, and true: I replied that I have no idea how I do it, and when I do, I'll quit writing.

Thornton P. Knowles 

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Celebrity Heroin Deaths

Philip Seymour Hoffman. Cory Monteith. Janis Joplin. River Phoenix. John Belushi. Those are some of the Hollywood names that will forever be attached to heroin, after all five of the performers overdosed and died after taking heroin or a combination of heroin and cocaine….Drug experts say that heroin use among entertainers may be surprising because it is not talked about the same way that cocaine or party drugs are discussed….The addiction experts noted that while cocaine has a reputation for being appealing to business people for its ability to give them energy and focus, heroin's appeal is that it allows users to escape reality, a temptation for some in high-stress or highly visible professions….

Coleen Curry, "Why Hollywood Stars Turn to Heroin," ABC News, February 4, 2014  

Thornton P. Knowles On Time

Time drives the living insane. We think it will eventually kill us. In death, time does not exist. I can't wait.

Thornton P. Knowles

Friday, April 12, 2019

Fatal Falls: Accident or Murder?

High on the list of scenarios for the perfect murder is death by falling from a high place. "Did he fall or was he pushed?" is no joke. Some of the most difficult crime investigations have centered on incidents on mountaintops. When two people are in a high, dangerous place, there are no witnesses on a bleak windswept mountain and not a CCTV camera for miles around. If someone falls to his or  her death, who is to know if it was a slip made by perhaps an inexperienced mountaineer or the fatal plunge after a gentile nudge by an enemy?

Les Brown and Robert Jeffery, Real Hard Cases, 2006

Thornton P. Knowles On The Political Zealot

Beware of the charismatic, politically ideological zealot for this person is a mentally unbalanced sociopath who will say and do whatever it takes to control every aspect of your life. Just a handful of these crazed, self righteous crusaders have, in the Twentieth Century, caused the deaths of millions of people.

Thornton P. Knowles

Thursday, April 11, 2019

The Sandra Aven Murder Case

     Tara Aven, 46, lived in the Prescott, Arizona home of her mother, 76-year-old Sandra Aven. In April 2019, a neighbor who hadn't seen Sandra for two years asked the local police to check on her. Officers questioned Sandra Aven's granddaughter, 24-year-old Briar Aven who lived nearby. According to Briar, her grandmother was out of town and could not be reached. Investigators, after receiving conflicting stories from Tara and Briar Aven, entered Sandra Aven's house where they found her body. The elderly woman had been dead for about two years.

     Interrogated by homicide detectives, the mother and granddaughter of the deceased woman allegedly confessed to killing Sandra and forging and cashing monthly checks made payable to her.

     Tara and Briar Aven were booked into the Yavapai County Jail on fraud and evidence tampering charges while the investigation into Sandra Aven's death continued.

Poison Murder

     There exists a kind of murder mystery pleasure to the subject of poisons; crime novelists, especially in the early twentieth century, have written them into countless tales of deathly intrigue. I've always admired the stylish writing of these vintage novels, which is a nice way of saying that I've read and enjoyed numerous stories involving murder by arsenic and cyanide. That hasn't affected the fact that, in reality, I find poison killings among the most disturbing of all homicides.

     I see poisoners--so calculating, so cold-blooded--as most like the villains of our horror stories. They're closer to that lurking monster in the closet than some drug-impaired crazy with a gun. I don't mean to dismiss the latter--both can achieve the same awful results. But the scarier killer is the one who thoughtfully plans his murder ahead, tricks a friend, wife, lover into swallowing something that will dissolve tissue, blister skin, twist the muscles with convulsions, knows all that will happen and does it anyway.

Deborah Blum, The Poisoner's Handbook, 2010

Married to a Mobster

I look back and I realize that in the end I got everything I dreamed about having when I was still living with my parents in Bensonhurst [New York City] and longing for escape. I married a handsome man, we became wealthy [on other people's blood and money], we had children, they went to private schools, we lived in a nice big house. So I got everything I always wanted. Some people might say I got everything I deserved. What do they know?

Lynda Milito, widow of slain Gambino soldier Liborio "Louie" Milito in Jerry Capeci, Wiseguys Say the Darndest Things, 2000

Trial Rhetoric

Criminal prosecutors will call a firearm a "weapon," while defense attorneys will call it a "gun." When prosecutors talk about the defendant "aiming" and "firing" the weapon, defense attorneys respond with phrases like "where the barrel was pointing when the gun went off."...All of these advocates have a vested interest in their choice of words (hence the term "mouthpiece").

D. H. Garrison, Jr. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Campus Political Correctness and Phony Outrage

Students are ill-served by the culture of the modern college campus which stifles free-thinking in order to protect students from damaging each other's feelings in even the most trivial ways. It's not just that students are offended much too easily, it's almost as if they want a chance to grandstand or win an argument even if the justification for their offendedness makes absolutely no sense.

Greg Lukianoff, Unlearning Liberty, 2013 

Fairy Tales As True Crime for Kids

     The children are safely tucked in bed; a light breeze blows in through the window; Mom hushes them and begins to tell a sweet tale of children being abandoned in the woods, lured to a witch's cottage, there to be fattened and roasted in an oven. Medium-rare.

     Critics have long complained about the violent content of some of the classic fairy tales we read to our children. However, what few of these critics realize is that we are reading watered down versions of the fairy tales, and that the originals were far more graphic and brutal.

     Sleeping beauty was not first awakened by a kiss; in the 1636 Italian version of the tale--the first known written version--she was raped by a man who rode off the next morning without leaving even a Dear Sleeping Beauty note. Her "morning after" came nine months later when she awoke to find herself the proud mother of twins.

Richard Zacks, An Underground Education, 1997 

Who Buys True Crime Books?

The main audience for true crime works is generally the middle class with more women than men buying the books. There is also a fairly strong teen market, and books of regional interest have specialized markets. For example, both Texas and the Pacific Northwest are strong locales for the true crime market.

Vicky Munro

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Can A Severed Head Think?

If there was sensation after decapitation, then the guillotine wasn't the quick merciful death promised by the Revolutionary leaders. It was cruel, maybe crueler than hanging or disemboweling, to transform the victim into a disembodied head fully experiencing the agony of a horrific knife wound. Remember that the Enlightenment was an age of reason--with a turn away from religion and emotion--so the logical question was: Why couldn't the head beam on for a few more minutes of consciousness? As one French writer put it, if the severed head is conscious, then it reconfigures Descartes famed dictum to "I think but I am not."

Richard Zacks, An Underground Education, 1997

The Power of Cross-Examination

     The ability to conduct an effective cross-examination is one of the most important skills in the arsenal of the trial attorney, as well as one of the most difficult to master. If the witness, as is usually the case, is telling the truth as he knows it, but that truth is overly slanted in the favor of say, the prosecution, then the defense attorney must bring that truth back toward or past the middle by careful questioning. However, if he is too assertive with a likable witness who appears to be honestly trying to tell the truth, then he runs the risk of alienating the jury and undoing any good he accomplishes in the examination.

     One question on cross-examination that tends to be productive is, "Have you discussed your testimony with the state's attorney or anyone from his office?" The answer almost has to be "yes," because the prosecutor would be foolish to put anyone on the stand without knowing what he or she is going to say. But many witnesses think that it's wrong to admit to having talked about their testimony. Consequently, they will often hem and haw and deny it, and end up looking furtive when they are forced to admit that, yes, they spoke to the prosecutor twice in his office.

Louis Nizer, My Life in Court, 1961

Monday, April 8, 2019

The "Refreshed" Memory of a Trial Witness

The common doctrine of what is known as "refreshing the memory" in actual practice is notoriously absurd. Witnesses who have made memoranda as to certain facts, or even, in certain cases, of conversations, and who have no independent recollection thereof, are permitted to read them for the purpose of "refreshing" their memories. Having done so, they are then asked if they now have, independently of the paper, any recollection of them. In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred it would be absolutely impossible for them really to remember anything of the sort. They read the entry, know it is probably accurate, and are morally convinced that the fact is as thereon stated. They answer yes, that their recollection has been refreshed and that they now do remember, and are allowed to testify to the fact as of their own knowledge.

Arthur Train (author and practicing attorney), The Prisoner at the Bar, 1926

Sunday, April 7, 2019

The Death of Logical Thinking and Common Sense

     In an era in which we are overwhelmed with information, Americans are losing the ability to draw logical conclusions, apply common sense, and distinguish what is real from what isn't. We live in a culture of magical thinking devoid of objective truth. One plus one used to be two. Now it's two if you want it to be. It could be three, or 714. Insisting that one plus one is two is considered mean-spirited, and discriminates against people who aren't good at math.

     When I taught criminal justice, I had college students who insisted that O. J. Simpson was innocent. But when I asked these students to identify the exonerating evidence in the case, I realized they didn't know anything about the double murder. That lack of knowledge, however, did not discourage them from having strong opinions. They didn't know that O. J. was innocent, they believed it. What you believe has become more important than what you know.

     Recently several people in Florida were bilked out of a lot of money by a couple of psychics. The fact that fortune-tellers can make a living in modern America is disturbing. No one should believe in psychics. Again, we are losing our ability to separate reality from fantasy.

     The loss of common sense and logic to irrational, magical thinking is perhaps one of the greatest dangers facing our country. A nation that can't think straight, make rational decisions, and apply common sense solutions to problems, is doomed. 

Thornton P. Knowles On Creative Writing As a Career

English teachers should not encourage their students to pursue careers as novelists. The crazy ones with big talent will get there on their own. The rest should be spared the misery.

 Thornton P. Knowles 

Saturday, April 6, 2019

The Harry Potter Effect

The first novel I published was the fifth I'd written and when it sold I was working on novel thirteen. What finally made the difference? Harry Potter. I slid into publication on Harry Potter's big, beautiful coattails. When I first started writing you couldn't sell a fantasy novel for teens to save your life. An editor once told me, "First you have to sell three or four realistic novels, about real kids, preferably humorous. If they do well then maybe, maybe someone will look at your fantasy." Then Harry Potter hit, and every editor in the country started pulling fantasy out of their slush piles.

Hilari Bell in How I Got Published, edited by Ray White and Duane Lindsay, 2007 

Free Speech and The Snitch Next Door

     The end of free speech will not necessarily come when there are soldiers in the streets, secret police in the alleyways and a mustachioed man screaming at you on a television set that can't be turned off no matter how you turn the knob or click the buttons. [George Orwell, 1984]

     Some of these things existed in totalitarian countries, but they were there to sweep up the hardened dissenters who refused to be silenced. The vast majority of citizens did not have bugged phones or men in trench coats following them around.

     That was what their friends and neighbors were for.

     The first line of offense by a totalitarian society against freedom of speech is sourced to the people in the streets. No secret police force is large enough to spy on everyone all the time. [The NSA seems capable of doing that.] Nor does it need to. That is what informers are for.

Daniel Greenfield, "Lynching Free Speech," Frontpage Mag, December 27, 2013 

Thornton P. Knowles On Who Will Inherit The Earth

The Bible says that the weak shall inherit the earth. In reality, it's the bullshitters.

Thornton P. Knowles

Friday, April 5, 2019

Thornton P. Knowles On Words Versus Pictures

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. As a writer, I disagree. I believe a word is worth a thousand pictures. A Word can trigger the imagination the way a picture can't. Words can hurt, words can help, words can make a change. While I don't dislike pictures, I am a word man.

Thornton P. Knowles

Thursday, April 4, 2019


     Here are two important tenets of libel law every writer should know: 1) If what you say is true, it cannot be libel, and 2) generally speaking, you can't libel a dead person.

     Libel is defined as a false and defamatory statement, in writing [or on radio or TV] that has been published to a third person....

     "Defamatory," in legal terms, means tending to harm the reputation of the person who is the subject of the statement. We're talking about a statement that is more than just embarrassing or annoying...it must be the kind of statement that would deter other people from associating with that person. [Subject that person to contempt, hatred or ridicule. It must also cost the libel plaintiff money, unless the defendant has accused the plaintiff of a crime, then it's called libel per se.]

Keep It Real (2008) edited by Lee Gutkind 

Thornton P. Knowles on What It Takes to be a Writer

To be a writer you need, besides a little talent and a little time, two personality traits that seem contradictory: extreme self-centeredness and an inferiority complex. Normal people need not apply.

Thornton P. Knowles, The Psychology of Writing, 1976

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Thornton P. Knowles On Eliminating The Celebrity Memoir

The government has paid farmers not to grow certain crops. It would be nice if the government paid professional ghostwriters not to write celebrity memoirs. It would go something like this: Whenever a ghostwriter received a legitimate proposal to write such a book, the writer would take the letter to the Office of Good Taste where he or she would be issued a government check. Because I consider the celebrity memoir genre a stain on literature, I'm deeply in love with this proposal. For some reason, however, I can't get my local congressman interested in pushing legislation to this effect. I would call the law "The Saving Literature Act." And it would be really great if at some future date, the law could be amended to include political memoirs. Now I'm really dreaming.

Thornton P. Knowles 

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Remarkable Murder Cases

Of the cases presented here (A Companion to Murder), some have been chosen because the people involved in them are strange and remarkable, passionate, revengeful, avaricious, stupid, ambitious, resourceful, pitiable, tragic, even comic, beyond the ordinary. Others have been chosen because the interplay of motive behind the the crime has some special interest; others for the sake of some brilliant stroke of detection. Other cases are to be valued for their particular atmosphere or mood; others because they illustrate some tenet of the law as it applies to the crime of murder; others, again, because they display the forensic skill of a great advocate.

Spenser Shew, A Companion to Murder, 1961

Truman Capote's True Crime Mistake

Put simply, adherence to the truth in nonfiction makes a story feel right. Perhaps the most famous compromise of that standard is Truman Capote's imagined graveyard scene at the end of In Cold Blood, still considered the benchmark for what he called the "non-fiction novel." A brilliant study of a murdered family and the killers who are eventually hanged, there was no happy ending available to the writer. Capote felt a need to resolve that artificially, blighting his immense achievement in synthesizing research with dramatic storytelling with a dreamy and unconvincing denouement he always regretted.

Mark Mordue, The Australian, January 14, 2006 

Thornton P. Knowles On Celebrity Worship

People love celebrities. Entertainers, TV commentators and sports figures who achieve fame are worshiped, and when they die, are mourned by millions of fans who really didn't know them. I have never felt any kind of personal connection to any celebrity and therefore am not affected when one of them dies. The only reason I was interested in John Lennon's death had to do with the fact he was murdered by a nutcase obsessed with the novel Cather In The Rye. In order to better understand the  celebrity worship mystery, I asked a psychologist friend to explain it. He said it was simple: celebrity worship is the product of our fear of death. He asked me if I'm as disinterested in my own death as I am in celebrities. I confessed that I'm not a fan of death anymore than I am of famous people. I guess that made me an oddball. But that's something I already knew. But as far as I'm concerned, celebrity fawning people are just as odd as me. Solving the celebrity worship mystery made me feel a lot better about myself. I'm an oddball, but at least I'm not alone.

Thornton P. Knowles