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Friday, May 31, 2019

Thornton P. Knowles' Last Sentence

I am a tiny boat on a vast sea about to disappear below the horizon. (Three days after he wrote this in his journal, Thornton P. Knowles, 67, died.)

Thornton P. Knowles

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Thornton P. Knowles On Self Esteem

I grew up in the era before the self esteem movement. When I was 11, as my father and another adult were discussing something, I injected my opinion into the conversation. Later, my dad took me aside and said this to me: "Son, by definition, you are retarded. You have the mind of an 11-year-old." Like I say, I grew up before the self esteem movement.

Thornton P. Knowles

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Memphis Police Officer Ronald Harris: The Make-A-Wish Robbery Case

     In January 2002, 22-year-old Ronald Harris joined the police department in Memphis, Tennessee. Twelve years later, he was assigned to the substation at the Memphis International Airport. Officer Harris' supervisors, over the years, documented his failure to live up to the department's standards of professional behavior. He abused the agency's sick leave benefits, did not answer radio calls, and in 2013 was suspended for insubordination.

     In May 2014, Officer Harris' wife reported that he had become delusional and had threatened to kill her. The department granted him leave to seek psychiatric help.

     In June 2014, Harris learned that an employee of St. Jude Children's Hospital, on the seventh of that month, would deliver a credit card worth $1,500 to a Make-A-Wish Foundation family before they boarded a plane with their terminally ill child. On that day Harris followed the Make-A-Wish organization's volunteer into the airport terminal.

     When the paper bag containing the credit card and five St. Jude T-shirts exchanged hands, the off-duty, out-of-uniform cop grabbed the container and tried to flee the scene. Nathan Moore, a member of the sick child's family, confronted officer Harris. In the scuffle that ensued, Harris caused a deep laceration in Mr. Moore's forehead by head-butting him.

     Airport police officers, a couple of bystanders, and the injured Nathan Moore eventually subdued the out-of-control cop. Once inside the police car, Harris kicked open the door and tried to escape.

     Paramedics stitched up Mr. Moore's forehead at the airport. Not long after that the shaken child and his family boarded the plane and flew off to DisneyWorld or wherever they were going to make his dream come true.

     When investigators searched Ronald Harris' car, they found pieces of mail that had been stolen from his neighbor's mailbox.

     Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong suspended Ronald Harris from the force as officers booked him into the county jail on charges of aggravated assault, robbery, and escape from felony incarceration. At his arraignment, the judge set the suspect's bond at $25,000.

     Few situations are more dangerous than a violent, mentally ill cop. At least in this case the officer, when he went off the deep end, was not armed. (The disposition of his case is not available online.)

Thornton P. Knowles On Describing What Being a Writer Is All About

Asking what it's like to be a writer is a lot like asking what it's like to be a dentist or an attorney. The answer depends on where you live, what you write, how successful you are, how old you are, if you're married, and how you think of yourself as a writer. But there is one thing that most writers do say about the writing life: it's lonely and frustrating. Writers seem to feel misunderstood by people who don't write and under-appreciated or ignored by the reading public. Feeling isolated and forced to compete with other writers, many authors complain that their books are not adequately promoted by their publishers. Otherwise, they're a contented group of workers.

Thornton P. Knowles, The Psychology of Writing, 1976 

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Kidnapper Caught Red Handed

     A Utah stepfather foiled an attempt to kidnap his young daughter from her bed early Friday November 7, 2014 after confronting a man carrying her across the lawn. The 5-year-old girl wasn't hurt…

     The suspect entered the home through an unlocked door or window about 4:30 AM in Sandy, a middle-class suburb of Salt Lake City…The intruder was in the family's basement searching through things when he came upon the girl sleeping in her bedroom. The suspect took her out of bed and carried her upstairs, making noises that woke the parents.

     The girl's stepfather went to the door and saw the man carrying his stepdaughter on the front lawn. He ran outside and confronted the man, wrestling her free of the abductor. The suspect fled, and the stepfather called 911.

     Officers set up a perimeter, and with the help of police dogs, launched a search. The suspect went into a second home, where the residents heard him and called the police.

     Police captured the 46-year-old man outside the second home thanks to a police dog that bit the suspect in the upper shoulder…The family told the police that they had never seen and don't know the suspect, who police have identified as Troy Morley of Roy, Utah…

     Morley was taken to a nearby hospital to receive treatment for the dog bite. He was arrested later in the day and booked into jail on charges of child kidnapping and burglary….[Claiming he was high on meth when he attempted the kidnapping, Tim Morley, in October 2015, pleaded guilty. The judge sentenced him to six years to life in prison.]

"Dad Confronts Kidnapper, Saves 5-Year-Old Daughter," Associated Press, November 7, 2014 

Kids, Don't Take Grandma's Smack to School

     ….A Pennsylvania first-grader brought bags of heroin into school--giving some to at least one classmate before teachers caught him with a pocket full of drugs….Two days later, the boy's 56-year-old grandmother was arrested on charges of endangering the welfare of children and drug offenses for allegedly losing track of the heroin while babysitting….

     Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan expressed outrage over any child bringing a drug as potent as heroin into an elementary school. He also lashed out at the boy's school district for not doing more to inform parents as well as the authorities, including his office….
     According to a criminal complaint detailed by Hogan's office, Pauline Bilinski-Munion was babysitting her grandson and a 1-year-old baby on Thursday, May 1, 2014 at a residence in Modena, Pennsylvania. Bilinski-Munion had "brought heroin into the house and lost track of it," according to the district attorney's office, which referred to her as "a known heroin user."
     The next day, the 7-year-old brought several bags with him into Caln Elementary School. Teachers overheard the child talking about the bags, and later found nine bags of what proved to be heroin--with each bag stamped, "Victoria's Secret"--in the boy's pants pocket….The child initially claimed he found the heroin in the school yard, only to later admit he'd gotten them from home. The drugs were handed over to the Coatesville Area School District Police. 
     Another child's mother later claimed that she'd found an additional bag of heroin, with the same "Victoria's Secret" wording, on her 7-year-old as they were walking in a nearby mall….District Attorney Hogan faulted the school system for what he characterized as its "late and vague notification to parents about a dangerous and illegal substance," and failing to alert his office, which didn't start investigating until hearing about the story in the media on Saturday, May 7, 2014. 
     "The school district didn't call 911, didn't call the DA's office, did not freeze all the kids in one place, they did not call in emergency personnel to check all the kids to make sure they were OK," he told a local CNN affiliate.
     Following her arrest on Saturday, May 7, 2014, Bilinski-Munion was charged and held with bail set at $25,000….[In May 2015, following guilty pleas to lesser charges, the judge sentenced Bilinski-Munion to four days--time served in the Chester County Jail.]

Kevin Conlon and Greg Botelho, "DA: First-Grader Brings His Grandmother's Heroin to School," CNN, May 7, 2014 

Monday, May 27, 2019

Criminalizing Parenthood

     In March of 2011, Kim Brooks intentionally left her 4-year-old son, Felix, in a car...On the day that Brooks left her son, it was cool enough for jackets, the windows were open and the car was locked and alarmed. Brooks was rushing to catch a flight with her two young kids; she let Felix stay in the car with his iPad while she ran into Target on an errand. She was gone for a few minutes, and in that time Felix was noticed by a bystander, who recorded a video of him alone in the back seat and gave it to the authorities...

     In exchange for agreeing to perform community service and take parenting classes, the prosecution dropped the charge--"contributing to the delinquency of a minor"--against her. [Had the mother pled not guilty and lost at trial, she could have lost custody of her children.]...

    What exactly was the crime?..

     Why are American parents so fearful? Is leaving a child in a car considered riskier than driving him because the boogeyman you can't see is scarier than the dangers you face every day?..

Libby Copeland

     

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Thornton P. Knowles On The Mystery Of His Cat

When I look at my cat I often wonder if he can think, and if so, about what? What goes on inside the head of an animal? Can thinking even take place without language? For example, what does a cat think when he sees a Golden Retriever chase a stick into a lake? Does the cat think, How stupid is that? I can't imagine a life without thinking. For that reason, I choose to believe that my cat does think. Unfortunately, I think my cat doesn't think much of me.

Thornton P. Knowles

Saturday, May 25, 2019

The Kennewick Man

     In the 1980s, Native American activists began calling for a federal law that mandated the return of prehistoric remains and certain artifacts, held by government and federally funded museums and universities, to the descendants of these indigenous people. Following a series of Congressional hearings, Senators Daniel Inouye of Hawaii and John McCain of Arizona proposed the Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). President George H. Bush signed the law in 1990.

     NAGPRA, administered by the Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act Office within the Department of Interior, is comprised of three principal sections. NAGPRA outlaws the unauthorized excavation of Native American Grave sites on federal land; requires museums and universities covered under the law to catalogue "cultural items" in their collections and share lists of these objects with the appropriate tribes so they can petition their return; and prohibits individuals from buying or selling Native American "cultural items," "sacred objects," "ceremonial objects," and artifacts with "ongoing historical, traditional, or cultural importance" to a Native American group. NAGPRA does not apply to human remains and relics removed from state or privately owned land, or to artifacts acquired or found before 1990. 
The Kennewick Man Case
     Two college students walking along the Columbia River near Kennewick, Washington on July 28, 1996, stumbled upon a human skull lying in two feet of water. After examining the site as a potential crime scene, Benton County Coroner Floyd Johnson called in Dr. James Chatters, a local forensic anthropologist. Chatters discovered, buried nearby, the rest of the bones that he took to the coroner's office for further examination.
     Following a newspaper report regarding the discovery of human remains that appeared to be prehistoric, representatives of the Umatilla people, a federally recognized tribe that lived in the area, came forward to claim the skeleton under NAGPRA.
     On August 27, 1996, Dr. Chatters held a press conference and announced that based on the radiocarbon process, he believed the Kennewick Man, also known as The Ancient One, had lived during the Paleo period 8,340 to 9,900 years ago. This alone made fascinating and important news, but Dr. Chatters' revelation that Kennewick Man's skull had Caucasoid features (a long narrow face with a prominent chin) heightened media interest because it fueled the debate over the hypothesis that prehistory Europeans as well as Proto-Mongaloids had crossed the Bering Straight into North America.
   Dr. Chatters discovered a Paleo projectile point lodged in the Ancient One's hip, a wound that had not been the cause of the five-foot-nine forty-five to fifty-year-old man's ancient death.
     In September 1996, as Dr. Chatters made preparations to ship the remains to Dr. Douglas Owsley, a physical anthropologist with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D. C., the United States Corps of Engineers (COE) stepped into the case on behalf of the Umatilla Tribe and three out-of-state Native American groups. The COE, having jurisdiction over the site of the Kennewick Man discovery, took custody of the remains before they were sent off for further scientific study.
     Although the Native American groups had not established cultural affiliation beyond oral histories, the COE, with speed uncharacteristic of a governmental agency, recognized their NAGPRA claim.
     Appalled by the arbitrariness of the COE's decision to repatriate the remains before they could be subjected to thorough scientific study, a group of anthropologists and archaeologists filed a federal lawsuit to overturn the COE's action. Federal Magistrate John Jelderks, in June 1997, ruled that the COE, by acting so hastily, had failed to consider and resolve key legal issues raised by the dispute. Judge Jelders vacated the repatriation, and ordered the COE to reconsider the scientists' request to study the bones. In September 1997, a federal judge ordered the COE to send the Ancient One to the University of Washington's Burke Museum in Seattle. 
     Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, on January 13, 2000, issued a determination that the Kennewick Man was Native American and therefore covered by NAGPRA. Eight months later, Babbit ruled that the preponderance of evidence proved the Ancient One was culturally affiliated with the four claimant Indian tribes.
     Because Babbitt's ruling had no basis in science, his decision created a firestorm of anger and frustration among anthropologists and archaeologists who believed the decision reflected "a lack of adherence to the statutory definition of cultural affiliation…and an apparent lack of appreciation for the decidedly balanced compromise that is at the heart of NAGPRA.

   In 2002, a group of scientists filed a federal lawsuit to block the repatriation of the Ancient One's remains. In August of that year, the federal magistrate presiding over the case found in favor of the plaintiffs. The judge condemned Secretary Babbitt's ruling that the Native American claimants shared a cultural affiliation with the Kennewick Man. The judge opined that Babbitt, in making his decision, had not considered all of the relevant factors related to the issue. The four tribes, joined by the Department of Justice, appealed the case to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

     The federal appeals court, in April 2004, affirmed the lower court's ruling. Appellate Judge Gould, in upholding the scientists' right to maintain control of the remains, wrote: "….Scant or no evidence of cultural similarities between Kennewick Man and modern Indians exists. One of the secretary's [Babbitt's] experts, Dr. Kenneth Ames, an anthropologist with Portland State University, reported that 'the empirical gaps in the record preclude establishing cultural continuities or discontinuities, particularly before about 5,000 B.C.' Dr. Ames noted that, although there was overwhelming evidence that many aspects of the "Plateau Pattern" [The region drained by the Columbia and Fraser Rivers.] were present between 1,000 B. C. and A. D. 1, 'the empirical record precludes establishing cultural continuities or discontinuities across increasingly remote periods.' He noted that the available evidence is insufficient either to prove or disprove cultural or group continuity dating back earlier than 5,000 B. C., which is the case with regard to the Kennewick Man's remains, and that there is evidence that substantial changes occurred in settlement, housing, diet, trade, subsistence patterns, technology, projectile point styles, raw materials, and mortuary rituals at various times between the estimate date when Kennewick Man lived and the beginning of the Plateau Culture some 2,000 to 3,000 years ago."

     In July 2004, the four claimant tribes announced they were not going to appeal the Ninth Circuit's decision to the U. S. Supreme Court. This closed the case, and opened the door for further study of the Kennewick Man's bones. To this day, Native American activists regard the Kennewick Man case a bitter defeat and significant setback in the repatriation movement.

     At the annual American Association of Forensic Sciences convention held in February 2006 in Seattle, Dr. Douglas Owsley presented his analysis of the Kennewick Man's remains. According to the anthropologist, the Ancient One, because he was more than 9,000 years old, is more closely related to old world populations than to American Indian groups that came to North America across the Bering Straight 2,000 years later. 

Friday, May 24, 2019

Who Killed President John F. Kennedy?

Even the basic facts of [John F.] Kennedy's death are still subject to heated argument. The historical consensus seems to have settled on Lee Harvey Oswald as the lone assassin, but conspiracy speculation abounds--involving [Lyndon B.] Johnson, the C.I.A., the mob, Fidel Castro or a baroque combination of all of them. Many of the theories have been circulating for decades and have now found new life on the Internet, in Web sites febrile with unfiltered and at times unhinged musings. [According to Vincent Bugliosi, 82 people have, over the years, been accused of assassinating President Kennedy.]

Jill Abramson, "The Elusive President," The New York Times Book Review, October 27, 2013

The Romance Novel

The romance is loved and derided for its formulaic nature. It is comfort, escapism and reassurance in a troubling world. It is generic in the truest sense, a genre defined and constrained by a handful of conventions. The heart of every romance is a love story, and by the last page of the book the lovers wind up together, happily ever after or at least "happily for now."

Jaime Green

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Unnecessary Drama and False Emotion in the Documentary Film

     In the documentary film, you want to avoid creating unnecessary drama--turning a perfectly good story into a soap opera. There's no reason to pull in additional details, however sad or frightening, when they aren't relevant…

     False emotions--hyped-up music and sound effects and narration that warns of danger around every corner--is a common problem, especially on television. As in the story of the boy who cries wolf, at some point it all washes over the viewer like so much noise. If the danger is real, it will have the greatest storytelling impact if it emerges organically from the material.

Sheila Curran, Documentary Storytelling, Second Edition, 2007 

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Thornton P. Knowles On His 7th Grade Gym Teacher

Growing up in West Virginia, I didn't exactly sail through 7th grade. In fact, my little academic boat hit the rocks and sank. The one thing I learned on my first voyage through 7th grade came from our gym teacher, Mr. Blankenship. After gym class, many of us skipped taking a shower. To discourage that, Mr. B. shocked us with the fact that Franklin D. Roosevelt, the president of the United States, showered every day! He said that while none of us future losers would ever become America's president, we could at least be as clean as one. That worked for me. Since then I have showered every day with the president of the United States. Thank you Mr. Blankenship.

Thornton P. Knowles

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Thornton P. Knowles On Duck Hunters

I once knew a couple of avid duck hunters. They'd get up in the morning; dress up as though they were going into combat; plant fake ducks on the pond; hide in the reeds with their shotguns; blow their whistles; then blast unsuspecting ducks out of the sky. They called this sport. I call it recreational killing. When ducks learn to drop egg-sized bombs out of their butts, then it will be a sport. I like ducks a lot better than people who kill them for the fun of it.

Thornton P. Knowles

Monday, May 20, 2019

The Nonfiction Hardback Bestseller

     The most popular nonfiction authors of our day might be characterized by a certain overconfident swagger, the modern prerequisite for mattering in a mixed-up, insecure world. More often than not, these "authors"aren't authors at all, in the strict sense of carefully pondering their ideas and diction and lovingly crafting an argument sturdy yet supple enough to carry their work over to a mass readership. In place of the William Whytes, Vance Packards, and Betty Friedans of earlier, more confident chapters of our national bestsellerdom, we have promoted a generation of alternately jumpy and anxious shouters. Generally these public figures fall into one of two categories: television personalities who have hired hands to cobble together their sound bites; and middling non-writers suffering from extended delusions of grandeur. When it comes to hardcover nonfiction, a realm in which books are physical objects, plunked down on coffee tables as signifiers or comfort totems, Americans don't seem to be looking for authors or writers or artists so much as lifestyle brands in human form: placeholder thinkers whose outrage, sense of irony, or general dystopian worldview matches their own, whether it is Glenn Beck, Barack Obama, or Chelsa Handler.

      It's a glum corollary of such market forces that these very popular nonfiction books aren't books in the traditional sense of the word so much as aspirational impulse buys. They imbue their owners with a feeling of achievement and well-being upon purchase, a feeling that crucially does not require the purchaser to actually sit and read the book in question. Substantive, thoughtful books might pervade other lists (e-book, trade paperback, etc.), but when it comes to the top position on the hardcover nonfiction roster, accessory books by high-profile bloviators typically dominate from Al Franken's Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot to Ann Coulter's Godless to Edward Klein's The Amateur to Dinesh D'Souza's America. 

Heather Havrilesky, "Mansplanation Nation," Bookforum, Dec/Jan, 2015 

Thornton P. Knowles On Sigmund Freud And Truman Capote

According to Dr. Sigmund Freud, creative writers, as boys, were timid, introverted types who spent their days fantasizing about being men of action and having beautiful lovers. When these boys became novelists, they created their fictitious characters out of these fantasies. While some modern shrinks consider Dr. Freud old hat, the good doctor figured out the psychology of creative writing. He didn't, however, figure out why so many novelists are suicidal, mentally ill drunks. It's a shame he never met Truman Capote.

Thornton P. Knowles

Saturday, May 18, 2019

O.J. Simpson's Outlandish Take on Nicole Brown's Murder

I wonder sometimes what Nicole was thinking at the end. I think now about what must have been going through her head when she realized what was about to happen to her, oh man. It hurts me to think about it. I would have put up a fight, I would have protected Nicole, you know. I'll never hear my kids say "Mommy" again. That hurts me every day. I know it hurts my kids, too. [O.J. Simpson to an adoring fan prior to his murder trial.]

O.J. Simpson, I Want to Tell You, 1994

Public Defender Offices

     Traditionally, the country's legal apparatus favors the office of the district attorney. The states instinctively supported the creating of prosecutors' officers because of a political will to solve crime and punish those who commit it. By contrast, the need to provide counsel for poor people accused of crimes is a burden that the U.S. Supreme Court thrust on the states in the sixties. Thus with a more popular mandate, prosecutors tend to receive more money and resources. For instance, Congress spent $26 million building the National Advocacy Center in Columbia, South Carolina, to train prosecutors. There is a similar school in Reno, Nevada, for training state and local judges. No federally funded counterpart exists for defense lawyers. Also, the Bureau of Justice Assistance gives federal aid to state and local law enforcement agencies…with no equivalent moneys for the defense….[All this may be true but the American legal system--the presumption of innocence, the Bill of Rights, and due process--is geared to help the accused.]

Amy Bach, Ordinary Justice, 2009 

Thornton P. Knowles On The Power Of Nostalgia

Back before most students were hauled about in buses, on rainy days we walked to elementary school in those heavy yellow rubber raincoats and big, steel-buckled boots that jingled when you shuffled along. I also remember the wet rubber smell of the cloakroom. Never under estimate the power of nostalgia. While it won't keep you young, it can provide the illusion of youth.

Thornton P. Knowles

Friday, May 17, 2019

Ross H. Spencer: Armed and Humorous

     Private eye novelist Ross H. Spencer (1921-1998) is, in my view, one of the funniest fiction writers ever. Born in Hughart, West Virginia and raised in Hubbard and Youngstown, Ohio, Spence served in the Army in World War II (Bronze Star) and in the Air Force during the Korean conflict. After working in Chicago as a railroader, landscape contractor and chain link fence salesman and installer for forty-two years, the cigar-smoking, beer drinking writer returned to Youngstown with his wife Shirley.

    In his one-story house on North Dunlap Avenue on the west side of town, Spence built a model railroad layout and a bar in his basement where he regularly entertained a few close friends. I met Spence and Shirley in July 1990, and until his death eight years later, spent at least one night a week in his bar listening to Dixieland Jazz, classic country tunes, and music from the big band era. In August 1992, we traveled to Chicago where Spence took me around to his former stomping grounds to meet some of his old beer drinking buddies. Spence knew a lot about baseball, and loved the Chicago Cubs. In football he hated the Bears and favored the Browns. As often revealed in his whacky, off-the-wall private eye yarns, Spence didn't think much of politicians, Bible-thumping preachers, or fakers of any kind.

    As a self-taught writer without a high school degree (he was kicked out of eleventh grade for smoking), Spence started writing at age 58. During his relatively short but intense writing career, he published thirteen novels. His first five books were mass market paperbacks published by Avon between 1978 and 1983. This series, beginning with "The Da Da Caper," are written in an unique style of one-sentence paragraphs. From the "Da Da Caper:"

     That afternoon a little guy with straggly red hair and shiny blue eyes came in [to the PI's office].

     He said I want you to find out why my mother is receiving a lot of obscene telephone calls.

     I said well before we find out why we got to find out who.

     He said oh that's easy.

     He said I know who.

     I said who?

     He said me.

     He said but I don't know why.

     I sent him over to the Ammson Private Detective Agency.

     I said Ammson is absolutely tops in situations of this nature.

     Ross H. Spencer's remaining books initially came out in hardback, then were published as paperbacks. Several of them were also published in England, France, Italy and Japan. My favorites include: "Echoes of Zero," "Monastery Nightmare," "The Missing Bishop," "Kirby's Last Circus," and "Death Wore Gloves." Critics, including those at "The New York Times," compared his brand of humor to the works of Mark Twain, Ring Lardner, S. J. Perlman, Groucho Marx, and Damon Runyon. I see similarities in his work to writers Donald Westlake, Elmore Leonard and Charles Bukowski. And you can throw in a pinch of Mickey Spillane.

     Spence gave me the title to my book "The Ghosts of Hopewell," a work I dedicated to him. He died on July 25, 1998, a year before the book came out. Tom Grimes, in his recent memoir, "Mentor," wrote: "Every writer is alone, and every good book is difficult to write." This is probably true for most writers, particularly the serious literary types, but it didn't apply to Ross Spencer. He was not only a happy guy, he loved to write. This is because Spence's talent far exceeded his literary ambition. Writers of "serious" fiction tend to be angst-ridden basket cases because their literary ambition exceeds their talent.

     All of Spence's books are available on Amazon.com. If you give him a try,  I think you'll thank me.

Is the Death Penalty Fairly Administered?

A majority of Americans accept or even favor life in prison without parole as an alternative to execution. It is the uneven application of the death penalty that will spell its downfall; the nature of the crime has become far less important than the zeal of prosecutors and where they practice. Even within the same state, a rural county can have five people on death row, which might be exactly the same number as an adjacent urban county with ten times the population and 200 times the number of murders.

Abraham Verghese

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Thornton P. Knowles On His Father

As a child, the moment I realized that my father, a man who rarely missed church and liked to quote Bible passages, was an atheist, I knew I was going to be a writer. [When Knowles was fifteen, his father committed suicide by hanging himself in an abandoned barn.]

Thornton P. Knowles 

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Where Free Speech Goes To Die

     On Tuesday, September 25, 2015, a student at the University of Delaware saw pieces of metal hangers dangling from tree limbs by pieces of string. The concerned student, obviously finely tuned to such things, interpreted the objects as miniature nooses, symbols of the lynchings that occurred during the early decades of the 20th century. The sighting came the day after a Fox News contributor named Katie Pavlich delivered a talk at the school. Pavlich's appearance created an uproar among members of the student body and faculty who objected to Pavich's earlier condemnation of the Black Lives Matter Movement. (Most universities and colleges do not take kindly to people who deviate from left-wing orthodoxy. The views of these apostates are considered toxic to the ivory tower environment where any idea outside progressive thinking could adversely affect the mission of political and cultural indoctrination. Examples of this are everywhere.)

     The president of the university, calling the suspected nooses a "deplorable act," and a "hateful display," sprang into action by launching a hate crime investigation. (The school must have a hate crime investigation department or committee. Are these trained investigators? Are they like the religious police in the middle east?) Without waiting for the results of that inquiry, President Nancy Targett issued the following statement: "We are both saddened and disturbed that this deplorable act has taken place on our campus. This hateful display stands in stark contrast to Monday night's peaceful protest and discussion [pertaining to the Katie Pavilich appearance]. We ask everyone in our community to stand together against intolerance and hate." Targett called for a student rally to impress the point the follow afternoon. (Question: If a student studying for an exam skipped the rally, is that student a part of the problem?)

     While the university president wrung her hands over the offending symbols of racism, Delaware students expressed outrage and concern on social media.

     On Wednesday, September 23, the day of the scheduled student rally, the hate crime police determined that the objects that had been hanging from the trees were the remains of lanterns left over from a previous social event.

     When the inconvenient truth hit the fan, President Targett, rather than apologizing for her knee-jerk reaction, proclaimed that the "incident," and her response to it, revealed just how sensitive the campus was to the potential issue of racism. Moreover, it showed a need for "continuing dialogue" on the subject.

     In reality, this "incident" revealed how politically oppressive student life had become on some university campuses. Most students, I would imagine, simply want to improve their lives through higher education. They are not incurring serious debt to be told what to think, what not to say, or how to live their lives. After residing four-years in a bubble where no one can be offended and free speech is out the window, real life must come to these students as a tremendous cultural shock.

     Since I first published this piece in September 2015, America's so-called elite universities, principally in response to the 2016 presidential election, have cracked down even harder on free speech. This has gotten so out of control and undemocratic that older liberals, once the vanguards of free speech, have spoken out against it.

"Outlaw" Versus "Scofflaw"

     An outlaw is a lawless person or a fugitive from the law: "Jesse James was an outlaw, whose crimes inspired many books."

     A scofflaw is a contemptuous lawbreaker--especially of minor laws such as parking regulations: "The scofflaw had four parking tickets and ignored them all."

Rod L. Evans, The Artful Nuance, 1997 

The Confidence Game Victim

A confidence man prospers only because of the fundamental dishonesty of his victims. First, he inspires a firm belief in his own integrity. Second, he brings into play powerful and well-nigh irresistible forces to excite the cupidity of the mark. Then he allows the victim to make large sums of money by means of dealings which are explained to him as being dishonest--and hence a "sure thing." As the lust for large and easy profits is fanned into a hot flame, the mark puts all his scruples behind him. He closes out his bank account, liquidates his property, borrows from friends, embezzles from his employer or his clients. In the mad frenzy of cheating someone else, he is unaware of the fact that he is the real victim, carefully selected and fattened for the kill. Thus arises the trite but none-the-less sage maxim: "You can't cheat an honest man." [Actually, you can work a con game on an honest man. Honest people are cheated all the time.]

David W. Maurer, The Big Con, 1940

The Era of the Memoir

This is the age of the memoir. Never have personal narrative gushed so profusely from the American soil as in the closing decade of the twentieth century. Everyone has a story to tell, and everyone is telling it. Until this decade memoir writers tended to stop short of harsh reality, cloaking with modesty their most private and shameful memories. Today no remembered episode is too sorid, no family too dysfunctional, to be trotted out for the wonderment of the masses in books and magazines and on talk shows.

William Zinsser, Inventing the Truth, 1998 

Thornton P. Knowles On Literary Honesty

Other writers--mainly novelists, short story writers and poets--accuse me of being "honest to a fault." However, when they send me stuff they've written, they always ask for an "honest opinion." When I give them exactly that, most of them take offense. They want a favorable opinion, not an honest one. I don't ask others to read my writing because I really don't care what they think of it. I only care what I think, and a lot of times I think my stuff stinks. I don't lie to others, and I don't lie to myself. And yes, the truth can hurt.

Thornton P. Knowles

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Religious Scam Artists

     History is full of religious and spiritual scams and scandals. Religious scams can be found anywhere, but they are a particular problem in the United States. Here, the ideal of freedom of religion ends up allowing all kinds of con artists to get away with their scams. Gurus, cult leaders, swamis, ministers, televangelists--they come in all guises, seeking power and money. The most important piece of advice I can give you: Be aware and wary, especially when you're in an emotionally vulnerable state. That's when you're most likely to fall for a religious con….

     Con artists are often exceptionally charming, and religious con artists are no exception. Of course, they have an advantage--most people have a built-in sense of trust toward clergy. A mistaken trust, it sometimes turns out….

     Genuine religious leaders, including swamis, ministers, rabbis, and other spiritual leaders, are primarily interested in saving souls and persuading people to follow their teachings. A con artist pretending to be interested in your spiritual well-being, however, will insist on proof of your faith in the form of large gifts to him or her.

Chuck Whitlock, Scam School, 1997 

Monday, May 13, 2019

How Not to Cross-Examine a Forensic Pathologist

Attorney: Now, doctor, isn't it true that when a person dies in his sleep, he doesn't know about it until
                the next morning?
Witness: Did you actually pass the bar exam?

Attorney: Doctor, how many of your autopsies have you performed on dead people?
Witness: All of them. The live ones put up too much of a fight.

Attorney: Do you recall what time that you examined the body?
Witness: The autopsy started at 8:30 PM.
Attorney: And Mr. Denton was dead at that time?
Witness: If not, he was by the time I finished.

Attorney: Doctor, before you performed the autopsy, did you check for a pulse?
Witness: No.
Attorney: Did you check for breathing?
Witness: No.
Attorney: Did you check for blood pressure?
Witness: No.
Attorney: So, then it is possible that the patient was alive when you began the autopsy?
Witness: No.
Attorney: How can you be so sure, doctor?
Witness: Because his brain was sitting on my desk in a jar.
Attorney: I see, but could the patient have still been alive, nevertheless?
Witness: Yes, it is possible that he could have been alive and is practicing law.

Michelle Boren, Disorder in the American Courts, 2014 

The Dangerous Hospital Patient

     A Minnesota hospital patient went berserk and began attacking nurses with a large metal pipe he obtained by disassembling his hospital bed. The entire incident--caught on camera--points out the danger that hospital employees can face.

     The 68-year-old man surprised nurses at two in the morning November 6, 2014 when he started running through the hospital wielding the bar. [The mentally ill] patient injured four people, including one nurse who suffered a collapsed lung.

     Police confronted the man with a Taser. He died later that night. "By every stretch of the imagination, this was a highly violent incident," a police spokesman said.

     Violence in hospitals is not entirely unusual. About 60 percent of all non-fatal assaults and violent acts in the workplace occurred in the health care industry, according to a 2010 study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Thirty-one states have laws in place aimed at protecting nurses…The man's cause of death was under investigation.

"Minnesota Hospital Patient Attacks Nurses With Metal Pipe," ABC News, November 7, 2014 

Sunday, May 12, 2019

The Great NYC Toll Thief

     …..Rodolfo Sanchez, 69, was accused of stealing from the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) by crossing the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge and entering the Midtown Tunnel without making a toll payment on more than four thousand occasions by "piggybacking" on cars directly in front of his cab….

     In order to pass the toll plaza before the gates closed, Sanchez tailgated other paying drivers while they entered the bridge….From August 2012 to April 2014, Sanchez snuck onto the bridge and ducked a total of more than $28,000 in toll payments….Sanchez said he did this to save money for his family….

     Sanchez was caught with the help of an expired E-ZPass transmitter in his cab. Investigators matched the tracking data from the transmitter to video footage of taxi cabs ducking tolls and to cab company records of when Sanchez was on duty. He was charged with grand larceny, theft of services and criminal possession of stolen property. If convicted, he faced up to seven years in prison….

Rida Ahmed, "NYC Cab Driver Tailgated Through 3000 Toll Booths, Avoided Paying More Than $28,000," The New York Times, April 19, 2014  

Spoiled Kids Become Troubled Adults

The troubles that beset the overindulged child spring from his unrealistic expectations. He expects much to be done for him, and he has little sense of reliance upon his own powers. In his play he expects others to entertain him. In his school work he wants everyone to help him and tell him how things should be done. If circumstances permit these patterns to continue into adult life he may expect his parents to outlive and provide for him, or he will want a wife and perhaps even his children to minister to his wants. His human relations tend to be one-sided and unsatisfactory to everyone. Furthermore, in American society he will find it increasingly difficult to establish a basis for self-respect. Unless he remains singularly blind to his own tendencies he will be painfully aware of the disparity between his passive acceptance of support and the ideal of the pioneer, the self-sufficient businessman, or in general a free individual. [Many of these people end up in prison where they are cared for by the government.]

Robert W. White, The Abnormal Personality, Second Edition, 1956 

Thornton P. Knowles On A Club For Non-Joiners

I've never been a joiner. Except for the Mystery Writers of America, I've never belonged to a society, association, union, service club, or church. I didn't join the Boy Scouts and in college was not a member of a fraternity. Perhaps there ought to be a club for non-joiners, an organization without officers, meetings, an agenda, membership cards, or dues. The club could be called Non-Joiners International and would be open to everyone. How do you join? Just declare yourself a member.

Thornton P. Knowles 

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Locked Docks: Courtroom Cages for Criminal Defendants

     Long eschewed as prejudicial by American courts and by the International Criminal Court in the Hague, locked docks, either metal cells or enclosures made of glass or wood, are still common, not only in countries like Russia and Egypt where the judicial systems often face international criticism, but also in Western democracies, including Britain, France, Canada, and Australia….

     Critics often cite security concerns for using docks, either the risk that violent suspects pose to others, or the danger to defendants from potentially hostile spectators. Supporters say that when docks are used routinely, they do not attract notice or prejudice against defendants, but are crucial to safety….

     Although there has been little research on the potential influence of locked docks on the verdicts reached by judges or juries, experts argue that defendants are clearly put at a disadvantage. "All the evidence we can collect suggests that it's prejudicial," said David Tait, a professor at the University of Western Sydney in Australia who has studied the issue….

     In the United States, docks have been virtually eliminated as a result of judicial rulings, including by the Supreme Court. Some states still have courtrooms with docks, but many are historic relics and are rarely used. Instead, some American courts discreetly chain the ankles of a potentially dangerous defendant to the floor. Others require an electric stun belt, which can deliver an immobilizing shock, to be worn under a defendant's clothes. As a security measure, the International Court in the Hague puts the entire spectator gallery behind a glass partition….

David M. Herszenhorn, "Presumed Innocent, but Caged in Court," The New York Times, November 18, 2013

Thornton P. Knowles On Getting To The Hospital Safely

You've had an accident, and you're in an ambulance speeding its way to the hospital. If you make it to the emergency room you'll be okay, but getting there safely is not guaranteed given the chance the ambulance will be rear ended by a personal injury attorney.

Thornton P. Knowles

Friday, May 10, 2019

Thornton P. Knowles On "The Encyclopedia of American Political A-Holes"

I knew a guy who said he wanted to write The American Encyclopedia of Political A-Holes. Problem was, it would take a lifetime to complete the 50 volumes required to cover the subject. After working on it twenty years, he was only up to the letter C. Exhausted, and out of time, he finally gave up. He had hoped his son would take up where he had left off but the kid, instead, went into politics. It's a cruel world.

Thornton P. Knowles

Thursday, May 9, 2019

The Black Widow Killer

     The only really popular conception that has endured of a female serial killer through the decades is of the one who kills a string of husbands or lovers for profit. We even have a readymade moniker for her: the Black Widow.

     For some reason we imagine the Black Widow as a creature of the past, from a time long ago when poisons were readily sold over the counter and record keeping of identifies was haphazard. She could lure, seduce, marry quickly, discreetly kill, and vanish several times over before anyone would notice.

Peter Vronsky, Female Serial Killers, 2007

Thornton P. Knowles On Being Bored And Alone

Creative people who have internal lives are seldom bored and rarely boring. The fear of being alone with nothing to do is a fate worse than death.

Thornton P. Knowles

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

The Unsolved Mystery of Human Behavior

Biology is not much help in our efforts to understand ourselves. When we came to think of the body as a factory, it was clear that it could be regulated by medical science. But there is no comparable model of human behavior, and therefore no way to regulate it other than by force or persuasion. The gap is filled by hypotheses about what drives us, ranging from those of Sigmund Freud to those of Konrad Lorenz, and offering explanations ranging from the subconscious to our genes. But the human being remains a stranger in a world he did not create. Some see him as the shadow of God; others see God as the shadow, a projection of man. In the words of Montaigne [a 16th Century French philosopher], we sleep on the soft pillow of ignorance. Indeed, human conduct is often irrational, for all its calculation aimed at physical survival. Even survival ceases to matter when a soldier, martyr, or heretic chooses to sacrifice himself for a higher goal. The drab, everyday routine of the average citizen, taxpayer-bread-winner, is adapted behavior and less instructive than a life lived to the limits. Limits that mark the zenith and nadir of what man is capable of. Extremes of conduct speak of aspirations that transcends the personal and challenge the sanity of standard human behavior.

A. J. Dunning, Extremes, 1990

Monday, May 6, 2019

Serial Killer Robert Hansen

     Convicted Alaska serial killer Robert Hansen, who gained the nickname of "The Butcher Baker" for abducting and hunting down women in the wilderness during the state's oil pipeline construction boom in the 1970s, died at age 75 on August 21, 2014 at the Alaska Regional Hospital after being in declining health.

     Hansen was convicted in 1984 after confessing to killing 17 women, mostly dancers and prostitutes, during a 12-year span. Hansen was convicted of just four of the murders in a deal that spared him having to go to trial 17 times. The Anchorage baker also confessed to raping another 30 women at that time.

     Hansen was the subject of a 2003 film entitled "The Frozen Ground" that starred Nicolas Cage as an Alaska State Trooper investigating the slayings. Actor John Cusack portrayed Hansen.

     Hansen was serving a 461-year sentence in Alaska at the time of his death. He had been incarcerated at the Seward State Prison and was moved May 11, 2014 to the Anchorage Correctional Center to receive medical attention.

     Hansen owned a bakery in a downtown mini-mall in the 1970s and 1980s. He lived across town with his wife and children who knew nothing of his other life…

     Hansen would abduct the women and take them to remote places outside the city. Sometimes he would drive and other times he would fly his private plane. A licensed pilot, Hansen told investigators that one of his favorite spots to take his victims was the Knik River north of Anchorage. In some instances Hansen would rape the women then return them to Anchorage, warning them not to contact the authorities. Other times he would let the women go free in the wilderness then hunt them down with his rifle. Only 12 bodies of the 17 women Hansen confessed to killing have been found.

Rachel D'Oro, "Alaska Serial Killer Dies, Decades After Murders," Associated Press, August 223, 2014 

Sunday, May 5, 2019

The Brilliant Bureaucrat

In New Castle, Pennsylvania, a code enforcement officer, in May 2019, filed charges against a man who had been dead for almost four years. A few days after they were filed, these charges were dismissed. In New Castle, Pennsylvania, the long arm of the law reaches into the grave.

Four-Year-Old Distributes Heroin at Day Care

     A 30-year-old mother was arrested by authorities after her 4-year-old daughter shared packets of heroin to other students at a local day care center. Police officers and medical personnel responded to the Hickory Tree Child Care Center in Selbyville, Delaware at 11:45 in the morning of October 6, 2014. The police were called after staff members saw some of the children with the small bags of white powder…

     The bags of white powdery substance were confiscated by the teachers and were immediately taken to the Selbyville Police Department where it was tested and determined to be heroin…Officers said the girl accidentally brought the packets of heroin into the day care in a backpack given to her by her mother after the child's own backpack was destroyed by a family pet…The girl is said to have thought the packets were candy and began handing them out to other students.

     A total of 249 packets of heroin weighing 3.735 grams were found in the backpack. None of the packets were opened by any of the children…Some of the kids were taken to nearby hospitals as precautionary measures. They were later released after thorough examinations.

     Ashley Tull of Selbyville, the woman identified as the mother of the girl…was arrested and charged with maintaining a drug property and endangering the welfare of a child…Tull was eventually released on $6,000 bail and was ordered to have no contact with her three children who were placed under a relative's care.

"Delaware Mom Arrested After 4-Year-Old Shared Heroin at Day Care," designntrend.com, October 7, 2014

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Who Cares About Black Murderers?

Are you white? Do you pay attention to black murderers? It must be because you're a racist. Wait, you don't pay attention to black murderers? It's because you are a racist. Why aren't you paying attention to black murderers? You racist.

Daniel Greenfield, "Washington Post Claims White People are Racist for Not Caring About Motives of Black Murderers," frontpagemag.com, September 22, 2013

The Sleeping Burglar

     A Florida burglary suspect was facing charges after police found him asleep in the bedroom of a home he was trying to burglarize. The Sarasota County Sheriff's Office said they were responding to a burglary call Monday September 8, 2014 at a residence in Nokomis, Florida when they found Dion Davis, 29, asleep on a bed next to a bag of stolen jewelry. A cleaning lady made the call to authorities after discovering the passed out suspect…

     The sheriff's office posted a photograph of a sleeping Davis on their Facebook page, accusing the suspect of "falling asleep on the job." Davis didn't even wake up when deputies arrived and started taking pictures.

"Florida Burglary Suspect Caught Napping on the Job," CBS News, September 10, 2014 

Friday, May 3, 2019

Signs of Lying Versus Indicators of Truth

     Any suspect who is overly polite, even to the point of repeatedly calling the interrogator "sir" may be attempting to flatter the interrogator to gain his confidence. The suspect who, after being accused says "No offense to you, sir, but I didn't do it," "I know you are just doing your job," or "I understand what you are saying" is evidencing his lying about the matter under investigation. A truthful suspect has no need to make such apologetic statements, or even to explain that he understands the interrogator's accusatory statements. To the contrary, the truthful suspect may very well react aggressively with a direct denial or by using strong language indicating anger over [even] an implied accusation.

     A suspect who "swears to God" or offers to "swear on a stack of Bibles," or utters other oaths to support his answers, is, in many instances, not telling the truth. Typical examples of expressions used by lying suspects who try to make their statements believable are: "I swear to God, sir," or "With God as my witness." The suspect may even go so far as to state "on my poor dead mother's grave, sir." On the other hand, truthful suspects are confident of their truthfulness and do not need such props. The interrogator should bear in mind, however, that within some cultural surroundings, swearing and similar expressions may be rather commonplace, and do not necessarily mean that the suspect is lying.

Fred E. Inbau, Criminal Interrogation and Confessions, 1986

Thursday, May 2, 2019

The Execution Of Arnold Prieto

     A death-row inmate in Texas who confessed to murdering three elderly people with a screwdriver for just $100 was executed on Wednesday January 21, 2015. Arnold Prieto, 41, was declared dead at the state penitentiary in Huntsville.

     Prieto was sentenced to death for the triple murder committed during a 1993 robbery when he and two brothers were invited to the siblings' great-aunt and great-uncle's house for breakfast…A 72-year-old man and his 62-year-old wife, along with a 92-year-old woman, were in the house.

     Prieto and one of the brothers attacked the three victims with a screwdriver. Under the influence of cocaine, the trio of criminals ransacked the house, stealing jewelry and money. Splitting the cash found in a purse, each murderer ended up with $100. Prieto also received a gold chain, a crucifix pendant, a pair of earrings and a necklace. He pawned the stolen items for $140.

     One accomplice, a minor at the time, pleaded guilty and went to prison for life. The second brother was never charged.

"U.S. Screwdriver Killer Gets Executed," news24.com, January 22, 2015  

Intruder Shot and Killed by Homeowner

     Startled awake by a noise at the back of her home on January 29, 2015, a suburban Detroit woman woke her 74-year-old husband who in turned grabbed his handgun and headed toward the sound to find out what was going on…The homeowner came fact-to-face with--and was forced to shoot--an armed intruder.

    The burglar had entered the home through a window…He died at the scene.

     Southgate, Michigan Public Safety Director Thomas Coombs told a reporter with The Detroit News: "Based on the information we know presently, a grand jury would find the shooting justified. He was protecting his life."…

     Dewey Thompson, who has lived near the couple for more than a decade, told a local TV reporter that this intruder "won't break into anybody else's house. That's how I feel about it. I don't care."...

Chuck Ross, "74-Year-Old Michigan Homeowner Fatally Shoots Armed Intruder," The Daily Caller, January 30, 2015

Thornton P. Knowles On Checkout Lines

The middle-aged woman standing in front of me in a supermarket checkout line turned and said, "Look at me, I'm sweating like a pig! I don't understand it, I've been through the change!" I didn't know this woman, or what to say. To prove her point, the woman presented a bare, sweaty arm and said, "Touch it!" When I refused, she turned away in disgust. The lady waiting behind me tapped me on the shoulder and asked, "What's wrong with you?" Checkout lines can be crazy and hostile. I hate them.

Thornton P. Knowles

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Lust as Murder Motive

The Marquis de Sade knew whereof he spoke. As the first of the seven deadly sins, lust commands a special place in the lexicon of transgression. It's a trigger-happy emotion that can turn from inarticulate ardor to homicidal mania on a dime. Lust is the sin that drives ordinary people to extraordinary measures, one corpse--or more--at a time.

A Miscellany of Murder, The Monday Murder Club, 2011

The Zealous Attorney

The zealous attorney is the last bastion of liberty--the final barrier between an overreaching government and its citizens.

Alan M. Dershowitz, 1982

Family Wins Wrongful Death Suit Against Denver Sheriff's Deputies

     A federal court jury on October 14, 2014 found that five Denver sheriff's deputies had used excessive force against a homeless street preacher who died in 2010. The jury awarded the family of Marvin Booker $4.6 million in damages. Booker died after deputies shocked him with a Taser while he was handcuffed, put him in a sleeper hold and lay on top of him…The Booker family attorney said this was a zealous overreaction to the frail 56-year-old.

     A lawyer representing the city of Denver told jurors that the deputies' actions were in line with the sheriff department's policies for handling a combative inmate. The three-week trial came amid calls for a federal investigation of the sheriff's office over other high-profile cases that prompted the sheriff's department to make sweeping reforms. Former sheriff Gary Wilson resigned in July 2014 after the county agreed to pay $3.3 million to settle another federal jail-abuse lawsuit by a former inmate over a beating…

     Booker's family filed the federal lawsuit against the county of Denver as well as deputies Faun Gomez, James Grimes, Kyle Sharp, Kenneth Robinette, and Sgt. Carrie Rodriguez. Inmates told investigators that the struggle began when Booker was ordered to sit down in the jail's booking area but instead moved to collect his shoes, which he had taken off for comfort.

      Attorneys representing Booker's family said deputies stunned him for too long and should have backed down when Booker said he was struggling to breathe. In his closing argument, the plaintiff's attorney said the "dog pile" of deputies was a zealous overreaction…Denver's medical examiner said Booker died of cardiorespiratory arrest during restraint, and ruled his death a homicide. The autopsy report listed other factors in his death, including emphysema, an enlarged heart and recent cocaine use.

"Jurors Find Deputies Used Excessive Force in Death," Associated Press, October 14, 2014   

Thornton P. Knowles On The Aging Introvert

While old age is not something to look forward to, there is one aspect that appeals to introverts like me. The older you get, the closer you approach complete invisibility.

Thornton P. Knowles